Draw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingAdvent Devotional

Lynne's Blog

Nature speaks about God: the feeling of God’s absence

Friday April 6 2018

Nature speaks about God: the feeling of God’s absence

Dave’s sister and her husband do not enjoy travelling, and they particularly don’t like to fly. Twenty years ago they honored us with a visit to Seattle. We knew that the flight from Ohio would be very challenging for them, and we knew that they would probably only visit Seattle once in their lives, so we wanted to maximize the visit. We suggested they come in August, when the Seattle weather is most reliably sunny.

We wanted them to see the beauty we love so much here: Puget Sound, the many lakes, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, and of course, Mount Rainier.

They saw lots of beauty, but they never saw Mount Rainier. They were here 10 days, and the mountain was shrouded in clouds for their entire visit. We kept telling them it was beautiful, and we kept saying it would probably appear the next day, but it never did.

Here in the Seattle-Tacoma area, the term “the mountain” means only one thing, Mount Rainier. My husband and I often ask, “Is the mountain out?” after one of us goes on a bike ride to Seward Park, near our house.

For our typical bike ride, we go a couple of blocks downhill toward Lake Washington, then turn right onto Lake Washington Boulevard. We ride along the lake and turn into Seward Park. About 25 yards after the turn there’s a perfect view of Mount Rainier, which you can see in the photo at the top of this post.

Sometimes the mountain is there in its full glory, rising above Lake Washington like it is in the photo, gorgeous and heart-lifting. Sometimes part of the mountain is visible, maybe the top third or the bottom half. Sometimes we can see only clouds.

As I go through my daily life, sometimes I can sense God’s presence. Sometimes God feels near. Other times I slog along through my day. Activities feel meaningless and relationships seem frustrating. God feels far away. More than anything else, Mount Rainier has taught me so much about those moments when God feels absent.

Mount Rainier is always there, whether or not we can see it, and whether or not we can show it to visitors to Seattle. Dave’s sister and her husband must have thought we were a bit crazy when we insisted that the mountain is one of the most beautiful sights in Seattle, but too bad, sorry, it’s not visible right now.

Every time I turn my bicycle into Seward Park, or drive on a road where Mount Rainier can be seen, I wonder if I will see it. Maybe. Maybe not. Every day I watch for moments when God’s presence feels real and vivid. But God is there in my life whether or not I have one of those wonderful heart-lifting moments.

The times that part of the mountain is visible are also quite instructive. Our lives are often like that half-visible mountain. We get glimpses of God’s work, even in the midst of really hard times. God may answer a specific prayer about the illness of a loved one, even when that person remains sick. God may give us restoration in a relationship with a family member just when something challenging happens at work.

On the day before Easter, an opinion piece in our local newspaper recommended a saying that makes sense to people in the Seattle-Tacoma area where “the mountain” means Mount Rainier: “Live like the mountain is out.”

Mount Rainier, and the variability in my ability to see it, speaks to me. The mountain says, “Live as if God is real and present and alive and working in your life, even when you can’t see God’s hand. Live as if God’s love is real, even when you don’t feel it. Live as if God has called you to serve, even if you aren’t feeling that call right at this moment. Live like the mountain is out.”

(Next week: God’s voice in unfamiliar landscapes.  If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Some past posts about Easter:

First post in a new series: Nature speaks about God

Friday March 2 2018

First post in a new series: Nature speaks about God

I was 15 the first time nature spoke to me. We had lived in southern Virginia while I was in junior high school. My dad was stationed at Langley Air Force Base, and right before I turned 15 he retired from the air force. My parents decided we would move to the West Coast.

We traveled by way of Toronto, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Colorado, pulling a 14 foot trailer behind our Dodge. We visited grandmothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, and family friends. For a teenager, six weeks of close intimacy with her family, while driving 8,000 miles and mourning the loss of her friends and her life in Virginia, was really, really, not fun.

We arrived in Tacoma, Washington at the beginning of August and immediately found a wonderful house, where my mother still lives. The owners weren’t able to move out until early September, so we needed a place to stay for a month. The owners offered us their summer cabin on Puget Sound, just north of Gig Harbor.

The cabin looked east onto Puget Sound. To the left was Vashon Island. To the right was Point Defiance in Tacoma. Between these two pieces of land, Mount Rainier rose up over the waters of Puget Sound, perfectly framed by the two wooded hillsides.

August that year was clear and sunny every day. Throughout each day, we watched the light on Mount Rainier change. In the morning the mountain was backlit by the rising sun, looking mysterious and other worldly. At midday, the mountain was illuminated from above, with the sun slightly to the right, reflecting off the glaciers. In the afternoon, the mountain was vivid, clear and gorgeous in the full light of the sun. At sunset, the magical rose and peach colors of sunset illuminated the mountain.

The summer had been so hard for me, and Mount Rainier spoke to me. It said, “There’s more.” There’s more than everyday life, there’s more than struggle and sadness. There’s something beautiful beyond this life.

I had attended church almost every Sunday of my life. At 12, I believed in God and Jesus pretty strongly, but our church in Virginia hadn’t advanced that faith at all. In fact, by 15 I was on my way to rejecting everything I had been taught about God.

So when the mountain told me that there is something beyond this life, I didn’t connect that something with God at all. But still I held onto the message from the mountain. In my high school years, as my faith in God in Christ dwindled further and further, I saw Mount Rainier frequently from numerous places around Tacoma. The mountain always lifted my heart and spoke to me of something beyond. The mountain was an anchor and a whiff of holiness in the midst of the volatile years of high school.

This is the first post in a series about the ways nature speaks about God. I’ll tell stories of the way nature has spoken to me at various times, and I’ll look at scriptures that help explain how this works. In this first post in the series, I want to encourage you to think about times nature has spoken to you. What specific places in nature have spoken to you? What have those places said?

(Next week: mountains and clouds on Easter. Illustration: Mount Rainier from Puget Sound. Sadly I can’t find a photo of that exact view we could see from the cabin north of Gig Harbor. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

One year ago on this blog – “Drawing near to God with the heart: Facing the inner darkness.” In this season of Lent, facing inner darkness can play a role in preparing us to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Listening to God in prayer: My journey

Wednesday November 22 2017

Listening to God in prayer: My journey

I learned about contemplative prayer when I was around 40. It dovetailed perfectly with other things that were going on in my life.

I am an introvert. My mother is extremely extraverted. In recent years, she has developed some ability to pray alone and to appreciate quiet things, but in my childhood and early adult years, her values were totally and completely placed in the realm of activity and socializing. She has a very high energy level, she values action over being quiet, and she has always kept a social schedule that makes me feel exhausted just to hear about it.

In my teen and early adult years, I strained to be more like my mother. It was only at midlife that I began to accept myself and allow myself to be an introvert. Ironically, people call me energetic. They don’t see the hours of quiet that I need to balance outward activity.

I have always valued quiet prayer and reflection, but I felt somewhat guilty for how much I like to be alone with my thoughts and alone with God. This drive to spend time alone made me feel ashamed and inadequate. Learning about contemplative prayer gave validation to these inner drives. In fact, I find contemplative prayer very natural. I’m actually good at something that more outwardly-oriented people find difficult. But it took me until midlife to appreciate the strength of my inner life.

The specific prayer styles of contemplative prayer – examen, lectio divina, breath prayer, and so on – have given me more options for quiet prayer, more things to do as I pray. I love them all. They are very helpful to me.

What is even more helpful is the general attitude that we embrace in contemplative prayer. At midlife, I began to slow down, let go of some of my need for control, and tried to live my life more in response to God. In intercessory prayer, which I still value highly, we say, “Dear Lord, here are the things that are on my mind.” And we tell God what we long for and hope for.

In contemplative prayer, we say, “Lord, enable me to hear you. What is in your heart that you want to communicate to me today? What do you want me to think about, do, say, pray?” This posture of listening changes the whole focus, and it fit perfectly with what was going on in my life in my forties.

In my teens and twenties, I really believed I knew a lot, and I was always striving to know more. I felt that I had right answers a lot of the time. In my forties, I began to realize I am so much less certain about lots of things. That lack of certainty has continued.

I still pray lots and lots of intercessory prayers for people in need, for my children, granddaughter, husband, family members, and friends, and for the needs of the world. But because I’m less certain about so many things, I really want to be guided in how to pray. I really want to listen to God’s concerns, God’s priorities, God’s passion. I want to hear his voice in how to pray.

In my twenties and thirties, I felt very optimistic that I could do most things that came along; that I would have time and energy to explore what I wanted to. In my forties, I found I have so many relationships, so many options, so much to do, and that feeling of too many possible directions has only gotten more intense with each passing decade. I need guidance and a sense of priorities. I find that guidance through listening to God in contemplative prayer.

And I want to hear God’s voice of grace, too. All that busy activity of my early adult life came in part from my doubts about who I am and what I do. Now that I’m older, I’m more able to rest in God’s love for me, but I need to hear and feel that love. Contemplative prayer encourages me to wait and listen for it.

The specific patterns of prayer that we call contemplative are just a means to an end. And that end is a posture of listening, an attentiveness to the voice of God. I find I can’t live without it.

(Next week: The blessings of contemplative prayer, alone and with others. Illustration: Me in Stockholm in my early 50s, by Dave Baab. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife.)

In case you missed these last week, here are two articles I’ve written that relate to listening to God:

     Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others   
     Following Jesus each day 

Stories I ponder: The high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not

Friday October 20 2017

Stories I ponder: The high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not

Like most kids, I grew a lot in awareness of social patterns in junior high school. I entered junior high, seventh grade, at age 12, still really a child. We were living in Hampton, Virginia, and junior high school there lasted three years. I left ninth grade one month before I turned 15.

In eighth and ninth grades, I became increasingly aware of the popular kids, the football and basketball players who moved like gods through the school hallways, and the cheerleaders who accompanied them or who walked in clusters together looking popular and so cute. Even though I had some pretty good friends and wasn’t lonely, I longed to be popular.

Right after I finished ninth grade, we moved across the country to Washington State. I saw that move as an opportunity to remake myself.

When I started high school in Tacoma, I decided to pretend I had been popular in Virginia. I spoke with a slight Virginia accent after three years there, which people commented on with favor. I decided to cultivate an enigmatic and secretive air. A couple of months after I started high school, a cute boy called me “mysterious,” and I knew I had succeeded in my experiment.

In my first year of high school, I had my first boyfriend and my first kiss. Then a second boyfriend, who I liked very much and had a lot of fun with. I made friends with a couple of girls. All of these relationships, however, were based on my attempts to act as if I’d always been a popular person. I didn’t let any of these boys or girls see my true self.

In my second year of high school, I became involved with my third boyfriend, the first person I fell in love with. When he broke up with me after a few months, I was devastated. Because all my friendships were been based on my presentation of a false self, I had no good friends I could turn to in my pain.

In my third and last year of high school, I was the loneliest I’ve ever been before or after. I was extremely active in lots of activities at school, and I did a lot of babysitting to earn money, so I didn’t sit at home moping. I just didn’t have anyone close by to talk to, and the pain of feeling lonely and isolated was huge.

My best friend from childhood lived in Anchorage, and I got to visit her at Christmas of that last year of high school, and then again in the summer after I graduated from high school. I don’t know how I would have made it through that last year of high school without that Christmas visit and her deep love for me.

That lonely year taught me so much. Since then, I have always tried to be authentic in friendships. I have always shared honestly about whatever I’m going through with the people around me. In some instances I am quite sure the quantity of honest sharing has been too much, but vulnerability has nurtured deep relationships, which are a great joy.

I am so grateful for that painful year that taught me how important friends are and that honesty works better than pretense in nurturing friendships that mean something to me.

Because of that high school experience, I have done a lot of thinking about friendships and how they work. A few years ago I wrote a book on friendship, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. I excerpted a chapter from that book here on this blog, about initiative in friendships, and that series begins here.

May you enter into relationships with honesty and vulnerability. May you rest in the truth that God knows you and loves you, and may this truth give you the freedom to reveal a part of your inner self to others.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.
—Psalm 139:1-6    

(Next week: how I learned I was an introvert and why it matters so much. Photo: me in tenth grade, at the height of my popularity pretense. I was pretty cute, but of course I didn’t feel cute at the time. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Stories I ponder: Dave’s sister’s end of life

Friday October 13 2017

Stories I ponder: Dave’s sister’s end of life

My husband, Dave, had two sisters, Connie and Jinny, three and a half and one year older than Dave. Jinny got married at 16. Connie and Dave became good friends in the many teenage years they spent together in their home in Ohio.

Connie became a nurse and in her early 20s, she married a man from Philadelphia and moved there. He came from a large, close knit family. Over the years, Connie’s family allegiance naturally shifted to the relatives nearby.

When I married Dave, Connie and her husband had been married eight years and had just adopted a baby girl. Later they had a son. Over the next couple of decades, Connie came to several family gatherings in Ohio with her family when we were there, but our contacts with her were brief. Dave felt increasingly disconnected from the sister he had once been close to.

In 2008, Dave heard from his sister Jinny that Connie had been diagnosed  with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Dave called Connie. As they talked, he noticed that she felt very alone. She had been separated from her husband for many years. Her daughter and grandchildren lived a thousand miles away. Her son lived nearby, but he was very busy with his work.

Dave decided to call her weekly. In those first weeks of calls, he listened to her talk about looking for help from crystals and positive thinking. He listened as she recounted her struggles with chemotherapy.

A few months after they started talking, Connie told Dave that she had awakened in the night because she heard a voice calling her name. Somehow she knew the voice was Jesus.

In the months and years that followed, Dave continued to call Connie weekly. They usually talked for an hour. He supported her through three rounds of chemo. He listened to her talk about her fledgling Christian faith, precipitated by that moment in the night.

At first she wanted to look to Jesus AND crystals. Dave told her Jesus wants our sole allegiance, and after some time, she got there. Looking online, I found a church in her neighborhood and contacted the minister. Connie became a part of a women’s group at that church.

In September, 2010, Dave flew from New Zealand, where we were living, to Philadelphia to see Connie. He felt strongly led to do that, and the ten days they had together were a precious time of rediscovering the intimacy that they had as teenagers. They shared many childhood memories. Plus, now they shared a faith in Christ.

Connie died in April 2011.

Dave continues to be grateful that God nudged him to make a commitment to call Connie weekly for three years and to go visit seven months before she died. He’s even more grateful for that voice calling Connie’s name in the night.

I can suggest so many take-aways from this story. Here are a few:

  • God works in ways beyond our expectation and our comprehension. Our job is to rejoice, respond in obedience, and pray for more of his acts.
  • We must speak up like Dave did when we see people trying to follow Jesus and something else.
  • We should never completely lose hope about important relationships, even when it seems people have become very distant. God can change things.
  • We should always make that phone call when we are nudged to contact someone.

(Next week: the high cost of pretending to be someone we’re not. Photo: Connie and Dave at age 17 and 16. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Last week I preached at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Seattle on staying motivated in caring for creation. A link to an audio recording is here if you have any interest.

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