Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

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What I learned from Bishop Aiden of Lindisfarne

Friday February 15 2019

What I learned from Bishop Aiden of Lindisfarne

I visited Lindisfarne, also called Holy Island, a few years ago. Connected to the northeast coast of England by a narrow bit of land that goes under water at high tide, it has a rich Christian history. On the island today, you can visit the ruins of a medieval priory and the ruins of a castle built in 1550, plus a chapel and other buildings still in use.

The Christian community at Lindisfarne was founded in the seventh century by Bishop Aiden of Lidisfarne. Aiden, who was born in Ireland, was a monk on the island of Iona when he was asked by the king in 634 to come to Northern England in the role of bishop. The king was a Christian, and he gave Aiden the mandate of spreading the Gospel in Northern England.

Aiden set up a base on the island of Lindisfarne, connected to the Northeast coast of England at low tide. He spent his first ten years as bishop wandering the countryside of Northern England, talking to people about the gospel. He set up numerous Christian communities.

He received money from various sources, and he used all of it to help the poor and to buy people, especially children, out of slavery. At one point the king gave him a horse to aid him in his travels and evangelism, but Aiden immediately gave it away. He felt that the best way to talk to people about Jesus was to walk at their level, not to be above them on a horse.

Aiden also established a community on Lindisfarne to train ministers. The training emphasized study of the Bible, prayer, fasting, and walking the countryside with Aiden to tell people about the Gospel. That community lasted long after his death.

Aiden is often called the apostle of England because of his evangelistic work that had such a lasting influence. A few lessons I’ve been pondering from Aiden’s life:

1. Aiden seemed to have a seamless commitment to:

  • evangelism
  • prayer
  • meditating on the Bible
  • spiritual practices like fasting
  • care for the poor
  • freeing slaves

I love his wholistic approach to physical well-being, spiritual practices, and social justice. I wonder which components of his approach are the most and least apparent in my life.

2. I ponder what it looks like today to walk at the level of people in need. Obviously horses are seldom involved in this decision in our time, but we still need to think about how to build bridges across barriers of culture and socioeconomic level. I wonder what acts and attitudes of humility today would parallel that moment when Aiden gave away the horse.

3. After ten years evangelizing the people of Northern England, Aiden retired to another island to pray and meditate for the rest of his life. Ten years is not a very long time to have made such an impact.

Thinking about Aiden’s ten years of ministry has been helpful to me. I am a very late bloomer, partly because I battled depression from age 27 to 43. After coming out of my depression, I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister at 45. I got my first book contract that same year. At 55, I began a ten-year teaching career. The past 21 years since my ordination have been full and rich, but still, I often feel a great sense of loss about those 16 depressed years. Twenty years of productive ministry don’t feel like enough.

I feel a sense of freedom when I ponder the fact that Aiden did what he was called to do for that significant decade, and then left it behind to engage in prayer and meditation on the Bible. I’m not comparing the significance of my ministry to Aiden’s, but I do find myself thinking that if ten years was enough for Aiden, surely I can accept that twice that could be enough for me.  

When I visited Lindisfarne (at low tide!), I was stunned by the number of visitors there on a weekday in September. There were several hundred cars in the parking lot, and people streamed across the island. What a joy to learn about the man who founded the monastery on Lindisfarne. May we soak up the model of faithful Christians who speak to us from across the ages.

(Next week: first post in a new series on creative ways to pray. Illustration: the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of hte web page. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Two related articles you may enjoy:

     Witnesses and Evangelists                                  
     Celtic Christianity: Paradoxes                  

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.

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Wednesday March 1 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Facing the Inner Darkness

Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. If you'd like to look over my Lenten devotional using a psalm for each day of Lent, you can download the pdf here.

As we grow in maturity, many of us experience increasing honesty about the powerful and dark forces at work inside of us that draw us away from God and from what we know to be good. In our early adulthood, we can often fool ourselves into the illusion that we are pretty good people, free of irrational anger, vindictiveness, all-encompassing fear, and petty desires. Many of us find that as we age, we experience all sorts of ugly emotions, and it is no longer possible to hide the truth from ourselves. We truly do have a lot of ugliness inside us. We realize the complexity of our inner emotions: rejoicing and content in God’s grace one moment, irritable and unpleasant the next.

With maturity many of us face our addictive behavior with new honesty. We begin to see more clearly the various counter-productive ways we have tried to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside us. We know our deepest longing is for God, yet over and over we choose food or shopping or pornography or alcohol or something else to try to satisfy that longing. Common to maturity on the journey of faith are honesty and humility in acknowledging the incredibly inappropriate ways we strive to fill our emptiness.

How can we change? How can we learn to live with our emptiness and longing, when all the cultural voices around us are telling us to hurry up and fill up that hole? Gerald May believes that we need to change the way we view life and come to understand that emptiness is a part of the earthly journey, a part that our culture will do nothing to affirm and everything to negate. As I expressed in the blog posts in this series about the Psalms, praying and pondering the Psalms has been a significant source of help, comfort and re-orientation in addressing this issue for me.

Gerald May, in his book The Awakened Heart, discusses the seeking and longing that characterize our lives.

Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in these seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves – qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny – that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love. This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. [1]

Gerald May writes that we are able to fall in love with life and enjoy each day when we learn to befriend our yearning rather than try to avoid it, when we enter into the “spaciousness of our emptiness” [2] rather than trying constantly to fill it up. This is easier said than done, but many Christians have described a kind of contentedness and peace that comes in accepting life as it is and looking for God’s presence in daily life, rather than constantly expecting God to make everything easy and nice.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we are encouraged to fill our longing for freedom, wholeness, and joy with countless material objects and endless thrilling experiences: clothing, cars, home furnishings, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, vacations, sports, and so forth. Our culture tells us that if we are experiencing desire of any kind, the most important thing to do is fill that desire with something – anything! – immediately. Thus we rush to satisfying our yearnings and cravings without sitting with them long enough to learn from them and to allow them to draw us towards God.

Seminary professor David Rensberger writes,

Although our hunger and thirst are for God, we are always trying to satisfy them with other things. . . . Indeed, our consumer society energetically organizes these means of avoiding the quest for God, offering us a false quest that is sustained with enormous force and skill by the engines of economy, media, and government.[3]

Rensberger believes that it requires an equal force and determination to resist our culture and cling to the truth of the Gospel that only in God can we find what we long for. How do we find in God what we long for? By facing our inner darkness, accepting it, bringing it to God (perhaps by praying the Psalms), relying on God’s grace and forgiveness, and resting in God’s love and presence with us through the Holy Spirit. These are all part of drawing near to God with the heart.

This is the fifth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms        
God's presence through the Holy Spirit

(The series continues next week with "Tears."  Illustration 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, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

[1] Gerald May, “Entering the Emptiness,” inSimpler Living, Compassionate Life, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Living the Good News, 1999), 48. (An excerpt from The Awakened Heart.)
[2] Ibid.
[3] David Rensberger, “Thirsty for God,” Weavings, July/August 2000, p. 23.

Why “journey” works so well as a metaphor for faith

Thursday November 12 2015

Why “journey” works so well as a metaphor for faith

The Bible is full of journeys – Abraham, the Exodus, the Exile and the return to Jerusalem, Paul’s missionary journeys – but you’ll seldom if ever hear the Bible referring to the life of faith as a journey. We, however, use that metaphor all the time. We say things like, “In my faith journey, God has used so many circumstances to teach me about trust.” We talk about God “walking with us” in hard times. We might say something like, “I’ve come a long way in my faith since my father died.” All of these statements evoke faith as a journey.

“Journey” is such a helpful metaphor, and I want to point out a few reasons why.

1. “Journey” focuses on the process of getting there, not the arrival. Christians are being transformed into Christ’s image “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is a process that continues throughout our earthly life. On earth, we never arrive but we continually grow closer to who we were created to be. When we talk about faith as a journey, we are emphasizing progress, not perfection.

2. A journey implies changes, transitions, challenges and adventures. I’m sure my desire for comfort, stability and outward peace isn’t unique to me. When I think of my life in Christ as a journey, I am more open to meeting God in the unexpected. I am less likely to resist change and challenge.

3. Many human journeys involve travel companions. Sometimes our travel companions accompany us on the entire trip, and other times we meet up with a short-term travel companion. In many instances, travel is quite difficult on our own and significantly easier with a companion, someone to open doors when we’re juggling baggage, someone who knows the language to translate a menu in a foreign country or someone to chat with about the scenery. When I think about my life of faith as a journey, I pay attention to the travel companions God has given me.

4. When we travel, we often need to lighten our load. Simplicity is a very helpful practice when travelling, and simplicity is also a very helpful practice when walking with Jesus through life. Maybe I need to jettison my attachment to some of my possessions. Maybe I need to let go of anger and bitterness about someone or something. As I look back over many years of walking with Jesus, I can see how many attitudes and presuppositions God has helped me relinquish.

5. When we travel, we get to experience the wonder of the guest-host shift. When we receive the hospitality of others, we are the guest. But sometimes the guest makes a contribution to the host, shifting the role. Jesus was a master of this. On the first Easter, in Emmaus, Jesus is invited into a home. At the table he breaks the bread and is revealed to be the Host (Luke 24:13-35). In many small ways, guest and host shift back and forth in many settings, and this is one of the gifts of the journey. We all give, and we all receive.

The biggest and most significant journey story in the Bible is Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth for our sake, to live and die and be raised again so that we can live in him. Jesus asks us to journey with him into family relationships, friendships, work, neighborhoods, and the broken world. Jesus asks us to trust him as he gives us companions and calls us to lighten our loads. The Holy Spirit works in us so we can grow into Jesus’ image on the journey and so can reach journey’s end.

(Watercolor by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email update when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Drawing near to God by noticing patterns

Friday October 23 2015

Drawing near to God by noticing patterns

The human brain loves to find patterns even when none exist. This explains the popularity of conspiracy theories, some of which must be false. (Only some of them? See, I can’t say, “all of which are false”! I love patterns and categories as much as the next person!)

We can use the human love of patterns to nurture our prayer life and to help us observe the pattern of our spiritual growth. Here are three ideas:

1. “Word for the year.” Some people advocate picking a word in January that you want to have as the theme for your year. My experience is that words pick me, not the other way around. In 2012 and 2013, the word I kept coming back to was “receptivity.” It was so helpful in understanding that God was calling me to pay attention to where the Holy Spirit was guiding me and to where God was already working in my life, rather than always trying to direct things myself or to see what’s missing in my life. I wrote sections in two of my books, Joy Together and The Power of Listening, about receptivity.

In 2014, the word “joy” was forced on me by the Caring Bridge posts of a wonderful (and joyous) man, Steve Hayner. His posts while he was dealing with terminal cancer were the single biggest source of spiritual growth for me in 2014. Those posts have been turned into a book, Joy in the Journey, which I highly recommend.

Suggestion: Look back at last year, or an earlier year, and ponder whether there’s a word that captures what God was doing in your life. Take that word and pray about it, sing about it, journal about it, draw it and talk about it with friends.

2. Daily, weekly, monthly or yearly highlights. What was the best thing that happened yesterday? Last week? Last month? Last year? “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). We miss so much because we don’t take the time to look and remember. My favorite Jewish Sabbath prayer goes like this: “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”

Suggestion: Use the human propensity to find patterns to help you see the pattern of God’s blessing in your life. Then turn those highlights into prayers of thanks.

3. Theme for the decade. I can see very clearly the major life lesson God was teaching me in my 50s: you cannot change another person. You can speak your own truth, you can say how another person’s behavior affects you, and you can encourage others to change. But you cannot change them. I can’t believe I was in my 50s before I learned this. I would have been a much better mother if I had learned it earlier. This big life lesson has helped me pray and speak differently in so many relationships, and I am a happier (more joyous!) person because of it.

Because I can see so clearly my biggest life lesson from my 50s, I’ve been thinking perhaps I can identify a major life lesson from each decade of life.

Suggestion: look at your life in decades or in five-year blocks and see if you can identify a major life lesson in some of them. Take that life lesson and pray about it, sing about it, journal about it, draw it and talk about it with friends.

The human propensity to see patterns can help us see the patterns of gifts and growth in our lives, which can help us pray and act in new ways. Let your brain’s love of patterns serve your growth in faith. “For you, Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).

(Photo credit: John Mawurndjul, “Mardayin Ceremony 2000,” Gallery New South Wales. I love Australian Aboriginal art, and I’m sure it’s because I love the patterns. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

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