Thursday, May 30, 2013

unknotting

a big ball of yarn
knotted and snarled
looped and tangled
a big mess
this old self of mine

is it possible
to untangle this jumble
o you who
knit and wove me?
and what will it take?

time and space
room to loosen
and undo the knots
patience and perseverance
it is slow work
this unknotting

only your strong
and tender hands
can turn me
from mess
to masterpiece
once again

Sunday, May 26, 2013

as good as it gets



I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.


                           ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, May 25, 2013

digging

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)
 
Sometimes when life gets messy, or chaotic, or even a little too fast paced, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that life with God (the kingdom of heaven) is like treasure.  And I guess the reason for this is that this treasure is often hidden; hidden in the dirt and dust and grime of everyday life.  But when we are reminded of the fact of the treasure, and the beauty of the treasure; we are also reminded (that regardless of how dismal or inviting the field we are currently standing in looks) to dig.  Because in the digging comes the finding, and in the finding comes the recognizing; recognizing how extraordinarily beautiful the treasure really is, and how everything else pales in comparison.  When we gaze steadily at the treasure, we are captivated, and our hearts are completely captured, and life is transformed.
 
It is my joy oftentimes, as I sit with folks or take them on retreat, to remind them of the beauty of the treasure.  And to encourage them to dig; dig into whatever it is that their life is currently composed of.  Because in the digging comes the finding.  There is treasure buried within it, it is ours simply to dig long enough to find it.  And once we find it, to be captured by it...by what God is up to in the midst of whatever it may be.  I sat with one friend recently that has been through hell, but has kept digging through the rubble and wreckage of a life that at one time looked unsalvageable, and now sees nothing but the treasure of what God has brought up from the dirt of pain and brokenness.
 
I also got to go on a retreat a week or so ago with a group of pastors (dear and wonderful men) who would name the field they were currently toiling in things like fried, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, consumed, etc.  It was fun to be with them and to encourage them in the silence to dig in to God.  And when the did, it was such a delight to see what He did, and how He met them, and how He revealed the treasure (of Himself) to them, and offered them life and breath and rest.  It is such a joy and a privilege to be able to be with people, and to see their eyes grow wide with excitement and life, the moment they discover the treasure underneath the grime.  And it also encourages and motivates me to keep digging.  Thanks be to God! 
 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."  (Matthew 13:44)



The kingdom of heaven is like treasure.  What an incredible statement!  Of all the pictures that come to my mind when I hear about the kingdom of heaven the picture of a priceless, matchless treasure is not typically one of them?  Why is that?  What do I really think the kingdom of heaven is like?  And how does what I think the kingdom of heaven is really like shape my life and my belief?  I have a suspicion that if I really believed the kingdom of heaven was like treasure, I would live my life much differently.  At least that was the case for those that found the treasure...the guy in the field, and Zacchaeus, and James and John, and Peter and Andrew, and Paul.  Something deeply significant happens within a person when they really discover the beauty and the majesty and the breathtaking quality of this treasure. 

What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase the kingdom of heaven?  And what comes to your mind when you think of treasure?  What do you treasure?  What is your treasure?  It seems like a pretty significant question.  In fact, both Matthew and Luke go as far as to tell us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also, so I guess it is something we should spend some time considering.

I've been thinking a lot about treasure these days, particularly as it relates to the kingdom of heaven.  Mostly because of this parable.  And the more I think about it, the more it seems like once I am truly convinced that life with God (the kingdom of heaven) is like treasure--the most valuable, beautiful, captivating treasure I could ever hope to discover in my wildest dreams--it completely changes everything.  My heart is totally and completely captured by its (His) beauty; and I will do anything, and give up anything and everything, to possess it.  That's the way it was for the man in the story at least.  And that's the way it could be for us too.  At least that seems to be one of the main things Jesus is trying to communicate by telling the story in the first place; that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure.


But it's not just treasure, it's treasure hidden.  Now there's an interesting twist.  Why in the world would God want this treasure to be hidden?  But we all know, by experience, that it is.  We all know thousands of people personally who have never found it. In fact, they don't even know (or care) that it's buried and waiting to be found.  The only answer I can come up with is that there must be something in the seeking.  And not only in the seeking for the very first time, but in the seeking each and every day after that as well.  That means that the why of the hiddenness may not be quite as important as the fact that it is, indeed, hidden.  For if it is, indeed, hidden then that must be the very nature of this treasure: always hidden and waiting to be found.  And if that is the very nature of this treasure, then I need to constantly be on the lookout for it.  If there is buried treasure waiting to be found, I need to constantly be seeking, and searching, and digging to unearth it...each minute of each and every day.  Whether it be in a conversation, or a situation, or a circumstance, or a hardship, or a wound; or even in Scripture, or in my time with Him each day, I must constantly be digging in search of the treasure hidden in the field.  It is indeed there; just waiting to be found.  And when I begin to approach life in this way it will radically change everything.  I will be completely sold out (like the man in the parable), giving up anything and everything to take possession of this immeasurably valuable treasure, and constantly making it my very own.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

jackson's prayer

don't weep for me
for from the very moment
i was dreamt into being
this is the very thing
for which i was made
to be with my father
o the joy

i was glad enough
to come to you
so glad to be with you
even for so brief a time
grateful for your care
and for your touch
grateful to be able
to touch you in return
with the touch i received
from our father
he sent me to you
to touch you in that way

but now i am set free
and more alive
than i've ever been
i am free and whole and full
and if my leaving ever
caused you to wonder
rest assured that all
you have ever hoped
to believe is true
truer than you can know
more wonderful than you
dare ask or imagine

let that truth
give you comfort
and hope
and deep anticipation
of all that is to come


26 years later:
Jackson Lee Branch 1-7-87

Thursday, May 16, 2013

trying

I went on retreat a couple of days ago, to a beautiful place with some incredible men.  As we began our time in silence I noticed that I was having some trouble settling in to the silence and coming to any sort of stillness within.  And as I thought more about it, I realized that the very same thing had happened the last couple of times I had taken a day away to be still and listen to God.  I felt like I was a big ball of yarn that was filled with snarls and knots and loops and tangles.  And the more I tried to undo the mess, the more messy it seemed to become; until the day had passed and the time was over and I was heading for home, no better, it seemed, than when I had arrived.  Notice that the word undo contains a very familiar root...do.  Somehow I was trying to do silence and stillness, just like I tend to do everything else.  And it left me frustrated, and a little tense. 

So, I decided, instead of struggling with the big ball of yarn within me, to go for a walk.  And as I walked I began to notice some things.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day, sunny and bright, lots of blue sky and green leaves, perfect temperature, with just the right amount of breeze blowing.  I began to watch the trees dance with the wind; it felt like something right out of the Chronicles of Narnia.  It was an absolutely beautiful dance, so captivating to watch.  The trees didn't have to try, they just were.  They allowed the wind to animate them and bring them to life; to take the lead in this mysterious dance, if you will.  I walked a little further and saw a daisy growing in an opening alongside the path in front of me.  It was standing straight and tall and lovely, lifting its arms to the life-giving sun.  And I again "thought" this flower is not trying (or toiling and spinning in the words of Matthew), but simply is.  It is being itself; just what it was made to be, and this was the natural result.  I walked over to a chair and sat and watched the afternoon sun reflect on the water.  It was like ten million little points of light; shimmering and glittering and shining from the rays of the sun.  And again I "thought," it is not trying to do this.  But of course by now I had realized I wasn't "thinking" at all, but God was speaking, and the message was the same over and over again.  Side Note: It takes me a while to catch on sometimes, so God knows that with me He often has to repeat Himself before I recognize His voice...End of Side Note

And finally, as I sat, watching and listening, I saw His final messenger...a hawk.  It was circling above, riding the currents of the wind.  I'll bet I watched him for ten minutes before he disappeared, and during that entire time I can't remember him flapping his wings once.  He simply rode the winds and went wherever they took him...beautiful, peaceful, effortless.  And I began to long, and to pray, for the same to be true of me; that I might be able to simply be...to simply be all that God created me to be, and to be me as naturally and as effortlessly as the leaves, or the flower, or the reflections on water, or the hawk riding the winds of its Creator.  Which is exactly what the Spirit of God is to begin with; the wind of God, His very breath (in fact spirit , wind, and breath are all the same word; both in Greek and in Hebrew) .  Maybe it is all the trying that keeps getting in my way.  What if I just decided to be?  And as I thought about that very thing, suddenly I realized the knots and the tangles and the snarls were gone, and I was all still within.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

loved

The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:14 (JBP)

For Christ’s love compels us...2 Corinthians 5:14 (NIV)

Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do. 2 Corinthians 5:14 (The Message)



The things you do are not proof of your value, worth, or significance.  They are not the measurements by which you try to justify your existence...instead, let Christ's love compel you. 

The things we do are our expression of love to the God who already loves us more than we dare ask or imagine.  They are not a resume; they do not earn us anything; they simply say, "I love you, too." 

So stop measuring.  Stop earning.  Stop comparing.  Stop performing.  Your worth is not hanging in the balance.  It does not depend on everything you achieve, every accomplishment you collect.  So relax.  Live in the freedom of knowing you are loved deeply and fully and completely...and eternally.  Instead of working so hard to prove yourself, just be in love...with Me. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

larger and smaller

He must increase, but I must decrease.  John 3:30


Sometimes it can become a little confusing.  Am I supposed to be growing larger or smaller.  By looking at the second half of this verse it would seem that the answer is obvious.  Of course I must decrease.  And that is always 100% true.  But we can never look at the second half of the verse apart from the first.  Because, at the same time, there is something that is supposed to be growing larger within us...Him.  And as the life of God grows larger and larger within me, as I become more and more the one He created me to be, something happens within me that for the life of me feels good and right...and big.  It is not that I am to occupy more space, in fact it is quite the opposite, my decrease is a necessary condition for His increase, but where is He most likely to increase?  In me!  Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).  So something is growing beautifully bigger within me while something else is growing wonderfully smaller.  God is occupying more and more of my heart and soul, God is turning me into the me he always dreamt for me to be; and it feels so broad and spacious and free and expansive.  So back to the original question:  Am I supposed to grow larger or smaller?  And, of course, the answer is "yes."  But not larger or smaller, larger and smaller.  There is an increasing and a decreasing going on all at the same time.  No wonder I get confused from time to time.  But thanks be to God, for this strange dynamic can mean only one thing...He is at work!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

intimacy

I've been thinking a lot lately about the whole idea of intimacy.  Particularly about what it really is and how it is created and nurtured; as well as what are obstacles and hindrances to the cultivating of intimacy in relationships.  I have a suspicion, that like most things, if we consider how intimacy is developed and grown between people, it will help us begin to know some of the dynamics and design of intimacy with God. 

The word intimacy comes from Latin intimus, referring to what is interior or inside.  Thus intimacy happens when we reveal and expose our insides to one another.  It requires mutual disclosure; by its very nature it is never a one way street.  This is particularly true as we consider our intimacy with God.  "The big and hidden secret [of the gospel]," Richard Rohr writes, "is this: God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul.  Once you experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes what is going on for you: mystery, tenderness, singularity, nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and, of course also, suffering.  This is the mystical vocabulary of the saints."

God longs for intimacy with us, therefore He discloses or reveals Himself to us; not merely ideas or theological concepts about God, but He actually shows us Himself.  He opens His infinite heart and allows us to see inside.  And His desire in doing so is that it might completely capture ours in return, and give us the desire and the courage to disclose ourselves to Him.  Not that He needs us to do that; obviously He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Our disclosure is more about what happens in us as we open up to Him; it grows this Divine intimacy within us.  Therefore I must stay attentive to both movements; to how God is revealing and disclosing Himself to me and how I am intentionally and courageously revealing and exposing myself to Him...two steps in an incredibly beautiful dance.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

fifty days of easter

a longing
for genuine transformation
will always lead us
to death’s door
again and again

what a crazy design
we must die
in order to be raised
paschal mystery 

the old
must be
out of the way
to make space
for the new
to take shape
within us

one cannot truly begin
without the other ending
release comes
before receive

after all
it is difficult
to receive the new
when our hands are still
so full of the old

and why is dying
such a necessary part
of this process 

maybe because
without dying
there can be
no resurrection

and resurrection
is really the point
being raised, that is,
not raising ourselves

being raised
by the giver of life
breathing his breath
into our deadness
and bringing us
to life once again
in a new form
that is not new
at all 
to him