Author: Catherine Lawton

Holy Week Longings

It’s Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. Palm Sunday seems a long time ago. Children waved palm branches at church. It felt good to rejoice in the triumphal entry of the One who would surely be King and bring vindication and victory.

But when the the palm branches turn brown and the “red-carpet” of cloaks is put away, unresolved conflicts remain. Evil presses in, not as easy to identify as we thought. Sin wins the day, both personally and corporately. Friends transform into enemies. Favorite doctrines and laws lose their luster. Disappointment, cynicism, and fear blind the eyes.

If today we didn’t know what Holy Week would bring, we would be filled with longings and regrets, perhaps we’d even join the mob mentality of the Jews as Passover approached. Or perhaps we’d find ourselves cowering and cowardly as were the disciples.

At these times, it’s hard to see the Light, feel the Hope, hold onto Courage. Some of us feel overcome by a sense of failure, helpless yearnings, and hopeless waiting.

In the confusion surrounding the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, perhaps Jesus’ followers turned to words of the Psalmist David:

“How long, O Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…” (Psalm 13).

Even today, David’s poetic psalms speak to our emotions.

God still gives us poets who have the ability to express our heart longings. One such poet is James Troy Turner. Like Jesus’ followers who were not highly educated, who had few of this worlds goods, but who felt the burden of sin and oppression and wanted to believe that a Deliverer would set them free—so James Troy Turner expresses the neediness and longing of Holy Week with these verses:

THE END

Deeper and deeper into the open arms of death,

As the world lives, then what time is left.

We push and we pull, filling our lives

With only the promise of tomorrow.

And where is the light?

 

 

TRUTH

How I long for the days of

   My simple youth.

You could believe all they said—

   You knew it was true.

A man was a man always,

   True even to himself.

The good he would buy—

   Top quality on each shelf.

But those days are past,

   I think never to be again.

Listen hard what they say—

   Truth and lies in a spin.

 

 

WORLDLY

I am so far off the bubble

sitting idle in all this rubble.

It really doesn’t make any sense;

reality is left so unraveled,

no common sense, I’m left baffled.

(verses excerpted from the book, POEMS by James Troy Turner)

 

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white, silent layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?

This brings questions to my mind:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

Where/how do we find silence?

Why is silence important/needed?

What can we learn in silence?

Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound: my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?

With Palm Branches Waving

GUEST POST

by Dennis Ellingson, author of God’s Healing Herbs

For three years Jesus had ministered in word and deed. There was no one greater than he. Even the elements listened to him and obeyed; and even the dead responded and lived again.

Those who witnessed Lazarus come forth from the dead could not doubt that “truly God” stood among them. When a person had been dead three days and rotting in cave, death was irreversible. But God can reverse what is irreversible. He gave Mary and Martha their brother back.

Then Jesus traveled on to Jerusalem, the City of Peace where there was no peace, the City of the King that had no true king.

But as Jesus and his disciplesaccompanied by a large crowdmade their way to the city for Passover, something happened. An election was held on the streets and the ballot boxes were ripped from the date palm trees. With palm branches waving, the people ordained Jesus as the king.

The red carpet was not out; but the long, full and stately palm branch would serve well in the excitement of the procession. This was a man who could feed the multitudes, calm the seas, and even raise the dead!

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)

At the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the people waved the branches and shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’

Jesus told the pharisees who were there to question and criticize, that if these people did not proclaim him king, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

On that day long ago, which we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, if the people had not proclaimed that Christ was King, God, Messiah, Savior—then the very inanimate rocks themselves would have proclaimed it.

More ornamental palms are sold during the Easter season than any other time of the year. Do we buy them just because they are nice? Or is it an expression of our own “Hosanna”—a declaration of Jesus as our eternal and personal King?


This post excerpted from the “Jesus and the Herbs” section of the book God’s Healing Herbs by Dennis Ellingson.

Drawing of a Palm Branch by Matthew Kondratieff

Enhance Your Devotions With Poetry

Poetry for Praise, Worship, Devotion, Opening our Hearts to God

I gave a copy of Mary Harwell Sayler’s book of Praise poems to my sister, a retired English teacher. She said these poems remind her of poems by Emily Dickinson. She is reading them along with her daily Scripture and other devotional readings.

When she told me that, it got me thinking …

In our experience of God’s presence, poetry can help us focus and engage our senses and entire being. Poetry can help us process life and emotions—and see ourselves—in new ways, and thus be open to hearing God say fresh, new things to us. Scripture does this also, of course. And much of the Bible was written as poetry. I have long found soul nourishment and renewed perspective in the Psalms. And how can a person read Song of Solomon and not believe God woos and reaches us through the five senses he has given us? Isaiah, the prophet, wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.

I believe God still speaks through poets today. Sometimes with a prophetic voice. Sometimes imparting wisdom. Sometimes bringing clarity. Sometimes lifting the soul to hope and love.

Even if you think you aren’t “into” poetry, you probably are more than you realize. Songs lyrics are usually poetry. And this is why, along with the music, songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.

I encourage you to include poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care. Here are some poetry collections in which readers have found poems that helped them focus on God and his presence and love:

 

“[These] poems individually and collectively pour out love for who God is.”  –Glynn Young, blogger/reviewer

This book is salve for the soul. It provides a place for you to gather the stray bits of experience and gently mend your wounds.”  –Isaac, online reader/reviewer

“Reading this book is to … open one’s own heart in unexpected ways.”  –Susan Elaine Jenkins, reader/reviewer

 


This post was first written in Jan. 2018, and updated Jan. 2019.

 

 

When I Heard the Stars Sing

Though this experience happened 2 1/2 months ago, it is still fresh in my mind and still lifts my heart. Looking at the night sky brings the experience back to me. Hearing music like I heard this week does, too: a glorious bell choir playing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Or a symphony … and the Nativity story, with bright stars and angels appearing, giving glory to God.

Here’s what happened. In early October, Larry and I went camping in the Rockies. I wanted to see the stars. But so many campfires and lanterns and flashlights obscured the view. Then in the night, when I had to get up and hike to a campground restroom, all was quiet, all human activity was still, all was dark … except for the sky blazing with stars. And that’s when this mystical moment came: I “heard” the stars sing! Here’s a “poem” I wrote about this experience:

•  • •  • •  • •  • •  • 

I HEAR THE STARS SING

Sleeping in a tent, we must take a walk
to the ‘comfort station’ sometime in the night.
At 1:30 a.m. we pull out of sleeping bags,
put on our shoes, snap the dog’s leash tight.

Campfires and lanterns now out, we need
no flashlight to see in the ethereal glow
bathing path, tents, trailers and trees,
boulders, peaks, and meadows below.

Fear of bears is forgotten as, looking up,
I acquiesce to the serendipitous sight—
stars sprinkling the sky, a sparkling array
only dreamed of on lit suburban nights.

Like music engraved across the sky,
notes—not in even scores or measures,
but in splashes of compositions our eyes
and ears aren’t attuned to hear or decipher.

Not with physical ears do I hear music
of stars singing out from the night pavilion,
graced by the moon, answered by bugling elk,
crooning owls and sibilant whispering wind.

Celestial strains fill my soul with consolation,
comfort, and swells of settled certainty
one would expect of constellations shining
in place since God sang the Heavens into being.

Surely nature sings back to God day and night,
I think, as we settle back in our places—
born under stars, resting under starlight
and listening still to star-song cadences.

–Catherine Lawton, ©2018

 

 

 

 

Praise the Lord from the Heavens

praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels…

Praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens…

from Psalm 148:1-4, NRSV

 


Photo of stars taken in Colorado mountains: by Lionello (Unsplash)

Adoration and Celebration of the Christ Child in Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler

In her fresh, almost-breathless style, Mary designs the title as the first line in most of her poems in PRAISE! POEMS. She employs sometimes startling images and reversals. Read and meditate on these poems that praise, adore, and celebrate the Christmas Child.

 

 

Sweet Sorrow at Christmas

Ah, Christmas! Bright lights, hustle and bustle, joyous music and celebrations….

Yet, hidden behind all the glitter, many people feel the pangs of sadness and loneliness more acutely during the Christmas season. If you have ever experienced a great loss at Christmastime, the holiday season awakens that grief again each year.

I know. My mother died on December 19, many years ago. My father was the pastor of a loving church at the time, and the people were sweet to us, though they also grieved the death of their beloved pastor’s wife. Our family found comfort in togetherness—my husband and I with our two toddlers, my sister, and our dad. After the funeral, we stayed and spent Christmas in our parents’ home, with everything around us to remind us of Mother. … But no mother/wife/grandmother. She simply and permanently was not here.

At a time when we celebrated the birth of Jesus who brought new life, we learned first-hand the awful separation and finality of death. The first night after she died, I lay awake in the guest bedroom listening to Daddy sobbing his heart out in the next room.

She was too young to die—in her forties. But she was gone.

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I wanted our toddler children to have fun, not just sadness, so we borrowed little sleds and took them out to play in the snowy woods. In the fresh, crisp air, laughter came as a wonderful relief, and was exactly what Mother would want for us. Maybe she saw us and smiled with joy.

Mother had a way of infusing Christmas with music, anticipation, beauty, delicious tastes and scents, warmth and surprises. She loved decorating the house and the church, preparing special music and programs for Christmas Sunday, often sewing new dresses for my sister and me, baking cookies, and taking us Christmas shopping.

I love Christmas, too; but even after many years, the bright lights, the biting scent of pine, the taste of cinnamon and cider, the making of fudge and fruitcake, the singing of carols, the ringing of Christmas bells, the decorating of the tree, the excitement of gift giving—all is sweet sorrow.

I wonder: Did sadness mix with joy for Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she carried her baby to the temple and heard Simeon prophesy her child’s death? He said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Mary didn’t understand yet that Jesus’ death as well as his life would bring eternal joy in the heavens and cause celebrations of his birth for centuries to come. But she would certainly experience heart-piercing sorrow and separation.

Years later, as Mary watched Jesus die a tragic, painful death, did she despair? Or did the memory of the miracles surrounding his birth and life give her hope? Life won out. His death brought our spiritual birth.

Now we know, because of his birth, life and death, we can live—and celebrate Christmas—in the certainty that death will not have the final victory.

That one Christmas has influenced every one of my Christmases since—the year my vibrant, young Mother died. Our bereaved family celebrated together with gifts and festive food. Then we drove up a snowy hillside to a fresh, flower-covered grave site. The contrast of the red-rose-and-holly covered grave to the icy, brown hills spoke to my warring emotions.

There, feeling the pain of death’s separation, I looked up into the evening sky and noticed the first star twinkling, and I smiled through my tears. Her physical presence is gone from us here. But someday we may be with her “there.” The realities of pain, suffering, and death are inescapable. But the hope of Christmas lives!


The story of the healing I have experienced in regards to my mother is found in the book, Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell Their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.

A Worthy King

Worthy to Receive Glory

Made to honor, we give fealty,

We seek true north like a needle.

But to look for your king

   in a pulpit, disappoints;

   in a government, fails;

   in the mirror, distorts.

Look instead with the eyes of your heart

   to the Wounded who heals;

   to the Throne that is true;

   to the Lamb who was slain,

       Christ the King.

–Catherine Lawton

© 2018

In Revelation Chapter 5 Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who had been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bowed down and worshiped this lamb.

In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?

 


Photo: “Thanksgiving” Stained-Glass Windows used by permission of Library of Congress

Season of Anticipation

Welcome, November! A season of change and anticipation.

Here in Colorado we can see “every season in every season.” A sudden chill may hit and bring snow in October or November. Then back to 60 and 70 degree sunny days. But no matter where you live, change is in the air.

As we anticipate upcoming holy days and holidays, we at Cladach are preparing good things to share with our readers—some for this season and some for all seasons

1. Janyne McConnaughey has written a companion volume to her psychological memoir, BRAVE, entitled Jeannie’s BRAVE Childhood : Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Trauma with a release planned for January/February. We hope to have the book available by Christmas. What a great gift for anyone who has children or works with children, and anyone who experienced trauma in their own childhood. If you enjoyed BRAVE (and many have) then you will love this companion volume.

2.    Yes, I (Catherine Lawton) am the publisher at Cladach, But I am also an author and poet. I am passionate about some things, such as my grandchildren, good books, and experiencing God in nature. I have combined these interests in a Christmas picture book, Something Is Coming To Our World : How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas. Available late November on Amazon and elsewhere. This little, colorful book will be an experience for families to share.

3. Watch for new interviews, videos, giveaways, and sales on the many seasonal and gift-worthy books we publish. Stay tuned! Let joy-filled anticipation of good things rise in your heart throughout the month of November.

Look for and you will find God in this season.
“Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth … Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 148:1,7,14)
Art by Isabelle Lawton © 2016. See more of her art/illustrations in my book of poetry, Remembering Softly : A Life In Poems.
 

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