This morning, as I began writing, a familiar Bach suite began playing on the classical playlist I’d selected from Prime music.
I’d listened to this particular sonata for cello a thousand times. This morning, as a snow storm silently raged outside my window, I bowed my head, closed my eyes and carefully listened to the beauty of the music.
This is what prayer is like.
Day to day, I plead and cajole God with entreaties for this need or that disappointment or I repeat the familiar words the Lord’s prayer, so familiar that the words slide over my tongue without consideration of their meaning.
But how often do I sit in silence and listen to God?
One of the most challenging verses in the Bible for me, is this one:
What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead. (Hebrews 11:1Living Bible (TLB)
I suppose it is because I am someone who likes to be in control, who has a difficult time “Letting go and letting God”.
And because of that, because I refuse to completely surrender my hopes and dreams and fears, to trust that God’s plan is better than I can every imagine, God continues to bring me back to this verse and this lesson.
I want to learn to be still in God’s presence, to wait for and experience His presence.
I am beginning to learn about Lectio Divina, a study of the scripture incorporating prayer and meditation.
I will share more as I learn. But I believe an important first step today is to simply read a passage and sit in silence and be in the presence of God.
Our first step is to simply surrender, and allow ourselves to rest.
Will you try this for ten minutes today? Embrace the promise of Hebrews 11:1, lay aside your worry and give it to God. “What we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.” Rest in that promise, close your eyes and allow yourself to sit in God’s presence.
We don’t need another list of resolutions, we need revelations
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
I woke up Monday, January 2nd, with an urge to spend the day organizing, making resolutions to eat clean, learn Tai Chi (maybe if I developed balance I’d stop falling over and breaking my arms and elbows), organize the house, and deepen my spiritual practices.
Which is weird because when I woke up on January 1st, I resolved that this year I was through with New Year’s resolutions.
That one day I had been so adamant about not making resolutions and then doing a complete 180 then very next day gave me pause.
Why the change of heart?
A couple thoughts come to mind: First, I am an optimist. No matter how much I am subject to ruminations of doom and gloom more than I’d like to admit, beneath that I am a real optimist. I believe that things will get better eventually.
Second, I believe that writing out our goals is essential to planning our path forward. Unless we clearly and thoughtfully outline what we want to achieve we will waste an enormous amount of time going down blind alleys.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
As I pondered the why of my desire for resolutions, it occurred to me that I was actually seeking revelations!
What is the difference?
Here’s an example:
A resolution would be, that for the tenth year in a row, I resolve that I want to lose weight.
A revelation would be that I want to enjoy a long and active life. One part of making that happen is eating healthy (not a number on a scale) and finding activities I enjoy so I help my body to achieve my goal.
My revelation: a long and active life makes healthy choices fun and realistic.
The same principle applies to my spiritual life.
A few years ago, I bought one of those Bible-in-a-year Bibles and determined to read my way through it. I did, but honestly, other than a feeling of accomplishment, it didn’t do a great deal to help me achieve a closer relationship with God or deepen my faith.
Instead, this year I am beginning to learn Lectio Divina, a method of studying scripture prayerfully to deepen not only my understanding of God’s Word, but especially to deepen my relationship with God.
I look forward to sharing what I learn with you in the coming year.
What resolutions can you turn into revelations this year?
Please share one in the comments!
Sometimes our best intentions don’t work out.
I bought cross country skis to follow Dr. Dietzgen’s good advice that I exercise to offset the results of being a very talented cook.
I am a chunky monkey. I have gained and lost the same 25 pounds’ innumerable times.
You might be surprised that I attended the University of Michigan on a swimming scholarship. However, as my high school athletic director concluded: On land, I have the grace and coordination of a newborn colt.
Which is why as a cautionary measure I took a lesson at the Breckenridge Nordic Center. I had a wonderful teacher and enjoyed myself immensely. However, this did not deter me from falling three times in a row, the third indeed the charm, as I fractured my wrist in two places, required surgery and a cast for the next twelve weeks.
My skiing accident is a metaphor for the rest of 2016. Many projects begun with the best intentions ended in failure. A perfect job that I needed, I wasn’t chosen for. The land I required to sell to secure a home here, didn’t sell. It seemed that if I desired an outcome, the answer would be ‘no’.
So, I set myself a smaller goal: recall just one success of this past year.
That was this column. While it might seem a small thing to anyone else, for me it is seminal. It has focused the purpose of my life. Before I began writing this column I was a writer, now I understand I am a faith writer.
This column has not been a means to share my faith, but has transformed it, challenging the easy faith I believed was strong, and showing me each week how superficial it was as I traveled through these disappointments and much prayer, only to discover God’s silence. Causing me to question whether I would pursue God or turn my back.
That is what each of us face when we reach this juncture. Remarkably, no matter what our choice, God’s love for us endures. As in the parable of the prodigal son, God Our Father is steadfast, always ready to welcome us back. (Luke 15:11-32)
Reaching this conclusion made me feel a little bit better about 2016. But the idea of writing an upbeat column for the new year felt contrived when I still held onto so much disappointment.
Since I couldn’t write with my hand in a cast, I spent the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s catching up on a pile of books that sat on my coffee table. This time of contemplative reading has been a God-send.
Last night I finished The Spiral Staircase, a memoir by Karen Armstrong, of the best-selling A History of God.
I naively imagined that successful people enjoyed a relatively straight, upward career path. But I discovered in Karen Armstrong’s memoir a kindred spirit.
Her best-selling book was published at 50 years old. Before that her life, as she described it, was a series of failures and setbacks. Leaving the convent after seven years, pursuing a doctorate at Oxford only to have her thesis rejected, failing at jobs in teaching and television, living with an undiagnosed epilepsy for over a decade, and after losing her faith and declaring herself an atheist, becoming one of the most notable religious writers of our generation.
Reflecting on my own decades of failures, I concluded that God will use our brokenness to begin something new, if we let Him.
When I hit bottom, I passed through stages of anger, fear, and finally resignation. The last thing I wanted to write or read, was a pithy list of New Year’s resolutions when my mind said ‘what about the goals I hoped for last year?’
In this place of darkness, God calls us to be transformed by our failures so that we do not begin again, but we begin anew.
If you are regular reader of this column, you’ll know I’m a fan of selfie’s. But when I look at the pictures from the beginning of the year, I do not recognize myself. I have changed that much.
I am not the same woman I was a year ago. I am tired, discouraged, and yet I am the happiest I have ever been because I am becoming the woman God meant me to be.
2016 was a tough year for many of us, where it wasn’t one setback, but so many that a popular refrain on Facebook was, ‘please let 2016 end quickly’.
Yet, if we use the pit as a platform not to recall what we had before, but to become something new, we will discover our transformation and we will thank God for it.
We cannot recapture the past, because we are no longer that person. Our scars, our broken heart, broken bank account, broken spirit, have made us different. Our power is our choice to accept this newness as a gift.
Now is the time to seek God with all our heart leaving at the Cross any shame or fear or anger and resting in his renewing love. From there we will build and go forward.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Let’s enter 2017 embracing God’s promise: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “A Map of Heaven” and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
It is only fitting that during this season of light, we should encounter angels among us. Pat Hoogheem is my angel.
On Monday, despite a long list of Christmas things to be done, she accompanied me to the Good Samaritan hospital in Denver as I went for surgery on the wrist I broke while cross country skiing. She returned home with me, and spent the night on the couch so I wouldn’t be alone.
That is a gift of the season.
For each of the four weeks of Advent I chose one word to represent a gift of this season of waiting for Christ’s arrival and return: hope, peace, joy, and then I saved the best for last, love.
As a student at the University of Michigan I spent a year trying to decide what I believed in. I went from church to church and read many books and spoke to friends about their faith journey. Ten years later, I joined the Catholic Church.
What brought me into the church was Jesus and his message of love freely given. What keeps me in the Church is Jesus’ call to a lifelong relationship that grows more meaningful as I discover the endless depths of his love.
When I read the life and the teachings of Jesus Christ, I discover a message of peace, justice, compassion, and caring for each of us, rich and poor, locals and immigrants, old and young. From His humble birth in a manger to an ignoble death on a cross, the King of Kings demonstrated how to live, by becoming one of us.
The birth of Jesus which we celebrate this weekend marks a turning point in the history of mankind. For the first time, we encounter a leader who sought not to conquer but to serve, not to amass riches but to feed the poor.
Our God our Savior revealed the miraculous power of love: That he loved us so much he would forgive us anything and in return offer us everything in heaven and a better way to live here on earth.
Jesus’ love is for each of us, no matter where we are, what we have done, he embraces us with a simple and enduring message:
“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends…because everything I have learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will remain—so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. This is My command to you: Love one another.” (John 15:12-17)
On this darkest winter night, we celebrate a divine spark of light ignited and never extinguished. The moment God’s love became Jesus and we discovered that love grows as it is given and shared and like God, because it is from God, can never be diminished.
Jesus’ love is freely given to each of us. You can’t earn it. Only accept it. Love that fills those places in our hearts we hide from everyone else.
We can strive to live by the example of Jesus’ life. But to be transformed by the power of Jesus’ love, we must open our hearts and invite him into our lives.
Begin that journey today. Churches throughout Summit County will have many services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
If the idea of stepping into a church feels uncomfortable, join us tonight at 4pm or 6pm at the Riverwalk Center in the center of Breckenridge for Christmas Eve Mass. Come in from the cold, join others in Christmas celebration, and experience God’s love for you.
It is the most powerful force in the world. From God’s love springs compassion to help others, hope when we cannot see the way forward, joy when our heart overflows with pain, and peace when we need rest.
Through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we gain true love. A love to fill our hearts for the rest of our lives, never ending, always growing.
Jesus is love, actually. And he loves you.
Gospel of Christmas Eve
The Birth of Jesus. In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus[b] that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”