Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 27

by Katie Lynch

It’s almost a joke between me and my roommates that sometimes I ask a question and don’t really listen for the answer. In busy days or hurried dinners, I’ll ask a quick, “How was your day?” or “What’s new?”, but my mind runs a million miles an hour and a couple seconds later I realize I missed everything they said. We laugh about it every time, but it’s even worse when I’m in large groups and the same thing happens … but thankfully in those times when I zone out, my friends are listening and I can poke them and they’ll whisper to me what I missed. They’re really good about this.

In a serious way, a couple days ago I was at home for Spring Break and under a crushing load of anxiety and fear. Anxiety about my family, my future, my friends. Anxiety about my anxiety — fear about what it all meant about me and my health and my faith. It was Spring Break so I wasn’t going to interrupt someone else’s beach trip or fun family time to tend to me, but something surprised me. My friend Claire called me randomly, and after a long conversation she shared something that was on her mind. She talked about thinking lately that Jesus really, truly is the only peace, and peace doesn’t always look like what we think it will.

Immediately when I got off the phone, I said to God, “Thank You for people who listen to You.”

God was whispering peace to me, through my friend, who was listening well. I was deep in a mess and wasn’t listening, but someone else was. It changed things.

We’ve been listening a lot as a church, as people together in a community, and in our personal faiths. I’ve been listening a little more in this season of Lent too, but I’ve also noticed how thankful I am for people in my life listening when I can’t. They share truth, grace, a lot of love with me when I have needed it most. It’s been friends sharing a smile, a hug, a quick word of love. It’s been parents welcoming me when I’m most tired and have nothing to offer, and a lot of y’all sharing wisdom and laughter too.

So together, today, let’s listen. We can listen for ourselves, but our listening may mean the difference for someone else too.

Prayer: Today, I thank you for the people in my life who listen to you, and it’s made all the difference to me. I listen now, and want to listen more, to be ears for those who can’t listen right now. Help me, Jesus. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Friday, March 2

by Joel Siebentritt

Mark 4: 1-9 (NRSV), The Parable of the Sower: Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Jesus.  What an amazing teacher.

I find myself in the crowd captured by his voice, his presence, trying hard to hear the words he is saying.  I’m using my ears and my memory, mostly so I can take home the lesson and tell other people what I know!

Unfortunately, this rabbi doesn’t make it easy for me to live by rote learning.  His teaching offers no specific formulas for solving problems nor does it give clear direction for how to succeed. Nothing for me to memorize and no information building blocks on which I can stack more in hopes of growing just by knowing.

I’m struggling with impatience … I just want the answer!

There must be something more, something I’m not getting. I can only figure he’s telling me to listen, but to hear differently … to ingest, absorb, let the parable sink in and work its pedagogical magic.  How??

My mental meandering and selfish motives constantly get in the way of paying attention and really hearing with all that I am.

It is for this reason I am grateful for Lent and for our listening theme. It strikes me again that hearing and knowing is OK, but not really the point of Jesus’ teaching. There is much greater power in the parables, beyond all knowing to a transformed way of being.

Later in that chapter of Mark, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples ending with,

And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Prayer: Loving God, give me ears open enough to hear your healing words and a heart broken enough to accept your will for my life.

 

Lenten Devotional: Monday, Feb. 26

Listening, for Advanced Psychology Students
by Janet Frick

Psalms 5:3:
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.

In my developmental psychology classes, students learn about many clever tests that have been developed to test infants’ and children’s emerging understanding of the world. We learn about how babies search for hidden toys, how toddlers learn to navigate unfamiliar locations, and how adolescents problem solve. One particularly fascinating developmental milestone is the emergence of a concept known as “theory of mind.” In a nutshell, theory of mind is the ability to know that you may know something that someone else doesn’t know; that you and another person have different thoughts, different feelings, different points of view. It’s a tricky concept for children to master, and it usually begins to emerge between the ages of 4-5 (although it continues to develop for years).

I discovered that Colin’s “theory of mind” was emerging in a rather memorable fashion, not long after he had turned 4. We came home from being out somewhere, and he was in a foul mood; as memory serves, he was mad at me about something. He stomped down the hall and went into his room. I left him in there, happy to have a bit of a break! Well, after about 5 minutes, I heard him come out, and next thing I knew, he was sitting under the kitchen table giggling to himself. I peeked under there, and he burst out in laughter. “What’s so funny?”, I asked. He happily replied, “You don’t know that I just went in my room and called you stupid!”

Understanding that others have thoughts and feelings that are different from ours is a huge developmental achievement. However, the mere act of knowing that we and another person have different perspectives is not enough to help us live in harmony and communion. The next, and harder, step is figuring out what that person’s perspective actually is! And in order to do this, we have to listen — really listen — to their point of view, which can be such a challenge when we have our own point of view and our own feelings clouding our reaction to what they are thinking and feeling.

Just this past week (in timing that “ironically” coincided with the beginning of the Lenten season), a friend and I discovered that we each had been holding on to different — and limited — perspectives on a series of events that stretched back over months; each of us knew our own perspective on what had happened, but our interpretations of these events had diverged because we had not taken the time to discuss our feelings and really listen to each other. Getting to the bottom of this disconnect required both vulnerability and honesty, but also quiet, slow, “leave your ego at the door” listening. Not defensive “listening with the intent to justify or explain or share blame,” but listening with the intent to understand, to hear, to love.

The timing of this eye-opening conversation was serendipitous, to illustrate to me how the skill and discipline of listening has so many practical, spiritual applications. When we listen to others, we have to take the time to hear them as they are, not as we think they are or as we might wish they were. The same goes for our communion with God — listening to God requires us to quiet our hearts and minds to really hear what God would have us hear, and feel, and say, and do. We need to remember that our perspective is limited and clouded, and we need to take time to listen so that we can come closer to seeing, and hearing, and feeling with the mind and heart of God.

Prayer: All-loving and all-knowing God, help me to calm my mind, center my thoughts, and quiet my heart so that I may listen — truly listen — to your voice. What am I not hearing that I need to hear? What am I not seeing that I need to see? What am I not feeling that I need to feel? Help me to take on your eyes, and ears, and heart, throughout this season of Lent.

 

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, Feb. 24

by Nevana Martin

Matthew 7:5: You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

James and I moved our family back to Athens a little over three years ago. It was a weird time of the year to be house hunting, and the pickings were slim. However, the very first house that caught my eye on Zillow ended up being the one we now call home. The listing read:

“This home offers privacy and is an animal lover’s dream. Peace and tranquility abound just minutes from Athens bypass. Charming home nestled back among 6+ acres of wooded property. The driveway offers ample parking for farm vehicles, recreational vehicles, guests etc.”

The owners were also the builders. In 1963 they etched out their homestead in the wilds of Jackson County and resided on it for 51 years. By the time we came along, they were in their mid-80s, and the house had become too much for them to care for. Despite her age, the woman was spry and showed us the path she walked every morning down to her barn where she kept her horses. We followed her through a tunnel of green, side stepping fallen logs and losing sight of the house as we were engulfed in the underbrush. It was difficult for me to get a sense of the land because it was so grown up, but I was easily enchanted by both the cleared yard near the house which was dotted with pecan trees and blueberry bushes and by her stories of family picnics down by the creek on Sunday afternoons. I wasn’t sold on the funky house, but we made an offer anyway – a house you can renovate, but there’s only so much you can do to land. James was able to see the property in a way I wasn’t, and I trusted his instinct.

Despite our acreage, when we moved in I began to feel claustrophobic. First, I took down the dated blinds and various other forms of window coverings. That helped some. With the help of my in-laws, we took down a set of cabinets that were lined up along the ceiling in the TV room, dangling over my head as I tried to get lost in the brilliance of Dr. Phil. I ripped up the stifling carpeting in dog room (what any sane person would call the sun room). Piece by piece taken away, I could breathe a little more but now I was better able to see out the windows, and the woods soon became my obsession.

English Ivy has been my long-time nemesis. A lot of people love it and, despite that it’s an invasive exotic, folks seem to take any chance they can get to plant it around their homes. I do things a little differently – any chance I can get to kill it, I take gleefully.

One afternoon I took hold of James’ Mawmama’s hatchet and set out. You see, our land was eaten up with English Ivy – I’m guessing it was originally planted on a steep knoll to help with erosion control, but like English Ivy does, it spread. Everywhere. It creeped along, noxiously, like the rabies virus, slowly upward, bent on killing its host. The ivy climbed trees all the way to their canopies, slowly smothering the ancient, life-giving mystics. And I was not having it. I wacked the ivy for months, working my way around a tree, first slicing the vine at a sight about head level and then hitting it again near the ground. I’d gleefully rip off the strip and look skyward at the ivy left above me, knowing its days were numbered. I’d take a few steps to my right and repeat the procedure until the tree’s trunk was fully cleared of the ivy. Then I’d move on to the next tree. And the next. And the next. Seven acres worth of trees in all. As winter grew into spring that year, our tree trunks were freed of the albatross, and the branches above stretched closer to the sun, no longer being smothered by that which did not belong.

We’ve again come to the time of the year where I’m starting to lose joy at the sight of leafless trees, and I’m itching to see the greenery again. As I drive through town, my breath catches when I notice something green in a tree – are they budding out? Is it finally spring? Each February I spend disappointed. My obsession for signs of life points me instead towards signs of disease – almost all the green I notice during these weeks is English Ivy. Without the distraction of the natural beauty of the leaves, the dank green stands out along the tree trunks. I’m myopically drawn to this insult; I see it everywhere.

It can be overwhelming to walk around the world noticing the pervasiveness of injustice while everyone else continues on, seemingly un-phased by it. “It’s right there in their own yards, and they’re letting it happen,” I think to myself when I see a house with only five trees, all eaten up with ivy. “They’re just a simple 20-minute-wacking away from eliminating the problem. We could be rid of this awful invasive if everyone just pitched in and did their part.”

The way some of us do faith is a lot like the way I drive around town judging folks who have ivy in their yard. It’s so easy to see how other people are doing things wrong, how their thinking is wrong, that they’re being smothered and stifled by something which doesn’t belong – by an evilness which slowly creeps upward, bent on killing their soul. Lent, though, as we’ve heard in church, is about a time for internal reflection. For us at Oconee Street this year, we’re focusing on Listen. Rather than worrying about our neighbor’s yard, it’s instead a time to grab up a family-heirloom-hatchet, walk into the wilderness of our own souls, and whack away anything that doesn’t belong, that is distracting, that is holding us back from being the beautiful mystics God formed out of clay.

Prayer: Dear God, Please help me to see myself the way you see me. Please give me the strength and the skill to eradicate that which is holding me down and that which is getting in the way of me stretching up and out. Please help my branches to get wide so I can take in all the world, so that I can be a resting spot for a chattery squirrel and a solid limb for a fledgling bird learning to fly. Please help me to see my neighbors’ crowns of glory, and help me to not focus on their specks. Please help me to love them as you do. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 14

imageby Joe Gunby

Matthew 11:28-29: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Today marks the beginning of a forty-day journey with Jesus. A journey that stops for a time in the desert, in the wilderness, and the out-of-the-way places where wisdom is found. A journey of silence, and contemplation, and mystery. For many, this is a season to “give up” foods or habits that may be weighing us down, so that we might step more lightly in the footsteps of Jesus. This is also a season when many will “take up” habits of the heart that wake us to the Divine Presence all around us. We may pray with greater attention, serve with more intention, or meditate upon the Word sets us free.

Lent engenders a kind of paradox for those seeking spiritual maturity. For at once we know that our standing with God is not improved by what we do—even the good things we would do to pray more in no way make us worthy to be loved by God. If they did, then spiritual disciplines would become yet another self-improvement program that we have to master, and all of our activity would take us further from the rest that Jesus promises. But the rest Jesus promises is not the same as laziness and inattention. In order to find the peace that we so desperately desire, we have to take active steps to separate from the noise and strife around us. So then, there are two parts to faith—the active and the passive, both equally important.

During Sunday worship this Lent, we will have opportunities to turn down the noise of our busy lives and listen to the Voice that is closer to us than we are to ourselves.  We will rest, listen, and keep silence. In preparation for these unique worship services, I’ve found myself returning to the music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. His beautifully spare choral works are filled with quiet and silence, so much so that one comes to hear the silence as the goal of the music, and not as an interruption of it. His insights about the nature of silence would help us maintain tension between active and passive spirituality.

“On the one hand, silence is like fertile soil, which, as it were, awaits our creative act, our seed. On the other hand, silence must be approached with a feeling of awe. And when we speak about silence, we must keep in mind that it has two different wings, so to speak. Silence can be both that which is outside of us and that which is inside a person. The silence of our soul, which isn’t even affected by external distractions, is actually more crucial but more difficult to achieve.”

 For our part, we have the good work of making time and space for exterior silence, for without that, we have little hope of receiving that more difficult interior silence—the peace that God gives.

Prayer: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lenten Devotional: Wednesday, Feb. 24

By Steve Williams

1Samuel 4-10: 4
Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Sometimes, it takes a long time for us to recognize and respond to God’s word. Fortunately, God is persistent. In the spring of 1999, I was completing my 22nd year as an attorney and partner in a Philadelphia law firm. I had not intended to stay so long; I had always had an itch to be a teacher. But the years had gone by, I had enjoyed the work I was doing, and I had gotten comfortable in my place. The itch was still there, but I scratched it by teaching Sunday School and coaching high school hockey.

​Then, one Sunday morning, my pastor gave a sermon that unsettled my comfortable place. I don’t recall his precise words, but I remember feeling as if he was speaking directly to me. What he was saying was that I needed to rethink my priorities and plans. Still, I hesitated. I was almost 51 years old, too late to start over and too uncertain that I could make a difference.

A few weeks later, on April 20, 1999, two senior students at Columbine High School in Colorado opened fire with automatic weapons they had brought to school that day, killing 12 students and one teacher before turning the gun on themselves. As I watched the news reports that evening in shock and disbelief, I felt a chill go through my body. Then, and this is the only way I know how to describe it, the words came into my head, “You should be there.” And I knew instantly, without giving it any thought, what that meant. Not that I should be in Columbine, but that I should be in a school, somewhere.

​While I was not quite like Peter and Andrew, who being called by Jesus “immediately left their nets and followed him”, I did set my course that day on a different path that in due time led me to Athens and a thirteen year career in teaching. I did so with the certain feeling that God would be with me on the journey. Through my experiences, I have come to believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, does indeed speak to us in many and varied ways if we choose to listen.

Prayer: Open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds, O God, that we may hear your voice and do your will. Amen.