Category: Following Jesus

Possibilities With God

In this poetic essay I engage with the idea that we need to get involved—with others—in what God is doing in our world. Will we listen to what the past and present are saying, so we can move together WITH our loving God now … stepping into the possibilities that call us to a renewed future?


WITH

When the angel said to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God”

and when Jesus said, speaking of the rich young man, “With God all things are possible”

did they mean that God would single-handedly make seemingly-impossible things happen?

Surely not.

“With” means with. Possibilities are not actualities. But they can become so.

First, choices will be made . . . by God, by us. . . .

Choices matter in each

attraction or encounter

touch or grasp

reaction or response

intersection or dead-end

word spoken or thought silenced.

And, as in the case of Mary, life-giving choices and actions don’t happen alone but

WITH.

Whence comes this ability and necessity to choose, this invitation to respond and cooperate?

—From One who speaks potentiality, beauty, and creativity out of Love . . . connecting us as persons, relating us to all of nature, to every part of ourselves, and to God (through Christ who gives us life and the Spirit who is with us). We are image-bearers. Like it or not, believe it or not, we are in some sense

WITH.

Living here in time and space, each of our moments is thick with the past—and pregnant with the future—calling us to be creators, curators, visionaries, encouragers, healers, leaders, servants.

Will we

receive the breath

heed the voice

cleave to the nearness

of God?

Will we give birth to actions of faith, hope, and love

WITH?

Look up—attend, read, listen to the moment.

Look back—see the river of the past feeding into the now.

Look down—see that we are standing in an estuary of the potent, teeming present.

Look toward the horizon—see the future rolling and swelling. Which waves will break upon the shore?

Look around—all that surrounds us, that the river currents and ocean tides wash in, how it is mixing. At this time, in this place, what can we do to bring

  • clarity not murkiness
  • free flow not stagnation
  • sweetness not putridity
  • abundance not scarcity
  • hope that helps people know they are

WITH?

We are part of the becomingness of everlasting life!

Will we face the moment, listen to what it is saying about us, about the past that has influenced who we are, about the direction we are headed, what we are bringing into the future, and what the future may bring to us?

God—being revealed through Jesus, the Scriptures, and creation—is patient, persistent, longsuffering, even slow . . . convincing, helping, here

WITH.

Like compass needles, we seek, seek True North; and True North wants to, wills to, be found.

Yet, bent, we wobble and resist.

But God is not a faraway star. God is

  • the true atmosphere giving us breath
  • the true magnetism holding us together
  • the true dawn waking us again and again.

Does the needle think it is the true one and North should get in line?

God “strengthens the humble but opposes the proud.”—

This is to say, when we set ourselves in opposition, we cannot join hands

WITH.

No matter where we go, where we have been, where our feet stand now in time . . . we are not alone, never away from God’s influence, care, wooing. If “God with us” holds all our times past—keeps our “tears in a bottle”. . . . If God at every moment sees all the possible steps into the future. . . . If God imagines the myriad possible intersections of our path with the paths of others. . . . Then let us act, step out, take hold, clasp hands, join hearts

WITH.

Forces exist that would divide us, separate us, within, without.

God—Love—would bring us together.

In this estuary of the consequential, substantial present . . .

The young gambol in swirls of fresh water, thinking they’ll forever play among the land mammals, trees, and sunny grasses.

We who have traveled longer sense saltiness in the water and feel the undertow pulling away from familiar moorings. We will soon find ourselves in the waters of what from here appears to be dark swelling mysteries, unfathomed depths, and uncharted treasures . . . to a separation temporal, but a connection and communion everlasting.

Fresh water and salt water mingle here and now, but these waters continually recede, like breath and blood flowing in and out of lungs—rhythms of life attuned

WITH.

If we have a God who speaks and

who “holds all things together,”

then surely God is continually present to us and all creation?

And if God is manifest “wherever two or three are gathered,”

then surely God the Spirit is speaking and influencing there

WITH.

In this moment, are we thriving?

How can we continue to stand, let alone flourish, if divided against ourselves—lacking harmony in our inner lives, our families, our churches, our nations, our world?

We say we believe some form of:

“God created the heavens and the earth.”

“God called creation ‘good’.”

“God so loved the world. . .”

Then God isn’t against us but

WITH!

We may disagree on:

. . . Beginnings

a) A creation of potential, of possibilities and ongoing creation in which we participate

b) A controlled design with set time and space, limited and contained

. . . Endings

a) “All things made new” by a loving, relational, re-creating, and transforming God

b) Destruction of, and rescue from, a cursed and dying world by a just and vengeful God

But can we agree, in this in-between time, as we open our hearts and minds to the Alpha and Omega, to seek God’s reign and will “on earth as it is in heaven,” and work together

WITH?

This moment carries roots and leaves of past moments and seeds of all future moments. What we do—now—matters. Is this present mix of waters rich with life and health both ecological and societal? Jesus said, we are “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” We are caretakers of creation and each other when we partner

WITH.

Why do we blindly and stubbornly waste personal and corporate energies on greedy squabbles and turf wars?

Can we

  • accept slowness; unplug, listen, “fear not”?
  • trust together in creation’s innate ability to heal and renew, and accept our part in that?
  • acknowledge our own need for healing and renewal?
  • choose a mindset of benevolence for all?
  • have faith and hope in goodness and salvation?

Surely our God of creative, gracious, relentless love, will help us to join

WITH?

We need each other.

Will we lead the way by giving up worn-out stances, protectiveness, fear?

Will we choose to hold lightly our distinctives, traditions, non-essentials?

Let us be conservative—conservers of the truly good.

Let us be liberal—truly generous and tolerant.

We can each take responsibility to do something to make a positive difference, to be life-giving, to partner with God and each other in what Love seeks to do and calls us to participate in, as co-laborers. This labor is not a heavy-ladenness, nor is it burdensome, when we are yoked

WITH.

I know some people who choose to listen to, love freely, and work with God to sweeten the waters where they stand:

  • A prosperous, conservative Christian couple who cultivate acres of gardens to grow produce for their local food bank.
  • An evangelical pastor who has organized a ministry of prayer, friendship, and outreach to Muslim refugees in his city.
  • A retired professor and writer who follows God in vulnerability, revealing her trauma and healing to help others.
  • Contemplatives and poets who listen to and articulate a language of the heart to reach and touch fellow longing hearts.
  • New theologians reaching across institutional divides with hopeful understandings of God’s essence and presence.
  • A quiet man who invites neighbors into his home, where he and his wife pray and care for them, and share life together.
  • Wounded healers who listen, love, and pray with all who come; inviting, seeking, finding Jesus in broken places.
  • My green-card holding friend who sits with people dying alone in hospital, so they will not die alone but know they are . . .

WITH.

We stand here in a richness of the influential past and the potential future

as hope enlivens the waters. Will we:

  • vision together a more healthy and happy future?
  • seek healing for wounds of the past we carry?
  • affirm the good in this pregnant moment?
  • join hands together and partner

WITH

God?

~Catherine Lawton

 


“With” (a poetic essay) was first published in the book Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology. (SacraSage Press, 2021)

“With” was also published on the Web at: crort.com/essays/with.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

 

Giving Thanks To “A Worthy King”

For Thanksgiving (this week) and Christ the King Sunday (which is today) I am updating this post, first published three years ago. So much has changed since three years ago. I have added more comments/questions/affirmations after this poem:

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, 2020

(Excerpted from the book Glimpsing Glory)

In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships 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?

More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?

This Thanksgiving, even in the midst of pandemic fears, political uncertainties, and limited gatherings, I want to “virtually” join all those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb. as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:

“You are worthy … for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed, for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;…

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered …

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

He is our king and he is with us, even in our present sufferings!

Giving thanks,

 


Photo: Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Photo taken in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Courage of Authenticity

It takes courage to be an author, to declare and publish to a busy, perhaps skeptical world what you have experienced privately … to tell in “bright lights” what you have seen and learned in dark places.

Long ago in Bethlehem, shepherds waiting and watching on a dark hillside experienced a wondrous awakening and illumination. Then, even as they stood there in awe of the heavenly hosts, the shepherds must have needed courage and bravery to leave their flocks in the care of their guard dogs and run into the dark, crowded city of Bethlehem to look for a newborn baby “in a manger” and then worship him as the promised king. Surely there were more qualified and famous individuals to use as messengers.

I think the needed courage gripped the shepherds because the authenticity of their experience and their certainty of it overcame their trepidation. They obeyed, they went, they told. And their story was full of immediacy and hope.

Sometimes we authors feel that way.

Though angels didn’t exactly appear to us in the night sky and declare wonderful tidings of great joy for us to write,  Christian writers do sense a call from God and we experience wonder and the help of God (and perhaps even of angels) as we write. We certainly have good tidings to share.

Janyne McConnaughey is an example of one writer who has a life-changing story of hope and is compelled to write and tell her story to encourage others. I don’t know whether she has been “touched by an angel” but I know she has been touched by God with the courage to share her story. The title of her first book, BRAVE, tells that. And these comments from readers and reviewers on Amazon.com tell us of the authenticity and immediacy and hope in her story.

  • “There is hope!”
  • “A compelling journey”
  • “A very important book”
  • “A road less traveled … a path to healing”
  • “Kept me on the edge of my seat”
  • “Powerful story”
  • “Healing from complex trauma”
  • “A roadmap to freedom”
  • Brave is a fitting title for this true story.”
  • “A beautiful soul shows us the way to hope and healing.”
  • “A book every person who has struggled with trauma should read.”
  • “This book can be your path to healing from childhood trauma.”

Whatever your place of waiting ‘in the night’—or journey in the dark— be encouraged. A savior is born and he brings good news to the oppressed, including those suffering from complex trauma.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo: Hubble Space Telescope

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:

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?

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, 2020

Excerpted from the book Glimpsing Glory

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

Life As a Journey

“Does the road wind up-hill all the way?”

“Yes, to the very end.”

“Does the day’s long journey take the whole long day?”

“From morn to night, my friend.”


This poem by Christina Rossetti has often given me encouragement to keep stepping onward and upward on my own life’s journey. Just recently, Rossetti’s poem came to mind again— when I noticed that many Cladach book titles allude to various aspects and dimensions of this journey called ‘life.’ For instance,

On that up-hill road, we often WALK:

As we walk, we will inevitably need to TRUST:

We may need to RUN (from SHAME and toward LOVE):

Our journey may lead to ESCAPE:

We may have to release and LEAVE BEHIND:

Our journey will be fraught with DANGERS:

Our journey will involve SEARCHING and finding:

We will COME to oases that bid us to STAY awhile and CELEBRATE:

The journey provides stretches of solitude for pondering and REMEMBERING:

The journey includes places for PAUSING, letting others pass, and finding renewed perspective:


But is there for the night a resting-place?

   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.

May not the darkness hide it from my face?

   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?

   Those who have gone before.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

   Of labor you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

   Yea, beds for all who come.

–Christina Rossetti


Experiencing the People and Places of the Stories

I love hearing from our authors about their interactions with their readers.

Judith Galblum Pex (Judy) often forwards emails and vignettes to me.

Judy is an American-born Israeli Jewish Christian. From their home and ministry in Eilat, Israel, she and her husband, John, have a unique perspective on the Middle East—and the world—especially because thousands of travelers stay in their hostel (The Shelter) each year. And because the Pexes are “Trail Angels” who help people who are walking the 600-mile Israel National Trail. Judy wrote a book (Walk the Land) about her and John’s experience of walking the famous and challenging Trail from one end of Israel to the other.

Here’s one experience Judy shared in a recent update:

“Last night John and I slept out at a camp site on the Israel Trail. In the morning we met a group with 50 participants called ‘Walk about Love.’ They enable people to do the Trail by providing meals and taking their bags from camp to camp. One of the women, a Reform Jewish rabbi, from New York City [in the picture above with Judy] immediately recognized me from Walk the Land, and very excitedly told me she had read my book and wanted a picture with me. Another woman was eager to have a copy in Hebrew. The organizers of the group knew the Shelter. … In preparing for her trip she came across my book on one of the sites and ordered it on Amazon. She used a Yiddish word to mean “preordained” when she realized she was meeting the author.”

And here’s another recent experience Judy had, this time at The Shelter:

“A tour group with 25 people from New Zealand led by a couple we know and guided by a friend of ours came to the Shelter today to hear about the work here and we sold fourteen books, a mixture of all three books.”


Judy receives emails from readers all over the world who have read her book(s). Here are examples of recent messages she has received and shared with me:

“I have just enjoyed reading your book “Walk the Land.”  It was lent to me by Astrid and Craig who are friends at our church and who met at your Hostel and were saved through your ministry.  Like Astrid I am Jewish, in fact I am a child survivor of the holocaust.”

–(a reader in Australia)

“Shalom Judy. I am currently reading your book Come Stay Celebrate. I’m only on chapter 9 and I can’t put it down. Your stories have reminded me of when I first believed in Jesus in 1986. How my life changed and how exciting it was to learn and grow. It’s created a hunger in me to keep learning and growing! Thank you for writing this book and sharing your faith and leading so many to Jesus!!”

–(a reader in Las Vegas Nevada)


Judy often shares experiences like these on her Facebook author page. You can follow her there: https://www.facebook.com/Judith-Pex-author-280669071951952/

Judy’s books:

Love, Risk, and Rescue

I was editing a novel about mountain rescue about the time of Hurricane Harvey. Reading the fictional story set in Colorado’s mountains and watching videos of flood victims rescued from the rising waters in Houston, got me thinking about the rescues I’ve experienced or witnessed.

I lived most of my life near the mountains and rivers of Northern California and near rivers flowing down from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. In both places I have witnessed major floods where many people had to be rescued from rooftops, bridges, and floating logs.

Random tragedies happen. And they have victims—people, livestock, pets, wildlife.

I have been on the victim end of tragedy waiting for someone to rescue me. When I was four years old our house burned down in the night. I woke in a back bedroom to smoke filling the room and the sound of crackling fire quickly moving through the house. My mother came in her nightgown, took my hand, and led me through the burning house and out the front door in the nick of time. I tell some of that story in Journeys to Mother Love.

My mother herself was rescued at the age of 21 months. Her mother had died of TB and her father had abandoned the children to go find work. The county took the children into custody and declared them neglected and sent them to a state orphanage until age 21. But my mother, the youngest child, was rescued by the doctor who did a medical exam of the children for the court. He knew a childless couple who wanted a child and overnight arranged an adoption. So my mother was rescued from an institutional childhood and brought into a loving, nurturing home.

These types of tragic experiences can cause emotional trauma from which God’s love and grace is seeking to rescue us. Janyne McConnaughey‘s memoir, Brave, describes the process of healing from childhood trauma. Physa Chanmany‘s experience of extreme trauma as a child in the killing fields of Cambodia is described in his memoir, No More Fear. It’s hard to imagine anything more tragic than the genocide perpetrated by Pol Pot’s regime. But God’s physical and spiritual rescue of Physa is a story you won’t soon forget.

Speaking of God’s gracious love, the greatest rescue of all happened on the cross where Jesus revealed the extent of God’s love for us, making a way for us to have fellowship with the Father and to be set free from sin and death. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, spending a lot of time on a church pew and singing gospel songs such as, “There’s a sweet and blessed story of the Christ who came from glory just to rescue me from sin and misery. He in loving kindness sought me, and from sin and shame hath brought me…”

Rescue costs. It involves risk and compassion. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord teaches that God’s nature is essentially “self-giving, others-empowering” love that doesn’t seek to control the creatures whom he has created with free will. That means we can resist rescue—or we can choose to cooperate with God’s rescue work and ministry.

For a person buried in an avalanche in the mountains, one can hardly imagine they would resist help when a rescue team finds their location and digs through the snow to reach them. The risk involved in such a rescue is displayed by teams in our mountains here in Colorado—mountain rescue teams who answer the call to go into avalanche, blizzard, and sheer-cliff conditions to rescue and save mountain adventurers from deadly situations—often at risk of their own lives.

The latest Cladach fiction release—a debut novel by Jeanie FlierlTo Conquer A Mountain—brings together light romance and suspenseful adventure with high-mountain rescue set in the Rocky Mountains. Reviewers have commented that the descriptions of the rescues were their favorite parts of the story. I know Jeanie did a lot of research to make those scenes realistic.

At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Tatum, avoids risk and stays away from heights and situations she can’t in some way control. But after she experiences a series of unexpected, tragic events and relationships, later in the story we see her high on a 14,000-foot mountain peak, both rescuing and being rescued.

If you’d like some easy reading for long winter evenings, get To Conquer A Mountain. It might also get you thinking about love, risk, and rescue.

 


Photo credit: jamehand on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Grace in Horrific Times

Snapshot - 1

There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today, more than ever before in history.

There are more natural disasters occurring than ever before in recorded history.

There is a growing spirit of division among people, as evidenced in current discourse, events, politics and elections. So much of this division seems fueled by fear, anger, and distrust.

There have been horrific times before in history. We humans like to think we have learned from those experiences and that we wouldn’t let such things happen again. Can we learn from history? Will we? Or must history repeat itself?

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Cladach has released books that feature true stories of God—and his people—at work even during the most horrific historical times. For instance:

  • Pol Pot’s genocidal regime in Cambodia (in the book, NO MORE FEAR).
  • A political terror-hostage crisis (in the book, HOSTAGE IN TAIPEI).
  • Christian and Muslim refugees in Africa and the Middle East (in the book,A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH).
  • Spiritual hunger during the Communist revolution in Russia (in the book, PAPER POPPIES).
  • Jewish children and their pets during the Holocaust (in the book, FAITHFUL FRIENDS).

All these personal memoirs happened in extremely tumultuous times and circumstances. Each describes injustices, cruelty, and evil forces unleashed on nations, people groups, and individuals. Each of these stories also gives witness to God’s personal presence, providence, and grace.

We offer these stories in the hope that readers will find renewed perspective, faith, and love.

Showing Love and Offering Hope in the World

We can each do something this day to increase shalom, well-being, and flourishing in our world—to participate in “God’s kingdom come.”

I like the quote by Anne Frank, that I photographed summer 2017 when I was visiting Birmingham, Alabama. This monument was erected in the context of the Civil Rights struggles of that city, quoting a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis. If she could think and pen such words, shouldn’t we—as followers of the Messiah—who revealed to us God’s heart of Love and compassion—be looking for ways to “improve the world” that God created, Christ gave his life for, ever lives to intercede for, and is coming back to reclaim and re-create? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” John 3:16.

As a believer and follower of Jesus, the Creator and Redeemer, I want to reflect his character of holy love into this groaning, strife-filled world.

One way I seek to do that is by publishing books that offer hope. I believe that hope is what sets “Christian books” apart among general book publishing. Whether through fiction, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry; a story, essay, or poem may portray a context of brokenness, sin, and conflict. But into that milieu will shine a ray of hope that gives the reader renewed courage to reach up and take hold of “the helping hand at the end of God’s long arm of love.”

————

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