Category: The Love of God

After the Storm: Creation Heals

DSC_4314

Our corner bee garden before the hail storm

It seems God created this world with the capacity for healing built into it.

I remember Kiki, my pediatrician friend, saying that she almost enjoyed it when she got a cut or other minor injury on a finger, because watching it heal was such a wonder. I took this statement from Kiki with a grain of salt. She, of course, doesn’t desire the hurts that come from random accidents and afflictions of this life.

When the hail storm hit in July, I did not enjoy seeing the near-golf ball size hail bombard our home and trees and gardens. In late July, when our gardens were at their lushest—when trees throughout town, flowers in front yards, fruits and vegetables in gardens, crops in the fields were flourishing—came a hard-hitting, hurling from the sky, storm of hail that broke, battered, tore, ripped. It only lasted a few minutes. But it left roofs with holes, windows cracked, siding pocked, bee hives panicked, birds injured, crops destroyed, gardens sad-looking.

Our gardens give us (my husband and me) pleasure. We love to share their beauty and bounty with others. So, in my disappointment over the storm’s devastation, for a few days emotional storm clouds threatened to descend into my soul.

Why, God? What’s the use of planting and tending and making beauty, if destruction can hit any time?

I know people who have weathered many storms—both storms of nature and stormy relationships. Some have given up or have chosen to play it safe in one way or another. Cut down the trees in their yard. Take out gardens and put in rocks. Choose to distance themselves from family and friends. And I’m sometimes tempted to react this way to life’s troubles and conflicts.

But I have been learning more and more to know God as Love. He doesn’t cause evil or bad things. He is not up there somewhere, angry and vindictive, choosing to send hail on some people and gentle showers on others, then watching to see our reactions.

I recently read the book, Does God Always Get What God Wants? by Tim Reddish. He writes: “The whole Godhead suffers to bring shalom to all of creation… To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer…. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love…. [However,] God doesn’t let suffering have the last word. Instead, God responds to every situation in ways that promote growth and healing.”

God is, always and everywhere, with us, rejoicing with us and suffering with us.

With that truth on my mind, I took advantage of a quiet morning to spend time in contemplative prayer. And there I regained a sense of help and hope.

I have found that contemplation often clears the way to action.

I put on my sun hat and garden gloves, took clippers and went out into my corner flower garden. I began cleaning up, clipping away broken, spent, bent branches and knocked-down leaves, twigs, and flowers. And as I did, with each clip, I said, “I choose hope.” “I choose love.” “I choose beauty.” “I choose to suffer with.” I choose to enter into even the suffering of nature. (We are in this life together, after all.) I choose to cooperate with God to bring order and beauty out of brokenness and chaos, to encourage hope, light, and healing. To expect renewal and new possibilities. I decided to try rooting some of the broken plant parts. I deadheaded to encourage new blooms. I noticed the bees were making the best of things, too, extracting juice from hail-broken rhubarb stalks. Perhaps they would process it into honey.

I will join nature in its response to our God’s ever-creating and re-creating presence. I will stay engaged, by God’s grace, open to His constant working to bring beauty and goodness and newness out of pain and loss and scars…to increase Shalom.

I grieve the losses, the hurts, the scars; but like my friend Kiki, amazed at watching her finger heal, I choose to embrace hopeful wonder.

May God’s kingdom come.

 

 

Valentines, Lent, and Love Poems

GUEST POST by Mary Harwell Sayler

Today, Valentine’s falls on Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent and, in many churches, the annual 40-day season of introspection and self-examination that leads to confession, repentance, and the spiritual freedom needed to receive the joy of Easter.

At first, though, it seems ironic that a Valentine’s Day of flowers and candy coincides with a time typically thought of as giving up something—such as flowers and candy! But then, the colliding and coinciding can help us to see what they have in common with each other and this blog: love.

Praise God our Father!
Blessings on our Mother Earth.
We are their love child.

–Mary Harwell Sayler in PRAISE!

Love of the beloved needs expression! The highest examples of these come in the Bible, the trek toward Easter, and the love expressed in poetry. You’ve undoubtedly read love poems—from greeting card verse on a Valentine to the 23rd Psalm to the poetic lines of a romantic sonnet. [You may have] tried your hand at writing a love poem too.

But “love” has many faces.

Take, for example, this prose poem. I’ll explain it once you’ve had a chance to experience it.

Scavengers
(after reading Attila Jozsef)

Attila the Hungarian poet, I really love you. Please
believe me before you throw yourself beneath that
train. The fright of flying freight crushes my reading
of your prose poems—poems poised with insight
and odd juxtaposition. I try to rescue the paragraphs
you pose from extermination, reeling as I read. What
can I do but pet The Dog you left behind, ragged and
muddy, ready to avenge your wounds and scavenge
the pieces of God you hid in my upper berth on this
looming train?

–Mary Harwell Sayler in Faces in a Crowd

Ever since childhood, I’ve “loved” poetry, which led to my reading the best works of classical and contemporary poets as evidenced in the above poem….. Once my tastes in poetry became more eclectic … I discovered poets from all over the world, each of whom brought experiences beyond my own.

Attila Jozsef of Hungary was one such poet, with his thought-provoking, deliciously-worded, introspective poems (suitable for Lent) such as “The Dog.” But when I learned he’d committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train, that sad news stunned me into writing a poem pleading for life and poetry and, perhaps, for his forgiveness of those of us who have led easier lives.

Contemplation of our ease versus dis-ease, our lives versus death, our love versus bigotry, bias, boredom, and indifference gives us the stuff of which poetry and Lent are made. But the greatest of these is God’s Word of love.

Child, Child,

If God didn’t love you, no eyes, no ears
would weave into your gut, no
heart would arch into the inner soles
of your shoes, showing you where to go.

If God didn’t trust you, there would be
no joy to oil your neighbors, no love to
cover the sins of your enemies, no Good
News to paper the walls of your head.

Mary Harwell Sayler in Outside Eden

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

 

Exploring the Love of God

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.

You can find the book on Amazon.

God’s Love Present in Our World

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (I John 4:7)

As a publisher, I seek books that demonstrate the love of God … stories ever fresh, personal and creative … stories of a love that has power to change lives and change history. Many Cladach books tell of lives changed by this love.

  • In Come, Stay, Celebrate! we read of John and Judith Galblum Pex loving people in Israel—all kinds of people—into the kingdom of God and his Son.

  • In On Kitten Creek, we read how God came into the midst of a people devoted to him in a place consecrated to him, and he worked in unexpected ways to make his love tangible.

  • In Journeys to Mother Love we read how love and forgiveness can overcome and heal the wounds and conflicts in mother-child relationships.

  • In Everywhere I Look, we read how everyday experiences and observations reveal the pervasiveness of God’s love to everyday people.

  • In All We Like Sheep, we read how God used flocks of sheep to teach two shepherdesses about his shepherd-heart of love.

  • In Remembering Softly, we read poetic expressions of moments when God’s love seeped, rushed, jolted, flashed, and poured into a searching heart.

  • In Creation of Calm, we read how God’s love transformed pain and loss into beautiful art that brings calm to others caught in life’s storms.

  • In Hostage In Taipei, we read a true, extreme account of God’s love working through believers literally caught in the crossfire, eventually overcoming violence and hate.

  • In Face to Face, we read of Love personified who, unlike everyone else, looked at a woman broken and spiritually oppressed, saw her heart, and released her with his words of love.


Photo credit: Canstock Photo/ © paktaotik

Opening to Adventures in Prayer

bee on hawthorn flowers

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:

  • Praise him.
  • 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.

Eternal Snows and A Sacrifice of Love

A blizzard during Easter week (which we had here in Colorado) is a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during this holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:

“I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.”
                       ~Joseph Plunkett

As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—layed down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.

The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.

Now I’m viewing this snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

“I lay down my life…” (John 10:14)

A Crown of Thorns

CrownOfThorns

Drops of blood or tear drops?

Thoughts for Maundy Thursday

A quote from Scripture:

“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.” (Matthew 27:29)

And a quote from the devotional section of the book, God’s Healing Herbs, by Dennis Ellingson:

We are told that creation itself moans because of the curse put upon us. Everything bears the mark of humankind’s sin. I don’t know how to understand it—but I believe plants, animals, and all of creation respond in some way to the God who made them.

If a thorn bush could think, I wonder how it might have mourned to know that its branches were used to hurt the very One who had made it. If a bush could have shed tears rather than causing blood to be shed, and a bush could choose, I wonder whether the bush would have chosen tears.

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