Seeing in a New Light

Reflexion of a lunar path in water.Scripture Text:  Psalm 85: 8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.


We’ve talked a lot about waiting and preparation, about opening ourselves to what God holds for us.  For what are we preparing though?  Well, of course, for the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness.  But what does that look like.  Today’s psalter is a good depiction–steadfast, unconditional love intersecting with faithfulness, becoming faithfulness; righteousness and peace being so close that they touch, linking and embracing.  The fullness is pervasive–from the ground to the sky.  The land, all of creation, will finally be what it is meant to be and the way, already prepared, will be found to be paved with righteousness.  So how does that fit into today’s world?  In this world filled with heartache and poverty, with the recent race riots exploding throughout our nation, with the fear of war or terrorism all over the globe, and with humanity’s fear of deadly disease as it leaps the oceans’ edges, how do we see love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness.  How do we see that pathway on which God can break through?


The truth is, a good part of faith includes a little imagination.  It has to do with letting ourselves look beyond where we are, with learning to see things in a different light. The French Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, is probably best known for his incredible landscapes and works of nature as well as for his paintings of those things that were a normal part of his own life. But the most fascinating part of Monet’s work are those paintings that he did as part of several series representing similar or even the same subjects—his own incredible gardens, poppy fields, a woman with a parasol, and those unusual haystacks.


The paintings in this series of haystacks were painted under different light conditions at different times of day. Monet would rise before dawn, paint the first canvas for half an hour, by which time the light had changed. Then he would switch to the second canvas, and so on. The next day and for days and months afterward, he would repeat the process. In each painting, the color of the haystack is different not because it is a different haystack, but because the amount and quality of the light shining on the haystack is different. The subject is the same but the perspective from which it is viewed changes with the light.  Up until this time, color was thought to be an intrinsic property of an object, such as weight or density. In other words, oranges were orange and lemons were yellow, with no variation as to the lens through which they were viewed. But with Monet’s studies in light and how it affects our view of life, that all changed. As Monet once said, “the subject is of secondary importance to me; what I want to reproduce is that which is in between the subject and me.” Monet’s study was one in seeing things differently.  Beyond just painting the subject that was in front of him, he began to paint the light that illumined it.


You see, as we walk through the Advent, the light changes.  The dawn is just beginning to break.  Can you see it?  Aren’t things beginning to look a little different?  That’s the whole idea.  Maybe rather than waiting for the glory of God to come, we are called to begin to see the world as it is illumined by the coming light.  God is in our midst.  God’s glory surrounds us.  What would it mean for us to begin to imagine the world bathed in its light?


For the enlightened few, the world is always lit. (Scott Russell Sanders)


FOR TODAY:  Look toward the light.  See the world differently.  Be light.


Grace and Peace,



Beach: Unknown Depths

Beach at Sunrise (2014-05-19)Scripture Text:  Acts 17: 22-27

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.

I got up before sunrise this morning and went out and sat on the deck.  The wind was fierce as it seemed to pull the waves toward shore.  They were noisy, crashing into each other as they fought for a place on the shore.  And in that moment, just before dawn, the light seems to hover over the deep, peeking from behind the horizon, asking you to stop and look and, just for a moment, to imagine something that is yet to be, to imagine something that is yet unknown.  (Yes, I’m on vacation!)  I love the beach.  I do NOT like the crowds or the traffic or the sun frying my skin.  I will drive right past the growing crowd at Buc-ee’s, since I don’t really understand what that’s all about anyway (I mean, they have nice restrooms and all but do you really need a whole pie for your car trip?).  But I love the beach.  I love sitting there in the silence and listening to the waves and feeling the wind and experiencing that moment just before dawn when everything is still, when everything is as it should be, that moment before creation dawns, before the light comes and the world begins trying to yet again mold itself and its thoughts into something that is comfortable and known.

This speech of Paul’s is not a treatise against religious icons and items of worship.  It is against the notion of pulling God down into one’s world, into what can be understood, can be fully known.  It is against the idea of being satisfied that you have by some miracle figured it all out and can check it off your ever-growing to do list.  Paul is pushing his hearers to imagine, to imagine something beyond themselves, something beyond what they know.  He is calling them to plunge into the depths beneath the crashing waves and the fierce winds and to see, maybe for the first time, what you’ve been missing all along.

We hear much about experiencing God’s presence, as if we are somehow running around looking for a God who is eluding us, sort of playing hide-and-seek with our spiritual well-being or in some way walling him or herself off from us.  But here Paul is talking about much, much more than just experiencing.  He is talking about allowing ourselves to imagine beyond what we know, to imagine this unknown God who so wants us to know in the deepest part of our being. I don’t really think that Jesus walked this earth and taught what he taught to give us a book of doctrines or a list of what we should be doing as Christians. I also don’t think we were ever intended to be handed a full and complete picture of who God is. What we were given in Jesus’ life was something much more profound, something much more valuable. We were given the gift of having our imaginations opened enough for God to fill them. Jesus did just enough to peak our imaginations about God so that we would continue to imagine God on our own.

Imagine it until it is. And then, close your eyes. The artist Paul Gauguin once said “I shut my eyes in order to see.” So, do not look at things the way they are. But instead, imagine…there is God, in whom you live and move and have your being.  And then plunge in–into the unknown depths, into a world that you can only imagine with a God that so wants to be imagined.

Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with world affairs.  He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives…He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities…Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace.  He speaks about a change of heart. (Henri Nouwen)

Grace and Peace,


Advent 3A: Altars in the Desert

Crocus Desert IrisThis Week’s Lectionary Passage:  Isaiah 35: 1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Look!  Look really, really hard!  This is not some proclamation of some future utopian world.  This is not our reward that God is dangling before us for living righteous lives.  This is not some other place in some other realm or some other life.  This is God’s vision for the world that is here, that is now.  It is there, blooming in the desert even as we speak.  The question, then, is whether or not we really dare to imagine it into being, dare to open our eyes to see the Kingdom of God come pouring into our lives.  Albert Einstein once said that “your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”  So what do you imagine is next?  The writer of this passage was probably writing to an exiled people, a people who had been so beat up and put down that they were having a hard time imagining anything else.  But this writer looked at a world that was in chaos and saw order, looked at a road so overgrown that it was thought to be impassable and saw a highway, and looked at the thirsty, lifeless desert and saw blooms.  And then he or she writes of a scene that was beyond what anyone ever thought would happen.  He envisions these exiles, these people whose hopes and dreams had long been quashed and whose lives had become nothing more than an exercise in survival dancing and singing with joy as they returned home.

Why can’t we do that?  Have we come so far from this that there is no way back?  Do we have our lives so sowed up that we cannot open ourselves to imagining something else?  Are our plans so finalized that we are not able to listen to another way?  What if this year were different?  What if instead of preparing for a Christmas like you’ve always had, you prepared for the coming of God into this world, for a world beyond anything that you can plan or even fathom to suddenly come flooding in to the tune of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as you light your Christmas candle on the 24th?  Now THAT is what the writer is talking about!

In this season of Advent, we are not just called to look toward that day about which the writer of this passage writes.  We are reminded to look FOR that day, to imagine and believe it into being and to see what of it is already there.  We live within a holy tension of the way the world is and the way God calls the world to be.  But we are reminded that the blooms in the desert are already planted.  We just have to open our eyes to the possibility and then sing and dance for joy.  It will be the fulfillment of the promise that has always been there and, finally, there will indeed be “joy to the world.” Barbara Brown Taylor says that “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (An Altar in the World:  A Geography of Faith, p. 15.)  So, what if everything that you saw, everything that you touched, was indeed holy–maybe not holy in the “holier-than-thou, overly-righteous, inaccessible-to-the-ordinary-human” sense, but rather “thick with divine possibility,” filled with the promise of redemption, the promise that buried deep within its being were deserts waiting to bloom?  Look!  Look really, really hard!

Click on this link for pure joy!

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; behold the King of glory waits; the King of kings is drawing near, the Savior of the world is here!      (Georg Weissel, 1642)

Reflection:  How would you prepare for the coming of God into this world?  How do you imagine a world that is filled with holiness, thick with divine possibility, and the very vision that God imagines?  What do you have to do to look really, really hard?

Grace and Peace,


Imagining Hope in the Wilderness

With all this talk about wildernesses and wanderings, turmoil and temptations, drought and devastation, it is hard to imagine hope.  But the whole point of this journey of faith is not some sort of perverse satisfaction in denying ourselves or in the morbidity of suffering in the wildernesses of our lives.  The point of it all is the promise of life that we have been given and for which we hope.  When we venture into a wilderness, it is not limited to morose sadness and despair.  There is so much more to life than that!  The Scriptures are full of wildernesses.  Some of them are deep and foreboding, some are long and difficult journeys, and some are little more than an unwelcome inconvenience.  But always, always, in Scripture they are a way to somewhere else–parting seas, burning bushes that encounter the holy, or wrestling dreams.  They all lead home.  Beyond the wilderness, on the other side, just over the mountain or just through the trees, is the light, the newly-created dawn.  We just have to imagine it for now.

Maybe that’s what faith is about–imagining the dawn, imagining hope.  After all, if it were clear and always present, we would need no faith.  But even on a clear day, the way is murky and often wrought with danger.  So as we travel, we are called to imagine what is beyond, to imagine what we have yet to see.  It’s the way we find joy in suffering and and hope in despair, not by taking morose satisfaction in our dilemma but in learning to look toward something that we do not see.  There is always something more.  So when you find yourself in a wilderness of pessimism or hopeless, a wilderness in which you just can’t seem to find the way, a wilderness where every turn provides yet another obstacle or yet another challenge or yet another temptation for which you were not prepared, close your eyes and imagine hope.

Think about it.  If you get in your car to drive somewhere don’t you have at least some semblance of where your are going?  Haven’t you sort of imagined what is up ahead?  Why should our faith journey be that much different?  Not that we’re trying to get to a physical destination but rather to a place on the journey where the promise of life is so profoundly evident that we do nothing else but imagine what’s up ahead.  And in our imagination of hope is found life.  Imagining hope brings freedom and joy and strength for the journey.

To be honest, it is this Lenten wilderness that takes us through the desolation of the cross and Golgotha that teaches us hope.  To believe in the cross is to believe that there is something else beyond it.  To live this Way of Christ is to imagine hope.

Hope looks ahead for that which is not yet.  (Henri Nouwen, in Seeds of Hope)

So, continuing with our act of giving up so that we can take on, on this Second Sunday of Lent, let go of somethng about which you are worried, let go of feeling like there’s no way out, let go of feeling like you’ve lost your way, and imagine hope. 

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


Believing in Trust

“Trust” and “Belief” are interesting terms.  Are they the same?  If not, what is the difference?  We are told to “just believe”, as if that will make everything alright, as if that will somehow make us worthy or deserving of God’s attention.  What does that mean?  Believe in what???  Believing is an odd thing.  It moves us beyond where we are, beyond ourselves.  Believing in God means that we realize that God exists, that God is part of our lives, that we need God.  And yet, believing, in and of itself, means that on some level, we have systemitized our understanding of God (or, for that matter, whatever it is in which we claim that we believe).  Once we “believe”, we have in some way locked in our understanding of something.  So, for us God-believers, God has become our own doing, our own creation, our own imagining of how God works and who God is.  In some way, to say “I believe….” is to affirm, yes…to confess, yes…and to claim it as part of who we are, yes.  But saying those words also means that we have in that moment boxed God in to who we think God is.

Why can’t we just trust in God?  Why can’t I just trust in however and whoever God manifests Godself in my life?  God is God.  Why is that so hard to trust?  You see, when you get right down to it, God is not really something that can be defined, or systematized, or limited to my belief system.  Sure, God is comfortable and reliable and one on whom we can count to set our lives on track.  Thanks be to God!  But, God is also wild and unfathomable, unpredictable and imaginative and one on whom we can count on to throw our carefully-cultivated and perfectly-planned lives into a complete and unadulaterated tailspin.  Thanks be to God!

You see, there is a difference between believing in who you think God is and trusting in God who is.  God is beyond who we can imagine in our dreams.  God is beyond who we can claim as our belief.  And God is beyond what we have planned and cultivated and saved for the certainty in our lives.  God is God.  Nothing else.  Why is trusting in God so hard?  Because to trust in something, we have to surrender to the idea that it’s more than what we’re capable of conceiving.  Trust in God…and be surprised at what you find!  Trust in God…and find that in which you should have always believed.

Grace and Peace,


Picture:  Jerusalem, Israel, 2010

Preparation as Imagination

This Advent season is full of talk about preparations. So, for what are you preparing? For what are you spending these 32 days making ready?
We 21st century journeyers struggle with the unknown, with just leaving things to chance, with admitting that perhaps there are those aspects of our journey that are not for us to know now. That is what Advent does for us…it points us toward mystery. Some would equate that to nothingness or, perhaps, even to darkness–unknown, foreboding, maybe even a little dangerous. But God came and comes over and over again. I think that God’s coming does not, much to some of our chagrin, bring with it the surety that we might like. God’s coming instead opens the door to our imagination.

God says…walk with me awhile my child and look…look far beyond where you can see…listen far beyond where you can hear…journey far beyond where you think belong…and there, there I will be, and there will be the Creation that I have created for you. Imagination is not some childhood phenonemon that we are meant to lose as we mature. It is part of us and it mature with us. A mature imagination has no limits to what it can envision; it has no boundaries to what it can do. A mature imagination steps beyond reason and intellect, not leaving them behind, but sweeping them up into a new image, a new Creation, the place to which God leads us. Envision it…and then as you are preparing to meet the Christ child once again, imagine what that new world looks like and begin sowing the seeds that it hands you. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)

So go forth and imagine!

Grace and Peace,