And they wrestled all night


My intention is to continue unpacking what I began yesterday, talk about it, bring it into the light, consider what it means, consider how being at this juncture is where I’m supposed to be.

Today I opened The Good Book, which led me to a commentary by Alexander MacLaren, and there I discovered his wonderful essay about Jacob wrestling with…a man…an angel…the divine presence…God!

Alexander Maclaren (February 11, 1826 – May 5, 1910) was an English non-conformist minister of Scottish origin. “Called the “prince of expositors,” Alexander MacLaren was a renowned preacher of the 19th and 20th century. [The published collection] Expositions of Holy Scripture brings together many of the sermons over his fifty years in ministry.”(https://www.ccel.org/ccel/maclaren)

Here are some highlights from MacLaren’s commentary on Genesis 32 :

So this failure of natural power is the turning-point in the twofold
wrestle, and marks as well as symbolises the transition in Jacob’s
life and character from reliance upon self and craft to reliance upon
his divine Antagonist become his Friend.

How interesting to land on this particular story, and these particular insights now. Spiritual formation study and practise have been part of my life for over ten years. My recent studies have led me to the teachings of Contemplative Christianity (Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Margaret Silf etc.) with distinctions between living from the false self vs the true self. I am beginning to understand my longing for authenticity and integrity, and my unique place as an artist/poet in the world. I have begun to look at The Enneagram as so much more than a diagnostic justification of identity, rather a starting point toward spiritual transformation, balance, and healing. These teachings are rich, impacting. I continue to sense the draw toward this way of being.

And yet, ironically, I find myself wrestling with certain fundamentals of faith…and perhaps wrestling is what is required of me to continue on The Way with God. Do I truly desire to be transformed? Do I?

Further highlights from MacLaren’s expository on Jacob’s encounter with God (bold text by me);

God desires to go, if we do not desire Him to stay. He will go, unless
we keep Him. Then, at last, Jacob betakes himself to his true weapons.
Then, at last, he strangely wishes to keep his apparent foe. He has
learned, in some dim fashion, whom he has been resisting, and the
blessedness of having Him for friend and companion.

The desire to retain God binds Him to us. All His struggling with us
has been aimed at evoking it, and all His fulness responds to it when
evoked. Prayer is power. It conquers God. We overcome Him when we
yield. When we are vanquished, we are victors. When the life of nature
is broken within us, then from conscious weakness springs the longing
which God cannot but satisfy.

And God prevails when we prevail. His aim in all the process of His
mercy has been but to overcome our heavy earthliness and selfishness,
which resists His pleading love. His victory is our yielding, and, in
that yielding, obtaining power with Him. He delights to be held by the
hand of faith, and ever gladly yields to the heart’s cry,’Abide with
me.’ ‘I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,’ is music to His
ear; and our saying so, in earnest, persistent clinging to Him, is His
victory as well as ours.

This is far from being tied up with a bow. I will continue to lean into what is revealed…in word, deed, circumstance, and the world around me. I don’t yet know what it means…this seeking and longing for…answers…peace…justice…love…God?

I continue to read and consider the the new name “Israel” that Jacob receives from God after morning comes and wrestling ends. I admit there is a teeny shift for me when I read MacLaren’s words;

To impose a name is the sign of authority, possession, insight into character. The change of name indicates a new epoch in a life, or a transformation of the inner man. The meaning of ‘Israel’ is ‘He (who) strives with God’; and the reason for its being conferred is more accurately given by the Revised Version, which translates, ‘For thou hast striven with God and with men,’ than in the Authorised rendering.’

A true Christian is an ‘Israel.’ His office is to wrestle with God.

jacobwrestlesgod

An encounter with the Divine…

Wrestling as worship, leading to transformation…

I wonder…

“I Hate You,” and other words on the tips of our tongues…


Love is Stronger

“Love is Stronger” carved by Claire C. Evans.

Dear buddies,

We’ve been friends for quite a few years now, and I know you have heard me rant before. This probably won’t be the last time. This time is with a fair bit of trepidation as I’m still working things out inside me and nothing is clear. It may never be clear. Thing is, I want to say something about it anyway because we are friends, and friends talk about stuff that matters.

If I tell you I’m a Christian (it’s hard to use the big C), or I’m a christian (little c is closer to the truth), that says a lot to most. It says good and bad things without me saying much at all. If you asked me what I mean by christian, I’d have a hard time because there are many things I used to say right out, black and white, that I am not comfortable with anymore. And this is not the time for doctrine or belief statements, rather the time to try to show the kind of person I am without labels. Is that possible. I don’t know.

I remember when I was a little girl. I was really mad. I wanted something really really badly, and my parents said, “NO.” In my anger and disappointment I lashed out and they sent me to my room and I ran down the hallway crying and threw myself on my bed and yelled, “I hate you. I wish you were dead.” Sound familiar at all? And there are many times in my life that I still say this inside, use slightly different words like, “you suck,” or, “you idiot,” or, “and you call yourself a human,” or “you are such an ?*&^%$##!!!” I do. Often.

And I judge. The monologue that takes place inside my head is horrific. If you could hear the voices and what they say, you might not want to be my friend anymore. I try not to. I call myself to account. I try to be the one who judges not lest I be judged… but I will be, I know that to be true.  I still judge. Maybe this sounds familiar to you as well?

So, now you know two truths about me, in my attempt to show you that I am human and not professing anything other than humanity like all those who are mentioned in this post. Just in case you hear judgement or righteousness, I want you to know that is not my intent.

I want to talk about what is bugging me about the day before yesterday and yesterday and maybe open up a dialogue about it. If not, I guess I’m just talking to myself and that’s OK. It’s a topic so confusing and hot and complex that I need to get some words outside my head to try and come to a place of being OK. I’m not there yet.

Day before yesterday World Vision announced they were adopting a new hiring policy allowing same-sex married individuals to work for their NGO. I read about it on Facebook and immediately Googled to see if it was true. It was. Everyone was talking about it, writing about it. And it was both exciting and appalling, depending upon one’s perspective. Some people rejoiced. In many uniquely creative ways some other people said, “I Hate You, and I Wish You Were Dead!!!” They did. Muck was slung, scriptures were launched, people on both sides of the line (mostly within the church) defended their positions and it was really really awful. There were some well crafted blogs suggesting immediate action, either to quit WV entirely or to support through further adoptions. Seems a lot of people’s response to WV’s change was to drop child sponsorship, just to point to how strong conviction/emotions are, and how easy to lose sight of the fall out (reports say over 2000 sponsorships were pulled overnight).

Then yesterday, World Vision changed their mind. In an announcement that included asking for forgiveness, WV turned everything around and suggested they were unintentionally misled, less than scriptural, acting outside of wise counsel. And again, all hell broke loose. Again, both sides launched shit on each other. While the world watched and wondered, and all of heaven held its breath. What was gained and what was lost? We could talk a long time on such things.

I don’t know the answer, I don’t profess to be a theological scholar or a history major or an activist for any special interest group. I know it’s complicated. I know. I was born in Northern Ireland, I’m protestant, and I married a Catholic. I know a bit about church troubles. But I’m a white, heterosexual poet who is married with 3 young adult kids and a dog. I live in Canada. I am not oppressed. Still, I’m deeply concerned and disturbed by this turn of events.

Yes, I believe in standing for who you are and what you believe. There are folk all around the world who are suffering for who they are and what they believe. People are martyrs for the faith right now. People are taking their lives after being bullied for years about their sexual orientation. You tell me about suffering and I will tell you what I know. I will tell you what it was like to be excommunicated from my family church for marrying outside it.  I’ve seen what happens when good intentioned animal rights folk post pictures of abused animals on Facebook. I’ve read comments that would make your blood run cold. Passion can get out of hand. Convictions can result in as much retaliatory evil as the original act. Life is full of suffering. Christian, christian, agnostic or atheist, life is hard and difficult enough to bear without all this hate. God isn’t about hate, he is about love.

So, when I see the sides drawn, and I see the shit being launched, I can’t help wonder where it’s all going to lead? We can see where it led in history, and where it leads in countries around our world. Religious persecution is no different than any prejudice based upon colour, creed, sexual orientation or gender. There are good and beautiful people inside and outside of every faith community, every church, inside and outside of every political group or NGO. Who am I to judge. WHO AM I? The world has for so long been about winning… about the right answer… about treating the one with the wrong answer as less than. About hate. Not about love.

I don’t even know what this means yet, but I do know I will not take sides and fling muck at the church or any other group of people on this issue. It’s not right. It’s not loving. When I feel that deep seated desire to judge flood me, I don’t want to go there anymore. I want to  love rather than divide or conquer. And if loving means not having the right words to say, that will be me. If loving means having a hug rather than having a platform or position, I’m OK with that too.

I choose love. As ridiculously improbable as that sounds because I am fallibly human, I still choose love. And I trust I will learn how to love better as I limp along with God in the lead and eyes on Jesus. And I don’t know what it looks like. I wish I did.

Lesley-Anne

What others are writing on the topic and related thoughts:

http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2014/04/02/where-i-stand

http://sarahbessey.com/ones-leaving-evangelicalism/

http://sarahbessey.com/ones-who-stay/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/when-wed-rather-let-kids-go-hungry-than-be-reasonable-on-gay-marriage/

 

 

 

A surrendered life


Seems I’m a master of melancholy and melodrama and start ups, but not necessarily finishes. At least that’s what the voice in my head says as I sit at my laptop and consider putting into words what may or may not be 100% true for me, 100% of the time.

I’m often tormented in my thought life around how I live vs how I should live. While I hunger for real relationships and depth and breadth of conversations,  I withdraw from my close friends and let the phone ring and texts go unanswered. I hide. Sometimes I don’t check my phone at all. For hours, for days.

Oh, I want to do good. I want to be good. I’m just not very good at being good. I want to love. And I don’t know how to do that in a sustained way. Sometimes I am absolutely unloving. I shared some thoughts on this place of living in the tension of wanting one thing and doing another HERE. But there is more…

Thankfully, this Sunday’s talk (at the church with walls and a roof at Springfield and Spall) is about a way of finding release from living in torment/angst/tension/legalism and living in the freedom of non-performance and  without condemnation (you know, those voices in your head saying awful things about you).

Romans 8 is all about living in the gracious, wide open spaces of spirit focus, spirit life, where I can stop should-ing and could-ing on myself, stop questioning my every move and every pause, and simply walk ahead into whatever God has for me. Believing God will go before me. Believing there is a way to walk somewhat blindly into something you know nothing of, yet do because… it’s intriguing, drawing, compelling, offering more than what simply is the mundane superficiality of life, most days.

This way involves SURRENDER, and I don’t entirely understand what that means in a practical, rubber hits the road, type of way. I want to know. I want to live a SURRENDERED life.

On Sunday morning, after the talk part, we are each given a piece of red paper (blood red, valentine red), and invited to write down something we feel we might leave, deal with, acknowledge before God, something standing between us and the simple and profound way of spirit surrendered living.  And I know what it is, right away. I scribble down not good enough, and take my red paper up to the communion table, to the shredder provided, and push that paper in, and listen while the machine pulls apart the words I’ve been living. I surrender these words to the shredder… and at that moment, surrender to God…

Not good enoughnot good enough… not good enough.

And then I gently take a small piece of bread and a tiny cup of wine in my hand, and go back to my seat, and silently pray to, in the words of John Terpstra, “the one who won us over,” who says with his last breath, I am enough. His life for my freedom. His life for my spirit surrendered life. Jesus, who turns it all upside down and asks me to stop keeping score for myself and everyone else. Jesus who wants me to empty myself of me so he can fill me with something better. I say these words without knowing what they truly mean. What this really looks like in my real life.

Boy with cross

Boy with cross (Photo credit: Eileen Delhi)

I will be thinking on this for a while. I want to live this simple yet profound truth. Not to be great. Not even to be good. But to take the focus off me entirely, and put it back on the one who won me over. I wonder if I can really do it? Can anyone really do it?

Can I capture the wonder of a simple crumb of bread and wash of wine, surrender what hinders, carry significance into Lent, find sustenance enough for a new way of living?

Are you with me… is it possible?

SDG, Lesley-Anne

begin with ‘j’ words…


446. judgement, jealousy,  justification… mine to own, my sinful nature to recognize, mine to gain freedom from. Naming them, and asking God to forgive. Again. Often. Again.

447. finding a jewel beside the bench by the lake, recognizing the metaphor in the single cubic zirconia in a cheap, rusted setting… seeing myself as tarnished, vintage, yet priceless in God’s sight.

448. that behind the heavy lowness of grey clouds, vapour that we cannot grasp or touch or break through often for weeks at a time, there is a glory of sun and warmth and potential for growth, within a vast blue of sky. That this is a season of waiting, perseverance, rest… and more.

449. wind crisp against my face, icing my skin, and the rush glow in my cheeks when I get back inside the warmth, teens and dog welcoming me home.

450. steam rising from a cup of hot coffee with milk and sugar, the warmth expanding.

451. son asking how my walk was.

452. that God can be found outside the walls of the church.

453. son studying hard for his finals.

453. daughter kissing me.

454. finding there is unity in marriage and creating new ways to get there.

455. deer nibbling shoots on orchard trees… following their tracks along my street.

456. iris poking up out of the snow as the mercury announces the possibility of Spring.

457. open mics, music and poetry… blessing God for creativity in all its forms.

458. the profound simplicity of my husbands words, “just breathe.”

459. telling God everything. Yelling sometimes.

460. remembering the naming of the gifts. Re-visiting this way of gratefulness.

461. that this world and these people are wonderland, the fullness of God’s glory, the echo of his voice, that my eyes become dull and my heart crusted over and my ears deaf, and I need to take time to remember all he has given.

That confession and turning is the restart button… that God’s grace is always waiting… and action always follows.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Lesley-Anne

Vintage Disney Posters

Vintage Disney Posters (Photo credit: cattias.photos)

Do not lose hope…


Crying - گریه

Crying – گریه (Photo credit: HAMED MASOUMI)

to all who mourn the loss of beautiful and innocent life, I weep with you…

In the face of the tragedy and evil of this past week, I’m choosing to shout out for HOPE, for LOVE. I’m shouting out to a GOD who deeply loves in spite of all the vile and devastating messes we, his creations, leave in our wake. In spite of who I am, imperfect one, least of all of these, one capable of horrible things, I am SHOUTING OUT to God for all my Buddy Breathing buddies ~ because I’m thinking you, like me, might be feeling a little jaded, burnt out, alone, overwhelmed, sad, helpless, angry, and may be in desperate need of a breath of life? And I know I am surrounded by millions of souls who ask the same questions with a profound sense of helplessness. Others, like my friend and fellow blogger Rob Rife are writing, asking, shouting, crying out…

God, please help us.

Who of us doesn’t feel the oxygen sucked deep from within as news reporters tell of another kindergartener placed to rest? When we hear details of unspeakable cruelty, when we put ourselves in their place, when we shake our heads in disbelief… who of us doesn’t clench our fists and scream inside… WHY!?!? WHY!?!? And what I can offer may not be enough for you, but it’s ALL I’ve got.

God, please rescue us.

You see, I don’t believe there is any hope, any gift, any point, outside of God and his love. After all the pain and suffering is over, after the devastation, after all of it, in the end GOD’S LOVE WINS. I cannot fully explain the why. I believe what we see is the result of a force of evil at work in our world, but even more than that I believe in a God who wins out in the end. GOD is STRONGER than any evil.

God, please overcome our pain, our questions, our loss.

The message of Christmas is that Christ came for us. Jesus became a vulnerable little baby, so that 33 years later he would choose to die a horrific death for us, to sacrifice himself and make a way for us to right ourselves with Father God. (the Easter Story is the rest of the Christmas Story).

Emmanuel ~ God with us now, in our time of deepest need.

We each get to choose God, or not. We each get to decide for ourselves if we want his gift of loving friendship. We each get to gather up our big doubts and our little faith and choose to believe that God does love us and he will always love us, no matter what happens in our lives here… no matter what. God offers us a healing HOPE, JOY, PEACE and LOVE, that starts now and goes forever.

God, please touch us and heal us and restore us.

That’s all I’ve got. That and all the questions that remain around the events of this week. That and all the unresolved emotions.

God, please show your goodness to us, we are desperate for HOPE.

As this youtube video suggests, may we see evidence that there are still good people in this world. May we know in a real way that GOD IS GOOD.

Hard pressed on every side, SDG.

Lesley-Anne

Raging at God


The Grey

The Grey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Note to self: Know that what you are about to write might be misunderstood. Know that this is about intentions, about being honest, about talking about elephants in rooms. Know that when you have finished this blog, you will always wonder if you should have posted it. Write and post it anyway.

Last night I watched a very disturbing movie called “The Grey starring one of my favourite actors Liam Neeson. The language in the movie smacked me around. A bunch of northern Alaskan oil workers made up of ex-cons and blue collared real men really do talk that way. They use the f-bomb like salt… every sentence liberally sprinkled. There were times when I wanted the bombing to stop… my ears hurt.

The Grey was over the top, emotion packed, a thriller of a movie with amazing cinematography and great acting. No spoilers here, hopefully. Yet what struck me most were the underlying spiritual aspects of the story, which came to a head here in this scene where Ottway (Neeson) has just lost another companion.

WARNING, THE FOLLOWING SCENE CONTAINS INTENSE EMOTIONS AND EXTREME LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND:

The reason why this scene gets me, why it is so raw and powerful and punches me in the guts, is because I recognize it. Because I have raged at God. Because I’ve recently heard words very similar to those in the movie from someone I dearly love, and I stayed silent and let them rage on.

I have said, “F*%k it… I’ll do it myself.”  Maybe not in those precise words, but close enough. I’ve railed at God, told him how disappointed, how mad, how frustrated I was with his lack of showing up, doing this, doing that, answering this, working this out, and not understanding me. I’ve thrown tantrums. I’ve thrown stones. I’ve crossed my arms and raised my fists. I’ve grown tired of waiting for him to do what he says is going to do.

What do I expect from God anyway? Do I think that if things don’t go the way I’d like them to, or if there are difficult times, that God is against me? Do I think he doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, doesn’t care?

And if God (the same one who I believe made, knows and loves me) is completely OK with me being completely me, then is my raging-out-of-control-verbal-tirade OK with God as well? Can I be that honest with my God?

I’d like to think that even though my perspective goes off the rails and I’m overwhelmed by emotions/hormones and lack of understanding/self-control, that God is OK with that. I’d like to think that God hears my pleading through my profanity.

I can think of at least one example of a Hebrew guy who God called “his friend” who raged, bargained, begged, cried out in self-pity and isolation and pain. A guy named David (of the Goliath killing kind of David) comes to mind. So if David, why not me, why not you?

Still, there has to be a turning point somewhere, where I stop being angry at God. A point where I am just like a child whose had a face-turning-blue-planked-body temper tantrum, and is worn out in a limp sloppy mess on the floor. When I’m done with all my raging and railing, and my ego/anger/will is spent, there must come a time where I choose to surrender to God. Even if I don’t get it, or don’t get what I want, or don’t ever understand what God’s doing. Even if I can only muster up a speck of faith that says something about God being in charge and not me. Even then…

The Grey teaches me perspective on life and death and how I relate to God in tough places. I will probably never be hunted by wolves, or have to pit my white suburban survival skills against the wild of Alaska. My wild places are closer to home, like in relationship struggles, or in health issues and the crushing challenges faced by those I love. Packs of wolves called depression and loneliness, low self worth, selfishness and jealousy relentlessly hunt me. They chase me down in my marriage and try to tear out my throat. I find myself worn out, cut off, facing eminent danger, and then I rage at God because things aren’t turning out the way I thought they might. It’s true. That’s how I am.

But when the emotional storm passes, I quiet myself down, and allow poetic words like these to wash over my ravaged mind. Ancient words; a reminder of the primary directive and focus of my life, a reminder of my place in the scheme of things. When the raging is over, I go and lay down trembling and wait on God;

16 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.

17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!(A)

19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! 

Habakkuk 3:16-19, Amplified Bible (AMP)

Shivering in the cold and muck. Still, as one character in “The Grey” says, “I am not afraid, I am not afraid.”

Lesley-Anne, SDG

Remember me…


Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day (Photo credit: Lauren Cathy Turner)

386. Remembering… the human ability to call to mind that which lingers and which has meaning

387. Remembrance Day… November 11, the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour… silent thoughtful remembrance of sacrifice of others for my good

388. The Remembrance… The Lord’s Supper… Eucharist… I am taking and breaking and eating and finding good and grace-filled and filled with meaning, because of Jesus sacrifice for me, his body broken for me, his blood poured out for me

389. Memory… the capacity to experience over and over again…

390. remembering to be grateful

391. remembering sacrifice

392. remembering love

393. the silence and sensibility for all this and more

394. leaves surrendering to chill, lack of sun and production of green, the swansong of colours, the final fall to earth and death

395. the things placed upon our hearts as they spill over with thanks

396. beauty

397.  words that last long after we do

398. husband reaching

399. whistle of a son

400. the goodness of all things, the goodness of Papa God

So I receive, remember, respond with thankfulness for all things,

Soli Deo Gloria,

Lesley-Anne

Surprise Communion