Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Five)

walled-garden

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who loved them all very much, gave each sister a gift – a small plot of land to plant a garden. With excitement and hope, they prepared the soil and planted seeds, giving them lots of water and sunshine until they sprouted into healthy plants. As time went on, the five sisters tended to their gardens in their own different ways.

Months later, the Master Gardener invited each sister, one at a time, to come and share with him how her garden fared. But the fifth sister did not appear. After waiting for some time, the Master Gardener went out in search of her, and found her sitting in her cottage, staring blankly at the walls.

“I come to ask about your garden,” he said. “How does it fare?”

“I have no idea. I prepared the soil and planted the seeds like you asked me to. And then I built a high stone wall around it to protect it from the rabbits and deer.”

“Tell me what grows in your garden?” the Master Gardener gently pressed.

“I really don’t know. I haven’t been in there in months. I just don’t see myself as a gardener. There are days I think about going inside, but it’s been so long now, that I don’t know what I would do in there.”

“My beloved daughter, I gave you this garden as a safe and sacred space. It is yours. All I ask is that you enter and sit awhile.”

The fifth sister did as the Master Gardener asked. She sat in her garden for a morning… and felt nothing. She returned for the next three mornings, and still nothing. On the fifth morning, she sat quietly in her garden and felt the sun warming her face. She watched a butterfly dance among the flowers. She breathed in the scent of earth and nectar and rain. She was overcome with a rush of feeling. A memory of the love she felt on the day she received this precious plot of land. Peace settled deep within. She vowed never again to wall herself off from her garden.

REFLECTION

A life of faith isn’t always easy. We wrestle with questions, doubts, and disagreements—matters that must be explored through deep prayer and examination of conscience. The process can be daunting. We witness those who claim to be Christian, yet do and say things that contradict the loving message of Jesus Christ. We see people use the name of Jesus to hurt and reject others. We don’t want to throw ourselves in with that lot. We don’t want to be anywhere near them. So we distance ourselves from the Church. It may seem easier to close ourselves off from the more challenging aspects of our faith. Avoidance is always easier.

Though our doubts may be justified, it’s our response to these doubts that can often drive a wedge between us and God’s love for us. But walling ourselves off from the love of God isn’t the answer. And the longer we do this, the more our faith becomes a remote and distant memory. Bring your questions to God. Bring your doubts, your anger, your dissonance. Trust that God loves you and will help you work through this time of uncertainty.

Just like the fifth sister, God only asks that you enter the garden and sit with Him for awhile.

A Look Beneath the Surface

flowering tree

The window in my office looks out over a pretty little tree that blooms with beautiful pink flowers in the spring time.  It brightens my day all season to look out on this splash of color.  Last week I happened to look up from my computer to the shocking sight of this tree slowly and quietly falling to the ground.  Huh?!?  What happened?!?  It wasn’t stormy or even windy out.  What knocked this tree over?

I went out for a closer look and realized that half of the tree was badly diseased.  Some kind of white fungus or mold had killed off the leaves and weakened the branches.  I was heartbroken to realize that the tree had been slowly dying and I never even noticed.  I walk by that tree every single day on my way into work, but only appreciated it for what it could give me, a pretty view during the spring season.

How often do we do that with the people in our lives—look only at the surface?  The brave face they are presenting to the world.  But if we looked a little deeper, we would see sadness, pain, or worry.  Obvious sorrow is easy to see and respond to.  But quiet suffering takes place under the surface.  The only way to discover it is by taking a closer look.  Paying attention to those around us.  Shifting the focus from our own lives for a little while to listen and be present to others.

Jesus was good at noticing those who were lost, dejected, and silently suffering.

In Luke’s Gospel we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and could not be healed.  When Jesus passed by, she came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.  Jesus asked his disciples who had touched him and they shrugged it off, assuming it was just the crowd pressing in on him.  Not satisfied with that explanation, Jesus took the time for a closer look.  As he searched the crowd, the woman came up to him and fell at his feet.  By her faith she was immediately healed. (Luke 8:43-48) The Gospels are full of stories like this. Jesus was all about connection and healing.  He wanted to reach everyone.

I’ll never know if there’s anything that might have saved that tree.  But if I had been paying better attention, I could have called the groundskeeper.  He would have diagnosed the tree and possibly even healed it.  It was a sad lesson to learn and one that has inspired me to be more present to those around me.  To focus less on me and more on others.  A reminder that everyone I meet is a child of God.  Everyone is worth a closer look.  I pray to follow the example of Jesus as I strive to look beneath the surface.  To listen and really hear.  And to serve.

Allegory of Five Gardens (Part Three)

weeds

Long ago, in a land far away, there lived five sisters. The Master Gardener, who provided all that they needed, gave each sister a gift – a small plot of land to plant a garden. With excitement and hope, they prepared the soil and planted seeds, giving them lots of water and sunshine until they sprouted into healthy plants. As time went on, the five sisters tended to their gardens in their own different ways.

Months later, the Master Gardener invited each sister, one at a time, to come and share with him how her garden fared. The third sister approached with shrugged shoulders and confusion in her eyes.

“How does your garden fare, my child?”

“Not well, and I don’t understand why! I sit in my garden every day and pray. For hours I offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Yet my garden is a mess! Weeds are sprouting up everywhere, crowding the healthy plants and robbing them of sunlight and nutrients.”

“My beloved daughter,” the Master Gardener replied. “Your prayers are always welcome, but I gave you this garden as a gift, in the hopes that you would care for it through your actions, not just your prayers. The garden needs you if it’s going to thrive. You must show your love by tending it.”

Understanding dawned on the third sister’s face as she realized what she had failed to do. Running home, she spent an entire day cleaning up her garden. Pulling weeds, pruning, watering, and feeding her plants. As a result, it flourished. She had healthy, nutritious vegetables to feed the poor and hungry in the village. She promised never again to forget to do her part.

REFLECTION:

Jesus came to preach a radical message of love and social justice. Our actions matter just as much as our words.   Piety and prayer – while extremely important – is not enough. Jesus challenges us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. He reminds us: “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I’ve written before about introverts like myself who are very good at finding time for quiet prayer, but more challenged by the idea of living our faith through action – or Inter-action in this case. God’s gift of grace is ours for the taking, but we must be active participants in this gift. We do so by living out Jesus’ message of love. By becoming the face and hands of Jesus for all those we encounter. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the Samaritan – not known for being pious or obedient to the law – who wins the praise of Jesus through his act of compassion. So many of Jesus’ parables emphasize the importance of putting our faith into action through our deeds.

A faith lived in words only will resemble the neglected garden of the third sister. Take some time this week to look for ways in which you might reach out to others to spread Jesus’ message of love. Come up with an “action plan” for the rest of month or the next season. You will be rewarded with a garden filled with abundant love and grace as you begin to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for your life.

Be Now My Vision: Seeing With Eyes of Faith

blurred Easter cross

This morning while driving to work, I put on my sunglasses and quickly realized that they were smudged, making everything a bit blurry and unfocused.  I could see well enough to drive safely, but I couldn’t wait for the next red light so I could clean them.  Wouldn’t you know… for the first time in the history of my commute, I hit nothing but green lights all the way!  So I was stuck with a smudgy view for this ride.

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize the solution was simple – just take off my sunglasses.  Ah!  My vision cleared and everything looked crisp and bright and focused. The experience got me thinking about “vision” and how we see the world.  It reminded me of a gospel story we hear during the season of Lent.

Meet Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who lived on the streets of Jericho.  Life was difficult for Bartimaeus, but his blindness and his life on the streets made him adept at hearing and listening.  He had heard stories of a man they called Jesus who could heal people with the touch of his hand.  A man who told stories about lost sheep, a mustard seed, and a new kind of kingdom where all were welcome at God’s table.  Bartimaeus knew if he could just meet this amazing man, maybe touch his cloak, perhaps he, too, could be healed.

It was this rock-solid faith of a blind beggar that drew the attention of Jesus on the road to Jericho.  Instructing his disciples to bring the man to him, he asked Bartimaeus what it was that he wanted.

“Son of David, I want to see.”

Seven simple words and his life was changed forever.

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”

Easter cross

Though he was blind, Bartimaeus did not lack vision.  He was able to “see” with eyes of faith.  He could see… and believe… that Jesus came to bring us new life and a new way of living. He believed that Jesus was here to show us the way if we only seek him.

On Palm Sunday our church sang a beautiful song called “Christ in Me Arise.”  The first verse contained the following lyrics:

Be now my vision; open these eyes,
Showing me all that I must see.

During this holiest of weeks, let us take an honest look at how we view the world.  Are there times that we see through the smudged glasses of fear, jealousy, anger, or indifference?  Are we unable to see what’s really going on because of entrenched ways of thinking?  Does ignorance make us blind to the suffering of others or the true feelings of others? When we fail to see with eyes of faith, our world is smudged, like my cloudy commute to work.  We can’t see what’s really important.

We’re aren’t blocking out the “sun” with these glasses.  We’re blocking out the Son.

Let us pray that Jesus, the healer, will open our eyes and help us let go of whatever it is that prevents us from seeing things clearly.

Be now my vision, O Lord of my heart!

A Prayer for Today

fall foliage

Dear God, I thank you for making me wonderfully unique. You knit together my talents, my flaws, my moods, and my dreams. At the moment of my creation you were there, loving me beyond measure. You know what it is that I need for this day and for this season. You provide me with abundant blessings and gifts to meet each challenge with love and patience.

On the days when I can’t seem to get anything right…You are there, holding me gently.

On the days when I can’t stop comparing myself to those who are smarter, better, thinner, or just MORE… You are there, reminding me that I am your Beloved Daughter.

On the days when stress, fear, doubt, and worry threaten to stop me in my tracks… You are there, gently nudging me forward.

On the days when words don’t seem adequate to thank you, to praise you, to glorify Your name… You are there, understanding the prayers that spill from my heart.

Dear Lord, help me to listen to what it is that you ask of me today and in this season. Let me live and act with compassion and kindness. Help me to love boldly. Guide me in following the example of your Son, Jesus Christ, in all that I do and say.

AMEN.

A Light in the Darkness

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

For today’s reflection, I would like to share the following story.  The author is unknown, and the story can be found in various places on the internet.

There was once a dark cave, deep down in the ground, underneath the earth and hidden away from view.  Because it was so deep in the earth, the light had never been there.  The cave had never seen light.  The word “light” meant nothing to the cave, who couldn’t imagine what “light” might be.   Then one day, the sun sent an invitation to the cave, inviting it to come up and visit. When the cave came up to visit the sun it was amazed and delighted, because the cave had never seen light before, and it was dazzled by the wonder of the experience. Feeling so grateful to the sun for inviting it to visit, the cave wanted to return the kindness, and so it invited the sun to come down to visit it sometime, because the sun had never seen darkness. So the day came, and the sun entered the cave, it looked around with great interest, wondering what “darkness” would be like.  Then it became puzzled, and asked the cave, “Where is the darkness?” (Source Unknown) Continue reading

The First and Greatest Gift

red-christmas-present
Yesterday’s liturgy marked the official end of our Christmas season. What was the best gift you received this year? I was lucky to get a Fitbit® and I’ve been having so much fun with it. Since December 26 I’ve walked the equivalent of 70 miles. Hard to believe, but a great feeling! As I watched my boys happily examining their Christmas bounty, it got me thinking about gifts from my own childhood. The one that sticks in my mind is from 1978. All year I wished and hoped for the “Pretty Changes” Barbie doll. She had a series of hair extensions, hats, and accessories allowing you to change her look from day-to-day. I was filled with joy to find her under the Christmas tree, and she was by far the best gift I got that year.

Several months later, in a minor tussle with my older sister, my doll’s head broke off. Feeling awful, my sister valiantly tried to glue it back on, but didn’t quite get it on straight. As a result, my Barbie had a thick and stubby neck, and permanently looked smugly off to the side, never meeting the gaze of her Barbie doll friends.

I lost my enthusiasm to play with “Pretty Changes” after that. She was broken…and I had no use for broken things. Continue reading

Taking Jesus to the Mall

christmas mall
It’s that season again. When countless sermons and blog posts deliver the same message: we’re doing Christmas all wrong. We’re focusing on the trappings and the noise instead of the true meaning of Christmas. Through all the gift giving and party planning, we’re forgetting whose birthday it really is. The stress of planning and decorating is distracting us from what’s really important.

My reaction to these statements… THEY ARE NOT HELPFUL AT ALL!

This commentary (for you can’t even really call it advice) is not rooted in a woman’s reality. We can’t abandon these things, because it’s our job. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard by British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy: “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.” (You may remember Willy Wonka saying this line in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) Well, as women, we are the Christmas makers and we are the creators of Christmas dreams. Our job is making memories…and it’s an incredibly valuable one. Continue reading

Making Room for Jesus

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

On the night our Savior came into the world, there was no room for him. I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Tired and dusty from the long trip through Galilee and Judea. Mary, heavy with child, uncomfortable, frightened, knowing with a woman’s intuition that her time was near. Joseph, realizing with dread that they would not make it home in time, and their child would have to be born here, in Bethlehem. This brave couple, so very young and alone, desperately searching for a safe place to give birth, only to be told there was no room at the local inn.

John the Baptist says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” … “Prepare the way of the Lord!”   Just like that innkeeper in Bethlehem, during this holy season of Advent, we are being asked to make room for Jesus in our lives…in our hearts…and the world.

How will we respond to this request? Continue reading