Fiery Seeds

During last night’s windstorm, pinecones thudded on our roof, disturbing my sleep and making me worry about roof damage.  This morning I picked up the pinecones from the deck, noticing their complexity and beauty.  How densely and tightly packed each seed is positioned in the cone!  I know that many pines only release their seed when fire temperatures are hot enough to burst them open.  It is only in fire that the pines are able to fulfill their destiny and scatter their seed.  I wonder about my own life, those times when I’ve felt closest to God, those times which have taught me important lessons I needed to learn.  Typically, those were crises in my life, times of ill health or surgery, deaths in my family, marriage or family conflicts.  Even during these times of upheaval, God was working with me, teaching me, helping me deepen my relationship with him.  Help me, Lord, to trust you even during the fiery times.  Please keep reminding me that I am not alone in the blazing furnace, but through these flames I am refined and drawn closer to you. Amen.

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I’m AngryI’m Angry

Dear Heavenly Father–all of us must go through the shared experience of coping with COVID-19.  Friends have various methods of surviving. Some are bored, binge watching Netflix or immersing themselves in video games to escape reality. They stare out the windows mindlessly, and when I speak with them on the phone, they sigh, overwhelmingly weary.

Others among my friends are in a state of perpetual fear.  Endless TV coverage of the disease feeds their alarm, whether those numbers reflect a free-fall economy or the growing total of the ill or dead. Temperatures and symptom discussion occupy all conversations. In their voices I hear the tremolo of fear, a wavering indicating their panic.

A smaller number of friends respond to the virus with an enviable state of calm; they use public media sparingly, only to be informed but not absorbed.  They observe all the protective rules, but do so without drama or hysterics.  Their voices are calm, measured.

However, Lord, I fall into none of these categories.  Mostly I am angry.  Very angry. Rage-like angry. It’s a waste of time to be angry at something invisible. My anger is diffuse—broad spectrum. I’m angry some people are called on to risk their lives for public good.  Those who provide us with fuel, groceries, mail, packages, and food are suddenly thrust into danger.  Public health and safety personnel, doctors, nurses, orderlies, and all the hospital staff, are now at risk.  I’m angry knowing many of them have families of their own who may be exposed.

I am angry at those who flout the protections–coughing on produce, spitting at older people, gathering in large groups where the virus is easily spread.  I understand that the young feel immortal; what I don’t understand is their lack of respect for others far more vulnerable.

Perhaps I’m most angry at my own helplessness.  I want to do something, but what?  I’ve been robbed of all the tools I might use to combat COVID-19.  I need the company of my friends, their physical presence, their hugs.  I want to sit with them, share a meal, know they are still well.  The internet Sunday service heightened the importance of the Body of Christ, and its vital role in a church experience.  I felt alone, lacking the reinforcement of those around me.  We touch because we are human, and denied touch we are more isolated, more vulnerable, more easily frightened.  Finally, I’m angry at You, God.  How could You permit this pandemic?  Where are You while Your world falls apart?  I’m angry at You and that only adds to my helplessness.

And so Lord, I come to you with all my human frailties.  In my heart I recognize anger is a pointless and futile response.  Please help me channel that anger–all that energy—all that determination into useful behavior.  If I am limited in personal connections, help me connect through prayer.  Help me channel my anger, broadening it beyond my usual prayer requests.  Help me pray for a world in peril, pray for all those who are ill;  immigrants, the world’s poor, those who experience the intestinal side effects of COVID-19.  Particularly be with those who live in tents, caves, and holes in the ground lacking all sanitary protections.  Be with those paralyzed by fear; help them to come to You in trust.  Be with those who don’t appreciate their own mortality, and fail to understand the vulnerability of others, especially the aged.  Be with those who risk their own safety to protect the public good.  Remind us we live in a fallen world; while it was not You who caused the virus, You will ultimately create good from it.  May each of us use our emotions, our strength, and our energy to draw closer to you, recognizing our dependency.  May this be a time of prayerful contemplation, channeling our emotions into Your service.  This, Lord, is my prayer.

He Has RisenHe Has Risen

 Prayer for Easter

      Dear Lord, every Easter card shows flowers blooming, bright sunshine, and smiling disciples. But it wasn’t that way, was it, Lord. It was chilly and dark when the women went to the tomb. In their scarves they carried gums and spices to undo the abuse and torture your body had suffered two days earlier. So much fear! The boulder blocking the tomb, the soldiers guarding it, the Roman soldiers patrolling and then, to add to the fear, an earthquake.

      They whispered to one another as they walked. Hopeless. Disappointed. The loss of everything they believed. Jesus wasn’t powerful as He seemed. He could heal and restore and feed and make people believe—but it all came down to this—a broken body in a borrowed tomb. Here was the hard truth; Jesus was a mortal man like every other man. Shivering in the darkness, bent over as they hurried, eager to have this business finished, to show their respect for a dear friend who had taught them so much.

      It’s ironic, Lord, isn’t it, that none of the followers coming to the burial site in small, separate groups, expected an empty tomb. Though Jesus had told them repeatedly, at least nine times, that he would rise from the dead, they didn’t believe him. In fact the only ones who heard Jesus’ message were the Jewish rulers. The high priests and Pharisees warned Pilate Jesus spoke of rising from the dead. They heard the message, though his followers didn’t. To prevent their stealing the body, Pilate posted guards.

      When they reached the tomb in separate groups, there was no sudden epiphany, no delirious shout of joy over what had taken place. No. Fear, confusion, disbelief overwhelmed the followers as they scuttled back and forth, reluctant to believe the angel’s message. Only John announced his belief as did Mary Magdalene after Jesus spoke her name. It took hours, days, weeks in some cases, before skeptic followers could believe in the living Jesus. Even those who saw Jesus in person were reluctant to believe!

      And what of us, Lord, what of our disbelief? All the Easters since that first morning and we continue to wonder, still question if it’s real. Like those followers we grope in the chilly darkness, doubting the value of life, despairing of purpose. We go to wrap the dead, not celebrate the living. The search is the same, Lord, a hunt for meaning. Strangely enough it is only an empty tomb that contains all we need to know. In that emptiness lies fullness and joy—promises kept and new life given.

      Easter isn’t a one-time event; it is a repeated search whenever we forget the promise or reject its premise. Each time we face that empty tomb, we find a living Lord who is among us, loving us, forgiving us. Dwelling with us until the end of time. Never has empty space held so much. On this Easter morning may each of us find our way to an empty tomb regardless of the pain or doubt that drives our search. With courage we look inside rediscovering the life that lies beyond. “He is risen!” So will we.

Sandra Ratliff

Don’t Touch!Don’t Touch!

Today, early in the morning, I approached an unfamiliar object on the beach, just above the water line. Its label warned that it was dangerous, phosphorous-filled, and should not be touched. The finder was asked to notify the police or military. The discovery saddened me. In the midst of so much serene beauty, under skies still washed with dawning light, I had stumbled upon something that hinted of death and destruction, something unconnected with the morning’s beauty. I remembered the passage from Philippians where we are told to think of what is pure and lovely. I tried to fix my thoughts on the right, the pure, the admirable, the excellent, and the praiseworthy. As I reported the object to the park ranger, my duty was complete. But now I need your help, Lord to find a way to live in this world with its unpleasant realities and still reach for you and your perfection of goodness and beauty. Help me find beauty even in the midst of ugliness. May I put aside this ugly object and try to be an agent of peace and beauty in a troubled, violent world. Amen.