Notable & Quotable

“Silence is essential to hear the Word. To hear the Word is to become sensitive to a Presence that is communicative, a Presence that is speaking to You.”

–from In the Silence of Solitude, by Eugene L. Romano

“We have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others. We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good”. Thomas Merton

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and sings it back to you when you have forgotten how it goes.” Anonymous


Hello world!

Hello world!  The beginning of a new year always reminds me that we constantly live on the eve and the edge of new beginnings for our lives.  The sad thing is that so many of us we live looking backward in the rear-view mirror of life and miss the eve’s, the edges and the thresholds of new beginnings that a loving God holds out to us simply because He is good and really cares about our hearts.  May this new year be the birthing, the awakening of your deepest hearts desires and may they find nurture, encouragement and release in this new beginning we are all being given.  The deepest core desires of our hearts are those that have been written there by the finger of God, like a master artist painting His good plan deep within us; and the plan of good for our lives is found in those deep and abiding desires that continue so often to haunt and frustrate us because the enemy of our joy and fulfillment is always seeking to deaden and bury those God-given desires and to come against the deep inner longings, dreams and desires we have been created with.

Those desires, those longings are written into our being by the Author of Life so that we might have the soul fuel to move us forward into the fulfillment of our destiny, of His design and purpose for our living.  Let this new year be one of looking forward, rather than backward; one of opening ourselves with courage again to allow God’s breathe to enliven, awaken and deepen the desires that He Himself has placed there for our joy.  After all, the Good News is that Jesus Christ has come to restore, renew, make whole again that which has been broken, shattered, and hidden away under the dark shadows of despair, of pessimism, and of heartbreaking disappointments meant to steal our hope, our hearts and our joy.

May this new year be one of new beginnings, of stepping out of the shadows that have dimmed our longings and desires and dreams with courage, trust and faith that the Author of our story is ready to awaken to vibrant life again, to deepen and to develop those most persistent desires He has imprinted in an indelible way within us.  The journey of desire begins with one trembling, trusting step forward into the light of hope, believing that our desires are the clues and the keys to our path and purpose and calling in this life.  “Good day; sunshine!”  O God, open our inner vision that we may see with better eyes the threshold of hope that lies before us at the beginning of a new year.  Amen.

In Heaven Its Always Autumn

IN HEAVEN IT’S ALWAYS AUTUMN – John Donne sermon on God’s mercies and seasons

John Donne gave this sermon on Christmas Day, 1624 but it is also beautifully appropriate for autumn:

“God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn, His mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never says, “ you should have come yesterday”; he never says, “ you must again to morrow”, but” today if you will hear his voice”, to day he will hear you.

If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North and South, as that he hath both Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath both day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment together: He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou hast been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee – not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries; all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.”

Open Our Eyes That We May See

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Appareled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.Heaven lies about us in our infancy;
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows.
He sees it in his joy;At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day. William Wordsworth 


Jesus – Our Way Bread

1 Kgs 19:4-8 

Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O LORD!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,
but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water.
After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.


Jn 6:41-51 

The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven,”
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven’?”
…Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
…Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in Me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.


Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 34

Recently, the daily Bible readings from the lectionary included the two passages above as complementary passages that both speak profoundly of a spiritual reality given to us as God’s people and the devoted followers of Jesus His Son. I was reminded as I meditated on these readings of the scene in the movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the Fellowship of the Nine are preparing to make their departure from Lothlorien, the land of Celeborn and Galadriel and the ‘heart of elevendom on earth”, with gifts given them by the elves for the demanding and dangerous journey ahead of them.

Two of the hobbits, Merri and Pippin, are sitting in a boat waiting for their embarkation and Legolas, their Woodland elven companion on the journey ahead of them, remarks about the elivish “waybread” given to them called “lembas”. He says to them, “one small bite can fill the stomach of a grown man”. Merri looks at Pippin who is giving off a sly, self-satisfied smile, and asks, “how many have you eaten?” – meaning loaves of this same wondrous bread. Pippin replies, “four!”

I was struck in the readings above by the uplifting insight contained in Elijah’s experience of being in a place of depression, fear and fainting in the battle he was facing in his own time. In fact, he sounds despairing asking the Lord God to take his life. In an act of exhaustion from all he was facing and feeling, he fell asleep – sometimes a form of denial we all seem prone to succumb to when facing things that seem desperate or that weigh us down heavily with depression or discouragement.

Suddenly, however, an angel of the Lord pokes him awake and orders him to get up and eat and drink, seeing before him a “hearth cake and a jug of water”. With only this one time exposure to the bread and drink the angel offered him, he fell immediately back into a slumber. The Scriptures go on at this point, saying, “After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, ‘Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!’”

Then follows the encouraging and concluding scene in this story, “He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” What leaped into my awareness with that concluding sentence is the phrase “strengthened by that food…” The prophet was strengthened supernaturally by “that food” to walk forty days and forty nights to his rendezvous with God’s appointed purpose and preparation at the mountain of God for the next leg of his journey. I began to realize a new significance to the first quoted scene between the two hobbit friends above in speaking of the gift of elvish “Way bread” that would give them supernatural sustenance for their arduous journey ahead.

The interesting point for me was that Legolas was trying to impress them with the power of just one small bite, while Pippin was hungry for all he could get. Both are valid points, but both can point us to an important insight about Jesus as our Way Bread for the journey of faith and for the battles that we, too, must face in this life. The Psalmist exhorts us to “taste and see how good the Lord is”; Jesus our Lord exhorts us to hunger and thirst after righteousness and promises that those who “eat my flesh and drink my blood shall have life in them and I will raise them up on the last day.”

It is interesting to me the further I go on my own journey of faith that sometimes we seem to be satisfied with “one small bite” of this heavenly Way Bread, an occasional partaking of the Lord’s provision for us, when He has offered us an abundant banquet that begins here, continues to be available for the whole journey and culminates in the Great Banquet at the end. In our Savior’s prayer He taught us as his disciples, He comes to the line, “give us this day or daily bread”. Many of the early Church Fathers and teachers saw in this line the fulfillment of Jesus’ own teaching in John 6, also quoted above, that He is the Bread that has come down from heaven and that whoever eats of this Bread will live forever. Our Lord continues, “…and the Bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The early Christians saw Jesus as this “daily bread” that had come down from heaven, that had become indeed for them true food and true drink.

In light of this understanding, the early followers of our Lord Jesus began to realize that the supernatural Presence and sustenance of the Lord’s own risen and glorified humanity, as well as His divinity, was available to them as heavenly “Way Bread” to strengthen them with supernatural grace to face all the battles and challenges of this life’s journey of faith. In fact, often in the first 250 years of the Church those believers being sent to their deaths in arenas and coliseums or being held in prison awaiting such a fate, hungered and thirsted to be able to partake of the Eucharist as often as possible before giving up their lives for their Lord. They realized the power of “that Food”, this “daily Bread”, to uphold them when all else seemed to have failed. Many a martyr of the first 3 centuries of the faith prepared for their deaths by simply dining on the Banquet of Life they had been given in Jesus’ assurance that this was “My Body given for you…and this is My Blood poured out for you and for many…”.

Armed with the supernatural strength of “that Food” they, like Elijah before them, were able to arise from despair, fear, anxiety and all the other ills of our human existence and go on in an overcoming way to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives…and for their deaths, all the while recalling the echoes of Jesus’ promise, “he who eats of this bread will live forever…and I will raise you up on the last day”

It may be true that one small bite will hold us for a while, and certainly will benefit us, but those who hunger and thirst are the ones who benefit the most and have been promised they will be filled.

Our Lord Jesus Himself made this point so clear for us when he walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. He joined them in their journey as a ‘companion’, which is taken from two words compounded together – com and pan – meaning one who breaks bread with us. Christ has promised us His own Presence in such a sustaining manner as the One who breaks Bread with us; who gives to us His own Life to strengthen each of us for the race that we have set before us. Let us not, then, neglect this priceless gift God has given us for our journey, “that Food”, the heavenly Way Bread that will enable, empower and strengthen us with supernatural Life for the whole journey and will be the central offering of the Great Feast at the end of our journey.

Jesus is our “lembas”; He is our Way Bread.

The Power and Value of Story Telling

I often read articles and hear discussions and see occasional book titles that deal with the topic “death by entertainment”, describing an almost insatiable and ubiquitous pursuit in our mainstream American culture for constant entertainment of one sort or another.

The pursuit of pleasure and its corollary cousin, entertainment, has indeed become a central obsession within what is called “The American Way of Life”. Truth to tell, there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral about desiring pleasure of one kind or another, nor is there anything necessarily inherently sinister and evil about enjoying the, at times, needful stimulus of being entertained.

Problems seem to arise only when the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment become a sedative – a psychological, spiritual, social and emotional – medication to cover up or deny or bury or forget about our pains, our fears, our brokenness, our lack of meaningful and deep-spirited living. Unfortunately, it seems as though this approach to entertainment is all too often the primary one that people take to the idea of entertainment or pleasure-seeking. These pursuits and the temporary relief they provide seem to have become pandemic in American culture, ends in themselves, a form of addiction that momentarily lifts us beyond our deeper responsibilities to others, to self, to God and to the purpose of our living.

Seen from this perspective, I would say that being caught up in the swift-running current of popular, mainstream American cultural values is definitely harmful, detrimental and diminishing to the human psyche and its built-in need for meaning and fulfilling purpose. On the other hand, there are considerations that relate to this topic that may also reveal a deeper need, one that is God-given and, again, built into the human spirit.

Most people groups have at one time or another in their history and experience given high value to story and story-telling. The term “bard” or “Story-teller” or “Story-keeper”, or related terms, such as, “Song-Keeper” or “faith-keeper” or even priest or shaman in some cultures, are variously used in the life of different people groups, both in more ancient cultures and those of ongoing contemporary people groups, to describe the foundational value that human beings place on the telling and hearing of stories. For it is in stories that we find the means of symbolically connecting to the central meaning and values of life, whether they be moral, ethical, social or spiritual.

This value of story and story-telling is, in most instances, begun and passed along in oral form, either in families, in tribal and communal gatherings, religious events or public celebrations. There is vast evidence from many fields of research to support the notion that story and story-telling is a central element in human ability to grasp the meaning of life and to share that meaning with others. Story often gives to people groups, nations and individual families a sense of their identity as a people, a sense of their worth, their particular uniquenesses and their values and contributions to the world around them, as well as how they are to interact with creation, other people and the larger and more cosmic issues of life.

Story-telling has such a great power to mold, to inspire, to inform, to enrich, to teach and to guide because of the great Story and the great Story-Teller who has created us. God has created human beings and all of our fellow creatures to participate in His great Story of Love and purpose – His plan of good for the world He has made. Jesus Christ is often called in Scripture and Church history the Word or Logos of God; God’s means of revealing and expressing Himself and His purpose for creation and human life – the meaning of it all. As the Great Story-teller, this Three-Personed God that we have come to know in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ invites us as the creatures He loves and has made in His own image to, as it were, gather around the Fire regularly to hear the Story again so that we won’t loose our way. The Word Himself is the one who is both telling and writing or scripting the Story we have all been invited to be part of. He has been attempting to pass on the Great Story for as long as human beings have populated this good earth.

This Story comes in different forms and symbols in the life of different people groups and cultures. The early Church Fathers taught often that the Logos/Word – God the Son – had at various times through history given partial light or insight into the one great Story and its meaning for human life and, thus, all people groups have had some hints at the fullness of the Story that God is telling and wanting us all to be full participants in. One of the early phrases used to describe this understanding was “seeds of the Logos” planted in the heart of each people group on earth echoing the writer of Ecclesiastes when he says, “He (God) has set eternity in their hearts”.

There is something deep within the human heart that resonates with stories so powerfully that we often find aspects of our own personal situation illuminated and given deeper significance through the impact and insight that stories often bring with them. In addition, we find the deepest and most fulfilling meaning of our own lives as we learn to engage with the Great Story-teller and find our own unique place and role in the greater Story, so that all our own personal stories are made more meaningful by being caught up in the Story that God is telling to His creation.

Well,” you say, “what does this have to do with entertainment and its addictive excesses in our mainstream culture?” To begin with, without entertaining elements, such as humor, paradox, mystery, bravery, love, adventure or the conflict between good and evil, stories would lose much of their charm and power to shape and instruct us. So, entertainment, as we have stated earlier, is not inherently wrong or evil. In fact, I am convinced that one of the reasons movie-going has mushroomed so dramatically since the 1980’s is that people have been so conditioned by the development of technological gadgets, games and playthings from the evolving virtual world of digital entertainment devices, that we have lost a great deal of the value of reading, having long ago in American society at large learned to rely on other forms of story-telling than the original oral means. Reading and drama have taken the place of oral story-telling in more “modern” societies, but are fast being replaced for many by the digital and virtual forms of entertainment that many times tell something less than the Great Story in its many and varied applications to life.

Hence, as people in a post-Enlightenment age find themselves at the same time hungering for the spiritual and the sacred, and yet secularizing all of life, thereby marginalizing the sacred to the fringes of meaning for life, we have been greatly diminished in our ability to respond to or connect with the Great Story God is constantly inviting human beings into. We have all too often rejected the Great Story in favor of stories of our own making, or those with darker and more dubious values to express. Without doubt, we are shaped by the stories we give ourselves to. Therefore, when we find ourselves confronted with claims that the Great Story would make about the nature of life, meaning, purpose and reality, if we have lost our moorings in that Story and have, consequently, failed to discover our unique place and role, we find ourselves adrift, looking for other stories to tell us who we are and what life is supposed to be.

When we replace the stories that derive from the Great Story with those of our own choosing or making, the brokenness (or “fallenness” as theology would describe the human condition) that we live out of comes to be reflected in the stories we tell and are drawn to with ever-increasing darkness, horror, irrationality, violence and “pleasure for pleasure’s sake”. Evil finds its way into these kinds of stories by ever so subtle incursions and subtexts of its own in the weaving, unfolding and telling of these stories. In fact, the Scriptures reveal that Satan is “a liar and the father of all lies”. Lies are normally something we initially “tell” and pass on, gradually come to believe and then live by.

When the movies or the novels or other forms of entertainment that we are gravitating toward contain ever more overt aspects of evil, we find, from a biblical perspective, that Satan – the Evil One – is telling his own stories, and certainly his own version of the Great Story. And it’s never a story that concerns true love, as the Great Mystery of Love Himself has revealed and imparted to human nature as an innate and God-given expression of life, but one that cloaks the concept of love in more and more self-centered, self-indulgent and destructive terms. Thus, pornographic elements and fixations with adultery and other forms of perversions of love in movies and other entertainment forms are substituted by the story-teller as love and made to seem irresistible, normative and fulfilling, all the while inwardly diminishing the human capacity for true, self-donating love, care and compassion that is other-centered.

So, we find competing stories and claims about the truth of life and its purpose, depending on who’s telling the story. And yet, because we have been wired through our creation to connect with Story as the meaning-giver for our lives, we continue to seek more and more stories and, sadly, we end up perverting the very function of story for our lives and begin to look at entertainment in general as sometimes a means to an end (that of medicating our worries, fears and lack of deep-spirited living), and sometimes an addictive end in itself. In the process, we find the power of story and all of its entertaining aspects to shape and instruct and inspire and awaken us beginning to be an instrument of our darkening, of confirming our fears and of bringing us ever more subtly under the influence of evil. Evil is made ever so subtly attractive by the inclusion of half-truths, many of them derived from the heart of the Great Story. Thus, entertainment engaged from this perspective becomes the alternative story the Evil One is telling to blind us to the beauty, the love, the transforming and liberating power, the wonder, joy and reverence of the Great Story we have been created to live in, find our place in and contribute to.

In some concluding reflections, it seems to me as though the penchant for more and more people in our society to get caught up in a more pervasive viewing of movies and television and engagement with certain kinds of digital and video games is, at the same time, both an indication of our love of and need for stories to give meaning, shape and direction to our lives, and the perversion of story that leads us into mind and spirit-numbing addictive spirals of “death by entertainment” and self-diminishing pleasure seeking. The classical terms for the perversion of story for our lives are terms such as “narcissism” and “hedonism”; isms that, along with most other isms we could explore, have very little power to ennoble and elevate human life to its true purpose.

Therefore, I encourage all of us as human beings made in the image of God our Creator to re-evaluate the stories we are giving ourselves to and begin again to explore the depths of the Great Story, which, contrary to the alternate story the enemy of our souls is passing on, is one of great adventure, great courage, great hope and love, great Romance, beauty, goodness and Truth. Let us look for elements of God’s Story in all the other stories we eagerly give our attention to that we in our day may begin to glean fresh glimmerings of the Light, the Word Himself, who is writing the Greatest Story ever told.

The Household of God

So now you gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners.  You are fellow citizens along with all of God’s holy people.  You are members of God’s family – God’s household.  We are His house, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.  And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.  We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.  Through Him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

So often among Christians, and those in the as yet unredeemed society around us, the term “church” is envisioned as “a place where certain things happen”, rather than the more biblical conception of the Church as a communal entity or presence, a people belonging to God.  The “Christendom” view of the Church has for so long, now, been conceived of as “the place where” Christianized civilization gathers for worship, and “the place where” the Christian character of a society is cultivated.  George R. Hunsberger in his essay titled , “Called and Sent to Represent the Reign of God”, contained in the book, “Missional Church – A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America”, captures the predicament that much of the institutional understanding of the Church in the West has produced.
Hunsberger states, “Increasingly this view of the Church as a “place where certain things happen” locates the Church’s self-identity in its organizational forms and its professional class:  the clergy who perform the church’s authoritative activities.  Popular grammar captures is well:  you “go to church” much the same way you might go to a store.  You “attend” a church, the way you attend a school or theater.  You “belong to a church” as you would a service club with its programs and activities.”
I often share with people that when I was born into a living and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ I was “delivered from going to Church”.  I found out much to my surprise that “I am the Church, going into the world”.  Of course that “I” includes the “we” of the corporate or collective life we live together in Christ that makes us the Household of God.  A household is a family home, a family estate, a family experience and is much more oriented around connectedness and relationship that is more organic and natural – the sharing of a common way of life and identity – than around institutional and organizational elements.
Our Scriptural reference above refers to the Church as a “family” or household, and as a living temple in which our lives are joined, built and placed together by God Himself to form a community where belonging, acceptance, forgiveness, caring, sharing, identity and destiny are all mutually experienced and offered to all.  Jesus assured us in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John that He was going away to prepare a place for us in the Father’s “house”, a place of belonging and identity in the Father’s love.  He further states in that same chapter that “all who love me will do what I say, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and live with them (make our home with them)”.

In the story of the Lost Son, when the prodigal comes to his senses, his first response is:  “I will go home to my father….so, he returned home….Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working.  When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house…”.  These are the sounds of life, of celebration, of love and welcome shared by those who know a family experience.
The Church in Scripture is pictured as “family as it was meant to be”, a relational experience where “every member functions healthily”, rather than living in the dysfunction of natural family so often marred by sin.  There is an interesting passage of Scripture relating to Abraham’s experience and journey with God that throws some telling light on the nature of the Church as a people rather than a brick and mortar building, a doctrine, forms and ceremonies, meetings, programs, an institutional bureaucracy which meets on a special day, at a special time in a special building.  Structure must serve and facilitate life, rather than life serving structure.  Genesis 12:7, 8 says, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘I am going to give this land to your offspring.’  And Abram built an altar there to commemorate the Lord’s visit.  After that, Abram traveled southward and set up camp in the hill country between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.  There he built an altar and worshiped the Lord.”
The fascinating insight here is that the name “Ai” means a pile or heap of stones, or rubble; whereas, “Bethel” means the House of God, or an assembled dwelling place.  So, often the Church has conducted its life and activities more like a perpetual event, a gathering of stones, rather than as an assembled house where lives are built together, set in place, joined to one another and the living Cornerstone to form a community or family where each one knows their place in the family and in the Father’s heart.  It seems to me that often we have forgotten who we are and live more as a “heap of stones”, a definite case of mistaken identity.
We don’t “go to Church”.  We are the Church going into all the world, taking Jesus to people where they are, and then gathering around Jesus in the Father’s Presence to celebrate His mighty works and great worthiness.  Where is the Church?  Jesus taught us that it is “wherever two or three are gathered in My Name”.  That might be in a home, over a coffee break, at a lunch together, sharing in prayer support at work, offering love and time and resources to the needy in our neighborhoods or inner cities.  Many times the need is not for more “church houses”, but more “home churches”.
I am convinced that the world around us is not looking for Ai, but for Bethel – a community of redeemed relationships where we are built together in family bonds of covenant love, care, acceptance, belonging, security, support and identity.  Where is this place?  Wherever two or three gather in His Name, in the midst of us; not just here, but anywhere.  Church, biblically conceived, is our life together in Christ, our relationships with one another, our life experiences shared in common bearing one another’s burdens, weeping, worshiping and rejoicing together.  It is inviting people not to a building, but into our lives, our hearts, our relationships, our homes.  Inviting seeking people into our lives, our homes, our life together begins a deep transformation and formation of Christ in searching hearts.
Rejoice in God’s provision of buildings for specific kingdom purposes and consecrated as “sacred space” and use them to His glory to facilitate the flow of His life among and through us to the world.  But we must remember who we are and who we’re called to be – Bethel, not Ai – the loving family as it was meant to be – a common life together that reveals the Father’s love, that calls all orphaned hearts – HOME!