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Mar 19 23

Darkness and light

by davesandel

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Darkness and light

Brothers and sisters, you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.

We woke up this morning to sunshine and snow, and the sky was blue, and the birds flew nearly frozen but not quite from nest to nest. I shivered. Margaret warmed up her new electric blanket. It was 15 degrees, but even then … the sun broke through everything.

Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.

I asked my friends Jim and Chris if they’d rather lose their sight or hearing. I ask myself the same question. My eyes are crusty in the morning (this morning). Allergies attack often. My ears ring whenever I choose to hear them ring (I guess they’re ringing all the time, but I don’t notice). Jim and Chris choose to lose hearing. I choose sight.

Except who would take care of me?

Elizabeth Flora-Swick’s book Undefiled Access wonders the same thing. God provides “healing, prophecy, and care” to his disabled children. We are all disabled spiritually. The word that looms over the disability community is access. “The disability community values access like silver and gold” (p. 32). Elizabeth hires full time helpers to care for her physical needs. Usually they are students, who have their own schedules of breaks and vacations and exams. They are not always able to keep their commitments. For Elizabeth it can be a full time job to line up the help she needs. This is difficult for her. Now, nearing 30, she has learned much about waiting on God with patience.

Elizabeth has a way with words, and her prayers and praises ring in beauty.

I am willing to keep my heart open because I can hear God’s magnificent, triune heartbeat beckoning for my obedient response (p. 267).

I close my eyes and listen myself for that Heartbeat. Nowadays I am a little surprised when I wake up alive again. All the systems in my body are wearing out, although I don’t really notice it. God’s presence sings inside me second by second, day by day. Morning has broken, once again.

Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light … Yea, 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.

Elizabeth begins her book:

I’ll make this as clear as the glassy sea. There are some promises for which I am willing to wait – access to God is not one of them.

God has given me “undefiled access” to himself, she says. But, she continues, God also has access to me. And our relationship sweet and clear and true arises every day.

For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Metaphor aside, the literal truth behind these words carries me on, into the light of day, through the darkness of night, into the beauty all around.

 (1 Samuel 1, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5, John 8, John 9)

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Mar 18 23

Undefiled access

by davesandel

Saturday, March 18, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Undefiled access

Come, let us return to the Lord. It is he who has rent, but he will heal us. He has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. On the third day he will raise us up to live in his presence.

Hosea wrote this passage, a man whose experience with his wife threw him to his knees. Her falseness and foolish pride, her betrayals of both husband and children, and finally her collapse into slavery did not affect Hosea’s loyalty to her, nor his love for her. Of course, God will use his story to call out his chosen people!

Let us strive to KNOW the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day. He will come to us like the rain.

Hosea’s hope rises like the morning sun. His confidence in Yahweh eclipses the despair he feels for his wife’s return.

I’m meeting this morning with my friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth and I have read a couple Charles Dickens books together. We’ve walked the sidewalks of King Park across the street from my house and stopped sometimes to talk. There are benches in King Park, where I sit and rest. Elizabeth glides up in her wheelchair, smiling like the sun, and says hello.

Our conversations sometimes extend to her physical difficulties, although only rarely. Since her birth as a quadruplet in Kansas, she’s lived with cerebral palsy. Elizabeth graduated from John Brown University and then decided to take on the MSW at the University of Illinois. She moved from Kansas to Illinois, and crossed the graduation stage a couple of years ago. Social work became her career. Since then she’s worked and played and worshipped at the Urbana Vineyard, and (of course) continues to study what she really loves at Global Awakening Theological Seminary.

Elizabeth was always a writer. She remembers stuff (her sister Rachel calls her the “family vault”) and she can tell stories. But now, more than writing, she has written a book. That’s a different animal. She didn’t stop until she could say, “It is finished.” And I can imagine the smile on her face when she said it. Get off that writing cross for awhile, she might have said. Let the resurrection come!

Undefiled Access, her baby, has just been born.

The sleeping bags in my parents’ house must have been anointed Every time I slept in one, I encountered the Father’s affection. It felt like the Holy Spirit wrapped around me. The last time I slept in one on a family camping trip, the Lord’s presence and conviction settled over me as soon as I curled into it. I knew who it was. My fifteen-year-old heart had opted for internal rebellion at the time. I made a 180-degree turn and barreled into the Father’s arms. His kindness overwhelmed me, and I could not resist his presence. I still cannot.

Elizabeth’s surname blooms like daffodils two days before spring, even now in Illinois, at least here and there. Elizabeth Flora-Swick doesn’t stop smiling, not while she flings herself along the sidewalks of King Park. We’ve gotten together in my office and at her apartment at times. She hires student helpers who make moving around like that possible for her. Her body doesn’t work like she might have expected when she was born, and it never has. I know she knows God and loves God and knows God’s love through all of that. She says so – sure – but she also lives so.

Let not your piety be like a morning cloud or morning dew that quickly flies away. It is love that I desire, not sacrifice; knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

At the end of her book Elizabeth flies her testimony like a bright flag off the bow. Look into the sun. Out of her vision and her intimacy with Jesus she writes.

It was the safety Jesus provided in his recognition and acceptance of my need for care that fostered my capacity to receive what else he had for me. Healing or no healing, he was taking me with him. I’m along for this ride. I will be about my Father’s business – to display his goodness in its depth and glory.

So I’m psyched to see Elizabeth today. We’ll sit at Einstein’s and eat bagels and drink coffee. We’ll talk about our lives. I just finished Dickens’ Hard Times; she said she’d try reading it again. Maybe she did. Either way, Dickens and Elizabeth and I will find our paths through our own difficulties and seek out some semblance of the Circus of Heaven.

Jesus spoke to those convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. After he spoke he summarized: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 (Hosea 6, Psalm 51, Psalm 95, Luke 18)

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Mar 17 23


by davesandel

SEE TODAY’S POSTED DEVOTION ON MARCH 15 (Grandma Dot has passed away)

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Mar 16 23

Mixed memories on this particular sunny day

by davesandel

Thursday, March 16, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Mixed memories on this particular sunny day

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Let us kneel before the Lord our God who made us.

Outside our study window in Urbana two old fashioned rocking lawn chairs, painted bright yellow, rest on a ten foot wide patio of red bricks. Afternoon sun is shining on the bricks, and a beautiful brown cat suns herself. She feels my gaze, looks up at the window, and pads quietly behind the shed. The sun shines. This week we have an extra hour of sunlight in the evening. In four days springtime will come.

Between the chairs, above a green and yellow rolling cart, John Deere’s green and yellow tractor sports the company’s first year. SINCE 1837. And below the sign a few barn siding planks are painted, “LET’S STAY HOME.”

I found pictures from November three years ago, just about the time we mostly moved down to Austin, in the middle of covid-days. Marc and I must have finished our work on the brick deck about then. A chicken looks a bit uncomfortable sitting in the crook of my arm. I’m wearing a Pioneer hat which I’ve worn since then, mostly in our Texas apartment pool swimming with Miles and Jasper, so I won’t get a bald-head-sunburn. It has faded down to not much green. It means more to me this way than when it was new.

My Pioneer dealer buddy Jeremy gave me four Pioneer hats, including this one, before our lives split away from each other. My brother John’s tractors, still green and yellow, have been around about as long as we have. Memories twist and fade, and fall away. I generally have no idea about the accuracy of details which I recall, even from just a few days ago, let alone years. I generally don’t care.

What I care about is the people back then, and how we all cared for each other. Or didn’t, sometimes. Yesterday we visited Laura our friend at Jacques Seed Company when we all worked there in the mid 1980’s. Didn’t seem like any of us had much aged. Stories, friendship, reminders, pictures, bygones, friends and family who have died in the past 40 years … the room felt thick with sweet reminiscence. These days Laura works at our elevator co-op, where she is office manager. Often she works alone. Her grandkids are in 4-H, and she had time today to work on some 4-H papers before we stopped by.

After we left Laura we felt unapologetically nostalgic. We drove through Clinton, Illinois and remembered times years ago at restaurants there, when we lived nearby. Down the straight-as-an-arrow two lane highway through barren cornfields, people and places popped out of the past.

Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.

We saw an Amazon truck delivering in a Clinton neighborhood. “I think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot,” Margaret said. “Used to be, farmers made their crops and merchants stocked what they needed, and everyone worked together. Now we order and expect it on our doorstep tomorrow.” We had to get to the store then, but not now. The merchants expected and needed our shopping loyalty, but the merchants are busy with other things now, most of them. And our loyalty has blown away to Amazon, in the wind.

I don’t want to fall into this deep, sort of pitiful pit too often, or for too long. It’s seductive, like an electric blanket. If I leave one of those on too high too long and fall asleep, a midnight crisis looms. Heat fog folds over into my brain. My dreams sweat. I wake up. Ugh. Turn it off, turn it off. That’s what I don’t want to happen to my reminiscing.

One of my favorite Champaign restaurants, Everyday Kitchen, has closed, after not too many months. Big investment, little return, I suppose. I had coffee, lunches, dinners there with my centering prayer friend Mary Lou, son Marc, friend Jim. My heart sank when I heard it closed.

On the other hand, Bunny’s Tavern, where Marc loves his work, has been open since 1936. Its walls are plastered with pictures from every decade since. Most of my friends who live here have their own stories about Bunny’s, nearly all of them good stories, funny, sweet, warm.

Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.

When my thoughts flash through the past rather than carefully constructing the present to my own specifications, I don’t feel divided. If anything, I feel more unity within myself than anything. Each day belongs to itself, and each day belongs to all of those who came before it. I am glad to be enjoying my moments in the sun.

(Jeremiah 7, Psalm 95, Joel 2, Luke 11)

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Mar 15 23

Grandma Dot has passed away

by davesandel

Friday, March 17, 2023 (posted on March 15)

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

(see also the devotion for March 9)

Grandma Dot has passed away

We shall say no more “Our god,” to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion. I will heal their defection, says the Lord. I will love them freely.

Last week we spent some days in Evansville. Margaret spent all three plus days with Kay and her mom in their home. Their mother Dorothy (we all call her Grandma Dot) spent that time in her hospital bed, mostly sleeping.

And now … well, a few hours ago, late afternoon on Wednesday, March 15, a week after Margaret flew in and two days after we said goodbye, Dorothy passed away. “I don’t think she’s breathing?” Kay asked the hospice nurse. “No, she isn’t,” the nurse said.

Dorothy was born on December 27, 1923, and she died on March 15, 2023. So she was 99 years old. As Charles Dickens and the bible put it, she lived to a good old age.

My mom Grandma Angie also made it to 99. And she nearly made it to home hospice; the hospice registrar was headed to Mom’s house the morning she suddenly died eighteen months ago. And our brother in law Jim’s mom, who died just a few weeks ago, also almost made it into hospice. Both of them would have been blessed by those amazing helpers, as were Dorothy and Kay, day by day.

How much have we learned from these mamas, to guide us and bless us in our own years?

Just out of her teens, Dorothy left Kentucky and spent a year or two in Chicago at the converted Schwinn Bicycle Factory making parts for guns and planes in World War II. She has a green thumb, and her elephant ears and roses have graced her life forever. After Margaret’s dad died she bought a new baby blue blue Ford pickup truck to ride around in with her girls. She was strong, she was invincible, she was woman!

But there is never any point in putting bandages of denial or protest on whatever happens next, as we age and age and age. An Orthodox writer named Chryssavgis writes about this, what he calls the desert:

You do not have to find the desert in your life; it normally catches up with you. Everyone goes through the desert…. It may be in the form of some suffering, or emptiness, or  breakdown, or breakup, or divorce, or any kind of trauma that occurs in our life. Dressing this desert up through our addictions or attachments will delay the utter loneliness and the inner fearfulness of the desert experience, but if we go through this experience involuntarily, it can be both overwhelming and crushing. If, however, we accept its necessity, it can prove both constructive and liberating.

Dorothy worked at accepting her death, as she often had to work at accepting her life. Many things did not come easily for her. But for many decades Dorothy read the Bible, and books by Charles Stanley to inspire her. She sent us cards, often, and not only us but our kids too, sending her love. It didn’t need to be a birthday. On the phone she told us how she prays for us every day. She couldn’t quite get to church, but for years one special gentleman named Jack has taken it upon himself to visit her often.

When Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Our last visit was precious and precious and precious. In the future our memories of Dorothy will be tips of a lifetime, because Dorothy’s presence will remain, sharing what she learned over a century from God about the art of loving.

She is precious in his sight. And ours too.

I will feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I will fill them.

(Hosea 14, Psalm 81, Matthew 4, Matthew 12)

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Mar 15 23

On the occasion of any one of our despairs

by davesandel

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

On the occasion of any one of our despairs

Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.

For years I’ve cherished time with two women in their nineties, two moms, Margaret’s mom Dorothy and my mom Angie. Mom died two years ago at age 99; perhaps Dorothy, who is 99 now, won’t make it quite to 100 either. But that is hardly the point.

We wrote down some of their stories, as they wrote down stories they had heard from our great and great great grandparents. The simplicity and everydayness of these stories are what make them precious. They were and are dominos from what Abraham Joshua Heschel called the “terrible predicament of the here and now,” dominos falling into their “there and then,” which extends all the way back to the words we use to describe our origin: “In the beginning, God.”

Heschel knew his bible. Do NOT forget, it told him. He sometimes said, “I speak as a member of a congregation whose founder was Abraham, and the name of my rabbi is Moses.”

But he was never hidebound. His conservatism in the realm of ritual did not quench his thirst for new ways to see and understand. “In the realm of the spirit, only a pioneer can be a true heir. Authentic faith is more than an echo of a tradition. It is a creative situation, an event.”

He taught and worshipped, but more than that, each week he made Shabbat. He attended synagogue, but so much more. In his book Sabbath, he wrote, “The synagogue is where prayer goes to die.” He marched with Martin Luther King in the front rows of the protestors crossing the bridge at Selma.

I felt like my legs were praying.

Who among us does not want to believe the words of Moses about our own country, as difficult as it might seem?

Observe our statutes and decrees in the land, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

Heschel’s hope called him into speaking truth about evil, but never stopping there. “Evil is never the climax of history.” We cannot accomplish this, nor describe it, only have faith in God’s sovereignty. “God begins where words end.” As he walked in Selma, as his legs prayed, as God walked with him, God “refined his inner life, sharpened his conscience, helped him recognize that prayer is action. Prayer is an event.”

Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

(Deuteronomy 4, Psalm 147, John 6, Matthew 5)

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Mar 14 23

The weight of unforgiveness

by davesandel

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

The weight of unforgiveness

You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.

I have unforgivenesses that weigh me down like anchors in a heavy surf. For now the tide is out, so I can breathe. But soon the water will rise and, unable to move, I’ll be drowned.

So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.

I didn’t realize how the wires of my memory wrap and imprison me. I thought I could just say “I forgive you,” and then just step away from the anchor and begin swimming again like the dolphin I love. But not so, my fishy friend. I  say the words, but nothing happens inside me. The memories are etched into something like stone. All that’s happened in my life, pouring over the stone year after year, changed nothing, and now my intentions change nothing. It’s too late.

I feel trapped. The story Jesus told Peter rings in my ears. What do I do now? I can’t get to my heart; it’s caught under the water and the tide keeps rising. Oh God!

Remember your compassion, O Lord. In your kindness remember me because of your goodness.

God whispers deep inside me.

Even now, return to me with your whole heart. David! I am gracious and merciful.

I must turn away from this “forgiveness” that I cannot accomplish on my own. In his book As for Me and My House: Crafting a Marriage to Last, pastor and professor Walter Wangerin offends his wife Thanne. He seeks forgiveness, and he seeks to forgive her, which turns out to be far more complicated and conditional than either of them expected. He tries to ask her forgiveness during a sermon. That was a mistake. He walks down the aisle and hands her a red rose. She looks up at him. She crumples the rose in her hands and lets the petals fall into the aisle. Then she drops the rest of the rose on the floor. The congregation gasps. Walter returns to the pulpit.

In the fire, Azariah prayed. For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever. Do not take away your mercy from us! We are reduced, O Lord, brought low in the world this day because of our sins. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. Let our sacrifice be in your presence today.

In their agonies the Wangerins “remember their own forgiveness.” Walter’s confusion about blame and shame retreats for just long enough, as God shows him his own dirty hands, his own filthy face, his own selfish soul … and loves him. I LOVE YOU, WALTER. LET ME LOVE YOU. BE STILL. YOU ARE MY CHILD. THANNE IS MY CHILD. AND IN OUR FAMILY, LOVE IS ALL THERE IS.

In other words, get over it, Walter. And that’s for me too, of course. I can forgive my colleague Mike and my teacher Mrs. Armstrong only in the midst of God’s forgiveness of ME! In this communion with God, I’m free. When I leave his presence in fear or forgetfulness, the weight returns. But I know, more certainly than the stone is etched forever, that God’s forgiveness never leaves me, nor does my ability to forgive. I am free!

 (Daniel 3, Psalm 25, Joel 2, Matthew 18)

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Mar 13 23

Trudging through the hill country

by davesandel

Monday, March 13, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Trudging through the hill country

They rose up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow of the hill to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Shusaku Endo, Japanese author and Catholic Christian, wrote Silence, about feudal, samurai Japan’s quietly violent eventual rejection of western missionaries in the 17th century. Martin Scorsese crafted a masterful film after reading Endo’s book decades earlier on a train trip through Japan.

Endu also wrote A Life of Jesus.

When we patch together all the scattered references to unpleasantries in Nazareth, we grasp the extent of the hard feeling which greeted Jesus after returning. The breaking up of his disciples mentioned only in John 6:66 left only a few. “Do you also want to leave me?”

Perhaps they did want to leave, but as Peter said, “Where else would we go?” They trudged on. Picture them …

these dozen men or so, silently walking behind Jesus of Nazareth, their bone-tired feet carrying them into the lonely hill country stretching before them toward the north.

There was nothing special about them, except for their obedience. What did they see in Jesus?

Was it some kind of inexpressible purity and melancholy in the eyes of Jesus? Maybe the only thing which held their little band together was a feeling that they would be haunted by lonely regret for the rest of their lives if they were to desert him now.

Although, when push came to crucifixion, they did desert him. All but John fled.

They were pretty much like the rest of us after all – a collection of no-good cowards and weaklings.

But then Endu-san sees what we all see. After Jesus’ death and resurrection everything changed for these once bedraggled, weak, wandering men.

They never flinched at any physical terror. For Jesus’ sake they stoutly bore the rigors of distant journeys, and stoutly they held out under persecution. Peter underwent martyrdom in Rome about the year AD 61. Andrew was put to death by starvation in the Greek city of Patras. Simon, who had belonged to the Zealots, is said to have been killed for preaching Jesus in the city of Suanis, and Bartholomew was flayed alive and then hung on a cross at Albanopolis.

In the spiritual presence of the resurrected Jesus, God’s love transformed them. It transforms us too, even though we resist. We don’t know what it will take, but suddenly our resistance collapses. Naaman the great Syrian soldier found that he had leprosy. His king sent him to Israel, to Elisha. At first Naaman was angry when Elisha did not leave his house to greet him. He felt ridiculed by Elisha’s instructions. Then his servants helped to take him down a notch.

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 the simple thing, “Wash and be clean.” So Naaman went and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of Elisha, the man of God, and his flesh became again like the flesh of a little child. And he was clean.

Like Jesus’ disciples, Naaman knew the pure power of God’s love, on his skin and in his soul.

Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.

I can hear him sing the psalm, and I want to sing it with him:

Athirst is my soul for God, the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?

(2 Kings 5, Psalm 42, Psalm 130, Luke 4)

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Mar 12 23

Forty years of pilgrimage

by davesandel

Third Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Forty years of pilgrimage

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst, with our children and our livestock?”

Pilgrimages don’t always go smooth or as planned. In fact, if they do, something’s wrong. Moses might have known this, but his followers certainly did not. They assume the position of the world’s first mob, entitled and loud in their demands.

Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with these people?”

God was not about to be intimidated, but he knew how thirsty the people were.

Go over there in front of the people, and hold in your hand the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.

He did, and it did, and the people did. God was not offended when the people asked, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

We make our own pilgrimages, long and short. But we must not reduce the word too much. “Pilgrimages are no walk in the park.” On a pilgrimage we are intended to get uncomfortable inside and out, to get mud on our boots and dirt in our socks. Wes Granberg-Michaelson:

Pilgrims move in two directions at the same time—an outward direction toward a holy destination and an inward journey seeking an encounter with the sacred.

Cleverly Victor and Edith Turner write:

“Pilgrimage may be thought of as extroverted mysticism, just as mysticism is introverted pilgrimage.”

I don’t walk enough these days. My hips get sore, and sometimes I have to catch my breath. I feel sadly deprived of many beautiful trails up the hills to vistas unavailable from where I’m standing, looking up. But pilgrimage remains available for me, for all of us. Of course I walk, but mostly I let my spirit walk where it wants to take me.

A pilgrimage is a rejection of modernity’s expectations and assumptions about time, place, perception, satisfaction, speed, predictability, and the material world. Pathways that move simultaneously in inward and outward directions prove irresistible to throngs roaming pilgrimage paths today. The Spirit yearns to break out and to break open our old practices, our protective shells of comfortable spirituality, connecting our inner selves more deeply to God’s love and to God’s world.

Once in Washington’s Cascade Mountains I left my aunt’s cabin for a walk. I wore a red flannel shirt. Along the way I met a dog, and we climbed up what turned out to be a pretty big mountain. It was called Dirtyface Mountain.

It was nearly dark by the time I arrived back home. Margaret was not quite frantic, but no one expected me to be gone so long. Still, that’s one of the best experiences of my life.

Your soul no longer stays still. It’s moving with God in the world, and moving toward God, revealed in signs or shrines or saints or surroundings. The pilgrim’s walking body holds incarnate this inner journey of the soul.

Yep. Just that.

 (Exodus 17, Psalm 95, Romans 5, John 4)

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Mar 11 23

Choose life

by davesandel

Saturday, March 11, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Choose life

Shepherd the people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance. As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs.

Sheryl’s dad calls it the “Dead button.” Before 10 am he has to push the button to let the powers that be in his retirement home know that … he’s not dead. He’s alive!

My friend Chris stretches that well-established failsafe out a bit. Imagine that every day the first thing you have to do is press a button, but this one says “LIVE.” And you have to press it before 10 am, or your heartbeat stops, and you die.

Of course my acceptance of life in the morning is often drowsy, bedraggled and reluctant. But I’m passive in the middle of all this, because I know I can be. My breathing continues, my heartbeat continues, and my mind gradually returns to itself. For me, getting wet in the shower loosens the hold of sleep. Soon I am ready to push the LIVE button.

Chris imagines that, given the choice, many people would think twice before pushing it. Or maybe they wouldn’t push it at all. Life sucks, and then you die. And if life sucks, it might be hard to imagine how the problems that await you in the “undiscovered country” could be any worse.

Moses spoke to his people in the wilderness. They had certainly been murmuring against him and against God. They seemed to be thinking seriously about going back to Egypt, or just lying down in the sand to die.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deuteronomy 30).

Moses’ confidence infected the people and they rose up and moved on to the land of Canaan, although it did take them forty years to make the relatively short trip. The murmurer’s all died, and even Moses died, in those forty years. They stopped pushing the “LIVE” button, I guess.

Jesus tells a story about one young man who thought he was pushing the button, but realized he had been deceived, and then he had to return home and start again. He was afraid to return to his father and brother, but he faced his fear and then faced them. His brother turned away, but his father embraced him.

Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. But his father ordered his servants to bring the finest robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Let us celebrate with a feast.

The prodigal son chose life. He pushed the LIVE button. He faced his fears.

This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found. And then the celebration began.

 (Micah 7, Psalm 103, Luke 15)

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