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Many of us are sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic-COVID 19 virus.  We are each gathered in our own special place.  Some are alone and some are with family or with friends.  Some are willing to be in one place for their own safety or for the safety of others.  Others are not willing.

It reminds me of the passage from Luke 13:31-35 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing.”

What does it mean to be gathered in?  Gathering in and sheltering in place can be pleasant or not so pleasant.  It can be delightful, a challenge or boring.  I think of small farmers gathering the cows together and herding them into a certain space for safety.  I think of parents calling to teenagers to invite them to something the parents think would be helpful for them, but the teenagers aren’t interested.  I think of being called together for a special meeting that interrupts what one had planned for the day.

What does it mean to be gathered in by God?  For me, it means to be aware of God’s presence.  Sometimes I find it hard to be aware of the Holy One when I’m in a large group.  As I’m reflecting on being gathered in by God, I’m conscious that I may not always be so willing to be gathered in by God.  When I’m in a difficult situation, I may think of what I can do rather than asking for God’s guidance.  I forget God’s invitation to come.  I forget to be aware of God with me.

God doesn’t promise an easy life but that God will stay with us.  In Matthew 28:20 we read, “Behold, I am with you always.”  God’s promise is that no matter what happens we are never alone.  We are always welcome and under God’s welcoming, sheltering wings.  God will see us through our challenges and difficulties and give us the strength we need for each moment.  We are invited to trust God and huddle under God’s wings.

May you remember God’s promise of being present as you are challenged how to live during these days of the coronavirus pandemic.

August 15, 2020 0 comment
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Sometime ago I experienced unexpected physical problems. Although I’d experienced physical issues in the past, this time it lasted days .

In such situations my mind goes to the worst case scenarios.
I rested, prayed, and read. I found helpful thoughts in A Wing and a Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope by Katharine Jefferts Schori.  In writing about struggles and fears she wrote, “How are we going to respond to the next terror? Where is the blessing in this encounter?” (p122)

As I searched for the blessings of that encounter three came to mind.
-time to relax comfortably with my loving cat on my lap.
-reminded how smart she is for seeming to know when I wasn’t feeling well.
-thankful it happened on a long weekend when I wasn’t supposed to be at work.

Jefferts Schori continues “If my self image is based on having some disease, then its going to shape and limit who or what I can be in the future.  She quotes Phillipians 3:13 ‘Forget about the past, for I am doing a new thing – don’t you see it?’ Don’t’ let the past define who you can become. The future is not going to look like the past…In some sense, we can’t see the new thing God is working in us until we stop expecting this wound to define our future.” (pp.127-128)

It’s easy to say, hard to do, especially when physical issues remain and others develop.

I don’t, yet, see what “new thing God is working” in me. Still, the blessing today is having the hope that God is with me through whatever is happening and having the faith that something new will develop through it all.

In these difficult times I invite you to consider what might be the blessing or new thing developing in you.  If you wish, you may join in the following prayer.

Comforting God, we turn to you for hope in these struggling times.  We don’t understand why sickness and difficult events happen in our lives.  Help us to be aware of a blessing or new things that can come out of our struggles.  Help us remember that you are with us always even when we aren’t aware.  Amen.

March 27, 2020 1 comment
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Written by The Rev. Dr. M. L. Coufal

Last fall I bought a beautiful African Violet planter with pink flowers and purple flowers in the same planter. They bloomed for several weeks. Then the planter ‘s green leaves continued to live so I watered it periodically even though there weren’t any flowers.

About three weeks ago it blossomed again with beautiful pink and purple violets. About the same time I read “Colors bring out the depths of secret presence at the heart of nature.” (Anam Cara by John O’Donohue, p.3).

Just watching the green leaves slowly grow gave no indication the plants would bloom again. Yet deep within the plant was the secret presence of colorful flowers. It’s a reminder to us that within our inner depths is a secret presence waiting to blossom forth to show the heart of our spiritual nature.

We need to continue to strengthen it. There are many ways to do that. Reflecting as we tend our plants, silence, being in nature, expressing gratitude are a few ways. Each person knows what they need to do. Then one’s inner spirit flowers forth with colorful blooms.

March 26, 2020 0 comment
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Late one quiet evening I was surprised by a very loud thunder clap. It sounded like it came from the courtyard by my balcony. It alerted me to the arrival of an unexpected summer storm. The wind blew hard and torrential rain fell. I learned there had been a lightning strike about a half mile away.

No damage was done here. The trees are deeply rooted and could bend with the wind.

It reminded me of the importance of being deeply spiritually rooted. Many times in life we may be suddenly surprised by a totally unexpected occurrence that stops us. It may take us awhile to get our bearings.

Breathing deeply, being still and calling on God for help gives us strength. We may struggle with decisions and grieve a loss for our normal  has changed. Being deeply rooted in God helps us,in time, find a new normal.

September 18, 2019 1 comment
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Leaves waving goodbye to summer.
Trees rooting deeper.
Annual flowers dying.
Autumn is here.

Birds preparing for southern trips.
Squirrels burying their winter supply.
Wooly worms predicting a cold winter.
Autumn is here.

Daylight getting less.
Twilight arriving sooner.
Driving home in the dark.
Autumn is here.

Breathing in cooler temperatures.
Enjoying colorful falling leaves.
Remembering God is within.
Autumn is here.

Seasons are changing.
People are aging
Growing deeper in God’s love.
Autumn is here.

October 22, 2018 0 comment
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Becoming butterfly 2

 

A swallowtail butterfly landed on a purple petunia.  Then it flew to another.  It ignored the pink and red petunias, red geraniums and other multi-colored flowers on my balcony.

What a fascinating and dangerous journey it had to become a butterfly.  I doubt it was aware of its process.  It just did what it needed to do to live. It grew from the tiny egg to the crawling caterpillar.  Swallowtail butterflyIt encapsulated itself in a cocoon, struggled out of it, and stretched its wings to build up strength to fly away.

I’m sure it has no idea of the joy its beauty brings to all who see it.  We can learn from the butterfly.  We never know what may result from what seems like small act or just living our daily lives the best we know how.  Usually we won’t know how our life struggles and experience may guide us to help others.  A return greeting to a drug store clerk may make her day.  Calling persons who may be having a hard time lets them know they are important.  Letting someone know you are thinking about them assures them they aren’t alone.  These and many other seemingly small acts can bring beauty into others lives like seeing a beautiful butterfly on a purple petunia.

As you see the butterflies, I invite you to reflect on how you, too, bring beauty into others’ lives.

August 25, 2018 0 comment
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For many people, this week begins the 40 days preparation for Easter. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes on their foreheads, reminding all “that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:10) or “repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.” This ancient ceremony is a sign of our mortality. This season can be a time of renewal and penitence “In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is 30:15) It is a time many focus on the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some talk about metanoia – conversion of the heart.

What does this really mean? How does our heart need conversion? How can this heart conversion deepen our relationship with Jesus? Are we not already living the best we know how? Prayerfully we ask God for guidance or discernment. Often it’s the little things that we need most to change.

We might be led to set aside five minutes a day for prayer and reflection on how God has gifted us that day. Maybe we need to be more accepting and understanding of ourselves and our needs, like getting enough sleep. Perhaps we need to be more understanding of others. Perhaps God is inviting us to be more mindful and present in what we already do.

During this Lenten season, we can turn to Jesus and ask Him for strength to let go and be open to a change of heart, a new life and deeper relationship with Him.

I believe the more we are aware of God’s love for each of us individually, the more we’ll be able to live out that love in our daily lives and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all around us.

Let us together “Repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ,” and share that with others.

Have mercy on me, O God,
Because of your constant love;
In the greatness of our compassion
Wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.

I recognize my faults
I am always conscious of my sins
Against you only have I sinned
And done what is evil in your sight.

A faithful heart is what you want;
Fill my mind with your wisdom,
Create a pure heart in me, O God,
And put a new loyal spirit in me.

You do not want sacrifices
Or I would offer them
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit’
A heart contrite and humbled,
O God you will not spurn.
–Psalm 51:1-4, 6, 10, 16-17

Suggested Scripture Readings;
Deuteronomy 26:4-10
Psalm 91
Romans 10:8-11
Luke 4;1-13

February 18, 2018 0 comment
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Snowfall indicated by white cloudy day
No blue sky visible.
When will the snow come?
How long will it last?
How much will fall?

Not important this weekend.
No need for me to leave my home.
No driving necessary.

Open the blinds.
Watch the snow fall.
Tiny white flakes
Seemingly chasing each other.
Who will touch the earth first?
Where else might they land?

Barren trees, pine trees,
Parked cars, roof tops.
All quickly frosted with a
Thick layer of
Soft fluffy white.

God’s winter beauty.
Quiet, gentle, peaceful
Urges me to soft, inner stillness
Reminding me.
God’s within.

January 2, 2018 0 comment
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Many, many years ago a friend shared that receiving spiritual direction had helped her grow in her relationship with God.  This was a new thought for me.  I explored  that spiritual practice.  Since that time I’ve found it invaluable as part of my spiritual journey.

Spiritual direction is a spiritual practice in which an individual or group share how they are living their lives in order to grow in their relationship with God, the Divine and/or deepen their spiritual life.

Spiritual director is a title for a spiritual guide/companion or mentor.  The practice of spiritual direction  has been a practice for thousands of years though it wasn’t given that title.   In Hebrew Scriptures we find many examples such as Samuel being guided by Eli  (I Samuel 3:1-18)or Joseph who interpreted dreams (Genesis 40:1-41:37).

In the early days of the church people would go to the desert to consult with the desert mothers and fathers for spiritual guidance.  These desert mothers and fathers had gone into the desert to deepen their own relationship with God and thus were known as ones who could also guide others.

Even today, people who want to deepen their spirituality or focus more intentionally on their relationship with God, look for a guide or mentor.

Receiving spiritual direction is an opportunity to share one’s spiritual hopes, struggles, joys and concerns.  It helps one be accountable in growing spiritually and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine.  In spiritual direction the directee shares with the director what has been important in their spiritual life since the last meeting.  They may share their prayer life, dreams, life experiences and where they are aware of the Divinity in their life.

A spiritual director listens to what is said and reflects back.  The Spiritual director is also aware of God’s spirit being the real director.  Thus the spiritual director does not usually give directions but through asking questions helps the individual find the directions that are already in one’s heart.

I find that talking with a spiritual director on a regular basis helps me stay focused on how God is working in my life and helping me in ministry.  It helps me be aware of when I think that all I do depends on me, rather than on God.  It helps me remember and be thankful for the gifts God gives me.

Now, not only is spiritual direction a very regular spiritual practice for me, I’ve also become a spiritual director for others who want to use this spiritual practice to deepen their spiritual life.  I encourage all who are interested to engage in this spiritual practice of meeting regularly with a spiritual director.

 

December 17, 2017 0 comment
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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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