Transformation

Transformation

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

First Day of Lent

OK (I say to myself) it has been a long time since your last post.  A really long time.  Why now?  Well, because this is the first day of Lent and I what to share a brief thought about Isaiah 58.  OK, go for it.

I was thinking about people who are displaced from their homes.  They often wander and find refuge where ever there is some form of shelter.  In Haiti thousands of people still live in makeshift tents following the earthquake of January 12, 2010.  In the Sudan people bundle up their possessions in a blanket, place it on top of their head, and begin to walk through the desolation until they arrive at a place of makeshift shelter.

During World War II the Jews of Europe where removed from their homes at gunpoint, placed in rail cars, and unloaded at death camps.  Our own Native Americans were marched for hundreds of deadly miles to arrive at a new 'home' that would never really be a residence of peace and place. 

The people of Israel had been in exile.  They were removed from their promised homeland and taken away to become foreigners and aliens.  Ultimately they were able to return to a home that was now rubble.  God met them there and gave them some clear instructions through the voice of the prophet Isaiah.

He said things like do not fast to please God while you oppress your own people.  Do not take pride in your own outward holy behavior while people are naked and hungry.   Return to your homeland where you will be restored but bring with you a heart of social holiness. 

Bring a heart for the poor, food for the hungry, and the gift of freedom for the oppressed.  Do this and you will be engaged in an acceptable fast that will please God.

Isaiah 58 speaks to be with a powerful reminder that Lent is not just about my own piety.  It is not about how much I pray or how often I engage the Scriptures...at least not exclusively!  Because if I only pray and study but have no active compassion for others...my Lenten fast is like dust in the wind.  It will blow away and disappear into the atmosphere until it is nothing but a speck of dust in the eye of a refugee somewhere around the world.   A speck of dust will never feed a starving person.

John Wesley would say, without social holiness there is no holiness at all.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Rear View Mirror

Last week I was blessed to spend time with a young man who is seeking clarity about a call to ministry.  It is always a unique blessing to hear about a journey of faith that is beginning to bloom with excitement and purpose.

I was blessed to hear about his journey and to know that the adventure of faith and service is in the early stages of development.  He described his discovery of faith while taking part in a camp experience as a participant.  His eyes lit up when he talked about the fact that he would now be serving as a counselor and leader at that same camp while others come under his leadership and influence.  His eyes had the sparkle of hope that arrives when the Spirit begins to open the door to new relationships that are centered in mission and ministry.

I also heard about the influence of his family, his church, and his classmates.  He has surrounded himself with believers who are seeking and serving together.  It sounded like a garden of faith that was fertile, well nourished, and excited about growth that will produce fruit.

The conversation motivated me to take a look back at my own journey.  The rear view mirror is a great place to see the activity of God as it unfolds through relationships, experiences, opportunities, and even the painful journeys of life.

I celebrate the freshness of faith and am grateful for the reminder that God can always use that freshness of faith to teach an old dog a new trick!  Thanks Patrick!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The month of April

     For those who know me, you might understand how profoundly I have been impacted over the years by a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton.  His journey of faith was very different from my experience but his graceful (but often bumpy) spiritual life contains far too many connecting points to think it is a coincidence.
     Merton died on December 10, 1968.  He is buried at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky where he spent the final 27 years of his life.  He was only 53 years old but his influence continues on in to eternity.
     The month of April was an adventure for me because I spent the four Fridays of April teaching a course on Merton at the Benet Hill Monastery in the Black Forest outside of Colorado Springs.
     The group was made up of believers, philosophers, historians, and seekers of all sizes and shapes.  Most had some limited knowledge of Merton while several were there just out of curiosity and the opportunity to learn something new.  In the end, they were teachers to me.
     They taught me more about myself than they learned about Merton.  I discovered a passion that has been welling up in my for years.  It is a passion to know God and to understand how the experiences of life match up with the grace of the Almighty to create a discipleship journey.
   For Merton, it was the early death of his parents, his wild college days, his discovery of faith, and his commitment to Christ that was lived out behind the cloistered walls of an ancient abbey.  For me, it was my marriage to Sue, the discovery of Jesus, my first trip to Romania, and my April 1993 Walk to Emmaus experience that provided the chain of grace and developed my life.  Those four elements were key but they were amplified by thirty years of service within the life of the United Methodist Church.  Combined, they have changed me and given be a glimpse of God.
     April was a really good month!  I hope it was good to you as well.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Offer Them Christ

In less than 24 hours the Roman Catholic Cardinals of the world will begin their Conclave process of voting on a new spiritual leader for the Roman Catholic world.  In many ways (more to some than to others) the new Pope will represent the Christian faith to millions of people around the globe.  In fact, he may be the only significant Christian leader they will ever recognize.

The season of Lent has been inviting us to discover the life of Jesus.  In fact, we could easily say that the entire Gospel message is the foundational message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Pope or no Pope, Jesus must be the first recognizable person that is connected to the faith.

After all, even though the Pope carries spiritual, emotional, and political weight...he is no match for Jesus himself.

John Wesley sent Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury to the "new world" of America with one simple message.  It was a message that not only launched a voyage across the Pacific, it was a word of wisdom that continues to change the world.  Wesley simply said.  "Offer them Christ!"

Oh, that we would do the same!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ray Robert , Arthur William, Jesse Alto, Golda Howe, Ivan W. Jessen
Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Lent for 2013.  I don't really remember Lent as a child except to know that the menu seemed to change at the Pleasant View Elementary School cafeteria.  I didn't know why.  It was just one of the unknown mysteries of life.

Turns out that it really is a mystery.  Not the cafeteria!  But the mystery of faith and the experience of discovery.

It is like looking back at your family and seeing faces that are familiar but knowing that there is so much more to discover about life, history, and even the joy of DNA.

My father's family is a good example.  None of the people in the picture are still alive but in a very mysterious way, they live through me and hundreds of others who currently walk the earth and share their DNA.

My grandfather and grandmother (Arthur William Jessen and Golda Howe Jessen) were adventurers.  They homesteaded on the dusty eastern plains of Colorado near Genoa and Hugo.  It must have been a challenging life.  Break the sod, plant a crop, raise some chickens, keep the coyotes away, and give birth to three boys in the same sod house that grandpa built with his own hands.  Life was different but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I don't know if they thought about the season of Lent when the weather was a few weeks from spring. But I do know that sacrifice was a daily event on the plains.  It was daily creativity and ingenuity that created the basics of life.  Without thinking about it...they knew that there was a time for everything under heaven.

Grandpa moved the family from the plains to the community of Windsor in northern Colorado where he launched a business hauling coal in the winter, ice in the summer, and beet pulp in season.  Ultimately he became the Justice of the Peace and reigned with authority over law breakers of all shapes and sizes.  Grandma died, he remarried (twice) but things were never the same.  The Lord of Life was the same, but he spark and the adventure seemed to disappear from Grandpa's eye.

Lent is about regaining the spark.  It is about a relationship that grows deeper each day.  It is not about making it happen with your own hands and ingenuity but it is about creating life through your heart of hearts.

Do you need a bit of a spark?  I do!  Thanks be to God, tomorrow is the first Sunday of Lent!  Thank God for the DNA of faith that arrives in the form of grace that is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Parents and Children

Several years ago I was blessed to serve as a volunteer chaplain at Longmont United Hospital in Longmont, Colorado.  My friend Ralph (Episcopal Priest extraordinaire) and I both lived within two blocks of the hospital so we were on call most of the time.

Most of the time we responded to everything from life and death issues to someone who was having problems sleeping that night and wanted to talk with someone.   There was no way to know that was on the other end of the pager.

I remember one particular page like it was yesterday.  It was late in the afternoon on a school day.  I remember arriving at the hospital and experiencing a huge flurry of activity.  I soon learned that we were facing a very critical situation.  A school bus had crashed while delivering children  in the area.  The news was out that the bus had rolled and at least one child was dead.

The bus crash took place in Boulder canyon just west of the City of Boulder but the kids were being distributed to a four different hospitals in the area.  Some were severely injured while others simply had cuts and bruises. 

The Longmont hospital had already received 6 to 8 elementary aged children.  My assignment was to greet families at the door to help them locate their children.  I was armed with a list of the children who were at our hospital but we had no information about the other locations or the children who had been triaged to the various facilities.

By the time the first family arrived the place was being overrun by reporters.  The 9News helicopter had landed on the lawn and there was noise and comotion everywhere.  

I will never forget the first family that arrived.  Mom was arriving from her home in Boulder and dad was close behind.  They ran to the entrance with eyes that were searching for some sign of hope.  Fear and the anxiety of the moment had rightly captured them fully.  They were thinking the worst and hoping for the best.

I met them on the sidewalk.  Our goal was to calm their spirits and to help them locate their child without letting them in the facility if their child was not there.  They were a picture of panic.

Their child was not on my list.  The only thing I could do was to identify the other hospitals and to send them back to their cars so they could continue their search.  Neither of them was in shape to drive so a Longmont Police officer offered to take them to Boulder Memorial Hospital.  I could only pray that their little boy would be there.  We knew one child was dead.  I prayed that it would not be their child while knowing that the child of some loving parent was going to receive some very bad news on that day.

Meanwhile, the next and the next and the next families arrived with the same panicked look in their eyes.  There was no mistaking who the parents were.  They were all thinking the same thing and wanting the same information.  Parents need their children and children need their parents.

Last week, in Newtown, Connecticut, parents arrived at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Panic, pain, unbelievable grief accompanied each mother, father, grandparent, and friend. 

Parents and children...God bless the wonderful joyful moments.  Lord Jesus, walk through the days when the whole world seems to be empty and dark.  "For the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light..."   May it be so. May it be so.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Office ~ Study ~ Place

I am a very fortunate guy.  I have a great work space at the church and now I have an office at home.  But maybe you can help me.  I really don't want it to be an 'office.'  That sounds so formal and implies that work must be actually done in that space.

I like Pastoral Study.  But I don't like workplace, headquarters, or administrative center.  In monastic life it would be a cell.  As an writer, it would be a studio.  If I painted on stretched canvas it could be my gallery or a creative center.  If I were a jeweler it would be the location of my work bench with burned in dots of gold and maybe a little diamond dust.

It could be a hide-a-way, a hermitage, or an arcade.  If I was rich, it would be a den. I guess it could be a nest, a lair, a hideaway, or even a cave. No, I don't think so.  It will just be my spot.  Not a like a stain or a smudge, but my spot where all is well in the world.  Drop in sometime.  Just turn left past the living room.  I'll leave the light on!

Thanks Suzi!

Singing with the Strings

It took longer than I thought to complete The Sign of Jonas but I hit the finish line early this morning.  What a ride!  I would highly recommend the 1947 - 1952 journal of Fr. M. Louis Merton. 

We all know him best as Thomas Merton even though he was simply born as Tom to Owen and Ruth.  His religious name of Father M. Louis takes him back to 1250 and the only sainted King of France.  The M. puts him in alinement with every Trappist Monk (and a long line of religious vocations) who carry the same first name.  It is the eternal connection to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Father Mary Louis Merton,  Father Louie to his monastic friends, Thomas Merton to the publishing world.

The cross on his grave at the Abbey of Gethsemani simply says  Fr. Louis Merton  Died  Dec. 10, 1968. He rests at the foot of a large and beautiful cedar that stands below the ancient bell tower that calls the community to worship and prayer seven times each day.

Merton is well know as a contemporary mystic who focused on contemplative prayer.  His journal entries in The Sign of Jonas take him through his ordination as a priest, to his leadership as the Novice Master, and on to a wonderful reflection called Fire Watch, July 4, 1952.  Along the way, he speaks frequently about the nature of prayer.

On March 21, 1950 he shared an insight that continues to resonate in my mind.  Prayer comes in many forms.  Sometimes it is public, a part of the literary, or quiet, perhaps personal and private, maybe even formal and ritualized. But it is all flows from the heart of God through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

He says that the various types and styles of prayer represent the same Spirit of God playing different strings of the same instrument.  You are the instrument, the Holy Spirit is the musician, and the harmony of prayer that results is centered in God. 

Merton doesn't offer this invitation, but I will.  Make your music count!  Enter into the concert of human desire as often as possible.  The harmony of your heart will create the symphony of creation.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Sign of Jonas


Cover Sign of Jonas 1953

I just finished a pair of Beeson Center courses that were focused on the spiritual formation of Christian leaders.  One of the class groups was filled with North American pastors while the second had an enrollment of international Christian leaders from ten different countries. 

My effort was to filter their personal experience of Christian growth through the lens of folks like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, E. Stanley Jones, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, C.S. Lewis and the like.  I also confess that my personal experience seeps through from time to time like a dim light under a closed door.

Merton and the Trappist rule of life becomes the centerpiece of the conversation.  It happens that way because I get to decide who will achieve the priority position.  John Maxwell would say, "Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less."  Merton at the threshold is my way of influencing the conversation!  No secret there.

I am also getting ready for an upcoming group that I will be leading at the Benet Hill Monastery between Parker and Colorado Springs. www.benethillmonestery.org   I will be doing "A Day With Merton" in January and a six week segment in their contemporary mystics series.

To get ready I am reading and rereading the key Merton biographies and some of his core work.  Right now, I am engaged with The Sign of Jonas.  It is his journal that starts with Advent 1946 and goes through January of 1952.

The copy I am reading is just as interesting as the actual text that I am engaging.  It is an original copy from 1953.  It is not a first edition but it must be very close to the earliest publication.  The inside cover shows a famous black and white photo of Merton walking through the woods at Gethsemani.  Just inside the first page is a library stamp from the Carmelite Monestery of Waverly, New York.  If you turn the next page it has a second library stamp from the Discalced Carmelite Fathers at 514 Warren Street in Brookline, Mass. 

I don't know if it started life  with the Carmelites in New York our with the Fathers in Massachusetts and I don't know where it will go from here.  But I do know where it calls home today.

On May 4, 1947 (six months and one day before I was born!) Merton wrote a prayer.  His journals are filled with reflections, insights, and the daily events of Trappist life within the cloister of Gethsemani Abbey.  But on this day, he wrote a prayer.

You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires.  My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction.  And I do not possess my house in silence.

But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence.  O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace without complaining any more.  This, for Your glory.

 Even though I was being knit together in my mother's womb...I pray that my soul will intersect with the spirit of this prayer.

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Snow!

Skiers will jump and shout.  Travelers will say 'Oh No!"  The Colorado Chamber of Commerce will offer a fist pump.  But the rest of us will just say, 'Yep, it is Colorful Colorado, and we love it!"

October 5 and we have our first hint of snow and cold.  Of course it will be 60 degrees tomorrow and 70 by the weekend!  So don't fret for us.  (That may be a good title for a country song!)

Actually, it really is a great joy to reaffirm that God has a plan for creation.  The sun rises, the moon glows, and the seasons change.  It is all within the rhythm of creation that demonstrates the harmony of the Lord of Life.  I am grateful!

Some of us have actually been talking about how we develop an attitude of gratitude.  It too is a gift from God.  Like all of creation, our attitude is a gift that we receive so it can be shared with others.  Don't you just love living in a spirit of gratitude!

I remember an old friend from days gone by.  Every time I would ask, "How are you today?"   his response was always the same signature (and painful) reply...."Terrible" he would say.  At first, I smiled.  Then I thought, 'wow, what a bummer!"   Then I just stopped asking because I already knew the response.  The result was not a model of Christian brotherhood.  In fact, I felt compelled to stay clear of his attitude even if he thought it was a cute and clever signature response.

The opposite that "terrible" was my uncle Jess.  In most circles he was better known as "never had a better day" Jessen.  How are you Jess, "never had a better day!"  Funny thing is, he really meant it!
What a gift to live in a spirit of gratitude. 

Today, I am grateful for snow and the hand of God that directs the flow of creation!