Tag Archive | “Christ in Our Home”

Little Hands

6360489455192162291563850737_TrumpDonald Trump gets very angry when people say he has little hands. I noticed his hands last night when he addressed the nation about his Afghanistan War strategy. He used his right hand to gesture a lot as he spoke, and I noticed that his fingers are relatively short. But obviously, his hands are big enough to hold a pen to sign executive orders, and big and strong enough to swing a golf club.

I have little hands. The only adult I know with hands smaller than mine is Mim. Her fingers are about a quarter of an inch shorter than mine.

IMG_2271I sometimes wish I had longer fingers. Most people who play the piano have longer fingers than I have. On both of my hands, my thumb and little finger can stretch over eight notes to play an octave, a frequent requirement when playing special arrangements of hymn tunes. If my hands are in the right position, I can even hit a ninth note, if needed. But absolutely no farther than that. The challenge comes when I need to fill in three notes of a chord with my other three fingers. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t, depending on the position of each note. Fortunately, I usually play hymn arrangements where I can freely substitute notes I can reach for the ones I can’t, and the music still sounds okay. (Good thing I don’t play too much demanding classical music where substitutions would be considered a musical crime.)

I really enjoy playing the piano (and organ, too). I can get totally lost playing a song like “Be Still My Soul” or “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.” The music becomes a conversation between God and me.

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When I select music to play for preludes, offertories, and postludes for church services, I try to select music that can prompt others to communicate with God in the same way. I start the process of planning the music for the service by reading the scriptures assigned for that Sunday. Usually, that will bring related hymns to mind. Then I’ll search through my books of piano and organ arrangements and choose something that seems to fit the theme for the day.

For example, last weekend, the Gospel was Matthew 15:21-28, the story of Jesus refusing to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman because he didn’t want to waste his healing powers on the “dogs.” Those powers were intended for the Jews. But the woman persisted with great faith, and Jesus healed her daughter after all. It’s a difficult story to understand. What better hymn to reflect on that than “More about Jesus.” I really want to know more and more about Jesus to be able to understand this story better. As the song says…

More about Jesus I would know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me..

[Eliza E Hewitt, 1887]

“Coincidentally,” earlier that week I had downloaded a new piano arrangement of that hymn from one of my favorite websites, and I decided that would make the perfect offertory. For the people familiar with the hymn, they could silently pray the words as I played the music. For those who didn’t know the hymn, they could simply enjoy the music. (The tune name is SWEENEY.)

As I was looking for a postlude, I paged through a new book of arrangements I had ordered a few months ago, and came across “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” That seemed to me like a very appropriate postlude, considering how Jesus healed the woman’s daughter, even though she was a Canaanite. But, I thought this was another old hymn that would most likely be unfamiliar to most of the congregation. So, I decided to test Mim, a life-long Lutheran, to find out if she recognized the tune. I played the arrangement for her, and asked if she knew it. She said, Oh sure. That’s “Once to Every Man and Nation.” Well, she was right. The tune name is EBENEZER, which is commonly used for both hymns. I guess that made this arrangement doubly appropriate. The theme of that week’s Gospel is both about the deep love of Jesus and about the fact that Jesus’ love is for all people, not just the Jews. group handshake 1

So, what does all this have to do with little hands?

In my devotional reading this morning, I read 2 Corinthians 10:12-18, as specified in the devotional booklet, CHRIST IN OUR HOME. Here’s part of the reading…

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us…

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

[2 Corinthians 10:12-13, 17-18 NRSV]

The reflection on this text in CHRIST IN OUR HOME ended with:

Paul’s point is this: we boast and are proud of a … gift that God gave. In fact, to do otherwise might be to deny the gift that God has provided. God has given us many gifts. We can be thankful for them, be proud of them, boast of them, and use them to enlarge God’s kingdom.

God gave me little hands, and a wide exposure to sacred music – from the gospel songs of my Methodist childhood, to the more formal hymns of the church, to Evangelical praise songs and choruses. My fingers are too short, as is my ability to memorize long complex musical phrases, for me to be a classical pianist. But that’s not what God created me for. That’s not what I should compare my talents to. God created me to help create music in church, to help others pray and worship God. And for that, I am thankful – little hands and all.

Marian at Messiah organ 2

And best of all, I don’t have to get as dressed up for church as I would for a fancy concert hall!

Solving Problems

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Unfortunately, I don’t have my “Sunday School Papers” any more, but this is what they looked like.

As a child, I went to Sunday School faithfully at 9:45 every Sunday morning from the time I was 3 years old. I don’t remember much from the first few years. The earliest memory I have of Sunday School was sitting around a small table with all the other kids while the teacher told us a story. Then she sometimes gave us a picture to color or another craft to do, like folding construction paper into a basket or something else. At the end of the hour, the teacher gave us a “Sunday School Paper” to take home with us – basically an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper folded in half like a booklet. The front page was covered with a full-color picture that illustrated the Bible story of the day. The rest of the “Paper” was the story itself. I loved getting my “Sunday School Paper” to take home with me. My mom read the story to me again before bed that evening.

I thought about my childhood Sunday School memories one day last week because I read a Bible story designated in the “Christ in Our Home” devotional booklet published by Augsburg Fortress (following the revised common lectionary). It was the story of Elisha and the poor widow from 2 Kings 4:1-7. I don’t remember reading or thinking about that story since I heard it in Sunday School back in the 1950s. I remember clearly the picture on the front of that week’s “Sunday School Paper.” (See below for a similar picture.) Here’s the story in The Message paraphrase.

One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”

Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”

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The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” looked a lot like this.

“Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few – all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”

She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.”

He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.”

Then the oil stopped.

She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, “Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.” [2 Kings 4:1-7 MSG]

Once I got beyond the Sunday School memories, I started thinking about this story from the perspective of how God solves our problems for us.

Typically, my first approach to solving a problem is to try to look at the situation rationally. What are some possible solutions? Which solution is best, given the circumstances? And then, how can I go about implementing the solution? If I were in the situation of this poor widow, I’d try to reason with the lender, appeal to his mercy, and try to barter some services that my sons or I could provide over time. This assumes, of course, that I would have the power to negotiate – a rather unrealistic assumption for a woman in Bible times (actually in our times, as well, if the villain in the story is an institution like a bank or the IRS). Relying on my own approach, I’d probably lose my sons.

Mim confesses that when she is in a terrible situation where she doesn’t see any solution, she finds herself wishing the antagonist dead. She would never do anything to make that happen, but she just wishes that they would somehow die accidentally or of natural causes. She realizes it’s just wishful thinking, and if she were in this poor widow’s situation, her approach would have the same result as mine – she’d lose her sons.

374549_origThis widow had a much better approach, which is probably why the story found its way into the Bible. She went to Elisha, a man of God, for help. Elisha and God had a simple solution for her – get her sons to round up lots of empty jugs, and fill up all the jugs from her little flask of olive oil, and then sell all the oil to pay off the lender. God would keep the oil flowing until all the jugs were full.

This solution focused on God and God’s people helping the widow meet her needs. My solution and Mim’s solution focused on addressing the demands of the lender, a subtle difference.

As I think about this story from the perspective of the widow, the message is clear – TRUST GOD. Obviously, God loves the widow and will take care of her. She just needs to ask for help.

When I think about the story from the perspective of Elisha, one of God’s people, the message is just as clear, we need to HELP THE PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP, whether it’s making donations to a food pantry or helping out in a homeless shelter. God’s people need to be available to those in need, just as Elisha was.

The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” told a very important story. I’m glad I was reminded of the story last week.

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An image to remind us that God will supply everything we need… and perhaps, sometimes we may need to serve as God’s hands.

 

 

A Roundtable Discussion that Makes My Day

roundtableImagine starting your day almost every morning in a roundtable discussion with six other people plus yourself. In my case, the people are Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen, God, Jimmy Carter, Christine Dallman, and M. J. Ryan – and, of course, myself. Wow! Quite a group of seven we are. Usually, everyone speaks up in the order listed. We spend about half an hour talking about whatever is on each person’s mind.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

Occasionally the participants of the roundtable discussion change, but for the past four years, three participants have been constant – Joan Chittister (speaking through her monthly pamphlet, “The Monastic Way”), God (communicating through the daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary – as listed in the daily devotional booklet, “Christ in Our Home”), and me.

Last year Henri Nouwen (“Bread for the Journey”) hadn’t joined us yet, but Edward Hays (“Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” and “A Book of Wonders”) was in his place. Jimmy Carter (“Through the Year with Jimmy Carter”) is a newcomer this year, too. Christine Dallman (“The Personal Daily Prayer Book”) is also new this year, and she always prays about something a little different every day.

M. J. Ryan (“Attitudes of Gratitude”) just joined the group a couple weeks ago, and she plans to stay for only a couple months. She keeps telling us inspiring stories of people who exhibit a heart-warming attitude of gratitude. Her stories are really helpful in giving us a down-to-earth perspective on life. Pretty soon she’s planning to leave the group, and someone else will come along to join us as a short-termer. Debbie Macomber has often joined us as the floater. She’s the one who got me into the habit of having a special word for each year instead of doing New Year’s resolutions.

I’ll admit that some mornings the seven of us have an amazing discussion and I can’t help but think about it all day long. Other times, even though we had a great discussion, I don’t think about it at all throughout the day.

Usually I don’t say much in these discussions – I just listen and ponder what’s being said. But I discipline myself about once a week to speak up. Sometimes I transcribe these thoughts for my blog.

Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen

A couple days ago, Joan Chittister talked about something Albert Einstein once said about being careful that we don’t limit God by trying to define God. Henri Nouwen said that we need to be careful that we don’t become too legalistic in defining what we claim to be God’s nature. God then spoke up about how helpful the image of Jesus being the Good Shepherd can be to us, and how important it is for us to demonstrate the love and care that shepherds give their flocks.

Then Jimmy Carter wrapped it all up saying how important it is to remember that God is all about showing love and always being kind. He said that his favorite Bible verse is Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” [New Living Translation] I spoke up when I heard him say that. I said, “That’s my favorite verse, too!” Jimmy Carter and I have something in common beside politics! I didn’t know anyone shared my favorite Bible verse!

Jimmy Carter 2It was Christine Dallman’s turn to speak up next. She prayed, “O God, make us children of quietness ….” I smiled at that. I like to be quiet. Then she encouraged us to “Take time to unwind, time to be silent, time to reflect, and time to pray…” Imagine her saying that, just when I’m in the middle of spending two weeks by myself at our Christmas Mountain timeshare with plenty of time to be quiet – time to read, write, think, and pray.

As usual, M. J. Ryan ended our discussion by telling another story about gratitude. She told us about a woman who had suffered a stroke and had lost her ability to speak. She had been a great communicator and had been able to speak five languages. Now she struggled to find words to simply talk with her adult children. The children tried to help her by suggesting words that she might be trying to say, and the experience for everyone was just frustrating. A therapist, trying to help the family, suggested that when they are frustrated by her inability to express herself verbally, they should focus on her attempts to communicate by touch. This opened up a whole new world of opportunity to communicate the love they felt for each other that they had never been able to express in words.

Ryan went on to say that “the trick is to use a source of frustration as a trigger to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” Then she gave a personal example.

For me it’s standing in line. I absolutely hate to ‘waste’ time; I live my life at a frenetic pace and don’t want anything to get in my way of doing all I have to get done in a day. Until recently, I was the person in the line huffing and rolling my eyes at the wait, jiggling and looking at my watch every few seconds. And when I finally made it to the counter, I was too aggravated from having to wait to be pleasant to the person on the other side of the counter. But since life is full of lines, I finally decided to change my approach. Instead of being annoyed, I decided to see waiting in line as a wonderful opportunity to slow down, to take a few conscious breaths, become aware of my body, and release as much muscle tension as I could. The waits are as long as ever – but now I am grateful for the chance to stop.

Hmmm. That made me think about some of the little aggravations in life that frustrate me… Is there some way I can change those moments into triggers of gratitude? Something to think about…

I’m truly grateful for this roundtable discussion every morning. What an inspiring way to begin my day!

roundtable of books