A Level Road

Wednesday the Fourth Week of Lent

I will cut a road through all my mountains, and make my highways level…But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.  Isaiah 49

Each morning I fix a mug of tea, and write in my journal. Most of the time, my journal entries help me make sense of the day passed and the day ahead. I write lists; I organize my time.

My next two days are pretty full with appointments and classes, which of course leads to micro-managing my time: what time do I have to get in the shower today in order to leave early enough to have time before class? Today’s classes run until 9 p.m. and I need to get there early to do some online work with them.

And what about tomorrow? Well, tomorrow’s calendar is just about as full. That’s how life is these days – although I remind myself that the phone isn’t ringing, right now, and the day is clear, right now, and I still have time before leaving for class. I’m okay, right now.

I managed to plant peas and lettuce a week or so ago, but the yard work calls. But not right now.

Micro-managing and climbing mountains. And I expect your life is just as complicated.   These are the days of micro-managing time. And people. And the to-do list.

That’s why I chose these words from Isaiah this morning. Words that again resonated with me and filled my heart with peace. Somehow it will all get done. Somehow my life is not forgotten.

“I will cut a road through all my mountains and make my highways level…”

I leaned back in my chair from writing these dots and pixels and smiled at myself. I will get through my days. And I can either get through them tense or I can trust that things will go okay. And whether they do or not, I can remain in a place of comfort.

That’s a lesson I learn over and over. Trust. Breathe. You’re safe. The world won’t fall apart and you won’t fall. At least you won’t fall if you pay attention; and slow down; and breathe.

Is this a reminder you need today? If it is, and I suspect most of us are treading about as much as we can these days, go back and read the verses at the top of this post.

“Can a mother forget her infant? Even should she forget, I will not forget you.”

Keep reminding yourself today that you are held. That you are loved. That the God spirit in you will keep you safe. Today, trust your journey will be on a level road.

Push the Pause Button

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

But his servants came up and reasoned with Naaman. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.  2 Kings, 5

I love this story. We don’t hear it very often because it’s one of those tucked away in the Lenten daily readings, but each Lent about this time, when I read it again, I take a breath. And I sit and I think about the story and realize how easily I forget to do the simple things.

Naaman is an army commander and he has leprosy. He’s captured a girl from Israel and made her a servant to his wife. The girl says that if Naaman would go to the “prophet in Samaria” he would be cured. So Naaman takes his horses and his chariots and “ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments” to go visit Elisha. The prophet sends out a message, “go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal…” Elisha doesn’t even come out, he just sends the message out.

So of course Naaman gets upset and says, I could have washed at home! I didn’t have to go through all this! He could have at least “move his hand over the spot.” He’s angry. His servants reason with him; he washes in the river and is healed. Simple.


It’s already mid-morning and I’m just now getting to the reflection. Other bits and pieces have pulled me away – I have students in crisis and appointments to clarify for later in the week; the phone rang at 7:40 this morning when I was barely conscious from someone needing counsel. Wise words? At 7:40 in the morning? I hadn’t even had my tea! Okay.

And after each bit, after each one-more-thing-to-remember, I’d come back to my corner and recognize the rushing tightness in my chest. Finally,  I breathed and the tightness released.

Breathe. Calm. Stop.

That’s what I keep saying to myself this morning: breathe, calm, stop.

There’s an additional story in the midst of this Naaman adventure: Naaman goes to his lord and tells him what the girl had said about the prophet and his lord says, Go. I’ll send along a letter to the king of Israel. But when the king of Israel reads the letter, he figures that Naaman has come looking for a quarrel – he “tore his garments” and gets upset. But Elisha says, “Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me…”

I wonder if we aren’t, many of us, jumping to conclusions or actions these days when we just need to breathe, pause, stop.

It’s the simple things that are hardest to remember. I know I’m not alone in the challenges and busyness of this time. So all together now: Breathe. Pause. Stop.

And then, like Naaman, give thanks for the healing.

Insiders and Outsiders

Third Sunday in Lent

At that moment his disciples returned and were amazed that he was talking with a woman.  John 4

The gospel reading for this Sunday is commonly called “The Woman at the Well.” Jesus and his disciples are walking and come to the town of Sychar, a Samarian town, where Jacob’s well was located. The disciples go into town to buy food and leave Jesus resting beside the well. A Samarian woman comes to draw water and she and Jesus have a dialogue, one could even say a repartee.

Scholars doubt that this event took place: men and women didn’t talk for one thing; another is that as an observant Jew, Jesus probably wouldn’t have gone into Samaria to minister. However, there is evidence that Samarians were part of the Christian community during John’s time, near the end of the 1st Century, and this story served a useful two-part function: welcoming outsiders, in this case Samarians, into the community; and showing women as having new roles in the community.  What John is showing is an obvious culture change.

When the disciples come back from town they are “amazed that he was talking to a woman…” She was the other, the outsider. Jesus’ disciples often try to keep outsiders or those not worthy away from Jesus. Other well-known stories of Jesus and women show the same kind of compassion – he treats women with respect. The outsiders are welcomed whether they are sinners like the woman who anoints his feet with oil or tax collectors. He treats outsiders as he does his friends.

Our cities, our countries, our entire world has become like 1st Century Judea: we are a world-wide culture of insiders and outsider. And we certainly are in a culture change, one could even say an epic change. We may have compassion at times for the outsiders, for example, we have compassion for the people of Japan and their suffering; or we have compassion for the people of Libya and their suffering. But they are the outsiders, they aren’t us. 

But we don’t even have to go as far as Japan and Libya to find outsiders. They are the people on the streets, homeless; the people at the food lines, hungry; they are the people down the street who leave their dog outside to bark; they are the neighbor who plays music too loud. We are surrounded by outsiders. And, in turn, we are the outsiders to them.

We are even outsiders to ourselves when we put ourselves down or beat ourselves up when we make a mistake.

Take a moment and consider who your outsiders are. They might be family members or neighbors or co-workers. Perhaps the ill or lonely or those in need financially. Perhaps those who disagree with us politically. And of course, we make them the other so that we can feel like the better.  

Today, think about switching roles. See if you can see yourself as an outsider to someone else. How does that change our perception of who we are? Can changing our perception change the way we relate to others?

Can we learn, as we set down our judgments and pick up our crosses, to love one another?

Finding the Core

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs. Micah 7

Bless the Holy One, my soul, and do not forget all the gifts of God.  Psalm 42

The first thing I did this morning when I sat down with my tea and journal was to write out and figure out what was going on with my life. Students are cranky at being back in the classroom after spring break; I have papers to grade; we’re supposed to get snow this afternoon; the sky is sullen; and the news is grim.

And then, at the end of my whine time, these words came out: Allow me to trust Holy One. Allow me to trust the process I’m in and that we will somehow all fall into our paths.

An interesting image “fall into our paths” as if we trip (and often we do) and there it is.

So I picked up the Lectionary to begin the morning’s Lenten reflection and the first thing I read was from Micah: “Shepherd your people with your staff… show us wonderful signs…” And then in the Psalm reading, “…do not forget all the gifts of God.”

Ah, yes. Let me not forget.

The list of things gone right and the gifts of my life create a much longer list than the crackles of annoyance.  And I once more need to remember – we all need to remember – those times when wonderful signs arrived, when the gift of the right person or the right idea or the right information needed at that particular time appeared. Or arrived in the mail, or with a phone call.

This discipline of a Lenten reflection helps me remember what is at core in life: peace, trust, joy, kindness. Your list can probably be just as long.

I appreciate the reminders to trust my life. And even my overwhelm. What signs and wonders do you need to remember today? What is at core in your life?

A Hero’s Journey

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

Here comes the master dreamer! Let us kill him…                         Genesis 37

Here is the one who will inherit everything. Let us kill him….   Matthew 21

Interesting to look at these two readings, the incidents separated by about four thousand years, and see the same pattern. The first reading is the story of Joseph, beloved son of Israel, who is sent by his father to his brothers. His brothers hate him because of the attention he receives from their father but instead of killing him, they sell him to a caravan going into Egypt.

The second reference from Matthew is a parable Jesus tells. The tenants at a vineyard conspire and kill the owner’s messengers until finally the owner sends his son. They kill the owners son, thinking they will now have the vineyard.

As we move through Lent, we’ll hear more references to the death of the promised one. It’s like what we say when we talk about someone being on a pedestal and getting knocked off. We seem to get a perverse pleasure in it. They weren’t so great after all! we tell ourselves. Look at the many stories of Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan. They’re not so great after all! Let’s knock them off their pedestals and kill them with our judgments.

When I work out at home, I usually watch a movie to keep me going. Yesterday, I was watching a Harry Potter movie. He is the “chosen one” although he doesn’t particularly want to be: it’s clear the fate of most chosen ones. Harry Potter is the hero’s journey myth in a modern setting. Joseph and his amazing coat of many colors is the hero’s journey. As is Jesus’s journey: life, battle, transformation. As is Tiger Woods or Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan.

We are all on a hero’s journey. Oh, I don’t mean you are Jesus or Joseph or even Charlie Sheen, for that matter; you are, in fact you. And your life is just as much a hero’s journey. Haven’t you had your battles? And you have won or you’ve retreated “to fight another day.” Haven’t we all been on a pedestal to someone and been knocked off – by an unkind word, by jealousy, by anger, by judgment?

The stories of life don’t change – the settings change, but the stories don’t. The details change, but the stories don’t.

Where, right now in your life, does your Golden Fleece lie? What must you do to find it; how must you transform to bring it back and make it useful to your world?

Here’s another verse you can take with you today. It’s from the Psalm response:

They had weighed him down with fetters, and she was bound with chains. Till predictions came to pass and the word of the Lord proved true.