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Patience with Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." Rilke

Winter Mindfulness

For almost a decade I have found myself unable to fully participate in the spiritual practice of mindfulness during the winter months.

How could I mindfully live in the present moment when I had to constantly check the weather forecast?  With daughters and their husbands involved in winter commute to work, I found it difficult not to be concerned about the future.

That has changed.  They all work in the same town as they live.  My oldest daughter simply commutes to her home office to work remotely.  And this mother has noticed the difference.

I now go days without checking the winter weather report.  When I look out the window and see a heavy snowfall takes I am surprised.  I can enjoy its beauty.

I have lived with a sense of vigilance during this season for a long time. I had forgotten what it was like to experience winter with acceptance and daily mindfulness. I am simply living the season now.

It feels much better than survival mode.

Counting blessings!

 

Of Quarrels and Questions

In the Call the Midwife Christmas Day episode, Sister Mildred says, “….embrace the quarrel…the quarrel will lead to the answer.  It is everything we are.” 

She speaks to her fellow nuns who understand that, when following the calling of God we may indeed feel that there is a “quarrel”  between God’s calling and our desires and hopes.  Sister Mildred reminds us that this is not evidence of a lack of faith.  If we were not on the faith journey, there would be no quarrel. This resonated with me for the same reason that I like the quote that inspires my blog.  

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

I have learned to love the questions that arise in me.  They spur me on to seek more of God.  And when I embrace the quarrel, I seek an honest relation with God.

At times there is a tension within me.  This does not mean that I do not experience the peace and joy of the life of faith.  Rather it means that my peace and joy enable me to embrace the quarrels and have patience with questions.   Both will lead me to the answers that God has for me.

 

God and Plastic Straws

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In my country, there is increasing pressure to ban plastic straws.

At first I couldn’t understand the issue.  Plastic straws are so very small and if I used one a day, what was the problem? But I decided to look into it a little bit and what I found overwhelmed me.  Because as I researched, I discovered what an incredible problem plastic straws have become.   The graphic shows that 611,043 plastic straws were found in a one day “coastal clean up”.

Just one day.

611,043 plastic straws retrieved.

Here is the reality.  My “one straw a day” might not seem destructive. However, when you multiply it by the number of people in my family, my town, my country, my continent…my world, I see a different pictures.

We have begun to understand how important it is to say “no” to plastic straws and every other single use plastic items. Because the cumulative effect is devastating harm to the earth.

The more I thought about this, the more I saw a metaphor for an answer to a question that is asked over and over. 

Why does God allow suffering?

As a woman of strong Christian faith, I do not believe suffering is part of God’s plan for us.   I  believe that He could eliminate all suffering in the world any time He wanted to.

The plastic straws illustrate that the problem of pollution is a result of millions and millions of choices

The suffering in the world is a result of a human history filled with decisions to act outside the perfect will of God, in both small and big matters.

If any of us saw a turtle on a beach, we wouldn’t asume that we caused its death.  We wouldn’t tell ourselves that it was one of the straws that we discarded which led to the animal’s death.  The odds of that are pretty small.

But we are right to acknowledge that we are part of the problem that led to its death.

I plan to change my practice.  I will refuse plastic straws.  But only a world wide ban would completely solve the ultimate problem.  Stop production.  Then nobody would ever have the choice to use one.

And that’s the thing.

The world as we know it, exists because God chose to give us freedom of choice.  And humanity has blown it.

The lesson of plastic straws is that God would have to control every detail of every person’s life in order to keep the world in the pristine condition that it once was.

And nobody really wants that.

They want God to stop the big stuff but they don’t see that the big stuff is the result of a whole human history of small choices that have damaged the world to an extent that we can no longer see the connection.

And no matter how much people say they want to see an end to all suffering, they like the ability to choose.  They have enjoyed that freedom all their lives.

God wants us to  choose to love Him.  So He gave us freedom.

Take a moment and imagine what the world would be like if God intervened in every choice that He knows would have immediate or long term negative consequences for the people, in and the future of the world.

It might begin Him knocking the straw out of your hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey of Hope

On August 5, 2010, a cave in left 33 miners trapped 2,050 feet underground in a small mine in Chile.

For the next 17 days, the miners had no absolute knowledge that they had not been given up for lost, but they reached out into the darkness in hope, believing that  they had not been forgotten, that that search and rescue teams were working to find them.  So they called and tapped and kept their spirits up.  They held out their hands in the dark.

On August 22, a drill reached a of 2,260 feet and rescue workers hear tapping on the drill. The miners tied a note that said “The 33 of us in the shelter are well.”

From then until October, 13 they connected with their rescuers and loved ones.  This did not change the fact that they were in darkness and in danger.  But hope was kindled and strengthened by human contact.

On October 13 hope was realized as, one by one, they ascended to the surface.  One by one, they entrusted themselves to the narrow confines of the capsule hope moving into faith that it would take them to safety.

As I contemplated this event at the time, I realized that although dramatic, this journey of hope was similar to the journey that many of us take, when we are dealing with grief, loss, sorrow and pain.

Initially we might feel like we are plunged into darkness.  And we can hardly believe that we will find our way out.  But hope helps us to reach out in the darkness, believing that someone is listening, someone is there to help and someone cares.

As we move along, we start to understand the importance of human contact.  Gestures of compassion and comfort do not change the circumstances perhaps.  But they give us hope that we will come forth into light again.  We are grateful for those who draw alongside of us.

And when we have the opportunity to move forward, it might take a tremendous faith.  We entrust ourselves to others.  We believe that we will be raised up to a place of safety even though our hearts might still be full of fear.  And our faith brings us to the light.

Each of us might be at different places in our journey right now.  Feeling overwhelmed by darkness, reaching out only in hope.  Or finding strength in the connection and community we have with others.  Or contemplating an act of faith.

Wherever we are in our journey, may we remind ourselves that we are not alone.  The love of friends, family and God surrounds us.  Strengthening hope and leading to faith.

We can’t forget in the story of the miners, the individuals who took the risk to descend into the mine, to help bring the miners up.  Sometimes, to journey with those we love means we have to descend into dark places of loss with them.  But the same hope that carries them can carry us.  Giving us strength to come alongside and be there with them and help them reach the place of faith where they can rise again.

May each of know hope and find meaning on our journey of life.  And ultimately be brought out darkness into the light of God’s love.

And may the love, grace and peace of God give us the resources we need.

A Christmas Journey

Written for the 2016 Christmas Eve Service at my Church  (Barbara Moulton)

You sit up suddenly.  What roused you from your slumber?  Gazing around the room you find your eyes gradually make out the familiar objects of the room.  It is silent, other than the sounds of family members breathing quietly in their sleep.

But was there some slight echo of music still in the air?  A melody so beautiful that your heart is stirred with a longing that it has never experienced before?

You move slowly, not wishing to disturb your spouse and children in your little house. You had guests in your roof top room as well, family members who had returned for the census.  Almost everyone you knew had people staying with them.  Bethlehem was crowded.  The inns were full.

Crossing to the door, you look out and see in the distance the hills which surround your town.  It was the time of year when shepherds had brought their flocks a little closer to town and, to your surprise, you can actually see shepherds moving down the hill, lit by a gradually fading light in the sky that, like the music was unlike anything you had ever known.

Your mother always said you were curious and that was definitely at work right now. Shepherds shouldn’t be leaving their sheep.  Where were they going?  Slipping on your outer robe and sandals, you leave the house and begin to walk.

The shepherds are getting closer now and you hear them speaking to each other in low murmurs.  What are they saying?

“We need to see for ourselves. “

 “Remember the sign.  We need to find a manger.”

A manger? Why would shepherds be looking for a manger?  Sheep graze in the fields.    

ou decide to follow them. They approach the first cave where you know animals are kept.  One of them goes in and comes out with a disappointed look on his face

 “Not this one,” he says.  The shepherds move on.

You have to ask.  You approach them and inquire.  What is happening?

And they tell you a story that seems unbelievable. 

Angels from heaven! 

An incredible message that the long awaited Messiah has come. 

The sign they spoke of?  A baby lying in a manger.  A feeding trough!

THAT seems unlikely.

SUDDENLY THERE IS A DISTRUBANCE AT THE FRONT OF THE GROUP. A young shepherd boy comes running excitedly towards the group.

“I found it,” he exclaims, “just as the angel said.” 

With anticipation you join the shepherds and move towards another cave and there indeed, you see a small infant…wrapped up snugly and lying in a manger. 

You shake your head. What kind of place is this for a baby?  The young mother looks exhausted and overwhelmed as the shepherd crowd into the tiny space.  They tell her husband what brought them to this place and he asks for details and exclaims in wonder.

But she sits quietly, with a small smile on her face.  She seems to be pondering the shepherds’ tale as she gazes at her son.

He stirs and she picks him up and holds him close.  Kissing his forehead, she places her finger in his hand and he grasps it tightly as little ones do. 

It is just a baby and a poor couple with no place to stay.  You turn to leave.

BUT SUDDENLY your heart remembers the music that woke you up.  You turn back to the child and gaze at him again. You recall the words that stirred you from your slumber.

 “Glory to God”

That is what you had heard.

And something told you that there was more here than what your eyes could see.  There was glory…a promise of something more. 

In this moment, the words of the prophet Isaiah came to you. Words you had learned as a child.

 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

 “A Sign”…the same phrase the angels had used, according to the shepherds.

 The mother tell the shepherds, “His name is Yeshua.”   You know this means “God Saves.”

Could this baby truly be the one promised by the prophet?  Could this mean that God had not abandoned His people?  That God was with us?

You reach out with your hand, rough from many years of labour, and touch his hair, still matted and clotted from birth.    Just a baby.  How could this be?  There is no glory in this birth but…but…

More words from Isaiah come to your mind.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Was this the beginning of something new?  Would this tiny child play a role in liberating Israel?  That was why the Messiah would come was it not?

Dawn was breaking over the hills.  The shepherds got up from their knees.  It was time to return to work but you heard them sharing the news with the waking town…telling the story over and over.

Did you have a story to tell as well? 

You would go home and share the events with your family.  But just before you leave you turn and look once more at the child.    And somehow, you feel peace.

A stirring of hope that you thought was long dead.

It doesn’t make sense.  You don’t understand how.  But you know that God is at work.  A promise has been fulfilled in an unexpected way.  You walk home with joy to tell you family all that has come to pass.

The Heart of Christmas

Recently I was speaking with someone about Christmas and they remarked,

“Barbara, I know you have always loved Christmas.”  They were accurate in this observation.  My memories of Christmas mornings and special traditions and celebrations have been primarily happy ones.  I love the Christmas decorations, Christmas shopping, Christmas music and SMALL Christmas celebrations with friends and church members.

However, I can’t remember a time when I did not know the true meaning of Christmas as well.  Christmas messages and concerts and candlelight services from more than forty years ago still resonate in my heart.

For part of my adult life, one of the less positive things about my Christmas celebrations, (I am sad to admit) was a build up of expectations.  For about a decade, I tried each year to recapture the Christmas feelings from the past.  Consequently, I missed out on some very real blessings in the moment.

What helped me overcome this was the simple fact that my children grew up.  They got married.  They had obligations with other families.  And some of my traditional Christmas expectations could not be fulfilled.

I realize that I had a choice that I could make.  I could become the person who played the guilt card and moaned.  Or I could rejoice that my daughters had married into wonderful families who had their own Christmas traditions.  I chose the latter.

And so, for several years now, Christmas celebrations have been different.  This year, for example, my husband and I will celebrate on our own on Christmas Day, sharing with our church family and then helping out with a dinner at a community church.  Our home will be very quiet.

Then, on December 31 we will celebrate with our daughters, son in laws and grandchildren.

Somehow, in the separation of the traditional celebrations from the sacred day, I have found myself more attune to the heart of Christmas.

This past Sunday, I read the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke.  As I read these familiar words, tears welled up in my eyes as I was moved by the wonder of the nativity narrative.

The carols playing on the radio as I type these words speak to me of the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love of Christmas.  I anticipate Christmas Eve at my church, sharing together by candlelight as we sing “Silent Night” and reflect on the wonder of Emmanuel: God With Us.

I still love Christmas.  But more and more it is the heart of Christmas, rather than the trappings of traditional celebrations, that I anticipate.

This year I will once again draw near to the Baby of Bethlehem who was born a King. I will come and adore Him who came to reveal the love of God to the world.

Yes, I will celebrate.  But only because my heart has been moved by Christ.

God bless us…everyone.

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My Theodicy Odyssey: Part Two

 Is He a God of Love?

I would not have a problem with pain if I did not believe that God is loving and good.  If the God I believe in is cruel and indifferent, then pain exists because He simply doesn’t care. 

But I believe in a God who love us. I believe in a God who is good. So why do the objects of His love experience pain and suffering?

That’s the problem.

One of the first things I had to do on my “theodicy odyssey” was try, as much was possible with my finite mind, to understand what divine love should look like.  The Scriptures I hold as inspired, tell me that God IS love. 

So even the purest of love we experience here on earth is but a shadow of the love which is God’s nature.  We must acknowledge that we begin with a disadvantage because we only have our love relationships here on earth to judge what love should look like.

But since that is all we have to work with, consider what a person really wants for the object of their love.  Consider what a parent wants for a child.

Happiness?

Peace?

Good health?

Yes…we want those things for them because we love them. But at what cost?

Would we try to guarantee their happiness by restricting them to paths that we believe will make them happy?  Or will we let them test the waters and learn by their mistakes?  Would we keep them within the confines of our home where we would strive to keep everything peaceful?  Or would we let them take risks? Would we cocoon them in a blanket of vitamins and chicken soup? 

Or would we recognize that true love frees the other person.  We know in our hearts that true love does not seek to control.

We want to guide our children so that they will choose wisely.  We don’t want obedient robots. 

And we want to guide our children into true freedom not simply the illusion of freedom.  It would be counterproductive to tell our children to go out and test the waters if we are one step behind them putting everything right so they won’t suffer painful consequences.

True love neither denies the freedom of choice nor negates the results of choices freely made.

We don’t want our children to simply be happy, have peace and experience good health.  We want them to grow up to be good people who can enter into healthy relationships. And that simply can’t happen if we constantly control them or never let them face the true consequence of their actions.

This makes perfect sense to us when we think of our relationship with others.  But somehow when it comes to God some believe things should be different.

If God loved the world so much, we say he should keep us all from pain and suffering.  But what would that look like?  Do we really want a divine hand constantly pulling us away from wrong choices?  Would love create individuals who have no choice but to follow certain paths? Would love constantly make everything right for us, even if we made the wrong choices? What would that do our character?

My mentor on this odyssey, C. Lewis wrote, “I do not think I should value much the love of a friend who cared only for my happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.”

God is love.

That means that God is interested in more than our happiness in life.  He wants us to make the right choices to find happiness and love by trusting His guiding hand.  He does not want to force us by controlling us with handcuffs.

God wants us to freely choose to love Him and to be motivated in all our actions by our love for Him.

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So at its very core, God’s love must provide the objects of His love with freedom of choice.  Otherwise it ceases to be love.  And the implication is that we must then be allowed to experience the results of those choices.  This may lead to pain.  We may suffer.  But this doesn’t mean that God does not love us.

Coming Next: Part Three   When Suffering Has Nothing to Do with My Choices

 

 

 

My Theodicy Odyssey: Part One

I have a problem!

As a child I devoured the fairy tales of C.S. Lewis.  I  journeyed into Narnia, saw Aslan’s love and found a deeper love for Christ in my heart as a result.  I knew I could trust this writer.

Pain

 

My older sister was reading books like “Mere Christianity”, ”The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce”.  Through her example, it didn’t take me long, to discover “The Problem of Pain”.  I still have the 1976 copy that I bought more than 35 years ago.  The book is well read and on page 14 I find these words underlined.

 

 “’If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’  This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.”

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When I read these words I understood that if I didn’t believe in an all powerful, all benevolent God then I had no reason to go any further.

 

  • If there is no God then the world just exists with all its painful reality.
  • If God exists but isn’t good, then He simply doesn’t care about the pain.
  • If God exists but isn’t powerful, then He can’t do anything about the pain.

 

Although these statements might seem obvious, it was the way that Lewis framed them that helped bring me to the first step of my journey. Since  I could not discard belief in an all powerful God of love I recognized I had a problem.

 

And as they say, that is the beginning of the solution.

Coming Next: Part Two    Is He a God of Love?

 

 

 

 

 

My Theodicy Odyssey: Introduction

Theodicy: NOUN

:the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil

Odyssey: NOUN

: a long series of wanderings or adventures,

It’s time to get this down in writing.   And by “this” I mean my theodicy odyssey, which  began before I knew that the word “theodicy” existed.

I was a teenager when I first heard someone say that they didn’t believe in God, giving the suffering of the world as their reason. By that time in my life I had certainly started to wonder about the existence of pain.  But it wasn’t something I was ready to explore as a faith issue until I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had these struggles.

I read some books by atheists and I thought that there was a certain sense to their words.  I remember scandalizing a member of the church choir when I brought “Atheism: The Case Against God” to practice one evening.  She thought I was exploring doubts but I was actually exploring my faith.  And I knew that my faith was too important to discard without careful thought.

I looked at the life of my father.  He was almost totally blind and had been since shortly after his birth.  Yet he was able to write,

“I trust in Him, I leave it all with God.”

I was highly motivated to keep on believing in God.  But I also needed to think through this issue of pain.   And so I stepped on to the path and began my theodicy odyssey.

Decades later, I feel it is time to write it down.

This seems like a good place.

 

 

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