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Aug 27 18

The Love Story of Hosea

by davesandel

This is an excerpt from Love Life for Every Married Couple, pp. 228-236, by Ed Wheat, I980. It concludes an optimistically titled chapter, “How to Save Your Marriage Alone.”

The Love Story of Hosea

(A first person narrative expository dramatic sermon by Dr. John W. Reed, As­sociate Professor of Practical Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.)

I have been called the prophet of the broken heart, but I would rather be remembered as the prophet of love and hope. I am Hosea, prophet of God to Israel, my homeland. Come with me to my home on the outskirts of Samaria. There beneath the oak tree is Gomer, my wife. I love her as I love my own life. You will learn to love her too. Sitting beside her is our son, Jezreel. He is eighteen now, handsome and strong—a young man with a heart for God. At Gomer’s feet and looking up at her is Ruhamah, our daughter. Do you see how her raven hair glistens? She is the image of her mother. She was sixteen just half a year ago. And then Ammi, her brother—fifteen and as warm and bubbling as the flowing brook that you hear in the background.

We are happy and at peace. It has not always been so.

I began my ministry as a prophet almost thirty years ago during the reign of Jeroboam II. Those were years of prosperity. The caravans that passed between Assyria and Egypt paid taxes into Jeroboam’s treasury and sold their goods in our midst. But they also left their sons and daughters and their gods. These gods and the gods of the ancient Canaanites and of Jezebel have wooed the hearts of my people. Altars built for sin offerings have become places for sinning.

If you were to walk through my land today, you would see images and altars in ail the green groves. My people have many sheep and cattle. Some think that Baal, the so-called fertility god, is the giver of lambs, of calves, and the fruit of the field. Every city has its high place where Baal is worshiped. There is a high place not far from here—you are never far from a high place in Israel in these days! Sometimes at night we hear the beat of the priest’s music and the laughter of the sacred prostitutes. Last week a man and woman who live three houses from us sacrificed their infant son to Baal.

You may wonder how Jehovah’s people could sink to such unholy ways. It is because the priests of God have departed from Him. They delight in the sins of the people; they lap it up and lick their lips for more. And thus it is “Like priests, like people.” Because the priests are wicked, the people are too. Surely God will judge. My beautiful land is just a few short years from being crushed under the iron heel of the Assyrian military might.

Yes, thirty years ago God appointed me a prophet in Israel. My father, Beeri, and my honored mother had taught me early to fear Jehovah, the One true God of Israel. They taught me to hate the calf deity of the first Jeroboam. Daily we prayed. Daily we longed to return to the Temple in Jerusalem, Daily we sang the songs of David and hungered for the coming of Messiah.

My ministry has always been hard. The first ten years were the hot-blooded days of my twenties. My sermons were sermons of fire. My heart bled for my people. I was little heeded and generally scorned. When I was thirty-two, God stirred me and I spent many days in prayer and meditation. I felt lonely and in need of a companion.

The first frosts of fall had tinted the leaves when I went with my parents to visit the home of Diblaim. In the busy activity of my ministry I had not seen the fam­ily for several years. We were engaged in lively conver­sation when through the door swept a young woman, Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. I remembered her as a pretty and somewhat spoiled child. But now she was a hauntingly beautiful woman. Her ivory face was framed in a wealth of raven black hair. I found myself fascinated by her striking beauty and had great diffi­culty in turning my eyes from her.

As we returned to our home that day, my father and I talked of many things. Yet, in my mind hung the image of a raven-haired Israelite. My father’s friendship with Diblaim flourished and often I journeyed with him to visit. I was strangely drawn to Gomer. Diblaim and my father talked incessantly. Then one day my father astounded me with the proposal, “Hosea, it is my de­sire that you should marry Gomer.” I did not question that! I loved Gomer. But something about her troubled me. As most young women of her time, she had a love for expensive clothing, jewelry and cosmetics. That I accepted as part of her womanhood. But she seemed somehow to be experienced beyond her years in the ways of the world.

Yet, I loved her. It was my father’s will that I should marry her. I knew that my burning love for Jehovah would win her from any wanton ways. God confirmed to me that indeed Gomer was His choice as well.

I wooed her with the passion of a prophet. God had given me the gift of poetry and I flooded Gomer with words of love.

She responded to my love. We stood together be­neath the lower-strewn canopy of the Hebrew mar­riage altar and pledged eternal love to God and to each other. We listened together to the reading of God’s laws of marriage. We heard the reminder that our mar­riage was a symbol of the marriage between Jehovah and Israel, His wife.

I took Gomer to my home. We read together the Song of Songs which is Solomon’s. We ate the sweet fruit of its garden of love. She was as refreshing to me as the first fig of the season. Gomer seemed content in the love of God and of Hosea. I looked forward to the future with hope.

Shortly after the anniversary of our first year of mar­riage Gomer presented me with a son. I sought God’s face and learned that his name was to be Jezreel—a name that would constantly remind Israel that God’s judgment was surely coming. It was a stark reminder to me of the times in which we lived. With the birth of Jezreel, Gomer seemed to change. She became distant and a sensual look flashed in her eye. I thought it a reaction to the responsibility of caring for our son. Those were busy days. The message of God inflamed me and I cried out throughout the land.

Gomer was soon with child again. This time a daughter was born. I learned from God that she was to be named Lo-Ruhamah. It ws a strange name and troubled me deeply for it meant, “Not loved.” For God said, “I will no longer show my love to the nation of Israel, that I should forgive her.”

Gomer began to drift from me after that. Often she would leave after putting the children to bed and not return until dawn. She grew worn, haggard, and rebellious. I sought every way possible to restore her to me, but to no avail. About eighteen months later a third child was born, a boy. God told me to call him Lo-Ammi – meaning, “Not my people.” God said to Israel, “You are not my people, and I am not your God.” In my heart a thorn was driven. I knew that he was not my son and that his sister was not the fruit of my love. Those were days of deep despair. I could not sing the songs of David. My heart broke within me.

After Lo-Ammi was weaned, Gomer drifted beyond my reach – and did not return. I became both father and mother to the three children.

I felt a blight upon my soul. My ministry seemed paralyzed by the waywardness of my wife. My prayers seemed to sink downward. But then Jehovah stirred me. I came to know that God was going to use my experience as an illustration of His love for Israel.

Love flamed again for Gomer and I knew that I could not give her up. I sought her throughout Samaria. I found her in the ramshackle house of a lustful, dissolute Israelite who lacked the means to support her. I begged her to return. She spurned all my pleadings. Heavy-hearted, I returned to the children and mourned and prayed. My mind warmed with a plan. I went to the market, bought food and clothes for Gomer. I bought the jewelry and the cosmetics she loved so dearly. Then I sought out her lover in private. He was suspicious, thinking I had come to do him harm. When I told him my plan, a sly smile crept over his face. If I could not take Gomer home, my love would not let me see her wanting. I would provide all her needs and she could think that they came from him. We struck hands on the bargain. He struggled home under his load of provisions. I followed in the shadows.

She met him with joy and showered him with love. She told him to wait outside the house while she replaced her dirty, worn apparel with the new. After what seemed hours, she reappeared dressed in radiant splendor, like the Gomer I saw that first day at the home of her father. Her lover approached to embrace her, but she held him off. I heard her say, “No, surely the clothes and food and cosmetics are not from your hand but from the hand of Baal who gives all such things. I am resolved to express my gratitude to Baal by serving as a priestess at the high place.”

It was as if I were suddenly encased in stone. I could not move. I saw her walk away. She seemed like the rebellious heifer I had seen as a youth in my father’s herd. She could not be helped but would go astray. The more I tried to restore her the further she went from me. Feeble with inner pain, I stumbled home to sleepless nights and days of confusion and grief.

Gomer gave herself with reckless abandon to the requirements of her role of priestess of Baal. She eagerly prostituted her body to the wanton will of the worshipers of the sordid deity.

My ministry became a pilgrimage of pain. I became an object of derision. It seemed that the penalty for the sin of Gomer—and of all my people—had settled upon me.

I fell back upon Jehovah. My father and mother helped me in the care and instruction of the three chil­dren. They responded in love and obedience. They be­came the Balm of Gilead for my wounded heart. The years passed as I sounded the burden of God through­out the land. Daily I prayed for Gomer and as I prayed, love sang in my soul.

She was my nightly dream and so real that upon waking I often felt as if she had just left me again. The years flowed on but the priests of Baal held her in their deadly clutch.

It was just over a year ago that it happened. The blush of spring was beginning to touch our land. In the midst of my morning hour of meditation, God seemed to move me to go among the people of Samaria. I was stirred with a sense of deep anticipation. I wandered through the streets.

Soon I was standing in the slave market. It was a place I loathed. Then I saw a priest of Baal lead a woman to the slave block. My heart stood still. It was Gomer. A terrible sight she was to be sure, but it was Gomer. Stark naked she stood on the block. But no man stared in lust. She was broken, haggard, and thin as a wisp of smoke. Her ribs stood out beneath the skin. Her hair was matted and touched with streaks of gray and in her eye was the flash of madness. I wept.

Then softly the voice of God’s love whispered to my heart. I paused, confused. The bidding reached thirteen shekels of silver before I fully understood God’s pur­poses. I bid fifteen shekels of silver. There was a pause. A voice on the edge of the crowd said, “Fifteen shekels and a homer of barley.

“Fifteen shekels, an homer and half of barley,” I cried. The bidding was done.

As I mounted the slave block, a murmur of disbelief surged through the crowd. They knew me and they knew Gomer. They leaned forward in anticipation. Surely I would strike her dead on the spot for her way­wardness. But my heart flowed with love.

I stood in front of Gomer and cried out to the people. “God says to you, ‘Unless Israel remove her adulteries from her, I will strip her as naked as the day that she was born, I will make her like a desert and leave her like a parched land to die of thirst.’ ”

I cried to a merchant at a nearby booth, “Bring that white robe on the end of the rack.”

I paid him the price he asked. Then I tenderly drew the robe around Gomer’s emaciated body and said to her, “Gomer, you are mine by the natural right of a husband. Now you are also mine because I have bought you for a price. You will no longer wander from me or play the harlot. You must be confined for a time and then I will restore you to the full joys of woman­hood.”

She sighed and fainting fell into my arms. I held her and spoke to my people, “Israel will remain many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or ephod. Af­terward Israel will return and seek the Lord her God and David her king. She will come trembling to the Lord and to his benefits in the last days. And where it was said of Israel, ‘Lo-Ru-hamah—you are not loved,’ it will be said ‘Ruhamah—you are loved.’ For the love of God will not give you up, but pursue you down your days. And where Israel was called, ‘Lo-Ammi, you are not my people,’ it will be said, ‘Ammi, you are the people of the living God,’ for I will forgive you and restore you.”

I returned home with my frail burden. I nursed Gomer back to health. Daily I read to her the writings of God. I taught her to sing the penitential song of David and then together we sang the songs of David’s joyful praise to God. In the midst of song I restored her to God, to our home, to our children.

Do you not see how beautiful she is? I have loved her always, even in the depth of her waywardness be­cause my God loved her. Gomer responded to God’s love and to mine. She does not call me “my master” but “my husband.” And the name of Baal has never again been on her lips.

Now my people listen to my message with new re­sponsiveness for I am a prophet that has been thrilled with a great truth. I have come to know in the depth of my being how desperately God loves sinners. How de­liberately He seeks them! How devotedly He woos them to Himself!



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May 20 18

Chariots of fire

by davesandel

This is the last of this year’s Lent and Easter devotions. Thank you for sharing them with me. God bless the coming weeks of what many churches call “ordinary time.” I hope to begin sharing devotions again with you on the first Sunday of Advent, which falls on December 2, 2018.

Chariots of fire

Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house. Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.

– From Acts 2

Episcopal Primate and Bishop Michael Curry brought home the fires of love to Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding yesterday. His sparkling eyes and bright smile edged his words with joy and confidence. He recalled the power of fire: “There was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire.”

And he referenced the words of Teilhard de Chardin: “The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Fifty days after Easter, what wonderful words.

Rev. Curry said, “We were made by a power of love, and our lives are meant to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.”

Andi tells us that our grandson Miles has been practicing saying, “No.” He seems to be enjoying the sound of the word. When she responded with the word “Yes,” he began to cry.

Andi and Aki have a wonderful sense of humor. Miles is developing his. Their family culture, which is grounded in mutual respect, welcomes the daily fires of love to purify and shape their words, their touch, their One-Another-Life.There is no hurry. There is never any hurry.

Raising a child need not be particularly efficient, but it must be loving. And that love, as Gerald May writes in The Awakened Heart, “cannot be a means to an end. Love is the lightning-spirit energy of the universe; it is something we join, not something we utilize” (p. 235).

In the royal wedding ten children held each other’s hands, lifted Meghan’s train, carried flowers, stared in wonder at everything around them. Their energy, best called love, brought me to my knees. They were spending their day with wide-open eyes, mostly unencumbered by thoughts of judgment, efficiency, or decorum. They were not tempted, as Dr. May says, “to overrun real love with frantic attempts to be helpful.”

And then, on this day after, tongues of fire fill the air, the Holy Spirit descends upon us, and once again we are called to choose life. It is the Feast of Pentecost! “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire,” Paul cautioned his Thessalonian friends. “DO NOT!”

We are God’s kids. And we can live this moment, tinged by flame, for all it’s worth.

Lord, you made the universe from the inside out. And you made US that way too. Our ways of doing what we do always come back to that we’re loved. We love God, we love each other, and I love myself just the way you love me, and have always loved me, and will always love me. Your way of love establishes the work of my hands.

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May 13 18

Goodbye, Christopher Robin

by davesandel

Goodbye, Christopher Robin

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 13, 2018

Jesus prayed with his disciples, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. As you sent me, so I send them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

– From John 17

When Chris packed his car and backed out of our driveway, Margaret wept. Another year on another lovely spring evening, Andi with her new driver’s license backed out of our driveway, and I wept. On a fine fall day, Marc moved his stuff into a college apartment. We all waved and smiled, and we all felt sad.

Empty nests. Not just for chickens anymore.

Now Jack and Aly are growing up, and once again we feel a little of that same empty nest. And Miles is 18 months old, learning the chops of his own personal terrible two’s, discovering his strengths, gnawing on apples, growing. None of us want to hold on too tight. But it so tempting!

Yesterday morning I thought our baby chicks would be dead, because we left the top of our coop’s Dutch door open all night. We walked out together to see. Margaret counted, “I see one, I see two … they are all there.” The raccoon was somewhere else last night. Our nest is not empty!

Jesus says goodbye to the ones he loves so much. He promises awful, awesome lives for those he leaves. There will be time for everything and every season. There will be time to tear down and time to build, time to mourn and time to dance, time to be silent and time to speak. Time to scatter stones, and time to gather them (Ecclesiastes 3).

Jesus leaves his loved ones and the Holy Spirit fills the room, fills their lives, even fills their mouths. The angel asks those watching, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Those winds of change, they blow and blow. But Jesus “consecrates us in the truth.” The wind carries us; we can flow with it, in and out, up and down. All of it is holy.

In Urbana, today is Ascension Sunday, UIUC Graduation, and Mother’s Day – an umami day of emotion with plenty of rich weeping, deep satisfaction, wide smiles and honest joy. “I don’t know why you say goodbye; I say hello.”

All our cycles circle round and round and then … jump their orbits. Once we touched hands and skin; now it’s virtual face. Book. New births, little deaths, ascension. All of us are always leaving. And we are all arriving too.

Jesus leaves and the Holy Spirit fills the room.

Joni Mitchell is getting older now, not as healthy as she’d like to be. Fifty years ago she wrote and sang:

Yesterday a child came out to wonder

Caught a dragonfly inside a jar

Fearful when the sky was full of thunder

And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons

Skated over ten clear frozen streams

Words like when you’re older must appease him

And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game.

In my mind I watch Christopher Robin drag his Pooh bear behind him, up the stairs, off to bed. Tomorrow in the Hundred Acre Wood it will be a brand new day. But now they lay right down and rub noses, kiss lips to lips, and Christopher falls asleep. I’m not sure about Pooh. Maybe someone should keep watch. Just to make sure the sun rises.

But Jesus consecrates us in the truth. All is holy. The sun will rise. Go to sleep, you weary, bleary bear.

No, I am not afraid. No, I really can close my eyes. Yes, I hear you Jesus. Yes, I feel your hand on my head, and how gentle it is. Yes, I hear your whisper. There is no hurry here. Our lives are in the palm of your hand. You let me trace your lifeline, Jesus, and track it back to mine. How sweet we are together, in this moment, in this forever, in this fine and everlasting night and day.

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May 7 18

Thoughts Matter, Chapter 7, “About Acedia,” by Mary Margaret Funk

by davesandel

Thoughts Matter, Chapter 7, “About Acedia”

by Mary Margaret Funk


Acedia is weariness of the soul. –p. 93

It is identified as laziness of the body or sloth of the mind, rather than the disease of the soul that it really is. – p. 93

Acedia goes so far as to FORCE a person to refuse the joy that comes from God.

Cassian: It is not the mind or body, but the soul that is sick, weary of doing good, of doing anything. – p. 94

Even death just happens. The tragedy is that, under the influence of acedia, I could die while I am not really living. – p. 95

What to do: work with your hands and be present to the work. Expel the desire to sleep excessively. Reverse all tendencies that come from the thought: avoid idleness, restlessness, indolence, distracted visits with others. Avoid one(s) with the same affliction. Beware of those who eat bread in great quantities (!). Abound in charity. Be quiet. Work honestly for those who are in need. Create a rhythm for manual labor and pious reading/prayer. – pp. 97-99

Interior work is much more demanding than physical or social work. No validation comes from the outside. – p. 99

Benefits of overcoming the “thought of acedia”:

  1. Purifying my motivation: doing spiritual practices for the right reasons rather than for subtle self gain.
  2. Manual labor itself becomes a spiritual practice. Monastics would say that manual labor breaks through consciousness, gives one initial distance from spiritual practices, frees the mind from thinking, so that unthinking can occur. The mind clears and becomes pure. Manual labor done mindfully is wonderful for redirecting motivation … I am mindful only insofar as I am not mindful of anything in particular. The more I can refrain from particular thoughts, the more my other layers of consciousness surface. – pp. 99-101

Taciturnity is a technical term from antiquity. It means to refrain from speaking for the sake of the work going on in one’s interior life: refrain from saying even good things to good people. Think twice before speaking. – p. 101

When I’m not supposed to have an opinion on everyone and everything, the mind slowly learns to rest, receive, observe and listen (what she means earlier by “other layers of consciousness”). – p. 101

Work is a back door to pure prayer. – p. 101

Cassian: “To be mindful is a safe harbor; a ship is anchored, the water stilled.” – p. 102

What kind of work should be done by a serious seeker?

Do the interior work of patience and humility.

Refresh pilgrims by hospitality, or visit prisoners.

Remember to give to the poor who suffer from famine and barrenness; offer reasonable and true sacrifice. Focus on those who cannot give in return rather than family and friends.

Charity, to be pure, must be produced by our own toil.

The meaning of true leisure emerges. Leisure is not the same as idleness. Prayer and work return without the drag of negative attitudes toward work. Leisure in manual labor, study and prayer is possible for the first time. – pp. 102-103

What does Cassian means when he tells us to “stay in my cell?” What and where is a cell for a lay person?

The most important ascetic practice is solitude itself, and “sitting alone” in the silence of one’s personal space for being alone before God. Here are seven functions of a contemplative’s “cell”:

  1. Here is the place to memorize psalms, scripture and other sacred texts. As you do this the walls of your space talk to you when you are deliberating, sorting your thoughts.
  2. Here is the place to practice recollection (defined as the prayer of simplicity, in which the soul gathers its various faculties to concentrate the mind and will on God), lectio divina, centering prayer, sitting meditation. It is the place to practice rest and refrain from working. The deliberately simple design of a cell reduces the need to straighten it, clean it, over-work in that maintenance.
  3. Here is a place for listening, as the nervous system shifts into a lower gear. As rest happens, a deeper listening from the heart is restored, and daily, weekly and seasonal cycles begin to matter again.
  4. Here is a place of truth about my “things.” I can notice my thoughts about how much I have and how much less I need. I also notice my thoughts come and go, thereby experiencing that I am not my thoughts.
  5. Here is a personal sanctuary, a safe place which holds me and moves me toward my commitments, even when I feel no zeal.
  6. Here I can remember daily that time is fleeting. I will soon die. There is no running from this in my cell, no running later from my death.
  7. Here I can sleep, surrender, and experience the night. Sleeping and waking governs one’s day. For spiritual practitioners, the cell is a sacred space for working out this wholehearted pursuit.

My cell is a place to cry, alone and for reasons of the heart that I don’t have to explain to anyone else. – pp. 105-106

Acedia creates a dried-up soul. Tears soften us and prepare us to begin again, as if in our first fervor. – pp. 106-107

In “compunction of heart,” I am conscious of great distance from God and feel sorrow, tenderness, and joy springing from sincere repentance. Unlike the effects of acedia, compunction is a felt experience of being struck down, pierced to the heart. – p. 107

Compunction is a burning state, like being in love. I feel a heightened relationship with God that seems not have moods or periods of doubt. – p. 107

Compunction draws us closer to God through remorse, not hiding in shame or guilt. Remorse purifies. We realize that separation, wrongdoing, lazy thinking and sluggish heart keep us from approaching the object of our love. And God calls, beacons, and attracts the seeker with major consolations. – pp. 107-108

True sorrow and consent to God’s forgiveness cancel all negative attachment to guilt. Through faith we let go of the event and its memory. Once again, in an instant, we enjoy a relationship of favor with God. – p. 108

If feelings of dejection linger, they are only thoughts. If attachment to negative feelings dominate, this is not compunction; it is lack of faith in God’s great goodness. – p. 108

Christ asks us to put our head on his heart and let him carry our burdens. This news is so good that we have a hard time enjoying it! – p. 108

Of course compunction is often accompanied by tears. These tears come at night, at daybreak, at prayer, at work, and during stillness. – p. 108

But compunction is not something to “get over,” like depression. Compunction is the awakening of a dead heart. There is no sadness in the “gift of tears,” only gratefulness for being forgiven, being alive, being in relationship with God. This is a wholesome sorrow. – p. 108

When we experience the gift of tears, we can refrain from analysis of childhood, significant relationships, traumatic episodes. The past does not exist and never did. When tears come, let them flow unaccompanied by commentary. – p. 109

Tears are the language of the soul, while words are the language of the mind. When I am silently crying in my heart, I take more time for silence, prayer and vigils (intentionally staying awake when I would otherwise be asleep to “watch and pray”). – p. 109

When tears come, I breathe deeply and rest. I know I am swimming in a hallowed stream where many have gone before. I AM NOT ALONE, CRAZY, OR HAVING A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. This is sweet sorrow. My heart is at work. My soul is awake. – p. 109

If I fail to move through the thoughts of food, sex, things, anger, and dejection, I may never even experience acedia, since if I am not doing soul-work I will not have any weariness of the soul. – p. 110

At the end of this chapter, Sr. Funk brings up the “states of the soul.” Pseudo-Dionysius (5th century) ( divides the states of the soul into 1) purgative (beginners giving up sin), 2) illuminative (progressing in advance of virtue) and 3) unitive (perfectly resting in God and enjoying him).

She also writes about “the second renunciation.” This is described much more thoroughly in another great book she wrote called Tools Matter. In the opening pages of this book, she says the journey of spiritual growth requires four renunciations:

  1. In the first renunciation, we transform our ordinary, external human journey into a spiritual one by a) turning away from Satan and evil and imitating Christ, and b) renouncing ways of life that lead away from the spiritual or hidden life. This is conversion from the control of our former life for the sake of a noble call. Often we surrender a good for the sake of another good.
  2. In the second renunciation, first we notice our thoughts – not just our external actions, deed or surroundings. Then we decide to let go of attachment to thoughts that controlled us before, which leads us toward what she calls “chaste thinking.” Finally, we look at our motivations and intentions.
  3. Since our thoughts come and go, but we are not our thoughts, in the third renunciation we let go even of our thoughts about God, who is “known by unknowing.” This is arrived at by an “unthinking practice of contemplation. Language is tricky; conceptual thinking is not necessary in this renunciation.” Before, our image of God was mediated through our senses and our thoughts; now our hearts “become purified and we able to see God in a spiritual way, beyond our senses.” St. John of the Cross calls this experience the dark nights of the “senses” and the “soul.” (see her book Humility Matters for more on this stage. She has also written Lectio Matters, Discernment Matters, and a spiritual memoir, Into the Depths. Her Amazon book page includes a lengthy list of what’s she’s done and where’s she’s done it, along with books, speeches, etc. Fascinating.)
  4. The fourth renunciation is seldom taught because most of us never reach this stage, and “anyone having arrived would not take about it!” We renounce our thought of “self” and merge with Christ’s own consciousness of the Father through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Pure prayer springs up since all is God.

She points out that the task of the fourth renunciation is also the first task of the first renunciation. Significant diminishment of inordinate ego is an ongoing task in all four states.

“The four renunciations are a means to an end and not an end in themselves. All ascetical practices should be modified in the light of the goal: God.”

“When talking ‘about’ anything, we are playing a trick on ourselves. We pretend that “we know,” but we only “know” from the outside. We are doing the work to seek God, but there isn’t any way to know how we are doing.

These renunciations need not be dreaded. They are really the natural life cycle of birth and death. The requirements of each renunciation are what we call a vocation. We simply follow the call of grace no matter what the obstacles.




  1. Sr. Funk says that when I can let go of my thoughts and remember to be quiet rather than speaking so often, other layers of consciousness are more accessible, like rest, receiving, observing, and listening (p. 101). What is this experience like for you?
  2. Are there moments for you when activities – manual labor or other – become “leisure” (p. 103)? Sr. Funk says this means being one with yourself, stilled in thought, no anxiety in your body, fully attentive to what you are doing.
  3. What place in your world comes closest to what Sr. Funk calls the sacred space of your “cell” (p. 105-106)? What is it like? Clean or cluttered? Quiet or noisy? A place of solitude? What do you find yourself doing there?
  4. The experience of acedia is dry, dark, dead … and then there is compunction of heart accompanied by the “gift of tears.” Bitter tears sometimes, grateful tears sometimes … how can you learn to welcome the “gift of tears” while also learning to resist the ways of acedia? (p. 107)?
  5. On p. 108 Sr. Funk says, “Christ asks us to put our head on his heart and let him carry our burdens. This news is so good that we have a hard time enjoying it.” In these moments, “the past does not exist and it never did” (p. 109). Thoughts? What is your own experience with this transcendent “sacrament” of the present moment?





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May 6 18

Give us this day our daily bread

by davesandel

Give us this day our daily bread

Sixth Sunday of Easter. May 6, 2018

At his last meal on earth, in the upper room, Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I love you. Remain in my love. Keep my commandments and you will remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

– From John 15

On Thursday I spoke with a group of 30 young agricultural accountants about assertiveness and reflective listening. They had spent three days with each other and were enjoying their camaraderie. I took my shoes off, sat on the edge of the front table, and realized I had two different colored socks. That’s pretty typical for me. We all laughed.

On Friday during a not-so-chance meeting in a fine Atlanta, Illinois restaurant, an old friend prayed along with his sweetly nicknamed friend Grumpy for healing in my back. “The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” They prayed gently, with insistence, and then asked me to walk and try my back. No pain. Their assertiveness was a blessing in my life. God’s presence rested quietly on us.

And on Saturday we are waiting to meet Jack and Aly at Rural King. There will be a box, and there will be baby chicks, and we’ll take them home to their new home, which we have refurbished a bit – swept the floor and rearranged the furniture for our new foundlings. Red and yellow, black and white. They are precious in our sight. Eight of them, ready to eat us out of house and home. And eventually they will offer us their eggs, morning noon and night. “Sing to the Lord a new song.”

Because love is of God. And these ways, in these days, are the ways of love.

“Whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” Jesus will be moving on to crucifixion in twelve hours. The disciples will stand far off, cringing in fear and confusion. But soon enough Jesus’ words will ring again in their ears: “This I COMMAND you: love one another,” and their feet will quickly follow. They will find their way back to that same upper room, to each other, to learn and re-learn the ways of love and loss and love again. “I will be found by you,” God told Jeremiah (29:14), “and I will bring you back.”

And now … today. The sixth Sunday of Easter in the house of the Lord. The Giver of all good things is here, and his presence fills the room. He’s always home, but I am free to come and go, and do. For no reason, except one: I’m looking for what I already have. But I don’t need assertive relationships, or my softened, freed-up back, or even the magical mix of chicks and grandkids. It’s the Giver, not the gifts, that settles me forever into the peace of the Lord, into the house of the Lord forever.

Jeremiah 29 is a “letter to the exiles.” In it Yahweh makes it clear: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We were born with hearts made for love and giving and laying down our lives for friends. Jesus insists on that; he knows its true. This is the Way to the pot of gold. Neither left nor right, but here. Home again. Collect the $200, collect the healing, let the chickens lay their eggs. My father sits and smiles, keeps the light on for me, he knows how much he loves me.

Come on home.

 So I will, Lord. And in your beloved time I stay. Hearth, home, heart, there is nothing else to look for, nothing else to find. So beautiful the poet’s words, “and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time … the fire and the rose are one.”


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Apr 29 18

Led forth in joy

by davesandel

Led forth in joy

Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018

Then Barnabas took charge of Paul.

– From Acts 9

I hear these words and immediately remember another scene in Jerusalem, just a year or two earlier. From John 19: “Then the soldiers took charge of Jesus.” Pilate handed Jesus over … to be crucified. The soldiers obeyed their orders with zeal. No one told them to fashion a crown of thorns and crush it onto Jesus’ head. No one told them to beat him senseless. No one told them exactly what to do, but they took charge of Jesus.

Saul hated Jesus and his followers. Perhaps he was there and cheered the soldiers on. But now no more. That old blindness has been broken. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

When God speaks, we listen. Saul is thrown from his horse and stopped in his tracks.

Jesus’ clarion voice rips Saul’s certainty into shreds. “Lean not on your own understanding.” At last he could hear the words of his childhood, and in them he recollected the humility he was born with. Now, in his new, blessed blindness, Saul could grope toward God instead of tromping stubbornly away from him.

“I don’t need to see through the clouds of sand, I can’t bear to open my eyes in God’s luminous presence. This would feel like a dark night, except in the joy of his appearing it’s not dark at all. The failing, fainting sound of God grows now into crescendo. Do not be afraid. Even the sound of silence seems written in the language of God. All things are possible. Whatever is true and noble and right, pure and lovely and admirable, whatever is excellent and praiseworthy, it is all rising from this darkness.”

Now Jesus is leading Saul. Er … Paul. In the smallest possible part of his conversion, he tweaks his name. But this was a hired killer with poison in his brain and murder on his mind, and new name or not, no one believes him. Well, almost no one. Barnabas, a happy soul, encourager, a believer in the good, believes him. Barnabas, with a round little belly that shakes when he laughs, listens, like Saul, to God. And Barnabas takes charge of Paul.

I’ve had my share of Barnabas’s. I know you have too. Thank you to Aunt Mary, and Lyle Read, and Mrs. Smock, and John Gathman, and Kathy Griffin who bailed us out of jail, and Angelina in Berkeley, and Al Schmidt, and Mom, and Margaret, and Dad, and Al Morehead, and Gary Johnson, and well … this is a wonderfully long list. I am so thankful, so grateful, so filled with the joy of heaven to remember and rest and smile.

In the new movie, “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” we spend time with Paul at the end of his life. In his conversations with Luke and others, he is thankful. His eyes have softened, his words are quieter, he has walked his own good walk. He has found the time to dig deeply into his memories, to remember Barnabas and so many others, to give thanks, to return the gifts.

That is a task we can all relish.

 Every day, Lord, come rain, come shine, bring your gifts to my remembrance. Let me dwell in your house and savor the honey from your honeycomb. My table is laden with your good things and your better things and above all, your best things. I can never eat it all! In the night you touch my brow and cradle my head in your hand and whisper, “Do not be afraid.” And I am not.


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Apr 22 18

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine

by davesandel

Love is that liquor sweet and most divine

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2018

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man … Jesus told the people, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

– From Psalm 118 and John 10

For Paul, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection brought a new world order. Now we could look both forward and back to the blessing of God, not the curse of Satan. Original blessing came both before and after original sin.

Jesus didn’t just tell us to “love your enemies;” he walked the talk. And make no mistake, to God we were all enemies. None of us righteous, not even one. All fallen short of the glory of God. “God has bound everyone over to disobedience SO THAT he may have mercy on them all” (Romans Romans Romans).

Why is this night unlike any other night? Because just as God delivered the Hebrews from slavery, so too God delivers us all from Sin and Death in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And Jesus knows: “There will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

I imagine our extended family called out of vacation into sudden crisis mode. One of us must die, and not just die but be tortured in death. Who will it be? None of us would let the other do it; we would all volunteer to take up the cross.

I think that’s true. I hope that’s true.

What the Church understands as the “Trinity” of God had that same get-together. “No, let me.” “I should be the one.” “Don’t even think about it; I’ll go.” “Fugetabout it! I’m on my way right now.”


Our theology gets trapped into humanizing God rather than finding our way toward God divinizing us. I can only imagine the kind of meetings God has with himself and herself in heaven. And my imagination doesn’t get very far.

Because it best embodied the “pursuit of Beautiful Orthodoxy,” Fleming Rutledge’s book The Crucifixion was Christianity Today’s 2017 Book of the Year. Compassionate preacher and conscientious scholar, Rector Rutledge coordinates wonderful ideas from several centuries of thinkers, theologians and writers. Here is one from George Hunsinger:

“Christ’s blood is a metaphor that stands primarily for the suffering love of God … a love that has endured the bitterest realities of suffering and death in order that its purposes might prevail … the motif of Christ’s blood signifies primarily the depth of the divine commitment to rescue, protect, and sustain those who would otherwise be lost” (Crucifixion, p. 282).

Otherwise, be lost. That’s all of us. From dawn until the end of time, we are all rescued by the suffering love of God. David knew: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

Because this is true, today is the day that the Lord has made. So let us rejoice! And be glad in it.

O Lord, my sin does not escape your notice. But your love precedes my repentance and follows it, and I am lost in your love, found in your love, and held close forever in your love. Hold me gently, hold me true.

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Apr 15 18

I can see for miles and miles

by davesandel

I can see for miles and miles

Third Sunday of Easter, April 15, 2018

I lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

–  From Psalm 4

Before Miles smiles, his eyes sparkle and his nostrils flare. The dimples on his cheeks spring up and his lips part. Just a little. And then, wow. Like the sun rising, he smiles. Today he has six teeth, and they glisten in the light. The world turns on Miles’ smile. There is no telling what today will bring.

In the morning, when we rise, Miles is sometimes siting in his crib talking to himself. He has a lot to say. We want to decipher it and talk with him in his tongue, but this is difficult.

And why, after all, would I want to mess with the mystery?

He whispers and shouts and sighs and giggles in splendiferous words of a single syllable. He moves comfortably now and then into longer songs. When he says, “Aaaahhh,” in one or several parts, I just … relax. Sometimes I can say “Aaaahhh” too! There is no place else I’d rather be. Miles loves to take us with him to his safe place, where all of us will nap in peace.

We sat on the patio one sunny April afternoon, whiling away time before supper. Miles has a new green bucket just his size. He found a few special rocks and several even-more-special sticks and put them in the bucket. After a few minutes he learned how to tip the bucket up and pour them out again. His eyes sparkled­. Yes, they did.

These specialized tasks take a ton of energy, so he is silent. He does not smile. He stares carefully at what he’s doing. He seems to reconsider, change his mind, often. He repeats stuff. Experience appears on the cavern-roof of his mind. It drips, and collects, and makes new shapes. Miles is building his own personal castle deep within, he and his Abba hanging out together. They are always together, he and his Abba. They glance now and then at the door, knowing friends will come to visit, welcoming them when they come, and learning every moment to be loved.

Miles and I listened to Winnie-the-Pooh just out of the afternoon sun. Our backyard, bit of a jungle, hundred-acre wood of our own making, beckons. I remember how A.A. Milne, soldier in The Great War who marched for the English king, lived for months in a trench with his dwindling platoon. During heavy rains flood waters raced down the trenches and trapped the men.

Now Piglet is the trapped one, smallest of the small, caught in his low-slung home with the waters rising. The rains won’t stop. Noise at night won’t let him sleep. Piglet sends out a corked bottle that carries a plea for help. With Owl flying ahead, Pooh and Christopher Robin ride their umbrella to Piglet’s rescue.

Aaahhh. Once again now, all are safe in the hundred acre wood. All are safe in our backyard jungle. We lie down and sleep, surrounded by lullaby. Every breath, every moment and hour, all the days of our life, you O Lord, make us dwell in safety. Your touch in my soul quiets every belching unseen gun.  The soldiers are all gone home and the trenches, for now, are all filled in. Your sun shines high in the sky.

Miles smiles. You, O Lord, are so pleased, and you smile too.

O Lord God, alone I cannot withstand withering fire or rushing flood, for I am without defense. I will fall in avalanche and earthquake, and settle into oblivion. O Lord, how can we do more than dwell with you in safety, sleep in peace? Even as our own constructions crack and crumble overhead, it is your house once, your house twice, your house every time in which we dwell forever.

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Apr 8 18

Jet lag

by davesandel

There are several Sundays left in the Easter season, and then comes Pentecost. I’ll send devotions on each of those Sundays, but not on the weekdays. So the next devotion will be on Sunday, April 15.

Jet lag

Second Sunday of Easter, April 8, 2018

Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

– From John 20

A couple of days ago I was thinking about Miles Tadashi Tomita, world traveler. We were about to board a plane headed for Austin to see all our kiddoes there.

Given words, Miles would have a thing or two to tell us about traveling, because he’s seen a thing or two. Last month his parents took him to Japan – to celebrate his existence, his life, the happiness of his appearing. Miles met his family in Japan, which gave them all great joy.

Andi posts pictures using an app called Tinybeans, a fantastic blessing to his grandparents and many others. A few days after they returned from Japan, she posted a picture of him smiling: “He’s happy in this moment but he doesn’t sleep much at night. Pray for jet lag to leave soon.”

And I was struck by how immediate Miles is. Immediacy is actually a learned skill taught in counseling classes. The idea is for both helpers and seekers to remember what it was like to be a kid, and re-learn to say out loud what is happening in you right now. Being in the moment is a value for all of us, but it’s difficult to maintain as we learn the adult arts of introspection, editing and self-protection.

Not for Miles. He’s right here, right now. And if that means crying to go to sleep in the middle of the morning, well, that’s what he’s going to do.

Good families follow a few simple freedoms. Here are three of them:

  1. Be free to think what you think, and say it
  2. Be free to feel what you feel, and say it
  3. Be free to want what you want, and say it

No, you can’t always get what you want, but you can say what that might be. And of all the things I learn from Jesus about how to live, this is one of the most important. He didn’t often seek conflict, but he never avoided it. He didn’t seek praise, but he accepted it. He often asked questions to parry other questions, but his were always better questions and made a point.

Jesus thought what he thought, and said it. Jesus felt what he felt, and said it. Jesus wanted what he wanted, and said it. He knew the ways of politics and persuasion; but more importantly, he knew the arts of gentle love and tough love. His honesty and transparency, his immediacy, made miracles happen every day.

John didn’t write them all down, and that’s good, because they are still happening today. I want to leave more and more space in my life for the immediacy of Jesus.

Let me learn from you, Lord, how to be right here, right now, and hear your quiet heart beating in me. When I listen to this, listen to you in the moment, life is good.

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Apr 7 18

Fling wide you heavenly gates

by davesandel

Fling wide you heavenly gates

Saturday in the Octave of Easter, April 7, 2018

The Eleven were at table and Jesus appeared to them. He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” … Peter and John said to the judges, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” And the people were all praising God for what had happened.

– From Mark 16 and Acts 4

“There is a joyful shout of victory in the tents of the just. I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord. Open the gates of justice; I will enter them and give thanks. This is the gate of the Lord” (from Psalm 118).

Jack is making cookies and blueberry muffins to raise money for a mission in Myanmar. His school is partnering with a school there. One of our best friends over time, Thein, is a physican from Myanmar. He has a beautiful smile, and I have known him as a hardworking, happy man who assumes the best about others.

My quick Google search on Myanmar was highlighted by, “The situation here seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” In other words, men and women in one group are killing less powerful men and women in another group. Almost always, these are called “ethnic” but they are also “religious” cleansings. I will kill you if you see God differently than I do. This did not start, nor will it end in Myanmar.

Our different languages get in the way. Our cultural habits certainly clash. We raise our kids differently, and we have far different beliefs about afterlife. We think we know something about God, but what we each “know” often seems very different.


We … are only one river, we are only one sea. It flows through you and it flows through me. We are all one people … Since when did that give me the freedom to kill you or make you my slave? God wants to make me bigger than that, more loving than that, more free from fear than that. I don’t need to protect myself when God’s justice is tempered by mercy, and God’s mercy is tempered by justice.

Open up the doors and let the music play

Let the streets resound with singing

Songs that bring you hope

Songs that bring you joy

Dancers who dance upon injustice

Do you feel the darkness tremble

When all the saints join in one song

And all the streams flow as one river

To wash away our brokenness

 Many of those of us reading these lectionary texts and devotions are Christians; we are followers of Christ. I don’t want to be rebuked by the risen Jesus for closing my eyes and ears to his body and blood, for unbelief or hardness of heart. I want to be in position like Peter and John to say, “It is impossible not to speak about what I have seen and heard.”

But that urgency is as much a time to listen as it is to speak. God created us to care a lot about each other and about him, and there are all kinds of way to talk about that. Jesus wants to hear it all.

Quiet my self-righteousness, Lord, and replace it with yours. You are good, and your goodness endures forever. Let me rest in you, rest in you, rest in you, and say out loud how much you love me.

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