Stepping onto the garden path one early morning in August.
Since all our honeybees died last winter, my husband and I decided our beekeeping days were over. The time had come to take out the bee hives in the corner flower garden and use the extra space to add a foot path through the flowers, grasses, and greenery. During these summer months, this simple, curving garden path has become my early morning meditation/prayer walk. On cool mornings, before the heat of the day, I stand and gaze at the flower faces glistening and opening petals to morning sun, and my heart opens to Creator God, the same one who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It seems God is still dwelling, revealing, and walking in gardens.
This summer, on that lovely path my husband cleared and lined for me—with river-rock edging and cedar-chip paving—God has been there with me, helping me start each morning with awareness of, and fellowship with, his ever-creating, giving, empowering, caring presence.
After breakfast and coffee, and just before I step onto the path, I wait, in a moment of listening, for today’s focus of prayer. One day it was thankfulness. With each two steps I said (and meant) “Thank you” (stepping with left foot) “for family” (with right). Left always the same. Right included: new mornings, God’s mercies, colors of flowers, shades of green, people to love, a faithful dog staying close, gentle breezes giving relief from heat, hope for tomorrow.
Another day, loved ones came distinctly to mind, and I pictured them each in their places, facing their particular challenges. With each two steps I interceded for individuals in my family with a real sense of participating in God’s purposes, asking in his will, and was given the assurance that God’s heart was hearing my heart as I sought to hear his.
One morning, as the first rays of the rising sun shimmered through translucent petals, leaves glowed and dew drops sparkled, my heart lifted in praise. I felt God’s smile through the newness and beauty of life around me. With each set of left-right steps (taken slowly, savoringly) I spoke the praise I felt for God’s beauty, mercy, constancy, Fatherly heart, and for the way he creates new possibilities amidst the unfolding of each day.
Some morning prayer walks have included confession, as well as release and surrender.
I miss having a garden beehive, and the fresh honey we extracted; but this year we have enjoyed observing the wide variety of native pollinators that have visited our gardens; and the corner bee garden that I previously had to stay out of in the mornings because of honeybees protecting their hive), has become a welcoming prayer garden where faith and hope are pollinated. And the experience of starting my day with those few moments of communion is as sweet as any honey.
A photo I took on one of my walks on the river trail not far from my office.
Stressed, working hard to prepare books for publication in the midst of several life adjustments, one morning I knew I had to attend to my soul. For me, soul care and renewal involve reading, meditating, praying / releasing, and experiencing nature / creation.
First I drank my coffee and read a devotional article that said: “Am I willing to continue yielding my life wholly to God? If so, there is power for me…. God promises help to accomplish the task toward which His Spirit points me.”
I wrote a list of the things on my heart that had become burdens, prayed over them and gave them to God, again.
Then I read: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph.3:20-21,NIV) I prayed this scripture, inserting my name and then the names of our family members. Assurance came.
Then, for the solace and renewal of nature, I drove down to the nearby river trail. There my senses were immediately overwhelmed and filled with the sights and sounds and smells and textures of that lush spot where grassy farmland meets the river that has flowed down from the Rocky Mountains. There, nature burgeons with life.
One thing my husband and I are learning as we live in this high place of Colorado where every season happens in every season—We are learning to appreciate and “seize” the moment. If we don’t come down to the river trail for a couple of weeks, we hardly recognize the place next time. All summer, layer upon layer of grasses and flowering plants keep coming up, replacing the previous layer, each a little higher than the last, reaching for the intense sunshine which often gives way to evening thunder clouds. In the early summer, wild roses were blooming under the giant cottonwoods. Later they had dried up and purple thistle had risen 5 to 6 feet tall, bright and stately. You might think them renegade weeds in your garden, but out here, they’re royalty. Clouds of foamy yellow flower heads grow here and there, and every shade of foliage.
Bird songs abound! I recognize the sounds of killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, and others. I see the orchard oriole that was here last time, and the bullock’s oriole, the eastern kingbird, and many others. A rabbit hops near the river’s edge. Farmers are irrigating today, obviously, because the wet river banks and shallow water indicate most of the river’s flow here has been diverted to the canals. I watch several huge river-bottom fish, and their backs often rise above the water’s surface and I can see the golden eye high on their foreheads. They glisten in the sunshine and are too big for the six snowy egrets nearby to tackle. But if a bald eagle happened by, they’d be easy prey, so visible in the shallow waters. In a clearing on the other side I see prairie dogs with their young. They stand up straight above their holes and suckle their little ones who then lick their mothers faces. They’re cute. And they supply food for the many hawks and owls around here.
In the shady places under the heavy cottonwoods, myriads of butterflies float and flutter. I see one group that fly this way and that and round and round in sync as if propelled by a little twister wind. How do they synchronize their flight in milliseconds like that? The hot sun intensifies the scents of grasses mingled with damp river smells. Several cyclists ride by me, calling out “on your left.” Two lark sparrows perch on the fence and stay there watching me, showing off their harlequin faces, feathers glowing like polished bronze in the sun.
I’m thankful for this day, and this place, and God’s glory all around.
Back at my car, I give thanks to God. As I walk into the house, a CD is playing and I hear the words of a gospel song, “Morning by morning new mercies I see….Great is thy faithfulness.” Tears smart my eyes. I “seize the moment” and find joy in it, and in knowing God is in it!
If you believe, as I do, that God’s essential nature is Love, then you would enjoy reading this book. Cladach didn’t publish it. But I contributed an essay to it entitled, “Opening to God Through Prayer.”
After reading the 80+ essays in the book, I’d like to share with you my review:
Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God is a treasure trove of diverse viewpoints looking at many aspects of life in light of God’s love being non-coercive. You may not agree with all of the essayists (I agree with most, not all). But they will stretch your thinking and challenge your heart. That’s part of the beauty of a collaborative project like this. Here are quotes from the contributors who especially spoke to me:
Will Albright: “I wonder if God isn’t instead this great music maker, teaching all creation to play and sing along to the melody of love.”
Rick Barr: “In a sense, to be is to be known and to be loved.”
Justin Heinzekehr: “The non-coercive God is not hovering over us with a specific set of directions but is encouraging us to tap into our own creativity without knowing where it will lead.”
Tim Reddish: “Prayer makes a difference, but so do the necessary regularity of the world and every free choice humans and angels make…. It is quite legitimate to say that the Christian and the Spirit are ‘co-praying’.”
Scott Nelson Foster: “It is when we respond to God’s call to love that God’s will is done.”
Sarah Lancaster: “One advantage of thinking about God as uncontrolling is that it allows and impels us to look for God in the regular events in our lives.”
Bob Luhn: “It is the non-coercive, others-empowering love of God that sets a person free to be fully human–capable of loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.”
Simon Hall: “If we are spiritual beings, just as much as we are physical, then our prayers matter just as much as our actions. Prayers that attune us to the heart of God. Prayers that lend our voice to God’s voice…”
A BOOK TO READ SLOWLY AND SAVOR. Allow your thinking to be infused and inspired with the truth, beauty, and power of God’s uncontrolling love.
My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!
Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.
Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.
This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.
If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.
Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.
If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.
God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.
Our open and relational God is calling us to:
Confess to him our lack of faith, trust, hope, and loving action.
Give thanks to him for enlarging our hearts and vision.
Bring supplications to him, interceding on behalf of the people and places we see that are far from the well-being of shalom.
Listen to and commune with him. Receive and respond.
Be prayerful in the spirit always.
Say “yes” to what he is calling forth in and through us.
As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.
It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.
“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.
If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.
Note: I wrote this piece because I believe in prayer and I wanted to engage with Thomas Jay Oord’s teaching after reading his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God (NavPress, 2015). This entire post first appeared at http://uncontrollinglove.com (and later at http://thomasjayoord.com ). I agree with some, but not all, opinions and philosophies expressed by the writers there, but I’m thankful to have an opportunity to participate in the conversation.
I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book,Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).
As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:
I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.
I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.
“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.
Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”
My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.
Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.
One story in the book Faithful Friends tells about a little mixed-breed, playful dog named Bogar, loved by the Rubin family in Hungary. In 1944 “the unthinkable happened.” Cathy Rubin, a little girl at the time says, “We heard a commotion outside. On a loud-speaker the soldiers told all Jews to line up in the street. We had no place to run or hide. … We only had time to leave Bogar free outside. I prayed to God that he would be safe.”
Here is what happened as told from the dog’s point of view:
Bogar did not understand. He watched his family line up and march with everyone else. He had often gone on walks with his people; perhaps this was a walk of some kind. But he could smell the fear and sense the tension, so he knew it wasn’t a family outing like before.
When his loved ones went into the ghetto, the guards shooed him away. When he would not leave and tried to get inside to be with his family, they threw stones at him that hurt him so badly he yelped. He quickly learned not to linger near the gate. He had been left at home before, but his family had always come back, and it was rare for everyone to be gone at the same time.
So Bogar waited outside the gates of the ghetto for his family to return, being careful to stay far enough away so that no one paid much attention to him. Every now and then a soldier would toss him some scraps to eat. There was a stream nearby where he was able to drink water, and when it rained he had the puddles.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Bogar saw people coming out of the gates in a long line. He ran up and down the line until he found them, his people. Then he jumped and wiggled with joy—now they would all go home!
But they did not go home. They marched again. So, being a loyal dog, Bogar followed them.
Finally they reached the train station and he saw his family climb into a big square train car with lots of other people. There was crying. Occasionally a gun shot made him cringe; the hair rose up on his back and a deep growl rumbled in his throat.
Again, he was forced apart from his family. The soldiers shouted and shoved people. Once in a while a boot would swing in Bogar’s direction. The people getting on the train did not pay attention to him and he had to run a distance away to avoid being trampled. As he hid in some bushes, he whimpered softly, sensing that his people were going far away, leaving him for good.
Once everyone was gone, he slowly wandered around trying to figure out what had happened. He was hungry, thirsty and tired. At first he ran after the train; but he could not catch up to it. Next he went back to the ghetto, hoping that he would find his people and food there, but gone were the few soldiers who had been kind to him. He headed back to his home.
Time passed, and he found it harder to get food. There were no food scraps in the streets or garbage heaps. One time he went up to a man and the man grabbed him and hurt him. He bit the man and got away, but he instinctively knew that the man would have killed him. He became fearful of all people and avoided them, running each time someone saw him or hiding when he detected them first.
Things were not much better when he got back to his home. Some of the neighbors who were still there and knew him would leave a scrap of bone for him or some rotted food. He was not accustomed to eating vegetables but he was so hungry that he ate anything he could find. Once he even chewed the soles of a boot that he found. He went from being a clean dog with a shiny coat to a dirty, matted dog whose ribs stuck out. Even the rats, rabbits and mice became scarce. Once in a while he would catch a bird and would even eat bugs. The days wore on.
Kathy Rubin’s family survived forced labor in Austria. She writes:
On that glorious day in May, 1945, we were free! We were herded up and sent out to fend for ourselves, but we were free. We were alive and all of my family had survived. We started the long walk back to our home. It was the only place we could go.
I’ll never forget walking that final mile. Because we were all so weak, we did not talk. But in our hearts, we wondered if Bogar would be there for us….
… Every day I would walk around our community, hoping to see Bogar, praying that God would bring him home to me and my family. I asked everyone I met if they had seen him, but most people were not sure; they did not remember what he looked like. They were busy trying to survive and did not pay much attention to stray dogs. Many dogs roamed the area. Some people I asked thought Bogar was dead, others thought they saw him run away. This was understandable, since they may have seen him follow us to the ghetto and thought he was gone.
The days passed and I could not find him. I was not strong enough to walk far or I would have walked back to the ghetto and train station to look for him. Slowly my hopes diminished. We were all thankful that we made it through the war and that we were still alive. We were joyful to be reunited with some of our neighbors and friends and to be able to worship at the synagogue again. But we mourned the loss of one family member: Bogar.
We had heard stories of dogs being caught and eaten, or being beaten or shot by soldiers. The bigger dogs would attack the smaller dogs as they starved to death. It wrenched my heart to hear these stories. I kept thinking that Bogar hated the sounds of war and the soldiers so much that he would try to escape. But how could he find food? I knew that, to survive, people had caught and eaten all the animals they could get. I wondered, What will be left for Bogar? Then I remembered that he was small and he would not need much food to live.
A month later, I was walking down the road about a mile from home, still hoping to find Bogar when I saw a dog that looked like Bogar. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. My heart skipped a beat and I held my breath. I hesitated to call his name, for fear it was not him and the disappointment would hurt so much.
Hesitantly, I called, “Bogar! Bogar!”
The dog stopped and looked, frozen in place. Then like a shooting star, he ran to me, jumping and licking my hands and face. It was Bogar—my sweet, wonderful Bogar!
I knelt and hugged him for a long time. What joy and relief. I thanked God for taking care of him. For the first time since we were taken away, I felt peace and hope. God did care.
The two of us hurried home as fast as our weak bodies could, and I burst through the door shouting to the family, “Bogar’s home! Bogar’s home!”
We all hugged and kissed him, then we all hugged each other, tears in everyone’s eyes. Next we gave him some of our precious little food, water and a soft, warm place to sleep. After we got over our excitement, we saw that Bogar had had a rough life while we were gone. He was thin, his coat did not shine, and it seemed that there was a haunted look in his eyes. … For the next year we had our wonderful Bogar with us, then he got sick and died and we all mourned deeply.
Kathy Rubin escaped in 1956 from Hungary. She and her husband made their way to the U.S. where they reared two children and had many family pets. Kathy now enjoys gardening and helping people.
Read Kathy’s story and the stories of nine other Holocaust survivors in the book (from which this post is excerpted):
FAITHFUL FRIENDS : Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of the Pets Who Gave Them Comfort, Suffered Alongside Them, and Waited for Their Return