malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: Stories from Lent

The Humbling of Ashes

imageOT Reading:  ​Amos 5:6-15

NT Reading:​​Hebrews 12:1-14

Gospel Reading:​Luke 18:9-14

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”

I try to be kind and respectful to all persons when I see them in the line at the grocery store, or sitting in a restaurant.  I am well groomed in proper, public Christian behavior.  When I see persons in the community who are “different” than me, I go out of my way to be nice to them, bless their hearts.

I give a tithe to my church, or at least most of the time I do.  Ok, to be honest, recently I haven’t met that goal but I have at other times.

If it is Sunday, I’m in church.  I know many of the prayers and hymns by heart.  I know when to bow, cross myself, kneel, stand, and sit.  I am religious about my morning and compline prayers from the Daily Office during the week.

But when I read this parable that Jesus told in Luke’s gospel, I squirm on the pew of my heart.  Why?  Because I realize that Jesus has nailed me.  He knows exactly what I’ve been thinking, and who I really am, and that’s not good news for me.

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even  like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who  humbles himself will be exalted.”

I’m caught, I’m guilty, and I know it.  I could come up with a very good excuse, but Jesus knows me better than I know myself.  And when I try to kid or fool Jesus about who I really am, it’s not good for our relationship.

So I give up, Jesus.  I know you are telling this parable to point out the error of my ways.  I’m not the person I want others to think I am.  I’m not even the person I think I am.  I’ve fooled myself, but never you.  I know the gig is up

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.  Please God, forgive me.

This is a humbling experience, for all of us, to come to this truth.  But it is the only way to begin the journey of Lent in our hearts on this Ash Wednesday.

 

Remember the Stones

Daisy and I went for a hike today in the woods of sweet home Alabama.  Our twelve year old lab never turns down the opportunity to go for a walk in the woods.

We didn’t have a final destination in mind when we started to drive.  We ended up near Double Springs, AL at Camp McDowell, a beautiful campground owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

After we had walked for awhile, I saw a small wooden sign that pointed the way to the “Labyrinth.”   We found it and I was a little bit disappointed initially.  Tree limbs and pine straw made it difficult to know where to enter and how to follow the rock lined path.  Just like life.

We finally figured out where to start and Daisy followed directly behind me walking the labyrinth as well.  A couple of times, the path was unclear due to nature’s messiness, and I had to take my eyes off the ground and look ahead to figure it out.

After a couple of minutes, we made it to the center and sat down.  Daisy lay down beside me chewing on a stick, content to wait.  I looked to my left and was surprised to see several stones that had these words engraved:  BELIEVE, CHARITY, INSPIRE, FRIENDS, HARMONY, TRUST.

The opportunity to hear God’s voice is always near.  The key for me as I walk my daily path is paying close enough attention to the small signs that are right in front of me.  Sometimes I never even see the signs and walk on by and miss the message completely.  Today, thankfully I was walking slow enough to notice.

This labyrinth path is circular and every step eventually leads to the center, and then, back out into the world.  I wonder how my life is like that?

But today, right there in the middle of the moment, there was a still small voice or message.

I was reminded to believe, to love, to inspire, to befriend, to make peace, and to trust.

Along your life path, give yourself the gift of surprise, and remember the lessons of the stones.

*****

My wife, Mary Sullivan, also wrote about walking this same labyrinth about a year ago.  Read it here.

The Well Worn Path

OT Reading:  Amos 5:6-15NT Reading: Hebrews 12:1-14Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click on the arrow below.

“Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”

I wonder if you are like me in some of the following ways.

I try to be kind and respectful to all persons when I see them in the line at the grocery store, or sitting in a restaurant.  I am well groomed in proper, public Christian behavior.  When I see persons in the community who are “different” than me, I go out of my way to be nice to them, and also think to myself, “bless their hearts.”

I give a tithe (10%) to my church, or at least most of the time I do.  Ok to be honest, recently I haven’t met that goal but I am doing better than I was.

If it is Sunday, I’m almost always in church.  I know many of the prayers and hymns by heart.  In my church, I know when to bow, cross myself, kneel, stand, and sit.  You probably have your own spiritual routines.

I am religious about my morning and bedtime prayers from the Daily Office during the week.  Maybe you have your own type of meditation or daily prayer or quiet time?

But when I read this parable that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel, I begin to squirm on the pew of my heart.

Why?  Because I realize that Jesus has nailed me.  Jesus is talking to me.  And maybe to you too?  He knows exactly what we’ve been thinking.  He knows who we really are.  And if we are honest, that’s not always good news for us. Read it again with me.  Luke 18:9-14 says:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even  like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who  humbles himself will be exalted.”

We are caught, we are guilty, and we know it.  We could come up with some great excuses, but Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  And when we try to fool Jesus about who we really are, we are the foolish ones.

So I give up, Jesus.  I know you are telling this parable to point out the error of my ways.  And you are absolutely right. I’m not the person I want others to think I am.  To be honest, I’m not even the person I think I am.  I’ve fooled myself, but never you.  I know the gig is up.

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.  Please God, forgive me.

Whether you observe Lent or not, this is the path that can lead or return us to God.  Beating our breasts and crying out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  At the very least, we acknowledge this truth in our hearts.

This path is the walk of humility before God.

And this is the well worn path we are called to walk on this Ash Wednesday, and every day that we want to reconnect with God.

Faithful Followers

If you and I are going to be faithful followers of the One who calls us into this journey of faith, we are going to have to realize a few things.

To be a faithful follower means that our experience will not be what we expect it to be.

We will be surprised and humbled along the way.

There will be many times that we are wrong about our beliefs, about other people, ourselves, and about the Sacred One we are following.

Life will not be what or how we always want it to be.

We will fail.

And we cannot do it without Creator’s help.

Do you want to be a faithful follower?

Really?

It’s going to be a struggle. A-throw-yourself-on-the-ground-before God-kind-of-struggle.

“Please God, you know what I want, but if I can’t have that, give me your will even when I don’t want or understand it,” kind of struggle.

I am sorry to share this hard news with you.  I am sorry to hear it myself.  I wish it was easier, but it’s not.

The example has been set.

The good news is we don’t have to do it alone.

Surrender

I walked into a room where a woman about my age has terminal cancer and does not have long to live.

Her immediate and extended family was in the large room with her.  She was still able to communicate clearly.  I introduced myself as a Chaplain who just wanted to come to be with her for a little while.

She said, “Come on in Chaplain, your timing is good, we’re getting ready to pray.” I took my place with the rest of the family as we stood around the bed.

Much to my surprise, I wasn’t asked to lead the prayer as one of her family members stepped closer to her bedside and began to pray a “from-the-bottom-of-your-heart-I-mean-this-one-kind-of-prayer.”

At the same time, the patient was also praying her own prayer out loud, and I leaned forward to hear what she was saying.

“O God,” she said, “You know that I want to live and be with my family a while longer. You know what I want, I know you do.  But if you are ready to take me home, I am ready.  If there is anyway I can stay, please let me.  But if I can’t stay, I’m ready.”

When they were both through, I thanked them for letting me be present.

As I walked out, I heard the lesson loud and clear.

Sometimes, it is not holding on that makes one stronger; sometimes it’s letting go.

Surrender.

“Not my will, but thy will be done.”

What do you need to let go of?

Personally, I have a long list.  How about you?

Peace to you during this week, especially.

 

Riding the Waves

Do you remember what it is like to walk into the ocean?

It may be a little cold when I first put my toes and feet into the water.  If it is hot enough outside, I am determined to keep moving ahead into deeper water as the waves begin to roll in, one after the other.

Sometimes I  jump up each time when the wave comes over my waist to bide a little more time to acclimate to the temperature of the salty water.

As I go a little deeper, I  turn my body sideways so that I don’t take the full force of the wave on my chest.  The water is just too powerful otherwise.  Finally, I dive into the next wave and immerse myself fully and begin to swim.

For the next few minutes, I keep my feet off the sandy bottom and begin to move my arms and legs in order to tread the water.   It allows me to keep my head above the water and go with the flow.  I feel the power of the ocean and I become one with it.

I am reminded that life is like this.

Sometimes, I stubbornly face the waves with my feet firmly planted in the sand and falsely believe I can overpower them. It’s not long before I’m knocked down with salty water up my nose.  If I don’t change what I’m doing, I’ll drown.

So I think I’m gonna float for awhile and ride the waves.  It’s just too hard otherwise.

Want to  join me?  Come on in, the water is fine.

Annie’s Gift

This is the first in the series, “Stories from Lent 2011.”

Annie Seymore walks into my office with a smile. She greets me warmly and asks how my day is going or if I need anything as she empties the trash.  She makes eye contact and listens.  She wants to know about my wife, Mary, or how our kids are doing in college.

I get out of my chair to give her a hug.  I ask about her day or what she did over the weekend.  We talk about the weather.

Often Annie has a wonderful new story about her three year old granddaughter.

She learned how to ride a bike this weekend,” Annie beamed as the proud grandmother.

“I was walking alongside her holding her up on the bike and she kept saying ‘Let go Grandmama, let go.’  And so I did.”

Annie raised her eyebrows for emphasis and said, “And off she went, just peddling away.”

I wondered who experienced the most joy of the newly learned skill of independence, the teacher or the student?

I invite you to walk alongside and hold another person up until the words are uttered, “Let go,” and do so gladly.

I invite you to make eye contact in a room and listen deeply on a routine day.

I invite you to remind others by your presence, the way you are, that God is good.

May we learn from Annie’s gift during Lent of letting go, listening, and loving deeply in your life.

Happy peddling to you.


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