Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

Archive for August, 2011

Love – Daily Meditation

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

Probably the most common word to describe God is love.  Love in our culture is most often associated with a feeling, but in the Bible, love is not so much a feeling, as an action.  God is described as love:  the one who loves us so much that God gave up God’s only son to death for us; the one who frees us from slavery; the one who puts up a shield around us when our enemies attack; the one who walks with us, and heals us, and teaches us, and casts out demons.  Jesus also described love, not as a feeling, but as an action, especially the depth of love that would move a person to give up his or her own life for the sake of a friend.  We can say the words all we want, but if the words are not backed up by actions, what power is really there in the word?

  • What was your closest moment to God today?
  • When today did you feel in the presence of love?
  • If you did not feel it, for we don’t always feel it, did you notice anyone acting with love toward you or another today?
  • How did you act in love today?

Guidance – Daily Meditation

“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.

Nehemiah 9:19

Seeing-eye dogs are amazing animals.  They have a huge responsibility to be the eyes of a blind or visually-impaired person.  They guide their human through mazes of city streets or grocery store aisles, watching out for traffic and other hazards that can injure their special person.  Their person literally entrusts their lives to their guide dog.  They are amazing animals, but they aren’t born knowing how to be the eyes for someone.  They have to be taught.  They rely on us to guide them, to give them structure and boundaries so they have a safe place to learn how lead, to learn how to watch for obstacles, and to learn how to problem-solve, so that they can be the eyes for their human.

Guidance is important for us, as well.  Good guidance helps us learn how to make good choices, it gives us direction, it helps us develop and grow into the best we can be.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I have been guided.  Sometimes that guidance has helped me decide what job to take, or what decision to make.  Other times guidance has come after the fact, when I have taken the time to learn from my mistakes, or when the awareness has hit that I have not been the person I most want to be.  God has used a variety of people and circumstances to help me find my way and learn my lessons.  Each moment of guidance (when I listened!) has been a moment of growth.  It has made me a better person, a more giving person, a more compassionate person, and a more faithful person.  In other words, listening to God’s guidance has made me more the person I want to be, and that I believe I was created to be.

  • What was your closest moment to God today?
  • Have you ever experienced a moment when you felt guided, even if you were only aware if it after the fact?
  • Did you experience a moment of growth today?  If so, what was it?
  • Give thanks for those times when you have been guided.
  • Ask for open eyes, heart and mind to recognize when you are in a growth moment.

Compassion – Daily Meditation

Matthew 9:35-36

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Compassion.  A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (dictionary.com).

I love my dog.  Absolutely.  One hundred percent.  If she is scared, or hurt, my first instinct is to do whatever I can to help her feel better.  If she is lost, I want to find her and lead her home.  If she is scared, I want to be there to help calm her fears.  If she is being harassed by another dog, I want to be there to protect her.  I love her, what more can I say?  We love our dogs, and it is only natural to want to be there for them should they be “stricken by misfortune.”

Compassion is one of the ways God is described.  We see it in the story about Jesus looking at the crowds following him, and seeing beyond the moment to recognize that they were hungering after something most of them probably couldn’t even name.  They were seeking direction, meaning, and healing.  Jesus met them where they were, and offered them what they needed.  Why?  Because he had compassion.

In looking for signs of God in our world and day, you may want to start by looking for simple acts of kindness and compassion done by ordinary people.  I believe it is through ordinary people like you and me that God most often chooses to be present and act in the world.  It calls to mind a poem by Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun who lived from 1515-1582, called “Christ Has No Body.”

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

  • What was your closest moment to God today?
  • When did you see someone offer compassion to another today?
  • Did you have an opportunity to offer compassion to another today?  If so, why did you, or perhaps, why did you not?

Awareness – Daily Meditation

Where can I go from your Spirit?
       Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
       if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
       if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,
       your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

God is everywhere.  That just about says it all.  No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, no matter how alone we feel, God is present.  I know that some people grew up with the idea that God is something like “Big Brother” watching them, waiting for them to mess up and knock them down.  But the reality is so much different – and better.  The Bible tells stories of God loving the people, watching over them, and guiding them.  Many of the Old Testament psalms remind us that in our darkest times, God is present, guiding, strengthening, sometimes chastising, always loving.

Sometimes when I work with people and their dogs, I ask them to notice when your dog was doing something right, such as sit or down, or playing with their own toys, and giving their dogs attention when they are doing something right.  Usually we notice when our dogs do something we don’t like, like jumping on people or chewing our good shoes.  We often miss when they are doing something right.  We are simply not observant of those things.  Our meditation is also about noticing – noticing God.  If God is always present, always with us, most of us often miss those signs.  One of the questions I am in the habit of asking is “what was my closest moment to God today?”  The question is about noticing God.  Sometime the answer reflects when I saw God in the actions of another, sometimes it reflects a time when I felt convicted by something I had done, sometimes it reflects a time when I felt I was especially faithful in the way I have treated another person.  The answer varies, but the question keeps me aware and looking for signs of God’s presence in my day.  When I use this with groups, often the first several times I ask the question people struggle a bit to think of something.  They were not in the habit of going about the day looking for signs of God.  But after a while, they would come to our meetings excited about the stories they had to share.  They had learned to look, and the more the looked, the more they saw.

The following meditations will build on this theme of noticing God by focusing on characteristics of God, but for today, if you are doing this meditation at the beginning of the day, enter this day with an intent to look for signs of God’s presence around you, in you, and in the people you encounter.  If you are doing this meditation at the end of the day, look back over the events of the day.  What were the signs of God’s presence throughout the day?

  • What was your closest moment to God today?

Spirit – Daily Meditation

The last gift of the wise men was myrrh, an oil used for healing and for releasing the spirit so that the fullness of its being can emerge.  I look at my dog, Jas, and I see a wonderful spirit that is trapped inside a blanket of fear.  For whatever reason, Jas lives much of her life looking for the next thing to be afraid of.  We work hard to overcome that, and it brings a smile to my face to see her in those moments when she has forgotten her fear and is joyfully living life it’s fullness, running, jumping, playing, and dancing in the presence of her favorite toy, or her favorite person.  The reality is, though, that in spite of those moments, there will always be something of that fear within her.  In spite of that, my goal is to help heal that fear to the very best of my ability, so that her spirit can be set free, so that she can fully and completely live a joyful life.

Many, if not all of us, have something within us that keeps us from living life to its full and joyfully entering every moment of this life that is given to us.  I can put many names to that “thing” – a sense of worthlessness, a fear of what others might think of us, afraid of appearing, weak, vulnerable, of being laughed at, and the list could go on.  Whatever the source, no one goes through this life without receiving wounds and hurts.  As long as those wounds remain unhealed, they will keep us from fully living the life we were created to live.  They will be a blanket that traps our spirits and keeps us from fully engaging and living the life we were created for.

Healing is possible.  Animals have a wonderful ability to help healing happen.  Somehow they are able to help provide the “space” that is needed for healing to happen, and the love that we need to trust in a healing power.  Good friends and compansionship has the ability to help healing happen – when we connect with others, we open a conduit to God.  I invite you to reflect on the wounds you carry, and the healing you wish for.

  • Sometimes we describe our wounds as a void or a longing to be filled, sometimes we recall specific events or relationships in which we were wounded, but we may not fully grasp how deeply they affected us.  I invite you to call to mind, in words or images, the wounds you carry.
  • Image that you are gently cradling those wounds in your hands.
  • You may wish to hold them out as an offering and a prayer, perhaps with words, or perhaps in silence, knowing that God also hears the prayers we have no words for.
  • There is no need to ask for anything specific, simply ask God to surround them and you with love.

Peace – Daily Meditation

Peace.  Calm.  The quiet center.  Sister Joan Chittister says that frankincense was used to bring a sense of calm or peace to life.  I am one that needs to find that center of peace in order to be mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.  When my life gets too full, too hectic, or too cluttered, I get stressed.  I need to find that quiet center in order to restore balance, and when I have balance, not only am I more productive, I am more grounded, more joyful, and more connected to God and to this world in which I live and move.

I believe we all need a place of quiet in our lives, a sanctuary, if you will.  When we are anxious and nervous and always moving, always running, we don’t get the needed rest we need to be healthy, nor are we able to fully enjoy life.  Science has shown that rest, mental rest, provides many benefits, including the reduction of stress hormones, an increased production of the brain’s “happy neurotransmitters,” lower blood pressure, and a healthier immune system.  So the better we are able to rest, or to find that place of quiet centering, the more joyful and healthy our lives will be.  So today I invite you, not reflect, but be.  Just be.  Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I invite you to enter that stillness, and receive the gift of rest.  If you wish, share this time with your pet- they benefit from finding a calm center too.  So sit down with your pet, and settle together, and enjoy the benefits of just resting in God.

  • Find a comfortable position, and simply let your mind rest. 
  • Trust that God is God, and for that time, all of your concerns, all of your worries, all of your responsibilities, are cared for. 
  • Take a few minutes to be still, to rest, and to find that place of quiet in the center of your being.
  • Spend some quiet time there, and let God’s calming presence blanket you.
  • As you emerge from that place of peace, give thanks for that sanctuary that is always within you and available to you, whenever you have need.

Generosity – Daily Meditation

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11

The scripture above comes from one of the Christmas stories in the Gospel of Matthew, when the wise men came seeking the newborn child Jesus.  Those of us who have heard this story year after year may be familiar with the traditional explanation that the three gifts represented Jesus’ kingship (gold), his divinity (frankincense), and his death (myrrh).  Recently I heard an interview with Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine sister, who did further research on these gifts and found out that they represented very different things to the people of first century Israel.  Gold represented generosity. Frankincense was an incense and oil used to bring a sense of calm to life.  Myrrh was a healing oil that was used to, as she said, “bring attention to the fullness of the spirit.”  This scripture represents for me the fullness I seek, both in my relationship with God and my relationship with my dog.

Generosity is not usually the first word that comes to mind when I think of my dog.  Usually I think of her excitement when I come home from work, the fun she has playing with her best friend and the joy she shows when she sees her favorite people come visit.  Her body simply cannot contain her joy in those moments, it overflows from every pore and muscle of her body onto everyone around her.  These are moments of generosity, as she shares unabashedly her love for life and for those who love her.  She truly makes my heart sing, even more so, when I realize that I did absolutely nothing to earn this incredible gift of love and joy.  She simply gives, and gives freely and abundantly, because she loves.

As I look back on my life, I see that God has been the same with me, loving me and giving me all I need, often in my most unlovable moments.  Sometimes that gift has come in mystical experiences, when I find myself unexpectedly filled with a sense of love and fullness greater than myself.  Sometimes God’s generous love for me has come through a sense of support during difficult times.  Other times, it has come through the actions of other people, who have called at just the right time, or spoken an unlooked for word of kindness, or in one case, it was through a stranger who simply opened a door for me.  In hindsight, I look back at all those moments, and realize that just as Jas was generous in sharing her love and joy with me, so God has been generous in sharing God’s love and support with me.  I call those gifts graces, for that is indeed what they are.  I can only hope that I can learn to be as generous and unconditional with my love as both God and Jas have been with me.

  • Take a moment to sit quietly and reflect on the day (today or yesterday, depending on when you read this).
  • What unconditional gifts has your dog given you today?
  • What are the unexpected signs of generosity you have seen today?
  • Give thanks for the immense signs and moments of generosity that have come your way this day.

Created for Relationship – Daily Meditation

In the midst of one of the creation stories in the book of Genesis in the Bible, the one that tells the story about how human beings, when they were still in the Garden of Eden and all was good, broke the rules and began a spiral into one lie after another (Genesis 2), we discover that God was in the habit of walking in the garden with Adam and Eve, friends, hanging out together in the garden.  One of my favorite sermons was published in 1927 by James Weldon Johnson, an early civil rights activist, diplomat, and educator, called “The Creation.”  In it, God says “I’m lonely.  I’ll make me a world.”  And the creation proceeds… light, darkness, sun, moon, land, oceans, trees, flowers, birds and beasts, until finally God walked around and looked at all God had made, and said, “I’m lonely still.”

Then God sat down
On the side of a hill where He could think;
By a deep, wide river He sat down;
With His head in His hands,
God thought and thought,
Till He thought, “I’ll make me a man!”

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;

Then into it He blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

I love this story, because it takes all the stories of God in the Bible, and pulls them together into one simple truth:  God created us to be in relationship with God, and God loves us, and longs for us.

I know not all of us grew up with that image of God, but this is a God that I know at the core of my being, and I long to be so enveloped in that relationship that it permeates every breath I take.  I know that at times when God walks in the garden of my life, God calls and I am not there, because I have gotten so caught up in my own life that I have forgotten about God.  But I long to be so attentive to God that I never miss the voice of the one who loves me and longs for me, and will watch over me always.

  • What was your picture or image of God when you were growing up?  Was it a positive one, or a negative one?
  • I imagine the way I WANT to always be with my pet to somewhat mirror the kind of relationship I long for with God.   As you consider your relationship with your pet, what do you learn, either about your relationship with God, or about what you long for your relationship with God to be?
  • Read again the story from The Creation about God making human beings.  Imagine what it might be like to be held by the hands of God, as God lovingly molds you and forms you into a living being.
  • If you are able, give thanks for the love God folds into you.  If you are not able to go there yet, perhaps you may wish to ask for help in knowing the love that James Weldon Johnson knew when he preached that sermon.

Dogs and God – Daily Meditation

One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to St. Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis’ lap, desiring to be close to the saint.

Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis—which he saw as an opportunity to praise the glory of God.

I was working with my dog, Jas, in the backyard the other day, and we had such a good time.  She thought we were playing games – I thought we were training.  (A very nice arrangement!)  When we were done, I released her to have free run of the yard, while I went back in the house.  Only thing was, Jas never left my side!  Every time I took a step, there she was, by my side, looking up at me with the most adoring eyes.  It could have been the treats I still had in my bag, but more than that, I know she loves being with me.  She looks to me to care for her, to love her, and to protect her.

I think of this often when I am away.  She is always so excited to greet me when I come home, no matter how long or short a time I have been gone.  Her joy is genuine, and her desire to be with me is complete.  She counts on me, and to the best of my ability, I am there for her.

  • Think about your relationship with your animal companion. 
  • What are the gifts your animal companion gives you?
  • What are the gifts you give your animal companion?
  • How is your relationship with your animal companion similar or different from your relationship with God?
  • How is it similar or different from what you would like your relationship with God to be?

 Take a moment and look at your pet.  Picture holding your pet in your hands and surround your pet with love.  Give thanks for this animal in your life.


Celebrating the Holy – Daily Meditation

In a Speaking of Faith interview in December, 2007, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen tells the story of creation from the Jewish mystical tradition.

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the “en sof,” the source of life, and in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. Then, in the course of time, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world and the wholeness of the world broke, and the light and wholeness of the world was scattered into an infinite number of fragments of life, and they fell into all events and all people, where the remain deeply hidden until this day. According to her grandfather, the creation of the human race was a response to this accident, for we are born with the capacity to find this holy light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again, and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. The human task is the restoration of the world. It is about the healing the world.

In the book of Genesis we are told that we are made in the image of God, and as such, the holiness, and goodness, and beauty of God is inherent in all of us, but it is often hidden by the circumstance of our lives and the world in which we live. But it is there, for those who will take the time to look and celebrate that goodness – in ourselves, in our pets, in all those lives cross our path.

• Take a moment to breathe, to still your mind and set aside the worries and cares and stresses of the day. As they come to mind, acknowledge them, and then set them aside, knowing that what is important will still be there when you come back to them later.

• Where have you seen goodness today, or hints of something holy?

• What makes it hard to see the goodness in others?

• What makes it hard to see the goodness in yourself?

• Ask for new eyes to see the goodness in those around you and in yourself.

• Take a moment and give thanks for the signs and hints of goodness you did see today.