Beauty in Cow Dung

Beauty in Cow Dung
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My friend Stephenie gave me an English version of the Koran and I keep it on the table so I can read a little every day over breakfast. Today I came across the most interesting passage about cows. It is in Surah 16, verses 5-6.

5. And the cattle, He has created them for you; in them there is warmth and numerous benefits, and of them you eat.

6. And wherein is beauty for you, when you bring them home in the evening, and as you lead them forth to pasture in the morning.

My common-sense husband said, when I read him the verses, “Unless you’re the cowherd who has to slog all that way in their dung.” He didn’t say “dung” actually, but close enough.

So that got me thinking, and the first verse from my own scripture that came to mind was, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” Isaiah 55: 8.

Those of us who slog through cow dung all day in our worldly lives may not see beauty in a herd of cows. They are not beautiful to us but practical. Now horses we might spend time staring at, enjoying their beauty, but cows not so much. I have seen much-prized paintings of horses hung on museum walls, but not many cows, unless they were small figures in the distance, scattered across some bucolic landscape.

Which brings me to the artist’s view. Artists can see beauty in lots of things the ordinary person can’t. Shipwrecks, alleyways, ugly old people, forest fires, battles, and suffering. Somehow the artist can take something we don’t like to look at and transform it into something we do. The artist’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

Then I thought, how is the artist like God? First off, the artist creates something from nothing—just an idea. Some artists, like writers and poets, use words to call that idea into reality, just like God did. Others use simple things like paint, clay, and fabrics to realize their vision. We know from the Bible that God worked with those things, too.

Maybe God sees beauty in cows going in and out of the barn because he is seeing them from afar. They would make a nice pattern of moving variegated creatures against the green grass, as seen from above. But God is also immanent, right down here with us in the details. So God sees the beauty in the details of cows (which he made, so he knows all their parts and systems), and artists do that, too. Have you ever seen one of those abstract paintings or photographs of a tiny detail blown up the size of a large canvas? The color, shape, and pattern appeal to us. We can see the beauty.

Artists can look down from God’s perspective in their imaginations. And who built those imaginations into artists? Right. Imagination gives artists a perspective like God’s in some ways—they see beauty everywhere. And they try to make us see it, too.

Artists, then, are like prophets. They try to open the eyes of people to the reality of God’s love for us. They point out the marvels of the Creation, the marvels of imagination. They try to make us appreciate what we have. They warn us not to take beauty for granted, to value it, to be grateful for it.

Thank you, God, for cows, artists and prophets. Truly, you are full of kindness, most merciful.

Heart Prayer, part 2

Heart Prayer, part 2

 

One thing I like about heart prayer is how it side-steps two of the pitfalls of vocal prayer: aptitude and attitude.

Aptitude: some folks are gifted and articulate when they pray spontaneously. Others are not. They hem and haw like nervous public speakers, making a hash of the prayer. Of course God accepts these prayers, but the rest of us have to endure them.

Attitude: I hate to say it,

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but some of us sound judgmental, bossy and superior when we pray for others:
“Dear God, show Fred that he’s dating a floozy.” “Dear God, I know I need to be patient, but please hurry up with curing Grandma before the wedding!” “Lord, please help my daughter to realize that I am right.”

In heart prayer you don’t have to say anything. You just hold the person in God’s love with no judgment, no suggestions, no arrogance. I think the pray-er comes away from such prayer as well-loved as the pray-ee.

Try heart prayer on the folks on your prayer list. Let me know in the comments how you like it.

Heart Prayer, part 1

Heart Prayer, part 1

 

Take a look at the painting of Jesus that accompanies this blog. Nicole Schiffers painted it, and it appears in our Jesus in Jeans Journal (available on Amazon). Though Nicole painted it with her own inspiration, it ties in to a prayer method I mention in our Pray for the World book: Heart Prayer.

To “pray for somebody” without words, use your imagination to put the person into your heart. Your heart is where God and his love dwell. The person you want to help can be healed and comforted by God’s love, right? So hold the person in your heart, perhaps placing your hands over your heart as Jesus is doing in the painting. Breathe and feel the person being bathed with love inside you. You don’t need to direct anything or fix anything. Just hold the person.

In my children’s book, I suggest picturing your heart like a washing machine, swishing the person in God’s love till the problem, the pain, is washed away. You decide how long to hold them.

Then you can let them go, secure in the knowledge that you prayed well for the person. Hand them over to God, if you like, thanking God for his healing love.

You will probably feel as if you have been prayed for, too. Funny how that happens.

Secret Weapon: NaNoWriMo

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Evil triumphs over us when it can separate us from love. Isolation destroys a writer’s immune system and leaves them vulnerable to lies. The way to strengthen a writer is to surround them with companions.

In November of every year, writers all over the world band together to write their 50K word novels in thirty days. Called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the challenge involves several motivators to keep the writer going. Online and in-person meetups support the writer and encourage accountability. Other encouragements include writing buddies, pep-talk emails, and prizes for finishing. The NaNo website also has interviews with successful writers giving their own tips and inspiring stories.

Though solitude may foster productivity, isolation makes us prey to doubt, fear and despair. Love is the antidote to despair, and the NaNo groups I have written with are full of love and support. Just being in a room of other writers engaged on the same journey is enough to motivate me to keep writing. Love conquers all, they say, and NaNoWriMo believes it.

A Former Atheist Looks at Scrooge

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In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge says Christmas is a humbug, he is really saying God is a humbug. He doesn’t believe in love (note how he mocks his nephew’s marriage), and Love is shorthand for God, as is Christmas.
When the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 asks God to send Lazarus to warn his family of the truth, God answers that “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sends Marley back from the dead to warn Scrooge, but he is not convinced. Like most atheists, Scrooge trusts only what he can see, and he has a practical explanation for why he is seeing Marley—indigestion.
Scrooge is awake physically when Marley appears, and he is able to dismiss the apparition as humbug. God, though, tends to reach out to us when our rational, conscious minds are turned down by some mechanism: near-death, meditation, natural or artistic reverie, or sleep.
When Scrooge is asleep, then, God makes three more attempts to soften Scrooge’s heart by sending three “ghosts” to visit him. Now, these spirits resemble angels more than ghosts. Whereas Marley was definitely a ghost—Scrooge could see through him to the buttons on the back of his coat—these spirits form a trinity of past, present, and future portrayed in light and dark imagery.
Christmas Past has a flame burning on its head, reminiscent of Pentecostal tongues or a Christmas candle. We can “see” our pasts with some clarity, and when Scrooge looks back, he sees that God was there, incarnate in his sister Fan, Mr. Fezziwig, and his fiancee Belle. He also sees that he snuffed out love when he sold his soul to the devil in the form of gold/wealth/greed.
Christmas Present is so bright that it pains Scrooge to look at him, enthroned on a mountain of festive foods and greenery, and bearing a torch shaped like a horn of plenty. Such a display must have cost a fortune, but Christmas Present is bounteous and giving, full of joy and cheer. Like God, his generosity overflows.
In the musical Scrooge, he even offers a cup to Scrooge which he names “the milk of human kindness,” and it goes straight to Scrooge’s abstemious head. Scrooge’s defenses are breaking down under the unconditional love and acceptance shown by Christmas Present. Partaking of the communion cup seals the deal: Scrooge is no longer saying “humbug.” He starts to live more abundantly, hand in hand with God.
Christmas Yet to Come is dark. None of us can see the future clearly, but we know, like Scrooge, that it brings death. Finally, Love’s message sinks into Scrooge’s heart when he sees his own headstone.
The spirits did God’s work while Scrooge slept, and he awakens transformed. The first thing he wants to do is give away the money that has poisoned him in the past. Money is only evil when hoarded. If it is allowed to flow in the present moment, it blesses both the giver and the recipient. Scrooge showers the boy in the street below and the poor Cratchit family with money and kindness. He is grateful to Marley’s ghost and all the spirits (God), and he spends a joyful Christmas day with his nephew and his wife. Love is transcendent in Scrooge.
I see Scrooge as not only a reformed miser but a saved atheist. At the end, instead of “humbug” he says, “A merry Christmas, Bob,” a phrase he would not say at the beginning of the tale.
God pursues every heart until he redeems it. It may take a lifetime or just one night. Either way, Love wins. Thank God!

Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome
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If indeed there is a Devil, why does he care so much about writers? Writers are a bunch of pale intellectuals who have only pens, pencils and keyboards to fight with.

The Accuser has plenty to fear from writers because they wield one of God’s strongest weapons: words. With words God created the universe, with words God let humans know him, and with words God still calls us and loves us. Words are God’s tool of love. Jesus himself—love incarnate—is called the Word.

So the Enemy knows he’s up against an army of writers trying to change the world, and he brings to bear his own big guns to stop them.

One of his ploys is to accuse the writer of being an impostor. In the writer’s head appear these words: “You can’t write a book about that. You have no credentials in that area. You know nothing about it. People will see through you immediately and know you are an impostor.”

This is enough to stop many writers. We may be insecure of our authority in the first place, and we surely don’t want to be called out as a charlatan!

Another ploy is the “already been done” attack. It comes at the writer if she makes the mistake of browsing her own genre in a bookstore or on Amazon. The Enemy says, “No one will read your book. There are a billion books on that topic already. Look! That one has a great cover. Wow, that one’s really thick; lots of research there. Better switch topics. Or just quit altogether.”

The writer quivers on the knife-edge of defeat. She fears wasting her time on a book that will never compete in an already flooded market, and she fears being detected as an impostor, should any reader be fool enough to open her book.

How can Love overcome the onslaught of such an adversary? Tune in next week for a possible answer.

The Real Message of “The Little Drummer Boy”

The Real Message of “The Little Drummer Boy”

 

Even before I was baptized, I was moved by the Christmas song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” It gave me shivers, and if I tried to sing along, my voice would break over the lyrics “I have no gift to bring…”

Just last week when my spiritual friends and I were sharing and discussing songs through which God speaks to us, all of a sudden a light bulb went on.

The plot of the song is simple: Drummer boy comes to the manger to see the “newborn king.” He has no gift on the level of frankincense and gold, so he feels inadequate. He offers to drum. Mary nods. He drums his very best. Baby Jesus smiles.

I identified with the drummer boy, even though I was a girl and couldn’t drum. I wasn’t really poor, but I felt poor in gifts to give God. I felt like an impostor, not worthy to be standing in God’s presence. Hence, those lyrics choked me up.

Until last week, I interpreted the song to mean that whether we know it or not, we all have something to give God. We have a talent, and God wants us to use it, just like in Luke 19. So, when the poor, little, boy (all aspects to make him insignificant) picks up his sticks and drums like mad, Jesus smiles. He is using his talent and offering it to God. Well and good.

But here’s the new Aha! I turned my mind for a second to the music of the song, letting the lyrics rest for a moment. What is the insistent drum beat saying? It provides a cadence throughout the song, not just when the boy drums.

My mind was opened to another facet of meaning. The drumbeat is the heartbeat. All the boy needs to do is live, be, abide in the presence of the Lord, and the Lord will smile.

Too many of us still think we have to DO something to earn God’s love. We think God needs us to give him gifts. We think he craves sacrifice, when he tells us clearly that he does not. He wants us to be who he made us to be and to enjoy our gifts—not to please him but to function in harmony with our design. When we are “firing on our wiring,” Jesus smiles.

So, what were you designed to be?

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