Tag Archives: Jesus

Manure and a Praying Life

Note to Praying Life Readers:

If you are a subscriber to Holy Ground Quarterly Reflection on  Contemplation  or support the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer you already have received in your mail the letter posted here. A mistake was made by the printer on the envelope enclosed for you to mail in your gifts. The wrong address is printed on that envelope. The printer is sending a postcard to you with the correct address. We have contacted the post office about this error. If you have already sent the incorrectly addressed envelope, please let us know by email or phone lross@fromholyground.org . We will let you know when it makes its way to the correct address: 1600 SW Campbell Ave, Topeka, KS 66604.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. As for the printer, he is deeply repentant and will be forgiven shortly. I figure another twenty-four hours and God’s grace will have overcome my anxious fretting. Besides a wise person told me when I began this ministry, “Your mistakes and failures are like manure for God’s garden in your soul.” I am anticipating a bumper crop in 2014! 

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The Sanctuary Is Celebrating 25 Years !

It all began with a resounding NO. Twenty seven years ago I applied for a church position as head of staff.  Few, if any women were heads of staff anywhere in those years. Still I held out hope, even though I was warned. The clerk of the Presbytery told his wife (who told me), “She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that job. And besides, it would kill her creativity.”

When the phone call came and the caller broke the bad news, I wept and stomped my foot. My daughters, who were outside playing, began pounding on the door. Dashing inside, breathless and red-cheeked, they shouted, “Mom. Mom! The wind is blowing. It’s blowing hard. Blowing all over the place. We need something to catch the wind with!”

Laughing in spite of my tears, I reached under the sink and pulled out a couple of big black trash bags. The girls ran back outside. I stood at the door, watching them race up and down the yard with the bags billowing behind them, catching the wind. Their wild exuberance and thrill in the blustery Kansas day, swept away my tears and anger. I felt rinsed clean and surprisingly reoriented.

It would be a while before I fully understood what God was up to in that heartbreaking no. Slowly I began to dare what seemed impossible: to pursue a ministry, which focused on the spiritual lives of people and prayer. As I began to say yes to this deep desire, door after door swung open. At some points I almost wished someone would say no, for I had little idea how to actually accomplish it.

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A ministry of prayer, which included a lifestyle of prayerful solitude, as well as organizational structure, as I envisioned it, was so removed from my denomination’s understanding of what pastors do. There were no models within my tradition. There was no provision for salary, pension, or manuals on how to do this “decently and in order.” I had only something I sensed was missing from many churches – something I and others hungered for – and the will to somehow supply some of these missing pieces.

The work has been challenging. I made mistakes. The Spirit has refined my motives and fine-tuned my sense of what I am to do, and is still challenging me to grow.

I have been immensely blessed. After twenty-five years of listening to people’s stories of their faith, it is still miraculous and thrilling to watch the wind of the Spirit of God at work in an individual soul. I see how personal transformation radiates out into the world, initiating family and community change.

Through the years God has been faithful. Needs are provided for and inspiration given.  You have been faithful too. Once when I was about to give up, one of you who had come for a visit to the hermitage said, “I have faith in you. I believe you can do this.” I have never forgotten those words of encouragement.

Roadsidefruitstand

You are why The Sanctuary exists. Your desire to deepen your faith, willingness to struggle with difficult issues, to pray and nurture yourself for service to your church, community, and the world has summoned this little “Roadside Fruit Stand,” as one of our board members called it.

You are also the how of The Sanctuary, for we are nothing without you – a far-flung community of varied faith expressions, people of compassion, wisdom, and love. You provide accountability for this ministry, a community, and a covering of prayer, as you teach us what you need and how to better serve you. You spread the news of this Fruit Stand out here in Kansas through your friends and contacts. Your subscriptions and generous gifts make this possible.  Thank you so very much!

As we celebrate 25 years in the coming year, we have some surprises and good things to share with you. Watch for a new website coming soon. Meet some new board members. Get the inside news on the progress of Loretta’s new book, Account for the Hope. Keep up with us on Facebook and our blog, The Praying Life, Pinterest, and Twitter.

We remind you to renew your subscription as it comes due. (The date of your subscription expiration is on your address label in the upper right hand corner. ) And please donate to The Sanctuary Fund. Your subscription fee allows us to break even on publishing costs. Additional gifts to The Sanctuary Fund enable us to maintain our web presence, offer spiritual direction at reduced rates for those of limited means, pay for business operations, and keep this roadside Fruit Stand open.

If you have questions  about your donation or subscription, let us know. And please keep sharing your feedback, ideas, and comments on how we can best serve you. You can phone us at 785-354-7122 or email at lross@fromholyground.org. We always love to chat with those we serve.

The wind is blowing here in Kansas today. Dried leaves rattle as they tumble down my street. The maple shakes out her falling locks, shedding what is no longer useful, and waves her dark branches to an approaching winter storm. To begin this celebration I am going to reach under the sink, pull out some trash bags, and go catch some wind. Will you join me?

Yours, chasing after the Holy Spirit with love and gratitude,

Loretta F. Ross

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

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Word – Eventide Psalm of Longing Love

The Father spoke one word, which was his Son,
and this word he speaks always in eternal silence.
 St. John of the Cross.

Sundown

At the woods’ edge I wait for you
to come heal the violence in me.

I look and look at the trees,
scrawled limbs
framing the plum stained sky.

I look and look at the fawn in the clearing,
the cedar with blue berries,
the red sun sliding under the horizon.
I look and look at the dark
creeping over the countryside.

At vespers you
peer in windows,
meow at the door,
home into my heart.
I cannot get enough
of you 
filling my senses
with sweet awareness. 

You, the Word
in whom our wordiness dissolves,*
silence us.

As leaves loosen and float to the earth,
we tumble over, lay our bodies upon the path.
You come, finger over your lips – Hush, be still –
to take back territories in our souls,
lands occupied by greed, fear, envy.

It is 5:28 pm, and I am weary of words,
the fury of opinions, righteous indignation,
and ideas clanking in the mind like heavy coins.

The vain prattle cannot muffle the murmur
of Herods plotting to kill innocents,
nor the hiss of evil waiting under every rock.

Yet I do believe that all we say and do
counts as nothing next to you,
inexorable Word,
bearing down
into us from on high.

His father opened his mouth
spoke mercy
out came Jesus.
Jeshua. Hush! 

His mother squatted over cold stones,
pushed, out came an infant
wailing, wrinkled.
Hush!

The child gazes into our faces.
A hand reaches toward us.
You – absorb our isolation,
sponge up our misery –
a soft warm cheek
to hold against the dark.

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*The phrase, Word, in whom our wordiness dissolves, appears in the poem, Without Ceremony by Vassar Miller.

“Burned Out on Religion?”

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi

We become what we love
and who we love shapes what we become.
If we love things, we become a thing.
If we love nothing, we become nothing.
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ,
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved,
an image disclosed through transformation.
This means… we are to become vessels
of God´s compassionate love for others.
 ~ St. Clare of Assisi

Many years ago I deliberately chose a path of what I called “downward mobility.” I chose to become a minister and made a subsequent choice to become the sort of minister for which there were few or no models, namely, to consider prayer as the heart of what I offered. I took up work which I knew would not reward me financially and might well require other sacrifices. Instead of remaining on a career track of higher education administration and teaching, I followed a Love that would not let me go anywhere else, but into its heart.

I was naïve. I thought ministry would be different from the stressful, competitive world of higher education and academia. I thought I would be able to focus on prayer and help others who were struggling with their relationships with the Holy One. Of course, I brought along all of my own unfinished business and the issues that had plagued me in that other world were all waiting for me on the doorstep of the church. And, yes, this is where ministry and personal/communal growth always occurs: right in the midst of a stressful, competitive environment, with full of personal, unfinished business.

I soon discovered that downward mobility included more than lesser income, status, and pension benefits. Downward mobility included the inner life as well. Over and over, my attachment to lesser gods, my selfishness, my controlling ego, and my pride are exposed, as Jesus invites me to come down off my high horse and revel with him in the lowly, fertile ground of humility. I do mean revel. Getting myself close to the ground is often painful. I am a master at resistance. Yet it is so much fun, so full of delight and joy, it is well worth whatever it takes to get there.

In the midst of the muck Love seems always to meet me with a different agenda than my own. I call it Love’s way and it haunts me day and night, as I both run from and plead to be conformed to this path of humble trust in God.

Love’s way, which is described extensively in scripture, is accessible, freely available to everyone, and is being offered to us moment by moment.  And in Love’s way is where I long to dwell all the time.

I fail over and over. When that happens I am like a child lost in a dark woods. A kind of desperate panic comes over me, until I fumblingly discover where I got off the path and make my way back to joy and peace.   I need at least an hour a day of contemplative prayer to maintain this deep abiding in Christ. If I want to work with others and help them in their prayer and relationship with God, I need another hour. If I want to deepen and grow in knowledge and understanding of God, I need still more time.

I do not for the life of me understand how faith can deepen and flourish in the hearts of people without a serious commitment to spending time alone with God in prayer. And further, few activities I engage in take me further from this humble dwelling in the way of Love, than spending too much time on the internet. I see how easily the internet cheapens me, makes me shallow, feeds my surface hungers, plays upon and manipulates my opinions, my understanding of myself and the world.

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Let’s take a deeper look at the way of Love. Here is how Jesus described it:

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, (CEB)

I especially like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

To put on Christ’s yoke and learn from him is to become gentle and humble and to find rest. To become an image of Christ is to put down our heavy loads and bend our necks beneath a yoke, which is easy and light.

Peterson enriches Matthew’s words with the beautiful phrase unforced rhythms of grace. That’s it! How would it be if what characterized our lives was not harried, stress-filled days, constant multi-tasking, distracted, pushing and shoving, controlling and anger, but rather the unforced rhythms of grace?

I suspect many of you know those graceful rhythms, when you find yourself in step with the Spirit and your day unfolds with beauty. I also suspect such days do not occur as much as you would like. How would your life look if you put on Jesus’ easy, light yoke more consciously and deliberately? What might change or what would you do differently?

What if your goal was not success and achievement, but gentleness and humility?

How do we do this? Is it even possible in the world we live in? Matthew tells us how. Jesus tells us how in these verses from Matthew. Go back and read them again.

Quite simply, becoming like God and wearing the easy yoke, has to do with the company we keep. “Come to me,” Jesus, says. “Keep company with me.”

The only return Love asks for the gift of living in its way is our love – not our money, time, talents – but first and foremost, Love desires our love. This always slays me. The Love that animates life, binds the whole universe, flows into our hearts with joy and delight wants our love! Love wants to be loved. Jesus affirmed this divine desire in the greatest commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

I know how important it is to me to be loved by my children and family, my dog, and my friends. Here is what we may miss: God finds it very important to be loved by us. God desires our attention.

Perhaps, this is because, as St. Clare has written, we become what we love.

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

 

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #10

And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love. –
William Blake

wild geese

Resurrection Passion

Oh Spendthrift Love,
Oh Lay Me Down Love,
even from the tree
you coax: follow me.

Oh Love That Never Dies,
could I love like the pear tree loves
in heedless scarlet surrender
to the grey autumn sky?

Could I run breathless
bearing bright bouquets
across the fields to you?

Could I with mad extravagance
pour out all my oil
upon your brow?

Could I throw caution
to the wind and fling
myself  over the lake
in a flurry of milkweed
seeds and cattail fur?

Could we rendezvous
in every crack and cranny
of creation where you issue
in sweet tenderness?

Could I be held enthralled
by wonder unable to move
across a room for need to kneel
at every step in praise?

Could I place my palm
upon the surface of any cheek
and trace the contours
of grace with a finger?

Oh Love That Never Dies,
teach my heart to love again.
Teach me desire
that draws life from dry bones
like orange flames
leaping from kindling sticks.

Oh Way is Narrow Love,
Oh Take Up Your Cross Love,
teach me resurrection passion.

I’ve had enough of death.

______________________________

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #9


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

Holy Saturday

Stop!
surrender
to
resurrection

new growth

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #8


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

 A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

Pasach – Passage, No. 1

After we were passed over
we passed over.

When the waters split
drew back
a shimmering wall
seething strength, waves
smacking, spitting above us

some of us hesitated
to weigh the odds
consider and debate.
Was it more magic?
Who was this son of Abraham
with his stave of almond wood?

Crippled from scrabbling straw in the fields
mixing mortar for the man
meeting his quotas
we dawdled on the shore.

Others, children especially, ran out
skipping over the coral
through the sea grass
past the shipwrecks
and green turtles
raising their mottled beaks, amazed.

We heard hooves pounding,
shouts, thunder of chariot wheels.
Death before, death behind.
Better to drown
than die by the hands of those bastards.

The kids, though,
did not flinch,
tossing up fistfuls of sand,
diamonds in the sun,
playing on the seabed
like shrimp.

We hobbled over,
leaning on each other,
fearful, fretting.
Seems when a soul is crushed
it takes a long time to rinse out the slave.

Though at Pasach, when we gathered,
it would all come back.
We would shake off another chain
see more clearly
sip liberty
like wine.

Pasach – Passage,  No. 2

The night we celebrated Pesach –
what did he say, what did he mean
leaving and that we knew
the way to where he was going?

I was trying to work it
out when another sea split open
not waters humping up like steel cliffs
but a great scythe slashing
through the middle of everything
and him falling, tumbling down into the rift.

A passage
where there had been none before
death leering from either side.

I heard the soldiers coming
swords clanking at their sides.
In the acrid air lungs burned, eyes stung
flames draped from clouds.

And while they dragged him off
blood blossomed
on the vast lintel and door posts
of the writhing world
and dribbled down
like tears.

*Hebrew (Pasach) also spelled Pascha for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19


______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #7


 And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
– William Blake

 Palm Fanfare

Passion Sunday

They fought on the way to church
this time ugly.  

Was it the tone he took,
or her throbbing resentment
that kicked in the door
like a demon repo man
turning up to repossess their souls?  

Mud rushed in
a roaring sludge
of sorrows, lashes
rebukes, scorn
bitterness, betrayal
heaping up
burying the light.  

The back seat was silent.  

In the sanctuary they stood mute
in the crowd of flourished palms
hosannas fluttering like petals
watching their kids in the happy throng
pass by with pain in their eyes.  

Across town the detective
poured herself another cup of coffee
scanned reports from last night
homicide, hit and run
three break-ins, some domestics.  

Robert rolled over,
knees up to his chin, gripping the covers.
He hurt so bad. He couldn’t get those feelings
for Andy to go away, nor the horror
in the cafeteria when they snickered and laughed.  

Lester sat at his kitchen table, thumbing through his Bible.
He got the diagnosis the day before.  
The words didn’t make sense.
He looked around.
Everything seemed tilted sideways.
Does cancer cause this? he wondered.  

Alice in a back pew waved her palm like a white flag.
During the week she goes into a house full of roaches
and mice to treat the baby of a twelve year old girl.
People so desperate, so much pain. Plse pray,
she texts her friend and waves harder,
counting on this Jesus to make a difference.  

Nations thrash and groan. Politicians rage.
The bomb ticks in the parked car.
Seas haul homes and lives
out to watery oblivion.  

Some peasant playing a fool on a donkey
rides into town saying he is the King.
He is going to turn things around,
unseat the emperors,
release the grasp of greed,
cure the lust for money,
and heal the virus.
Sure enough the fool gets himself killed.  

Everyone is looking for a goat to carry off
that mudslide of shame, regret, and responsibility.

For a while we can pimp up the peasant,
wave some foliage, call him king
as the bullies and the haters
the fear mongers and the betrayers 
the self- righteous and the proud hitch
a ride on his back like fleas.
Then we can go home, relax
watch the ball game and root for our team.  

But the peasant with pain in his eyes
on the donkey has his own agenda.  

I am not your Palm Sunday ornament,
a wonder super hero
your ticket to respectability
a card to play in your political games.  

Look again. I am you.
I am you riding high into town.
I am you awash in disgrace and humiliation.
I am you having done the unthinkable
and there is no way you can repair the damage you caused.  

I am you, holiness, hawking yourselves day and night
in the holy places you have turned into markets.
I am you, holiness, stuck
right down in the middle of a profane life in a profane world.
I am you, holiness, betrayed by a sneer, or the grab for influence.
I am you, holiness, trampled on and defiled.  

Will you duck out now
skip those other services
and only show up year after year
in your new clothes
to see the lilies and hear the music?  

Or will you come back
to listen to my commandment 
to let me wash your feet
and drink to a new covenant?  
Will you stay awake with me
and with yourself one hour in our suffering?
Will you say, not my will, but thine?  

Will you face your betrayer, see what you need to see 
become truth in the face of authority?
Will you strip off all your disguises, costumes
facelifts, masks, and self-deceit?
Will you hand over your assets for others to toss the dice?  

Will you watch at our dying?
Will you thirst?
Will you feel your own pain?
Will you cry out why has God forsaken us?  

Will you rest in the tomb
that silent womb of mystery
dead with me?  

Will you come early on the third day?


Lily

Lily (Photo credit: amitkotwal)

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect