Make Time for Miracles

 

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 149, Proverbs 8:22-36, 3 John 1-15, Matthew 12:15-21


So often our faith is tangled in doctrine, politics, and other distractions. We rely on it in (or find it lacking) in times of difficulty or sadness. The church emphasizes sin, sacrifice, and the cross. When we focus on the glory of resurrection, it is inevitably linked to the suffering that led up to it. These are all realities in our life, but they are not the only realities.

God called the creation good. We are loved enough to be saved. There is beauty all around us but most of our busy lives permit so little time to appreciate it and draw spiritual sustenance from it. Scriptures like Psalm 104 are important because they remind us the story of creation is not all about battling the forces of evil and repenting of our own wickedness; it is also about the marvels God has showered on this world.

When we have the opportunity, we need to take time to simply appreciate the wonders around us. When we are tired or hurting, it strengthens us to understand there is something glorious happening. The seasons themselves are cyclical miracles of rebirth, growth, maturation, and rest. Winter snows melting into spring rivers; summer harvest yielding to autumn abundance; no matter what time of year, we are in the middle of a miracle.

In addition to the seasons, the psalmist writes about the diversity of life, from birds to fish to cattle to trees to flowers. He writes about valleys with rushing rivers, majestic mountains, and lush fields. Day and night and everything they each reveal has a purpose. Between the tiniest creature creeping on the ground and the moon illuminating us from high above, the world is full of beauty that exists because God is good.

This goodness is not always foremost in our minds. When we experience disease, poverty, oppression, or any of a host of ills, it may seem far away, even impossible. Yet it exists alongside us at all times. Finding time to find the good may not solve our problems, but ignoring the good makes God seem all the more distant.

Comfort: You have permission to take time out from everything else to find beauty in the world.

Challenge: Each day this week, write down three beautiful things you have observed.

Prayer: God of Creation, thank you for the wonders all around me. Amen.

Discussion: In places of war or extreme poverty, beauty may seem absent entirely. Can it be found there?

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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Today’s readings (click to open in a new tab/window):
Psalms 139; 150, Malachi 4:1-6, 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Luke 9:18-27


Is the concept of an all-knowing God intimidating or comforting? The author of Psalm 139 finds great comfort in the idea that God has been and always will be with him, from conception through death. He portrays God’s constant presence not as one of judgment, but one of personal investment. As God’s carefully wrought works of art, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” we are each of us His precious creation.

Artists frequently compare their own creations to children; how could we be less to God? Like all good parents, He does not coerce our love through threats, nor does He abandon us when we make mistakes. God has our best interests at heart; Jesus assures us no father, when his child asks for a fish, would hand him a snake. Good parents can be strict, but always with an eye toward guiding and challenging children to be their best selves.

Psalm 139 provides beautiful images of the relationship God intends to have with us: guide, artist, parent, creator. Jesus used similar metaphors to describe our relationship to God, and they can help us explore His unknowable yet always loving nature. Whether we are living in the light or the darkness, God desires an intimate connection with each of His children.

Focusing on  God’s presence in our lives, even when we don’t necessarily “feel” it, inspires us to rise to the opportunity of being our best selves. Without reducing God’s role in our lives merely to a supportive buddy or life coach, we can contemplate God’s presence as we devise plans, make decisions, and take actions. Pausing to reflect on how God might view an action before we commit to it can help us transcend fleeting impulses which may not serve us well. If such reflection nags our conscience or sense of guilt, they may be signposts pointing us to a better – if sometimes more difficult – path. God does not promote shame but does encourage us to have self-control. God’s presence is not a fist knocking us down, but a hand lifting us up. Let’s grab it and be the wonderful creations God intended.

Comfort: God is with us always, waiting to lift us ever higher.

Challenge: Before going to bed each night, reflect on which of the day’s actions glorified God, and which you might have done differently if you’d been keeping God in mind. Thank God for loving you enough to help you do better tomorrow.

Prayer: Thank you God for always calling me toward the right direction.

Discussion: Can you imagine yourself as a work of art? If not, why not? If so, what kind of art would you be?

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Gathering the Sparks

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Today’s readings (click to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Genesis 11:1-9, Hebrews 6:13-20, John 4:1-15


Though Charles Darwin did not write On The Origin Of Species as an attack on Christianity, many people interpreted it that way. The controversy of the seeming conflict  between natural selection and Genesis was not limited to Biblical literalists, but was also a concern for Christians who were not in theory opposed to more scientific theories of creation. The real danger of Darwin’s theory was what it said about the nature of life: it was not powered by love and redemption, but by competition and dominance. What did this reveal about God?

Maybe nothing as startling as it seemed. Another Biblical myth – the Tower of Babel – tells us that when God felt humans were growing too powerful and unified, he destroyed the tower symbolizing their potential, forced them to speak different languages, and scattered them across the world. God forced diversity upon his creation, setting tribes at odds with one another. Whether we read Darwin or Genesis, competition and diversity are central to the story.

In the Jewish myth of the Shattering of the Vessels, when God says “Let there be light” he sends forth his divine essence in ten vessels. The vessels are too fragile and they shatter, scattering divine sparks across creation. It is the duty of humanity to collect these sparks and repair the world. Division and scattering seem integral to our creation stories. We recognize the world as broken, and long to restore it.

Now consider Jesus at the well, talking to the Samaritan woman. They are separated by language and culture. As a woman and a Samaritan she is no one Jesus should be talking to, at least by the dictates of his culture. Yet he stops to banter with her, not to preach but to make a connection. They join their sparks to repair one tiny corner of the creation.

Other animals may be shaped by their environments, but humans can choose to shape the environment instead. When we choose cooperation over competition, we help repair the world. Each spark we collect illuminates what it means to be created in the image of a creator. Our brokenness offers the potential to create something divine in a way unquestioned wholeness never could.

Comfort: Brokenness is not a final state; it is the beginning of reconciliation.

Challenge: We have busy lives, and ignore many of the sparks of creation. Where can you slow down and make connections?

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your divine reconciliation. Amen.

Discussion: Are you by nature more cooperative or competitive? Why do you think that is?

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Telescope or Kaleidoscope?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 104; 150, Genesis 1:1-2:3, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:29-34


The first Biblical account of creation tells the story of God creating for six days and resting on the seventh. That story is immediately followed by a second one that differs in detail but still ends with the first human beings in a garden paradise. When we recall the stories, we often blur the lines between them, taking a six-day schedule from one, a borrowed rib from another. The Biblical creation accounts don’t stop with Genesis. Proverbs, Job, John, multiple Psalms – these and other passages provide widely varied accounts of how God went about creating the world. How is it they can be so different, yet part of a unified whole?

The Gospels are similar. Each tells the story of Jesus from a different viewpoint, so they are similar but not the same. Studies show that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable, yet sometimes our legal system still depends on them. The more witnesses who can corroborate key details, the better. A telescope is accurate but limited by its singular field of vision; a kaleidoscope gives us many angles of the same view.

Let’s consider our own histories. When we and our siblings or friends reminisce about childhood, we don’t all recall it the same way. Ever listen to a married couple tell a story jointly? There is quite a bit of give and take, argument and correction as they navigate their way through the tale. Witnesses, friends, or partners, they are all working toward finding truths that can only be reconstructed by layering multiple perspectives and insights.

When we dive into the big questions – Who am I? Why am I here? What’s it all about? – no single story tells us all we need to know. The compilers of the Bible were not concerned that the creation stories “agree” because that’s not the point. Even the “conflict” between Genesis and science disappears when we consider facts and truth are not revealed in a single snapshot, but in multiple exposures over a long period of time. If we insist that only one story is factual, we’ll never know which ones are true.

Comfort: We don’t have to have all the answers.

Challenge: We have to keep asking the questions.

Prayer: God of Creation, help me to value your truth more than my own certainty. Amen.

Discussion: Every family has its own mythology. What’s one of your family’s most meaningful stories? If you don’t have a family, what makes a story meaningful to you?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!