Monday, December 29, 2014

Choose One Word

The year of 2014 dwindles to a close. Only two more days and we will bring in the New Year with music, dancing and staying up way too late! And then the day after, I will celebrate my birthday, which means it’s DOUBLY a new year for me. But before these events happen, I want to share something with you – it’s my word for 2015 – and then I encourage you to find your own word. Or, as my sister-in-law says, let the word choose you. It could be a word summing up your hopes for the New Year or your attitude for the New Year, or any word that paves the path for the year ahead.

Last year, a friend suggested my word be ROOTED, which was her wish for me. This was very appropriate because of how unsettled I felt at that juncture of my life. From an external point of view, however, it didn’t appear that the word “rooted” worked any magic in my life in 2014 – in fact, just the opposite. I made two extensive road trips over the summer, including a drastic move across the country. “Uprooted” would seem more accurate for what happened, yet internally, something did change in me. I have become more rooted in self-knowledge, rooted in knowing who I am and what I want and what I will give for it, and more rooted in God, who I know is with me wherever I go.

And so I have found myself in Washington, feeling called like Abram to go out to a place that God would show me. The transition hasn’t been easy. Let’s just say there have been a few tumbles down the mountainside, but the Lord has caught me each time. And this Advent, I found myself on a spiritual journey to the hill country with Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child. 

Certainly Mary was also in a state of uncertainty and questions as she pondered what would become of her life. Would Joseph divorce her for conceiving this child from God? What would it mean to be the mother of the Messiah? But even so, her heart beat a little faster and flooded with love when she thought about the babe growing inside her. When Elizabeth saw Mary’s faith, she exclaimed, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45).  

My word for 2015 is PROMISE. I have to believe, even in the face of uncertainties, that God will keep his promises and make good come out of all things. Time and time again throughout salvation history, we see God making promises to His people that are fulfilled despite our sinful human ways and blunderings. He never gives up on us, but rather “remembers his covenant forever” (Psalm 105:8).

“She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us.” (Matt. 1:21-23). 

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

“I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20b) 

The Scripture readings at Mass this Sunday recalled God's covenant with Abram, sending him into the promised land and promising him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram responded in faith, "for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy."

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. ... By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age – and Sarah herself was sterile – for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore” (Heb. 11:8, 11-12). 

It is true that Abraham's faith was put to the test. Later he was asked to sacrifice his only son, yet "He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead..." (Heb. 11:19).

As I head into the New Year, I seek like Abram and Mary to put my trust in God's promises. Why shed such big tears over such small problems that come our way? We who believe in the promises don't have to sweat the small stuff or doubt the scope of God’s great big plan. There is no reason to give up hope with so great a promise of salvation waiting for us.

Yes, my word is PROMISE. It is a strong word because it is both a noun and a verb. It is something kept but it is also something given. And the question is, when the Lord asks for my faithfulness, my worship and my service to others in return, will I be able to give it all, and keep my word to Him?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pinch me! I’m in Washington!

I kept stopping on our path through the woods to marvel at the fact that I was no longer in the dry, colorful woods of Wisconsin with blades of grass and leaves crunching beneath my feet; but I was in Washington, in a wet and wild, misty forest with a bed of soft pine needles and dirt below me. The dark soil drew a contrast with the emerald green moss and ferns, growing up and out and over everything! Somehow I had gotten all the way out here and now I was in the place I had so often imagined, the place so many others, too, left homelands to discover - the Pacific Northwest.

There is something special about the area and the people of Seattle. I read in a book that the British expatriate writer Jonathan Raban mused, “Seattle is the only city in the world that people move to in order to get closer to nature” (Wild Seattle by Timothy Egan).

It’s not hard to see why, what with views of the Cascades or the Puget Sound and numerous forests to explore and wildlife, while the people and the city meld into it and love it and foster hobbies to enjoy it and stop their cars along the beach to watch the waves of the Puget Sound over their lunch break. I haven’t met anyone yet who takes this environment for granted. I pray I never do…for creation seems to want to be enjoyed.

Take for example, the tree trunks and rocks covered in shaggy, bright green moss so when you reach out and touch them, they feel like a dog’s curly hair under your fingertips! I named my favorite, an especially mossy one, “The Petting Tree.”

Here and there are splashes of bright color, in the face of a wildflower or in a multi-colored mushroom – such as this one, that grows out a rotting tree trunk.

“Old forests have a singular mystery, where young life embraces death and rot,” writes Timothy Egan in Wild Seattle. How is it that life can bud right out of death?

These splashes of color surprise me every time, and so much of the living and the dying are companions intertwined that you hardly know where one ends and the other begins. If you looked away and then glanced back, would the dead be coming to life?

This fallen tree, with its curved limbs sprawled out like the legs of a gigantic centipede…when the magician snaps his fingers, will the force of life return to it? Could it come lurching across my path?

 Or this tree, standing above the ground on its roots. What lovely fuel for the imagination! Is it the cozy home of a little leprechaun who sleeps under its roof? Or will it thrust its roots forward and start walking, tree and all? I can't help but think that these are the scenes books are made out of, like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.


 Every forest feels enchanted. It is a stage for the circle of life and the drama of created things reaching for the sun. From high up in the tree trunk, this daring "Zacchaeus" fern waves its leaves to catch as much sunlight as it can, reminding me of the short-of-stature tax collector, who climbed a tree to see Jesus through the crowds.

Light! It always comes from beyond and all the plants are reaching towards it. It moves across the sky to shine through the mist and to reach all things as it goes its course, and to quench the desires of all that stretch out to absorb its warming rays.

The hikers whom we pass on the trail up the mountain greet us. They are friendly, asking us how we are doing, and it feels good to share the joy of being out here with fellow human beings.

I realized why the artist Thomas Kinkade’s paintings always seem so fictitious to me. My friend says there is nothing dead in his woods; all nature is alive, and the light emanates from all things rather than one source. Perhaps this was the way it was in Eden, nature pure and fruitful, or the way it was meant to be…but those paintings do not mirror the world that I inhabit. Let me rather be found in these woods I know, where, though nature is fallen, she shows that even the dead can rise again.