Author Archives: 50 Days of Fabulous

Return to Faith

-by Jason Merritt 

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The Maine Coast by LMBrock

“In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith”

Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson,

 

Reflect

For the past seven years I have lived, worked, prayed, and played in the mountains of Western North Carolina. This week I completed my move to Cincinnati, Ohio, to join Forward Movement’s outstanding staff, an inspiring team of writers, editors, and creative people. After weeks of planning and packing, the journey afforded me a beautiful departure from my adopted mountain home, one last winding trip through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains on my way north.

As the mountains faded into the mirror, I began to think of the many memories I made in their midst, and of the deeply spiritual moments of sitting atop an overlook looking out upon what Emerson calls the “plantations of God.” I wondered where I’d find those moments in my next home—wondered how hard I would have to look to find God’s masterpiece in the city.

I have always been drawn to nature. Drawn to the ineffable healing that a deep breath of fresh air can have on lungs weary from the difficult conversations of life. Drawn to the cathartic rhythm of flowing water–whether it be the salty waves of my Florida youth, or the rushing mountain creeks where I discovered my obsessive desire to quietly cast a fly for hours in the hopes of bothering a brook trout for a spell.

Clarity can be found there. Perhaps you too have experienced the moments of peace and prayer that nature effortlessly provides. Perhaps you too have wondered if you can find those same moments once you’ve returned to the concrete and steel.

This week I was waiting to cross a street in downtown Cincinnati on my way to the office, focused on everything but nature. Spring is bounding through the city however, and a breeze moved through a nearby tree, the leaves casting a familiar tone my direction. I looked up from reading emails on my phone and allowed my eyes to drift up to the clouds passing between the buildings, on their way to greet another city—and perhaps another soul in need of clarity on a hectic day.

It was a short, but successful moment of prayer and peace. Even better, it was a reminder I greatly needed.

Respond

We often spend our lives seeking reason and faith among the complex worlds we have built around ourselves—and we may find it on occasion—however, my hope is that today you will take 5 minutes to seek them in the wondrous creation that had been gifted to us each day. It may be a little harder to find in the city or office, but I assure you it’s there if you seek it.

Look up. Look around. Look down, even. See the beauty of creation. And breathe.

Already Not Yet

by David Sibley

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Ascension of Christ by Dali

Ascension of Christ by Dali

When they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (John 1:6-11)

 Reflect

 In seminary, a phrase that often gets thrown about is to talk about God’ work as a paradoxical “already/not yet.” In the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the kingdom of God is already present in our midst, already transforming our hearts and the world around us, already a realization of God’s purposes for our world. But we know the kingdom of God is not yet visible in its fullness among us. War, hatred, violence, fear, hunger – all these things are visible in the world, and yet we believe that they are not of God’s design for abundant life – the kingdom is not yet fully realized in this time and place.

 That moment in Acts when Jesus ascends into heaven – the feast the church celebrates today -illustrates the already/not yet quite vividly. Jesus gives the disciples work to do – “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem… and to the ends of the earth.” After his Ascension, the angels address the disciples somewhat incredulously – as if to say, “Didn’t you hear him? Why are you still standing here? Go! Do something!” Yet Jesus has given his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit in the days to come. The Spirit itself, as the Acts tells us, comes at Pentecost. And in the days between… as to that power that the Holy Spirit will pour upon them… well… not yet.

 To be a disciple in those days must have been harrowing. They know they’ve already been given marching orders. They know they have important work to do. They even choose another disciple to fill out the twelve after Judas’ death. But they still find themselves waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend upon them. They wait with bated breath for the coming of the Spirit. Already… not yet.

 In this moment, the disciples are reminded that Jesus’ work has been placed in their hands; they are also reminded that they cannot and will not do that work alone. And in the time between, I suspect, they made space. Space to dwell in the mystery of what they already know to be true and what they have not yet seen. Space to reflect on the wonders they had seen since Jesus arose from the dead. Space in themselves to prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

 Today, Jesus ascends to heaven with a shout. Today we see where he calls us to go. And today we wait and make room – wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts and lives, and make room in our lives for that Spirit to bring to completion the work that God has already begun in us.

 Respond

 What do you wait for this Ascension Day? Do you hear Jesus’ command that the gospel, that pearl of great price, has been left in your hands – given for you to witness to to the very ends of the earth? Do you wait with eager longing for the coming of the Spirit that has been promised? How do you live in the space between already and not yet?

Persevere

by Adam Thomas

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Jesus said, “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.” (John 16:21)

Reflect

St. Monnica

Today is the feast of St. Monnica, whose name does indeed have a pair of N’s in the middle. Known to Christian history as the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, Monnica basically invented the virtue known as ‘perseverance.’ Knowing Monnica’s story, I find Jesus’ words during his farewell discourse quoted above to be a bit funny. If he had been a mother, I doubt he would have used childbirth as a metaphor for the renewal of creation.

I’m not a mother either, so I more than likely have no idea what I’m talking about – but judging by Monnica, by my own mother, and by the mother of our nearly two-year-old twins, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pain doesn’t end when labor does. The intensity of a mother’s love continues to bring pain and heartache even as it brings the apex of joy. Whenever I left for college, my mother would cry; and then she’d say, “If I weren’t crying, you’d know there was a problem.”

In Monnica’s case, I bet there were tears a plenty as she saw her son Augustine wasting his life. But she persevered. She never stopped loving him toward the goodness of God that she knew in her heart. And God never stopped loving her toward her mission, which was not just the conversion of her son, but the awareness and proclamation that God is everywhere. As Monnica lay dying far from home and was asked if she’d like her body brought there, she replied in the negative, saying, “Nothing is far from God; neither am I afraid God will not find me.”

Each day of her life, Monnica demonstrated the long-suffering but ever hopeful love of God. For her perseverance and the heart-breakingly beautiful love of mothers, may we give abundant thanks and praise to God.

Respond

What person in your life inspires you with his or her perseverance? (This person doesn’t have to be your mother.) How might you seek to emulate his or her resilience and constancy?

 

It’s to Your Advantage…Trust Me

-by David Sibley

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 Jesus said to the disciples, “Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.    (John 16:5-11)

 Reflect

 Hearing the words “It is to your advantage that I go away” coming from the mouth of the Risen Lord sounds a lot like phrases I had a vague suspicion of from my parents as a kid. “Go mow the lawn, even though it’s hot – it builds character, and you’ll feel better.”

 The promise of Easter is an interesting thing. On the one hand, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead reminds us that nothing, not even death, can stop the love of God from finding us and seeking us out. On the other hand, Jesus’ words to his disciples after his resurrection are squarely focused in preparing the disciples for their mission when he would no longer be in the world. They are to go and make disciples of all nations; they are to go and feed his sheep; they are to go and live fearless, bold lives for his sake. But if they are to go, then Jesus, too, must go – must ascend to the Father.

 As we approach Ascension Day, Jesus reminds us yet again that it is to our advantage that he goes away; he reminds us that we will receive power when the Advocate comes to us; he reminds us that God’s mission is in our hands and we, as his disciples, are called to follow.

 “It is to your advantage that I go away – it builds character!” Jesus, our parent, might say. The work ahead may be uncertain; we may at times be unwilling; we may be afraid of failure. Yet Jesus will go. That leaves but one question: what do we do now?

 Respond

 How do you interpret Jesus saying to his disciples that “it is to your advantage that I go away?” How does the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate change the way you live your life in response to the resurrection? If you haven’t let it change you, how will you?

After the Miracle…

 

-by Tim Schenck

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Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

REFLECT

The most anticlimactic thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life, happened on live TV in 1986. Some may remember the great hype for a program hosted by Geraldo Rivera called “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” This was a live two-hour special at the conclusion of which Geraldo was to open a newly discovered stone vault underneath the Lexington Hotel in Chicago.

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Most of the show, which was also watched by 30 million other suckers, was spent speculating on what might be inside the vault: cash, bodies, liquor, gangster secrets.

Once the audience had been worked up into a frenzy, the moment came for Geraldo to open the vault. There were a series of detonations and then a giant chain yanked open the vault. After two titillating hours spent rehashing the glory days of Al Capone and the Untouchables, once the smoke cleared, Geraldo had unearthed…absolutely nothing. Well that’s not entirely true; he did find two empty gin bottles and a stop sign. But that was it. Perhaps the greatest anticlimax ever.

Sometimes Eastertide can feel anticlimactic. Yes, we’re still beating the drum of the Great 50 Days, but the flowers adorning the Easter altar have long since withered and been removed; what’s left of the Easter candy is getting stale; the “Alleluias” that continue to ring out have lost their novelty.

And yet this is precisely the time to double down on the joy of the resurrection. Jesus is often most present after the initial euphoria has subsided; in the moments when we’re left alone to ponder the miracle of divine relationship.

The abiding joy of the resurrection journey draws us ever deeper into this relationship. It reminds us that true faith doesn’t simply bubble on the surface, but exists in the profound issues of engagement with God that lurk beneath the joy and jelly beans.

Now, I don’t recommend it, but you can watch the full two-hours of “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” at geraldo.com. That’s the epitome of anticlimax. But for those, like Philip and all of us who seek to be disciples of the risen Christ, the Easter season is one that transcends any potential anticlimax. Because the life-giving, death-conquering empty tomb, has absolutely nothing in common with the disappointment of an empty vault.

RESPOND

Besides continuing to engage with 50 Days of Fabulous, how are you keeping Easter joy alive this season? Have you encountered any moments of anticlimax during Eastertide? What provides you with inspiration when you’re feeling spiritually dry during a season specifically set aside to revel in the resurrection?

Wonder

-by Anna Fitch Courie

Read  “Wonder”

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“It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raining questions about the great matters too, for example, about the changes of the moon, and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe.”

Reflect

Our family recently visited the “Wonder” exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.  The gallery is a part of the Smithsonian Museum collection and the current exhibit displays works from various artists who were challenged to represent the theme of “Wonder.”

It has been a long time since art has made me smile from my soul.  The last time I reacted with all of my being was when I saw “The Pieta” in Rome.  My whole self sang with Wonder.

My iPhone photos do not do the work justice.  Suffice it to say you should come visit and enjoy the art in person.  Perhaps your soul will sing with Wonder as well.

But as I sit pondering “Wonder” it led me down many paths of thought:

I wonder if my kids will know and love God.

I wonder if I am a good parent.

I wonder if I know what I’ll be when I grow up.

I wonder if there is more than “this” whatever “this” is.

I wonder why theology is so complicated.  I wonder if we make it complicated.

I wonder at the resurrection.  I wonder at the crucifixion.  My heart hurts.

I wonder if the ends of time are coming.

I wonder if people think enough about the after-life, the community of saints and all the company of heaven.

I wonder if my husband thinks I am a little crazy.  All writers are a little crazy.

I wonder if I will get to ask God my many questions.  I wonder if I will care at that point.

I wonder if I am true to my voice in my writing.  I wonder if I write the right things.

I wonder if people wonder too.

I wonder that a blazing blue sky follows natural destruction.

I wonder at politics.

I wonder when we became so easily offended, so quick to respond to anger, so quick to label, and so quick to cast judgment.

I wonder why people get sick.

I wonder if 2 or 3 gathered together is enough.

I wonder if my hazelnut is enough, or if my mustard seed will grow.

I wonder at rainbows.  I wonder at the stars.  I wonder at light.

I wonder at this amazing world that God has created.

I wonder how God delights in us.

I stand and turn and look.  My heart fills with people, places, art.  My eyes are dazzled by color, form, and flow. My skin contracts both hot and cold.  I shiver.  My nose inhales a hint of loam.  It senses the earth around us.  My ears, my broken ears they hear, birds, whispers, voices….my ears hear my children’s voices.  I am overwhelmed.  My soul sings with wonder for God.

I wonder, wonder, wonder.

I wonder about God.

I wonder.

Reflect

I wonder about many things.  On what does your mind wonder?