I Make All Things New

“And He who sat on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new. And He said to me, Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:5

Spring seems to be here early this year. New life is evident all around us. Sprouts and some flowers are already up. Easter is coming soon too. It seems like a perfect time to turn my thoughts to renewal; A new dedication to learning about how the Lord ordered heaven and conquered temptations. Warmer air and sunlight has a way of giving hope and inspiration that were harder to find in the darker days of winter. 

“In the world regeneration is represented by various things, as by the blossoming of all things on earth in spring, and by the gradual development of the blossoms even to the fruit; also by the growth of every tree, shrub and flower, from the first warm month to the last. It is also represented by the progressive ripening of all kinds of fruit from the earliest germ to the end of the process; then again by morning and evening showers, and by dews, at the coming of which the flowers open, while they close at the approach of the darkness of night; also by the fragrance from gardens and fields; by the rainbow in the cloud (Gen. 9:14-17); by the resplendent colors of the dawn; and in general by the continual renovation of everything in the body..” True Christian Religion 687

“The reformation of man is altogether similar to his formation in the womb, with this difference only, that for a man to be reformed he must have will and understanding, while in the womb he has no will and understanding; but this difference does not exclude the likeness and analogy.” Divine Wisdom 4 

The Lord has decided to bless us with another new life to add to our family.  So this analogy of the formation of that human, along with reformation of ourselves, is especially meaningful right now. 

These images of regeneration, new life and gradual conjunction with Lord are warm and beautiful. And while parts of our lives, regeneration, learning to listen and become closer to the Lord can seem dark and hard, these give me hope. Winter is cold and darker, but serves the purpose of contrast. The bulbs and trees need that rest in the frozen ground to come back strengthened in the warmth, ready to serve their use again renewed.  

“By the eternal union of heat and light, our Lord breathes forth nothing but uses. From this, moreover, come the germinations on your earth in the spring-time, and the matings of your birds and animals; for the vernal heat opens their interiors even to the inmost things thereof which are called their souls. These it affects; and it imparts to them its own conjugial, causing what is prolific in them to come into its delights, and this from a continual striving to produce the fruits of use, the use being the propagation of their kind.” Conjugial Love 137

Listening in Prayer

What comes to mind when you think of prayer? My first thoughts tend to be of the words I use and the act of reaching out to the Lord. I think of gratitude, and acknowledging the need for the Lord’s guidance. While these are important, I recently questioned whether I do more speaking or listening when I pray. It seems so obviously misguided to approach prayer with the mindset that I’ll do the reaching out and the Lord will do the listening, yet I find myself falling into that mentality. I often find myself praying more for the sake of talking than for the sake of listening. Prayer should be a two-way conversation though, and sometimes I forget that I have a responsibility to listen.

There are various ways to listen to the Lord. A few examples might include reading the Word, being willing to learn from others, and noticing the small blessings in our lives. During prayer however, I sometimes find listening to be much more difficult.

Perhaps being a verbal processor is part of what makes listening difficult for me. I tend to feel a need to perfectly and exhaustively articulate what I’m struggling with, or how much I want to accept guidance and to do the right thing. As if He won’t understand if I don’t. As if it won’t count if I’m not thorough. As if my words have more power than the Lord does. How silly.

Another thing I find can make listening difficult is the natural tendency to be focused on our active roles in things. It can be much easier to do, than to pause; to take action, than to step back and trust the process; to talk, than to listen. We want to be forging ahead and being useful. The Lord does want us to do, talk, and take action. It’s our duty, in fact. He’s given us our freedom and rationality for a reason, and it’s part of His providence that we act from them as if of ourselves. However, it’s also important that we acknowledge that really we are nothing without the Lord. Reflecting on my day to day mindset, I notice how frequently I’m making decisions, figuring things out, and being in charge. Day in and day out, I’m at the center of my universe. I’m in control. Do I remember to give this mindset a reality check when I pray? How often am I still in I-have-to-figure-this-out mode when I pray – as if the Lord is there to help my efforts, rather than the other way around?

I have noticed how often I say things like “please guide me,” and “Thy Will be done,” only to then end my prayers and carry on my life as usual, presuming He’ll get back to me when He’s ready. But He’s always ready. In reality, I’m the one who needs to make myself ready and willing to genuinely make space for Him. The Lord says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20). The ball is always in my court.

Perhaps integrating time to focus on simply listening to the Lord would help my prayers for guidance become more sincere. Doing my best as I navigate things doesn’t necessarily mean I’m listening too, after all. Waiting patiently while I carry on isn’t the same as listening. I can be giving my all, and still missing something if I’m failing to pause and intentionally invite the Lord to be my reason and my compass. As important as my efforts are, they only make up half of the picture.

There is use in recognizing and articulating what we’re thinking and striving for. But it’s all about balance. Focused on our own understandings and thought processes, we may only be able to see answers that fit our own agenda. When we speak to other people, aren’t we supposed to be actively listening, instead of listening for the sake of further emphasizing our own point of view? It seems astonishingly easy to forget this rule when talking to the Lord. Shouldn’t we be just as eager to hear what the Lord wants from us? It seems foolish to cheat ourselves of His infinite wisdom and mercy by forgetting to turn a listening ear to what He might be communicating. Don’t we owe Him a turn in the conversation, and the respect of our full and undivided attention?

Lately I’ve been trying to say “please guide me,” and then make myself silent. It can be an uncomfortable position for me. I squirm in my silence. I want to make sure He knows what I mean. I want to band-aid the unknowns by focusing on what I do know. I squirm as that silence increasingly pushes me to loosen the reins on my illusion of control. I squirm because my trust in the Lord and His providence is being tested. It’s uncomfortable.

And yet slowly, sometimes the discomfort eases a little and it starts to become relieving to let Him be in charge; to be okay with “I don’t know” and “I’m listening.”

I know the answers to my prayers won’t always be what I want, or when I want, or even recognizable at all. But I wonder what might happen if I stop and simply say “Lord, I’m listening” more often. I wonder what might happen if I lift the constraints of my own perspective when I pray, and allow for the possibility that He might have things to say too. How exciting to think that He might have paths and plans for me that haven’t even crossed my mind!

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people…” Psalm 85:8

Teamwork

Heaven is a kingdom of usefulness. Conjugial Love 7

And the second is like unto it – you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39

Over the last six months or so, I’ve been reflecting on teamwork in the different contexts of my life. My role in my birth family (number 2 of 7 children, oldest daughter); being part of the ANC Class of ’69 and the different events and groups I took part in during high school; the varied paid jobs I’ve had; my own marriage & family; joining New Church activities while not living in a New Church community; loads of things in the village where I’ve lived for over 40 years. 

In each context, teamwork was involved – sometimes I was at the heart of things, sometimes chugging along in the middle, sometimes on the edges. But each one involved (or still involves) working with others to achieve some sort of goal. I’ve gotten to know many people: some have become firm friends, others remain no more than acquaintances. The effort of everyone involved in any given ‘team’, however big or small, did help to build a sense of community. There’s been a lot of laughter, occasional tearing-out of hair, and once in a while a sobering slice of humble pie. I’ve learned things, about others and about myself. Communities are stronger when their members get actively involved.

Continue reading Teamwork

The Lenten Season

Have you ever noticed that while Christmas is issued in by weeks and weeks of preparation and anticipation, Easter comes and goes in a flash?

It is curious to me that New Church culture has adopted the Old Christian season of Advent, but has ignored the season of preparation for Easter: Lent.

In the earliest years of my marriage, my husband was a proper ‘bah humbug’ when it came to Christmas. After much discussion (and references to Scrooge) I realized that my husband was frustrated with the out-of-proportion prominence that Christmas received in our culture when compared to Passover. All that fuss to commemorate the Lord’s arrival on earth but hardly a glance at the stories that explain what He actually did when He came here. My husband had a point. Rather than depriving Christmas of all its merriment and pageantry, over the years we have looked for ways to make Easter, or ‘Passover’ as many cultures call it, more special and exciting for our children. We take two weeks off of school. We give large and numerous gifts which we hide for the kids to hunt for on Easter morning. We have a fantastic feast complete with an unusual dessert– we set up a miniature mossy world tablescape where candy bugs and chocolate birdies hide. We even have an Easter story representation. In short, we have tried to add to Easter versions of many of the celebratory components of Christmas.

But the Passover story is decidedly different in tone from the Christmas story. There is a seriousness to the Easter story that the celebration of the Lord’s birth just doesn’t have. And merriment and gift-giving can’t fully capture. And that is where the observance of self-sacrifice during the Lenten season has been valuable for us.

Each year we choose some luxury we will give up as a family for the period of Lent. The idea is that whenever we desire that luxury we will stop and think about the Lord Jesus Christ and the sacrifices He made for us. This year we are giving up ‘recreational screens’–no more movies or video games.

There is, of course, no magic in sacrificing during Lent. The real value in the Lenten season is not the giving-up in itself but in the preparation and anticipation for Easter. The season need not be one solely of sacrifice—we also grow flowers to give at Easter Sunday church and create special decorations. Yet I’ve found that marking the season with a little self-sacrifice matches the tone of the Easter story and the Lord’s sacrifice and love for us. And through choosing to give up something as a part of Easter preparation, we hope to instill in our family a different kind of Christian spirit than the ‘spirit of giving’ which we foster at Christmas time. Another angle to being Christian.

A few weeks ago I got confused and told the boys that Lent began on Feb 12th. When I realized my mistake and let them know that Lent didn’t, in fact, begin for two more weeks, the littlest ones were relieved (Yay! Put Wild Kratts back on!) but one of my elder sons was curiously upset. He was disappointed, he admitted to me, he had worked hard to prepare himself for the Lenten season and was ready to make the sacrifices to remember the Lord…and now he had to wait.

That was an incredibly precious moment for me!