Category Archives: Christian Life

Blind Optimism (Part 1 of 2)

the eye of God

There are times, mostly at night, when I find it necessary to use a white cane to navigate my way. I was trained in high school to use such a tool by gifted folks known as orientation and mobility specialists. Their job was to teach me how to be as independent as possible, though ironically this usually entails relying on some kind of device or method. While they taught me much about using my own capacity in tandem with handy gadgets to make daily life activities more manageable, I think their fundamental specialty was teaching me how to have confidence not simply in specific tools and techniques but in myself. I could never feel fully comfortable using any type of aid unless I was first comfortable in my own skin, my own skill. There are more times than I’d like to admit when I find it humbling (even humiliating) to have to depend on another’s capacity to boost my own capabilities. The root of my distress comes down to simply feeling incapable. This is the underlying definition of being ‘disabled’ in an autonomous sense. I am ‘unable’ to do something as I once did, as others do or as I wish I could do. There seems to be an intrinsic partnership between ‘help’ and ‘humility’. One cannot exist without the other; otherwise, life becomes very lonely as well as inert. None of us can exist independently of something or someone. ‘Interdependence’ allows us to truly live life to its fullest. These are basic laws of physics, right? Why, then, do I pretend to exist as though I don’t need to rely on anything or anyone to feel fully human? Such a false pretense disengages me from knowing what life is really about, who I am as a whole person and, most significantly, who God is first and foremost. These three realities engage with one another to form a limitless ability to live.

When I use my white cane, I sway it back and forth like a metronome, skimming the ground’s surface as I go. I sway it slightly wider than my body’s width, tapping each outer edge, keeping a rhythmic beat with each step. Left, right, left, right – tap, tap, tap, tap. Time ticks and my cane clicks in sync, helping me make my way. Despite how smooth or unobstructed the path is before me, I can still get tripped up if I forget to synchronize my steps with the sway of my walking stick. At times, I have to intentionally focus on the task, while other times it seems to occur as second nature. Yet, my primary nature is to want to walk out the door with nothing but my own two feet to trek along. Over the years, this reckless abandonment of leaving behind such a useful support shifts to regret when I later realize how handy it would have been. Initially, there is a uncomfortable humility in being so overtly seen by others as a person with limitations that requires something like a white cane or magnifying glass to do something as seemingly simple as crossing a street or reading a price tag. But even if I stubbornly dismiss reliance on any inanimate aid, inevitably I must ask for help from someone, friend or foe, to successfully complete a desired task – humility at its finest hour. Though I confess, walking into poles, people and door frames, tripping over curbs and cracks in sidewalks are even more humbling, especially when it could have been avoided with the proper tools. Now adays, I frequently keep my cane folded in my bag with me, just in case. I don’t need to use it all the time, though I do find myself using it more often than in years past. It may be because my vision has decreased a bit since childhood; yet, perhaps it is because I am increasingly redefining humility as a true virtue rather than a vice to be overcome. The more I practice this virtue, it seems the more readily and with ease I admit my needs and accept help in some useful form. It is ironic how the more reliance I confess I need, the more freedom I experience and the more efficiently I live.

I can’t always anticipate the terrain I’ll trek or the return time of my excursions. I’ve realized how I’ve developed a confident humility to utilize all known supports to feel capable. When I use my cane, particularly at night, I find myself walking with more ease and welcoming the information my cane provides for me to overcome obstacles along my path. My white cane is also a signal for others that I am visually impaired – this is a good thing. It can imperatively transform into a white flag, communicating the message that I surrender to the notion that I want to be noticed. In the event I miss a traffic signal or enter a store, there is a socially acceptable identity that I may need extra help. I’m not simply perceived as oblivious or idiosyncratic but that I actually have a legit reason for acting the way I do. I can’t be shy about being seen in certain contexts. I want to be seen. Holding my cane signifies that my limitation to see may require others to adjust their own observation skills. Seeing and being seen is an interdependent occurrence. The same is true for any sensation – touch equates being touched, hearing elicits sounds exchanged etc. There is mystery and risk involved in considering these connections, which is best described as perception. I don’t always know how someone will perceive me or even help me, regardless of whether or not I use a white cane, wheelchair or fog horn. In basic relational attachment theory terms, the experience of being misperceived or overlooked can best be described as feeling rejected. This can directly influence whether or not we fully attempt connection again, especially if we cannot clearly and accurately qualify how great the risk. If we are unsure how successful or safe our efforts to be supported will turn out, we may not bother trying at all; or we may choose the connection with the least resistance, which may turn out to be the least healthy option and further impair our sensibility.

It is easy to go through life like a zombie, responding merely to primitive perceptions of one’s surroundings, aimlessly wandering around according to brain stem impulses. But I’m always intrigued at how I perceive the world when I am consciously and confidently humble enough to rely on something or someone. There is an expanded awareness that activates of how life is meant to be lived. Initially, I must contend with the human condition of interpreting what I come in contact with. I must evaluate how reliable a person or piece of equipment may or may not be to assist me. My calculations are not always accurate. For starters, my white cane does not always permit me to quantify the depth of puddles. This has resulted in the unpleasantry of trekking the rest of my journey with wet and often cold feet. My cane or even my own feet also cannot detect low lying tree branches. It’s a miracle I still have eyeballs when I think about near misses or head on collisions I’ve had with tree limbs. People prove to react curiously at times too. Once in a while, someone over-exerts themselves to help me by grabbing my arm and leading me in the opposite direction of where I intended to go. Some others just stare blankly at me as if I had asked them to build me a rocket, when all I asked was what train stop we pulled up to. These anecdotal situations reveal a deeper disconnect for me though – I’m left to depend on myself more than others. Thus, I find myself meticulously trying to plan things to avoid mishaps and strange encounters. I methodically review my purse contents before leaving the house to ensure I have all necessary items to master my mission. I strategize routes and places, especially if I am not familiar with a certain destination. I memorize train times, bus routes, addresses and plot coordinates according to landmarks and street corners. However, despite doing all this, I have experienced intense moments of panic when I become disoriented to a location or get lost in route somewhere. Whatever confidence I started out with dissipates quickly and I feel like a bewildered little girl all over again. All sensational information becomes dissident noise until I steady myself, take a deep breath and find something familiar to re-orient my way. This also involves taking time to study where I’ve come from, where I think I am and where I’m hoping to get to. In these moments, panic and impatience only compromises my attempts and confuses me more. I have to calm my breathing, my thoughts and any feeling of defeat and fear with mindful repose. If not, the tears emerge and all I want to do is go home. During more than one of these occasions, I’ve wished I was Dorothy and could just click my heels three times to be magically whisked back to the inside of my house. These adventures, however, play out more like Alice in Wonderland, requiring me to confront rather than escape the discomfort of feeling lost to find my way home. Alas, such effort helps me resume grounded reality and I realize getting anywhere necessitates an intentional and internal sense of calm to occur, so I can clearly consider my options. Sometimes I think I am too ambitious, which is its own stumbling block; but then I realize that it is that same ambition that reminds me to access a Sacred Compass to help me resume calm and courage to get my bearings and press on with purpose.

Any type of orientation (even being disoriented or re-orienting oneself) connotes that a relationship exists or has been challenged to exist. Our whole life is about relating to something or someone. From the womb to the grave, we are letting go as well as receiving connection from another to survive. There are transfers of connections from one resource to another but always connection nonetheless – some connections are healthier than others. My sensitivity to this process and how it works has increased throughout my life. So often I’m required to assess and reassess my surroundings in order to make the simplest decisions more manageable. Despite my own best efforts, I feel like asking permission or clarification assistance has become my modus operandi to get through any given day.

Sometimes I feel so child-like relying on another’s queue just to cross the street or press debit on the swipe machine at the store. I’ve wandered around retail shops and supermarkets browsing and hoping to purchase a new outfit or groceries for the week, only to walk out the door empty handed. I follow up later with a call to a friend or family member to go with me to ensure I find what I’m looking for. I do frequently ask the sales person or customer service desk but I hesitate at times to pester them with questions I can more easily ask someone who knows me. Less explaining may be needed with a familiar companion and less guessing at what works best. Maybe this preference is simply about avoiding the ongoing vulnerability of constantly self-disclosing the parts of me that feel incapable; though maybe it is also about celebrating the ongoing support of specific people who give me grace to be me without pretending that I’m perfectly capable. There is comfort in being able to rely on something/someone consistently. Even though I must wait till such friend or family member can synchronize calendars with me, it is worth the wait. It is also worth noting how consistency of frequenting the same stores and settings creates connections of familiarity and accepted routines. Self-disclosure doesn’t seem as scary or inconvenient because there is already an anticipation of what may be needed. The debut of online shopping has remedied some of these social transactions but not completely. I still often rely on better eyes than mine to navigate websites. What may take the average sighted person ten minutes to order or register for some item can take me three times that, resulting in eye fatigue and soul frustration. Assessing the cost to benefit ratio of attempting something on my own proves it is worth asking and even waiting for help. Oh but there is definitely a significant moment of pride I feel when I can perform a task like finding the toilet bowl cleaner I like at a store on my own.

These seemingly little triumphs boost my confidence but they are not without the inevitable humility factor of buying it – I ask for help with the swipe machine and then have to wait for the bus or train to escort me and my purchase back home. And don’t even get me started about eating at buffets, using ATMs and getting around construction sites that block the sidewalk. Just when I think I can do something all by myself, I face the facts that I still need help. And that’s okay. That’s the true essence of optimistic living – having humility to know we need help and to know that help comes when we need it.

 

References:

Photo: The Eye of God, celestial nebula

Broken Glass

Broken Glass

It seems over the years, my perspective on life has often broken itself down into three categories: almost, not enough and oh well. These distinctions depend on the day, I guess. Some days I see the glass half full, focusing on life’s potentials. While other days I see the glass half empty, fixating on loss. Yet, there are days when I start to wonder if the glass really has anything in it at all, feeling the onset of an existential crisis. But then there was Mary. One day, long ago, she decided to break the glass altogether. I grew up well aware of this epoch Biblical account, but I’ve come to relate to her story with a new expanded perspective of how to live. Re-examining Mary’s story has inspired me to re-examine my own and accept that I am a part of a long tradition of transformation.

Three of the four gospels recount the beautifully scandalous tale of how Mary shared with Jesus probably the most treasured thing she possessed – an unopened jar of pure mard, which was an extremely expensive perfume. During a dinner party, she unabashedly broke the bottle’s seal and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head and feet, anointing him as an honoring and perhaps even healing gesture (Matthew 26:6- 13, Mark 14:3–9, John 12:1-8). Yep, and the onlookers were not amused by or supportive of her actions. In fact, they immediately scolded her for such an impetuous act. First, the gospel writers record one party goer accusing her of grossly wasting a valuable commodity. Second, it may be suggested that culturally in those days, a woman performing such an act (especially in mixed company) could have been perceived blasphemous. In ancient times, anointing someone was done by pouring oil or perfume over the crown of the head and letting the liquid flow down the face to symbolize recognition or inauguration of someone in high royal or religious rank. This tradition was notably performed by a high priest. Anointing someone also served as a healing ritual. Applying a medicinal balm or oil to wounds or an ailing person in a formal manner demonstrated a blessed and beloved sign of mercy. Contextualizing the scene from Mary’s vantage point requires spanning further back in history. In the Old Testament, David as a shepherd boy was anointed by Samuel the high priest to be the next king (1 Samuel 16:13). Later, David as king and psalmist poetically described God as his ‘Shepherd’ who attentively anointed his body and additionally restored his soul (Psalm 23:1-3). Furthermore, David declared in his famous psalm ‘my cup runs over’ (Psalm 23:5). David, like Mary, was not shy about what’s in the glass. David didn’t see the glass half anything or even empty. He celebrated its sweet overflowing status regardless of the surrounding situations that begged to deplete his strength. Throughout his life, David was constantly surrounded by trials and threats, which kept him on the move. Yet, he remained confident that “goodness and mercy” would sweetly pour over him “all the days” of his life and that one day every trouble would be washed away by such divine outpouring. He would reach a place he could forever call home (Psalm 23:6).

I can so easily laps into the mindset of seeing life as an overwhelmingly sour experience and not as one overflowing with sweetness. Initially, I shy away from bringing to my mouth the cup life hands me. I get scared that my mental and emotional taste buds will react with an intolerable ability to stomach any sort of sip. So why bother?  But I am, at least, still willing to hold the cup in hand and contemplate its contents. As they say, ‘I don’t have a drinking problem; I have a thinking problem’. During David’s era, a woman accused of marital infidelity was prompted to drink a cup of bitter herbs. If truly innocent, the caustic cocktail would miraculously taste sweet (Numbers 5:11 -31). I’m sure a flinching face after one sip was a dead give-away. I confess, at times, when I bring life’s cup to my lips and sip, the look on my face openly reveals my infidelity of not being faithful to the belief that life was meant to be a joyous journey with a defined destination. As a result, my disbelief inhibits me from appreciating that this life, here and now, is a gift. Instead, my doubt provokes me to anxiously accept my existence on earth as a grievance. I’m just doing my best to hang on until I get ‘there’. Thankfully there are times I can taste the sweetness therein despite the initial bitter drink life serves up. This is a miracle. I’m found faithful and can even toast to the source of life rather than wallow in the stress of it all.

I think this is what James, the New Testament writer, meant when he prescribed having “pure joy” in the midst of suffering (James 1:2 -3). Like James, I’m not denying distress persists. I am simply acknowledging that miracles can and do happen to pull me through the tough times so I can keep moving forward towards the heavenly home sweet home that David referenced. In the psych biz, this process is referred to as resilience. But as a Christian, I prefer to call this experience redemption. What’s the alternative?  Prolonged shame and doubt (and even anger) about what life and others have done to me or what I’ve done to myself and others keeps me shackled to the proverbial bar stool, staring at the bottom of a glass filled with spirits of self pity. But praise God for grace, which intervenes and reminds me that I am in this pilgrimage for the long haul and that I will get there. Martin Luther King preached many paramount words of courage to the pilgrims of the civil rights movements with this inspirational theme. My most favorite phrase he simply and inspiringly spoke was his declaration to “keep moving!” He described the 1960s journey as “carving a tunnel of hope through the great mountain of despair”. He further declared that “if you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk crawl; but by all means, keep moving!” And I footnote his cheer that if you can’t crawl, God will carry you over, under, around or through that mountain.

During a ten-year span, between my mid-twenties and mid-thirties, I had to move living locations seven times. Such a nomadic experience has reinforced the impermanency of things. I never anticipated or intended to accumulate so many addresses in a short amount of time. I also never expected how much I would have to give away every time I transitioned to the next home. Despite my best bubble wrap attempts to preserve what I could not/would not give up, something treasured always broke in the moving process and I would be faced with the sad reality that it was indeed time to let go. All that packing up and moving on proved what is truly permanent and unbreakable – I am alive, I am loved and I am not alone. I possess these three essential identities because of who God is. No one or no thing can ever remove these eternal realities from me. Never, ever!

Let me be clear, I do not like being broken. I don’t like it one bit. But I am broken; and I’m learning to deal – I’m learning to accept (and even celebrate) that I’m part of the ongoing Gospel story of redemption. The artist in me can not deny that without confronting brokenness, no beauty can be resurrected from the rubble. The expansive Byzantine mosaics or the elaborate Gothic stained glass panels would have never been created if pieces were not collected – broken.  The artist’s vision in assembling such masterpieces was articulated at the core through the intentional selection, which often involved further meticulous breaking for pieces to fit. Then the arrangement of such pieces to be carefully placed in specific manners to tell a specific story could occur. This is probably why I have come to love the art of collage so much. Whether conscious or unconscious, collage compels me to rummage among unlikely items and sources to select, cut, trim, position and paste into one united whole a bunch of broken pieces in order to depict a scene or tell a story. Each part serves its purpose whether or not it is overtly identifiable. I, myself, am the same way. I’m a collage, part of a cosmic collage. I’m stained glass in the process of transformation. I’m getting closer to completion. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? I think heaven will be too. The apostle Paul spoke of this hindsight understanding in his famous love passage (1 Corinthians 13). Paul underscored what is worth understanding now – faith, hope and love. One day, I will eventually and fully see the big picture for what it really is. But until then, faith is about accepting that the broken pieces have worth, hope is about acknowledging the pieces will be put together to reveal a worthy artistic rendering. And love is actually doing it and sharing the product (or at least the production process) with whomever needs to be reminded that they are part of the picture too. Mazel Tov!

 

References:

  1. East Window at Bath Abbey, England
  2. Until We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  3. “Keep Moving….” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

 

The Seven Words – seventh prayer

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Today’s Bible passage and an excerpt 

Read Luke 23:44-49

Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.

More thoughts for meditation

We have come to the end of a week’s journey of praying through what is known as The Seven Words or The Way of the Cross. This spiritual practice is a contemplative prayer method that has, hopefully, helped us this week to move deeper into the reality of what Christ did on the cross to give us salvation from sin and direct access to God. Such forgiveness and relationship, in turn, gives us new connection with one another. Because of Christ, we can live life on earth (and one day in heaven) together, no longer isolated – from sharing resources and supporting each other during difficult times. Because of Christ, we have hope that we will survive and thrive, even in the moment of death.

Jesus’ seventh and final statement on the cross before he died was actually the reality of what it is to truly live, because of his death. It may seem counterintuitive to think this way. In part, it is. As we began our journey this week, we recalled Jesus’ words to his disciples before he endured the cross that “whoever wants to be my disciple must take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). By this, did Jesus mean personal death? To answer this question, we have gone deep this week and are trying to go deeper into Jesus’ meaning, which implies death is needed to live. When the first humanity disconnected themselves from God due to a selfish decision, living life with God openly and freely required an intervention, a sacrifice. We recalled, while praying through Jesus’ fourth statement, that the first sacrifice occurred in Genesis by God to allow humanity to not feel ashamed in approaching God. That first sacrifice began thousands of years of traditional sacrifices of animals, on the behalf of people, to remove sin’s separating reality between us and God. This repetitive bloodshed was no longer needed when Jesus declared it to be so, as we prayed through his sixth statement. The finality of being separated from God was confirmed with Jesus’ final statement when he said aloud, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”. Jesus committed his life into the hands of his Maker.

Such commitment suggests two vital things: First, there is an acknowledgement that one’s life belongs to a caregiver. This requires trust in the one giving care – that the entrusted will be cared for without neglect. Second, there is a surrendering of self that has taken place. Because one trusts the caregiver completely to provide care accordingly, there is no doubt present to suggest otherwise, nor competing will to assert another (a better) way of caring. C.S. Lewis described the antithesis of this kind of commitment as “the great sin”. Lewis identified pride as the most significant stumbling block that keeps us from “taking up our cross”. Taking up our cross means we acknowledge Jesus’ death should have been our death. Taking up our cross means to no longer identify with our own attempts to be good, or be in charge or exist on our own; but rather, we identify with Jesus as the best Way to live. Humility is essential to carry this out this way, to carry the cross and follow Jesus. Pride and humility cannot co-exist. We saw this play out in the Garden of Eden, as we reflected this week, when Adam and Eve did not trust God to know best, and then they could not undo what they had done without God intervening. God, through Christ is the once and for all intervention that reconciles us with God and proves God is trustworthy to care for us forever. Jesus declaring his commitment to the origin of his life, before he breathed his last, is our example of how to live. After all, he knew that his last breath was going to be transformed into resurrection.

Suggestions for Action

Pray: “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”

Use not only Jesus’ words but his work on the cross, for us, be your life identity. Acknowledge that God, your Creator, is the best one to care for you, no other. Surrender yourself, your pride of thinking you know best. Allow God’s Spirit to hold your spirit and help guide you as you continue to walk the Way of the Cross.

 

 

Reposted from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

The Seven Words – sixth prayer

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Today’s Bible passage and an excerpt 

Read John 19:30

It is finished.

More thoughts for meditation

The sixth statement Jesus spoke aloud on the cross, “it is finished”, is ironically not the final statement he spoke. Huh? What does “finished” mean then? He wasn’t finished speaking, but he was surely finished the work he came to do on earth, on our behalf, to reconcile us with God. As we have prayed so far this week with Jesus’ first five statements, we have journeyed through understanding and acknowledging how we are forgiven, we can be united with God and one another on earth and in heaven, we have a God who is sympathetic to our human experience and we can find complete satisfaction through our connection with God.

Jesus’ sixth statement is a summary that the deal was done. From that moment on, no more sacrifices would be needed to approach God openly and freely; no more blood needed to be shed to feel alive on a daily basis, no more endless efforts of trying to be good enough to gain good standing with God. Jesus hanging on the cross was the final sacrifice that enables us all, Jew and Gentile, to stand before God unashamed, and be fully alive as we were created to be.

To ensure the tangibility of this reality, three of the four gospels record that “the curtain in the temple was torn in two”: Matthew and Mark’s gospel detail “from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45). This action was not only miraculously done but monumentally important. The temple included a thick, tall and wide curtain, elaborately woven and decorated, that separated the main area of the temple with the Holy of Holies (an area only the high priest was entitled to go). The combination of historical records that include the Old Testament, the Talmud (a collection of Jewish laws and traditions) and Josephus’ writings (a Jewish historian) describe the veil and its function as pivotal to the atonement process and understanding our relationship with God. The curtain, in form, was described as four inches thick, sixty feet tall and thirty feet wide. Historical records suggest it took 300 priests to erect it because of its weight and that a horse tied to each end could not tear it apart because of its woven strength and thickness. It was a symbolic and literal barrier between the people and God. Only the high priest was permitted to enter and not without much preparation and a blood sacrifice. History notes the high priest would wear bells so the outsiders could know if he was still alive behind the curtain. If he died while in the Holy of Holies, he wore a rope around his ankle that outsiders could pull to remove his body, lest they enter the most sacred place unpermitted and die as well. The veil proved an intense separated reality between God and humanity. Yet, its destruction proved its irrelevance after Jesus’ act of atonement on the cross. Its form and function was no longer needed, no longer required.

Suggestions for Action

Since the onset of sin (being disconnected from God), the human experience has been bent to feel ashamed, afraid, alone, forsaken and wanting for more. There are most certainly moments you have experienced these feelings and have thought that you are not good enough and have desperately wondered what can you do to be better. Let Jesus’ words on the cross speak, on your behalf, to such feelings and thoughts of isolation and insignificance to redeem your experience in a way that permits you to feel forgiven, confident, brave. Satisfied, alive, loved and not alone. Let the work Jesus accomplished on the cross be your redemption to declare victory over all that seeks to make you forget what you were created to be: alive, loved and not alone.

Pray (anytime/anywhere): “It is finished.”

Use this phrase to confront each and every feeling and thought that overwhelms you and inhibits you from believing that you are anything other than alive, loved and not alone because of Christ. Speak these words with authority, because Christ has equipped you with power over fear and death.

The Seven Words – fifth prayer

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Today’s Bible passage and an excerpt 

Read John 19:28 – 29

I am thirsty.

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus made seven distinct statements while he hung dying on the cross. This week’s daily prayer time has been a journey of allowing Jesus’ final statements on earth to be our statements, our prayers. We are using Jesus’ words to help us live more abundantly in the reality of who God is and who we are. We are also using Jesus’ words to help us develop a deeper relationship with God and each other. Jesus’ first three statements reveal how attentive and interactive God is, through Christ, to cultivate reconciliation with humanity. His fourth statement, however, acknowledges, from humanity’s perspective, that our relationship with God is broken. In that moment, Jesus’ humanity reflects our human nature of feeling alone, regardless of who or what surrounds us. Likewise, his fifth statement reveals humanity’s ubiquitous need for nourishment to survive and thrive. Jesus voices that he is thirsty and there is nothing he can do about it, as he hangs on the cross. He is completely dependent on another to help satiate his dehydration.

We can only imagine the internal thoughts Jesus had as he was dying. There is the suggested sentiment that “his life flashed before his eyes’, meaning he recalled various moments/memories that characterized who he was. As he uttered these three words, “I am thirsty”, did he recall meeting with the woman at the well? Did he remember telling her how he, Jesus the Christ, was the Living Water and that whoever drank of him would never thirst again? Did he remember the poetic plea of a psalm he most likely learned as a child that declares: “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God? My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1 – 2). Certainly the deity of Jesus was well aware of the desperation the psalmist declares on behalf of humanity – that is why Jesus came to earth, to respond to that longing and fulfill it. Psalm 42 questions, “When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2).

Did Jesus reflect on this line? His last statement on the cross, which we will soon pray in a few days (as our own statement) acknowledges that meeting with God has occurred. But until then? Jesus hangs on the cross, fully human, and fully aware of the oppression of being distressed and dissatisfied. Later in that same psalm, a more direct series of questions are asked both by onlookers to the psalmist and the psalmist himself to God: “Where is your God?” (verse 4b) and “Why have you forgotten me, God?” (verse 9b). We have already observed how onlookers near Jesus, as he was on the cross, asked this question and we have prayed with Jesus, himself, to ask God directly the same thing.

Jesus’ human expressions help us connect to our own human experience. If we are honest with ourselves (and with God), we experience dissatisfaction on a daily basis. The mere function of consuming food and drink satisfies our metabolic processes to keep going. Our stomachs may growl to get our attention that we are overlooking such need; and our mouths may become dry and our throats may even begin to burn, as definite clues that we are in need of water. We tend to these needs; otherwise, our bodies will begin to malfunction. In extreme situations of deprivation, death can occur. Jesus’ death was on our behalf – so that like the woman at the well, we can drink up Jesus’ salvation and be fully satisfied, forever. We can dive deep into his water, as the desperate and downcast soul depicts satisfaction in Psalm 42: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls. All your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Suggestions for Action

Pray: “I am thirsty”.

Let these words resonate in your soul. Then, as you sip your morning coffee or keep hydrated throughout the day (whether stopping at a water fountain or filling up your cup/water bottle) let your thirst be quenched by continuing to pray: “Deep calls to deep”. Let the experience of being human as well as being satisfied by God be your prayer.

 

 

Reposted from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

The Seven Words – fourth prayer

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Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt 

Read Matthew 27:45 – 47

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

More thoughts for meditation

As we’ve been praying this week, using the statements Jesus said on the cross as our guide, we are seeking to deepen our connection with God. Yet, the fourth statement Jesus cried aloud on the cross seems to undermine our attempt. Jesus’ prior three statements provided a tangible context for connection to take place. However, Jesus’ beckoning cry of acknowledging God’s absence shifts our focus completely. Why would God forsake Jesus? Wasn’t Jesus God? Doesn’t such a statement deconstruct the whole deal then?

Jesus was 100% God as much as 100% human. This quintessential statement that Jesus makes on the cross is the climax of all of history since the beginning. In the book of Genesis, the creation story unravels when Adam and Eve partook of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, forsaking God’s adamant instruction not to. God came looking for them and “they hid from God” (Genesis 3:8). God was the first one to ask, “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). This experience of disconnect God had with humanity was not something God wanted to last forever. Thus, God had to remove Adam and Eve’s access to the Tree of Life, which they originally were permitted to eat of freely. Without access to such nourishment, death was inevitable. Genesis records that God “drove them out of the garden”, suggesting they did not leave easily (Genesis 3:23). The experience of forsakenness seems to be occurring on all sides. Genesis concludes this scene by noting that God placed an angelic guard with a flaming sword at the east entrance to the garden to ensure that humanity could not have access to the Tree of Life, lest they eat of it and live forever in a disconnected state from God.

Generations later, Psalm 22 was penned as an outcry of this disconnected existence and hope for redemption. Psalm 22 is known as a “messianic psalm” as it foreshadows Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet, it may also very well reflect the preceding experience of man and woman’s exile from the garden of Eden in Genesis. The poetry of Psalm 22 is a narrative and conversation woven together to form a blanket of past, present and future realities, despair and hope, trust and recompense that wraps around humanity’s broken relationship with God to make it whole again.

Jesus’ repetitive cry on the cross echoed Psalm 22’s threaded words of feeling forsaken by God.  The tension of trusting God in the midst of life’s darkest moments is as much a refrain in Psalm 22 as is feeling forsaken. These intense sentiments were first experienced outside the entrance to the garden of Eden. As humanity begot humanity in those early days, let it be suggested that the eventual synthesis of Psalm 22 was passed down from generation to generation. The reality of being disconnected from God because of distrusting God’s care to preserve our life became a backdrop for continuing the act of sacrifice God first made for Adam and Eve, in providing them outer garments to preserve their sense of dignity to approach God again. Psalm 22 repeats the phrase “I trust you” as a redemptive declaration of knowing what life is like when we don’t. Feeling forsaken by God is like looking through a telescope the wrong way. We see a narrow view of not only who God is but who we are. Jesus hung on the cross as a public demonstration of how god has not forsaken us. From the onset of disconnection in Genesis, God was actively telling a story of wanting to be present with us, or more significantly how we can be present with him unashamed because of Jesus. This saga played out on the stage of history and culminated on the cross with Jesus’ deity and humanity being reconciled, so all could be reconciled with God. Consider the contrast between the angel in Genesis inhibiting humanity from accessing eternal life in a fallen state and the angel by Jesus’ empty tomb, inviting humanity to embrace the reality of resurrection.

Suggestions for Action

Use the words of Christ to beseech the Lord. Pray: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But do not let this be the end of the story for you. Pray through Psalm 22, which begins with this beseeching question but marches on through the hills and valleys of the human experience, through Jesus’ experience on the cross. Let the last line of the psalm be your “Amen”, for God did something phenomenal through Jesus for us.

Pray through Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

 

 

Reposted from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

 

 

The Seven Words – third prayer

Cross3

Today’s Bible passage and an excerpt from it

Read John 19:25 – 27

Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, here is your mother.

More Thoughts for Meditation

This week we are using The Way of the Cross as a contemplative prayer practice. To review, the Way of the Cross is a meditative method to deepen our connection to Christ and to live according to what Christ did for us on the cross. Jesus’ seven statements spoken on the cross offer us a guide to walk closer with him and one another. Today’s emphasis acknowledges the connection we have with each other because of Christ.

It seems legit to ask why we remain on earth after we receive salvation from Jesus for our sins. Yesterday, we remembered the words of the dying man next to Jesus who requested to be part of Jesus’ kingdom after they both died. In that moment, death was inevitable but not a threat to disconnect us from living with God in His kingdom. Jesus told the criminal that he would surely be with him in Paradise – a presumed ethereal place, not on earth. After Jesus’ dialogue with that man, he turned his attention to his mother and dear friend who stood nearby. No doubt, Mary his mother and John his beloved disciple did not want to lose one minute of time with Jesus before he would die – as any cherished family member and friend would do during such a moment. Mary and John shared life so intimately with Jesus on a daily basis and now were watching him die. How would they live life without him? Why didn’t Jesus tell them the same thing He told the repentant criminal? Surely, Jesus could have said to Mary and John, “my death is re-connecting you all to God and so you will also be with me in Paradise today”. Mary and John absolutely believed Jesus to be the Messiah; but now he was dying and leaving them – that was the antithesis of Paradise. Or was it?

It is difficult to understand God’s grand plan of why He keeps us on earth to live out our salvation, still surrounded by suffering and grief. But Jesus’ third statement on the cross offers us a glimpse at the blueprints. When Jesus told Mary that she had a new son and that John had a new mother, he was really telling them how his death was birthing a new kind of family. After his resurrection, he told his disciples how humanity was going to be able to experience and exist within a new connectedness called “the church” (Matthew 16:18). Such connection would be lived on earth as well as in heaven.

Suggestions for Action

Have you ever experienced the loss of someone so dear that you couldn’t imagine how to keep living without them in your life? This could be the death of someone you loved or a broken relationship connection or even the separation of time and space from that person that makes it difficult (seemingly impossible) to stay connected? Use Jesus’ words to Mary and John to know that Jesus is not leaving you alone in your grief. You have been given a sacred family to be connected with at all times, through the Holy Spirit.

Look at yourself in the mirror and pray, and/or pray with a fellow Christ follower: “Woman/man, behold you are part of sacred family. Friend, you are part of a beloved community.”

Have you ever met a fellow Christ follower who has a different skin tone than yours, speaks a different language than you do or live a lifestyle completely different from yours; and yet, as you begin to talk about Jesus with them, you feel an unexplainable connection with them. It may even feel like “home” being with them. Acknowledge that experience as you pray the words that Jesus spoke to Mary and John. Think of someone and pray this for them to know the connection they have with others because of Jesus.

Pray: “Woman/man, behold the connection we have because of Christ. The same Spirit that is in you is in me and that makes us one on earth and in heaven.”

 

Reposted from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

 

The Seen Words – second prayer

Cross2

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Luke 23:39 – 43

Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

More Thoughts for Meditation

We have begun to pray using the statements Jesus spoke while he hung dying on the cross. The seven different statements he spoke provide us with not only perspective of his experience in that moment and his rationale for why he had come to earth but also offer us purpose for how we can experience life and even give us the rationale for why we are on earth. Jesus came to give us life – life abundantly. His first statement, which we likewise prayed yesterday, requested God’s forgiveness for our arrogance and ignorance us from experiencing vitality and oneness with our Maker. Jesus’ second statement on the cross is a declaration of that connection and its infinite reality, not just as a possibility but as a palpable actuality.

Jesus was executed as a criminal for claiming to be king and the anointed Messiah. He was placed among other convicted criminals (who could have been sentenced to death for any number of crimes, ranging from petty theft to murder). The punishment of death in Roman times was a sadistic public spectacle. Such display of ‘this is what you get for screwing up’ was as much a warning to all who passed by to mind their Ps and Qs (or else) as well as an excuse to openly ridicule someone else for getting what they deserve (an underhanded way of making the spectator feel more superior and righteous). According to the Gospel account, the scene that surrounded Jesus’ second statement involved ridiculous taunts from the other criminals towards one another as well as from the onlookers. A criminal hanging next to him “hurled insults at him’ (Luke 23:39) that not only doubted and even denied Jesus’ true identity but did the same for our identity as well. However, another criminal hanging on the other side of Jesus chimed in with the proposed truth about who Jesus was and who we are/who we can be.

This provocative scene plays out as one may see internal tensions depicted with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Each side making statements about identity – what to believe about ourselves and God. The irony of the tension Jesus was caught between was that neither side were “angels”. However, only one of the two criminals accepted his true identity of needing salvation and acknowledging the true identity of Jesus as being Savior. It is vital to note in this scene that Jesus does not respond to the taunts of the insulting criminal but directly responds to the one who requests a relationship founded on compassion. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”, the criminal asks with dying breaths (Luke 23:42). Though Jesus hung dying, too, this man believe that Jesus was indeed king and a kingdom was still possible. For that belief and for his request, Jesus gave him eternal life and not just a memory of connection but the actual reality of it. That was the reason Jesus was dying, after all – to eliminate death’s sentence and condemnation of life.

Suggestions for Action

Do you experience hearing those same voices Jesus heard – telling you either that your life is a joke or that your life has value and eternal meaning. Remember how Jesus responded in such moment of tension. Use Jesus’ words to remind yourself of who you really are and how Jesus is relating to you.

Pray: “Truly you (Jesus) say to me, today you (Jesus) are with me. I am part of your eternal kingdom.

 

Reposted from Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

 

The Seven Words – first prayer

cross1a

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Luke 23:32 – 38

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

More Thoughts for Meditation:

For the next seven days, we will use the words Jesus said on the cross as a way to pray. We will let Jesus’ statements be our statements, be our longings, be our despair, be our joy and be our identity as we talk with God. Just as the twelve “stations of the cross” or the “way of the cross” have become a spiritual discipline to walk with Jesus and remember his final hours, the seven statements he expressed aloud as he hung on the cross have also become a contemplative prayer practice. In ages past, these sacred statements came to be referred to as “The Seven Words”.

The reality of Christ’s resurrection, which we recently celebrated as a world-wide church, must also be acknowledged and experienced in our individual hearts on a daily basis. However, living in the realm of resurrection requires giving ourselves over to the process of dying for life to be reinstated. Before Jesus encountered the cross, he told his disciples that he must die and instructed them that, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus emphasized this morbid method to his disciples as a spiritual reality for them and a literal reality for him. They struggled and even refused to comprehend that Jesus would actually need to die, let alone on a cross, as a sacrifice for all. The action of sacrifice was indeed something familiar to the disciples though. As Jewish people, they were very aware of the animal sacrifices that occurred daily in the temple by the priests on behalf of the people to forgive their sins – to re-connect them with God. Sacrificing can be simply understood and practiced as giving to God what restricts us from communing with Him openly and freely. If the way we live is getting in the way of us connecting with God openly and freely, then life is what is required to be given to reconcile us with God.

The first such sacrifice is recorded in Genesis, when God took the skins of an animal to make coverings for Adam and Eve, who did not want to approach God because they felt ashamed in their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). The sacred significance of this story in Genesis as well as the tradition of sacrifices throughout the Old Testament and consequently Jesus’ procession to and statements on the cross during the Passover season are all connected to reveal how life must beget life.  Adam and Eve believed they had a grand plan of advancing themselves when they ate of the forbidden fruit. Likewise, the traditional killings throughout history of innocent life to regain a sense of immortal identity seemed a necessary notion to those who practiced the act of sacrifice. Did it ever occur to the priests, who would daily be covered in blood and surrounded by the smells of death and decay that there must be a better way to feel alive? Did they ever ask God such a question? It seems they merely went through the motions as tradition required to seemingly maintain a sense of empowerment. And in the same mortal effort to maintain control, the crowds and commanders that followed through with executing Jesus thought they were doing a noble deed. After Jesus was nailed to the cross and his body erected for all to see, he saw the people that not only stood near but also who stood a far throughout history. Jesus was giving his life, once and for all, to save us from ourselves. His first recorded statement, a request really, is an essential and intimate one. “Father”, he begins – this is an acknowledgment of the direct connection to the origin of his life. “forgive them” he continues – he is continuing the story of sacrifice, being both the priest and the sacrifice as he says these words on the cross. Jesus is interceding for us, for God to give us something that was meant to be ours from the beginning. His conclusion to this statement, “for they do not know what they are doing” is a summary of how (since the beginning) we think we know better than God. But we don’t. This is exactly the reason Jesus came to earth – to show us the way.

Suggestions for Action

Use Jesus’ statement to pray in three ways:

Pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. Speak these words for those who have hurt you. Give mercy to others who may not know any better way of treating you or because they are deceived to think they do.

Pray, “Father, forgive me for I do not know what I am doing.” Speak these words aloud in acknowledgment of the connection you have with God as the divine origin of your life. Ask forgiveness and for God’s guidance; and confess that you thought you knew what you were doing but things are not going as planned.

Pray, “Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing”. Speak as part of a body (the church) or as a sinner (everyone) to beseech god to not give up on us. We need divine inspiration to make decisions; and the decisions that we make that do not bring life are in desperate need of redemption and reconciliation.

 

Reposted from: Circle of Hope Daily Prayer; Water

 

Bird Brain

Maggie's tree

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25, 27)

Last Christmas, amidst the festive rituals of going to my brother’s house to gather for yule tide family time, a special gift caught my attention nestled amid the branches of my brother’s Christmas tree. Tucked almost at the top of the tree in a cozy spot was a bird’s nest. He made a point to show it to us. It was perched so perfectly among the branches; it could have passed for an ornament hung purposefully by human hands or even overlooked altogether. They didn’t notice it until after they had picked their tree out, but before they cut the tree down (during their annual adventure to fetch a freshly cut tree). They made sure to remove the nest before cutting, lest the tree’s descent damaged it. They set it back in its place when they got home. I stood on my tiptoes to see it and could not resist touching it. It was stunning. It was the shape of a hand sized basket – made from handfuls of twigs and natural threads woven so deliberately together to form a place to keep something safe. But no hand had made it – merely the handiwork of tiny claws, a tiny beak and, best of all, a tiny bird brain.

During his scientific stay at the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin made it his mission to study birds, specifically finches. Using the specificity of such birds, he wanted to learn the origin of life’s ability to thrive over time. He thought if he started small with bird brains, he might then utilize his observations to understand more sophisticated cerebral systems. Okay, I confess, as an Intelligent Design supporter, I thought (as I observed that bird’s nest at Christmas) about how brilliant a bird is…and more directly, how wonderfully God designed a bird’s DNA to do that. A bird is designed to craft something sturdy and secure to incubate its offspring. Eggs hatch, baby birds learn to fly away and they instinctively build nests of their own to ensure the survival of their species. They’re really good at it. I like to think that God is really good at designing all of life to thrive and survive, according to its kind. But just because I think that, doesn’t mean I live like that. Throughout the Scriptures and more relevantly my life, God has used the image of a bird to signify His care for us. God describes how smart birds are, not solely because of their skill to soar high and weave nests but also because they don’t worry…at least, not like we do. One could argue, that’s because birds don’t know any better and we do. I think God graciously wants to tell us that it’s actually the other way around – our brains have been much more sophisticatedly designed to know all the more how God has provided for us, so we absolutely need not worry. Sure, we can build skyscrapers and jet engines; but we can also worry like no other creature can.

When I was thirty four, I burned out as a therapist. Talk about helplessness and hopelessness. I was diagnosed with both. The ever increasing hours at the office managing a full caseload of clients with serious issues to resolve and trying to keep on top of the never ending pile of paperwork drained me in a way I had never experienced. Any effort I exerted never seemed enough. I realized I could have worked 24/7 and needs would still have gone unmet. I remember asking God the inevitable questions of why and why not. Why was it so hard? Why were there not enough hours in the day or resources? I found myself spiraling into a black hole of despair. I’d lie in bed at night, hoping my clients were safe as well as hoping I could just get some sleep to refresh my energy for the next day. Neither hope seemed fully actualized. Living and working in an urban setting seemed to exasperate my hyper-sensitivity to how great the plight of people was.

One day while in route to meet with a supervisory mentor to talk about how to best help my clients or at the very least help myself, I distinctively recall asking God for help. Moments after I prayed, I walked by three consecutive people in some kind of need. The first person I passed was standing at the top of the subway steps talking on his phone to someone about how he was being evicted and had nowhere to go. I began to descend the subway steps to catch the train to my colleague’s house and passed a second person standing halfway down the staircase. The person asked people as they passed by for money for food. I looked at him and shook my head that I had none to give and I passed him by, descending further into the subway tunnel and further into despair. I honestly didn’t have a dime on me. I was barely making ends meet myself on a non-profit social service salary. My emotions were so raw from being so tired. I could have started crying as I passed the third person at the bottom of the steps also asking for any spare change. I found myself standing on the subway platform waiting for the train and feeling the tears well up in my eyes. I prayed again – though this time I did not ask God why but how. How were all these people going to be okay? How was I going to be okay? I had that feeling of vertigo as I thought about every person in the city, in the world needing help and how could God care for them all with attentive response. At that very moment, I looked down amid my dizziness and saw something on the ground. I widened my eyes to make it out clearly and fixed my focus on the area right in front of me. A little sparrow-like-bird hopped about around my feet. I laughed out loud. “What is a sparrow doing in the subway?”, I thought. The urban bird was really a sparling; but the nature of a small bird (like a sparrow) bore the image of a beloved promise for me and brought it back to my memory at the most opportune moment. I watched the little bird hip hop back and forth in front of me, sweetly chirping without a care in the world it seemed. I stood there mesmerized by its movements. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It fluttered around me for a few minutes and then, I kid you not, it whimsically chirped and hopped up the steps that led back to the turn style gate and out of the subway it flew. It was like God responded to my pleading question “how” with “how much more” (Matthew 6:26). My feelings of overwhelming burden became so much lighter as I waited on that dark subway platform. Tears of joy filled my eyes and I found myself smiling like I hadn’t smiled in a long time. I felt so loved by God. If the God of the universe could send a sparrow to encourage me in a dingy subway station, He most certainly could send whatever anyone else needed to keep them going. I mean, He sent Jesus for heaven’s sake! For heaven’s sake? Yes, God is always providing opportunities for us to connect with Him, so He can reconnect us to heaven.  He did not forsake earth or any of us when He sent Jesus as the quintessential solution to our problems (John 3:16).

That “sparrow sighting” has begun a long standing testimony of this theme. Every time I see those sparlings around town, I remember and smile. Friends have joined me in celebration of such imagery and have sent me images of sparrows at times to remind me of how God cares for me or how they have experienced His care for them. It’s become a sort of legacy of mine. When I’m boohooing to my dad about how hard life feels, he often asks me if I’ve seen any sparrows lately to nudge me not to forget God’s promise. I’ve added that Christmas bird’s nest as a great gift, reminding me once again of not simply my ability to trust God but God’s ability to help me keep trusting.

 

References:

  1. Paper cut out (birthday card to me) by Maggie Machledt-Girard 2013
  2. Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
  3. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
  4. Unlocking the Mysteries of Life documentary
  5. Traveling Mercies by Annie Lamont
  6. Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard