Making choices

Sirach 15:9-20

I really like the book of Sirach. I haven't read it enough times to have it memorized and there's no plot with the need to keep characters and their stories straight. Instead, it is a collection of teachings on various topics more or less categorized and presented for consideration, meditation and emulation.

This passage begins with a brief statement on praise. Praise, to Sirach, is a bad thing if God didn't send it and if the person offers some kind of praise in order to gain something for themselves. We've seen people butter up the rich and powerful in the hopes that there would be some sort of reward for stroking their egos. Kids try to butter up Mom or Dad when they want money over and above their earned allowance or they try to flatter a teacher into giving them a better grade than they deserved. But what if the person did something really good? Would offering a few words of praise be out of line? Not necessarily, if the praise is honestly given and doesn't try to curry favor because of it. It's all about intent.

The gyri of the thinker's brain as a maze of choices in biom Wellcome L0027293And then the reading turns to choices. People were given free will and the ability to make choices, whether good or bad. It's more than a child's choosing chocolate ice cream over strawberry, or a teen choosing this college over that one. It's about the little choices we make every day, how we make those choices and why. Each choice has a consequence, whether a positive one or a negative, depending on the choice that is made and the situation that demands the choice. Choosing to drive drunk is probably a very poor choice with the high possibility of very negative consequences both for the driver and for anyone else on the road or in the vehicle. Choosing to enter a profession that helps others rather than is based solely on what salary one can earn is a potentially good choice. Not all wealth is measured in the size of a bank account.

"Before each person are life and death." Even that is a choice -- sometimes. Suicide is a very real choice for some people. Teenagers can't necessarily see that what is seems so earth-shattering to them now is, most likely, temporary and will get better with time, or someone whose palliative medications just cannot control the pain of an injury or illness that could be fatal. Sometimes it is hard for others to understand someone making a choice to end their own life, and often it is condemned as selfish or a usurping of God's purpose. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is all about the person, not the family, friends, co-workers and the world in general. When a teen commits suicide, we condemn it as a waste of a good life, but to the teen, it is an escape from something like bullying or messages of condemnation for something they know they are but can't reveal for fear of rejection or bullying. A terminally ill patient is considered a bit more leniently; after all, they have pain to endure, but to some, it is selfish and circumventing God's will as to when they are appointed to die. I don't think it is ever an easy choice, no matter which stage of life a person is in, yet the consequences of the choice are clear.

Most religions have sets of rules that are designed to create order and some uniformity in the group that comprise that religion. Most teach that their adherents are to honor their deity or deities, care for others whether in the group or outside it, to respect the land they live on and to live their lives in an honest and upright way. When one group decides that another is wrong and seeks to change, take over or even eliminate another group for its beliefs, then there is conflict, war, death and destruction. If the choice is made to live as peaceably as possible (and it has been done in a number of diverse places with diverse groups for hundreds if not thousands of years), then everybody benefits. It only takes a few fanatics, however, to impose chaos and begin a conflict that can shatter a culture, a religion or a way of life forever. It all comes down to choice.

We choose our candidates in an election with the hope that they will do their best to represent all the people of their district, not merely pander to their own wants and ideas. There was a political flyer in the mail this past week from a candidate who accused the opponent of abandoning their Roman Catholic teachings because they, the opponent, favored letting women choose to use birth control or even abortion. Which would be better, an elected official who enforces their own beliefs on others or one who seeks to represent all the people, not just those of his or her own religious affiliation? The voters will have to make a choice between the two and the fate of many lives may rest on which one is chosen.

In the book of Joshua, he calls out to the wayward to make a choice: "...[C]hoose this day whom you will serve" (24:15b). It is a call to us in our generation as well. Will we have the wisdom Sirach tries to impart to us or will we ignore it and go on our merry way? Will we choose to serve God or will the idol of the world, it's pleasures and riches, get our loyalty and fealty?

What will our choice be?


Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Just One Thing

Friday, October 24, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 11:2-20
Revelation 9:13-21
Luke 10:38-42

It's hard to imagine a gospel story more perfectly crafted for one of today's most widespread ailments: distraction. In today's gospel, a woman named Martha graciously welcomes Jesus into her home. However, she is "distracted by her many tasks," and Jesus scolds her for being "worried and distracted by many things." Martha's multi-tasking and her many distractions prevent her from having a relationship with Jesus.

But Jesus constantly invites us to radically simplify our lives. While Martha has many things to do, Jesus tells her, "there is need of only one thing," which her sister Mary has chosen. Martha's sister Mary doesn't keep herself busy when Jesus comes to their home. Instead, she sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him.

Almost every day, I read or hear about some new study that describes the destructive or even deadly consequences of being distracted. I, for one, know that my "many tasks" often threaten to compromise the quality of my relationships with my children, my husband, my friends, and my Lord.

What type of busy work is distracting you from what is most important? What keeps you from giving others the attention and companionship that they desire? What petty details distract you from the goals that need your focus?

Perhaps a better question is, what one thing do you need? Jesus says, "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." Whatever that "one thing" is, it can never be stolen or lost. So today, let's examine how Jesus calls us from the world of many tasks and distractions that make our days fly by, and into the kingdom of deep attentiveness that time can never steal from us.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Shadows and woundedness

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” – Hebrews 12:14-15

I've often thought that church communities are just like secular ones when it comes to supporting and caring for their members – both fail in equally painful and dramatic ways. But at least in the Christian communities people know they ought to be trying for more compassion and inclusion.

The_Wounded_Angel_-_Hugo_Simberg-1008x811.jpgWhile that is true, it is also true that Christian communities often have very huge, very dark shadows. Church members carry an unspoken set of assumptions about right behavior which have their roots in the unconscious, in the attitudes formed through participation in less than perfect families. Just like we unconsciously find intimate partners who are like our parents and then try to change them, we try to find churches that reflect the dysfunction with which we grew up and then we try to fix it. But since it's all subterranean longings and woundedness, this rarely works very well.

Clergy are the recipients of a lot of the projections of their parishioners – but clergy also do their own fair share of projecting. Like psychologists, they try to fix their families by fixing their church family surrogates. “Now they'll listen to me,” their inner little kids say. “I have the authority.”

When parishioners and priests collude in this unconscious attempt to fix things, a dark morass of co-dependency can form. Everybody takes care of everybody else, and this generally means supporting bad habits, failing to challenge one another, and insisting on keeping things comfortable. New people coming into the situation learn quickly where the hot buttons are, and they either fit right in with the unconscious ethos or they leave.

When one of the members of my church is bitterly angry, dissatisfied and resentful, I try to remember to attempt to learn what is going on in the unconscious. How can the deeper issues that person is suffering be brought up into the light and languaged? We tend to blame the complainer, our natural tendency being to locate the problem in some psychological material of theirs. But sometimes that is not the case. Sometimes it's the hidden pacts the whole community has made that are the problem. In that case, the whiner is actually a prophet come to name the brokenness, pull the morass into consciousness where it can be worked on, and lead us back to God.

Holy One who is with us in all our gatherings, give us the courage and stamina to listen to one another deeply, generously, and honestly so that we can be communities in which true holiness and grace can take root and grow. Amen.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

The Wounded Angel - Hugo Simberg - public domain

The Way They Pray in Heaven

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 7:4-14
Revelation 8:1-13
Luke 10:17-24

One highlight of my week is officiating a service of compline (night prayer) or evening prayer for our local campus ministry. We light candles, burn incense, and chant. We lay down our unfinished work and frenetic lives and put our trust in God to defend and sustain us.

Recently, our campus minister suggested that we sit in silence before beginning our prayer. So now, we begin by sitting in quiet darkness, watching a white cloud of incense hover just over our heads.

This prayer service preceded by silence looks a lot like the heavenly vision from today's second reading. John of Patmos begins his report by saying, "there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Then, he saw an "angel with a golden censer," who "was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints."

And then, "the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel." What an exquisite offering of prayer.

I have to admit that the vision takes a dramatic turn after this stunning scene of heavenly prayer. The angels start blowing their trumpets, hail and fire fall from the sky, water turns bitter, the moon and stars go dark, and an eagle cries out a warning about further destruction to come. The vision comes crashing down from heaven to a devastated earth.

But this jarring return to earth reminds us that silence, incense, and angels are not forms of spiritual escapism. When we pray the way they pray in heaven, we don't get to leave the earth behind. Instead, we get to enter the kingdom of heaven that is with us, and within us. We get to entrust our very selves, our bodily needs, our loved ones, our fragile earth, our whole universe to God's vision of justice, peace, and abundance. This prayer gives us perseverance in a world that is falling apart.

It's an extraordinary way to pray, and you're welcome to join us at 8pm on Thursday nights at St. Martin's, if you're local. Otherwise, try letting silence, incense, saints, and angels do your praying for you sometime. That's the way they pray in heaven, and it might be the only prayer with the power to change the face of the earth.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Tough Questions

Matthew 22:34-46

This is the third straight week that we are working our way through the revelation rich 22nd Chapter of Matthew. Once again Jesus is head to head with the leadership of the temple. They are trying to take him down. He is trying to lift them up.

Jesus has been fielding tough questions aimed at tripping him, discrediting him… finding grounds to condemn him. This time it's the Pharisees turn to give it their best shot. They know that the Sadducees had just struck out trying to nail Jesus on a fine point of Mosaic Law. So they brought in their heavy hitter, a scholar specializing in all the intricacies of law and tradition, prophecy and religious practice. They are confident that his brilliance will destroy this Nazarene bumpkin.

You can hear the sarcasm dripping as the legal lion addresses Jesus as "Master." He wants to draw this carpenter into an elevated discussion of law so he can expose Jesus as a presumptuous hick who’s way out of his depth daring to banter with the big boys. Pity the proud lawyer. He came to shoot fish in a barrel and found he was up against, quite literally, the original, original thinker. Rather than get drawn into verbal jousting over old covenant law, Jesus lays out the basis for an entirely new covenant. And he does it in just two sentences:

Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.

Two thousand years later, the brilliance and the brevity of these essential concepts of Christianity are still breathtaking. The Ten Commandments and twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus were dominated by a laundry list of “shall not’s." The Old Testament is an encyclopedia of transgressions and punishments. And then in two sentences the entire dynamic of our relationship with God is redefined. The entire purpose of life is laid out clearly and succinctly. The guidelines for all human behavior are summarized in two easily understand instructions.

Gone is the endless recitation of "shall not's." And in its stead, the imperative to love is the new paradigm. Avoiding evil now becomes the natural byproduct of doing good. We are commanded to live bold lives of action, not timid lives of avoidance. More recently that basic Christian concept has been boiled down still further, into only four letters...WWJD... What Would Jesus Do? And from his life, death and Resurrection, we know the answer. Like Jesus, we humbly, gratefully praise God and serve our neighbor. We witness the love of Christ to all we meet.

Jesus easily answers the scholars’ toughest questions. They are confounded by his wisdom. Then they are thunderstruck by the follow-up questions he puts to them: What do they think of the Messiah? Whose son is he? When they answer that the Messiah is the son of David, Jesus asks them: How can that be if David calls the Messiah Lord? His implication is clear. The Christ, the Messiah is the Son of God, not the Son of David. The answer is suddenly evident and yet it had escaped their studies and endless debate. How can this be? They are the powerful and the privileged. They have all the answers. And here is this nobody, comfortably quoting scripture, effortlessly swatting their questions back at them. Hey, maybe there’s something to those reports about miracles? Maybe he’s more than a carpenter’s son?

As Matthew records: After that day no one was brave enough to ask him any more questions. They had found that the trouble with tough questions is that they elicit tough answers. And ready or not… the answer is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s not what they expected. It’s not what they wanted. But clearly, it was and is the truth. Embrace him. Rejoice in him. Jesus not only knows the answers to the tough questions… he is the answer to life’s toughest questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? He is the love of God incarnate. In him our lives have meaning and direction. In him we are saved. And, in the end, that’s the only answer that really counts.


The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

Our Island Home

Monday, October 20, 2014 – Proper 24, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 4:20-5:7
Revelation 7:1-8
Luke 9:51-62

I once saw a verse from today's second reading written in beautiful calligraphy, illustrated, framed, and mounted on a wall: "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees" (Revelation 7:3). I was so pleased that the last book of the Bible contained such wisdom about preserving the created world. What a perfect, prophetic few words to leave to the Christian community.

Imagine my disappointment years later when I encountered these words in their apocalyptic context, as we find them in the fuller passage today. For starters, the verse is directed not at humankind, but at "the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea." In the vision that this reading describes, these four angels are standing at the four corners of the earth, preventing the winds from damaging any piece of earth, sea, or tree.

Furthermore, the complete verse actually reads, "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." So, this verse is not an indefinite command to keep environmental destruction at bay. Instead, the verse describes only a temporary stay on ecological disaster. Once a few people have been plucked out of harm's way, presumably the angels can let the winds do their worst to our created home.

Encountering this verse again today, I'm trying to hear it in a more humble way. Since it's apparently the angels' job to keep the world from total destruction, what can human beings do? Today, I wonder whether human beings have a very simple, small-scale mission: to do our best to buy humanity a little more time.

We need time for repentance, for transformation, for mercy. We need time for the arc of the moral universe to bend toward justice (MLK, Jr.). We need time to develop sustainable patterns of treading on this earth. We need time, and we need a very patient God.

Whatever has gone before us, and whatever the future holds, we have bought ourselves another day. Today is a small window of opportunity to forestall disaster, to enjoy created gifts, to love people around us, and to inch our way toward God's dream for us. We may not have the power to save or destroy the world, but we can receive today as a gift that is not damaged yet. Perhaps by embracing all of our todays in this way, the angels will find the strength to hold back the winds eternally.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Who or what is the Rock?

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)
Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 4:1-10
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Matthew 16:13-20

"And I tell you, you are Peter, (Petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."

Biblical scholars go round and round about that whole "Petros/petra" thing in Greek. Even today, if you want to sidetrack your Adult Formation or Bible study group, toss this question out there and watch the fun.

What does Jesus mean by, "this rock?"

Is Peter himself the rock?
Is Jesus the rock?
Is Peter's confession that Jesus is the messiah the rock?

But no matter which side you weigh in on that one, the fact remains that, in that topsy-turvy Gospel pattern, the guy who gets most pointed out in the Gospels as "not getting it," is the person Jesus names as the go-to-guy for what will become the church. Not James or John, the Sons of Thunder. Not literate Matthew, who later would write the parables down in painstaking details in his Gospel. Nope--it's impetuous, off-the-cuff, amazingly slow-on-the-uptake, crazy-enough-to-try-to-walk-on-water Peter.

Now, in all fairness to Peter, when he DOES get it, he REALLY gets it--as he did in our Gospel reading today. Perhaps it's because he's the guy who never stops asking questions, or the guy who's not afraid to give just about anything a try, or the guy who doesn't mince words.

A lot of us identify with Peter, I think, mostly because we identify with our own spectacular blunders. He's our own embarrassing humanity. Our reading from Ecclesiasticus today, probably reminds a lot of us what we're not, or what we have failed to live up to be. It's pretty much a given that most of us, at one time of another, have ignored the hungry, walked past the needy, homeless person panhandling on the street, turned our face from the poor, and averted our eyes from the broken-ness in the world. Peter, on the other hand, brings us a glimmer of hope. "Well, if Jesus could love Peter enough to give him the keys of the kingdom...hmmm...God might even love me too."

When the world around us reminds us once again how we're a little "too whatever"--whether it's too timid, too outspoken, too slow on the uptake, too serious, too frivolous, too thin-skinned, too oblivious, or any other too you can think of that applies...well, as our Epistle says today, there's "no testing that has overtaken you that is not common to everyone"--and there's always Peter, that shining example of Christ's love of all of us who are just a little...well..."too."

When is a time you've berated yourself for being a little "too" something, but as it turned out, the "too that is you" was just what God had in mind?


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

"Masaccio 007" by MasaccioLicensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

The Wisdom of Humility

Sirach 3:17-31

The Bible is a library of books, letters, history, poetry and instruction. When the prophets spoke, it was expected (sometimes even devoutly hoped) that people pay attention and change their ways. When Jesus taught and Paul carried the message forward, it was an invitation to change. Then there are the Wisdom books of which Sirach is one. Sirach is, in a way, like the Ann Landers of the Bible; it is a book that offers solutions to problems and concerns. Where prophets command, Sirach suggests.

Sirach speaks to his students and his audience about the wisdom of being humble. It isn't a new teaching, but rather one that needs continual retelling because it is so easily forgotten.

Throughout the book ( probably written down by his grandson) there seem to be references to customs more Greek than Hebrew which might be a reason why Sirach never made it into the Hebrew canon. Among the Greeks, debate and discussion was a mark of intelligence and, at times, status among the upper classes who undoubtedly had more leisure to study and perpetuate such discussions. Sirach warns, though, that even intellectual debate and discussion can lead to pride and that pride can lead to trouble.

There seem to be two kinds of people in the world: those who are proud of what they do and those who are proud of what they know. Both groups are capable of doing great things and/or causing great things to happen. On the other hand, many are just proud of their own accomplishments, thinking little of how much they could contribute to the benefit of the man rather than simply amassing a wealth of goods or knowledge for themselves, becoming misers who do no good for anyone else. It is this intellectual pride that Sirach is warning his students about, detailing some of the negative repercussions of thinking too highly of oneself and one's accomplishments.

When we read the part about "Neither seek what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power," it seems a bit confusing. We're taught Robert Browning's poetic line, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" and it seems to be exactly the opposite of what Sirach is trying to say. I think where the difference lies is in for what we are reaching and what we are grasping. Is it to benefit ourselves or is it others we seek to help?

We can't reach heaven by our own stretching, but accepting grace as a gift while trying to be better human beings puts heaven closer to attainment. If we're proud of our accomplishments, that's one thing; if we are proud and arrogant about them, that's another kettle of fish altogether. Sirach is warning of that kettle. True wisdom lies in hearing the words and weighing them in favor of humility. Maybe the humble don't get so much press, but they probably accomplish a lot more for the world than those who strut about, proclaiming their own intelligence and accomplishments.

Jesus proclaimed in Matthew, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth"(5:5 NRSV). Not the captains of industry, not the generals of vast armies, not the prideful academics in their towers of books, but the humble who seek to do what is right and of benefit to many, not just to themselves who will be the beneficiaries. If we don't try to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, we're missing something big. So what if it is out of reach? We won't get anywhere until and unless we try. Sirach doesn't say don't make an attempt, just don't believe that only we as individuals can do it alone. I think too that is what Jesus had in mind.

Some of the greatest people on earth have been the most humble. We need to look to people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, George Washington Carver, and any number of the saints and others as examples of humble people making a big difference without getting a big head about it. Who knows who of us can join that group? It isn't impossible, merely difficult. Once attained, difficult things are more valuable than any prize.

"The mind of the intelligent appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the desire of the wise." That's certainly a true statement; more can be learned through listening than through speaking. Perhaps I need a day where I focus more on hearing, really hearing, what others are saying than in saying what I want (or feel I need) to say.

Maybe today I need to pay attention to a proverb from Benjamin Franklin, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." That's a real humility raiser right there. I think Sirach would approve.


Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

Venom-Proof

Friday, October 17, 2014 – Proper 23, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) // 22 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10, 18-27
Acts 28:1-16
Luke 9:28-36

Although Paul usually accompanies his missionary travels with long-winded speeches, in today's reading he makes a different sort of impact on the people he meets. Today, he simply survives a snake bite.

The story of Paul and the viper is not, however, just about super-human powers. Rather, it is about the ways we misinterpret phenomena as signs of condemnation or judgment. Paul bears witness to God's loving kindness simply by defying expectations of divine judgment . . . by living, rather than dying.

Paul is traveling under guard to face trial in Rome, and he has stopped on the island of Malta. The native Maltese people show Paul and his companions "unusual kindness" by building a fire and welcoming everyone to sit around it, offering warmth to ward off the rain and cold.

When Paul tries to add brushwood to the fire, a viper emerges and bites his hand. The people see it hanging from Paul's hands by its fangs, and they immediately condemn Paul. They think, "This man must be a murderer." They believe that, while Paul escaped a dangerous sea voyage, divine justice would have the last word after all by sending a snake to kill him.

But Paul's God doesn't work that way. Paul's God works by defying expectations of condemnation, judgment, and death. The people are "expecting him to swell up or drop dead," but Paul does no such thing. In fact, he not only survives, but goes on to heal others.

What an extraordinary mission for us to take on today: proclaiming our immunity to the venom of condemnation and judgment that can seep so easily into our view of God, and poison the faith that should heal the world. It seems like Biblical snakes are always trying to make God's creatures fear their loving creator! Today, let's not give them the last word, or the last bite.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

End Times

“'But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’” – Luke 9:27

A pewter sky soft with clouds cups the burning leaves of the maple in my neighbor's yard. All the leaves are falling. I am reminded that there is no defense against the inevitable appearance of the empty branches and monochrome landscape of winter. The cold is coming, and so are the shortest of days.

In this mood I can also acknowledge that the winter of my life, that time when productivity begins to wane, is also just around the corner. The burning passions, the great ideas, the places where I need to be and the things I need to do will all fall away someday, leaving me soft and vague as cloud.

There are so many heroic efforts I could make to slow this process down. I could monitor what I eat and drink, my body's chemistry, my mental acuity and so many other things, in hopes of having some control. But nothing will stay the shift of seasons for ever.

And it doesn't matter, not really. We belong to a different reality, one we are powerless to refute. We are held in the arms of a God who loves us irrevocably. Each of us has a place in the scheme of things, a place that does not depend at all on our doing or our knowing, and each of us has a name that is unique in all the created worlds.

It is hard to understand this. But each psalm we sing, each prayer, each breath we expend in the praise of the Holy, opens the eyes of our hearts. Knowing bypasses the mind and unfurls tenderly into all the spaces of our souls. Incredibly enough, this is not something that takes a lot of focus and it just keeps growing over time.

This gives me the hope that even when I am as vague as the pewter clouds of this poignant fall afternoon I will know that I am all right; I am treasured. In other words, this gives me the hope that before I die I will see the kingdom of God.

leaves.jpg

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

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