What I am reading lately

My mother had sent me an email telling me some things she had found in a magazine that she paged through at her local library. They were just little inspirational thoughts found in the magazine. I replied back to her with a description of a book I had found at the library. And as I wrote to her, I realized how impressed I have been with the book. Stream of thought sometimes goes that way – it is not until you think something through to write it down that you realize what deeply felt about it. So I decided to share with you a portion of that letter. Not to worry – nothing uncomfortable or embarrassing will be disclosed.

“Hi back at you,

I am currently reading a daily devotional written by former US president Jimmy Carter. It is based on Sunday School lessons and other meditations/writings he had done over the last 30. I had been looking for a daily devotional read for next year and so had been trying to figure what is out there by looking to see what the library had. I thought if I found something, I would buy a copy of it for myself. I eventually decided to just get the next year’s edition of what I am using now. But I found this book by Carter compelling enough to keep it out from the library.  It does not progress through one year but is a compilation of 366 entries from all over the 30 years. One day it might be one scripture passage from one day/month/year in his life, and the next day from even a different decade; one day it might be a passage from the Old Testament, the next from the Gospels. the Epistles or the Psalms  – no pattern or sequence what so ever. The only thing that holds it together is that it is the same humble Godly man. And in our current political climate that is becoming to be a real treat! There isn’t any one entry so far that stands out. I had been looking for reflections tied to scripture by a “big name” scripture person. But in this book I feel like I have found a treasure. Sprinkle throughout the book are reflections on the four years he spent as president, but like I said it spans over 30 years. So I am just reading through it like a continuing “story.” The book is called Through the Year with Jimmy Carter  and published by Zondervan. With all we hear about Trump now a days, it is interesting to think that we once had a president like Jimmy Carter.”

As I sat back and read what I had written, it occurred to me, if we had a president like Jimmy Carter now instead of who we have, I might not have become a political agnostic. I define “political agnosticism” as knowing there is a political system, but just not being able to believe in it! Shalom for your day, gentle reader!

Should the two become one? [What does it mean to pray about something? Part Two]

It started with an idea, a vague unformed idea. And from that idea came a desire. Not a simple desire but a rather complex one, actually. When I first started this blog (my second one, in addition to the blog “A Simple Desire” that I inherited since after a time I was the only one writing it) my reasoning was that I was not just a ponderer and writer based on scripture passages, but an observer of all facets and aspects of life. And I wanted an outlet for my other thoughts and observations. I had hoped there would be time for me to write for both blogs. But time is an elusive thing. More fleeting than I thought it would be.

Back in 2012 when I started this second blog that you are now reading, “Pondering From the Pacific”, my other blog “A Simple Desire” commented on scripture that was also posted on Third Way Cafe,  a website that MennoMedia created and ran as a part of the media outreach of Mennonite Church USA – to give the context. Third Way Cafe posted on a daily basis “A Sip of Scripture” and that was the source of the scripture passages I and others had been wrote about. (In 2010 I went solo.) However, at the close of 2014 I switched from using their scripture passages to writing on the Revised Common Lectionary. And starting January 2015 I posted exclusively on the Revised Common Lectionary changing from a daily posting to posting 4 times a week. However, that did not result in posting more often to my other blog – this one. As I said above, time was more fleeting than I hoped it would be.

So for 5 years I have been straddling writing two blogs; giving most of my attention to one and sadly neglecting the other. My idea was to try somehow to combine my writing efforts. And the desire was to have a blog that was from start to finish my very own. Not something I inherited from someone else, but for good or for bad was all me. Much as I appreciated the gentle soul who handed over the blog “A Simple Desire” to me without any backward glances (and the other writers who made worthy contributions), I always felt I was standing on the shoulders of another. I had made the choice when I became the solo writer to continue host the postings that were not mine but the efforts and thoughts of  others. Good thoughts, inspiring thoughts .  .  .  . but not mine. I felt more and more strongly that I wanted something that was just mine.

But I will admit it was scary thinking about truly foraging out on my own. “A Simple Desire” as a blog has amassed a formidable following. I remind myself in the past seven years since it has been just me, it has grown in readership; that has truly humbled me. And since writing on the Revised Common Lectionary, the growth has been even greater which I am also humbled by. How can I just walk away from that?

The issue is complex because I do not want to eliminate the work of others, pretending that their work has just disappeared; I want to honor their contributions. But I also want to move forward under my own power and see what I can do. In the past weeks and months I have been torn over what to do. And more importantly when to do  .  .  .  .  whatever I decide to do.

My fledgling plan is to move my posting on scripture passages over to “Pondering From the Pacific”, clearly announcing my intentions, and hope that the readers (my readers) will follow me over the the new site. “A Simple Desire” would continue, but I would not add anything new to that site. In this way I hope to honor what has been written in the past, but move forward into my own future, on a site that is truly my own. Just me. It is scary to think about – well maybe not scary in the chills up and down one’s spine; but daunting to make such a change. And why? For my own self-image? That’s not why I started writing either blog in the first place.

On the other hand, I don’t feel the need to be part of a “bunch.” I am ready to stand out on my own, come what may. I am pretty sure I can handle it; and what I can’t handle .  .  .  . well, let’s just say that my faith is strong enough to whatever may come, in spite of what my pride and self-image might quake at. Actually, that might be exactly where my crux point is – my faith on the one side and my pride/self-image on the other. And I am pretty sure I know which side is going to come out on top. Shalom & Selah!

What does it mean to pray about something? [Part One]

About a week ago I started thinking and pondering about something. For the purposes of this blog entry to topic is not germane. It is a decision that I am considering, and I am not sure if it is a wise decision or not. I would imagine by now you are very curious. However I am not quite ready to share the topic, and since it would not be something that I would act on until the other end of the year, I do not feel I need to share it. What my point and purpose in writing about it right now is to think and consider how we pray about making decisions.

It seems to me there is a difference in praying about an issue that needs resolution or a situation that needs to be addressed in the short term or even in the long term. A need, a condition, a problem – something that needs to be solved and seems to be beyond our ability or understanding. We pray for someone who is ill or facing a problem. We say we will pray for them or encourage them to pray for their need etc. What we are advising is talking to God about the situation and listening to/for the Spirit to answer. That seems to me clear enough; problem leads to pray that leads to God’s guidance and/or intervention. But that is not what I mean at this time.

I guess the word and concept I am pondering on is “discernment” – what is best to do. And not in a crisis or critical situation or anything else. It is choosing between two or more paths, when any of the paths would make a worthy and wise choice. Do you start to see my dilemma? Often when faced with such a choice the person who strives to live a good Christian life would pray about it. And then according to the proper timeline make a decision. But how would one know that the choice made was indeed the one that God would advice – aside of course from some sort of Divine banner in the sky or written across one’s computer or bathroom mirror. How can the Christian know when human contemplation and discernment has given way to being informed and guided by the Lord God?

As I think about this, that is another critical component of my dilemma. How do I know that the choice I make is the one that God would have me chose? Again, without divulging the topic, let me see this is not an ethical choice – chose the most Christian thing to do. Neither is it an irreparable choice, one that will have tragic consequences if I chose wrongly. You might think from all this that I should not be consider, if it is not ethics nor doing harm to anyone. But I do want to chose wisely and well. I do not want to regret this choice. And while it may not harm others, if I do not chose wisely in this for myself, I may regret the choice terribly. So I want to chose well. While it will not harm anyone if I chose poorly, my choice may have outcomes for others; so I need to be careful in my discernment.

It would be easy, gentle reader, to simply pray for wisdom and discernment and then once having completed that prayer, make a choice. And simply hope that I have chosen the correct thing. But my spirit does not seem to be willing to make it that easy. So I ponder this, even to the point of pondering how to form my prayer to the Lord.

It is possible I am making this too difficult. Maybe, just maybe, if I postpone making any decision the correct decision will present itself. Having come to the Lord saying, there is a decision I need to make but I have no idea how to decide or what to decide will be enough to start something in motion. Maybe, just maybe, having written about it is the first step in this process of discernment. If so, thank you gentle reader for listening.

May the Lord God who desires all good things for us be will you in all of your decisions and discerning. Shalom!

Pondering the Psalm Passage – Rescued from the shakes

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.” (Psalm 13:1-4)

The previous three or four days before I sat down to write this were as good of health days as I have had for a long time. But the morning of the day I sat down to write, I felt the familiar aches and pains that meant another “flare” was coming. While I try to live my live so that I am an enemy to no one, and no one would consider me any enemy, I do have an “enemy” of sorts – my own body. I have several autoimmune diseases.

An autoimmune disease means that for some reason your own body attacks itself; there are many types and kinds of autoimmune diseases. Sometime arthritis is considered an autoimmune disease; it may come with old age or it may start its “corrosive” action at an earlier age. Type 1 diabetes can be considered autoimmune; my type is type 2, but it seems in a causal relationship with my autoimmune diseases. I am part of several support groups that are composed of people who have autoimmune illnesses or who know/support people in their lives who have one or more. In any case when I have flares, which are gradual or sudden increases in symptoms, I am shaken. And it does seem like my “enemy” has prevailed. But the psalmist and I are not alone, as the support groups attest to.

“But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (Verses 5 – 6)

This trust in the Lord and having been dealt with “bountifully” does not mean symptoms go away or that I feel better. “Better” is only a relatively term, and as I have learned again lately, does not last long. I am still able to keep to some sort of a regular schedule and list of accomplishments only because the sum total of my strength, stamina, and endurance does not lay only within my one body but also in the Lord. Over the years where my ability fades off and the Lord’s ability steps in to carry me through has blurred over the years such that I am not sure where one ends and the other begins. And that is why I trust the Lord and trust in the Divine’s steadfast love.

In a sense, we all have an autoimmune disease – we call it “sin” and “human willfulness.” We do things that are hurtful to our soul and spirit, and the soul and spirit of others. We “attack” harmony and the shalom that the Divine wishes for the world. And when the Lord God rescues us and all of humanity, that is the salvation that the psalmist rejoices in. I do too, for that matter.

So I am at peace; the Lord is with me, both for my health and my salvation. The enemy will not, in matters that are most important, prevail. Selah!


Addendum: This blog post also appeared on A Simple Desire. But this one posted 15 minutes latter by design. I have been posting in dual character, so to speak for several years. But both blogs are by one and the same person, me. And as time goes on, I would like to merge the two more often. Shalom.

But I still am a political agnostic

[I saw this in my “GoComics” feed June 13, 2017. I want to give full credit to both “GoComics” and Joe Heller whose work I have enjoyed for many years. But it also inspired me to complete the song, along the same lines that Heller wrote. I also posted a version of my song completion in the comments section on the “GoComics” page. This is a slightly updated version. I am not political by nature, but I do have opinions. And I suspect they will come through. So start humming the tune of “Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, and read on.]

In a restless campaign I trod alone
Narrow streaks of insolence my own
‘Neath the halo of ego upward ramped
I turned my collar up and harrumphed
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a Hillary light
That split the night
And torched the sound of silence

And in the campaign light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People rioting without thinking
People fighting without listening
People writing slurs that voices never share
But everyone dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Tweeting like a cancer grows
Hear my words but don’t impeach me
Accept my laws that will probably make you hate me”
But my words like inciting raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the Trumply god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was fermenting
And the sign said “The words of tweeting Trump
Are written on the subway walls
And the Congressional halls
And whispered for decades, the sounds of silence”

Spit Up by a Whale and [Still] Sitting on the Sand

Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land” Jonah 2:10

I am not sure when I wrote the first version of my reflections on Jonah suddenly finding himself on dry land. Seems to be it is a pondering that has been with me a long time. My computer tells me it was sometime late in 2010. It feels like it was earlier in the year than that. Or maybe I was just feeling that way earlier than November 2010.

The story of Jonah has fascinated me ever since I first heard it as a child. Even as the years went by and I came to understand that it was not just a very big fish, but actually a whale that had swallowed Jonah (I had imagined Jonah all folded up like pretzel for three days) I was entranced by the story. And still later in life when I read that some scholars thought it was just an object lesson and not a real event in Jewish history, my enthusiasm has never waned. In fact, the realization that it is an object lesson and a cautionary tale has made it more interesting, not less. Because if it is a cautionary tale, that means one can take a part of it as I have done and expand on it to explore one place in life and not just the long journey.

There have been at points in my life when I have made choices that did not lead to the results I thought they would. And I have had circumstances that have changed drastically in short periods of time. So this story about faulty choices and a radical change in one’s life expectations resonates with me. In the midst of a storm of vexed times, I have had the normal concerns and fears, and hoped and prayed for favorable outcomes. Most of the year in my life, fortunately, I have landed in a good and safe situations. While at the time they might not be ideal, as time has gone by I have realized that it has indeed been the best outcome.

However, there have been many times when I felt like I have been tossed about by a situation, “thrown overboard”, consumed, then spit out, and then found myself washed up on the beach, wondering what happened and what I should do next. The past few months have been such a time. I have had times like that before, evident from the fact that I first wrote this back in 2010. And I have to remind myself I have been on this beach before, several times before, and have survived.

Let talk briefly about how Jonah’s experience compares to mine. Jonah, upon finding himself once more on dry land, heard the voice of the Lord, was told where he needed to go; and he went there and did as he was told, up to a point. But that has not always been my experience – hearing the voice of the Lord and being told where to go and what to do. Several points in my life I found myself spit out on to the beach, but have just sat there. You see in these instances the voice of the Lord had not spoken to me yet – but I was hopeful the Lord would speak soon, and am hopeful. In the meantime, I was and am again, sitting on the beach. And during the times I sit, I think of the Jonah story.

It is with great interest that I note verse 10 said it was on “dry land” that Jonah was hurled upon. Many of the times I have been tossed up on the beach of life, I too had found that it was a very dry and arid place. After being in a “damp and dim” place and situation, I found the light of day showed things all too clearly and the dryness left me thirsting for refreshment. It was not a place conducive for figuring out what should come next, yet neither was it a place well suited for waiting. I wanted to move on but I do not know where to. That has been my experience before, and is again.

I noted also that in the story of Jonah, he learned his lesson and went to Nineveh, as God had originally wanted. That is, God called him again to do the same thing and this time Jonah went willingly. However, as the events of the rest of his story unfolded, Jonah had to learn another lesson to learn. And it amazed me that Jonah could be so stubborn as to question the Lord’s will. Jonah had heeded God’s call the second time. Why could he not accept all that was in the Lord’s plan? I would be very glad for the Lord God to reveal to me the total plan so I would know what I should do.

But as I said, God does not always speak to me immediately. At least not in ways I can hear and understand. This is one of the “in-between” the verses, when I am waiting to know in what direction to go. No longer in the fish, but not on my way anywhere. Just waiting. And while I wait I try to get rid of the “fish smell” and stretched muscles that had been cramped for a time. And I looked around me to see what there was and what the possibilities might be. I also thirst for the refreshment of God’s presence in my life again. I eagerly await the Lord’s voice, the guidance of the Divine. And I promise myself that, unlike Jonah, I will not question the Lord, but will accept how God will work through me and what the results of that work will be. But also have to wonder if this “in-between the verses time” might also be a time of learning and growing. So I sit, with hope and confidence that the Lord God should be speaking to me soon. Yup, anytime now. I just needed to be patient and wait.



Uncertainty and . . . . Eventual Acceptance

I find myself humming an old  hymn refrain quite often these days – “It is well . . . it is well. With my soul . . . with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.” It is, to put in liturgical terms, a “call and response.” For me, it is a questioning of how I am doing. I ask my self, “is my emotional/psychological conditional okay?” And I answer myself,  “status quo, as good as it’s going to get. And then I consider the question from a spiritual perspective, “how is my spiritual condition?” And I can answer, “Spiritually, I am doing just fine.”

And that is saying a great deal. Since the beginning of the year my health has been declining. And when I became unemployed, it took a quicker nose dive. I have come to realize that or so long I was forcing myself, day in and day out, to get up and get going. I didn’t have to time be sick and so was forcing my body to perform. But when the lull came, my health fell further apart. That was hard to accept.It’s kind of sad, I think, not to realize how ill you are. Or more exactly, to not have enough insight into one’s self to realize you not well. For a person who tries to be insightful about myself, and about others, that is a painful admission.

And lately I have been re-visiting the question of Divine healing. Or more precisely, why I have not been “storming” heaven’s gates with prayers for myself for healing. Heaven knows, I have been praying for others. And I hear from others that they have been praying for me. And while I appreciate their thoughts and prayers, I have never “coveted” for myself Divine healing. Even way back, when I was diagnosed with diabetes and the first of a string of autoimmune diseases (Meniere’s) I didn’t ask the Lord for total healing. I would ask for strength for the event or occasion, asking the Lord to make me well enough to do this or that. I would ask and plead for enough health to get through certain times of my life. But I don’t ever remember asking for the Lord to take away my ailments. Because, gentle reader, getting sick never really shook my faith.

Sure, I asked why me, and how I was going to do what I felt I was called to do. How I was going to be able to cope with all that was in my life. I asked the Lord how I could get so sick when I felt there was so much I was called by God to do. And asking what I should do if the strength and ability to do certain tasks was not there. But my faith in the Lord was never shaken, but in fact deepened.

Lately I have tumbled that question around in my brain, and have thought on it for some time; and basically waiting for an answer. The answer came to me as I was giving solace to a friend who was also going with a rough time coping with her autoimmune issues. She too has some faith questions. As I replied to her, it clarified the question in my mind – why I have never in a deep and petitioning way asked for healing. It is because I can, actually, do more good for people when I am in the midst of my own health issues. And that is kind of revolutionary in a way. Let me explain.

One of the firm tenets of doing spiritual and faith counseling is that one has to be on firm ground. During my years at seminary I voluntary withdrew from a class because it had become clear I was not in a good and right place to do the practicum that the class required. So I withdrew and waited a year. It was good to wait, and when I took the class again I was much more ready to complete it. My professor actually commended me on my decision. The class was on spiritual direction; interestingly enough, a fellow seminary student asked me to counsel with her soon after I withdrew from the class; and so we did, and essentially I was doing with one person what I would have been doing with several people. The Lord opened up another door and give me a foothold for the year I waited to do the class and practicum. And the year of counseling depending just on the Lord’s guidance prepared me for taking the class the following year. But, I digress.

My point is, to do spiritual counseling you need to be in a “good” place in as far as your own condition. But here I am, speaking out of a very “shaky” place to people who are equally “shaky”. It is that exact “shaky” place of ill health and uncertainty, though, that makes me qualified to speak to others and support them in the journey I am also on. It may be contrary to the usual tenets of spiritual counseling; but when one is deathly ill, it is the voice of experience that comes through clearer than the well-meaning but “chirpy” voice of health.

So, I do not ask for healing on my behalf. In a way regaining the health I lose would be like turning away from the people who I have this disease in common with. Do I think that the Lord gave me this illness so that I could be a more relevant voice for other suffers? No, not at all. Do I think healing is being withheld from me by the Lord? Again, no, not at all. Would I forgo and turn down treatment? For a final time, no, I would not and have not. What I do believe and place my faith in is that from the consequences of this disease a ministry has formed for me. Where that ministry will go, I do not know. But I will continue on the path that is before me.

Jesus told Peter three times, “feed my sheep”, and Peter did so. The people I share this illness and disease with are not less the Lord’s sheep than anyone with full health. And so if I can share and commiserate with my fellow sufferers, I will do so, and willingly. Let me be numbered with them rather than with those who have good and firm health. I have a good idea what these “sheep” of the Lord’s need, and I am grateful and humble that I am called on to provide it.

From uncertainty to acceptance. From strength to weakness. The first is certainly the way of the Lord. The second is no less so. Shalom!