#QuietTime In #NewYorkCity

(“…one of these things is not like the other….”)

I have noticed that if I am going to be outside in the garden, I must apply myself to the task of becoming “acclimated”.  Heat, sweat, cold, rain, bugs—they are all part of the “outside” experience, and I will make appropriate (and sometimes creative and/or humorous) adjustments and provisions according my level of commitment.

I have layered on the clothing to go out in the early pre-dawn hours, even before the birds wake up, when it’s only in the 40’s or so.  This means long johns (to preserve my heat) and steaming hot tea in a pump thermos (to preserve the tea’s heat).  I have used so much bug spray that I’m thankful I am no longer of childbearing age.  I have set up a fan in the corner of the patio and even purchased an adjustable umbrella for when it’s hot, and when that isn’t enough, can be seen festooning said umbrella with kitchen towels draped strategically to provide shade from the inconvenient angle of the sun.  There is just something healing and healthy for me when it comes to spending sizable quantities of time out of doors, and I consider it a bit of an adventure to finds ways to fulfill this need.

One weekend I was visiting my daughters in New York City. One of them had graciously found a studio apartment for myself and her sister, Jessica, who had flown in from Los Angeles. This delightful little domicile was located within one of the tiniest of NYC buildings, which means it was only seven or eight stories high. (In my town, the tallest building is maybe four stories, and is itself dwarfed only by the local grain elevator.) I was very thankful for the accommodations, and mildly amused that it was right next to a similar building that sported a huge “Hell’s Angels” sign outside—no one in their right mind would bother us that night!  At any rate, since Jessie is not a morning person, I was determined to find a slice of time to myself in the quiet of dawn.  But does such a thing exist in the “city that never sleeps?”  Early in the morning, my Bible and I found ourselves determinately mounting the several flights of stairs to the rooftop, a place, I have come to learn, which is frequented by the veteran city dwellers due to the lack of space elsewhere.  Sitting at a table that faced the Empire State Building, I could feel the occasional rumble of the subway far below, but even so the relative quiet and solitude was blissful.  That is, until it started to rain.  Not a typical Midwestern downpour, mind you, but a New York City drizzle, just enough to dampen my expectations, as well as my T-shirt.  Looking around for suitable protection (mostly for the book more than for myself), I found an old blanket and threw it over myself, just enough so I could stay up on that peaceful outdoor rooftop a few minutes longer. 

Creative resiliency is also an important aspect of our relationship with God.  When we embark on our journey with Christ, He forewarns us that a certain “acclimation” is to be expected:

  • The rumble of life under our feet, the sprinkles and downpours of sorrows and disappointments, are all part of staying in the game and embracing the identity that He provides. It is comforting to know that, regardless of how we feel, we are never alone in this adventure. There are those who have gone before us, and there are those who will experience the same things after us, and in it all, God has promised that He is with us, and will never, ever leave us alone. (1)
  • Sometimes it takes creativity to believe in what possible goodness lies beyond what we can presently see (it’s called faith), or creativity to imagine that God has options we are not even aware of (it’s called trust), or creativity to rearrange and manage our lifestyles to spend time just getting to know Him better so we can increase our faith and trust, (it’s called an alarm clock…) If anyone needs a little nudge of encouragement in this direction, check out the account of a guy named Gideon. (2)
  • We douse on the bug spray of wisdom and obedience which certainly makes us less attractive to the world’s ways, and sometimes doesn’t particularly smell so great to us either, at least at first sniff. This “world-repellant” comes in the form of doing what God says for us to do, (obedience is very activity oriented), and will probably afford us less popularity, less attention, but will also mean fewer uncomfortable bites! The sting of personal/spiritual/moral compromise is worth avoiding at all costs. (3)
  • Sometimes God even sends His angels in the most unusual and unexpected forms, like big bikers with tattoos (gotta love ‘em!) to ward off my would-be attackers, or an old cast-away blanket to protect God’s words and promises that have been written on the pages of my heart from smearing off in life’s rain. (4) 

Being outside isn’t always easy.  In Missouri, they say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change.  But it is well worth the effort to be surrounded by God’s creation, and even more so be surrounded by God’s graceful plan for our lives. 

So grab your cap, and your can of Deet, and let’s get going! 

  • Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 12:1,2
  • Judges 6 and 7 (One of my favorites!! I have to meet this guy in heaven!)
  • Proverbs 8:1-14
  • Proverbs 4:23, Hebrews 1:14 and Hebrews 2:1

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The early bird gets the….eewww! Really??

I tend to frequent my garden patio in the early morning.  I appreciate the quiet of my rural, small town setting, and I love to hear the birds wake up and start singing.  My husband and I are true bird-admirers.  Not real bird-watchers, mind you; the true Audubons are the ones that can confidently identify, say, a loggerhead shrike from a Northern shrike…and enjoy it.  But like my more learned comrades, I have fun actually seeing the birds I am hearing, and I’m learning them little by little,(with my color picture book close by), to recognize a few species, including by the music they make.   I have also learned that, generally speaking, to attract birds you must have a bird-attracting environment.  They are all around me, because I can hear them, even if I can’t immediately see them.  But to seriously bring them into view I must entice them with something they want.   

Many of my patio variety songsters are not particularly picky eaters, thankfully.  A fifty-pound bag from the local feed store does nicely, especially for sparrows and junkos and an occasional cowbird or catbird.  However, I have learned that certain species are encouraged to frequent my garden depending on what I choose to put out.  Cardinals like their black-oil sunflower seeds.  Finches love the seeds on my dry coneflowers.  Hummingbirds go for red. Downey woodpeckers prefer the suet in the hanging cage.   And grackles, well, I guess they eat anything, and a whole lot of it! 

What I also find noteworthy is how these fabulous creatures find their way to the food.  It is such a natural, unfeigned, unpretentious process.  The more I set out, the more they come around.  And even if I don’t get around to filling the feeders, and maybe there are only a few kernels just left lying around a pile of empty hulls, they still seem attracted to it, pushing through the junk to find the valuable seeds.  But the converse is also true.  No food, few birds.  For them to stay around in abundance, and close enough for thorough enjoyment and study, they must be welcomed and wanted, and they must be drawn.

With all respect, the Holy Spirit is a bit, just a bit mind you, the same way.  As we provide the proper enticements (like faith), and make Him feel welcome (like humility), He comes more into view, becomes easier to see, and His ways are easier to identify.  And why?  Because what God is interested in most is the environment of my heart:

  • He looks deep within my human soul, the real me, the sometimes (oft times) hidden me, and invites me to come and take a good look with Him, since most of us are not even fully aware of what’s really going on in there anyway. And though He sees the “me” in my entire self, and though He recognizes so much beauty that could be, yet He patiently waits and constrains Himself, for even God must be invited, welcomed and wanted. One of the Old Testament songwriters put it this way, “I sought Your favor with all my heart;
    Be gracious to me according to Your word…”
    (1)
  • Although God is everywhere at once, yet He makes it clear that we get His attention by a humble heart, and a prayer of faith, even if it’s just a little faith mixed with a whole bunch of questions. It’s an easy and common deception to think that we are too far gone, too messed up, or have too little faith for God work His wonderful restorative power in our lives. However, a little faith is still faith, a powerful entity in God’s kingdom, even if it’s mixed with a bunch of empty husks known as doubt and the used up hulls we call fear.  God is just powerful enough to dig through our questions and circumstances to find the little seeds of faith in our prayers and our lives, even when we ourselves aren’t aware of their existence. (2)
  • The proud heart, on the other hand, the one that says it does not need God, that refuses to agree with God’s assessment of the situation and His answer to the problem, (possibly because it refuses to acknowledge that there IS a problem), this heart the Holy Spirit grieves over, since there is nothing to bid Him welcome, nothing to make Him feel wanted. (3)

My early morning “patio compadres” make my garden more than just a quiet place to sip my tea while the rest of the town wakes up.  Not only do I love having them around for their beauty and song, but they are part of the very livelihood of my garden!  So does God’s Holy Spirit infuse His life into the garden of my life.  Every day is another opportunity to invite Him into my world, my mind, and circumstances, and my heart. 

Then I can sit back, and listen for His song.

  • Psalm 119:58
  • See Mark 9:24
  • See Psalm 51:17, James 4:6

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Pigs and Pearls

pig-214349_1280

Having just referred to St. Aug’s comment re: “men’s souls hang on your gifts” and quoting the prophet Isaiah about pouring out “that with which you sustain your own life to feed the hungry and to satisfy the need of the afflicted”, Jesus’ somewhat uncomplimentary metaphor warning us to “not cast your pearls before swine” seems, at first glance, a bit harsh to our 21st century sensibilities.  No doubt, it was to 1st century ears also, particularly considering the religious and social context of the day.

Here’s how I unpack it—

A short take: Everyone has influence, period.  Everyone has a “hidden congregation” that’s watching and learning.  They need what you have to give, which makes each of us responsible for finding out just what that is, and start giving it, even if we don’t know who “they” are yet.  However, pearls take many years to form, and are an organic result of an irritation inside the shell.  Therefore, they are more fragile than, say, a diamond.   Which means you have gifts (sometimes born of inconvenience, irritation, or downright pain) that you might not even be aware of yet, experiences that others need, talents gained, hardships overcome.  Jesus considers these things precious when placed under His care, and He knows who needs them.

Secondly, since they are precious (and admittedly, sometimes fragile), these gifts must be respected and treated with care.  This is where heavenly wisdom is sorely needed.  I see young teenagers giving their hearts and bodies away before they can barely read and write coherently.  I see parents wasting their children’s childhood on drugs and alcohol, or on too many meetings at work (or church!) In these ways and more, pearls are crushed under muddy hooves.

And just a tangent thought: Jesus’ “casting pearls” comment also appears somewhat paradoxical, when compared with the whole “give up your life to find it” idea.  That is one of the many things I love about the Bible.  Like David Limbaugh so endearingly puts it in his book, Jesus on Trial, the paradoxes, the seeming contradictions in the Bible, are invitations to dig deeper to resolve them and thus, far from smashing our faith against the rocks of unanswered questions…

… they serve to help us walk on the water more confidently with Him who holds our hands.