A Safe Place to Land

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A colleague phoned me early yesterday morning. “Do you have a minute? Can you come up and see me.”

The timing was perfect. We both get to work early morning and no one else was around. I walked upstairs to her office.

So much is going on in her life. She is overwhelmed. From a mother with dementia to a son stuck in a conflict zone; from changes in her department to physical storms – it’s all too much.

So many of us feel like this right now. It’s all too much. 

All around us physical and emotional storms are raging. From a horrific bombing in Mogadishu to the triggered trauma of #metoo and the number of women who know what it is like to be groped, grabbed, and assaulted; from worldwide tragedy to personal pain – It’s all too much. 

We need peace. We need shelter. We need a soft spot to lay down our burdens, we need a safe place to land.  

It’s during these times that I go to the Psalms. I read Psalm 91 and I am not disappointed. Today, this is my safe place to land. 

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,

my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you

from the fowler’s snare

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his feathers,

and under his wings you will find refuge

Psalm 91:1-4

A Psalm for 2016


A Psalm for 2016 by Robynn (Based on Psalm 136 and written at Sister Irene Nowell’s suggestion) 

2016 has been a difficult year. The entire globe can testify to this. War, terrorist attacks, the zika virus, political chaos, hacking and doping. Social contracts, that we’ve assumed to be universal, have been shredded. Nothing feels safe or reliable any more. We stand on shaky ground. 

A couple of months ago I attended a workshop on the Psalms led by Sister Irene Nowell OSB. Sister Irene is an Old Testament scholar. She has written no less than nine commentaries on Old Testament books including one on the Psalms. At one point during the seminar she led us through a spiritual exercise. We read through the first part and the last part of Psalm 136. In the middle of the psalm we diverged into our own stories. We recited to one another the highlights and heartbreaks of the year. And then we remembered the refrain: His faithful love endures forever. Whatever plot twists your story has taken this year, whatever losses you’ve suffered, whatever rejections, disappointments, humiliations, agonies you’ve encountered: His faithful love endures forever. 

The juxtaposition of the harsh realities of life on the planet with the faithful love of God are impossible to wrap my brain around. It seems almost trite and silly to think about God’s love in the face of world suffering. But it also feels completely impossible to face the suffering of the world without reference to the mysteries of God’s faithful love. 

I’ve followed Sister Irene’s advice again. I’ve reworked 2016 into Psalm 136. 

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.

His faithful love endures forever.

 Give thanks to the Lord of lords.

His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.

His faithful love endures forever.

 Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.

His faithful love endures forever.

 Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.

His faithful love endures forever.

 Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—

His faithful love endures forever.

the sun to rule the day,

His faithful love endures forever.

and the moon and stars to rule the night.

His faithful love endures forever.

 Paris Climate Agreement ratified and went into effect.

        His faithful love endures forever. 

 The Brexit vote left Britain, Europe and the world reeling.

        His faithful love endures forever.

An inspiring All Refugee team competes at the Summer Olympics.

        His faithful love endures forever.

The situation in Syria continues to decline. Aleppo is nearly obliterated.

        His faithful love endures forever.

Fifty were tragically killed in a nightclub in Orlando.

        His faithful love endures forever.

The brightest and boldest super moon in over 70 years broke through the November night’s sky.

        His faithful love endures forever.

The Chicago Cubs won baseball’s World Series!

        His faithful love endures forever.

In an unprecedentedly ugly election cycle, Donald Trump, wins the Elections in the United States.

        His faithful love endures forever.

Mother Theresa was made a saint.

       His faithful love endures forever.

India, without warning, banned the 500 rupee and the 1000 rupee note.

            His faithful love endures forever.

Leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox church met for the first time since 1054.

            His faithful love endures forever.

Harriet Tubman is going to grace the front of the American twenty dollar bill.

            His faithful love endures forever.

This morning’s sunrise was radiant in broad stripes of bright colours across the dark horizon.

            His faithful love endures forever.

When the world news was too much to bear fake news sites did what they could to make it worse.

            His faithful love endures forever.

Too many black men were killed by too many white police officers.

            His faithful love endures forever.

Former dictator Hissene Habre of Chad was convicted of crimes against humanity and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

            His faithful love endures forever.

India unveils the world’s largest solar panel plant!

            His faithful love endures forever.

Five young students in Manhattan, Kansas: Isaac, Adelaide, Lilly, Kathy and Bronwynn, stood up against the status quo for the 57 Native American students who have been personally hurt by the Indian mascot.

            His faithful love endures forever.

 He remembered us in our weakness.

His faithful love endures forever.

He saved us from our enemies.

His faithful love endures forever.

He gives food to every living thing.

His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven.

His faithful love endures forever.

[Picture Source: https://goo.gl/images/tjg0LQ%5D

The Healing Word

It is Monday morning and already the work week has assaulted me. My ‘to do’ list seemed to procreate over the weekend and I opened my email to many demands.

It was a weekend full of family and life, which made the news of the Orlando shooting in a nightclub even more poignant. Having been off grid, I didn’t receive the news until yesterday afternoon. I then purposely stayed off grid, fearing that people would once again use tragedy to justify political messages. Such are the times that we live in.

“Senseless violence” we call it, even as we try desperately to make sense of it. Sons, daughters, friends, co-workers were all killed in a premeditated rage. Pundits pund, talkers talk, politicians politicize – but none of that really helps.

It’s into this chaos that the Psalms of David speak. They speak with authority and grace. They are written with full knowledge of the human condition; with full understanding of how fragile we are; with deep belief in God’s love and comfort. These Psalms talk of grief and rage, of depression and sorrow.

It is into sorrow and tragedy that the Psalms speak most beautifully, most poignantly. And so I go to them, and they do not disappoint.

The healing Word speaks. And if we stop and bend an ear, we will hear. Softly, lyrically, with grace and great love the Word continues through generations.

Do you hear it? 


*******

The video below is a beautiful conversation on the Psalms between the singer, Bono, and Eugene Peterson, a thoughtful author of many books.. If you have the time, take a look. You will not be disappointed.

“Why do we need art? Why do we need the lyric poetry of the Psalms? Because the only way we can approach God is, if we’re honest, through metaphor, through symbol. So art becomes essential, not decorative.”

In the Land of the Living

sparrow

Jet lag has me up early today, fully awake and ready to go. Instead of fighting it, I get up. Some things aren’t worth a fight.

I arrive in the city while it is still sleeping. I see no homeless bodies curled up in alcoves and I am grateful. It’s too cold for anyone to have to sleep on the streets. My mind is busy going from one thought to another.

An attack at a university in Northwest Pakistan is the first news I see and my heart aches for a country and a place I called home for so many years. A country that has been victim to so many attacks; a country birthed in the violence of partition with neighboring India.

Politics in the  United States continue to look like a cartoon strip, drawn poorly and with poor dialogue but gaining attention despite these facts.

The stories I heard from refugee families in the past two weeks rattle around my brain – when you hear someone’s story, you become a part of it and they become a part of you.

Along with all those thoughts are the ones even closer to my heart – those young adults that call me mom, the ones I would give my life for. Each of them in their own worlds, worlds that bring joy and sorrow.

The cold wind whistles and my steps quicken. How do I quiet these thoughts and bring them into the wisdom of the God I love?  What and who redeems all of this?

Years ago a friend of mine told me that during times of turmoil, she clung to a verse in the Psalms:

I would have fainted, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!”*

I memorized the verse back then and it comes to my mind now. “The goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living”  

I walk up to Tremont Street, the streetlights guiding my way. Two sparrows sit on the sidewalk, chattering quietly. Glimpses of a sky brightening are over to the East and a sun will soon rise over the Atlantic Ocean. Small things? Maybe – but they are enough.

I see in them the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. And it is enough. 

*With thanks to Sharon Mall for sharing this Psalm with me so long ago.

*Psalm 27:13,14

The Psalms: A Reentry Handbook

walkway to mosque

The Psalms: A Reentry Handbook by Robynn

I remember hanging suspended upside down inside a squished cab of a pick up truck alongside the road. The ambulance arrived and 2 paramedics stuck their heads in from either side of the cab. They told us they would have us out in no time, they inquired as to how we were doing and then they asked if there was anyone they could call for us. We grimaced and glanced at each other. Ethel had grown up in Brazil, Denise’s parents were in Nigeria and mine remained obliviously out of reach in Pakistan. There was no one to call.

The summer before I had watched, with that horrible sinking feeling, my parents board the plane to return to Pakistan. I was of age. I had crossed that dreaded line that meant that I no longer went with them. I was stuck in Canada, far from them, far from my childhood, far from everything I had ever known. I was alone.

It wasn’t entirely true. I wasn’t technically alone. My parents had figured out a plan for that first summer without them. I had people to stay with, a church to attend and I knew where I would be going once summer was over. I had relatives that loved me. There were plenty of well-meaning people to look out for me and yet deep inside there was a place that shook with the reality that I was really on my own.

I cried a lot that summer. I grieved adulthood thrust upon me. I ached for my parents and the stability they brought. I missed Pakistan and the familiar, my boarding school and all my chums. My loneliness was so profound it nearly swallowed me whole. It was thick and tangible.

During this time Jesus reminded me again of the Psalms.  David often was separated from his family, his friends, his safety, his childhood, his familiar. He was often on the run, living out of a suitcase: a transient, a wanderer (a tck?). He was no stranger to separation and grief.  Many of his journal entries reflect that. He wrote things like: “Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress and the Lord hears my voice”(Ps 54:16), “You keep track of all my sorrows” (Ps 56:8), “Come with great power, O God and rescue me!…(Ps 54:1) “for you have seen my troubles and you care about the anguish of my soul” (Ps 31:7).

In the midst of David’s pain and uncertainty he knew that God was his fortress and his protector, his helper.  He understood that God loved him deeply and that God was with him in the midst of all the sadness. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Thou they stumble, they will never fall for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Ps 37:23). ”Unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord” (Ps 32:10). I found comfort and camaraderie in reading David’s poems, his songs, his journal. He seemed to understand. He seemed confident that God would be with me too. It became my life line. During those first 2 years back I read nothing from scripture except the Psalms! David mentored me through reentry. He taught me how to depend on God in the midst of suffering and separation.

One day I was driving my little car across the Canadian prairie. Suddenly and for no apparent reason (I mean I wasn’t out of gas and there did appear to be oil in the car!) it quit! I had no idea what to do. I pulled to the side of the road and thought about my dad. My dad would know what to do! My dad had probably told me what to do at some point but I couldn’t remember what that was. And to complicate what always seemed already like a complicated life, my dad was off in Pakistan! I opened the hood and stood over it. The tears started running down my face. I felt the separation that was such a reality. And then I did what my mentor David taught me to do: I cried out to God. God if you are the Good Shepherd –the Expert on Sheep, and the Great Physician – the Expert on me…surely you know something about cars. Will you please come to my rescue? Will you please fix this stupid car?? I closed the hood, got back in behind the steering wheel and turned the key. It worked! God had fixed my car. God had been my Heavenly Mechanic, my Nearby Holy Dad. He had stepped in and helped me.

The reality of His nearness waxed and waned during those early years. Often God through His tender Spirit eased the pain of the separation and He was my helper! Other times it was still so very hard and I missed my parents and their expertise on living very keenly.

“O Lord you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me… My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection…. O God don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me… I will keep on hoping for your help. I will praise you more and more…. O God you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do…. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me…”Ps 71: 5-18

(Previously published in Traveling without Baggage—a Christar Publication)

Coming Out of the Tunnel

tunnel of terror

As we come out of the subway tunnel, the early morning sun reflects off the Charles River. Beautiful, bright, full of hope.

While in the tunnel all is dark around us; we’re cocooned in a train seeing nothing but the darkness outside. But all that changes as we come out of the tunnel.

I walk the well-known path toward my office, facing east. The sun now shines so brightly off a building that I have to avert my eyes – it’s blinding in its intensity.

The tunnel of terror is presumably over for victims of both the mall siege in Nairobi as well as the victims in the Peshawar bombing attack on a church.

The darkness is exposed to light and light will prevail.

But there are still tunnels to go through. Tunnels of healing; tunnels of anger so thick you think you’ll never feel peace again; tunnels of despair; tunnels of revenge; tunnels of feeling you will never be safe again. Ever.

Psalm 130 in the Old Testament is part of a group of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent. These are believed to be songs sung by worshipers on the road to Jerusalem. Many of these Psalms give words that describe what it is to be in the depths of despair, followed by what it is to hope.

So for all those today who are in the tunnels, whether by your own hand, or the hand of another, here is Psalm 130:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.

Grand Marnier Orange MuffinsMuffin Monday: Today from Stacy at Food Lust, People Love we have Grand Marnier Orange Muffins. She added Grand Marnier along with orange and zest. Click on the picture or above to get the recipe and Enjoy!

 

*Image credit: moggara12 / 123RF Stock Photo

Housekeeping the Soul

Every two weeks I have house cleaners come to our home. I began this about seven years ago and I would rather give up any other luxury than stop this one.

Why?

Because there is something cathartic and amazing about having a house that is ordered and clean – even if it’s only every two weeks! This couple is skilled at what they do – they move in with dust bins, heavy-duty vacuum cleaners, polishes and oils. Nothing is sacred or safe from their cleaning supplies. I love it. They come on a Monday and at the end of the day, I enter our home to the smell of clean. And I love the smell of clean.

Just as housekeeping uncovers dirt and dust fluffs that escape the naked eye, so does housekeeping the soul uncover those things that are otherwise covered with open piety. Behind the closet of my soul is an old grudge against someone from my past, a recent bitterness toward an event in my now, a deep wound that doesn’t seem to heal.

If dreams are housekeepers of the mind, perhaps tears are housekeepers of the soul, for tears are part of this housekeeping process.

Initially they flow out of self-absorption or self-pity, but as they flow a change occurs – the self-pity replaced by confession and cleansing.

Rockport

A confession much like the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 51.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

As the tears flow in sorrow confessing sin, the housekeeping continues and they move on to be tears of glad gratitude that shout “Let me hear joy and gladness! Let the bones that you have broken, rejoice”.

The housekeeping cleanses and comforts the soul and I move forward knowing that the “sacrifice of a broken spirit and a contrite heart” will not be despised.

Blogger’s Note – As I’ve been ‘housekeeping’ my soul, I realize I need to take a short break from blogging. To this end, I’ll be reposting a few pieces from two years ago in the next week. Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to being back after this ‘housekeeping the soul’ break!

Removing the High Places

English: PEin Karem, nestled in the hills in s...

The books of the Kings in the Old Testament have a fairly simple way of evaluating leaders: they either did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord, or they did what was evil. The rest of the information about their kingdoms we are told we can find in the Annals of the Kings of Israel.

One phrase is used over and over in these books: removing the high places.“He did evil, he did not remove the high places” or “He did good, but he did not remove the high places, “He did good, he removed the high places”.

The High Places were places of idolatry. They were literally ‘high places’: hills and ridges looked up to by those in the lower lands. They usually had an altar or a pole — something symbolic of worship focusing on man and not God. It was an exchange; exchanging looking up to Heaven and to a sovereign God with looking up to the hills. “Exchanging the truth of God for a lie”; a poor substitute yet a comfort of sorts.

The Psalmist speaks of those high places. “I look up to the hills, where does my help come from?” The question lays it out – does help, does security, does strength, come from the hills? Come from the high places – those places of false promise and deceptive dreams?

It got me thinking about the ‘high places’ in my life. The high places have included jobs, status, reputation, ministry, even parenting (when they were little and did what I wanted) — sadly the list is endless. I hang onto these high places with a tight fist and greedy fingers. If I give them up, what then? Where will I hang my allegiance? The high places are often compelling – they are present and I can see them; they give instant gratification and temporary security; a pay check and affirmation. The high places are easy. They are already there and besides, others look to them, why not me?

And yet I want to be known as one who did good and got rid of the high places, no matter what it takes.

There are times when God has forcibly removed those high places; times when I have sensed he loves me too much to allow me to continue on the path of idolatry. Other times, while there have been warning signs not to look to the high places, I haven’t always heeded them.

The Psalmist answers his own question later in the verse “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth”. It’s the verbal commitment to renounce that which is false and exchange it with truth; to take down those high places and replace them with God himself.

Today may my prayer echo that of the Psalmist and in that echo may my worship be transformed.

Page 30 to Page 250

I was reminded recently, by a pastor, that in the classic book, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, Christian is delivered from his burden on page 30 but there are still 250 pages that follow full of ups and downs. Today is a day when I wish the book ended at page 30. Why, at times, is this life of faith so difficult?

I think of Tevya, the father in Fiddler on the Roof. At one point he looks up to Heaven, and in exasperation as though talking with a friend he exclaims

I know we are the chosen people, but couldn’t you choose someone else?!

Only the Psalmist has spoken truer words. The Psalms don’t sanitize words, and anesthetize feelings. They portray people in deep agony, living out a life of faith that just doesn’t make sense sometimes. Consider the words from Psalm 43 verse 5:

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Or Psalm 69:20:

Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.

What I love about these verses is that you don’t hear the poet say “I know I shouldn’t feel this way and I have it so much better than so many other people. I am a King after all and I live in a palace (theologians among you, am I not correct? This is David we’re talking about. King David with gold, and servants and a heart after God) Instead David speaks in stark honesty and in honesty he is comforted.

So today, when I wish the story for Christian ended at the high of page 30, I seek strength for the remaining pages. Who among us hasn’t had times when life just sucks and faith seems to make it harder? In honesty I come before God and in honesty the words that continue to burrow their way under my skin and into my heart are the words “Hope in God, for I will yet praise him”