Category Archives: trust

Mountain Light and Dark

Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday, the conclusion to the church season of Epiphany. (I wrote about the light of Epiphany here). The story of Jesus’ transfiguration fascinates me on several levels. Partly it is the description of Jesus (“the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” Luke 9:29). Partly it is the sudden arrival of Moses and Elijah, long-dead prophets whose ministries foreshadowed Jesus’ own mission. Partly it is God’s command, “Listen!”  A big part is the location, a mountain.

The Wonder of God's Creation

Mountains have always been spiritual place. Humans have climbed peaks to seek the heaven throughout our history. Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the ten commandments directly from God (Exodus 20). Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb, the mount of God, where he encountered God in the sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-13). Solomon’s temple was built on Mount Zion and the psalmist sang about its beauty,

His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-2).

So when Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up the mountain to pray, they should not have been surprised that God met them there in a special way.

I enjoy climbing mountains (I wrote about one here).  On occasion I have used an ice axe and rope, but mostly I climb mountains that anyone in decent physical shape can scramble up.  A climb becomes both a physical and spiritual challenge.  I gain a sense of perspective sitting on top of a peak: how very large the world is and how very small I am. As I gaze across the surrounding peaks, I realize that God is in charge. The glory of his creation surrounds me and uplifts me.

But mountains have a darker side as well. The first significant mountain story in the Bible is when God ordered Abraham to take his son Isaac up on a mountain in order to sacrifice him (Genesis 22). The Israelite often created shrines to the Canaanite fertility gods on the mountain tops.

O mortal, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! . . . , I myself will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense stands shall be broken; and I will throw down your slain in front of your idols (Ezekiel 6:2-4).

The darkest mountain of all is Mount Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Not much more than a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, yet the darkness of human sin caused the sky to turn black as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Mountains can be places of terrifying death as well as peaks of glorious enlightenment.

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

My boyhood home had a view of Mt. Rainier

Yet whether hidden in darkness or bathed in sunlight, God’s glorious love is the bedrock of each peak. Mountains call us to trust in God in all circumstances.  Jesus came to bring all creation back into full spectrum of God’s love, including you and me.

Shine, Jesus, shine in me today.

Mystery of Prayer

Prayer can often be a challenge to my rational mind. I like to have concrete, explicit answers to my requests of God. But the very act of conversing with an unseen, often silent, Being challenges all my rational expectations. Yet I would not want a god whom I can easily fit into my own limited understanding. That god would be too small if it could fit into my mind. To truly pray is to enter into the mystery of God, the creator of heaven and earth.  In a way prayer is our attempt to touch the hem of God’s robe.

Touch the Hem of his Garment by artist Amanda Retana

Touch the Hem of his Garment by artist Amanda Retana

Ted Loder writes about the mystery of God in his book Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle.

Mystery means that, in spite of all our efforts, all our insights, discoveries, and experiences, we will never do much more than touch the hem of God’s robe. It is enough that such touching brings healing. It is too much, idolatrously too much, to claim more than a very little information about the wearer of the robe. And even that little information we can claim only with enormous humility. However, humility is the twin of trust.

It has been said, referring to the temptation to which biblical literalists often succumb, that we should never confuse the love letter with the lover. We all have our version of such literalism, our dogmaticisms, our exaggerated (if unadmitted) claims of knowledge. Humble acknowledgment of mystery delivers us from the imprisonment of such certainties into the awesome dimensions of possibilities. Trust begins here. So, in some primitive way, does prayer. (p. 17)

I will never be able to fully comprehend how or why prayer “works,” but I continue to pray, trusting in God’s grace and love. Through out his life Jesus prayed to his Father; I follow in his example.

To use Ted Loder’s own prayer Calm Me into a Quietness,

Now, O Lord,
Calm me into a quietness that heals and listens,
And molds my longings and passions,
my wounds and wonderings,
Into a more holy and human shape (p.27)

“I Hold My Life Up to You Now”

Years ago a friend and spiritual mentor introduced me to Ted Loder’s book of prayers called, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle.  Ted Loder is a retired United Methodist pastor who has written several book and has a semi-active blog here.   Below is Ted’s prayer for New Year’s Day is titled “I Hold My Life Up to You Now.”  His last petition is my prayer for the coming year.

infinity-clock

Patient God,
the clock struck midnight
and I partied with a strange sadness in my heart,
confusion in my mind.
Now I ask you to gather me
for I realize
the storms of time have scattered me,
the furies of the year past have driven me,
many sorrows have scarred me,
many accomplishments have disappointed me,
much activity has wearied me,
and fear has spooked me into a hundred hiding places,
one of which is pretended gaiety.

I am sick of a string of “have-a-nice-day’s.”
What I want is passionate days, wondrous days, dangerous days,
blessed days, surprising days.
What I want is you!

Patient God,
this day teeters on the edge of waiting and things seem to slip away from me,
as though everything is only a memory and memory is capricious
Help me not to let my life slip away from me.
O God, I hold up my life to you now,
as much as I can, as high as I can, in this mysterious reach called prayer.
Come close, lest I wobble and fall short.
It is not days or years I seek from you,
not infinity and enormity,
but small things and moments and awareness,
awareness that you are in what I am
and in what I have been indifferent to.

It is not new time,
but new eyes, new heart I seek,
and you.

Is This Good News?

Many years ago, I was upstairs, when I heard the voice of my four-year old daughter begin to shout, “I have great news, great news.” She ran up the stairs as fast as she could, continuing this refrain, ” I have great news, great news!” When she got reached the top of the stairs, she was nearly out of breath, but continued to say, “It’s great news.” Finally, I asked her, “Suzanne, What is the great news?” Her eyes were wild with excitement as she said “Oh, daddy. Pizza Hut is giving away free Beauty and the Beast characters!”

Now for my four-year old, that was great news; but for me it was not so great. I mean, if Pizza Hut was giving a car with every pizza, that would be great news. Great news often depends on the ears of the hearer.

I think of that when I read the Advent story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary.

Annunciation by He Qi

Annunciation by He Qi

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

After a brief conversation, Gabriel announces to Mary that the child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. When I hear this story many questions race into my mind.

Did Mary hear this as “good news?” What kind of favor is God giving to her? How can a pregnancy be great news when she is still a virgin and is not married? What will her family and friends say? What will Joseph, her fiancé, think?  Does she fully understand what this pregnancy will mean?

The scriptures do not record Mary’s thoughts or feelings. But they do record her words, “Let it be with me according to your word.”  Words of trust and hope.

Sometime we may feel overwhelmed with doubts and fears, questions and stress. Our world can seem so untrustworthy.  Yet we, like Mary, need to hear the good news of God’s favor. God has promised to come to us in Jesus and his kingdom will not end. Like Mary, let us respond in trust, “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, renew my trust in you.

Hope in the midst of Horror

When I wrote my last post on Advent Storms, I had no idea that our nation would be rocked by the storm of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Like so many, I am grief-stricken and shocked at the senseless violence. That small children could be murdered is heart wrenching.

Yet the reality of violence is part of our broken, sinful world. In 2010 there were 1.2 million acts of violent crime in the United States, 14,000 acts of homicides. The fifth commandment is as necessary today as it was 3500 years ago.

(Yet before I become too self-righteous, I am reminded of Jesus’ words “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister,  you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult  a brother or sister,  you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell  of fire(Matthew 5:21-22).)

Children at Play at Resurrection

Children at Play at Resurrection

Still the shock and outrage we experience upon hearing of the tragedy in Newtown demonstrates something else. It is a testimony to our God-created sense of justice and righteousness. We yearn for a world made whole and right. We yearn for a world where violence will not shorten the life of one single child. As the prophet Isaiah wrote 2700 years ago, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

This Sunday I will be preaching on Isaiah 61:1-7. A section of the text offers hope on such a dark day as today.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, . . . to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning.

God continues to promise hope to our broken world. We need a savior today more than ever. We need to pray that God brings comfort and hope to all the families affected in Newtown. Though this day is dark, the bright light of Christ will come soon.  Our savior comes for every child, and yes, even for you.

Xmas SH Photo 12

Lord Jesus, wrap your strong arms around all those who are grieving the death of loved one. Pour out on them the healing oil of your Spirit and the great promise of your resurrection.  May your light shine in our darkness.  Amen

Wilderness Journey – Day Three – Morning

North Fork of the Big Thompson River

At dawn’s first light, I was up and on the last portion of National Park trail. I passed Lost Lake and quickly found a place to wade the North Fork of Big Thompson River (more like little Thompson creek at this altitude).

From here on, I would be off-trail, but I was above timberline and the slope was not too steep. I took my time, enjoying the unfolding view and relishing the challenge of finding my own route (which was no challenge at this point.)

By 10:00 I was on the wet plateau between Mt Dunraven and Mummy Mountain and I stopped for an early lunch.

Looking south towards Mummy Mountain

At this point I debated whether to climb Mummy Mountain, 13425 feet in elevation. It would delay me from climbing off the ridge and thus expose me to possible storms. However I figured I may never again have the opportunity to climb the peak and, like John Muir, I hungered for some mountain adventure. Just below the peak, at about 12,300 elevation, I dropped my pack near a large boulder and started hiking straight up.

Can you spot my pack?

As I climbed, I kept looking back to see where my pack was. I was glad I did, since after a while every boulder looked like another and I could have easily lost my pack.

I took my time, stopping to rest several times. The climb was challenging and I began to wonder if I might be one of the first people to climb Mummy Mountain this summer because of its isolation. Perhaps there would be climber’s log at the summit that would answer my question.

Looking West from Mummy Peak at Crystal Lake and Fairchild Mountain

At 11:10 I reached the summit. The peak has a spectacular view to the south and west. I could see Lawn Lake, Crystal Lake, the Saddle, Fairchild Mountain and even Ypsilon Mountain. I found the climber’s log in a plastic plumber’s pipe and discovered that I was the fourth climber that week! I realized that there must be an established route (directly up the ridgeline from the southeast?) and that I might be able to use a portion of it later on.

My pack remained a thousand feet below me so I decided to continue my original plan: to contour around Mummy Mountain, remaining in the West Creek basin until I came to the ridge above Tileston Meadow’s. The ridge was at 11,750 feet so I figured I could gradually lose some elevation as I hiked around the mountain side. I scrambled back to my pack and continued on.

The terrain remained mostly meadow with many large boulders. Occasionally I encountered large clumps of boulders that I had to go over or around. I generally chose to go around, dropping to a lower elevation.

Contemplating which path to take

As I picked my way along the slope, I reflected on what a seminary professor once regarding Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.   He said, “Remember that the lamps of ancient Israel where not blazing maglite flashlights by which you can see the path for hundreds of feet.  Rather they were flickering oil lamps which gave you visibility of only a few feet.  But that is all you need.  The text reminds us that God does not reveal the whole path at once, but just enough to show us the way.”

As I worked my way around Mummy Mountain, I thanked the Lord for each small section of path that I could see.

Lord Jesus, show us our path for today.

Next: a stormy afternoon.

Wilderness Journey – Day Two

I awoke early, packed my backpack and headed up the trail. The trail climbed steadily as it followed the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. Breaks in the forest gave me opportunity to scout the high country near Mt. Dunraven.

I anticipated an easy day of backpacking to my next campsite, Lost Meadows. This was only a mile below Lost Lake, a high alpine tarn that is the end of the maintained trail. It was only five miles between campsites so I decided to take a side trip.

Looking toward Mummy Mountain from Stormy Peaks South campsite.

About halfway between Silvanmere Campsite and Lost Meadow was a spur trail that climbed the north side of the canyon to Stormy Peaks Pass. I left my backpack at the trail junction and started the 2000 foot climb to the pass with just lunch and water. The trail started out a series of switchbacks that quickly climbed above timberline. Here I encountered a flat shelf in the ridge where the National Park located the Stormy Peaks South backcountry campsite. It certainly had a spectacular view of the upper Big Thompson canyon, Rowe Peak and Mt. Dunraven.

The trail continued an additional 1.5 miles to pass. As I climbed towards the ridge line, I had to stop several times to scout how the trail proceeded. There was some thick growth of evergreen bushes and small trees where the trail seemed to disappear. I would be merrily hiking along and suddenly there was no trail beneath my feet, just alpine meadow. Now the meadow was fine for walking and I could find my own way, but the trail used the most efficient means to climb the ridge. It became a sort of game to find the trail in the midst of meadow and brush.

I was reminded of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples. In John 14, Jesus is preparing them for his coming crucifixion. He says to them, “I go to prepare a place for you. . ., that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and life.”

Jesus is the way, the trail, that we seek to guide us through life. But it can be so easy to slip “off trail”, to think that I know the way on my own and don’t need Jesus. As I searched for the trail that morning, I reflected on who is my true trail guide.

Looking south towards Mummy Mountain from Stormy Peaks Pass

I finally reached a small peak just south of the pass. I knew that the next day, I would face the most difficult part of my backpack, climbing up over Mummy Mountain Ridge and down into the Black Canyon Trail. From the overlook near Stormy Peaks Pass, I could see the first half of my next day’s climb. It looked challenging but doable, so I hiked back down to my backpack and continued on to Lost Meadow campsite.

As I settled in for the night, I knew that the next morning I would be off trail for about eight miles, a serious challenge for me.  But I also knew that besides my map and compass, I had a good trail guide walking beside me, giving me encouragement, hope and wisdom. My simple prayer was, “Jesus, stay close and keep me on your path.”

Lord Jesus, you are the way.  Keep me close to your path for my life.

Lost and Found at World’s Fair

Fifty years ago this summer my family visited the World’s Fair in Seattle. We camped on Bainbridge Island and took the ferry to Seattle.  The Space Needle was brand new and there were many world exhibits. The crowds were large so my father had cautioned my brothers and sisters to stay close as we walked the fair grounds. If they did get separated, our rendezvous place was a magnificent fountain in the center of the fair.

I knew that I would not get lost. I prided myself on being able to read the fair map and to direct our family to each stop along the way. Everything went smoothly until one afternoon. As our family walked toward the Science Pavilion, I looked to my left to see may family walking along beside me. “Yep, still where they should be.”

Then it happened. I looked up to my left and my parents were gone! My brothers were gone.  Even my sisters were gone. They all were not where they should be. My family was LOST! Before I had a chance to rescue them, a vendor saw my confusion and whisked me away. How was I going to find my family with a big security guard taking me to some hidden place?

As he pulled me along, I came to the stark realization that I would never see my family again. Among the millions of people at the World’s Fair, how could we find each other? I was now an orphan. My family was probably already on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. The security guard took me to a room for “lost children.” I gave up all hope and began to wail. I was certain that I would never see my family again.

I don’t know how long I remained in the room, but I was both surprised and relieved when my father walked into the room. I was found.  I later learned that my father had first gone to the fountain, but then discovered that the fair had a video feed into the “lost children” room.  He spot his wayward son and quickly came to my rescue.

Jesus said, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Luke 15.

Lord Jesus, seek and save me once again.

After the Fire

Yesterday I returned from a wonderful trip into the Boundary Water’s Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota. Pictures and a complete trip review will be forthcoming. Overall it was a wonderful trip — great fellowship with the men of Resurrection, great wilderness solitude and great exercise.

One strong impression came on the first day. After loading our canoes at the Kawishiwi Lodge at Lake One near Ely, MN we enjoyed an early morning paddle along a shoreline covered with green pine trees. After we crossed the first set of two short portages to Lake Two, we immediately we encountered a different sight. The shoreline had been heavily impacted by the Pagami Creek Fire last year. Large sections of the forest were burned to the ground, with only small patches of green trees still standing. It was a stark reminder of how fragile a wilderness environment can be.

But it also was an example of how resilient the forest can. Even as we paddled past acres of dead trees, we saw thousands of small shoots of green shrubs, flowers, and trees pushing up through the charred soil. In time the forest will restore itself. Fire is part of its life cycle.

When tragedy hits, we human often have a short-sighted vision of its consequences. We see only the pain and sorrow and rarely have the ability to see how good can arise from it. This is natural. Yet we have God’s promise that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Even when a forest is crushed by a fire, new life can begin. Even when God’s own Son is executed on a cross, resurrection becomes reality.

Lord Jesus, continue to remind us that all will be well with you.