Here, dear friends is a lectio divina based on the verses of Matthew 25:34-40 in honor of my father who has lived his life fueled by them.
Happiest of birthdays Dad!
Last year you rented an apartment in Sori, Italy, for you and mom and my family of five. We ate every night on a balcony four floors above the Mediterranean Sea, round umbrellas covering the sand in a grid in front of us. We could hear the waves as we went to sleep and the sounds of Sori awakening each morning. The bells in the church were just across the square at eye-level. We were just a five minute drive up the Ligurian coast from where I was born.
On a Tuesday morning the three of us, you, me, and mom, put on walking shoes and hiked the road to Pieve Ligure. You pointed out your bank, your favorite coffee shop where you learned to drink espresso, and the market on the corner of your street that had been turned into a bar. We passed the train station where you had stood on the platform, an American going to medical school in Genoa. I could envision you with your red beard, bellbottoms, and an open anatomy book, glancing up for the train occasionally. You were only twenty-two but determined. Your clarity on your desire to become a doctor and determination to do the work has given me the courage to take great risks for the visions God has placed in my heart. When I was sixteen and spending an hour and a half in the living room nightly at the black veneer piano, you leaned over and said these words, “You are sixteen and you can do anything you set your mind to if you start right now.” You believed in me before I even knew how.
We chatted as we walked along lanes covered with bougainvillea about how mom had made the hard decision to leave the baby with you and teach at an International school nearby. You studied your medical books during the day, learning Italian by painstakingly translating one paragraph a day and then two and then whole pages. Your stalwart perseverance still stuns me. You’d care for me for a few hours, give me a mid-morning bottle, and slip me into the pocket of the blue backpack, walking the passagiata from our four story apartment in Pieve Ligure down to the fishing village of Bogliasco. I would fall asleep to the rhythm of the waves crashing on the rocks of the riviera and you would study during naps. Last July as we trekked that same passagiata something about the waves combing over and pulling back thousands of pebbles sounded like home.
We talked about how our living overseas had changed the direction of our family, how hospitality to strangers had been woven into the warp and woof of our days. We talked about how the long Italian meals, spending hours at the table and lingering into the evening with half empty glasses of wine had become our family’s favorite way to share life. Most importantly, the needs of the world had come close. Like Albert Schweitzer, you invested much of your life helping meet the most pressing medical needs of Africa.
The three of us sat down at a restaurant overlooking the sea at a table set with orange glasses and grey fabric napkins, sipped cool white wine pressed from grapes grown on the terraces up the mountains behind us. We ate piles of succa della noce, a wide pasta with a creamy walnut sauce made only in that area. Forty years before you had watched our neighbor Mamonna on the apartment balcony painstakingly rub the paper thin exterior of the walnuts between her thumb and forefinger, to assure the sauce was never bitter. We sat during dinner and watched lovers dive off of rocks into the azure water below. They would pull themselves up and sunbathe on towels covering the rocks. I could imagine you and mom laying there, just 18 months after you were married, both of you brand new to adulthood. Decades later I watch you together, your small daily kindnesses of washing the dishes after a long day in the operating room, the way you talk about your loneliness when she’s traveling as if the music has gone out of the house. You have had plenty of accomplishments but your beautiful and hard-won marriage may be your greatest. You teach us to pull in close, to do the work, to love through dark days, and then abundantly celebrate coming out the other end.
I’ve learned much from you Dad:
how to curate opportunities for my children, choosing a common interest and investing time. I was seventeen when you sat with me and scratched a translation in Italian of “O Mio Babbino Caro” on my sheet music at the piano.
to courageously ask questions and not to fear that they are doubt but an opportunity to deepen belief.
to always serve with compassion, caring for the suffering with dignity.
how to be a good friend. I remember you and mom flying halfway across the country to sit with a friend who was getting a bone marrow transplant.
to be a life-long learner. I’ll never forget how tired you were, how you would sink onto the living room couch at the end of the day wondering if you were too old to learn new technology. You were 57 and taking classes to learn how to bend the arms of a DaVinci robot with minuscule finger movements confident the tiny incisions would help your patients heal faster.
to always care for the weak among us. When your precious mother, my Nona, had alzheimer’s, you brought her home, giving her gentle baths in your large sunken tub, whispering to her quietly, and tucking her into the large bed in the guest room.
to dig daily into the Word. When I was ten you inked tiny brackets around passages from Mark, encouraging me to read the verses on my own, and then sitting at the wooden table in the kitchen to discuss it over cereal.
the value of time together. Thank you for renting a cottage each summer so we can bring spouses and grandchildren who run the long halls and wrestle like bears on the grass on the back lawn.
Most importantly? You taught me that the secret of fatherhood is lavish love. Whether it’s an extravagant four-course meal overlooking the Provencal mountains at Bastide de Gordes or the ring you had circled with diamonds and “vintaged” to fit my style, you pour out lavish love. And we all feel it Dad. You open your heart and it all pours out…and in that, you give us glimpses of the Father’s love.
Do you ever feel hopeless in prayer, overwhelmed by what seems impossible? Today the Canaanite woman invites us into persistent prayer.
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My Madeline had fallen down the yellow cottage’s central stairs and landed onto the hard kitchen floor below. She was barely five, blond hair, all eyes. We raced her to the emergency room for a possible concussion. They sent us home.
My mother was staying with us and together that night we witnessed her pain and held the large metal bowl for her to get sick. We pushed back her hair and stared helplessly into fearful eyes. Then somewhere around whatever o’clock and her seventeenth time getting sick, my mom laid down on the floor and cried out to God, “It’s enough! Oh Lord, it’s enough!” I watched her tears pour out over our wood floor and that’s where she stayed.
She buried her face in her arms and held on to the hem of Jesus’ robe, waiting and praying.
That was the moment Madeline fell asleep, the sickness was stilled and we raised our hands in gratitude. It was then that my mother became my first prayer mentor.
I wonder what would have happened if the woman with the issue of blood would not have felt the blood stop trickling. Would she have gripped the rough Galilean fabric and held on tight despite the crowd pressing and shuffling around her body? Would she have wrapped her arms around Jesus’ ankles like the Shunammite woman held onto Elisha in 1 Kings 4:8-37 or doggedly sought the Healer like the Canaanite mother in today’s story from Matthew 15:21-28?
And here’s what I’m reflecting on:
I wonder if we let go too soon.
I wonder if we plant prayer seeds and perhaps through a lack of hope or a small attention span forget to return to water them.
I wonder if we are so prone to scrolling we’ve forgotten the gift of waiting. Resurrection is rarely instantaneous.
I wonder if we’ve become so accustomed to a fast-food life, to scrolling and soundbites, that we’ve forgotten how to sit and keep leaning in when we’re confused by the silence of unanswered prayer.
Here the Canaanite mother, weary of watching her daughter’s suffering, becomes our mentor for persistent prayer. Jesus is traveling through town, His feet traversing her streets, and as she spots him, she grabs onto hope and refuses to let go. She cries out: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and apparently she doesn’t stop. Her strident cry annoyed Jesus’ disciples but I can’t judge them too harshly. Their attitude towards pain is an all too familiar mirror. I recognize myself in their begging Jesus to send her away. Compassion fatigue, it’s called. I too get easily exhausted by need. I shut it out, turn away, roll up the window, turn up the radio. But this mother refused to be silenced. She may have been powerless in the face of her daughter’s suffering, but she was completely confident Who held the power. And love drove her to keep crying out.
Jesus then puts up a clear boundary between them by rehearsing his mission: “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” But she would not be deterred. In fact, she pressed closer, sank to her knees, and laid bare vulnerable need stating simply, “Lord, help me.”
This mother invites us to get comfortable with uncomfortable prayer and with the surprising beauty of weakness. She pats the ground beside her and teaches us to bring our own impossible need, to kneel down in our poverty, and learn to stay at Jesus’ feet.
But, can I just name something hard? It’s here that I find myself at a loss. Jesus’ statement, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs,” smacks very clearly of systematic prejudice. I have a nagging worry that it sounds like a very rehearsed racism.
But if I turn the prism another way I see other possibilities. Perhaps he saw into her heart and knew that we would need the determination of her story. Or perhaps he was trying to discern if she was just looking for a medicine man or truly yearning for a Savior? Either way, this fierce mama did not have the privilege to grasp onto an easy resentment. True love never wallows in self-pity. In this one exchange we see her deep confidence; she knows that she is looking into the face of the only One who can heal her daughter. She steps forward with courage: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their Master’s table.”
And this uncommon combination of pure humility and witty tenacity cuts through and Jesus was moved to compassion: “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And yes, that was the last day of suffering for her precious daughter. That day Satan was denied his fragile prey.
And honestly friends? I stand in awe of this Canaanite mother’s resolve. I’ve just begun to learn to hang onto Jesus’ hem. I’ve just begun to learn to sit in the silence, to be still, to wait.
But I want to learn, and now I have a second mentor, the Canaanite woman.
Dear one, what is your impossible case? Where do you need to develop perseverance to hold on tightly to the hem of Jesus’ garment? In what area of your life do you need to remember that your Savior, your Healer is traveling your same roads?
Ever sense you can already feel the spray from an impending circumstance, like Peter overwhelmed by that coming wave?
Anticipation becomes worry. The worry deepens.
You stand on the water and watch the swells and can’t help but calculate the time for the massive roll to reach you. You try your darndest to push it back down into your subconscious to strong arm your day but that nauseous feeling has a way of rising back up unbidden.
Maybe it’s a credit card bill that’s looming, a deadline, a yearly procedure, the prospect of connecting with a family member that always leaves you cradling a tangled mass of emotions.
Maybe your wave is way simpler: morning. Maybe just waking up and punching in and going through the motions leaves you drained and apprehensive.
Get still. Take a couple deep breaths and then ask yourself: what am I anxious about?
When you have the answer, enter into the story of Peter walking on the water as if you are Peter.
Hear Jesus in front of you inviting you out onto the rough sea. Hear his voice saying, “Come.” Take that first step out of the boat. Linger with Jesus for a moment and enjoy His company. You have just heard him say: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” How do you feel when you’re with Him? Stay there a moment. Then feel the water just under your feet, flooding your sandals, the fierce wind pulling at your hair, playing with your clothing. Feel the spray of the water. See the wave coming, and then be present with Christ with your wave.
What happens next, Dear One?
Join me in a short 11 minute lectio divina on Matthew 14:26-31a
Come join me in the Presence to listen to Jesus remind us that the Kingdom is made up of small. In a world addicted to big, it’s a powerful reminder. Below is my story of big addiction. Want to receive these Lectio Divina, these invitations of Word to prayer, straight into your inbox? Subscribe on the right:
I knelt on the blue berber carpet at the front of the church as often as I could.
We were a Christian Missionary Alliance church and rated an “A” congregation for all the big missionaries to make their circuit through during their furlough year. An altar call was always given, “Just as I Am” was played, and I walked forward, knelt and spread my palms on the berber carpet. I smelled adventure. I wanted to do big things for God.
But the mustard seed kingdom life doesn’t work that way. We are not plucked out of obscurity into big. We are taught to get down on our knees with a basin and a towel and rub tiny feet, wrinkled feet, and the tired feet with cracked heels. The Spirit teaches us to plant lines of seed one at a time. We learn to love big, not work big. They are rarely ever one in the same.
We learn to cup our children’s faces and linger just a little bit longer than necessary. We learn that small acts of kindness watered by grace feed a marriage. We learn the particular accent of the woman next door, the village where her people are from, and her favorite type of tea. We learn to become a collector of stories, that a vulnerable heart listening well is the building block of trust.
We learn to sit in the dark and quiet and sow seeds of prayer which will never be counted, nor should they. They should be massed in our hands and thrown out liberally, generously.
We learn that who we become for God is infinitely more important than what we do for God. We learn that becoming a good news person means listening to the heartbeat of God first, leaning on His chest like John the Beloved at the table, and finding our home in that steady pattern. Sometimes we are encouraged to whisper what we hear into the next waiting ear. Sometimes we become a container for the secrets of God and hold them tenderly in our hands in order not to crush them.
It’s been a long ten years of unlearning the siren song of Big. I tied my worth to it. I tied God’s love to it. I made vows to it which had to be cut off. But the Kingdom is built by small offered to He who is big but was planted in a womb, a tiny seed.
What are your small Kingdom beginnings today, friend? Join me in the comments.
We’re listening to the Parable of the Sower with a view of Bar Harbor, ME just down from this week’s vacation house. *Pinch me!* Bar Island is over my right shoulder.
In order to amplify this scripture to the crowds, Jesus climbs into a boat to make a natural amphitheater of the hills around the Sea of Galilee. I’ll bet the boat rocked and swelled with Jesus’ words just like the dock does here.
Hello dear friends, I’ve packed up the SLOW Word lectio divinas in my suitcase and you’re coming on vacation with me! This scripture is the perfect place to start and happens to be Sunday’s lectionary. Bonus! Join me weekly for a feast of the word right here. Want more? Subscribe on the right to get them slipped right into your inbox and receive my intro to lectio divina welcome video.
Why is true refreshment so elusive?
As we point the minivan towards the Green Mountains of New Hampshire and our yearly family vacation, I’m reminded that on vacation we sometimes just relocate our frenetic pace. My sister coined this being stuck on high speed through life as doing “Cedar Point” after the amusement park perched on the shores of Lake Erie. These days we’re no longer an amusement park kind of family. We linger long at Italian restaurants with the antipasta and a glass of pinot. Now we use “Cedar Point” as a verb when we discuss being overwhelmed and cramming “just one more thing” into our schedule such as: “I’m going to have to say no. That sounds like Cedar Point” or “if we stop at one more store, it’ll be completely Cedar Point.” It’s our white flag that we need to listen to our need for rest and downsize into something small and quiet.
But how often do we listen? For years I lived full speed ahead. I’d only declare a sabbath after pushing towards an exhaustion which was more kin to illness. Sabbath had more to do with a crash than a rhythm. Later after a day of netflix bingeing, I’d be crawling from deep in overwhelm back up to Zero, but refreshment? I barely knew what that meant.
I’m learning to give myself time to push the pause button early, to allow myself to recognize my poverty before the Lord and ask: “Will You be my Teacher, to learn a rhythm of rest in a way that will truly refresh me?”
That’s the question I asked after a week of new faces and church services and the tightly cramped schedule of the Anglican Church of North America’s Provincial Assembly at Wheaton College. The answer came in the form of an unexpected detour and an errand, a task I took while grudgingly. Why would I want to leave? I was happily surrounded by family, three couples and seven kids at my in-law’s cottage in North Central Ohio. We were tucked deep in Amish country under a thick canopy of trees. I won’t even mention the full tins of homemade gingersnaps. Besides, I brought my watercolors.
When we’re at my in-laws, the rules for rest are graciously bent. We nap when we need to and curl up under one of mom’s handstitched quilts on a couch in the cool of the basement. We check into work occasionally but for the most part forget our computers and phones charging in a back bedroom. We spend the evenings in front of the campfire down the hill in surrounded by a crescent of tall pines. The fireflies blink their syncopated magic while we watch the children reach for the tiny hatches of light.
But in the midst of Grandparents’ Camp 2017 and an hour car ride to watch the July 4th fireworks, the check engine light began its long unwelcome glare. We were on a cross-country trip. We needed a mechanic sooner than later. This was only stop two of six. Mom and Dad’s personal garage mechanic came to the rescue which is to say that I would need to spend Monday in Mansfield stuck in never-ending-strip-mall-world (My Favorite.) just down the road from where my husband and I went to high school. The repair shop was smack dab between our favorite pizza shop and the paint store where I had my first job pretending I had expertise on paint colors and wallpaper patterns.
My sister-in-law came to the rescue and gave me a ride from the garage to the library in the adjacent town. I slid into a banquette beside a floor to ceiling window and sat in the slanted light. I spread out a new journal on the table and felt the promise of the empty pages. That morning, what had felt like a detour away from rest became permission for this mama to be alone and listen to the scrawl of pen on paper for a few solid hours.
The next day as I sat on the rough hewn picnic table next to the campfire ring and spent time with Matthew 11:28-30 in this lectio divina video, I heard Jesus’ invitation to rest from a slightly different angle.
I heard it with a new bent to trust.
That Monday I hadn’t needed to grasp at rest. It had been perfectly shaped for my refreshment. Those two long hours in Ashland Ohio’s library reminded me who holds those keys. As I read the end of Matthew 11 in our slow word and heard, “Come to Me,” I was being invited to stop pursuing own artificial version. No more self-provision. No more lurching speeds and then the steep crash of a Cedar Point.
Hi Friends, this summer I’m joining the Grace Table family and reading Shelly Miller‘s beautiful book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. This book is tall-glass-of-iced-tea good. It’s gentle and grace-filled for those of us just learning here and I think you’ll find that by sitting with Shelly’s words, you’ll begin saying yes to Sabbath in small ways. Join me?
Soooo, I can’t choose my own shot when I embed a video into WordPress and so THIS little bit of awkwardness…but don’t let it wig you out. Today we’re praying through Isaiah 42:1-3. Join me? And subscribe on the right to receive tips and a welcome video.
Today our lectio divina leads us to Jesus’ words warning the disciples that persecution is coming. He said that they would have to take up their cross, to die in order to find Life.
I remember that first time my sweet Madeline grasped the wood of the crucifer’s cross. She was just five and she fit inside my arms as we walked together in procession toward the altar. Our acolyte was gone that Sunday and I volunteered to be the crucifer. But, as she grasped the cross, instead of feeling proud, I cringed.
I was shocked by my reaction.
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this blond haired girl of mine (singing right now in the shower) to grasp the cross.
That cross? That cross is going to cost your life, little one. Choosing the cross cost Jesus His life, and grasping our cross will eventually cost us our life. We may never see persecution so many of our fellow Christians experience in the Middle East, but we will find that the road to Life is not Easy Street. The way up is often down. We lay down our American Dream, our vision of what life was supposed to look like and we choose to worship the one true God instead of the way our hearts whisper.
Through all the refining, the stretching, the humbling we can keep walking back to the cross and reaffirming our vow: I WILL FOLLOW WHEREVER YOU LEAD. We can say after the hard words in this lectio, “Take up your cross and follow me,” that the alternative is great cosmic loneliness (I’ve felt it!) and in the end a different sort of death. With Peter we can acknowledge, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Because He is the Good Shepherd, and we can trust in His goodness that the hard way is actually the best way, and the way down is actually straight into His arms we can grasp that cross tight.
Thank you for walking with me.
Blessings as you wrestle with these words today dear friends,
Rev. Summer Joy