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March 2017

This is the season of Lent.  Lent means different things to different people.  When Lent began, did you think of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection?  Did you think of penance?  Did you think of giving up something or stopping smoking or eating less?  Did you think of doing an extra kind act for someone daily?  Doing something   hard for forty days seems like a long time.  If you did, what led you to make that resolution?

What is Lent all about? The word means spring or springtime.  This is the time of the year in Indiana when winter is almost over and new life is starting to show itself in nature around us, to come out a little brighter.  Spring reminds us of new life coming from seeds and bulbs planted earlier, new branches and tiny leaves on trees.  The sky looks a deeper blue.  It’s a thrill to see the trees and bushes start to bud.  It can be a time in which we want to grow spiritually.  Lent can be a time for new spiritual life as we consider our past and begin again to renew an aspect in our lives.

In Joel 2:12-13 we read, “Yet, even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”

“Return to me with your whole heart…”  What does it mean to turn to God with our whole hearts?  We pray.  We worship God in private and sometimes in public.  But turning to God with our whole heart means more.

When we love someone deeply we want to be with that person often.  If we’re away from that person, our thoughts will often turn to that person.  We’ll wonder what he or she is doing and how their day is going.  The more we are with that person, the more we’ll learn to know and love that person.  We’ll learn what things please our special person and what makes that person sad.  We’ll probably want to do things that will make that person happy, that will let that person know of our love.  We’ll want that person to love us, too.  In this way we are turning our hearts to that person.

So, too, with God.  We can turn our hearts toward God.  How has God worked and entered our lives?  Sometimes God may do it in a big way, but usually God comes to us in little ways.  This is a good time to reflect on the times that we haven’t really wanted God to come into our lives very deeply for it might have meant a change in us.  It might have meant a deep realization that God is God and in control and we are not.  Maybe there is a certain part of our lives that we want to keep to ourselves.  This is a good time to talk it over with God.

God loves us.  God loves us so much that Jesus came to convince us of God’s great love for us.  We haven’t done anything to earn this love.  God loves us first, and because God loves us, we can turn to God and love God in return.

As we examine our lives during this Lenten season, we can see how God truly has been with us with strength and help.  Even though at times God seems far away, God is near!  By thinking of God, talking to God in times of suffering, sorrow and joy and trying to be more alert to God’s presence, we will be returning to God with our whole hearts, as Joel encourages us to do.

Enjoying the new life springing forth in nature, we can consider the new life that God is giving us.  I share this prayer with you, based on Hildegard of Bingen’s focus on God’s creation.

“O God, may I never forget how precious is the earth to you.  Help me to cherish every bit of earth so that in doing so I will be reminded of You who created and sustains this garden of delights, which I call home.  And may the care I show for it be a reflection of my love for all living things.”    Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

 

March 26, 2017 0 comment
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This month we’ve had a change in the way we keep clock time.  We’ve “sprung forward” an hour.  Though not officially the beginning of spring on this Sunday, it reminds us of the beginning of spring.

Spring in Indiana brings hope as color rises forth in nature.  Crocuses show forth in lavender.  The daffodils and jonquils are bursting out in yellow and white.  Tulip leaves are pushing through the hardened winter soil.  The trees are starting to bud and sprout leaves.  Song birds are returning with their joyful melodies.  The earth fluctuates from late winter to early spring temperatures.  We even get some snow though it doesn’t last.

How can this encourage us to spring forward in our spiritual lives?

Are you feeling like the frozen ground waiting to thaw?  Maybe the rain would encourage the thawing if you would feel the sadness of a frozen heart.  Letting the tears come could soften your heart and let you know that God is present in the sadness and tears.

Perhaps you are feeling like the trees whose roots deepened over the winter and are getting new life from the nutritious earth.  Your encouragement to spring forward may be by reflecting on the ways God has nourished you in the midst of winter.

Do you feel like the tulip leaves carefully peeking up from the ground?  Your encouragement to spring forward little by little may be as God guides you gently through quiet and prayer.

Are you feeling like the spring daffodils with their bright yellow color spreading joy to all who see them?  Your springing forth may be sharing your own joy of God’s gifts to you.

Or are you like the cheerful songbirds encouraging others by offering the music of your life through your presence and not asking anything in return?

I invite you to take some time this season to reflect with gratitude on how God has encouraged you to spring forward in your own awareness of God’s gifts to you.

Creator God, thank you for the many beautiful examples of your love you’ve given us in nature this season.  May they inspire and encourage us to spring forward to deepen our own love for you and all creation.  Amen.

March 19, 2017 0 comment
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Ash Wednesday

Most religions have a ceremony or a time in which the faithful reflect on their actions during the past year.  This is often combined with a time of discipline which may be fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent for many in the Christian church.  The forty days of fasting or penitence (not counting Sundays) may begin with the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful.

Many Christian denominations use this ancient ceremony of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful with the words from Genesis (3:10) “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”    Receiving ashes may be part of the act of confession, of penitence and as a sign of our mortality.  The Ash Wednesday service connects us with the past, with our present, and with our hope for new life in our Risen Christ.

Burnt palm ashes from the palms of the previous Palm Sunday symbolize our past history.  While anointing with ashes was widely used after the seventh century, there is evidence that it originated in Gaul in the sixth century.

This ancient ceremony has another valuable reminder for us.  Dust is of the earth.  Receiving the ashes reminds us that we, too, are from the earth.  The earth is very important to us.  Our earth is a gift from God.  Yet, we forget we need to take care of it and all creation, too.

The words of Isaiah still hold true, “The earth is mourning, pining away,…the earth is defiled under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed the laws, violated the decree, broken the everlasting covenant.”  (Is. 24: 4-5)

More and more we are made aware of the ecological disasters of the earth such as the depletion of ozone layer, the destruction of the rain forests,  climate changes,  the massive oil spills and the chemical spills in the rivers     Each of us is led in different ways to take care of our part of the earth.  May being blessed with ashes help us renew our care of the earth.

In preparing for Ash Wednesday, I was reading some of the writings of Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century prophet, healer, preacher and mystic.  Hildegard understood that for those who live in Christ, all creation is God’s work, and that the earth especially is waiting with eagerness to be saved. .  Hildegard writes “Creation reveals the hidden God just as clothes hint at the shape of a person’ body.”  Praying with Hildegard of Bingen  by Gloria Durka  ISBN-10 0884892549

During this holy season, we are invited to repentance, reflection and renewal.  It is a time to reflect on our failings, not only in relationships with God and each other, but how we relate to ourselves and all creation.   Our relationship with God is effected by how we relate with all around us.

I invite your reflections to include how God has led you to positive relationships with others and creation.  Also, remember that though you are dust,  at the same time you are God’s special creation.  You are God’s handiwork whom God loves and in whom God delights.  (Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 18:19 (or vs.20 in some Bibles);  Ephesians 2:10

The more we are really aware of God’s love for each of us individually, the more we’ll be able to live that out in our daily lives and share it with others

Prayer:

Loving God, may these ashes remind us of our connection to you and our earthly home.  Thank you for delighting and loving each of us and for giving us our beautiful earth.

As we go through this season of Lent create in us new and contrite hearts.  Help us remember that our strength for repentance, reflection and renewal is in quietness and trust in you.  (Isaiah 30:15)  Amen.

 

 

 

March 11, 2017 0 comment
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