Monday, April 30, 2012

The Story Nature Tells

Jackson's Tree, photo by Joshua Thompson

 "We could do an immense service to our world if we would let nature heal, counsel, and teach again."

~Christensen and Laird (Henri Nouwen), "Spiritual Formation: following the Movements of the Spirit"

When we see nature as only something to be used, we miss the story it was created to tell. Even environmentalists can take nature for grantit when they hurry by a city park to get to their recycling rally. They may not notice the beauty and lessons of the old trees swaying above the playground equipment or the wildflowers trampled below the feet of dozens of children on a field day.

Spiritual Formation, based on Nouwen's teaching, goes on to say, "When we contemplate creation rather than manipulating it, we are able to see nature as a gift of God to be cherished and cared for." And I would add, " be learned from".

God created the plants for our nourishment and for our enjoyment (beauty). "Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food..." Genesis 2:9. We also learn that the leaves and other plants are for healing. We see the use of oil for healing in scripture again and again. By example, we learn from scripture that we can take life lessons and lessons about God from nature. 

God is referred to as our rock, our light and His voice is compared to thunder. Examples abound. But how did the psalmists and other writers come up with these comparisons?

They took time to meditate on aspects of nature.

I recently received a lesson from an old tree at a retreat center where our church leaders met for prayer. This is what I wrote:

Looking out the window at a very old tree, I notice deep grooves in the trunk, thick chunks of bark protruding and a deep hole in the bark at one place. It has been through so much history. I wonder about all the changes and things it has seen. I sense God say, "It's amazing what one can see or experience when he/she just stays in one place. Stay. Wait. Pray. Watch."

Monday, April 23, 2012

When Mary Must Learn from Martha

Most of the time Martha gets a bad rap. She was the one busy in the kitchen while Jesus imparted nuggets of wisdom and love. Mary sat at His feet and drank it in. When Martha asked Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her, He responded that Mary had chosen the better part.

It's true we have a tendency as Westerners, especially Americans, to do-do-do. We appreciate action, so we'd rather jump up and act than sit and learn. Often we don't even prepare for our actions. We might skip the research or the practice needed to make our actions valuable. There are great lessons for us to glean from Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, putting aside the daily chores for a time to sit in His presence. We should never forget that lesson.

But there are those of us who enjoy meditation and Bible Reading more than action. We pride ourselves on being the ones who choose the best part. But we should beware because even as our heads are inflating due to our wise choice, we may become lazy and find we have produced nothing.

There is a time to get up and move into action. I don't know if Mary in the Bible had all that in the right balance or not, but I realize I don't. I'd much rather pray than do. It's so much easier. I can do it from the comfort of my soft couch.

I have great excuses like, "The Lord hasn't given me a burden yet," or "I don't feel the passion needed to sustain action. I'll wait until I feel it." Or maybe I just don't know what to do, so I do nothing.

Recently I've been gleaning from my good friend and boss, Becky. She is creative, always coming up with fun ideas to motivate and achieve. She can make a party out of anything. I'm learning from Becky that you don't have to feel something in order to do it. "You have to make your own passion," she said last week.

Take one step and then another and pretty soon momentum builds and you feel the passion for what you're doing, and others will too.

Becky also helped me realize that you don't have to wait until you know the exact thing that should be done. Just pick one need and begin to do something about it. Anything is better than nothing.

This advice may seem matter-of-fact to you, but it's a revelation to me.

Thank you Becky. We will miss you in S.A.

Monday, April 16, 2012

True Freedom

"The spiritual life is a life in which we are set free by the Spirit of God to enjoy life in all its fullness. By this Spirit we can indeed 'be in the world without being of it'; we can move freely without being bound by false attachments; we can speak freely without fear of human rejection; and we can live with peace and joy even when surrounded by conflict and sadness." 
 ~ Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

This is probably the best description of "freedom in Christ" I've ever heard. Maybe it's just not articulated to us that often. What does it mean to be free in Christ? 

I might answer, free from the bondage of sin, which is true. We are no longer bound by sin, we now choose it freely. Well, hopefully not, or at least not very often. 

Take a look at Nouwen's descriptions:

1. We can be in the world, not of it. We don't look like the world. Our character is different, our motivations are different. 

2. We can move freely without being bound by false attachments. 

3. We can speak freely without fear of human rejection. It no longer matters, because we are sure of acceptance from the One who does matter!

4. We can live with peace and joy even when surrounded by conflict and sadness. Praise God!! Next time you see a Christian who has totally lost their joy because of uncontrollable circumstances, remind them of their ...


What freedom we have. What grace that unbelievers can never understand. 

Photo by Joshua Thompson

Monday, April 9, 2012

Lycopene & Spring Soup Recipe

Lycopene comes from tomatoes and some other red vegetables. It is what gives the red color. It is considered an antioxidant and numerous studies indicate that it helps the body fight against cancer.

An article from the Mayo Clinic reports studies on lycopene as treatment for cancer are inconclusive because the studies were done using tomatoes which also contain vitamin C and other nutrients as well. They're saying that it's not certain that lycopene, taken from its natural environment and used as a medicine for cancer, would produce the same results.

My suggestion, therefore, is to use lycopene the way God intended when He created it in its natural form, combined with all those other wonderful nutrients in tomatoes, red peppers, etc.

Here's a new recipe I made for Easter dinner to accompany brisket, asparagus and salad. It's a great soup to serve warm or cold and is chocked full of lycopene in its natural environment of others nutrients.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup with Orange, Black Olive, and Orange "Salsa"
Recipe from Lunds and Byerly's Real Food, Spring 2012
Makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 C chopped onion
1 strip orange zest (3in by 1/2 in)
2 cloves chapped garlic
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained, rinsed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 med. leaves basil, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp coarse salt, or more to taste
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
3 C water (or half water and half chicken or vegetable broth)

8 pitted Kalamata olives
1 strip orange zest (2-inches by 1/2 inch)
1 leaf basil

1. Heat oil in a saucepan until hot enough to sizzle a piece of onion. Add onion and orange zest. Cook, stirring, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Add red peppers, tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add water and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, 5 minutes. Cool slightly.
3. Ladle soup (include orange zest and basil leaves) into a blender, working in batches if necessary, and puree until smooth. If preferred, puree with an immersion blender in saucepan. Season to taste. Keep warm over low heat.
4. Garnish: Gather olives, orange zest, and basil in a pile and chop finely until blended.
5. Ladle hot soup into bowls and sprinkle each with a tablespoonful of garnish before serving.

It's light, fresh and makes your mouth come alive.

Also try it cold, just allow to cool in refrigerator before serving.  Yum.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The All-Seeing God Within

"Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart--that is, in the point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one within ourselves, with God, and with others and the whole of creation. In the heart of God the Spirit dwells, and there the great encounter takes place. There, heart speaks to heart as we stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing, within us. And there, in the place of the heart, spiritual formation takes place. . . 
"The work heart is used here in its full biblical meaning of that place where body, soul and spirit come together as one. . . the word heart in Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional and moral energies."
~Henri Nouwen, Introduction Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit

This type of spiritual encounter with Almighty God is available to us at any time. It is too incredible for us to grasp and yet, too available for us to recognize it's value. This week we celebrate what God did through Christ to purchase this privilege for us. His death and resurrection wasn't only about escaping hell and going to heaven when we die. It was to open the way to communion with the Holy God.

So why do we resist the awesome honor of that communion?

We say we desire communication with God, but we're too busy. We ask Him for a lot of things, yet we resist the Spirit's wooing to come away with Him alone.  I think our hesitance has to do with part of what Nouwen refers to above when he says, "There, heart speaks to heart as we stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing, within us."

Talk about hitting close to home! Talk about vulnerability!!

We don't like to be vulnerable. It feels unsafe--no longer in our control. While we honor honesty, we we don't reveal everything to anyone.  No wonder we resist direct communication with this all-seeing Presence.

But we lose so much when we give in to that fear and resist that direct communication. Yes, He may enlighten us to something that is displeasing to Him, and bad for us; but we must remember, we are safe with Him. It was for this very purpose that Christ died and rose again. We are forgiven before we're even faced with our sins and defects. At the moment we turn to face the sickness He already sees, we are healed.

This Easter season, may we put aside our excuses, make time to commune with Almighty God--for Spirit to speak to spirit. And may we discover what we've been longing for all along. I pray for you, what I pray for myself, a regular practice of the presence of God.