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It’s not very easy

In this crazy-busy world of today

To find time to stop and think

Much less time to pray

But it is my New Year’s resolution, and as I try to make it more a part of my life, I find that there is so much that can be done, that needs to be done, in the realm of prayer.

I feel, in some ways, like a child, dabbling in something I know nothing about.

In other ways, I feel like an explorer, on the verge of an amazing discovery.

And at other times, I feel like I don’t have time to stop and pray at all. Of course, I wish I did, and I want to … but so much – both outside and within me – fights against these times.

Something I read today, in Between Heaven and Earth by Ken Gire, expresses it like this …

What is prayer?

The chance of meeting you,

Of drawing close to the love that made me,

And keeps me, and known me.

And, Lord, it’s only just begun.

There is so much more of you,

Of love, the limitless expanse of knowing you.

I could be frightened, Lord, in this wide country.

It could be lonely, but you are here, with me.

 

The chance of learning about myself,

Of facing up to what I am.

Admitting my resentments,

Bringing my anger to you, my disappointments, my frustration.

And finding that when I do,

When I stop struggling and shouting

And let go

You are still there.

Still loving.

 

Sometimes, Lord, often—

I don’t know what to say to you.

But I still come, in quiet

For the comfort of two friends

Sitting in silence.

And it’s then, Lord, that I learn most from you.

When my mind slows down,

And my heart stops racing.

When I let go and wait in the quiet,

Realizing that all the things I was going to ask for

You know already.

Then, Lord, without words,

In the stillness

You are there …

And I love you.

 

Lord, teach me to pray.

(Eddie Askew, A Silence and a Shouting)

Yes, teach me to pray.

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the soul is like a birdIt’s that time of the year once more – when we’ve reached the end of that horse- or scenic-themed wall calendar and prepare to hang up a new one.

When we try to wrap our brains around the fact that, yes, the year actually is over, and wonder where exactly it went because it flew by so quickly.

When our thoughts turn to resolutions and goals for the New Year.

A friend of mine just wrote on his Facebook page that he began one of his resolutions in October and reached his goal by the end of the year. I will try to keep that in mind for 2013. But as I did not have that foresight, here I am at the end of 2012 thinking about my New Year’s resolutions.

There are the usual … eat more healthy food and less junk food, exercise more, finish all cookies and pies by 11:59 pm so that I don’t break the resolution due to a sugar and gluten infested home, etc.

But New Year’s resolutions need to be more than just weight loss and exercise goals, I think … something that outlines growth of the soul.

During this past summer I began to read a book titled Between Heaven and Earth, by Ken Gire. The introduction follows:

Between heaven and earth lies the firmament of our prayers. In one sense, the firmament is ethereal as air. In another sense, it is substantial as atmosphere. In a sense, it is a mere wisp of who we are. In another sense, it is rich with the elements of life, gritty with the dust of our humanity.

Within this ever-changing sky funnels a maelstrom of faith and doubt. Turbulent at times. Galing with emotion. Wild and windswept and full of fury. A swirling vortex of questions, arguments, and confusion.

But that is not all there is to the weather of the heart.

There are calm days, too. Serene as a sunset. A tinting of thankfulness on the horizon. A billowing of praise. And, thank God, for most of us, there are more blue skies than storms.

Some … prayers have been sighed into the heat of day. Others have been shivered into the cold loneliness of night. Together, they make up the atmosphere.

And together they celebrate an intimate God.

A God who listened and spoke, cleaving all of human history with a word.

Immanuel.

God with us.

Prayer is, I think, an expression of our deepest longing. Unspoken syllables tearfully ascending an expansive sky. Snowflaking into a word. Something beautiful from heaven, coming down.

Glistening with grace and truth. Settling on our shoulders. Touching us with wonder. And love. And hope.

Immanuel.

Perhaps it is more than a name.

Perhaps in the firmament between heaven and earth

            It is both a prayer

                        And an answer to prayer.

It took me a few months to read through the book, and it was a journey of sorts, as I sat on my balcony on quieter mornings, or curled up in the corner of the couch to fit in a few pages on busier days.

The book, contains thoughts on prayer, and prayers from various walks of life and perspectives. I felt a stirring in my heart as I read, of the need to make prayer more a part of my life. Yet the hope hasn’t quite taken off in my life as I would have hoped it would. Not quite the eagle soaring life of prayer I envisioned as I read. So I will start in the New Year with perhaps a fledgling resolution: yes, to pray.

More specifically, to quiet my heart long enough to listen and feel that stirring in my heart of someone to pray for.

My New Year’s resolution is to pray for someone every day, someone that is in a way a part of my life, whoever comes to mind as I stop and listen and pray. It is, in a way, a hope to give a little of myself in a way that will matter. A way to say thank you to those who have touched my life in some way.

The prayer might be in my heart one day, or spoken aloud the next. It might be a verse, or a whole Psalm. I might write a note to the person, or post a prayer on this or my other blog. Or it might just be a prayer offered up in silence, trusting God to answer the prayer in His time and way.

Prayer is a mysterious thing, as Ken wrote above. It is ethereal and heavenly, yet at times answered in surprising, miraculous, and tangible ways.

So if   you see more posts on prayer, or more prayers in this blog, or my writing or parenting blog, this is the reason.

It is my New Year’s resolution … one that I pray to keep all year long.

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A leaf covered in frostI came to a realization about myself – not the most impressive one. I have a lot of “unfinished business,” well, at least with personal things. When it’s “work” given to me by someone else, with deadlines, I generally accomplish those in a timely fashion.

Cross-stitches I started years ago remain unfinished in my drawer.

Blog posts I have begun – over 150 at the moment – are incomplete and unposted.

And then there are the books. I have a neat excel file of the working titles I have given to my “books.” There are more than 50 now. One column gives the number of words written for each book. I have over 100,000 words – but no more than 15,000 in any one of them.

Photo albums. Lots of them, with packets of photographs sitting on top of them, rather than placed inside.

If I died any time soon, for any reason, I would have left a lot of things undone. I’d have to get someone auction off all my ideas. J

I wondered though, why do I operate this way?

One reason could be that ideas are always popping into my head. I’ll wake up from a vivid dream and before the morning is over, will have a book outline from it. Poetry starts forming in my mind as I’m sitting on a bus, or reading, or working.

And blog posts? Any time the randomness of my thoughts come together into a cohesive pattern, a moral interwoven – through an experience of the day, an memory from the past, or a realization of some sort – I start to write it up.

That’s the problem. I start.

Then I get a phone call, or reach my destination, or get a request from one of my kids, or realize I need to get back to work, start dinner, or wake the kids.

Is it procrastination?

Busyness?

Lack of organization?

Too many pies up there in the sky?

All of the above?

What’s the solution to getting a few things from “pending” in my brain somewhere to “complete,” where they can actually make a difference and benefit someone?

In his book, The Weathering Grace of God, Ken Gire writes of the importance of “stillness.”

“Poets know the importance of … stillness. They know that if they are still enough, long enough, the art they are working on will speak to them, tell them what it wants to be and what it needs from them to become it. All artists know this, whether they work with paint or clay, words or musical notes.

“Michelangelo knew how to be still before the stone and listen to the David within it. Strauss knew how to be still before the Danube and listen to the waltz that was eddying about in its waters. Monet knew how to be still before the pond and listen to the lilies sunning on its surface. …

“Our culture knows little of this kind of listening.”

The best ideas, and the completion of them, require not only time to do them, but also stillness. Listening – to know what it is that needs to be done with them.

We are encouraged by the Psalms to, “Be still and know that I am God.” The finishing work – whether of a small project or of life itself – requires stillness in mind and soul.

It is easy to start something. It is good to start something. Well begun is half done, as they say.

But to finish something – to see it through to the end – is not always easy.

It takes time.

Patience.

Faith.

And those aren’t always easy to come by.

We don’t always find them by looking within, or by looking around.

But when we look up, and in peace and quiet of mind, listen to the still, small voice that whispers to all mankind, we will know the path to take to complete what we have begun … and what He has begun in our lives.

We are all, in a way, God’s unfinished business.

He has started a lot of things that are well begun, even perfect in their own right.

But we are not complete.

The work continues: the molding, the shaping, the cutting, the polishing.

Along with the promise: “He makes all things beautiful in His time.”

(And look at that, another blog post complete.)

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Window to Let the Sunshine InIt never ceases to amaze me. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite explain, but that never fails to fill my heart with wonder.

Ken Gire, one of my favorite authors, in his book Windows of the Soul, writes of the windows that give us a glimpse into things that lie beyond the surface. In his unique, lyrical voice, Ken writes . . .

“We have all had moments when we’ve experienced something . . . we can’t quite explain, yet can’t explain away. Moments when God has touched our lives like a soft hand of morning sun reaching through our bedroom window, brushing over our eyes and waking us to something eternal.

At some of these windows, what we see offers simple a moment of insight, making us slower to judge and quicker to show understanding. At a few of them, though, what we see offers a word spoken to the very depths of who we are. It may be a word to rouse us from sleep and ready us for our life’s journey . . . It may be a word telling us who we are and why we are here and what is required of us at this particular juncture of our journey.

Or, in a startling, sun-drenched moment of grace, it may be a word telling us something we have longed all of our lives to hear – a word from God – a word so precious it would be worth the most arduous of climbs to hear the least audible of its echoes.

Windows of the soul is where we hear those words.

And where the journey begins.”

In the book, he writes about many windows – windows of dreams and of depression, windows of writing and of wilderness, windows of movies and of memory.

Another window – one that was not mentioned in Ken Gire’s book – is the window of friendship.

The dynamics of friendship have altered somewhat with the rise of social networks. It is simple to add hundreds of people to your list of friends with nothing more than a simple click.

I don’t doubt that real friendships exist within these parameters, and commenting back and forth on random happenings is not necessarily a bad thing. But I would venture to say that they seldom offer a glimpse into the soul.

Those are the places we often keep partitioned off, closed to others. Why we do so is anyone’s guess.

We have fears of being misunderstood, fears of being laughed at, or of standing alone as the only one who thinks or feels a certain way.

We keep the curtains closed. And so often we dwell in darkness.

Accepting a shadowy, colorless existence as a life.

Certain moments, however, let sunlight stream into the windows of the soul that we so seldom allow others to see.

I recently read a book about sight to one of my kids. It started that our eyes and brain capture over 60 images per second in the light. When it’s dark, they only capture about ten images per second.

I think the same could be said for the questions that lurk around in the darkness of the soul. We only grasp shadowy images – outlines, really.

And so many questions remain.

But when we let go of our fears and open our hearts to the illuminating love of a friend, the gloom dissipates.

Let the Sunshine InColor and light replace the darkness and shadows.

Suddenly the focus is clear, as details fill out the sketchy outlines.

Images start to make sense with all the brilliance of a new morning.

The curtains draw back to let the sunshine in.

The wonder that never ceases to amaze me is the gift of true friendship – a window to our own soul, and a bridge to another’s.

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Albert SchweitzerA distinguished author, an insightful pastor, a creative organist, a gifted teacher—all these talents resided in one young man whose destiny stretched before him on the unwritten pages of his life. His abilities were many, thus a myriad of options were available to him. Many were awed by this talented individual; those who knew him were impressed by his intellect during conversation and in his preaching, as well as by his unique stance on topics ranging from music to philosophy to theology.

However, none of these accomplishments were enough for this young man. He felt a calling—a deep desire to devote his life in service to mankind—and he knew he would not be satisfied by life’s usual, temporal accomplishments. Albert Schweitzer followed the bidding of his heart, for it resounded louder than his talents and abilities, and through his dedication to helping others, he made a lasting difference in the lives of countless individuals across the world.

In the early nineteen hundreds, Albert Schweitzer was well known across Europe. In the era before either of the world wars had divided nations and ushered in great change worldwide, much respect was given to intellectuality. Great thinkers were—as they had been for thousands of years—widely revered. At a young age, Albert Schweitzer was already recognized as one of these original thinkers. For instance, the 600-page book he had written on Bach, “interpreted the great master organist-composer. Albert Schweitzer…comprehended what Bach was trying to say and do with his music and thus was able to reach into Bach’s life and spirit.”[i] Similarly, Schweitzer’s writings on theology questioned dogmatic Christian beliefs and brought attention from theologians and skeptics alike. Still, no one knew of the passion raging deep within his heart.

From the time he was a boy, Albert Schweitzer felt the necessity to respect every form of life, from smallest to greatest. Albert Schweitzer described an experience in his Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, when a friend invited him to use sparrows in a tree as targets for their new slingshots. “Stooping like a hunter, my companion put a bullet in the leather of his catapult and took aim. In obedience to his nod of command, I did the same. At that very moment the church bells began to ring, mingling their music with the songs of the birds. For me it was a voice from heaven. I shooed the birds away, so that they flew where they were safe from my companion’s catapult, and then I fled home. And ever since then, when the bells ring out to the leafless trees and the sunshine, I reflect with a rush of grateful emotion how their music drove deep into my heart the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”[ii] His boyhood was sprinkled with experiences such as these, which carried on into his young adulthood.

It was when he was 21 that Albert Schweitzer decided on a unique course which determined the direction of his life. We are given a glimpse into an element of that experience through the words of Christian author Ken Gire: “Schweitzer was enjoying the cozy solitude of an Easter vacation one spring day. The ascending sun angled in from a window in his room, as he lay in bed, half-awake, basking in the serenity of early morning. And then, as auspiciously as a sparrow landing on his windowsill, his destiny fluttered into view.”[iii] The call, which had been slowly building deep in the recesses of his soul, finally sounded. Albert Schweitzer realized that he was responsible for bearing the pain of those in pain. He understood the words spoken by Jesus during his life on earth, words that bid the people of the earth to live, not for oneself, but for others.[iv] “Whoever is spared personal pain must feel himself called to help in diminishing the pain of others.”[v]  Thus his resolution was made. He would continue on his present course as student, teacher and pastor until the age of thirty, at which time he would pursue a life of dedication to mankind.

Just how he was meant to accomplish that, though, was not yet clear. It would be years before the answer trumpeted once more, but it finally did. It was 1904, and Schweitzer was working in his study when his eyes fell upon a magazine article. It had been written by a member of the Paris Missionary Society, and beckoned anyone willing to join the mission work in Gabon. The direst need was for doctors. As he read, it was as if a light began to shine in his mind. The appeal reached down into his heart, and he knew there was no need to keep searching. He would study medicine and volunteer his services to the Paris Missionary Society in Gabon—in what was then French Equatorial Africa.

Albert Schweitzer, now a pastor and college principal, reached his thirtieth year. It was now time to leave behind that which he had worked for during the first three decades of his life in order to pursue his soul’s ambitions. Among his first steps of preparation were to inform family and friends of his intentions. Their responses, though relatively understandable, were at the same time very discouraging. Many attempted to dissuade him from his new endeavor. They thought it a great waste of his talents to pursue such an obscure mission. The most difficult times for him were when he was completely misunderstood by friends—those who professed the same Christianity that he held before him as a guiding light for his path of service. They seemed completely unable to realize that the teachings of Christ should encourage believers to follow a path of dedication to mankind. Still there were others who—though they did not completely understand his vision—knew that Schweitzer was a person of integrity and enthusiasm, and they vowed to support him in his efforts.

Study and hard work filled the subsequent eight years, as Albert Schweitzer earned his medical degree. At the same time, he searched for those who would support him in his venture of building and operating a hospital in Africa.

Finally, the time had come. On March 23, 1913—amidst well wishes from many in his hometown of Gunsbach, Alsace–Schweitzer’s journey began.[vi] Nearly the entire town saw him and his new wife, Helene, off at the train station. Three weeks later, they arrived in Lambarene—a small village at the edge of the forests of Gabon.

Thus began a unique stage of his life, far from anything Schweitzer’s friends, family and colleagues would have expected, from anything even he himself expected. Dr. Albert Schweitzer built a unique community hospital. He conducted his medical service to the native people of Africa and gave needed treatment to the thousands of inhabitants of villages up and down the Ogowe River. At first, his work was conducted in relative obscurity, as he spent day after steaming hot day on the edge of the primeval forest, serving with his medical knowledge all those who came to him in need of medical help. In time, his name became somewhat of a legend yet his life was in many ways still a mystery. As the knowledge of his work grew and spread worldwide, many came to visit, see for themselves, and even join in the selfless work among the sick and afflicted of Gabon.

In September of 1965, one more call took place. A quiet one, only heard by a dedicated doctor who was now 90 years old. It was the call Home. Albert Schweitzer died among the people for whom he had worked so many years. In the period of time between the building of the first hospital in 1913 to his death in 1965, nearly 150,000 people had stayed and been treated at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, and close to 20,000 individuals received timely and life-saving operations.[vii] Many of these doubtless would have succumbed to their diseases and wounds if not for the painstaking care of Dr. Schweitzer and those who came to join him in his efforts. The new-famous work of the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene would not end with his passing. Dedicated doctors and nurses would ensure that it continued, and the people of Gabon were not left without personalized care and effective treatment.

The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is one continuation of the original work provided by Dr. Schweitzer, formed with the purpose of developing “Leaders in Service: individuals who are dedicated and skilled in meeting the health needs of underserved communities, and whose example influences and inspires others.”[viii] Its 250 members worldwide have studied in over 100 respected universities and have come together to “develop a blueprint for lifelong service,” including service to nearly 25,000 low-income individuals.[ix]

This “fellowship” also serves in the Schweitzer Hospital, which is still in operation. Its purpose is clearly stated as “a site significant to the historical and cultural inheritance of Gabon, the hospital looks towards the future as a living symbol of the nation’s unity.  With its international identity, the hospital stands as a symbol of solidarity, of brotherhood throughout the world. It aspires to serve as a medical and humanitarian example in Africa with its multiple collaborators and affiliates. The hospital will remain an organization built on Albert Schweitzer’s message of ‘Reverence for Life’ by continuing to care for and respect each patient and his or her human dignity.”[x]

After seeing the effects that Albert Schweitzer had on the lives of many, none could deny the fact that his choice to leave behind a life of prestige and influence for a life of obscure service had been the right one. Yet what was it that took him across lands and demarcation lines to die among a people who were, at first, strangers to him?

Albert Schweitzer felt a personal bidding that took him from a life of prestige and influence to a life of simple service. The books that he wrote describe his life, work, and views. A number of books written by others likewise give information on these same topics. Yet no explanations can accurately define the calling he felt in his heart. To fully understand, one would likewise have to hold that same purpose in the heart…and follow it. Deep within our hearts, each of us has a dream, a destiny. We can choose to ignore it, or to take heed and follow. We might have to lose sight of the shore in order to discover that “new world,” yet we will never regret the choice we made to pursue that dream, that calling. We just might change the world.

 


[i] Marshall, George and David Poling. Schweitzer: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1971.

[ii] Schweitzer, Albert. Memoirs of Childhood and Youth. Trans. C. T. Campion. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

[iii] Gire, Ken. Windows of the Soul. Michigan: Zondervan, 1996.

[iv] Schweitzer, Albert. Out of My Life and Thought. Trans. C. T. Campion. New York: Henry, 1933.

[v] Cousins, Norman. The Words of Albert Schweitzer. New York: Newmarket, 1984.

[vi] Schweitzer, Albert. On the Edge of the Primeval Forest. C. T. Campion. New York: Macmillan, 1956.

[vii] Marshall, George and David Poling. Schweitzer: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1971.

[viii] Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF). The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, 2011. 04 Feb. 2011.

[ix] Ibid

[x] Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF). The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, 2011. 04 Feb. 2011. Lambarene Fellows

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