Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wish'n and Hope'n

I'm afraid that we have watered down HOPE by too often equating it with our WISHES. I'm a writer and I see words as having different dimensions to them. WISHES are very flat to me. Mere words on a piece of paper, in wish-list form. Words that have no true hope or love behind them. No change of heart. No change of posture in and through prayer. No promise. No relationship or conversation with God and God with us.

But HOPE is different! HOPE in prayer brings Love into the equation! HOPE splits our very hearts open-wide in prayer, both on our own behalf and on the behalf of others. It is impossible to HOPE in our prayers without Love ... love for ourselves in the knowledge that we are one of God's beloved children ... love for others who are also God's beloved ... and love for the One who listens carefully to our HOPES, who sends us out to become Christ's very hands in these HOPES, and who is completely faithful in Love.

And so, if I say that I "hope" something for you (yes, you, my blog followers .. and you who have stumble across these words), know that what I have hoped are not mere words to me. Please know that my hopes for you have been whispered to the One who is Love. My hopes for you are surrounded in love for you see, it can be no other way!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"When Tables Are Overturned" (John 2:13-22)

It isn’t always to be found
in the quietness of our Lenten retreat,
or staring in a mirror at a forehead
marked by an ashen symbol of the cross ... 
startling as that is to see.

It isn’t always to be found
in these forty days, is it, O God?
In our reflection ...
or in our kneeling in repentance ...
or in our prayers for re-created hearts?

“Do away with your selective hearing," 
Jesus shouts,
"and your selective sight, 
and your selective compassion
and your selective worship."

"Do away with your tables,
so carefully placed, 
waiting with shiny currency ... 
perfect to make an unfair exchange.
Do away with the expensive sacrifices …
too expensive for those
who are most needy."

In this Lenten journey,
when we still don’t understand
and when we see no need
for the clearing of those things, 
we see you, Jesus,
methodically making a whip of cords 
and we hear you shout –
yes, SHOUT at us!

"Do away with the distortion of worship!
Cleanse the holy temple!
Take these things out of here!
This IS my Father’s house!"

There might be a time
during this Lenten journey of ours
when our tables are overturned,
our money is scattered,
feathers fly,
and we find ourselves

There might be a time
when all we have left
is worship with no agenda
other than to worship our Lord,
and the forming of words
in our hearts of "injustice" and "love"
by the One
who shouted them at us
in the marketplace.

When tables are overturned
and money is scattered, ...
when righteous indignation
of our Lord is seen and heard, 
the least, the lost and the lonely,
the fear-filled and the grief-stricken
become visible
and we become a voice
in this gouging world.

When tables are overturned, 
we might begin to overturn
shattered lives. 
When feathers fly,
all might begin to soar.

(c) 2012  anna murdock

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lent, Wilderness, and Forty Days

It is my wilderness …
  a place to which I am being led.

   It is my forty days …
yes, my forty days
    to endure and to seek,
to trust and to pray,
  to be surrounded by
   very tending angels.
It is my aloneness,
    and wilderness and forty days.
I would hope that
   you too might allow it 
      if and when it comes …
      for there is a Holy Presence here.
 The wilderness is born
    out of a great silence 
    that hopes for a sudden glimpse
  of God in worship
    when all others around me
    are following their worship bulletins
      so carefully … so dutifully … 
      so worshipfully … so very well.

It is my wilderness.
    It is I who sing the hymns,
     with parched lips.
    It is I who reaches out for the morsels
       that the Spirit hands to me
       when I am so malnourished.

It is my wilderness.
It is I who listens for shouts 
   yet am satisfied
  with holy whispers.

It is my response to God to live into,
   not others to discourage.
The words, “Get thee behind me….”
  are on my lips, on guard and ready
  for one more attempt 
       to change direction.

It was my wilderness, 
… my forty days,
… my seeking, 
… my journey, 
… Your leading.

Holy One, you are in it all
   and in that, I do trust
   these unknown steps
  during these forty days.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Renamed" (Baptism of our Lord)

He came from Nazareth in Galilee to the river Jordan.  The hem of his robe was dusty and dirty from the journey.  He came to stand among them, not apart from them.  It is written that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” had come to hear the words spoken by his cousin, John.  The baptizing began.  He shuffled along with the pressing crowds.  Nothing set this man apart from those who were waiting to step into the murky waters of the river Jordan on that day.  He was one among the multitude of people.

He entered the cool, muddy waters, wading out to where his cousin stood.  Their eyes met.  John hesitated in quiet protest.  Perhaps Jesus leaned closer to him and whispered “Baptize me.  Let it be so now.”   He was baptized as were the others.  There was a peace and quietness under the water that would last for only a few moments … a quietness that was interrupted only by the muffled sounds of the throngs of people standing along the river’s edge.  Jesus came to the surface of the water and saw the heavens rip apart.  The Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested upon him and a voice from the heaven proclaimed, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

This moment of affirmation for Jesus at his baptism brought to light this belovedness and the holy delight in him that parted the heavens with power yet settled upon him with the same gentleness of a dove.  This moment branded the name “Beloved” on his heart just as he would soon find himself walking among those who would shout other names at him.  And this very moment placed the name “beloved child” on his lips as he shared ‘a new name’ with those and for those he had come to walk among. 

They shall call him “Immanuel”, which means “God with us.”  We have heard these very words during Advent.  THIS is the moment of clarity for us when the birth announcement of the Christ-child and the affirmation of Jesus’ baptism merge into one great Truth.  God IS with us.

And so, this morning I say to you … REMEMBER.  Remember your baptism on this day.  Hear these words and hold them as the dear treasures that they are.  You, too, have been renamed.  You are called “beloved child” by our God who loves us with a love that is beyond our greatest hopes.  Know this as a precious truth that flows over you like the waters of baptism and makes you gasp for air just a little at the thoughts of such unimaginable Love.   Remember, beloved child, remember!

GOD of the torn heavens and of gentlenesses, of communal waters and of new names … through Jesus, you have washed us with the waters of your Love and said, “It is good.”  You have renamed each of us “beloved child.”  With the assurance of this name that we carry and in your soaking Love, give us hearts that want to share your Love with others.  Give us opportunities this day and every day to walk alongside others and say, “And you shall be called beloved.” 


Saturday, December 30, 2017

"Attuned to God's Timing" (Luke 2:22-40)

There are several reasons why I’m sharing this week’s Gospel readings with you …
1.) To share Rachel Hackenberg’s weekly prayer prompt
2.) To share a little story about what a kid perceived as the meaning of my name
3.) To share the glorious work of John August Swanson, called “The Presentation”

The scriptures are of the presentation of the Infant Jesus by Mary and Joseph in the temple.  Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was guided by the Spirit into the temple where he took Jesus into his arms and praised God, saying “… my eyes have seen your salvation.”  Then, a prophet named Anna (84 years old and a widow who never left the temple, but worshiped and praised God day and night), came to them and immediately recognized the Christ-child as the redemption.  It’s a wonderful account of Mary and Joseph presenting their firstborn to God “according to the law” yet their firstborn (Jesus) being recognized and proclaimed as salvation.  Again, please read the scriptures!

One Sunday, a group of young people in our church were talking about what their names meant.  I was standing by the kids and said, “Do you know what my name means?”  One said, “Yes … an old woman who hangs around the church all of the time!”  Ouch!  But later I was pleased that he knew the scriptures (somewhat) and that my hope is that I might recognize Jesus whenever and however he might be presented to me.  So, aside from the “old woman” comment made by the young boy (surely, he needs glasses), I’m OK with his perception of what my name might mean.

This morning, Rachel Hackenberg’s email prayer prompt really brought home the “active waiting” portion of how these scriptures might speak to each of us.  As we close out 2017 and step into 2018, let us consider her words:

(Rachel Hackenberg’s prayer prompt 12-30-17)

When the time came ... guided by the Spirit, Simeon came to the temple and took the child Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, "Now you are dismissing your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared without secrecy among all people. (Luke 2:22-32, excerpts)

Simeon came to the temple at just the right time, having disciplined his spirit to attune itself to God's timing and not to his own impatience.

We all live with a bit of expectation: waiting for a new day, waiting for a new year, waiting for a better political climate, waiting for a long-awaited joy or a much-needed relief or a nail-biting resolution. As you wait, pray for your spirit to find peace in God's timing.

(Thank you, Rachel Hackenberg)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Yes, You Can!" (in memory of Rev. Ruth Dudley)

Ruth Dudley, an encourager of mine who lived in  Australia, has died. I learned about her passing this morning, on her birthday (12-28-17)

Crutches were her constant friends as a child as was a wheelchair in her adult years.  Physically, her life was difficult and filled with pain.  Living into her calling was as well.  Ruth wrote a poem called “Inevitably Hers” about the pain that she went through between the time of her calling (1953) until the day that she was allowed by the Anglican Church of Australia to be ordained (1992).  To hear her tell about those last months before the Church allowed it to happen was filled with hurt.  She and a few other women were to be ordained (the first group in Australia).  They arrived for the ordination only to find out that the Church had put it on hold once more.  And from an Anglican priest’s mouth, she heard him say that it would be more fitting for a dog to perform the sacraments than a woman.  Oh, what hurt and yearning these “pioneer” women endured. 

Ruth was the first person to befriend me when I joined a lectionary discussion group years ago.   Ruth encouraged me in expressing myself through writing, took me under her wing, and surprised me with a book of her own writings/poetry.  When others said "No you can't", Ruth shouted "Yes you can!" 

This morning, I give thanks for an amazing woman of strength (even in her weakness), of faith, and of calling ....  and, in turn, give thanks for all who have answered God's call.

Here is her poem ("Inevitably Hers") about the wait between calling and ordination.   I have had it on my office wall for years.


Long ago it had seemed
like a wisp of cloud peeping over the horizon,
shaping and unshaping,
full of exciting promise,
yet somehow ominous
for it carried the threat of storms and thunder
and fierce pain.

For many years it seemed to come no closer.
Then the wind picked it up
and, gathering momentum
it moved relentlessly toward her.

She feared it.
How she feared it!
It was not of her choosing
yet it was hers –
inevitably hers
and she longed to own it
and to have others own that it was hers.

Heavily it hung above her
heightening her sense of foreboding,
stretching her pain,
sharpening her longing.
Bowed under the oppression of denial
she waited.

Then the first drops fell.
Raising her eyes to heaven
she saw God smile as cleansing drops
of possibility and affirmation and encouragement
rained upon her.

No longer bowed, she waited –
for inevitably
it was hers.

("Inevitably Hers" by Ruth Dudley / Anglican priest / Australia)
Note:  Ruth was in the first group of women in Australia to be ordained an Anglican priest.  God called her to the ministry in 1953.  It was in 1992, when she was ordained.  INEVITABLY HERS.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"What Do I Want For Christmas?

(Please read Luke 2:8-20)

Each year, my family insists that we spend some time making our Christmas lists so that the lists might be shared with each other.  I always have a difficult time with this.  My needs are very practical and not very “Christmasy”.  What I want for Christmas is much different than what any one family member can give to me.  You see, I want to be one of the shepherds!

What do I want for Christmas?  In the midst of what is usually a very predictable Christmas for me, I want to be surprised by angelic announcements.  I want just a glimpse of the glory of the Lord on this silent, familiar-story sort of a night.  I want to be calmed by “fear not’s”.  I want to find myself holding my breath for a moment at the sounds of a heavenly-host chorus.  I want to be one of the shepherds!

What do I want for Christmas?  I want to hurry to Bethlehem, running down the hillside much like I remember doing as a child.  I want to risk running so fast that my feet might outrun my body … running, tumbling, picking myself up and running once more.  Yes, I want to hurry to Bethlehem with spontaneity and anticipation to see the One whose birth the angels sing. I want to be one of the shepherds!

What do I want for Christmas?  I want to kneel at the manger and realize that God has brought me to this place and has asked me to soak in the sights, the smells, the night air, the infant cries, the faithful parents and that first birth announcement.  I want to kneel for a moment in awe, wonder and recognition that God’s long-awaited Promise is before me.  I want to be overwhelmed by God’s love.  I want to squint at the Light that has come into this dark world.  I want to be lost in the wonder of it all.  I want to whisper, “Immanuel” and hear God whisper back, “Yes, I am with you.”  I want to sigh a relieved sigh at this news.  I want to be one of the shepherds!

What do I want for Christmas?  I know that I must return to my “hillside” … to my job and my routines.  But I want to return from looking heavenward, from running to the manger, from kneeling at just the thoughts of being in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah to a different sameness.  I want to return to my world, to my hillside, glorifying and praising God for all things that I have seen and heard.  I want to be so taken aback by it all that I can’t help but share what I know with others.  I want to be one of the shepherds!

What do I want for Christmas?  I want company on the hillside on this most holy of nights.  I want other shepherds with me, privy to the angelic announcement, being offered a glimpse of the glory of the Lord and running toward the manger with me.  I want to kneel with others in prayer and praise and wonder and know that this “Promise Kept” is not just for me but for all.  I want to walk back to our hillsides together, changed forever.  

What do I want for Christmas?  I want to be a shepherd and I would like the company of you!

anna murdock
(“What Do I Want for Christmas?” written December 18, 2006)
Broad Street UMC / Statesville, NC

 Postscript to “What Do I Want for Christmas?” ….

Writing and sharing our words is a bit risky!  Often it is I who becomes a better person as readers share with me their thoughts in response to my offerings.  Just after sending out “What Do I Want for Christmas?”, I received an e-mail from an elderly man named Ralph.  I will always remember Ralph’s response for he has asked me to become more than a shepherd.  He was so excited at the thoughts of being a shepherd with me, but he needed to ask a question first.  “Anna, are you willing to help me?”

Here is what Ralph had to say in response to “What Do I Want for Christmas” …

“Anna, I want to be a shepherd too.  I want to go to the manger with you.  But I wonder if you would be willing to help me down the hillside.  You see, I am confined to a wheelchair.”  
I immediately answered Ralph … “Of course, I will.  It would be my honor. I would love to push you down the hillside with me, two shepherds on the way to the manger.”  It was then when Ralph taught me a great lesson.   “Anna, you don’t understand.  You can’t push me down a hillside.  Hitting any stone or any bump will cause me to fall out of my wheelchair if you push me.  You will have to slowly pull me backwards.  I still want to be a shepherd.  I still want to go down the Bethlehem hillside to the manger with you.  Are you STILL willing to help me, knowing this?”

I am so thankful for Ralph’s e-mail.  He has asked me to go to the manger with him as a shepherd, but return to my life and my world as a committed, trusting, willing disciple.  Perhaps he didn’t know this, but he did.  He has reminded me that discipleship will not always be easy.  Ralph has asked me for a response … yes or no.  For this, I say “thank you” and I say “yes.”

There is a point in our lives when Jesus looks into the eyes and hearts of each of us and says, “Knowing these things, knowing the costliness of picking up my cross daily and following me, are you STILL willing?  Yes or No.”