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Family Bible Reading

My household has undergone many ups and downs since the lockdown started.  For us in South Africa, the country went into lockdown in early April, but life had been disrupted for several weeks even before that. School and normal family routines were all thrown into the air.  I’ve tried several versions of new routines: some where I just let the kids do whatever they wanted, some where I was scheduling and managing every hour.  I’ve continued to change and juggle the routine as life continues changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis! But one of the things that has come out of all this is a new routine of reading the Bible with my kids.

As a family reading the Bible has always been at least an occasional part of our routine.  But in the last few years with school taking up more time as the kids moved from pre-primary to primary and even now senior primary grades, our time at home to do additional study has fallen away.  And while I know they are reading the Bible at school I am not in that routine with them.  But since the lockdown and having the kids at home we began to read daily together, and I have been amazed again and again by the experience.  

My kids all enjoy reading, so I wasn’t really surprised to find them excited at the idea of reading together.  But what I have been surprised by is their ability to read even some of the stranger or more violent parts of the Bible and then follow up with insightful and useful discussions.  We spent June reading through Revelation as we led up to New Church Day on June 19th.  We have several picture books which helped to give a more concrete understandings of some of the stranger creatures and scenes described.  But each day my kids were eager to read more, to understand more, to find passages they recognized, and to discuss the strange beasts and the terrifying plagues.  I remember reading through Revelation as a child and feeling confused but enjoying it, but I don’t remember expressing the enthusiasm my kids regularly share with me.  

When I decided to make daily Bible reading a part of our routine I expected the kids to hesitate or whine.  But I have been thoroughly enjoying my time to connect with them and watch their enjoyment as they find new Bible stories to wonder over or light up as they read a verse or a story they’ve learned about before.  It is an experience that I’m already holding on to as a bright spot in these stormy times.

Is the Grass Always Greener?

I think that it is easy to always be waiting for the next thing to come along. Finishing school, getting a new home, getting married, having a baby, having another baby, getting that promotion, getting a new job, vacation, quarantine to be over.

It is good to look forward to things. We need to be working toward goals and accomplishing things, but it is too easy to get sucked into not enjoying the present. It’s easy to put off things until something changes. It is easy to choose to be inactive until the right circumstances arise. In those situations, I have found that waiting can be interminable.

Everyone has heard the phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” And I know this is something I fall into believing. There will always be something around the next bend if it will only get here!

It is easy to look at the lives people present on social media and wish that our own life looked more like that. It is easy to look at people who are in quarantine together and covet their lives, covet their swimming pool, covet their opportunities. If you look for it, someone out there is probably having more fun than you are, especially if that is your attitude. I fall into this trap constantly. “If only ___, I would be happier.” But when I am able to pause and reflect on my own blessings, and actually appreciate the good things in my life, I don’t have to be comparing myself to others or waiting for something better to come along.

Someone once pointed out to me that the New Church is the only church that isn’t waiting for something. We are not waiting for judgment day. We are not waiting for the second coming. We are not waiting for answers. We have it all, and we should be so lucky! Yes, I know that doesn’t mean we are perfect, or have absorbed all that the Lord has to offer, but it does mean that we don’t have to wait for anything in order to start.

But waiting is easier; expecting something to change in order for things to get better. But is it comforting to believe that the Lord is going to show up in person and fix everything? Maybe a little bit, but it is also intimidating. I think that it is much more comforting to realize that He has given us all the tools we need right now. He is always with us, always leading us, and never absent. 

For every smallest fraction of a moment of a person’s life entails a chain of consequences extending into eternity. Indeed every one is like a new beginning to those that follow, and so every single moment of the life both of his understanding and of his will is a new beginning. And since the Lord foresaw from eternity what man was going to be like in the future and even into eternity it is clear that providence is present in the smallest individual things, and, as has been stated, is governing him and diverting him so that he may be such, this being achieved by constant re-shaping of his freedom. ( Arcana Coelestia 3854)

The Lord gave us the tools to be happy right now. And when I pause and reflect on the fact that I was born into a family who knew about these truths, who cared about them and raised me in them; when I pause to reflect that I have access to these truths in the Heavenly Doctrine, I realize that I am actually much happier to have the life that I have, and not desire someone else’s advantages.

Someone once said to me, “Be happy where you are, or you’ll never be happy.” And this idea has stayed with me. If I am not allowing myself to find the happiness now, I will never be able to find the happiness in life. Happiness can be found now, because the Lord is always present, always wishing to be with us, and wanting us to be happy. No matter where we are, He is going to be present, and if we choose it, we can be happy now.

Love Bridges (noun and verb)

Most likely all of us, at one time or another have seen an adventure movie or read a tale, where the main character comes upon a huge abyss and must get to the other side. The only way across is that rickety bridge that has fallen to ruin. You can picture it I’m sure. It’s very long and falling apart. If it’s wooden, there are surely slats falling off with every movement. Or perhaps it’s made of mossy jungle vines. It’s definitely sagging and swaying in the steam that rises from the chasm below. It is entirely doubtful whether anyone could possibly pass successfully over the long, treacherous expanse. But the hero steps onto it, with much trepidation, determined and with steely resolve. As we’re watching we’re torn between the tension of what will surely happen on this skeletal bridge and the subconscious thought that surely they won’t kill-off the main character just yet. Nine times out of ten, the hero makes it across and we can exhale.

Most likely all of us, at one time or another have encountered in our lives an abyss or chasm or even just little rifts in relationships. Sometimes it feels like someone is emotionally ‘far away’ or out of reach. Human connections are like that. It could be with a spouse when life’s stresses have for too long been the focus and cold has crept in, a teenage child with whom many an angry word has been exchanged, a sibling with whom there are old wounds, a friend who betrayed or a colleague who went too far with cutting words. The varieties are endless when humans are involved. There are crevasses and pits of sadness, pride and hurt, anger and frustration, blame and resentment, resignation and loneliness, hopelessness and cold. At times they run too deep and the gulf seems too wide to traverse. A bridge is needed to somehow reach across.

Bridges in relationships can be built of materials perhaps not initially considered for a solid structure. Love bridges are made with a hand tenderly touching a shoulder on the way by, a smile or twinkle in the eye, shared laughter, a compliment instead of a criticism, a kind gesture, a question with genuine interest instead of a directive, an unexpected note or call, an apology, an assumption and trust in someone’s good intentions, genuine humility over pride. These are but a few of the building materials that can be used after the groundwork has been laid. 

We are just the workers in building these bridges of course. The Design happens long before, with the blueprints being drawn by the Architect, the Master Engineer. For love bridges to be built, we must come by choice looking for work, as unskilled labourers, with a willingness to be led and trained by the Architect. We are asked only to come with prayer and with the constant knowing that, with Him, all things are possible. New spans can be built and broken bridges can be repaired. If we come humbly ready to work, opening our mind and listening with our hearts, and are committed to building a bridge, He will give us the tools and materials of compassion, persistence, patience, courage, creativity, tenderness, trust, levity, authenticity and vulnerability. 

With trepidation we alone might attempt to bridge the gulf, entirely doubtful whether it’s even possible to pass successfully over such a long, treacherous and lonely expanse of disconnection. Sometimes it is even unknown what really lies on the other side. But the first step is choice. Choosing to hope and trust and to be open to the Leading of the Architect. Every loving effort is a fresh slat in the bridge that can be built anew. With time, intention, effort and persistence, we may even find someone taking timid steps toward us through the mist, across that bridge we’ve helped to restore. 

Church Exists Where The Word Is

The church exists specifically where the Word is,  and where the Lord is thereby known, and thus where Divine truths are revealed.NJHD 246

Recently I have been reflecting on what it means to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy, especially in light of the drastically changed environment for worship. What are the important parts of worship that need to be retained in order for us successfully remember the Sabbath? Growing up I had a pretty narrow idea of what it meant to follow the third commandment, it was pretty simple, go to church! We had family worship growing up as well, but I never saw it as a replacement or substitute for church. 

In more recent years many of our churches started streaming their services and for quite a while I was resistant to this change. I liked the reverent and peaceful sphere of our church and worried about the cameras, microphones and speakers becoming a distraction. Furthermore, I feared that people would enjoy the convenience of watching a church service from their house on a tv and stop attending the physical service. However, as I examined these doubts about changes, I realized how selfish and misplaced they were. Other people’s choice of how they worship and remember the Sabbath should be according to their understanding of the teachings. 

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