Laboring prayer

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

We loaded 47,650 pounds of pumpkins off the truck yesterday. Our church will sell them through October to raise funds for missions. I ended the day tired, sore and happy. My knees in particular went to bed with a keen memory of the work.

Work it was, picking up and passing (or tossing) 2,656 pumpkins down the line, out of the truck and into the church yard. Some weighed as much as 40 pounds. Deep in the bowels of the semi trailer, it was dark, dusty and sweaty. Pumpkins were tumbling down from the pile, flying through the air, swinging down the line. And in that labor there was joy. There was laughter. Had we not been grunting so much there could have been more singing. (There was a brief chorus of “47,000 pounds of pumpkins on the truck.”) There was a sense that we were passing more than fruit from hand to hand. (Yes, pumpkins are fruit.) And in the end there was the satisfaction of a job well done.

For a few hours we joined in the song of laborers, the dance of mind and muscle. We joined all those whose labor is their lives and their prayer: stevedores unloading ships; ranch hands bucking hay; trash collectors heaving out our garbage; bellhops carrying luggage; stonemasons hauling bricks; fruit pickers, fishermen, roofers and miners. And for a moment we also joined those for whom labor is not a joy but an oppressive burden, those who harvest our chocolate or sew our shirts or dig for our diamonds, whose labor is dangerous, and done under duress. I give thanks for all their labors, and lift them up as offerings to God.

Sometimes our prayers are wordy things; sometimes they are silent thoughts. But sometimes our prayer is labor, our shoulders put to the weight of the world, our hands laid upon the rough and the smooth, our backs familiar with the heft of life.

Give thanks for all that you can do. Give thanks for the strength of your flesh. Give thanks for the simple jobs in which you can praise God, serve your neighbors, and make the world a little more beautiful. And when you’re done, don’t forget to say “Amen.”

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Autumn colors

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Autumn colors have an edge.
Shards of red and orange crackle
through the cracks and splintered ends
of summer’s gentle arc.
Behind the green and murmuring veil of bliss
death speckles every leaf and bark,
and colors spark and hiss.
Leaves turn the shade of blood,
the shade of bread, then die;
they bleed and wash the trees
with broken colors,
shadows radiant and bright,
‘till all is gathered and dispersed,
‘till all is white.
Death’s season; passion’s colors:
these hues are loose,
and not at our command,
but still not unforgiving:
undomesticated shades
only at the edges of our living.
Faith is such a luminous surrender:
the red transfiguration of the tree,
celebrant with unexpected brightness
pouring life, unshackled, to the wind.
Listen at the garden’s edge, dear child
of life and death, to this rustling oracle:
that what we call a miracle
is often simply wild.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Rekindle the Gift

Dearly Beloved, Grace and Peace to you.                     Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.          — 2 Timothy 1. 6-7

At your conception God laid a creating hand on you and brought a gift of power and love into this world. At your birth your mother wrapped her strong hands around you and God’s gift in you sparkled in the light: the gift of being who you are, of letting your beauty blossom naturally, of belonging among us. At your baptism somebody laid a gentle hand on you; some human touch connected your heart with another, which was connected to all others. That hand touched God’s gift in you, the gift of the Spirit, the power to radiate God.

Since then much has threatened to bury that gift, to quench the flame. But take courage. Christ continually comes to rekindle the gift. There can be no more serious question for you than this: What do you need to do to rekindle the fire of God within you? Do it. And don’t finish answering too quickly. Keep listening.

Discipline yourself to care for your spirit of love and power so that in your own way you can abandon all cowardice and radiate God.

                    Deep Blessings, Pastor Steve

______________________ Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light www.unfoldinglight.net

Rekindle the gift

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

         — 2 Timothy 1. 6-7

At your conception God laid a creating hand on you and brought a gift of power and love into this world. At your birth your mother wrapped her strong hands around you and God’s gift in you sparkled in the light: the gift of being who you are, of letting your beauty blossom naturally, of belonging among us. At your baptism somebody laid a gentle hand on you; some human touch connected your heart with another, which was connected to all others. That hand touched God’s gift in you, the gift of the Spirit, the power to radiate God.

Since then much has threatened to bury that gift, to quench the flame. But take courage. Christ continually comes to rekindle the gift. There can be no more serious question for you than this: What do you need to do to rekindle the fire of God within you? Do it. And don’t finish answering too quickly. Keep listening.

Discipline yourself to care for your spirit of love and power so that in your own way you can abandon all cowardice and radiate God.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Free

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
        

Don’t seek divine union,
not yet. That’s a lot to ask for.
Don’t seek wisdom or deep faith.
They take a long time to grow.
Don’t bother with feeling God’s presence.
Feelings are slippery things.
And to know the will of God,
well, that’s ridiculous.

Simply want this:
to be free with God.

The blackbird cries raucously,
lifts from the dead branch
and swoops over the driveway.
And the sky,
the blue and white sky
loves it.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Enemies in the Psalms

         O daughter Babylon, you devastator!                  Happy shall they be who pay you back
                  what you have done to us!
         Happy shall they be who take your little ones
                  and dash them against the rock!

                            — Psalm 137. 8-9
         

Many people feel uncomfortable with the Psalms that that pray for deliverance from and even violence toward our “enemies.” We often skip over those parts, both in public worship and private devotions. Here are some reasons not to.

1. The Psalms are not all about how we ought to feel or what we wish we believed.  They’re about who we really are.  And we do have angry thoughts & feelings that we need to honestly confess. Sometimes those Psalms express our secret anger. Expressing those feelings doesn’t mean we give our hearts to them; in fact usually saying those things out loud names what we renounce, and leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling: a deep need to repent right now.  These Psalms bring us to confession.
 
2.  Our “enemies” are not necessarily other people. I do not consider anybody my enemy, even some deluded terrorist who’d like to blow me up.  My real enemies are my fear, my hunger for approval, my desire for power & control, and so on.  And I do indeed dislike those enemies, and I wish God would destroy them.  To my anger or my self-centeredness I say, “Happy shall be they who take your spawn and dash them against the rock.” Sometimes I need to say that out loud—in the company of a community who can offer forgiveness, transformation and hope.
 
3.  The Psalms are not our personal Hallmark cards to God.  They are the cry to God of humanity as a whole.  The Psalms voice not only our own feelings, but also the cry for justice of all who are oppressed.  If these Psalms are more visceral and vengeful than we’re comfortable with that’s because they’re not our cry: they’re their cry of the oppressed against injustice. They were written by real people suffering real evil. In praying these Psalms we take their anguish seriously, we stand in solidarity with them and we lift up their prayer, even if it’s not how we would say it.

4. Although we do not wish personal harm to come to the perpetrators of injustice, we do oppose their evil, and we lament its fruits. The “enemies” in these Psalm are not necessarily individuals. “Babylon” is not a person; it’s a nation, a corporation, a system, a cultural mindset. We don’t pray for the destruction of people, but we do cry out for the destruction of what an unjust system generates, its “little ones.” Of course by our complicity we ourselves are also enemies of justice—which brings us back to the first two points about confession.

The Psalms, with all their reverence, anguish, joy, gentleness, sorrow, rage and hope help us embrace our whole experience, worship with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and stand in solidarity with the whole human family and all Creation.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Psalm 137 – a prayer

                  
We pray for exiles and refugees;
for those who have been displaced by war,
poverty, discrimination, poison or violence;
for those who have fled their homelands
for safety, for work, for hope,
for those who have been taken from their homes
into slavery.
We pray with them and join in their song.

         By the rivers of Babylon—
                  there we sat down and there we wept
                  when we remembered Zion.
         On the willows there
                  we hung up our harps.

We pray for all oppressors,
that their eyes may be opened,
that their hearts be changed,
that they find their own true, deepest longings for life.
We pray for them and plead for their conversion.

         For there our captors
                  asked us for songs,
         and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
                  “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

We lament the families that are broken,
the cultures that are destroyed,
the traditions that are lost,
the voices that are silenced.
We weep with them and join in their song.

         How could we sing the Lord’s song
                  in a foreign land?
         If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
                  let my right hand wither!
         Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
                  if I do not remember you,

                  if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

We join in their grief.
We honor their terror.
We accept their anger.
We lift their cry.
We stand with them and join in their song.

         Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
                  the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
         how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
                  Down to its foundations!”

We pray for the end to all violence
and the end to all the offspring of injustice,
that evil itself be demolished
and its spawn eliminated,
that every human heart be free of fear.
We rage with all victims of injustice
and join in their song.

         O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
                  Happy shall they be who pay you back
                  what you have done to us!
         Happy shall they be who take your little ones
                  and dash them against the rock!

We pray for exiles and refugees.
We are among them:
for until our sisters and brother are restored,
our home is not whole or safe.
We pray with them, and join in their silence.

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Mustard seed

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Among darkening mountains
sending roots down
into your despair
         
only a small thing in your hand
a rowboat among battleships
a soft song shredded by wind
         
What equals the wheelbarrow
before you full of laundry
or papers or stained bed sheets?
         
How does the bird find her way
to the Patagonian plains
or the salmon up the impossible stream?
         
What raises the oak?
What fills the moon so full? The sea?
Close your eyes and look around
         
the fingerprinted clay molded into you
along the bones of your years
the decaying soil of your will
         
beneath your continent
something shimmers
nothing more than a word
         
drawn up like a tide, a forest
a song sung by generations in harmony
a root that cracks the mountains
         
not the least bit anonymous
someone holds you close
in this umbilical world
         
a warmth is given
a rain falls on something
no greater than a mustard seed

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Dog mind

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

         
My dog lives in eternal prelude
to something glorious,
each moment a resurrection.
Whenever I get up from a chair he is sure
something great is about to happen.
The wings of his ears fly toward the smallest sound.
The click of the back door opening gets him panting,
his ears pointy. The doorbell or a car in the driveway
is occasion for eager frenzy.
The rattle of dog food pouring into a plastic dish,
the leash slipping off its hook, or the word “out,”
are springs of an ecstasy already granted.
Whenever I stand before my closet I might be
changing clothes. Surely those are running duds.
He sniffs every piece prayerfully.
Despite how often he is wrong, he is sure.
At dinner time in the basement he clatters
ahead of me to the bottom of the steps, turns around
and dances—dances, I tell you—leaping straight up,
David dancing before the ark—
elegant, righteous leaps, outbursts of hope
in holy celebration of the feast to come.
When he wants something—food, or going out—
even his longing is robust and confident,
trusting in things unseen, believing in me,
praying as if he has already received it, as if
even before your wishes are granted joy is possible.
What higher, troubled thinking might I shed,
what regret or calculating quit,
to attain this purity of hope?
Outside, for no worldly reason, suddenly
he drops his hips and fires off in a rocket run,
doing joy circles, for-the-love-of-it laps,
rhythmic explosions in his hind quarters,
ears a-wag, tongue a-flap, tail asunder,
outgunning all possibility of despair.
He rounds the field and heads back toward me;
his ears streaming flags, his tongue a scarf,
eyes shining with the glee that this moment—
this—
he has never done before in his life
and it’s his favorite part.

         

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Psalm 91

         

                 
         

If you totally trust God,
          you’re already in heaven.
You’re inside God,
         and nobody can take you out.

God stands between you and what scares you,
         between you and all the dangers.
Like a mother bear,
         she’s got your back,
something serious.
         Don’t worry.
Spend no fear on the terrorist from afar
         or the cancer from within,
the fretting that wakes you in the night,
         or the bridge you know will collapse.

Yes, suffering closes in around you at times,
         and tragedy walks your neighborhood.
But this is not the title of your story,
         not your end.
Learn to see with clear eyes
         how love never loses.
When you live inside the Beloved,
         and the world is a house that is God,
evil can’t define you, can’t change you,
         can’t find you at all.

The Creator of the world fills it
         with those who bear her love to you.
They hold you in their invisible arms,
         they secretly catch you when you fall.

So stand up to what overpowers,
         don’t flinch from what scares you.
You will meet monsters, learn their names
         and tame them with love.

Love says, “Here. Come settle in my heart.
         Nothing can take you from me.
When your soul cries out, don’t worry—
         I’m already holding you.
In your worst trouble, I’m with you.
         I set you free. I honor you.
I give you the joy of life lived deeply.
         You will shine in me forever.”

         
         

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections