A Sunday Spring Morning

Margaret rises early
on a Sunday spring morning
to cut fresh flowers
in the first light

With worn hands
that worked the soil
and planted the bulbs
she arranges them in a vase

Not haphazardly
or without a thought
but with intention
she places each one

As she does
behind her breath
she honors
each one’s beauty

But it is not for her
and her alone
she arranges them
just so

For to church they’ll go
like a beloved companion
to sit in their own place
in the sanctuary

Folks arrive
and observe
the spring flowers
placed upon the Lord’s table

A witness themselves
to the Creator’s goodness
and a proclaimer
of the good news itself

For what more
can the preacher say
than the flowers
on the altar

Of the beauty and the love
which is bound to blossom
from the God in whom
all things are possible.

Note: Margaret Craighead was a faithful and beloved member of my wife Terry’s first congregation, the Old Auxvasse Nine Mile Presbyterian Church, located in Callaway County, Missouri.

Lent is a Way of Praying

Lent is a way of praying
at first without words
with breath drawn
with breath released

Lent is a way of praying
in the quiet stained-glass light
in the confines of the driver’s seat
as one step is taken and then another

Lent is a way of praying
with eyes tightly shut
with attention on inside
with attention on above

Lent is a way of praying
with eyes open wide
to see what needs attention
to see God’s intentions

Lent is a way of praying
with words carefully chosen
with words haphazard and jumbled
with sighs too deep for words

Lent is a way of praying
for the world
with the world
in spite of the world

Lent is a way of praying
for you and all of yours
for me and all of mine
for us and all of ours

Lent is a way of praying
a little prayer here
a little prayer there
until all, everywhere, is prayer.

A Different Story

winter lingers
with its wind and cold
wanting to persist
tenacious and bold

but the birds tell a different story
their songs melodious and light
arriving to sing-in the new season
their notes uplifting and bright

and the crocus too defies the cold
pushing with persistence from the darkness below
unfurling delicately despite the hard soil
a beauty that melts the dusting of snow

when I am restless, tired and weary
I long to listen in the darkness of night
amidst uncertainty and looming despair
for whispers of good news subtle and slight

for a different story among the stories
that sings with truth despite the strife
a story of peace and harmony and beauty
of grace and love and abundant life

Lent is a Way of Seeing

Lent is a way of seeing
to open my eyes
to widen my perspective
to broaden my outlook
to peer beyond the horizon
to squint for signs of hope

Lent is a way of seeing
God in the ordinary
God in the mundane
God in the extraordinary
God in the surprise
God in the small and the wide

Lent is a way of seeing
when darkness persists
when light is veiled
when the way is hidden
when uncertainty lingers
when chaos encircles

Lent is a way of seeing
the possibilities of today
the possibilities of tomorrow
the possibilities for me
the possibilities for you
the possibilities for us

Lent is a way of seeing
Christ in the cosmos
Christ among the crowd
Christ in the least
Christ as the center
Christ as the whole

Lent is a way of seeing
where I fall down and fall short
where I cannot see or refuse to see
where I am from and where I am going
where the way is narrow and necessary
where the One is leading and leads to the One

Lent is a way of seeing
broken bread and poured out wine
broken body for a broken world
broken grip of the doom of death
broken world born anew
broken hearts surprised by good news.

Lent is a Way of Walking

Lent is a way of walking
A walk with myself but not for myself
A walk in the world but not of the world

Lent is a way of walking
A walk of discovery as much as destination
A walk with detours and distractions

Lent is a way of walking
A walk that leads me by still waters
A walk that sets my feet on stormy waters

Lent is a way of walking
A walk of sight and sound and senses
A walk by faith and not by sight

Lent is a way of walking
A walk with the One who determines the path
A walk with the One who is the path

Lent is a way of walking
A walk along lakeshores and high atop mountains
A walk along byways and valleys of shadows

Lent is a way of walking
A walk alone
A walk with the company of the saints

Lent is a way of walking
A walk among the haves and the have-nots
A walk with the getting ahead and the letting go

Lent is a way of walking
A walk to the cross
A walk bearing a cross

Lent is a way of walking
A walk to empty myself
A walk to an empty tomb

Lent is a way of walking
A walk of life abundant
A walk to life eternal.

A Tree in Winter

What is a tree to be in winter?
I wondered on a snowy sabbath day.
Seemingly stoic and obviously bare
what else might a tree consider?

From what I can see and certainly surmise
there is more to a tree than appearance.
For along its trunk and among its branches
there are happenings that are sure to surprise.

The squirrels are about with total abandon
running and jumping without reservation.
The fallen snow covering the branches
leaves pattern that are anything but random.

Moss upon the bark survives
its green a welcome sight for the eyes.
The buds that tip the ends of the limbs
promise that spring is soon to arrive.

What is a tree to be in winter?
I wondered on a snowy sabbath day.
As the good Lord made it I surmise
and for all of creation the better.

The Landing Below

it is early autumn and change is in the air
as days shorten and leaves fall
I’m left with the questions of what to do and dare

sleep beckons in the sudden coolness of the night
to go and slip under covers
is the temptation before me to stay out of sight

yet while the light lingers I should rise and find the way
that takes me out and beyond
the place I can no longer stay

for the leaves tell a story real and true
that beauty is found
when the darkness descends before something new

where the fallen leaves gently lay
bright flowers will bloom tomorrow
beauty reborn in the newness of day

what beauty in me will fade with the night
so that something new can emerge
when the time is right

for an end is not the end but only a new beginning
the loss a part of what is becoming
as the Creator keeps the universe beautifully spinning

beauty is the seed within me that will grow
as I dare to let go in the lingering light
may I fear neither darkness nor the landing below

A Life of Its Own

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions.

Frederick William Faber

My wife Terry recently spent a week at a conference and retreat center near Baltimore, Maryland.  She gathered with colleagues who also serve presbyteries throughout the country.  Honestly, I really hoped she bring home a fresh Maryland crab cake but, equally honestly, I knew that was not too realistic.  What she did bring me was a decorative magnet that included the quotation, “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions.”  I surely would have enjoyed a crab cake—I cannot deny that!  But this quote really struck me and will definitely stick with me longer than even the best crab cake!

A single act. That is all. Sometimes we succumb to the notion that we must do a lot or do something big and bold or do something everyone will consider the best.  But when it comes to kindness a simple act is not only enough but can impact others exponentially.

A single act can be easy and then again it can be hard.  Sometimes it is easy when it comes naturally for us or it is directed to someone we love.  Sometimes it is hard when it requires more from us—more time, more energy, more sacrifice.  Regardless, the impact of kindness can be so profound.  Sometimes even though it is easy for us it comes to someone at just the right moment—when they feel overlooked or overwhelmed.  Our single, easy act of kindness really makes a noticeable difference in their lives.  Another time, when it is hard for us, it can equally change someone else’s life for the better possibly in a way we never know.

Throws out roots in all direction.  I like the idea of kindness taking root in a person’s life or in a family or a community or a congregation.  Acts of kindness are not fleeting.  They last—likely beyond what we witness initially.  The compassion experienced in kindness becomes rooted in the recipient’s life and becomes an ongoing source of strength.  It also then fuels their ability to act in kindness toward others.  Acts of kindness multiply themselves touching and transforming more and more lives.  That is how kindness spreads in all directions.  We act in kindness a single time but the kindness moves well beyond that person, that place, that point in time.  It keeps going and going and going—to people and places we can never know.  Kindness takes on a life of its own.

If you ever garden near a tree you learn quickly how expansive its root system is.  Countless times when attempting to plant a new perennial flower in our yard I have ended up working around tree roots unexpectedly.  I cannot really fathom the expansiveness of a root system of a single tree.  The same is true of kindness—it may appear singular on the surface but much more is happening than I can perceive.

I invite you this week to recall an act of kindness directed to you.  How did you feel?  How did it impact you?  How did it affect others in your life?  And too, consider how you can act in kindness toward someone else and be mindful of the impact of your kindness beyond that one singular act.

We are all recipients of the good, compassionate kindness of God.  May that be the source of our acts of kindness that take root in the lives of others.

Look Up!

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Psalm 19:1

On the last Monday night in September the planet Jupiter moved within its closet position to the earth in fifty-nine years at 367 million miles from Earth. It is hard for me to consider 367 million miles as close. Yet, as Ian and I gazed at the eastern sky on Monday night we were both amazed and delighted by Jupiter’s brightness. We tried to draw it in closer with our binoculars but they were no match for such a distance. Yet despite that we still found it special to see Jupiter in all of its splendid light.

I find it important to look upward. Too often my eyes are focused straight ahead as I am determined to get from one point to another. When I do pause and look up—whether it is the deep blue sky and brilliant sunlight of day or the expansiveness of a starlite night—I find myself reminded as did the psalmist that the heavens are telling the glory of God and proclaiming God as Creator. It is simply my task to notice—to see what nature is saying. When I do take the time I receive not only a reminder but a wonderful remembrance of the goodness of our kind Creator.

As we all learned from our earliest days in school, Jupiter is the biggest of all the planets. Consider that 1,300 Earths would fit inside Jupiter. THAT IS BIG! Yet it appears at 367 million miles away as quite small—a single point of light. Yet consider though the wonder of how that light travels that far—far enough for us to see it and distinguish it from other planets and stars. And consider just how bright it is—bright enough for us to notice it.

People, like me and you, find ourselves in times of darkness from time to time. We need light, even the simplest and smallest point of light, to give us hope. We need light to remind us that we are not alone; that there is a Creator who made us and a Creator who cares for us.

Sometimes that light might literally be a light that we view in the night sky. Maybe looking at Jupiter can remind us that we are not alone; that the God who made this universe is with us in ways both known and unknown, both seen and unseen. Other times that light comes from other sources—the glimmer in another’s eyes, the smile on someone’s face, the familiar voice on the phone, the arrival of loved one. However might the light arrive we are filled with the same sense of hope—hope that we can live the fullest of life as intended by the God who made us and loves us.

So, look up and look around. Take in the light. Take in the hope. Then let it shine through you into another’s darkness.

Switch Tanks!

Late on a recent Saturday night Terry and I sat in “Blue,” our 1976 Chevy pickup truck, wondering why it wouldn’t run. It had run—earlier in the day and only moments before. But now nothing. Just endless turning over but no firing of the engine. The truck sat in our front yard under a tree. We parked it there earlier so Jadon and his friends could line up their cars and take pictures before heading out to the Homecoming dance at the high school. They had of course all pilled in the truck and on the truck. Yet why it would not start perplexed us. But it would have to wait until the next day.

After lunch on Sunday I called our friend Paul who knows his way around old car and truck engines. He came over to take a look. He quickly determined that there was no issue with the cranking but there seemed to be no fuel reaching the engine. He sprayed some starter fluid into the carburetor as I turned the ignition switch. She fired but still would not run. Thus we knew getting fuel to the engine had to be the problem. As I sat in the cab it suddenly dawned on me. The truck has two, yes, two, gas tanks and a switch that sends the fuel to the engine from one or the other. I quickly looked at the switch; and, yes, it was switched to the empty tank! A quick switch to the other; a turn of the key; a few pumps on the peddle and it was running just fine again!

We then deduced that while the boys were in and out of the truck one of them had out of curiosity or unknowingly hit the gas tank switch. Once it was switched to the empty tank no amount of anything would have got the truck running. It had to be switched to the tank that had the fuel.

No fuel. No go. Isn’t that how it is! We can try our hardest. We can wish and want to. But without the gas to go we won’t get anywhere! How often have I tried and tried to get going and simply could not. My tank was empty. My tank was empty. Maybe like “Blue” we all have two tanks—one that is our own which we try to fuel our lives with our own efforts and strength. The other tank is not our own but holds the strength and abilities given to us by God. We like to be self-reliant; so we use and use and then exhaust every ounce of our own strength. Then we wonder why we can’t go anywhere. Maybe it is then that it dawns on us that we must switch to the true source of our strength, our Creator God. And that source is one that will not run out! There is always an abundant supply when we rely on God.

Tired? Exhausted? Out of gas? Realize you cannot rely solely on yourself alone. If you do, you will not make it. Instead, switch tanks! Go with the supply of strength that God can provide. And remember, it’s okay to sit in the yard over night in order to figure this out. A good night’s rest is always helpful too!