I doubt all the pieces cost her much more than five dollars. She chose the pendants on her own and insisted on paying for them herself. It wasn’t until the next day that I saw what she’d made: a charm necklace with an Eiffel Tower, a key with a heart in its base, a butterfly, a flower … and a Christian cross. The last I’ve been praying for. And when answered prayers come down from the highest places of Heaven, it deepens my faith all the more.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
— Ephesians 5:1–2
Steady our feet, O Lord, and don’t let go of our hands. Guide us along your narrow path and don’t let us wander away. You sent your Spirit to speak to us, but we are little children who struggle to follow your word, even when it has been clearly written down and preached to us. We misinterpret. We insert ourselves. We preach our own gospels. Your moral absolutes become watered down and misconstrued. I listen to my fellow believers share their ideas about you, but they speak from their hearts – seldom consulting your word first. They say “”I think …” or “What I believe is …” rather than “The Bible says …” or “Scripture tells us …” They believe themselves to be among the found sheep when they are lost, and worse yet their words lead others astray. Take a stronger hold on our hands. Scold us. Rebuke us. Correct our ways so we speak only your love and life in absolute clarity.
We were nearly the same age. Only a few hours separated us. The earth was born first. Then my father breathed life into me. I came up out of the dust into the body he shaped with his own hands. From nothingness, I could suddenly walk and see and breathe my own breaths. I could think and sleep and dream. My feet felt the fresh new soil beneath them. I walked with no fear with the warm sun and the light wind all over my body. I ate from the trees, except from the one I was told not to, and dipped my lips into the fresh running water of the rivers. Peace abounded – it was everywhere – and it was always still and quiet except for the rushing water and the movement of the animals. Together, they were like a melody. I was blessed by my Lord, and I felt it. I was one of his first blessings. My body, my soul, something less than an angel but still higher than anything else that walked the earth. I walked in his favor in those first days. Eden and I, we were like brothers then, born into perfection. And only days later, our brotherhood and our bond would become much more complicated.
Dear Heavenly Father,
On my knees, I am sending up the weakest of prayers to you. You’ve seen how I’ve been leading my life as of late. You’ve seen the backsliding — my willingness to step off your path and walk any direction away from your side. Why is this befalling me now … at a time when I am also so convicted in my beliefs. I see so clearly what is light and what is darkness, what is good and what is evil. But even that is confusing at times. My eagerness to spread your gospel makes me feel overzealous. Am I Pharisee, Lord, or am I one of your strongest believers? Is everyone around me weak? Is my zeal off-putting? I only want you to shine through my words. I only want you and you crucified to come out in the thoughts I share. I struggle with losing followers for preaching the truth, and yet I don’t struggle with your truth being preached. Am I becoming a mature believer in that my strength is overwhelming to some? These conflicts inside me are humbling, Lord, and as I release this prayer to you on your holy throne, I feel your hand at work in my failures. Maybe you are strengthening my prayers after all.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
My watchmen were sleeping, nearly lying atop one another on a dirt patch beneath the trees. They were bathed in moonlight and if it wasn’t for my fear, I would have thought them a beautiful sight there together. Along the hilltop the torchlight emerged and I realized soon my slumbering friends would be scattered – running for their lives through the shadows of this garden. I shook them awake and they stood quickly to protect me against the coming danger they couldn’t yet comprehend. We saw the torches descend the hill and our eyes fell on the betrayer, a man who traveled with us, our treasurer, who’d shared a table and wine with us only a few hours before. Here he was leading a small band of soldiers to take me away. This was our final moment together – the group I’d chosen to help me change the world. We walked the countryside for three years and they were with me from the beginning. I chose the first of them while walking the shore line one day. They were very much a part of their element, sitting in boats and mending fishing nets. They came to me at my first call despite any doubts they might’ve had, and they stayed with me as the miracles happened. Wounds were healed, men who were paralyzed walked, the blind were made to see, a little girl and later, a man, were raised from the dead. And they saw maybe the most difficult sight to believe: the hearts of the most far-gone men and women changing before their very eyes. They stayed with me while others claimed my abilities came from the devil himself. I spoke to them with stories that had deeper meanings they didn’t understand. I asked much of them, and they gave it to me with all their humanity. Now, they stood by me, waiting, until the betrayer finally drew close. He smiled, then leaned in and kissed me in the half light. This was the falsest display of affection my followers would ever see. In just a few day’s time, on the cross and then rising from a tomb, they would be witness to the most beautiful.
Sometime ago a woman came with her child to me and said: “Mother, I went to two or three places to beg for food, for we have not eaten for three days, but they told me that I was young and I should work and earn my living. No one gave me anything.” I went to get some food for her and by the time I returned, the baby in her arms had died of hunger.
Mother Teresa, excerpted from The Joy in Loving
The service is about to begin and the church’s sole proprietor, who also happens to be the entire congregation, makes his last preparations before worship. He closes the door, shuts the blinds, and his bedroom with its vaulted ceilings and crucifixes becomes a chapel. His prayer stand is the window nearest his bed, and he kneels there, opening the proceedings in quiet contemplation. Then he rises, makes himself comfortable on the bed, and opens the weathered cover on his Bible. His scripture readings, which are not always aloud, still manage to fill the room and he can hear there echoes in the highest corners above him. Today’s message is found in Luke 23:32-43, which he has titled, “The Cross, A Thief, and Forgiveness.” The preaching on this Sabbath morning is a wonder – drawing his assemblage close to the heart of Jesus. He teaches in simple parables, as his master does. In his audience there are no elders to rile, no other congregants to offend. His words ring true and as he preaches, he can feel Jesus’s glory shining on the entire church. The congregation comes near tears as the last lines of the sermon are spoken: “Even in his last, dying moments, Jesus was a fisher of men.” The Bible closes, the blinds are turned to let in light again, the bedroom door opens, and the congregation files out until the next service begins … sometime after lunch.
Men do not come more common than me. You saw to it, Lord, that I was brought up in a modern day Nazareth — a nothing place in the world from which little good comes. The streets were filled with evil and the houses so tired, they sighed beneath the weight of their own eaves. My neighbors were also commoners and I loved them, not because of any familiarity with scripture, but because I was a child and they were all I knew. We were people of all backgrounds, none greater than the other, working to overcome similar struggles. Around us poverty set in and continued pushing our community nearer to its death. The old were weary and the young hopeless. Our parents were often lost or separated from one another. It was in this place, Lord, that I first heard your whispers. Your still small voice spoke to me through a friend, who fell away with the unbelievers, but not before sharing you with me (for that, I hope you extend mercy upon his soul.) One spring night I found my way into a house of worship with other teens my age, and the first seed took root. Lying there in the rocky soil and tangled weeds, you found me, Lord. Somehow your light managed to fall on me through the shadows. Some years would pass before my devotion to you became firm beneath my feet, it was at that early age, in that terrible place, that I was first called. Out of nothingness — the very last of the least — you filled me up with your Spirit and blessed my pen. Let me set down these words the rest of my life in one rolling melody, revealing the heart of Christ to everyone who will listen, no matter where they might be found in their sin — no matter how seemingly worthless their lives. Find them with the same light that shined on me. Warm the soul of their hearts, Lord, and let the new Sons of God arise in the most arid lands of your kingdom!
In the stinging cold of winter, he’s nailed to this cross, his bare skin white as ashes. How terribly cold he must be with no coverings against the plain’s biting winds and new fallen snow. Our Lord’s true agony was far worse than this mere cold — 100 million times greater. Taking on all hell to save our souls for nothing less than love and something as little as our wavering faith.
(Photo taken at Hope Cemetery, Ottawa Kansas)
I am not a musician. The closest I come to playing an instrument is when I sit down to my laptop and the keys fall beneath my fingertips in the same way a piano player naturally finds their keys. Regardless, I am fascinated with the analogy in this psalm: When we follow the Lord, he gives us a new song to sing. The life God grants us is comparable to music. I wonder what my life (or even my faith) would be like if set to music. What would I “sound” like? Would it be a ballad? Would it be uptempo? Would the lyrics be meaningful? Would I want to listen to it, all day, every day? Would it move me or anyone else? I am hoping to see heaven one day and hear the angels play my song back to me. Can you imagine entering the gates to incredibly gorgeous music … and learning that it is the song of your soul? I’m sure the sound will be surprising and lovely. Why? The God of all creation is our songwriter. If I can write something semi-beautiful from time to time, imagine how a boundless and all-powerful God can move you.