How Do You Draw Mercy?

dock into ocean mercy of God

If you were asked to draw a picture of mercy what would you draw? How would you take the tools of pencil and paper and use them to craft a concept like mercy? Would you draw an event in your life; an event where you were shown mercy and after that you would never be the same? How do you draw mercy?

But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live coal dropped in the sea.” William Langland

Though crafted with words and not a drawing, this quote has given me a picture of mercy that I never want to forget. I found the quote through Madeleine L’engle’s book One Live Coal to the Sea; a book where she explores mercy in the life of a family. Mercy in the midst of evil and dysfunction; mercy despite selfishness and betrayal; mercy when life demands justice.

In the midst of life’s journey, in the middle of hearing, seeing or thinking about evil, it is easy to forget the mercy of God. Mercy for apathetic teens and adults, mercy for passionate teenagers shot out of evil intent, mercy (dare I say it) for the men who shot her, mercy for me.

Today I picture that live coal, burning hot; a coal that can ignite a fire or burn a body, causing great pain and damage. And I picture that red, hot coal hitting the vast ocean where it can no longer do damage; where it is overcome by something so much more powerful. It is so far beyond my understanding, so much bigger than I could ever imagine. Evil confronted by the mercy of God and in that confrontation losing its power — one live coal to the sea.

How do you draw mercy?

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

Advent Reflection – Silence and Liminal Spaces

When I wake in the early morning I am always struck that our home is silent. There are no voices raised in conversation; no arguments, no agreements. There is no music, no sound of chopping or mixing from the kitchen, no sound of running water.

Of course if I really listen I hear noise from the traffic on Memorial Drive a few blocks away. I hear noise from household helpers – a refrigerator’s hum of activity; radiators spluttering, working hard to bring heat to the house, the low-pitch of an electric heater.

Actually, it’s not really silent at all. There is activity, there is movement, there is work being done.

It’s this I think about when I think about what I’ve always thought to be the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments.

Was it really 400 years of silence?

I don’t think so.  Just because we aren’t privy to details and many recorded conversations does not mean that God was silent. God did not stop working, because he never stops writing his story.

People were longing for the Messiah, but in their longing they continued to hear God. Priests in the temple continued to serve faithfully, to pray, to worship God and seek to know more. The human heart continued to long for God, continued to seek God, and continued to find God.

Those four hundred years were a beautiful, liminal space; a threshold to a new beginning. It was the time between what was, and what would be.

In my life I am too quick to dismiss liminal spaces, too hasty in wanting the next thing. But so much can happen in the space between.

Richard Rohr, a theologian and Franciscan friar says this about liminal spaces:

“We keep praying that our illusions will fall away. God erodes them from many sides, hoping they will fall. But we often remain trapped in what we call normalcy—“the way things are.” Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. It can be a pretty circular and even nonsensical existence.

To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin.

Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way.

This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.”*

Simeon and Anna were two people that lived a long time in that liminal space. It was this space and seeking that allowed them to know the Christ Child when they saw him.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation,

    which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”**


Many of us are in the liminal spaces right now, the time between the “just ended” and the “not yet begun.” I think of this as I sit beside a tree, lights glowing, providing a protection against the grey of the day. Is this the sacred space of God’s waiting room”? I wait to see.

*Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 155-156.

**Luke 2:29-32

A God of Process

God of Process

Lent began yesterday evening in the Orthodox Church and with it a time of reflection and fasting. As I begin this time I am utterly convinced of the above quote and am grateful that God is a God of Process. 

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I will not be posting daily during this time of Lent, rather will do a few now and then, including some pictures from my daughter Stefanie, as well as feature a guest-post series on TCK’s finding their niche. I’ve got some great stories of Adult TCK’s and how they came into the work they are now doing. It’s fascinating to see the career choices of those who grow up between worlds and I want to focus on this as an encouragement to others. As always I thank you for reading Communicating Across Boundaries. It is a gift.

Stacy says this about today’s muffins: For this week’s Muffin Monday, we are visiting the pubs of England for a ploughman’s lunch of cheddar, beer and pickle. These muffins are called Ploughman’s Lunch Muffins and can be found by clicking here. 

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 19 “The Least of These”

I walk in to church and venerate the icons at the entry of the sanctuary. This is still not comfortable to me. I still feel like I’m ‘faking’ it.

Is this how converts feel in Evangelical churches? Like they still don’t quite fit? Square boxes in holy, round holes?

But I’m growing in my comfort. I try to do this thoughtfully, really thinking about those in the icons displayed, grateful that they lived and died for this faith. And I am miles from where I first stood in relationship to this ancient faith, to when I stood with aching feet and legs wondering when the service would end. 

I’m in a discombobulated state. My contact lens, invisible proof of my vanity, is lost in my eye and has not surfaced. (Only those with contact lenses will understand this last sentence and just how discombobulated you feel when your contact lenses go missing.)

It’s the Sunday of the Last Judgment. Just writing those two words puts me in this place of discomfort. No one wants to talk about judgment — least of all me.

The scripture is based on a parable in Matthew 25. Jesus is talking about sheep and goats and the righteous and the unrighteous. And his words to the righteous invite them to come into his presence, to the inheritance that has been created for them since the beginning of time. He says something interesting to them:

“…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

And the righteous – they question him — wait a minute? When did this happen? When did we feed you, clothe you, visit you, comfort you?

He replies:  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  

But the parable doesn’t end there – because there’s another group of people who are told they didn’t help. They are surprised – what do you mean we didn’t help you? When did this happen? And the answer mirrors the first  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Just the addition of a couple words changes everything. And the outcome for these, the ‘did nots’ is dire. They are sent away, told to depart. They are cursed and the punishment is harsh.

My mind begins to wander after the scripture reading. So – when I buy tea for Valerie on the street with cream and 5 sugars, I’m not really doing it for Valerie. I’m doing it for Jesus. And when Donald wants coffee — blueberry with 10 sugars, it’s coffee for Jesus. And when we befriend immigrants, strangers in a city, we are befriending for Jesus. And when I care for someone who is sick, it’s not about just being a nurse, I’m doing it for Jesus. Even when I have wrong motives? Even when I give grudgingly? Who are the ‘least of these’ in my life?

I don’t know but it seems that the ‘least of these’ matter to God. A Lot. This is judgment we’re talking about and apparently it isn’t enough to just love God. We’re also called to love those who bear his image, even when they are unlovely. Loving God means loving those who are made in the image of God. No caveats. No excuses. No ‘buts.’

This is not new information to me but my mind still has trouble understanding. When you have a middle-aged faith, new information sometimes needs to be dressed in different clothing and seen with new eyes.

All of us bear the image and stamp of our Creator God. “The least of these” are image-bearers and what I do for them I do for God.

Will it take a lifetime for me to really get it? That whatever I do for the ‘least of these’ I do for God? Monday morning tea for Valerie may never look the same. 

The least of these edited

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To Believe in the Beyond

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To believe in the redemptive love of God through Jesus is to believe in a reordering of life, to believe that things are not as they seem. It is to believe in transformation of the whole person. It is to believe that beyond the ugly is beauty, beyond the broken is wholeness, beyond dementia is a sound mind, beyond insanity is sanity, beyond the dark is light, beyond sorrow is joy, and beyond death is life.*

It is to believe that nothing is beyond the redeeming love of God.

It is to believe in the beyond.

This post is dedicated to my cousins – John, Jeff, Judi, Joe, & Jayna and to my dear Uncle Jim on the loss of my Aunt Jean. I love you. 

*Originally written for this post Scratched on the Walls of an Insane Asylum – The Love of God

It’s Getting Cold

It’s getting cold.

I walk to work in the morning with my body bundled into a warm coat, my feet in boots, my head down to keep the wind from biting too fiercely. We who are on these streets walk quickly, there is no room for small talk or conversation. We are glad to get to our destinations and breathe, away from the wind and the cold.

It’s getting cold. Yet there are still homeless on my streets. There are still men and women huddled together, spooning under blankets for comfort, there are still signs that say “Homeless. Can you help?” Shivering in the morning wind, Charlie asks me for spare change. I get him a cup of coffee and move on.

Border crossing - Turkey Syria

It’s getting cold. And Syrian refugees in no man’s land are in flimsy tents with little to guard them from the incoming winter. Bare feet and no jackets for children of all ages, families that have nothing left, a system strained under fear and corruption that has to fight to make sure aid goes where it is most needed.

I am acutely aware of all of this as I take a hot shower and sit before a warm heater drinking hot coffee. It’s getting cold and there are so many without — without heat, without home, without family. I can hardly bear this, hardly bear the thought of millions of refugees that can’t keep warm or nourished. Hardly bear that I walk by homeless huddled for comfort.

“This is not the way life should be” I shout in my head to a silent Heaven.

It’s getting cold and I have my choice of 3 coats to wear and scarves line my closet. It’s getting cold and I have warm sweaters and food, heat and light. I pray the only prayer that makes sense: “Lord Have Mercy” adding a question to the end of the prayer:

“How can I bring warmth to a world that is so cold?”

How do we bring warmth to a world that is cold? 

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date raisin muffinsI don’t know about you, but I find baking healing. Especially when the goods can be shared. Stacy has an amazing recipe today: Date Syrup Raisin Muffins. One of the things I love about Stacy is that she links stories to her recipes. Here is what she says about this recipe: “This week on Monday, 2 December, the UAE celebrates its 42nd National Day so I decided to create a muffin with some local-ish flavors.  This muffin is made with date honey or syrup and cardamon along with some cinnamon and raisins.  For those who can’t find date honey, molasses is an excellent substitute both in deep flavor and consistency.” If you try these muffins – let us know! Either click on the picture or the link above to get to the recipe.

A Thing to be Grasped

Number_1_MBTA_bus_route

The MBTA Number 1 bus plods its way down Massachusetts Avenue all the way to Dudley Square Station. Traveling on this bus is not for the faint of heart, the city hater, or the one who likes order. Along the way it picks up everyone from world-class musicians heading to Berklee College of Music, to the chronically ill, on their way to Boston Medical Center, to the Back Bay city dweller, ready to spend an evening at the symphony.

And the trip is never without a story. It’s a cross spectrum of humanity, all meeting in this enclosed space. As I travel on the Number 1 bus, I am struck by how important it is to see humanity in this way.

The Number 1 bus is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter how rich, how poor, how smart you are. You’re just another one of us, crowded in to a space where 10 different languages are spoken. Every age group is represented from teen moms with babies to old Haitian grandmothers, and every shade of skin color from pale white with freckles to deep brown with dark eyes.

Periodically fights erupt and someone comes forward as peacemaker. At other times a person’s behavior strikes everyone as so comical that there is muffled laughter and nods of understanding.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of Christ, but I think he would like this bus. I think he would use this bus to engage people and dig into their current reality, to heal the sick, to open the eyes of the blind, to change the bigoted, to encourage the teen mom. He would move over and give his seat to the man struggling to stand, would help the woman lift her heavy bags of oranges off the floor.

I think he would see this as a microcosm of the world, in language, color, and brokenness. His eyes, alight with compassion, would be always looking for a way to help. 

When I’m riding the bus the verse that comes to mind is from the book of Philippians where Paul is urging the church to “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself”.*

I’m struck by how often I’m struggling to grasp for equality, better still struggling to be ‘greater than’. And this fighting to be equal or more? It is exhausting. Yet I’m told with surety that Christ Jesus did not do this. He ‘emptied’ himself.

There is something about this Number 1 bus that helps me empty myself. In that sweaty, enclosed space – too hot in winter from stifling heat and too cold in summer from artificial air conditioning — I understand that I am just one of millions in this world, no better, no stronger, no greater. Just one of the millions that needs the light of Christ and the hope of a Gospel message.

Just one on the Number 1 bus, that needs Jesus, his eyes alight with compassion, always ready to help. 

*Philippians 2:5-7a