Prayer of Return: Leaning

Prayer of return:  leaning

My soul might faint (faint it does)
but still must get up
and feed babies...
mine, and perhaps some others as well.

Even midst the valley of tears
babes hunger—
they are multiplying cells so fast

I am just beginning
to see
that you have not equipped me to keep up

But to lean—
lean heavily, in fact
on the God of infinite supply.

jfig     winter 21/22



Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:3.


And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide,” as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ Genesis 22:13,14

The year 2022 is full of things that need fixing and rescuing. But there is One who came to be our rescue. Prophets foretold it. Simeon saw it. Dare we believe it? Believe that He came not only to ‘rescue’ us from sin as individuals, but to invite us into the abundance of God’s goodness. Into belonging. Into H-O-P-E written overtop the anxieties that grab me when I read the news.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This post is dedicated to my friends at https://thedihedral.com/ who are a consistent source of encouragement to me.

While They Were Tending: Simeon

Let down. Covid, and cancellations, and a Savior has come into the world. But…has anything really changed after all? Winter storms, and wintrier loss and unexpected winds of change altering one’s landscape – for better?

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” Luke 2:29,30*

Read Luke 2:22-35 “Luke 2 (NLT) – Then it was time for.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 6 Jan, 2022. https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/luk/2/22-35/s_975022.

Let Down
Yes,
Simeon's answer is, yes.
All of eternity is altered
by this child's first breath.
The next breath...peace
is yours.

Like Mary's milk
let down to nurture the Christ child
(let down poignantly
a slight bit painful...tiny bit sweet),
we must lay down singular expectation
to nurture His Presence in the world.

The One who
will not let us down.
He is here
breathing hope and human dust
into everyday miracles.
Every day.

Where shall we find Him?
Simeon...
welcomed him from the arms of a stranger
(young girl at that)
from persistent whispers of Spirit Holy winds,
amid the long-sounding echoes of his own cautious journey.

Look—look for Him
Listen...
Nurture His Presence
He is here.

jfig     1/2022

Simeon practiced expectation. He tended the fire of belief by expecting God to be and do as He had said. For one who would follow Jesus, this practice is critical as breathing. Not because Simeon could see the circumstances of rescue, but because he could now embrace the Christ Child. For one who would follow Jesus, this letting-go of other notions, in order to fully gather in the wonder of the Infant King, is life-altering. Simeon allowed the Advent of the Messiah to frame his outlook toward what came next, as one of peace.

Holy God, I’d like to be like Simeon, embracing your Presence in a way that alters my own expectations; that allows you to fill me with wonder at who you are. Would you settle me into your peace, in such a way that I not only welcome what comes next, but my renewed expectations inform others that YOU ARE HERE. Help me to tend the fire of belief in a way that brightens the darkness of circumstance and softens the faces of those with whom I conflict. Peace. May I be one who can confidently say, I have seen your rescue. Every day. Amen

*Luke 2:29,30 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

While They Were Tending: Joseph

Matthew 1:19-21 ESV And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph...was a carpenter?

Joseph was a good man, a just man... one as he ought to be. *
unwilling...to cast Mary to public shame
though he might have.

Joseph...was a carpenter

Did he feel dismay,
pound his fist, spittle spray
at events going out of square?

Steady on...yet
navigating by Spirit dreams (this is paradox);
holiness swirling about and within him.

Pattern abandoned...Joseph crafted
shelter, protection
climbed a scaffold of discernment?

What form did decisive urgency take
 as Joseph waited,
with the rest of the world

for salvation to drop
from the womb
of a girl?

As they fled through the night
'protect' pumping through his veins
Joseph guards the salvation of his people.

See Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-15. “Matthew 1 (ESV) – Now the birth of Jesus.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 24 Dec, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mat/1/18-25/s_930018.

Joseph didn’t wait for salvation from the womb of any girl, but his girl. The sense of responsibility must have been crushing. Yet there is no indication in scripture, that Joseph operated with anything but merciful kindness, patience, and the will to act decisively. Upon Holy Spirit dreams. Hesed. Prophecy after prophecy to be fulfilled.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

What strikes me at this moment in the history of the world, is Joseph navigating a delicate, but weighty interpersonal situation, while balancing the weight of prophecy and the world’s salvation. Did his actions qualify as basic kingdom carpentry? What about now, as Jesus-followers try to do the same…good and just actions, as we ought to be? The good news is, there is a Navigator. This poem ends in questions, because I do not have the answers (would have dropped the crossbeam at saving face). Joseph…was a carpenter. Who are you…and I?

jfig     12/2021

Some extra thoughts if you are interested:

In a sermon series this fall, about one’s acting purpose under God, author and speaker Gary Thomas asked the question, “What’s in your hand?” What would God have you do with that ? Joseph… was a carpenter.

Isaiah 5 enunciates the woes of the Israelite people – attitudes and actions that interfere with their delivery of God’s justice and righteousness to the world. One of those woes (vs. 8) alludes to pushing people out and away from receiving God’s promised inheritance. Joseph…did not do this. He protected God’s salvation for the world. Because he was a just man, a good man…one as he ought to be. This serves as a POWERFUL example to me. His tools? The literacy of his everyday craft, humility, kindness and seeming moment by moment reliance upon the Spirit of God. He did it by being who he was—a carpenter, a man, one reliant upon the Spirit of God.

Reflection Questions: Is there some arena in which you, like Joseph, are being asked to ‘not fear’ and trust both the work and the leading of the Holy Spirit?

What does it take, to move you from casting shame, to sheltering another?

Is there a way in which God is asking you to protect the delivery of his salvation to others in the world?

What tools do you use, to define who will be Jesus’s people?

These are questions I am asking myself, over and again, searching the night sky, for clues to navigation. Godspeed to you, in your journey of ‘bearing salvation.’   j

*This elaboration of the Greek word used for Joseph’s character comes from Strong’s concordance. You can access details via the Blue Letter Bible link above.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

While They Were Tending: Mary

Mary
Mary stoops, figure bent
by society— female, poor.
Confronted with a messenger
she bends lower still
tends the embers of belief.

"How will," she asks.
Not, "How can???"
I will, not what if
disgrace bends me until I
break?

She stirs the fire again
This is good news...I think. Elizabeth?
Run!!! Would you run?
To the one barren?
Unless you believed?

The whole story
of God's goodness
finds welcome, in the embers
of Mary's heart.
"Amen"

 jfig     12/2021


My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.   Luke 1:46-55 ESV

It is difficult for me to turn my gaze from how a thing is going to impact me; to how it looks resting on the altar, at the feet of a Holy God. Not so Mary. She drapes her wedding dress upon the altar and says, “Let it be.” As You say. She does not make the error of token agreement and then leave it all up to God. She willingly lays down her plans, her earthly security, and puts on the garments of a servant. Expressing gratitude. We have tried all kinds of gimmicks in our family, to facilitate expression of gratitude, with variable success. Mary rests her expression of gratitude upon God being who he says he is; doing as he says he will do. Throughout history. And the fire of her belief explodes in tongues of worship.

God with the mighty arm, you have used your strength to work the miracle of our salvation. Historically, we look for this, again, and again. We look for it now. Help us to recognize your salvation, as you lay it out before us in invitation, by your Spirit. While we wait with expectation, gift us the humility to bend in submissive participation to your good plans. Amen

Reflection Questions: How have you been able to enter into gratitude this Advent season? How is what you believe, informing your worship of God? May you experience peace, hope and adoration as you trust in Him.

Prayers of returning: Longing

Longing; a meditation from Psalm 84

My soul longs
for the courts of the Lord
where you are extolled
and i, am not.

Set instead
to carrying—
one small ration
called hope...a flame.

Your breath—
alight in me
sets hope to dancing
on the walls of the world.

jfig     8/2021

In her book, Dear White Peacemakers, Osheta Moore includes in her description of white supremacy, the unwitting agony for one white, of striving to live up to a certain standard of excellence derived from skin color alone. And that without knowing that one is carrying this weight about on her back. Conversely, for one of darker-hued skin, there is constant pressure to prove that one’s humanness is more than painfully perpetuated untruths about color. Either way, we are all left striving to prove our worth.

In the courts of the Lord, all this striving falls away – eyes glued to our Creator, Provider, Healer, Messiah. Corporate activity is just that, pointed toward one end. Meditating upon Psalm 84, imagining the atmosphere of the ‘Courts of the Lord,’ the activity that is ordered there, has provided immense relief to me as I continue to wrestle with questions of racism, human worth, and how we live together on the planet.

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. ESV

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. NIV

“Psalm 84 (NIV) – My soul yearns, even faints,.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 22 Aug, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/psa/84/2/s_562002.

“Psalm 84 (NIV) – My soul yearns, even faints,.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 22 Aug, 2021. https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/psa/84/2/s_562002.

Those Who Make Room: Sometimes Suffering

Those Who Make Room: I admire those who, like Barbara Brown Taylor, can give their full attention to sacred ritual, and still abide in the real world of laundry and garden chores. About Ash Wednesday, she said that she felt a sudden urge to ask for more, more ashes; only to realize that it was not yet her turn for a full taste of death. Apparently, like Paul (and you and me), at that moment she still had work to do. She juggles perfectly, though. Ashes applied, she notes that she still has time for the common courtesies of please and thank you, between her and her God. Only a taste of death… How can I sustain reverent regard while keeping pace with dirty dishes and dirtier socks; Please and Thank you, and Yes, Lord, all in one breath?

I want to give Lent my attention, to recognize that something deep and personal, and earth-shattering is happening in the church calendar of life and death and legacy of sacrifice. I do not want a gimmick—because faith is much, much more than gimmick for getting through our days. I remember the time astute Aunt Ruth, at 89 years of age, told me that she no longer felt it necessary to give up chocolate for Lent. Coming from her, it was delightful discernment, besides the rescue of chocolate! Holding reverence feels less like giving up something, and more like opening up to something, so that whatever matters settles deeper, and whatever is unnecessary falls away from dis-use.  Like so many religious observations, perhaps Lent raises more questions than it answers. Sometimes Suffering is one of my questions.

Sometimes Suffering


Sometimes suffering
might be invitation
NOT to be minimized—
but perhaps made more
PRECIOUS
by what it costs to enter in.

Pain and sorrow
weave a surprising Hora.
'Havah Nagilah;' ribbons of intimacy spool
in and out the Godhead
as life and death tell their story
of who God is.

Sometimes suffering
might be invitation
And we are invited to hold the ribbon?

Harsh circumstance
strips down the bark of our defenses.
Requiem:
lay to rest
our ill-conceived notions
and cling to what is real.

jfig     March 2021

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY,  p 77.
Wikipedia references Psalm 118:24 as inspiration for the lyrics of Hava Nagila; but the whole of the psalm resonates with the intertwining of life and death. 


And because it feels scary to leave you with suffering wide open – Blossom





Blossom

To blossom
takes time
slow seasons of steady nutrition
infused through slender stems.
Fragile.
Blossom may mean wait,
and while you wait
hold open your heart.
Your petals will take on
astonishing hues
of God-love.

"Winter" may ask you to suffer
hardship of storms
attrition: leaves lost to blight
and insects,
infringement of priorities.
Take in the pale delicate notes
of that which gives you life.
Breath-taking.
This is my prayer for you.
Suffering is not easy—in any form.
In its season you have yet to bloom.

jfig     3/2021

Wise Man

 
 

 Wise Man
 Do you want to be a wise-man
 behold the light
 that marks Christ's coming?
 Dare to migrate...
  
 Do you want be a wise-man
 pursue the One
 who brings the light
 first spoke it into being?

 So you want to be a wise man???
  
 Summoned before the face of oppressive power
 and reckoning
 choose to depart by a different way
 choose to be governed by justice and righteousness?
  
 Might I be a wise-man
 Believe you are who the prophets foretold.
 Oh, Holy Prince
 your peace transcends temporal security.
  
 Mighty Counselor
 we kneel at your cradle of wisdom.
 May we be wise—and willing
 journey far to rejoice in the light of your presence.
  
 "Opening their treasures they offered Him gifts..."
 Wise men.
 Grant that I might unwrap such gold, this frankincense and myrrh
 'Knowing You to be immeasurably who You say You are.'
  
 Might I, newly wise
 fall
 knees to earthen floor
 and worship the newborn King.
 
 jfig     12/2020 

Dear Reader,

Last week, the song ” Do you Want to Build a Snowman,”  from the movie “Frozen” kept popping into my head. Followed by  the wise men. Surely one could find more fitting comparative verse for the Prince of Peace! But the real question of this poem points toward a place of child-like longing that lingers forcefully in many of us, What part do you want to play in the story of Jesus? And the morechallenging grown-up question, What relationship with him, do you wish to have?

The content of this poem is carefully gleaned from Isaiah9:1-7 and Matthew 2:1-12. It stops me in my tracks to read the prophecy of Isaiah 9 moving toward conclusion with, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” ( emphasis mine) To not only end there, but to start there; to uphold there.  What do you think establishes peace and why?

“Isaiah 9 (ESV) – Of the increase of his.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 14 Dec, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/isa/9/7/s_688007&gt;.

Unveiling

 
 
 
 
 Unveiling
 Such beauty waits beyond the slash heaps
 One climbs their ruins—no small feat
 for one feeling small.
 Yet reddening corpuscles absorb air
 those that have not carried oxygen
 for long seasons of treachery.
  
 Treachery the lie
 that small ones have no strength.
 None of our strength is our own...
 'Tis gifted or granted, imagined
 for purposes far beyond
 even our most benevolent inclination.
  
 And yet, cells have not forgotten
 how to carry this breath of life.
 Lift the veil on beauty's unfolding
 her wonder un-reconciled to loss.
 Maker has seen to that
 with measured infinite supply.
  
 None of our strength is our own...
  
 jfig     10/2020 

This poem derives from figuratively carrying Psalm 27 around in my pocket, for long legs of life’s journey. You can access it here: “Psalm 27 (ESV) – Of David The LORD is.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Oct, 2020. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/psa/27/1/s_505001&gt;.

As one feeling small, I might hide. I do hide – afraid of what others will think of me.  But the Maker hides me with his very being; miraculously conferring holiness, strength, life, hope upon this fragile frame. Psalm 27 says that the Lord hides us in is tent, the place where He dwells. The Hebrew root is shineth. The Lord hides us in the awesome and devastating place where his being radiates with glory and majesty. Really???

Midst both my own journey, and the privilege of walking a bit with others, I often grow impatient (and fearful). Why does healing and the transformation that comes with it take so long? How are we to endure?  This poem is in no way meant to minimize the pain you might be in, as you wait. It is meant much like a prayer, to stand in the gap with and/or for you, and look for the light of Jesus’ coming to rescue those He lovingly created in his image. I pray He will lift you into the strong beauty of His Presence, and keep you safe.

 Lord God, sometimes we cannot believe for ourselves, that there is any reason to hope. And yet, here we are – still breathing the breath of life, that only you could have breathed into us. And so, we wait together, not just for you, but upon you, with the belief that you are who you say you are. Sustain us in hope, even as you sustain us by your mighty hand, we pray.

Luke 4:18,19

Trajectory

Trajectory
 
 
Persistent ripples
scribe the surface of Bagley lake
evidence
that life breathes,
expectant,
beneath the season's fleeting veil.
 
Painstaking intent
flows along ages-old trajectory.
The Foundation of the world stretches ancient fingers
toward the fullness of time.*
Beginning to the end;
the end itself—endless.
 
Float, if you must
beneath this moment's sky
her sun not wasted.
Nor is winter's gloom,
though we tend to hasten time.
Who knows where our Spirit God hovers?**
 
jfig    9/2020
*Ephesians 1:4-10; **Genesis 1:2

Ephe. 1:3,4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

In August, my Covid19 hiking buddy and I made it to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Area to circumnavigate the string called Bagley Lakes. Though not the most acclaimed hike in the area, its raw beauty still spoke volumes. Questions surfaced, just as they have in the past: are these really lakes, or just snowmelt puddles; and what is the difference? You can see right to the bottom – old logs and a dearth of fish. So what is the point, if you see the air for two of twelve months, with no trout nor tadpoles, and the rest of the time are covered up as if you didn’t exist by layers of ice and snow? Two things refuted my skepticism: Even though the water was crystal clear, the ripples were determined, not just from the wind, but from underneath. In its abbreviated season, the free-running water was determinedly going somewhere. And (2) in retrospect, we felt ourselves a part of the scenery, not merely observers. We could see where our footsteps had traced just 30 minutes prior; right there exactly. We were part of this day’s wilderness story, in a way that my companion visibly understood.

The reminder that any season, whether brief, seemingly benign, or harsh to the point of devastating, can still be part of God’s purposeful trajectory is hugely comforting to me. We don’t get to measure the seasons; they seem to take measure of us. But we can look across the valley to see where we have been; experience some surprise to see others who trudge there now. We can revisit the pages of story: how God’s triune company and unwavering intent have transformed us en route. I hope the thought that your story is not outside God’s trajectory, is comforting to you as well. Sincerely, jfig

Learning to listen: She Only Said It Once

She Only Said It Once

Her ‘voice’ barely registered

skimming along the fibers of my optic nerve.

Nevertheless

she spoke.

A concise, comprehensive gesture—

it’s in there.

 

In my haste

to keep us moving toward task completion

(that trajectory of necessary stuff

like getting to work, being prepared)

In my haste

I assumed

she ‘spoke’ of something else,

missed my question.

 

Thank God, I did not scold

just kept parroting my question.

But she only answered once.

 

Twenty minutes later…

when I stopped looking everywhere else,

and listened to her,

she forgave me;

but that is her story.

jfig   7/2020

 

My daughter Brie, is 22 years old. Clinically speaking, she is nonverbal, as well as discernibly developmentally delayed. In practice, however, she is at times profoundly articulate. This was one of those times.

Brie works two days per week at a farm supply store.  Stellar job coaches, engaged co-workers and graciously committed administration support her efforts. It is almost magical. Brie enthusiastically wears a vest that identifies her as part of the store family and the legacy that goes with it. She excels at go-backs, and job-site morale. Work was item #4 on the day’s list.  We couldn’t find her vest.

As we prepared (in advance, I might say) for her work shift plus line-items 5 and 6, I said, “Brie, it would help if you found your vest for work. It is almost time to get in the car.” We  finished putting on shoes and I left to load up activities 5 and 6. When I came back, she sat in the same spot, closing the zippers on her overnight bag ( she likes fasteners). No sign of the vest. It is not in its place in the closet. Not to worry, I think I have seen itWhere did I see it last? Vest or no vest, it is time to get in the car. As Brie buckles in, I ask her, “Where, ” and she makes one clean gesture toward her bag. Meanwhile I am looking: Perhaps it is in the horse bag, or still in the car from Monday…This may seem inane disorganization to you, but we take really good care of that vest. I could not find it in any of the places I had ‘last seen it.’

” I know you are excited about your overnight bag (item #6), but right now we need to find your vest…” By this time Brie and the bag were in the car, and I was still talking to the air about finding the vest – for twenty minutes.  Finally, we had to leave, so I grabbed the back-up vest, lacking her radio headphone safely stowed in the pocket; when it dawned on me that Brie had answered my question. Once. And I had failed to listen. I  underestimated her listening and her capability and the completeness of her response – repeatedly.

Woe to me, when I am too busy multitasking to listen to a quiet, less frantic, vulnerable voice. Whoa to me when I am too busy getting the job done, to regard and listen to another who is participating in that work.

 In practice, Brie is sometimes profoundly articulate: some of my friends would say, Jenny, you are being too hard on yourself. She couldn’t say it out loud, and that would have eliminated the disconnect. (It has been a twenty-two year decoding journey.) But that would miss the point. She can’t answer me in words. Or in sign language. Or with a voice box. She can’t answer me in the kind of voice that I am most used to hearing. She answered me with a gesture, with the means at her disposal, and I failed to listen.  If I listen, with understanding, only to those who speak in ways familiar or readily comprehensible to me…perhaps I need to change my pattern of listening.

Some further thoughts: I probably understand Brie in real time,  better than anyone else on the planet (except perhaps my husband.) If we are invested and willing, yet still falling short; how narrow is her window for being understood?

How reflective is this incident of my finesse in listening to others who speak in a form to which I do not gravitate, of matters less readily understood? I am not comfortable with loud, angry voices. I am not attuned to all forms of oppression. I can tell you I do not like assumptions being made based on the color of my skin. In Brie’s case, as a parent, it is my job to ask Brie to be respectful and appropriate. To work on maturing. But it is my job, my choice, my privilege, to listen. Am I willing to miss critical information because I cannot fully appreciate the way it is delivered? Or will I choose to learn something new, in order to understand, to facilitate someone else’s better today?

Am I in charge? Not really… How willing am I to listen to others’ good ideas about effective solutions?

In spite of all we thought we learned from the early months of Covid 19 about caring for one another, and what I thought I knew about prejudice; I am invited anew in 2020, to pause in my frantic hurry to where I am going, and listen to those whose stories are different, whose needs are different, whose dreams may be different, but at the core, sound strangely familiar. To choose to listen, for the nuances behind the content and method without assuming that those voices sound strange to my ear because they are somehow less capable or accurate. To first lose the oppressions in how I listen, in order to lose the oppressions in living.

jfig     lessons of 2020