Tag Archives: peace

Quiet in Advent

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This clever sketch with its caption, “A nativity scene without Jews, Arabs, Africans, or refugees,” has been circulating on social media.

This season I’ve been intentionally quiet, quiet mostly in the mornings but also quiet on the blog.  This Advent, I’ve tapped back into my practice of Lectio and Centering Prayer.  I’ve been reading the prophetic scriptures from Isaiah and the journey to Bethlehem in Luke as the Syrian city of Aleppo crumbles, lives are lost, and great fear reigns throughout our world.

I haven’t known how to respond to all the darkness, have you?  

I should speak out, I think, say something like Isaiah, the prophet, reminding us how to follow a God who is not of this world, a king who is not violent, but gentle and humble and an outsider.

Is silence surrender in the face of such great evil, especially in a season that proclaims resounding joy, reconciliation, and peace?

I strive to work for justice in fits and spurts, donating, signing petitions, calling my congresspeople, but in the mean time, in a faraway land from where our savior was born, I hope that my silence meets God’s faithfulness.  You see, what I have always found so powerful about centering prayer is that I’m not doing anything–and that’s the point.  Because if prayer is just one more thing that we do, let alone one more thing that I presume to muster of my own wisdom and accord, then it is anything but a holy offering or a right relationship to God.

And so as we wonder how to respond, I wonder, whether as always, if it isn’t less about us and more about God–God’s saving action in the world?  I am patient in this season to listen but not to listen without responsibility.  I listen and trust and charge God with all God is always doing to offering healing, respite, and reprieve.  And I wait for God to give me the words, the actions, and the steps to be an instrument of peace this Advent season.

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My little setup at the new home.  My photo.

If you’re interested, there are over 30 posts in the category “Centering Prayer” on the blog.

Here are also a few posts from past Advent reflections and practices:

This Advent, Share Joy.

Advent and Breaking In

Advent: Reorienting Expectations

Thinking on Advent

Mary’s Song: Advent Expectations

God can take it

God, making weakness holy for over 2014 years

Finally, I’d be interested in hearing from any of you who are struggling in waiting this season.  It strikes me that waiting and silence feel particularly cheap in a season where this so much violence and need.  What is God teaching you?  Where is God leading you?

 

Thanksgiving (in an election season)

A couple days ago I talked with a friend who has a daughter who faces similar special needs as Lucia.  It was refreshing to speak with someone who has such a kindred attitude toward celebrating his daughter’s life, despite the challenges and the hardships.

However, as we drove home from the hospital after a successful surgery with Lucia yesterday, I reflected that in so many ways this attitude of understanding our children’s lives as cause for celebration rather than burden is bolstered by the support systems we share.  My husband and I are so thankful to live in a state that invests in Lucia’s care, to have insurance, that despite its shortcomings, generally covers all that she needs, and to have friends and family that love Lucia unconditionally, pray for her, and care for us!

It is difficult to imagine how we might view Lucia’s disability if with every medical intervention we had to also sweat the finances or insurance coverage or if we had to worry that someone caring for her didn’t have the proper resources or training.  These are the very important supports that often go unstated in the words I write about Lucia, and this morning, I am thankful for them.  I am also deeply prayerful that families who don’t have such support will find it in gracious lawmakers, caring social workers, more humane insurance policies, and more state programing for kids and families with special needs.

The pending election in this country may seem positively incongruous with this month in which we aim to practice gratitude by naming our blessings when so many, like the ones above, go unacknowledged.  But this morning, I began to wonder what it might look like to practice a spirit of gratitude despite the strife and division in this country and the world.

How would our attitudes toward one another shift if we were to focus our attention on all that we in America have to be grateful for, what we are grateful for in the candidates we support, or what we are grateful for when it comes to the provisions of our country and state (rather than only so very critical of)?  Thanksgiving invites us to pause and offer God the praise that God is due, and as we can see, this in and of itself, in an election season can be very powerful and countercultural!  Could such thanksgiving invite us to more civility and less hate?  Could it remind us of our common human needs, desires, and goodness?  Could it point us back to God when our human ways are frail and flawed?

I realize, perhaps more personally than many this election season, how dire and in jeopardy such supports for people with disabilities are, and I do not discount these challenges, but I wonder if gratitude is still an appropriate way to reflect on the hardships in the midst of the blessings.  After all, God has taught me so much about how to experience blessings despite the challenges as we’ve gotten know Lucia!

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Photo credit.

So this morning, I am thankful for…

The amazing nursing care provided through Medicaid in the state of New Jersey, for my daughter, Lucia, and the opportunity for her to attend a school come February that will meet her special needs.

All those working to welcome refugees to the abundance this land and its people can provide.

A country free from war and where so many live free from poverty, hunger, and despair.

A presidential candidate who has made disability rights a platform in her campaign.

Students at a historically black college who protested a KKK speaker in their auditorium and people protesting a pipeline that will disrupt Native American lands.  Thankful for those who lift their voices, use their bodies, and engage in brave, peaceful protest for those in need in this country.

A democratic country with peaceful elections, robust debate, and freedom of speech.

All those who love Lucia so well, celebrating rather than mourning or pitying her life.

What are you thankful for this morning?  What countercultural words do you have this election season?  Feel free to link up with this post and write your own #thanksgivingforelectionseason.

 

 

 

 

The kingdom of love

Kunming, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Kunming, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A friend of mine compiled this prayer of approach from various sources for last Sunday’s service, and something about the compassionate being expected and the kingdom of love on its way touched me deeply.

May you experience the kingdom of love this week wherever you find yourself:

Come into this place, where the ordinary is sanctified,

The human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected.

Come into this place.

Together we make it a holy place, with our every act of worship.

God, help us to listen to our inner spirit;

To the inner yearning to belong to something greater than ourselves.

Help us to listen to our inner spirits

And find there the presence of your good encouraging spirit.

The kingdom of love is coming because:

Somewhere, someone is kind when others are unkind.

Somewhere, someone shares with another in need.

Somewhere, someone is patient- and waits in love.

Somewhere, someone returns good for evil,

Somewhere, someone serves another, in love.

Somewhere, someone is calm in a storm.

On risking earthly things

It sounds so simple, this business of trusting God.

But even when I’m wracked with uncertainty and brutally aware of my own need for God, I often fail to understand how exactly we go about being faithful.  Even as I strive to know and trust God with my present and my future, I discover that once again I’m going about it all wrong.

Chesapeake Bay.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’ve placed my trust in earthly things instead of in who God is, has been, and always will be.

When we’re reticent to truly trust God, our vision is limited.  We place our trust in human endeavors–promotions, houses, even people–but earthly securities are but illusions.  They crumble, they fall, they fail us.  At those moments of despair we often cry out to God, feeling betrayed.

But it is God whom we have betrayed.  

We’ve put our trust, our devotion, and our service in the things of this world instead of our creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  And when God doesn’t have our whole trust and our whole lives, God can’t grant us the vision and possibilities and promises that lie beyond our own limited perspective and imagination.

I heard a great sermon yesterday challenging us to faithfully cast out our nets as the disciples do in the last chapter of John and trust Jesus to fill them with provision that defies common sense.

The Yong River.  Nanning, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The Yong River. Nanning, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

But we’re so stubborn.

We human beings cling to our common sense like it’s all there is, like we’d rather settle for our own plans and dreams and ideas rather than God’s expansive vision.  Have the Biblical stories taught us nothing?  Has the promise of Easter fallen on deaf ears?  Do we truly believe Christ has been raised from the dead, and with him, we, too have been given eternal life?

I’m realizing that living as Easter people means risking the earthly things for the eternal ones, and relying on God to provide possibilities that we cannot fathom or imagine, but that we earnestly trust come from the hand of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer who never fails us.  For me, this requires daily commitment.  It requires me to continually let go of my plans, however seemingly perfect, and find rest and peace in who God is.  My restlessness, in fact, is a good sign to me usually that I’m relying on my own vision rather than seeking God’s.  

So may you find rest in who God is, has been, and always will be this morning.  May you seek eternal rather than earthly things, and may you be raised alongside Christ to taste and see the possibilities that only God has in store for you and your life.  Amen.

Scripture: Colossians 3; John 21

Peace: A Christmas Prayer

Pine boughs and berries.  All photos mine.
Pine boughs and berries. All photos mine.

Why do we rush around this time of year as if we can accomplish the impossible, as if we are our own salvation, as if the turning of this world depends upon us?

Why do we crowd the precious gifts of the wisemen, the shepherds, and the manger with cheap imitations of praise, hope, and love?

Why can’t we find it in our hearts to praise the King of Kings, while we can find time to wrap, to bake, to travel, and to make merry?

I think it’s because we fear that the absence of control is chaos.  

We fear that if we surrender the Christmas season to God, let God take the reins, then nothing will get done.  It seems such a simple, but difficult thought, to give God this Christmas season, to let God reign.  It’s not putting Christ back in Christmas, because like all the best things in this spiritual life–we don’t do the work, God does.  Instead, we do the waiting, the watching, the wondering, and we start to feel something that passes understanding.

I learned this year–that if we live life by faith, the absence of control is not chaos, but God’s sweet, sincere peace. 

The view from our window.
The view from our window.

So this is my prayer for you this season–that as you go about your busy lives that you surrender your greatest plans, your deepest desires, yes, your hopes, your dreams, your everything to the baby Jesus.  And that in so doing, you find that living life with God at the reins lends a deep sense of peace.  May you find the space in your life to contemplate not only the gift of our savior this Christmas, but what gift God is calling you to place before our King.

Amen.

Virtual Coffee Date

Hibiscus in the President's Garden, Princeton University.  My photo.
Hibiscus in the President’s Garden, Princeton University. My photo.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would wonder aloud whether this coming of age thing is supposed to be so fraught with life and death, divorce and birth, loss and love.  Sometimes the co-mingling of so much joy and pain, so much sunshine and devastation, seems cruel, contrite, and certainly, inconceivable.  I think it’s partly this stage of life, where friends and family are facing such crossroads, but I also think that living life fully necessarily takes us into deep sorrow and deep joy, and we have little control regarding where one ends and the other begins.

Inside Notre Dame, Paris.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’m left with a sense of awe regarding how the God of the universe holds our fragile lives in such a charged balance.  And a sense of humility for how little I understand of this life, how without words I find myself when witnessing deep pain or deep joy.

But in the midst of the unknown, I find gratitude creeping over me.

What more is there in this life than accompanying one another through the valleys and the mountains?  What more is there to be being human than these experiences and the ways we respond in love and care to one another?  And how much more there is to this God we seek to know more fully!  I’d tell you that even when I can’t see or feel God and I doubt what God is doing, I trust in God’s peace that passes all understanding, I trust in the peace we lend to one another as sinners, yet bearers of Christ, when worldly peace is utterly unfathomable.

My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My family and I walking in a wash in Arizona. Photo by Evan Schneider.

I’d also tell you how I’ve hit something of a stride with this dissertation and how very thankful I am to be in a field where I can be both analytical and creative.  I’d tell you how nervous and excited I am to be teaching at Drew University this fall and be learning with students there about Chinese family culture.  I’d tell you about the anticipation of planning to receive our Chinese pastor friends at Princeton Seminary and Princeton University this fall, the joy I feel at hosting them at our home when they were so generous in showing us around years ago.

And finally, I’d tell you about how gorgeous these final days of summer in New Jersey have been, how there’s something about the sun coming through the window in the morning, the hummingbird on the porch, and the encroaching crispness of the evening hours that reminds me of hope in the midst of darkness.  Just last fall, New Jersey experienced much of the brunt of Super Storm Sandy, but since that time, nature has been healing herself and healing many of us in the process.

Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.  My photo.
Fuzzy photo of the humming bird feeding on our porch.

Yes, in the midst of pain, there is peace.  It’s not immediate or instant, but comes about slowly, with grace and goodness, and we are its bearers in a fallen world.

Photo Credit.

What is your hope or your peace this day?

P.s. I’ve linked up all the virtual coffee date posts in a new category so you can find them easily.  Check it out!

What it means to be a child of God

Yesterday the minister stood in the pulpit putting plainly the state of this world, from attacks in Boston and Syria, gun violence, earthquakes in China, and buildings collapsing in Bangladesh, and the words rippled and reverberated like aftershocks through my fragile heart.

And on top of all these things, the passage for the day (John 14: 23-29) was one in which Jesus speaks about leaving his disciples and the world behind.  At a moment of great uncertainty not unlike this one in our own world, what must it have felt like for the disciples to hear that Jesus was leaving them far behind?

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Sure, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit and peace, Jesus says, “I am going away, and I am coming to you,” and Jesus urges them to not let their hearts to be troubled and to not be afraid.  I’m sure they felt like very empty words and promises to those left behind.  There are times when the most brilliant, comforting words feel hollowed out of all holiness, because life has delivered such a bitter blow.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to advocate and to teach, and leaves a peace that’s unlike the hollow, bitter circumstances of our lives.  I’m sure the disciples didn’t realize it at the time, but Jesus’ leaving, his death, would unlock for them a new identity, a whole new life.

I feel like I’ve been picking on Tanya Luhrmann a bit lately, but she’s right about this: being a child of God makes all the difference in the world.  When darkness enfolds you and nothing in the world speaks of grace or hope or beauty anymore, it is an enormous truth to know that we’re not defined by this world, but by God.  We’re not only created in God’s image, and children of God, but we’re being made new.  We are new creations in the midst of destruction, desolation, and brokenness.

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As the minister spoke this Sunday he encouraged us to reflect on the grandeur of the gift of peace.  It’s been said many a time that peace isn’t the absence of war or violence or pain, but the presence of God in the midst of these things.  But I think it’s even more powerful to reflect on what a gift peace is and those in our lives who give us this holy peace and not as the world gives.

The minister spoke of peace as what allows you to keep your footing in the midst of the tremors.  Peace is the people who sit beside us, taking deep breaths with us when even breathing feels like work.  Peace is companionship and grace and abundance in a world of scarcity.  But most of all, I think peace is the eternal Spirit that allows us to marvel at ourselves as children of God even when the world is crumbling.

Amen.

Virtual Coffee Date

South Lake Park
A weekend stroll in South Lake Park, Nanning.  All photos by Evan Schneider.

If we were having coffee this morning, I would tell you that we’re entering the fourth week of my course at the seminary, and it’s already been such an incredibly rewarding, exciting experience.  The most fulfilling part is that I don’t feel like I have to sell the students on the fact that culture, family, and ministry go together.  They believe that twenty-first century ministry is all about embracing and negotiating difference, and they’ve been so affirming over email, coffee, and in person that this is a course that they need: praise God!

I would also admit that when it comes to my dissertation, I’ve been working hard, but it feels like the writing is being cobbled together, and all the cracks are showing.  I’m trying to be brave and believe that even in academia, we can let some of these cracks show, learn from one another, and find grace in life’s seemingly most unyielding moments.  I’ll let you know how that one works out…

Souvenirs

It’s Chinese New Year in my other home these days, and despite the fireworks and the fanfares, for the foster families in Guangxi it’s often a difficult time of year as the weather turns wet, cold, and unrelenting.  A wise NGO worker I knew once pointed out that for children in orphanages this is the loneliest time of year, when they’re reminded they have no family to celebrate, no grandparents to travel home to.  I’m praying for protection and warmth and possibility for the foster families and healing, love, and peace for all the children.  Happy Year of the Snake!

As for me and God, we’re just hanging out.  No agendas, just me accepting and reveling in God’s unconditional love.

This week I realized that despite how wonderfully God is integrating my academic and my spiritual lives in this course at the seminary, in conversations with colleagues and professors, and even in my dissertation writing, I had become restless.  In my prayers, I was setting an agenda for the time I was carving out.  Instead of simply rejoicing with God, I’d moved on in my mind to what was next, to how this all could possibly be so neatly integrated in a future in which I’d be forced to choose between academia and ministry.

The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.
The temple rooftops in Kunming, Yunnan.

But it’s not my job, it’s never been my job, to hold all those pieces together…it’s God’s.

And I hear God saying firmly, let me do my job and just let me be with you.  (It’s a thrilling revelation by the way, when you realize the almighty God just wants to be with you!)  And when I let God pour God’s peace into me, filling me to the brim, I’m not only reminded that my plans and agendas are the stuff of this world, but also that God’s peace makes me a better pastor and professor.  It’s funny how God volunteers to carry our burdens but we’re the ones who keep snatching them away.

When I look back on God’s deft work in just one month of 2013 here, I am amazed at what God can do!  I’m amazed at how God led me to simple, integrating goals that were refusing agendas from the very first days of this year, and how those represent God’s hand and God’s promise to continue integrating all these different parts of my call in powerful ways.  I’m amazed at how whole I feel here in this place when months ago, just returning from China and listless, I wondered if that was even worth praying for.

It’s amazing how productive God can be if we just leave the agendas, the goals, and the making us whole thing to God.

You never change

Watching the rain come down in Yunnan, Kunming, China, May 2012.

It’s amazing what a quiet moment, a rainy Sunday, and a good friend can do for the soul…and the book of James.

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” my friend and I read during our time of centering prayer this Sunday from James Chapter one, verse seventeen.

And so it is that God reminds me that as often as I oscillate between those shadows and those mountaintops, from the villages of China to the streets of Princeton, New Jersey, as much as all that seems relevant in my life might change and shift and move, our God stays the same.

In Lion Hill Park, Guangxi, Nanning. January 2012.

Yes, the same God who knew me and was with me through the challenges of living and growing in China is the same God who finds me here.

It is so easy to become distracted by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, so easy to think our best maneuvers will help us find success, peace, or resolution.  But I’m learning time after time, day after day, that God remains my resting place, and if I earnestly seek God during these days, I’m bound to be found by God, bound to be in the realm of blessing, comfort, and peace.

A withered lotus flower.

And I’m slowly relearning, in this context, just like any other, what it means to live a life of faith, that along the meanderings of my thoughts yesterday, James says that, “if any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27).

The author with a foster child in Guangxi, Nanning. All photos by Evan Schneider.

And that challenge, although I know I will fall short, is one I am humbled to accept.

Peace for the moment

Warning: International move in progress…and shown, along with reverse cultural shock,  to also have side effects of extreme sappiness.  Please humor me these next couple of weeks, dear readers!

Feeding the fish in Guangxi, Guilin.

Maybe things aren’t working out perfectly, and maybe they’re even about to get really, really hard, but just as there’s been grace for moments like these, I’m reveling in the peace, God’s peace, that’s been washing over me these mesmerizing last days in China.

Walking with friends in downtown Yunnan, Kunming.

It’s such a peace that’s got the husband and I dreaming with a reckless abandon (rather than worrying with wracked paralysis!) about what’s in store for the future.  As we sort through two years of papers and research and clutter and life here, I find myself looking over at him and being ever so thankful for his goodness, his curiosity, his companionship.

Evan and I in Guangxi, Yangshuo on our third anniversary.

As I walked back to the orphanage the other evening with one of my Chinese friends I told her the gist of how my husband and I got to China, how it was he, who ten years ago came here for two summers and found himself drawn to the culture, the people, and the place.  But in varied twists of fate, he never made it back, and went sifting through a bundle of doubts and questions and frustrations and miraculously through all of it found his way to seminary.

And as we became friends, fell in love, and eventually married, he told me of that dream to return to China and his passion captivated me as well.  So without knowing that the seemingly rash actions I took at the time–enrolling for Chinese 101 with the undergrads and beginning this study of Chinese foster mothers despite the plans I had to write my dissertation on Mexican women in the Pentecostal movement (I’ll get to that project one day!)–were the stuff of faith, I began to feel my way toward this place, China, as well. 

Girls playing in the Li River, Guangxi, Yangshuo.

And as I told this story to my friend the other evening I said that I’m not too certain of many things in my young life, but despite the wildness and the difficulty of it all, I’ve always been fairly certain that Evan and I were meant to go to China together.

It’s funny because when we first got here, everyone we met in China wanted to know if it was Evan who followed me here or the other way around, and despite my incessant claims that we’d very much come here together, because we both wanted to be in China, I could tell that didn’t make sense to them, not grammatically, not culturally, not logically.

Hiking the rice terraces with my family in Guangxi, Zhongliu, June 2012.

So it is that peace comes to us, surpassing all understanding, and settling into the cracks of ill-conceived plans, pushing aside our greediness for things like power and security, and our obvious limitations.  And so people who need each other find each other and not logically or fantastically, but quietly and providentially.  And peace lives and breathes in a place where faith is rich and alive, and the rest is just details.  That place, for my husband and I, has been China.

My husband and I in Green Lake Park, Yunnan, Kunming, June 2012.

Where have you found peace?  And what has God made you certain of this day?