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Apr 15 19

Dancing into dawn

by davesandel

Dancing into dawn

Monday of Holy Week, April 15, 2019

I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

– From Isaiah 42

“You are my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” These are words I say to Jesus, but I imagine that he said them too. God’s Trinitarian dance escapes the edges of the world this week, and the electricity it creates guides Jesus’ every step as he moves toward the creative completion of the cross.

But we too are asked to join the dance. What’s my move when our blind eyes are opened, when we’re released from the dark dungeons of our own making? Can’t I also dance?

And shouldn’t I? Hosanna – shout out praise and trip the light fantastic!

But this new light blinds too. I can hardly stand it, so I might turn away from God’s bright-light-future for me toward an even deeper dark. In a Palm Sunday reflection from the Faber Institute, Jesuit Rick Ganz wonders if, “because we preferred darkness to light (John 3:19), we catalyzed a powerful act of uncreation and set about extinguishing the Son.”

But “love does what love is, and not for any reason.”

So God waits … God waits. What will we decide?

Henri Nouwen talks about the “agony of a God who depends on us to decide how to live out the divine presence among us … who even allows us to decide how God will be God.” God invites me, “Won’t you come and dance with us?”

If I say no, as Dallas Willard always said, “God courteously steps aside.” What a dance we’re missing! But how do I know if I close my eyes?

Yesterday, as Jesus’ parade passed into Jerusalem, a cloud came up and it began to snow. Just a little. We were all surprised. I felt the flakes fall on my cheeks, one by one by one. Later that strange springtime snow turned to gray sky rain. But it won’t last. The flowers are blooming, and the sun will shine on all our upturned faces.

Sunrise. Sunset.

God’s promise never fails.

Nouwen’s hopes rise up with the palm leaves waving, and he claims Jesus’ love: “In that waiting, the intensity of his love, and God’s, is revealed to us.” Nothing will extinguish it. Isaiah knows we’re safe with God: “A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

Even as we waver, as we doubt, he is so gentle with us, the children that he made.

These long days are made for dancing, Lord. In the dance I see beyond the man-made horizon of darkness at noon, of bloody nails and death. If I kick up my heels, will you hold me tight? Like the fiddler on the roof, teach me your song and sing it with me? I trust you, Jesus. I will hide myself in you.

Fr. Rick Ganz, “Father, Into Your Hands,” from the Faber Institute Newsletter,” April 13, 2019

Henri Nouwen, “The Path of Waiting,” an excerpt from Finding My Way Home, 2001

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, Chapter 6, “Investing in the Heavens: Escaping the Deceptions of Reputation and Wealth,” p. 210, 1998

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Apr 14 19

All in

by davesandel

All in

Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves.”

– From Luke 22

The sun shines bright on the windows of our home, birds sing and frolic in the air. Cherry blossoms about to bloom, daffodils bowing in the breeze, as tulips rise up again from their winter rest. At the parade today, we’ll wave palms and shout hosanna. Welcome, Jesus!

Grab your coat

Grab your hat, baby

Leave your worries on the doorstep

Just direct your feet

On the sunny side of the street

Rarely do we celebrate. The Romans carry swords, and look so angry. But this morning joy seems to fill the streets.

Jesus’ disciples, they don’t quite know what to do. They must want not to make a scene, keep Jesus under wraps, protect him from arrest. But does he care? Doesn’t seem like it. He’s riding on a donkey, waving, smiling, talking to the children who scatter all around him. Jesus loves the little children of the world. “Peace on earth and glory in the highest!”

We can feel God’s arms surround us. We’re all his children, sheep of his pasture, no one gets left out. This is the day that the Lord has made, and God’s family tree includes us all.

The Romans are coming, the Romans are coming! Can’t you quiet all this down? Jesus laughs in his infectious joy, “Of course not! Even the rocks are crying out.” Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Passover is coming. In the evening, Jesus will pass around the bread and wine. Take this and share it among yourselves. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, and it will be shed for you.” Prepare for our second parade, this one to Golgotha.

Not now, not yet. Not sitting in the morning sun, not while all of us rejoice, not while the light shines bright. The bridegroom is here, and the wedding feast is ready. We must celebrate today. God is good! All the time! We know that our redeemer lives.

Wait for it. There is no hurry to get to tomorrow. It will get here on its own.

These stories we tell each other about your life, we share them with love, with laughter, pain and grief. I watch your sweet surrender, Lord, at first to hugs and kisses, later to the jailer’s whip. Never ever leave us, Lord. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Can we capture now for always?

Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” 1930

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Apr 13 19

Tipping point

by davesandel

Tipping point

Saturday, April 13, 2019

My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. My sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.

– From Ezekiel 37

Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” From that day on they planned to kill him.

– From John 11

Caiaphas cannot spread his wings or open his heart. Blinded by his mind, Caiaphas is locked into the certainties of Ezekiel and others: God determines to protect his people. He works through synagogue and temple. For centuries, the high priest has represented God.

Jesus, that imposter, certainly does not.

On the way to get coffee this morning I saw a badly dressed man sitting in the bus stop kiosk near our hospital. The park was decked out in spring green behind him. Just a few steps away a beautiful labyrinth waited to be walked. Sun shone through the kiosk glass. The man didn’t wave, and neither did I. He looked a bit defeated. I didn’t look closely enough to see Jesus in the kiosk too.

Jesus, that imposter, enters Jerusalem tomorrow. His disciples alternately hide him and lift him up for praise. He raised Lazarus from the grave, or so they say. Mary and Martha weep over their dead brother, and now he is alive.

What kind of man is this? He spends too much time with the poor and the forgotten. But his only sins are generous, compassionate breakings of our savage, selfish, Sabbath rules.

From this day on we plan to kill him. They may not know it yet, but the people of the temple, the people of God, the crowd – they will join us, and all of us together, we will kill this Jesus.

*           *           *

Psychiatrist and spiritual director Gerald May would call Caiaphas’ thinking “efficient.” Efficiency focuses solely on competence, accomplishment, and success. Hitler’s “final solution” was efficient. Efficiency is dangerous when it is separated from what May calls “love.” Love is our gift from God, and our natural response is gratitude and “consecration,” which just means giving back to God what we’ve been given. It is as natural as the second half of every heartbeat, or the breathing out after each breath in.

But this “love” comes TO us, we don’t go get it. Our normal western work ethic gets in the way. Even religion, made “efficient,” will hold us out of relationship with ourselves, with love, with God. David Brooks, a columnist and writer thoroughly immersed in American culture, recognizes this:

Society is a system of relationships. We need to become more communal than individualistic, more holistic than utilitarian, more emotional than cognitive. Religion speaks those languages. Without them, morality is inarticulate.

*           *           *

Jesus is in a liminal space. In these days as on the day of his baptism, as on his first day of ministry in Nazareth, an already-now-but-not-yet sense charges the air. He walks on toward Jerusalem. Give me words to praise him.

How will I respond, Father? This man, this heavenly, holy man comes straight toward me. He stretches out his hands, and welcomes me. Hosanna! The fear I feel inside is not right. Let me look beyond it, feel my way into your love.

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Apr 12 19

With me like a mighty champion

by davesandel

With me like a mighty champion

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

– From Jeremiah 20

Lent leans in hard on me today. This is the final Friday save just one, the one when Jesus dies. The GOOD Friday. Such a simple word, the “good,” this word gone bad.

Today it’s obvious we are heading up the road toward Jerusalem. No more waiting, no more hiding out in Galilee. Jesus has quickened his step toward Judea. A sense of urgency silences him and touches all of us.

I wish I didn’t know what happens next. The story breaks my heart. Jesus dies, my heart breaks open, and God’s love pours in. I know this is how it works, or should. But these stations, these stations of the cross, they are so hard! Sadness, anger, pain, they lock me in. Dare I say that I can’t stand it? Just leave me alone. Alone! I don’t want to know.

Jesus always seems to know my thoughts. He turns and looks at me and waits, while the others trundle past. Sandals raise tiny dusty clouds, the shuffling shoes, the breathing, silence among the disciples. Jesus touches my shoulder, he smiles, his words are warm. “Don’t be afraid. Just let me love you.”

I am caught up. I look into his eyes, they soften. My tears fall. “I love YOU, Jesus. What is this thing you think you have to do?” And his tears mirror mine. He won’t explain. Those are not the words we need.

Jesus gazes into the hazy air above the road, and looks at me like we were little boys. “Remember Jeremiah? That crazy man they taught us about in school?” Even he could say “the Lord is with me like a mighty champion.” Well, surely, we can say it too.

*           *           *

Thank you, dusty road with Jesus. Thank you, Mary Oliver. Thank you, rose garden. Here … is a poem for this dread-full day.

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

“As long as are able to

be extravagant we will be

hugely and damply

extravagant. Then we will drop

foil by foil to the ground. This

is our unalterable task, and we do it



And they went on. “Listen,

the heart-shackles are not, as you think,

death, illness, pain,

unrequited hope, not loneliness, but


lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,


Their fragrance all the while rising

from their blind bodies, making me

spin with joy.

*           *           *

So Lord, you tell me not to be afraid? Let’s just walk together down the road and see what happens next? Together, we will choose to trust the God who made us, makes us whole. Trust the rose to bloom, trust the rose to die, trust the rose to rise again. Spin out with joy, cry and laugh out loud. O Hosanna Jesus!

Mary Oliver, “When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention,” from Thirst, p. 9, 2007

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Apr 11 19

TNRPLAEP (an acronym)

by davesandel

TNRPLAEP (an acronym)

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Hallelujah! Thank God! Pray to him by name! Tell everyone you meet what he has done! Sing him songs, belt out hymns, translate his wonders into music! Honor his holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!

– From Psalm 105 (The Message)

(continued from yesterday)

Mom smiled at me and said, “But you can think of other things. You can set your mind on these things.” And she recited Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true. Whatever is noble. Whatever is right.”

Years later this memory returns in tears of gratitude and repentance. “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.”

Now my mother is 96. She sits in her chair and she reads books, she watches movies, she gets caught up in “realism,” just like I still do. I don’t want easy answers or false certainty any more than I did then. I don’t want people to force-feed me answers to questions I haven’t asked.

I do want help looking for my own questions.

My mom had less access to that hell-bent search for “truth” than me. She grew up in the Depression. Her dad was an adult child of an alcoholic who took the responsibilities of his life very seriously. He taught his first-born (my mother) to do the same.

Born in 1922, Mom was one of Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” the “civic generation” that built things up. I was born in 1949, a baby boomer – one of the alienated, entitled children of the civic generation.

But some things transcend generational differences. My mother has the same taste as I do for truth, goodness and beauty. She loves to feel her bare feet finding their way, on the ground in which she has her being. She thirsts for God, and so do I.

Mom was blessed by those words in Philippians. And then she offered them to me. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.”

How does God work his changes in us, in the time we have? So that first I might name my obsession, and then give it up for God to touch?

Philippians 4: 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything,” but pray and pray and pray. “And the peace of God which transcends understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” And then comes the best of all: “… Think on such things.”

The image of my mom in her house-dress standing slightly silhouetted in the sun surrounds all these words, and gives them grace. God’s presence comes through her into Paul’s verses, and I rejoice.

I guess there’s nothing magical about the words, or even the memory. But as I remember I become aware of God’s patience with me. As I contemplate this confluence of goodness, truth and beauty, my ego is undone. It has nothing more to offer me. In this moment remembered, healing rises and waits for my eyes to see.

The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. All these things and more, and that just in me. See what wondrous things the Lord has done.

If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things.

*           *           *

From St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel:

To reach satisfaction in everything, desire satisfaction in nothing.

To come to possession of everything, desire the possession of nothing.

To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing.

To come to the knowledge of everything, desire the knowledge of nothing.

 At the top of his illustration of Mount Carmel, John writes:

“Nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, and even on the mountain, nada.

Here is Hemingway’s version (The whole story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, is here. And here’s an audio version of the story, a bit over nine minutes long):

 The older waiter speaks first:

“You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted. The light is very good and also, now, there are shadows of the leaves.”

“Good night,” said the younger waiter.

“Good night,” the other said. Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours.

What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order.

Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada.

Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before another bar, with a shining steam pressure coffee machine.

“What’s yours?” asked the barman.


“Otro loco mas,” said the barman and turned away.

“A little cup,” said the waiter.

The barman poured it for him.

*           *           *

The story sings, and it still singes the edges on my images of truth. The waiter is a good man, who wants to give the men around him what he wants to have, and almost has, himself. He listens to Jesus’ words: “Go and tell them that the blind see, the lame walk.” He does what he can in his café.

But it isn’t quite his miracle, and his uncertainty impels him into emptiness, into the dark. Of course, perhaps the darkness is the darkness of a womb, but first it must be the darkness of a grave. And regardless of its end, the darkness leads nowhere but into itself, into what the medieval monk called the “cloud of unknowing.”

Still, the waiter wills to live in faith, as he waits to see the tomb become a womb.

This is a good way to live.

*           *           *

Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, O Lord, you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me, a feast in the presence of my enemies, you invite me to come and eat. My cup runs over! Your beauty and love chase after me always. And I’m back home in your house, O Lord, every day for the rest of my life.

St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 13, originally published in 1618

Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” first published in 1926, then again in Winner Take Nothing, 1933

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Apr 10 19

Sittin’ in the kitchen with mama (part 1)

by davesandel

Sittin’ in the kitchen with mama (part 1)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Jesus said to those who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

– From John 8

I think first of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, lovely, and admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.”

The words are powerful. And how they were delivered into my consciousness is a strong memory. My mother and I stood on opposite sides of our kitchen just east of Lincoln, Illinois, while I told her with gusto about the writing of Ernest Hemingway. I was home after my first year at Valparaiso University.

I had read “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” among other stories, and I felt moved and more emotionally intelligent than before I read them. The classes I was taking in humanities, literature, philosophy and theology were kindling a desire in me for “knowledge” that meant something.

How I’d put that now is that I had a taste of “truth, goodness and beauty” and felt for a moment that I was standing on the ground “in which I have my being.” At that time I wasn’t sure what I believed IN, but it was good to know something of what I did NOT believe.

In “The Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” Hemingway puts some of St. John of the Cross’ words into the mind of the good, solid man who cares for a bar, where men come for solace late at night. But Hemingway turns the words and they become nihilistic, at least that’s how I heard them then. “Our Father, who art in nada (“nothing”), hallowed be thy nada, thy nada come …”

Hemingway’s Catholicism helped him find the words (from St. John of the Cross’s masterpiece, Ascent to Mount Carmel), which he used to express his first-half-of-life righteous anger. Hemingway railed against any shallow, careless attempts at meaning and comfort, while at the same time craving them.

This contradiction was not resolved in his story, but I felt the confluence of opposites rush around my mind surrounded with some aroma of truth. This was at least better than what I thought I’d known before. I felt righteousness swell up in me …

*           *           *

It was the hot summer of 1968. A few weeks later my friend Larry and I would drive to Chicago for a Lutheran conference in theology, which would adjourn on the first day so we could spend that week attending the demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention. My self-righteousness swelled again.

The convention was marked by violence from every side and widespread international publicity. In the following weeks, I wrote letters to the editor of the Lincoln Courier, our town’s daily paper, and then I wrote letters in response to the letters in response. My mother defended me to her angry neighbors, who thought I was unpatriotic and cowardly …

*           *           *

But before all this, Mom and I are standing in the sun, shining through the west window of our family kitchen. Outside the July corn and soybeans soak in the humidity. Mom smiled at me from across the room and asked me to consider the words of Paul.

The “realism” drawn out by Hemingway might taste of truth, in that it relished human failure and unacknowledged sin. God’s presence in the world went unacknowledged. And I was angry at the people of God for failing to follow the Bible’s call to social justice. I was angry at God for letting that happen. I was angry at myself for being a hypocrite.

Mom smiled at me and said, “But you can think of other things. You can set your mind on these things.” And she recited Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true. Whatever is noble. Whatever is right.”

I scoffed, I know I did. But years later the memory returns in tears of gratitude and repentance. “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.” (to be continued)

*           *           *

The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want. You make me lie down in green pastures. You walk with me beside still waters. Oh yes, Lord, you restore my soul.

Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” first published in 1926, then again in Winner Take Nothing, 1933

St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel, Book 1, Chapter 13, originally published in 1618

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Apr 9 19

Woman on a hillside

by davesandel

Woman on a hillside

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

Early in the morning, while Jesus was teaching on the Mount of Olives, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand before him.

– From John 8


Flat bright sunlight shrieks and flashes off the stones. The woman does not stand for long; she falls in fear. But the men pull her up again, force her to face front, and she knows she is about to die.

Jesus knows when to speak, and now he’s silent. For such a long time, the scribes and Pharisees just wait. They really are accusing him, hoping he will pardon her so they can pound him with the Law. Stone the woman, crucify the man, this man the people seem to love. But he just stoops and takes up a stick. Writes something in the dirt, and does not speak. The men persist. Tell us, Jesus, what should we do with this God-forsaken whore?

It is not the sun that flashes now. Jesus eyes are hard. He stands and looks with anger on the men, and speaks at last. His wise words are priceless, never-to-be-forgotten. “The one among you who is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone.”

Jesus listened to his Father, and only spoke the words he heard. There was nothing else. He stooped, and again began to write. He no longer looked at her accusers, he no longer looked at the woman on the ground. He gave them all time to look inside themselves. And gradually, one by one, the crowd dispersed, their thirst for blood turned by introspection.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Places in the Heart, set in rural dust bowl depression Texas, 1934. Well into the story, five masked members of the Ku Klux Klan ambush widow Edna’s helper, Moze. Mr. Will, her blind boarder, hears them fight and finds a gun. Finding his way outside by following the shouting voices, Mr. Will’s shots mark the ground just in front of each white-robed killer. They cry out for him to stop. As he runs of out of bullets, he begins to call them all by name. Mr. Simmons, Mr. Shaw … they are unmasked, uncovered, and they disperse. Mr. Will and Moze come close, they hold each other.

Moze cannot stay, he knows he must move on. But in the movie’s final scene, it’s like everyone in church has heard those strong and simple words of Jesus to the woman on the hill. “You’re still here? I do not condemn you. Now go. Go and sin no more.”

There is So Much Freedom in those words!

I hear you say those words to me, Lord. And I know how free I am not to sin. When I turn toward you, I feel the sun, the warmth, the peace and quiet in your eyes for me. Why should I ever turn away to some tiny, tin-can substitute for the love you always give?

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Apr 9 19

Fire on the open sea

by davesandel

Fire on the open sea

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Jesus said, “You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world.”

– From John 8

Exhaustion, loneliness, despair … in today’s text from Numbers there is a telling phrase: “Their patience was worn out by the journey.” Surely things are not so bad as this. But then I think of Howard Beale imploring his television listeners to open their windows, stick out their heads and shout together, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Yes it’s so tempting, to see what’s wrong and then turn tail and run. Give up. Go back to Egypt. Settle into slavery again. It can’t be any worse than this. Surely grass is greener there, on that side of the desert.

To keep them on their freedom path, Moses had some work to do, although God made it easier with his blunt-fisted punishment. Snakes slithered into tents, they bit, they killed. The complaining of the people turned to keening grief, and Moses pleaded for their lives.

*           *           *

Thousands of years later, Jesus looks straight into my exhausted, lonely eyes and says, “You belong to this world.” And then he says with all sincerity, “I do NOT belong to this world.” And because he spoke this way, “many came to believe in him.”

He doesn’t offer a God-Trek Beamatron to get me out of here. He didn’t have one of those for himself. The snakes killed him too, and he died abjectly on a cross. But Jesus compared himself to Moses’ medallion, the bronze serpent lifted up to heal the rebellious, bitten, dying people. He died so we might live?

What do I do now? How do I respond and move into the world of Jesus? Christian religion suggests so much: prayer, repentance, fasting, simple belief, works of mercy, works of devotion, sacrifice, surrender. Theologian and priest Henri Nouwen wants to simplify all that. He journaled in South America, about his daily time alone keeping silence in the chapel:

My time apart … is full of distractions, inner restlessness, confusion and boredom. It seldom, if ever, pleases my senses. But the simple fact of being for this time in the presence of the Lord and of showing him all that I feel, think, sense, and experience, without trying to hide anything, must please him.

Somehow, somewhere, I know that he loves me, even though I do not feel that love as I can feel a human embrace, even though I do not hear a voice as I hear human words of consolation, even though I do not see a smile as I can see a human face. Still the Lord speaks to me, looks at me, and embraces me there, though I am still unable to notice it. The only way I become aware of his presence is in my remarkable desire to return to that quiet chapel and be there without any real satisfaction.

Yes, I notice, maybe only retrospectively, that my days and weeks are different days and weeks when they are held together by these regular, “useless” times. God is greater than my senses, greater than my thoughts, greater than my heart. I do believe that he touches me in places that are unknown even to myself. I seldom can point directly to these places; but when I feel this inner pull to return again to that hidden hour of prayer, I realize that something is happening which is so deep that it becomes like the riverbed through which the waters can safely flow and find their way to the open sea.

*           *           *

In fifth century Egypt, deep inside the desert, long after Moses led his people there, men and women lived out lives of prayer. Like me, like us, they sought the world that Jesus spoke of.

One day Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and spoke. “I have fasted, I have prayed, I live in peace, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

The old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to Abba Lot, “If you will, you can become all flame!”

Oh, Lord, shine your face upon us. You love me, and so I can love you. Set my feet upon the rock and turn my eyes always and forever just on you.

Howard Beale broadcasts the news, in the movie Network, 1976

Henri Nouwen, Gracias, from Chapter 3, “A Land of Martyrs,” journal entry from December 11, 1981, p. 69-70, 1983

Benedicta Ward SLG, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, from “Joseph of Panephysis,” p. 103, 1975

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Apr 8 19

When Jesus meets David

by davesandel

When Jesus met David

Monday, April 8, 2019

Jesus said, “I know where I came from and where I am going.”

– From John 8

Wow, Jesus! I want what you’re having.

Jesus came from his father, speaks right now for his Father, and will return to Him. He stands solid on this rock. Jesus’ confidence frees him to live without judgment or fear of judgment. Jesus is free to cast God’s light on all who will receive it. He is the light of the world.

Where did I come from? Sperm and egg meeting in the night? From my mother’s womb? From Lincoln, Illinois? As my childhood address asserts, from “God’s Hand?” David’s psalm says he was “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Does that apply to me, too?

I take refuge in Fleming Rutledge’s words about the Bible, as she echoes Jeremiah 33: “The new understanding imparted by the Bible comes from a source lying beyond our ability to frame questions.” If I can’t even frame the questions, how can I know the answers? When I can no longer even speak the questions, my eyes turn gratefully back toward the Source. It’s not WHAT Jesus knows, it’s WHO he knows. He is sure that we can know him too.

Mary Oliver, poet and accidental theologian, gets her own “new understanding” sometimes from the trees, “especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such gladness. I would almost say they save me, daily.”

Tree roots dig down deeper every year into the earth. They stay anchored in the place they’re born in, they live far longer, most of them, than we do. They are mother, father, friend and brother, if we just let them be.

They too come from somewhere. They come from God.

Jesus had his bad days, when he was less sure of God’s presence. I have to believe that human Jesus felt the disconnection now and then. I sure do. As Mary writes about those times, “I am so distant from the hope of myself.”

Doubt precedes my faith, accompanies my faith, and I know doubt will appear again, perhaps even at the moment of my death. So I am glad for Thomas Merton’s wisdom when he said, “You can’t have faith without doubt. Give up the business of suppressing doubt. Faith and doubt are two sides of the same thing. We don’t pray right because we evade doubt.”

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. But these things take time, and we are in a hurry to get through the dying. Today’s psalm slows my rushing, hurried, desperate attempt to take control: “Lo, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Stop it, God says. Listen to the trees. They are in no hurry:

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.


And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

*           *           *

Lord, in this peaceful, deep content you give me far far better things to do and be than I have ever done. Others benefit, and I can sleep at night. I choose fewer golden calves to worship, as my life proceeds through death to something altogether new.

Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Introduction, p. 20, 2015

Mary Oliver, “When I Walk Among the Trees,” from Thirst, p. 4

Brother David Steindl-Rast , “Recollections of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West,” online at

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Apr 6 19

Birthday blessing

by davesandel

Birthday blessing

Saturday, April 6, 2019

My shield is God most high.

– From Psalm 7

Our daughter will have another baby soon. She herself was born today, in 1986.

Margaret wasn’t sure about this birth, after 54 hours of protracted labor and then a prolapsed cord and Caesarean section with the last two. Boys, those were. This was Andrea, a girl. She was far more gentle on her mom. Still, at every appointment Margaret asked again, “Does it look like we can finally use the birthing room?”

On that fine spring day we drove by our church in Lincoln, Illinois, and watched our friends go in. We prayed for them to pray for us. Margaret’s labor pains were getting stronger. In Springfield, after directing her church’s children’s choir, Dr. Nichols met us in the birthing room. Yes, this time we would stay there. Dr. Nichols put Margaret before whatever malpractice thoughts she might have had.

The sun shone bright and beautiful. After just the right moves, the baby turned around. With quick and sweet efficiency, “slick as a whistle” in her mother’s words, Andi was born on Sunday afternoon.

Pictures of her all grown up at two years old, wearing a thick and lovely winter coat, show her innocence in bloom. With her smiles and her joy, this spring baby has inspired us for all her life. She sparkles at a party. She loves her friends, remembers them. For those seemingly less blessed than her, she always feels compassion, and often acts on it. She’s an artist.

Oh, the stories we can tell. At three, she slipped into the drivers seat and put the car in gear. How could she? She was unharmed. Later with her new permit, we rode with her while she drove in fear down Grand Avenue from the suburbs to downtown Chicago. How could I? But again, she was unharmed. Sixteen, she backed the car into our super-busy, four-lane street for the first time, alone. My heart was in my mouth. She waved, and drove away. Safe, she was, again.

My friend gave us a kitten which was born without a tail. Andi named her Precious, and Precious soon had kittens of her own. Andi loved them all. Our black dog Bear went along with her when she delivered papers. Bear was her confidant, and I think she was his.

Her Austin classroom fills up every year with kids’ creations. She gives them her love of art and music, and they explore the world together – the world as it is, not as she would have it. Like us all, like Jeremiah, like the psalmist, and like Jesus, Andi sees the world’s collapses into ugliness and sin. Sometimes I can feel her shiver in her innocence, in her acceptance of God’s love. Without a doubt, her shield is God most high.

Not to say she doesn’t fall herself. But saint and sinner always reside in the same soul, at the same address. I have no doubt that one day, some day, as it says in Proverbs, her children will arise and call her blessed.

Lord, this girl, this baby girl, has been such a gift to us, we thank you. Dry any tears she has and ease her pains, hold her closer when she laughs, and bring her every day into your eternal moment. Surround her with your angels and give her good dreams. You have made so many of her dreams come true.

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