In the distance, gulls vie for bait as they circle a lobsterman pulling his traps. In the foreground a party boat carries its passengers to a picnic. The photo captures a moment where markedly different lifestyles briefly intersect. An unnoticed man is toiling at back breaking work in a smelly old lobster boat as others are chatting and photographing each other while enjoying a leisurely ride in an almost identical but “spruced up,” private launch.
We were created as sensual beings with the capability and expectation that we should know the pleasures of our world. Experiencing pleasure comes in varied ways and forms: tastes, colors, styles, textures, books, art, recreation, music, ideas, and relationships. We have preferences but also enjoy others’ achievements and successes. We admire accomplishments, fulfilled aspirations, achieved goals, realized dreams no matter how small or grand. It might be a freshly baked cake, a newly mowed and manicured lawn, an artistic accomplishment, a negotiated deal, an ingenious idea, or just catching a lobster! We celebrate each other’s “pulled up by the boot strap” stories, victories over adversity and addictions, recoveries and wholeness after abuse, and resilience after suffering. Our pleasure may be felt with a simple self congratulation or by a widespread, shared, exuberant joy. Properly experienced and expressed it becomes a manifestation of godliness.
Whether by some personal, habitual imperative or by an impulse, it is wash day! Despite the fog, the laundry is clean and hanging out in fresh, soggy, salty air. Maybe optimism or urgency will force the sun to shine? But sun or no sun, the wash is done!
A photos captures a second and holds it still forever. It is a glimpse of an unfinished story without words or plot. The “because”, the “why” are left to our imagination.
Experiencing life often seems like living within weather patterns. Our joy, our moments of contentment and security are caught between the abrupt and distressing, between storms and mysteries. We are vulnerable to relentless change, some of which is expected and good but frequently is surprising and unpleasant. We seek stability and look for excitement and adventure only when we want it. However, what happens is often not our choice because it turns dark and painful or mysterious. And when we look for meaning but hear and see only silence and emptiness, our default positions are hopelessness or “faith.”
The Psalmist considered God’s instructions and encouragements to be a blessing. They were true, not to be neglected, or rebelled against but were a “light” in a difficult and harsh world where he groped for meaning. They led to knowledge, understanding, wisdom and the...
Maybe it’s a butterfly on a tangerine cone flower or an expansive, breathtaking vista. It might be minuscule and cellular or cosmic and grand; simple and stark or intricate and complex; lovely and serene or loud and boisterous; man made or God created. It might be a...
There is something encouraging about old “things” and old people who are time worn but have weathered well, are scarred but toughened, tried but persistent, tested but enduring.
Sometimes faith seems like that! Like an old boat –
Sometimes it is difficult to see ahead. Just as this lobsterman moves expectantly searching from pot to pot through early morning fog, we press ahead with day to day plans. But we have no assurance they will happen or be fully as imagined. Our earthly futures are not guaranteed, and our view of reality is imperfect. We may strive to be God, but we are not. Our knowledge of this universe is limited. Our understanding of God and of eternal things is even more obscured. King Solomon “realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.” (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17) Our finiteness obscures the infinite, and we are surrounded by great mysteries.
By nature we are seekers. We are curious about the spot where we can fit in and flourish because that place is not always obvious. So, we foray into possibilities – establishing our place among family, peers, relationships, and community as well as in business, trades, or professions, and even in the universe! Sensing there is more to life than what we are experiencing, we seek advancement, wealth, pleasure, power, security, and intimacy. Our needs, dreams, and desires motivate us, but we are not content when we fulfill them. We remain spiritually restless. What we really want, need, and work hard for are intimacy, joy, peace, meaning and purpose.
We enjoy expressing our joy, love, congratulations, gratitude, and good fortune with special events. We celebrate beginnings and endings, new opportunities and positions, finished works and retirements, births and deaths, birthdays, milestones, graduations, reunions, new love, marriages, anniversaries, friendships, healings and recoveries. We hold special religious and federal holidays and look forward to harvest festivals, fairs, picnics and sharing fun at amusement parks.
Butterflies are beautiful creatures, but their midair fluttering and apparent irregular, undirected courses beg the question of why they don’t just make a bee line to their destination? (Probably because they are not bees!) However, their erratic flying makes it difficult for predators to pick them out of the air!
Sometimes we find ourselves alone in our endeavors and beliefs. One need not be single, a widow, a widower, or divorced to feel unsupported. Bullying, disrespect, sickness, disabilities, intolerance to varying political, social, or religious views, PTSD from personal tragedies, peer pressure, lack of communication in relationships, difficult circumstances, and violence can leave us with a sense of isolation. Loneliness has become epidemic since the covid pandemic and the mega-use of social media. The journey ahead may appear dismal when we feel abandoned, unloved, or uncared for. But are we?
The grand, final stanza of America the Beautiful will echo across the “purple mountains” and fruited plains” of our country this Fourth of July: O beautiful for patriot dream/ That sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam/ Undimmed by human tears. America! America!/ God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood/ From sea to shining sea.
A fresh, early summer morning; fog lingering down the bay; smells from the sea; beauty all around!
Winds blow! Seas rise! Sails billow! Boats move! But without a rudder boats flounder. Controlling the rudder determines the direction in which the ships slips along. James, the brother of Jesus (when speaking about the power of the tongue) said , “…a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. (James 3:4-17 (NLT2)
When we are wary and discerning, we can sort out the good from the bad and distinguish truth from delusion and falsehood. Bombarded with influencers, vain and deluded thinkers, paper thin heroes, power hungry leaders, flimflam artists, conspiracy theories, conflicting, divisive ideologies and agendas, and false or biased news, we must be vigilant. There are those who willingly deceive or prevaricate to obtain our votes or finances, but more importantly, there are those who would steal our minds and torpedo our knowledge and enjoyment of God forever. Whether we realize it or not, there is a ongoing spiritual battle for our fragile, sacred souls. In today’s culture, we need “eyes like a hawk”.
In a voice trembling with suffering and grief, Job cried out to God, whom he felt had unjustly allowed a series of tragedies to befall him. A righteous man, he believed he had been wrongly treated and deserved better. He did not just complain to his friends; he was so distressed that he wanted God to obliterate the day he had been born and to wipe away any evidence of his existence. He demanded an audience with God.
“Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea.” (Ecclesiastes 1)
Country churches with their white spires poking into the sky stir up some wistful childhood memories of growing up in a small Maine town. Their edifices are historical icons. For the most part they are reminders of the long history of Christianity in New England and the central role it has played in the social and spiritual health of local communities. If they could speak, they would tell about generations of villagers who regularly attended, socialized, and worshiped within their sanctuaries. Some former parishioners are buried just outside the stained glass windows behind which their descendants still worship and squirm in well worn, uncomfortable pews Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Pump organs wheeze out hymns of the faith. Sanctuaries echo with messages extracted from ancient pulpit Bibles.
John Lennon’s lyrics of “All we are saying is give peace a chance” “are familiar to those who remember the antiwar songs of the sixty’s. It may seem cynical to say, but history has proven that world peace will always be an elusive, utopian ideal. There is no trust among those who seek power and control. The aggressive, competitive, greedy, selfish nature of mankind prohibits peace from being a reality. That is why our country needs a Department of Defense and why Jesus made several distinct predictions about the “end of the age” which included the truth that his followers would face troubles, that God’s redemptive plan would be theologically perverted, and that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” (Matthew 24:5-7)
Watching kingfishers fish along the Taunton river has always been a summer treat. Not long ago, a friend gifted me with a wonderful, little kingfisher painting which he had done. It was accompanied by his hand printed copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame/ As tumbled over rim in roundy wells/ Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s/ Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name/ Each mortal thing does one thing and the same/ Deals out that being indoors each one dwells/ Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells/ Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.“
Calm winds, easy seas, and full sails bring to mind the Message’s paraphrase of Psalm 84:12! All sunshine and sovereign is God, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies. (MSG)
The poem beautifully but sadly states the ancient lament that there is no permanence to life. Things change. Youthful vigor declines; beauty fades; wealth dissipates; power and prestige are fragile; relationships devolve; dreams fail and disappoint…..Life is but a mist. “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14) That is all true, but there are precious, rock solid, unchanging truths that are reassuring and pertinent to our lives. God, His Word, His love, His Son, and His grace filled redemption never change.
In a recent article titled “Your Legacy”, Richard Simmons III asked the question , “What do you want to be remembered for?” He said that “Once your earthly life is over, your reputation will become your legacy.” Then he quoted from author David Brooks book The Road to Character in which the author differentiates between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”: “Resume virtues are professional and oriented toward earthly success. They require comparison with others. Eulogy virtues are ethical and spiritual and require no comparison. Your eulogy virtues are what you really would want people to talk about at your funeral. As in, “He was kind and deeply spiritual,” and not, “He had a lot of frequent flier miles…
Like the shepherds, we … anxious, waiting, wrapped in Bethlehem’s darkness listening for circling wolves… unseen, lurking, howling, threatening, fearsome, snarling… imagined phantoms of loss, impossibilities, hurt, grief, shame terrifying death…
Fall colors and tombstones are reminders that “there is a season for every purpose under heaven”. Life is filled with beginnings and endings. Generations of our ancestors have struggled through their personal stories with their hopes and dreams ending up beneath some old oak or maple tree and becoming the poetry of country music. But is there a greater significance to our life spans than becoming a song, a poem, or a short story?
Decision making is a familiar, daily but complicated process although it may be either instantaneous or prolonged depending on urgency or need for deliberation. We assess conditions and possibilities and then move ahead with plans which we hope will lead to best outcomes. Similarly, we formulate world views based on knowledge, observations, and experience. These ideas about origins, purpose, and meaning help determine attitudes, the way forward, and outcomes.
As this storm blows across the Camden hills and down Penobscot Bay, rain will fall indiscriminately on those in its path, a reminder of a statement Christ made in his inaugural sermon: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5-7)
In Psalm 19, the Psalmist compares creation and sacred Scripture as unique and powerful revelations of God’s magnificence and loving care. Creation touches the soul without sound or words; Scripture enlightens the mind and revives the soul with God’s words.
Someone has said that “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not where it is meant to be…” Sometimes safety is prudent, and “sticking close to home” is wise when we are unable to fully define the course ahead. However, timidity can be diminishing. Our personal world will not expand until we push into the wider world of potential, opportunity, adventure, and dreams. Knowing that the passage may be rough at times, we just have to suck it up, move out of our comfort zone, and face whatever challenges lie ahead.
This photograph suggests there is merit in the adage “History repeats itself.” However, even though the old painting on the wall and the current photo of the man in the window are similar, they are not replicates. In this case, there are not only different men, different flags, and different boats, but technology has intervened. An iPhone has not only changed a quiet, thought filled meal but also the world! History may be instructive, but there is no redo.
Sitting on the river’s edge at dusk watching and listening to heron fish and squawk, I wonder what messages they are conveying to each other. Creature communications are complex, but the idea that God speaks to us is vastly more intriguing and mysterious.
We long for that elusive state of inner calmness, of being untroubled…Yet, our imperfect natures and this chaotic world guarantee we will never be free from situations, relationships, and circumstances which are distressing. Frustration, disappointment, and angst are part of the human experience. So, we are restless souls who spend considerable effort to make life enjoyable, to minimize stress, anxiety, and depression.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Sometimes we are stuck and have to play the hand we are dealt. Not everyone does equally well in similar circumstance. Some people can handle wealth or power or success. Others become greedy, arrogant, and oppressive. Some people arise above adversity and injustices and make the most of their circumstances while others are defeated.
Although these two creatures are members of the same taxonomic family, they are quite different. Seemingly respectful of personal boundaries, they are hanging out but with no visible interaction with each other. The heron is intent on fishing for dinner, but the curious gull is paddling around the heron without disturbing it. One wonders if the gull admires or envy’s its odd looking, distant relative?
We have our battles. They may not be physical confrontations, but we know what it is to be threatened or overwhelmed and at the mercy of situations that may or may not be our fault but have escalated beyond our control. We have awakened with dread and misgivings-deflated and depressed by failures, tough circumstances, afflictions, hard and unwelcomed work stress, disappointments, betrayals, family turmoil, disrupted relationships, and losses that are irreparable. We have known desperation! And there was no rejoicing!
As earth and our personal coordinates slowly turn toward the rising, warming sun, each dawn’s light brings a sense of change and hope- a new day, a new year, or a new era. Visions, understandings, and directions change as different ideas, realizations, and expanded possibilities develop. Yet, there is something reassuringly constant, something “primal”, underlying the breath taking wonder and soul touching beauty of a new day’s dawn.
A recent poll of Americans found them to be exhausted and fearful and confused about the future. Sometimes it seems that “time” is filled with a jumbled, disconnected series of stories without a cohesive meaning.
Christmas is a season of lights. Flickering candles brighten darkened windows and warm mantels. Artificial lights decorate trees and yards and parks with colorful displays. Brilliantly lit stars are everywhere. The world seems warmer, kinder, and brighter as goodwill, generosity, and cheerful expressions of love reflect the spirit of Christ’s advent, that wondrous moment when “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world”
We all experience brief times when words cannot do justice to what we internally experience. A breathtaking mountain summit vista, the monotonous crashing of surf, a whip-o-will’s twilight call, a warm fire shared with a friend or book, a beautiful symphony, the weird laughter of loons echoing through a still, dark night, or an awesome sunset may evoke a surprising, unexplained, physical sensation springing from a deep inner sense of “beyondness.”
Undaunted by fog and inclement weather, the captain of this sailing vessel has confidently hoisted his sails; his ship is underway despite minimal visibility and the hidden danger of unseen harbor islands, shoals, and lobster boats. Undoubtedly, the captain’s knowledge, skill, and experiences contribute to his optimism.
This is the time of year in Maine when one is more likely to see footprints in the snow rather than in the sand. However, any footprint is a reminder of Henry W. Longfellow’s words: “We can make our lives sublime/ And, departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time.” (from A Psalm of Life)
Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful. Life isn’t always easy. Sometimes we become battered, beaten down, and immobilized. Sometimes the way ahead becomes too heavy, dark, and obscured by uncertainties, difficulties. impossibilities, disappointments, fear, or grief. Sometimes we are enshrouded and overwhelmed with despair. Yet, God promises hope and strength in our despair and weakened states. He does not minimize but understands our angst and has so much compassion that He gave His son to redeem us and our circumstances.
Most of us no longer work the family farm or commute to work in the mills. Our society is no longer primarily agrarian or industrial. However, a strange, pandemic induced twist has sent many workers back to work on “the farm” where trade tools are now computers rather than hay rakes and garden hoes.
Baxter State Park, Maine“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you.Who among all these does not know that the hand of...
For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise
Hidden behind these beautiful mountains ranges, expansive heavens, flowing rivers, color filled, forested valleys, and rolling hills lie ages of unraveled mysteries which challenge us to consider the unique design of our planet and how this vast universe transcends understanding while hinting that it is the place where we have always belonged.
With advanced farming methods, techniques, and technologies, we have figured out ways to assist God with crop production. So, it is easy to miss the wonder–the underlying miracle of life lying within the tiniest seed pushing it to fruit.
Whether it is the dawning of a new day or the emergence of a beautiful, new life, a good beginning may increase the chance for a full, meaningful day or purposeful life but does not guarantee either. One fragile moment or one wrong step may change the trajectory of life forever.
There is a rhythm to life. As the world spins around the sun, seasons blend, and “time flies. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”(Genesis 8:22) Always fragile and unpredictable, life slowly shifts and slows, and then we “fly away”.
Just as pockets of morning mist and heavy fog frequently limit vision and blur coastal Maine, a need for corrective lenses or cataract surgery may alter or distort our perception of the world we inhabit. That may have been one reason that Christ’s disciples did not always recognize him despite the fact that they had lived large chunks of life with him. They held intimate and deep conversations as they shared meals and walked the shores and dusty roads of Galilee. They knew his voice from endless teaching encounters and had witnessed powerful, amazing, countless miracles. But on occasion, they didn’t immediately recognize him!
Many of us are directionally challenged. We can usually tell “up” from “down”, but determining compass points or right from left may cause some temporary anxiety like the lost city folk must have felt when they asked for directions from an old Mainer who in his thick Downeast accent told them “You can’t get they-ah from he-ah.”
Words are important and powerful. They may be a sword or a lullaby depending upon the user’s intention or whim. Strung together, words create stories, poems, lyrics and conversations. They can break hearts or cheer souls. Used wisely, they may encourage and refresh needy spirits and nurture good character. Contemptuous or gossipy words diminish and destroy. Truth spoken with love may inspire change or resolution. Misleading or harsh and condemning and deflating words lead to despair.
Even little birds can give us lofty thoughts. To some, puffins simply raise questions about genetics and adaptive mutations and behaviors. But in the larger context, these little birds are but one of creation’s vast array of variations and adaptations which not only challenge imaginations and serious scientific investigations but also philosophic explanations about meaning and purpose.
Life is a bit like quarrying! We are all stone cutters searching for bedrock!
Bald eagles are definitely forces “to be reckoned with”. They have powerful talons which can exert ten times the pressure of an adult male human hand and can have up to seven foot wingspans enabling them to catch updrafts and soar thousands of feet in the air where their amazing visual and color acuities allow them to spot signs of small prey and fish. Their attacks may be unsuspected and swift, but their presence is formidable and commands tremendous respect.
Many of us have carefully plucked petals from daisies hoping to find the answer we want when the last petal is removed…He loves me. He loves me not… She love me. She loves me not…They love me. They love me not…
Soon, it will be back to school for Maine children. Once, it was to the one or two story village schoolhouse with its one or two story backhouse and a playground where there may or may not have been a swing, but there was a flag pole. There one teacher taught all subjects for up to three to eight grades, administered healthcare from a first aid kit, and even sang patriotic songs and prayed with students who ate bagged lunches at their desks or walked home where Mom had lunch ready.
Art is an expression of words, ideas, stories, and even music from its creator’s soul. Listening closely to this simply shaped, plump, little bird sitting on its intrically designed pedestal amidst a reflected world of clouds and trees, one hears a sweet song.
…from the One who moves insurmountable mountains, turns weakness into strength, changes difficulties into joy, and fills trials with grace and mercy,
It’s breezing up, and these day sailors are heading out where nothing but ocean waters and vast skies stretch from horizon to horizon; out where human insignificance and fragility become a reality; out where our imaginations reach to God’s greatness.
Sometimes we resist change, often for good reasons or for reasons that not everyone understands. Other times we embrace and aggressively exploit innovations, “advances,” and different ideas with delight. Discoveries intrigue, and technologies lure. However, time changes “things” for all of us; generations come and go with different ways and tools for dealing with life.
Once, villages were the repositories of cultural values. Families, neighbors, home grown school teachers, community leaders, small churches and their pastors, or other worship centers and their religious leaders were the most important “influencers” in a child’s life. Over time, the number of “influencers” competing for the minds of our children has significantly increased.
Fort Knox, the first granite fort in Maine, was constructed in 1844 and was strategically positioned along the Penobscot narrows across from Bucksport village. Built to guard the Penobscot River from unwanted intruders and to protect access to the ship building trade in Bangor, it stands as a reminder that our nation and its communities need protection from those who would push their will upon others.
Of the reportedly 65 lighthouses along the Maine Coast, 57 are active, 55 of which are managed by the Coast Guard. As shining sentinels guarding harbor entrances and standing on rocky shoals, these beacons guide fishermen and sailors safely home through the darkness hiding Maine’s hazardous waters and cliff lined shores
Unwavering from its course, the distant ship is missing the wonder of this seal rookery and is a reminder of the gentleman in the anonymously written poem “Opportunities Missed”: There was a very cautious man/Who never laughed or played/He never risked, he never tried/ He never sang or prayed. // And when he one day passed away/His insurance was denied/For since he never really lived/They claimed he never died!
“If wishes were horses beggars would ride”, an old Scottish proverb, expresses a desire for the ideal but assumes the harsh reality that not everything is possible. We long for Eden, for Paradise Lost, for a perfect world where there would be no reason for beggars. However, we know that there will always be poverty, mental illness, economic and social inequality, injustice, war and evil behavior. We are incapable of achieving a flawless state because men’s heart are broken and their minds are weak. Regardless of how long we spin our wheels and no matter how high our IQ’s are, we have neither foreknowledge nor incorruptible characters. So, we are given to incomplete or illogical thoughts which lead to flawed actions and unintended consequences.
Our personal impact on the small world around us, even in the more mundane moments, is powerful. Words, attitudes, efforts, and behaviors can diminish or encourage those who seek our approval. Similarly, we remember kindnesses, affirmations, encouragements, gentle exhortations and commendations, but we also hang onto negativity directed at us. We nurse snide remarks, verbal abuse, being ignored, and gossipy character assassinations. Apologies may be made and forgiveness sought, but words and actions can’t be retrieved and may evolve into resentments.
“ Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone/ The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air… “Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms….”(Song of Songs 2:11-12, NLT2; 2:13 MSG)
Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Apparently, whether life merely influences artistic expression or whether art influences our perception and behaviors were questions debated by Aristotle and Plato!
A morning walk, a mountain hike, an ocean view, a shady forest, or the “milky way” can become a spiritual event because God speaks through the complexities and secrets of His creation. However, we tend to miss creation’s evidences and implications because other voices have led us to disbelieve the divine origins of our universe. So, if we desire to know God, we must let Him tell us who He is and who we are.
Spring is glorious in Maine. Flowering shrubs and trees beautify formal landscapes and gardens. Wild cherry and crab apple blossoms line roadsides, blueberry blossoms flood fields, and apple orchards show off their pinks and whites. The smells of fresh beauty are everywhere. But the farmer’s mind quickly turns to thoughts of the harvest heralded by these wonders. A good spring blooming could mean a grand harvest, but it isn’t a promise. What appears to be a great opportunity may lose it potential or even end in a disaster because of limited growing time, too much or too little rain, mildew, freezes, infestations, and poor pollination.
The Great Blue Heron arrived at dusk. It was fascinating to watch its delicate, unrushed, almost elegant walk as it lifted its long, thin legs before gently and quietly placing its feet between long pauses of listening and peering intently into the cold water.
It is quite unlikely that this little gull’s brain was filled with philosophical or theological thoughts as it watched the rising sun drive away the darkness hiding Stonington Harbor and the thoroughfare. In contrast, human minds constantly deal with values and meaning and purposes even while enjoying a sunrise. C.S. Lewis once said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
This Easter week Christians “celebrate” Christ’s passion, his horrible crucifixion, and his glorious resurrection. They celebrate with humility, awe, and thankfulness for God’s grace and mercy, realizing that Christ’s ministry to humanity not only redeems because of God’s forgiveness but assures eternal life because of his victory over death in his bodily resurrection.
Since mountains don’t move unless some external force is exerted upon them, Jesus’ teaching about moving mountains is puzzling: “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22-25)
Majestically rising from the Atlantic Ocean, Acadia’s beautiful mountains have not moved in thousands of years. We know they will always be in the very same location whenever we look for them. Unfortunately, life is not as predictable. No matter how considered our decisions, proactive our plans, or rationally sound and intuitive our actions, unanticipated, puzzling, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles suddenly loom, obstructing our plans, complicating our journeys, and sometimes casting threatening shadows which terrify us! We may exercise patience, be flexible, make directional changes, seek counsel, and even practice denial! But sometimes, nothing works. The mountain remains!
Whether we realize or believe it, creation’s grandeur, vastness, complexity and beauty manifest God’s nature to us. (Romans1:20) In Scripture, mountain imagery frequently expresses His greatness, majesty, eternality, power, and His faithful, protective presence with us.
We are all vulnerable. We are insecure, feel inadequate or unacceptable, and have moral flaws. Paradoxically, weaknesses and imperfections leave us open to abuse or to be abusers. When our insecurities, inadequacies, and vulnerabilities are discovered, we may become victims of abuse, but when we deny our own perceived or real failures or cover them up with a cloak of superiority, we easily become critics and judges and diminish others.
Eons ago, these mountains shook and fell into the sea leaving behind a stark beauty and a strange reminder that out of ashes can come beauty; such an idea is difficult to comprehend while considering the devastation, pain, suffering, injustices, and questions brought on by humanity’s self afflicted wars.
Sometimes winter lays its soft blanket gently and quietly. But even when its blustery, snow-filled, cold, harsh breath blows, it leaves behind a crisp starkness and raw beauty, a back and white world which is strangely comforting. As it settles around us, we are reassured that the world is in order. Earth’s seasons are cycling as they were created to do. The Psalmist sang: “You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth/you have made summer and winter. (Psalm 74:17)
Magnificent, stark, and a beautiful sight at any season, Mt. Katahdin has not moved from the same geographic spot for millennia. There it may be admired, climbed, written about, or photographed. Whether or not it can be seen, it will always be found at latitude: 45.9044, longitude: -68.9213 111 N 45 54’16”, E 68 55’17”. It may be the home of Indian legends, but it is a physical reality.
What in the world was Jesus talking about when he made this mind stopping statement? “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? …do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Beginning a New Year is cause to celebrate renewal as well as an opportunity to contemplate how time and circumstances transition from one phase to the next. Sometimes, change is gradual and unnoticed. Days slip by; weeks merge; seasons cycle; the years roll on. Bleak winter surprises Fall’s beauty! Biology jolts us as aging sneaks then pounces; the battle for vigor and beauty and lasting dreams is lost! Unexpected moments shatter a future, or sudden realizations bring transformation.
We know little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but what do they think about? What size and shape are the ruminations of this pensive little girl as she dreamily looks down the path beyond the cottage garden to the little beach and the movement of the tide? Hopefully, her mind is filled with summer dreams and is uncluttered by the anxious messiness of less innocent minds which are drained of imagination.
We live in a world of words, of volumes of expressed thoughts, notions, opinions, and theories originating in the ruminations and ramblings of men and women with varying degrees of intellect, insight, motivation, and position; these philosophers and spiritual leaders are as imperfect in mind and are as flawed in character as we all are; some are inspiring; others are charlatans, scammers, and cultists. When Christ sent out his disciples, he encouraged them to beware of the power and deceitfulness of men and to be “ wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16-18)
Although the Bible speaks some amazing words, it raises some mighty big questions! The Psalmist said, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand.. “(Psalm 139:17-18) Is that just poetry, or is it truth?
Our spiritual yearnings are deep and often unfulfilled. We long for love, for forgiveness, for comfort, peace, and joy in mind and heart. Happily, Scripture attests that we have been made by God, for God, to be like God, and to live with God. He is the reality of life, the sustainer of our universe. He loves humanity and is an ever- present, behind the scenes helper. He is the God of peace, comfort and hope.
We struggle in this material world to find pleasure and fulfillment despite disappointments, failures, losses, and suffering. Scripture teaches us that there is a sovereign will for our lives, an enabling divine power by which we can live, and a faith which gives us victory over those things that can consume us. (1 John 5:4) God is the One who redeems us, our works, and our circumstances. He is all about redemption and will make the most of us and our messes through the Good News of Christ and the empowerment of the Gospel. (Romans 8:28-30)
Hopefully, as we leave this Christmas season with its bright lights and uplifting music, worship services, and warm gatherings of family and friends, we have garnered excitement for a new year.
Bucks Harbor, a small, fishing harbor in Washington County, Maine, lies in the distance beyond the sheep. Lobster boats are gently rocking on the tide but are invisible in the foggy, snowy distance. Jesus probably would have been at home here. It was the life he lived! Sheep and fishermen were elements in his earthly life’s experience and fodder for his practical teaching and parables. His closest friends were fishermen, but it was to Shepherds that his astonishing birth was announced.
Long, cold, 18th century, English winters inspired Christina Rossetti’s Christmas poem, In the Bleak Midwinter. In the course of this dreary weather season, several religions celebrate special days which include the Jewish Festival of Lights or Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christ’s Advent or Christmas.
According to Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Juliet knew that the character of the boy she loved was more important than his family origin or the surname that he had been given. Labelling, fancy marketing, having a famous name, or presenting a pleasant affect do not guarantee quality or genuineness. Essence is not in a name. We know that. We live in the day of scammers!
As spiritual beings who struggle with questions about origins, meaning, and purposes which exist beyond the immediate and the material, we intuitively know that we are more than flesh, that we transcend our cellular and chemical makeup, that we are valued but broken, bruised, and weakened spirits who hunger for security, sustaninence, nourishment, relationships, and eternity . We need to be loved, to be part of a tribe, and to have some sense of continuity.
This week, Americans celebrate our national Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully, it will be a time to not only remember the hardships endured by the early Plymouth Pilgrims who helped establish our nation and set it on a path toward the still not fully realized ideals of equality, liberty and justice, but also to emulate their gratitude toward God for his sovereignty over their lives even in difficult times, and to appreciate all the goodness in our personal lives.
Old and weathered, Maine houses hide their stories but are reminders of ours. When young, optimistic, enthusiastic and busy, we take little notice of the imperceptibly slow but progressive changes occurring in our bodies. Regardless of physical conditioning, body habitus, or huge amounts of denial, they creep up and surprise us. We wrinkle, sag, shuffle, hobble and become gray and lose our hair. Our grandchildren look at old photos and ask, Who is that?” Fair enough! We don’t recognize ourselves in the mirror! At some point, we realize that we don’t have too many more runs around the sun, and the run seems shorter every year!
,,,our stressed and harried routines are so filled with demands and the needs of the moment that we frequently don’t contemplate life’s finer details, the missed opportunities, the significance of people who could change the complexion of our stories, or even of who we really are.
Dylan’s concerns predate him by centuries. They have plagued mankind since our beginnings! Although his song identifies our flaws, arouses emotions, and perturbs us, he doesn’t identify solutions. There is no apparent healing. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”
There is an old saying that “when it rains, it pours.” That has happened to us in Maine this fall. We all enjoy a warm, gentle, refreshing rain shower but not those torrential downpours which relentlessly toss about their windy havoc, flood our cellars, and leave us powerless. Sometimes, life is like that. Behind one bad situation lurks another. We become caught in a vortex of troubles and spiral into anxiety or anger and depression, or a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, and the thought that God has abandoned us.
“Through it all,” God is faithfully developing beautiful spirits – strong, trusting, courageous, understanding hearts of mercy and grace, compassion and love, peace and joy, and kindness.
We enjoy observing and analyzing the animal “kingdom.” Their world intrigues us. We are both amused by critter antics and appalled by the brute “law of the jungle”. Yet, we have an intuitive sense that we fit somewhere in this picture. Some would say that humans are part of a created order; others say we are the result of an evolutionary process. Some theories attempt to combine the two ideas into a single creative, evolutionary process.
Surprisingly, we tend to live in spiritual shadows, but when God steps onto the scene, there is light because “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all.”(1 John 1:5) When we begin to understand who God is, who we are, who we are meant to be, and how to become that person, He dispels the darkness of our insecurities and doubts and of our feelings of being minimized and unloved.
We tend to associate meaning and joy with good times, happy moments, positive happenings, and special people in whom we find pleasure. But what happens with loss, difficult times and offensive, oppressive people? We often find ourselves in the world of “what has been” or “what might have been” or “what might be.” We all seek a world free from the baggage and consequences of our misdeeds and bad behaviors.
Anxiety and discouragement occur when we lose confidence in God. If we perceive He is unseeing, distant, uncaring, unable, and uninvolved, if we sense there is little or no possibility of resolving our situation, if we feel we are alone, our faith waivers
In seasons of suffering and loss or difficulties and disappointments, we may become fearful and disillusioned and question if God’s dependability is overated. However, He could not be God if He did not keep His Word. The Psalmist reassures that we can have absolute confidence in His promises. “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” (Psalm 33:4)
Jesus put “serving” into perspective when he was asked what working for God looked like. “The work of God is to believe on him who He sent,” he asserted. (John 6:29) Trusting what Christ taught and relying upon his redemptive work is the work of faith. Simplifying how that looks, he declared that keeping the moral law meant loving God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31)
We cobble together our understanding of life and its meaning from snippets of information, from brief revelations, and from partial answers about ourselves, about others, and about our existence. We attempt to connect the fragmented dots of blurred perceptions, distorted thinking, and mere theories and base our world views on limited information. These views either include or exclude God.
The world will always be chaotic and filled with nightly “bad” news, but the Good News is that God had always been and will always remain true to His immutable nature. He is steadfast in love and enduring in faithfulness and will never desert humanity, who, though fallen, are meant for good.
Our world is filled with signs and objects which stand for attributes, concepts, or abstract ideas. Wedding rings remind us of love and commitment; product brands speak to us of style or quality. Emblems identify organization; Oscars and Emmys and academic cords connote excellence.
Before technology changed the blueberry industry, almost every kid who grew up in Washington County, Maine earned “back to school” money by spending a few, hot, August days in exhausting, backbreaking blueberry raking along side family, buddies and migrant workers. However, finding reliable seasonal workers and paying them fair wages have troubled Maine farmers for generations.
The adage that “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” holds some truth. We have individual aesthetics or preferences and subjectively value the quality of the tangible or intangible. So, is beauty a reality or an illusion? Is beauty is a perception or an intrinsic quality. Is that peony blossom beautiful when I am not the one admiring it? It is. Independent observers expressed their admiration even when I wasn’t looking.
The rhythms of the sea with its shifting tides, rising waves, crashing surf, and drifting fog are mesmerizing. And as the fog lifts to expose a view stretching beyond the horizon’s curve into the heavens, both awe and calmness engulf the soul with a sense of belonging within that vastness.
Christ’s very existence, his miraculous interactions, teachings, parables, claims and most importantly his bodily resurrection from the dead draw our attention to the reality of the afterlife of which he spoke often. If Jesus is credible, we should listen to his concerns not only for the spiritual well being of mankind in this earthly life but also for a future time.
Sometimes, the breezes of good fortune carry us along. Other times, we become caught in headwinds and cross winds that oppose and impede and blast us off course or threaten to do us in. We may be blindsided or overpowered by circumstantial and personal adversity over which we have little or no control. And we frantically scramble to deal with disturbing or devastating consequences of our own missteps of commission or omission. But cursing ill winds accomplishes nothing!
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you should care for them?
In those difficult days of war and sacrifice, God was and had always been a welcomed part of our Nation’s spoken narrative. At our beginnings, many of our founding fathers were Theists, if not Christians, who recognized God as a player in the blessings bestowed on America. Our Declaration of Independence mentions God four times. Although some of out recent leaders have expressed that God is an important part of America’s collective mindset, our country is less oriented toward God today than it was in the past. In that context, President Ronald Regan’s thoughts deserve consideration: ” Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” and ” If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under.”
Our responses to this truth may be mixed but usually include thoughts about life’s meaning and purpose and perhaps even an urgency and the making of a “bucket list”. In that context, Diana Bell’s praise chorus deserves consideration: “In His time, in His time. He makes all things beautiful, in His time/Lord, my life to you I bring, may each song I have to sing/ be to you a lovely thing, in your time.” (Praise chorus by Diana Bell)
If we are wise, we work, budget, don’t over extend our credit, and live within our means. But our fortunes are tied to more than the money we earn or save. The cost of living changes as the economy fluctuates, a fact we have recently experienced during the pandemic as the production and supply of goods (and microchips) became problematic.
Do you wonder why birds sing, why the whip-o-will ushers out twilight by persistently chanting its name or the loon’s laughter echoes through the night? To whom does the Robin merrily chirp at sunrise or the white throated sparrow whistle into a fresh morning? For whom does a solitary duck softly quack as it paddles across the pond?
My Grandmother used to say, “A watched pot never boils.” Spring in Maine is a bit like that. The more one looks for it, the longer it takes! But when it eventually arrives, it does so with a dramatic explosion of beauty. By late May, flowering apple trees grace yards, highlight country roads, and bring new life to old fields and orchards. Their blossoms always remind me of the legendary Johnny Appleseed, an eccentric whose real name was John Chapman. He was an orchard man who planted apple orchards from West Virginia through the mid-West into Canada. His work inspired imaginative anecdotes and ballads about his sowing apple seeds throughout the countryside. As a kid, I learned a catchy little nursery rhyme ditty about him but never gave it much thought until some years later when our friends sang this little verse for a meal time blessing with their children:
May 31st is Memorial Day, which in the post civil war period was known as Decoration Day but is now a Federal holiday designated to honor US military veterans. The day is filled with ceremonies, parades, flags, and wreaths in remembrance of all who died in military service and as an expression of gratitude for those who serve or have served. It has also become a day when families decorate graves of loved ones with flowers and meaningful mementos.
The Jewish greeting “shalom” expresses much more than the thoughtless signaling of a peace sign or a superficial “good morning”. “Shalom” calls for the blessing of a whole and perfect life, of inner peace integrated with outer prosperity, of a life of harmony, health, safety, and tranquility. The origin of such peace is Jehovah-shalom (a Hebrew name for God).
God exists from everlasting to everlasting, but He created time! (Psalm 90:2-17) (Genesis 1) So, our “today” is where everlasting changes to everlasting… We exist at some strange, moving focal point in an infinity that extends from “now” into all of what we know as space-time dimensions and beyond into some other dimension!! Time puts limits on us as we moves in a linear fashion, relentlessly and uncontrollably forward until it falls into eternity.
Sincere gratitude and its resultant obedience to what is best are the “sacrifices” which demonstrate that we love Him. The author of Hebrews speaks of “sacrifices of praise to God” which include “the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name” , doing “good “ and sharing ” what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” These are the marks of genuine worship.
Lostness is all inclusive. Nobody escapes it. We need a rescuer, a redeemer, an advocate to extract us and to reconcile us to Holy God.
There is no escaping God’s loves for this ” world”, a convincing fact that becomes evident when we consider the life and sacrificial work of Christ on our behalf. (John 3:16)
There is no escaping God’s loves for this ” world”, a convincing fact that becomes evident when we consider the life and sacrificial work of Christ on our behalf. (John 3:16)
At some point, we begin to realize how transitory life is, that we have invested our lives in many ineffective efforts and lost purposes, and that, although raging against dying might encourage us to live differently, few of us will achieve anything of lasting historical significance.
Resurrection morning would be like that for Jesus’ followers. Comprehension of the mysteries and meaning of the man who had died, nailed to a Roman cross between two scoundrels, gradually emerged at first light as they pondered an empty tomb.
On Palm Sunday, the Christian community annually commemorates Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It initiates a week of remembering the mixture of madness and miracles, hatred and love, and grief and joy surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. His sadness over Jerusalem was very evident during his final return to the Holy City. He wept while others celebrated him!
Often, we just want “truth” to match up to what we want it to be and do not critically think through our beliefs. One of the characters in Richard Paul Evan’s novel, The Noel Letters, makes the statement that ”…you will discover that most people don’t want truth. They want confirmation.”
".. a tree planted along the river bank..." Early morning on Middle River, Marshfield, MaineFrom within the confusing cacophony of voices inundating us, hear the ancient Psalmist’s song and timely advice: ” Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice...
Taking our hurt to God applies not only to wounds inflicted by difficult relationships but also self-inflicted pain resulting from our own wrongdoings and moral failures. Those offenses against God and our own conscience cause guilt and shame and often have consequences for others.
One of the bright moments during Maine’s late, cold winter months arrives when the seed catalogues do. They not only inspire dreams of fresh vegetables and beautiful flowers but also astound with the awesome awareness that a variety of plants are stored in tiny seeds, varied and peculiar to the hidden plant! Packed within each seed lies potential, some for great and alluring beauty and some for tasty fruit, but there is no transformation until the seed is sown. Only then, from a very tiny poppy seed, can a beautiful poppy grow! And only a poppy!
Are we aware of God’s faithful and merciful work in our lives? Not just when the sun shines but when adverse winds blow and confusing clouds roll in?
Robert Frost’s “Birches” has been a long time favorite of mine, probably because it conjures up some special childhood memories of swinging on birches.
Ultimate hope is an essential ingredient in happiness, which is difficult to find in a meaningless, purposeless world. We all have belief systems which attempt to make intelligent, philosophical deductions from experience, knowledge, and observation about who and why we are. In the process, we tend to become self-loathing because we fail to live up to who we believe we should be.
There is something special about sheep, something both ancient and pastoral! Perhaps it is because Scripture presents beautiful word pictures of how God shepherds his people. Trusting and obeying the Shepherd’s voice lead to “green pastures” and “still waters”, to fulfillment and security. However, the Psalmist sounds a cautionary note about inattentive, straying sheep because they have left the shepherd’s protective care:
Without walls, we are vulnerable, unable to discern who or what persons or philosophies may or may not enter our hearts and minds, and can easily be destroyed or headed for turmoil because internal integrity can not be maintained.
God has given mankind something far more beautiful than what we can manufacture on our own. By His grace through faith, God gives life to our spirits. Even though some lilies blossom for only a day, they are endued with fragrant beauty which fulfills their creative purposes of reflecting and honoring God and bringing pleasure to this world without even trying. Albert Orsborn’s hymn “Let the Beauty of Jesus be Seen in Me” speaks to that thought and the purpose for mankind.