Sunday, August 24, 2014

quit. stop. take a break.

Sabbath is that special time when we come to the end of ourselves. It is a time when we realize we are not the master of our own fate. We are limited, finite, contingent. We cannot make a perfect world. We cannot acquire the perfect life. We are dependent on something outside ourselves. So, God invites us to enter into a place where we give all our doing—including all our attempts to make things just right—a rest.

That is what the word Sabbath literally means: quit, stop, take a break. The paradox of Sabbath is that we do not practice it by more doing; we only experience it by not doing. That is a hard truth for modern day American Christians to apply.

Sabbath is not something that we master by tweaking the way we hold church services. You don’t get Sabbath by having a perfectly decorated sanctuary space. You don’t get it by sermons that are just the right length. You don’t get it by a band of musicians playing a balanced complement of instruments, mixed well by a sound technician.

Sabbath is not something we practice by doing better at our usual doings. It is the time when we come to admit the futility of our usual doings, a time for being still to let God show us that God is God and we are not. Sabbath says, “You don’t meet me by more doing. I am only met by being received.”

Sabbath is like grace which Frederick Buechner describes as saying,

There is nothing you have to do.
There is nothing you have to do.
There is nothing you have to do.
There is nothing you have to do.

God desires that each person would have a unique, personal experience of Sabbath. Sabbath cannot be received by insisting that the world conform to our liking. Sabbath says, “Just give it a rest. Reality will not be refashioned in your image.”

So, the beauty of Sabbath is that she meets us in our uniqueness. That is why Sabbath for you may be different than Sabbath for me. We do not all receive Sabbath the same way. And that is okay. The question that’s put before each of us is: “How does Sabbath appear to me?” That is a question I cannot answer for you and it is a question you cannot answer for me. If you don’t find her in the same place I find her, where do you encounter her? My hope is that each of us will have a sense of where and how we meet Sabbath.  

Sabbath reminds us that there is a God who made all things so wonderful that even his making was restful. Because God is the maker and we are those whom God made, we are dependent on him. Sabbath is that special time when we come to the end of ourselves. What do you need to lay down to rest?




Saturday, August 23, 2014

a letter to a friend in a dark place

It is wonderful you reached out to us, friend. The best thing in the world. You are not alone.

I loved the words you wrote, by the way. What a great prayer you prayed and a wonderful thing to desire!

Sometimes we go through places where God is only met in the desire for God. He himself will not show up, but he will give you the desire for him.

That is what you have: desire for God.

Somehow, God hides himself in that desire. I hope that is a comfort, however small. And, know this:

This entire prayer you’ve written was placed in you by God. It is a prayer that assures you of his hidden closeness. It is a guiding prayer.

But what to do with these feelings, then? It feels to you like God is far away...

Pretend with me that you are in the valley of the shadow of death. A comforting thought, right? J

While you are in this place, you have a memory, a vague recollection of times when you were assured of the good shepherd’s leading in green pastures and beside refreshing water. You remember those times of feeding, joy, brilliant sunlight. Happiness seemed to bubble over. You could not stop smiling, singing. Your heart was dancing, dancing in glorious freedom.

You could rest. Indeed, even when you were doing work, it felt like rest. Everything felt restful, peaceful, happy.

He led you to good water, refreshing water. Oh, that water tasted so good! Everywhere you turned there seemed to be water and you didn’t have to work for it. It was there, ready for the taking.

When you looked in a pool of still, good water you could see a reflection there. It was the face of the good shepherd standing right beside you. There he was, both over you and under you. You could also see your own face clearly, but that didn’t matter because you could not take your eyes off the shepherd’s beauty.

Now you are in the dark place. There is no light here. You seem surrounded by enemies. And, where is the shepherd? You cannot see him.

Wait. You see his staff. There is no shepherd, but that is his staff. You know it well because you remember it from before.

A good sign: his staff is not laying on the ground or leaning against some rock. If it were, you would know the shepherd left it there and walked away. No, someone is holding onto the staff.

You remember him telling you that this is his staff and no one else’s. He will not yield his authority to another, especially in this place. So, you know it is the shepherd holding onto his staff. Well, then, why is he just standing there, far away? You want to see him, not just his staff.

“Doesn’t he know I’m afraid?” you think. “Can’t he hear me bleating, crying out? WHY DOESN’T HE DO SOMETHING and come over here?”

When you were a baby, he would have been near. He was your mother and you suckled on her breast. But now you are grown up—still a child, but grown up.

The shepherd is making you stronger.

But you feel on your last legs. Tired. You can’t take anymore. You feel weaker, not stronger. After a while, the muscles of faith need a break. But he seems to keep pushing you. Why?  

He knows: no pain, no gain. Yes, it hurts, but…

“…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:7-10)

With the pain, we have an assurance of gain. Again:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:18, 24-27)

While we wait for deliverance patiently, we are reminded:

“…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

But in this dark place, the shepherd is far away. You believe he is there but you have no proof it is the shepherd holding onto the staff (other than his words that he yields his authority to no one). So, you are dependent on faith. That is all.

You lower your head in sadness. Oh, for those days of song and dance and food and light and laughter! The shepherd held me in love, he kissed me and we laughed together. But that is gone, so you just weep, head bowed low.

When you are all cried out, you look up and see you are sitting at a table, here in this place of enemies. The table has some food on it. So, why haven’t you seen this before?

You have not seen it because the dark place is a confusing place and you spent all your time looking for the shepherd himself (not his food) because the shepherd is all that matters to you. That is natural.

Now what seems strange to you is that you see the food there—you know it is good and given to you by the shepherd—but you have no desire to eat. “Why bother? If I can’t have the shepherd, the food does not matter. People do not live on bread alone.”

So, the food gives little comfort. But the shepherd put it there because he knows you might be here in this training ground awhile and you will need it from time to time.

Right now you don’t feel like eating it and he lets you refrain from eating it. He figures you will reach for it when you need it, but he also keeps an eye on you so that if you utterly forget yourself he will find a way to get some food into you so you don’t die of starvation.

So, you just keep an eye on that staff. Waiting for it to move closer to you or move further from you. You just want it to move somewhere. “Just stop standing still, for heaven’s sake!”

If you see the staff beginning to move away from you, I suppose you’ll follow it. Likely, it will move further away sooner than it will move closer. That’s because, here in the middle of this dark place, the light place is further from you than closer to you. Strangely, to move you into the light, the shepherd will, in his mercy, move further away from you in hopes of enticing you to follow him. If you fall, he will double-back, pick you up, carry you on his shoulders and kiss you well. But, he thinks you have it in you to follow. So, he won’t do that just yet.

So, with body weakened but faith strengthened, you resolve that when he moves you’ll move. Because there is no one else you’d rather be near than that good shepherd.

Yes, I know you’ll follow when he moves. But that time has not yet come. So, you wait, wait, wait at the table he’s made for you in the presence of enemies.

Friend, I will pray God delivers you and that through this you will be stronger, stronger than ever. I know you are tired, but when we exercise those muscles of faith it will be tiring. I pray he will give you strength. Strength to carry on, one day at a time. I pray that somehow in this dark place there will be music to suit the time.

Keep talking to us. You don’t need to hide anything. We’ve been in dark places, too. We love you and are with you in spirit.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

a fool's hope

Yesterday I posted a thought to my friends that went like this: “I’d rather be hopeful and wrong than despairing and right. Anyone with me?”

A friend wisely responded: “They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive are they?”

Now, that’s the kind of hope I like! Peter, thank you for saying that. It is a good reminder.

That made me realize: hope never lives in a vacuum. There is a context.

In one instance, there is a hope in (and for) enduring qualities like grace, forgiveness, joy, and justice. When we hope in those things, we don’t have to wonder: “Is this hope right or wrong?” We know it’s right. And, whether those qualities win the day (they always do, in the end) we don’t have to wonder if it’s right to take a stand for them, to bank on the hope of them.

Another friend quoted Erasmus, reminding me that, if we face difficulty in taking a stand for what’s right and true, we should not relent. Yes, that is true and good. That is hope.

But hope sometimes resides in another context, and this is what makes the second kind of hope more risky. It is the instance when you are hoping for some kind of outcome, but you are unsure if it will come to pass. You really don’t know. Stepping out into this kind of hope takes faith and you might fail.

The choice to battle cancer is an example of this kind of hope. We don’t know what the outcome will be. We might choose “wrongly.” Cancer might kill us anyway after a grueling course of chemo. Why hope, then? Why subject oneself to such pain and agony? Well…

…what is the option? To resign oneself to death and despair? In some cases, that choice is accompanied by a kind of true peace and, yes, hope. But in those cases where the choice to die is simply a form of hopeless resignation (“I give up”)…well, that is just despair. The despair might be “right.” The person might be right: “I’m going to die anyway.” Well, yes, but…I’d rather be hopeful and wrong than despairing and right.

That is the kind of hope I had in mind. And here’s another instance where hope might “fail”:

We put our hope in other people and I believe this is a good thing. To be sure, some “Christians” out there will raise their eyebrows at such a statement. They will think, “We should only put our hope in Christ.”

But the same Christ who calls us to put our hope in him also asks us to, in a very concrete way, learn to extend hope towards one another. We cannot love one another without working towards trust. To work towards building trust is to work towards the horizon of hope. You can’t separate the call to love from the practice of hope.

And that’s risky, because…people might fail you. You might be proven wrong to put your hope in that person, to trust them, to give love to them. It might hurt you. So, here’s the deal: I’d rather go on hoping, with the risk of being hurt or let down (“wrong about them”), than live isolated from others, mired in despair and be “right” because…”people will hurt me.”

That is no kind of life for anyone.

These days, that is the kind of hope I’m practicing. I have been scrutinized and analyzed by others these past few weeks and, quite honestly, it hurts. A handful of naysayers have very little hope in the hopes God has given me. “He is on a fool’s errand,” they think. Holes have been poked in the idea that God might be a dancer. *Gasp*  Wouldn’t that be simply awful and wrong? “It’s not biblical. Prove it.”

Other friends who have known me for more than a decade begin to question whether I am walking away from “the Good News”, as Christians like to call it. “What does play have to do with that?” they wonder. Some are withdrawing the trust I’ve enjoyed over the years.

I’m the same me, only more so. The new adventure I’m on is because of hope and the God of hope. So, I have no choice but to go on hoping.

I might be wrong and they might be right. But that is no kind of life to live. What’s more: I know in my heart that what I am on is right and true and good. There is nothing bad about it.

But we might fail. We could fall flat on our face; our little experiment could go nowhere. So, yes: I could be “wrong.”  It’s a risky hope.

I love that scene in The Lord of the Rings where the good guys are about to be slaughtered by the bad guys. The question of hope comes up and Gandalf notes: “There never was much hope. A fool’s hope, perhaps.” In spite of that, what are they prepared to do?

Fight and die for that fool’s hope. Because it is right and true and good.

I would rather be hopeful and wrong than despairing and right. Right now, I know in my head that the two are not mutually exclusive, but in my heart it sure feels like they are. I trust to hope that, in the end, this fool’s hope is seen for what it is: right and true and good.

Thank you for understanding. And, I humbly ask, if you have a counter-argument, extend me some grace and keep it to yourself because I'd rather you not try to put out this fire in my gut--even if you're right.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

days with you

When I awake before the sun’s light whispers,
if I lay quietly next to you for a moment,
quiet in soul and stillness,
I can hear you, softly breathing,
a gentle life falling and rising from the center.

Rest, love. I will see you soon.

I hold your serene face in my eyes
as I await your awakening in the morning.
A door opens; I hear your step and
my heart stirs with excitement.
You come around the corner
and settle into your seat by the ivy window.
Your beauty is God’s mercy to me,
new every morning.

Others will come and go
but I will spend the day with you,
the shade in summer’s noon.
Let’s talk about whatever we want.
Let’s hold hands and let go again.
You are free and I am unashamed
of sentiment, lovesick.

Our laughter comes
under scattered showers,
falling from clouds that will pass
by afternoon’s end.

We have no plans for twilight
but I will draw near,
hoping to catch the scent of your sweet hair
and touch your skin.
You are the only one I’ve ever touched like this,
devoted to your eyes alone,
those lips alone.

I do not know how many more days
we will have together
until death separates us,
but as long as there is time
I will spend it with you,
in joy.





days with you
by Troy Cady
for Heather, on our anniversary






Friday, August 15, 2014

a prayer for strength

A Prayer for Strength
by Richard Langford

                Help us to know Your love and the love of each other. Set us free to become our true selves because we are loved, and to free others because we love.

                Give us enough tests to make us strong,
enough vision and endurance to follow Your way,
enough patience to persist when the going is difficult,
enough of reality to know our weaknesses,
and enough humility to know these gifts come from You.

Go before us to prepare the way;
walk behind us to be our protection;
and walk beside us to be our companion,
                                                through Christ our Lord, Amen.




From Hymns for the Family of God. Published by Paragon Associates, Inc. (Nashville, 1976)




Thursday, August 14, 2014

friend at all times

Here's a short, simple prayer I wrote this morning that you might find useful in any circumstance. If it helps you somehow, I invite you to share it with someone else. Love, Troy....



Friend in strength and friend in weakness;
Friend in health and friend in sickness;
Friend in plenty and friend in scarcity;
Friend when hope swells and friend when fear withers;
Friend Jesus, be my courage and comfort.






Tuesday, August 12, 2014

shore

From our spot on the grass
I can see our children,
barefoot on the sand below,
where the lake meets the beach.

The warm air whispers
so I fall silent, as if listening
for holy secrets.

We played catch in the
late afternoon,
laughing, making friends again
with a son and daughter.

Now they wade together,
ankle deep. I can see them
speaking kindly to one another.
And I imagine these small waves
are an ocean’s.




shore
by troy cady