Here’s just a sampling of God’s character! I encourage you to look up the verses listed, and find out more for yourself!
Here’s just a sampling of God’s character! I encourage you to look up the verses listed, and find out more for yourself!
These two quotes below deserve a time of reflection, not only on the implications of their meaning, but on how comparison manifests in, and affects, our lives. Comparison is shoved upon us by every form of media today: Magazines show only perfectly air-brushed images of celebrities and then run how-to lists to make the reader feel they should reach for perfection in outer beauty; comparison has fuelled multi-billion-dollar industries in cosmetics, clothing, medicine and material possessions such as houses, cars, and gadgetry. It has taught us to crave the latest and best as if these things were necessities, and not excessive luxuries; it has taught us to crave them at the expense of the poorest in the world, as industries strip natural resources and abuse the defenceless workers who are paid pittance so that you and I can buy cheap clothing, and foods and flowers that were growing in fields half way around the world the day before we buy them. Comparison robs men and women alike of contentment, joy in the simple pleasures of life, and the discernment to recognise marketing bullies who knock us down, steal our peace, and then expect us to buy their products so that we can feel better about ourselves until the next time they come around…
Matthew 6:27-29 (NIVUK)
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these.”
The word “pagan” is used to refer to any religion that is not Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian); yet at various times in history, the word has been used perhaps too hastily, as in the times of the Native American woman Zitkala-Sa. She led an extraordinary life ahead of her times, and was educated in a strict Quaker school (missionary schools were the only sources of education for the Native Americans at the time; it is where they learned, among other things, English – see quote below). But I think that the view she had of God as Creator was also ahead of her times: In an age when the Christian religion was strict, legalistic and heavy-handed, she recognized God and his handiwork in the nature around her. Below is her treatise, “Why I am a Pagan,” where she makes a compelling case that closely reflects my own perception of God as Creator and loving Father, not the iron-fisted judge that many people seem to still view him as; for me, that is the difference between Christianity (i.e. relationship with God) and Religion. I do not own the copyrights on this piece; it was written in 1902, and I found it on The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women’s Writings. The reason I post the entire piece here is that sometimes websites go extinct, and it would be a pity to lose such a valuable historical perspective.
WHY I AM A PAGAN
When the spirit swells my breast I love to roam leisurely among the green hills; or sometimes, sitting on the brink of the murmuring Missouri, I marvel at the great blue overhead. With half closed eyes I watch the huge cloud shadows in their noiseless play upon the high bluffs opposite me, while into my ear ripple the sweet, soft cadences of the river’s song. Folded hands lie in my lap, for the time forgot. My heart and I lie small upon the earth like a grain of throbbing sand. Drifting clouds and tinkling waters, together with the warmth of a genial summer day, bespeak with eloquence the loving Mystery round about us. During the idle while I sat upon the sunny river brink, I grew somewhat, though my response be not so clearly manifest as in the green grass fringing the edge of the high bluff back of me.
At length retracing the uncertain footpath scaling the precipitous embankment, I seek the level lands where grow the wild prairie flowers. And they, the lovely little folk, soothe my soul with their perfumed breath.
Their quaint round faces of varied hue convince the heart which leaps with glad surprise that they, too, are living symbols of omnipotent thought. With a child’s eager eye I drink in the myriad star shapes wrought in luxuriant color upon the green. Beautiful is the spiritual essence they embody.
I leave them nodding in the breeze, but take along with me their impress upon my heart. I pause to rest me upon a rock embedded on the side of a foothill facing the low river bottom. Here the Stone-Boy, of whom the American aborigine tells, frolics about, shooting his baby arrows and shouting aloud with glee at the tiny shafts of lightning that flash from the flying arrow-beaks. What an ideal warrior he became, baffling the siege of the pests of all the land till he triumphed over their united attack. And here he lay,–Inyan our great-great-grandfather, older than the hill he rested on, older than the race of men who love to tell of his wonderful career.
Interwoven with the thread of this Indian legend of the rock, I fain would trace a subtle knowledge of the native folk which enabled them to recognize a kinship to any and all parts of this vast universe. By the leading of an ancient trail I move toward the Indian village.
With the strong, happy sense that both great and small are so surely enfolded in His magnitude that, without a miss, each has his allotted individual ground of opportunities, I am buoyant with good nature.
Yellow Breast, swaying upon the slender stem of a wild sunflower, warbles a sweet assurance of this as I pass near by. Breaking off the clear crystal song, he turns his wee head from side to side eyeing me wisely as slowly I plod with moccasined feet. Then again he yields himself to his song of joy. Flit, flit hither and yon, he fills the summer sky with his swift, sweet melody. And truly does it seem his vigorous freedom lies more in his little spirit than in his wing.
With these thoughts I reach the log cabin whither I am strongly drawn by the tie of a child to an aged mother. Out bounds my four-footed friend to meet me, frisking about my path with unmistakable delight. Chän is a black shaggy dog, “a thorough bred little mongrel” of whom I am very fond. Chän seems to understand many words in Sioux, and will go to her mat even when I whisper the word, though generally I think she is guided by the tone of the voice. Often she tries to imitate the sliding inflection and long drawn out voice to the amusement of our guests, but her articulation is quite beyond my ear. In both my hands I hold her shaggy head and gaze into her large brown eyes. At once the dilated pupils contract into tiny black dots, as if the roguish spirit within would evade my questioning.
Finally resuming the chair at my desk I feel in keen sympathy with my fellow creatures, for I seem to see clearly again that all are akin.
The racial lines, which once were bitterly real, now serve nothing more than marking out a living mosaic of human beings. And even here men of the same color are like the ivory keys of one instrument where each resembles all the rest, yet varies from them in pitch and quality of voice. And those creatures who are for a time mere echoes of another’s note are not unlike the fable of the thin sick man whose distorted shadow, dressed like a real creature, came to the old master to make him follow as a shadow. Thus with a compassion for all echoes in human guise, I greet the solemn-faced “native preacher” whom I find awaiting me. I listen with respect for God’s creature, though he mouth most strangely the jangling phrases of a bigoted creed.
As our tribe is one large family, where every person is related to all the others, he addressed me:–
“Cousin, I came from the morning church service to talk with you.”
“Yes?” I said interrogatively, as he paused for some word from me.
Shifting uneasily about in the straight-backed chair he sat upon, he began: “Every holy day (Sunday) I look about our little God’s house, and not seeing you there, I am disappointed. This is why I come to-day. Cousin, as I watch you from afar, I see no unbecoming behavior and hear only good reports of you, which all the more burns me with the wish that you were a church member. Cousin, I was taught long years ago by kind missionaries to read the holy book. These godly men taught me also the folly of our old beliefs.
“There is one God who gives reward or punishment to the race of dead men. In the upper region the Christian dead are gathered in unceasing song and prayer. In the deep pit below, the sinful ones dance in torturing flames.
“Think upon these things, my cousin, and choose now to avoid the after-doom of hell fire!” Then followed a long silence in which he clasped tighter and unclasped again his interlocked fingers.
Like instantaneous lightning flashes came pictures of my own mother’s making, for she, too, is now a follower of the new superstition.
“Knocking out the chinking of our log cabin, some evil hand thrust in a burning taper of braided dry grass, but failed of his intent, for the fire died out and the half burned brand fell inward to the floor. Directly above it, on a shelf, lay the holy book. This is what we found after our return from a several days’ visit. Surely some great power is hid in the sacred book!”
Brushing away from my eyes many like pictures, I offered midday meal to the converted Indian sitting wordless and with downcast face. No sooner had he risen from the table with “Cousin, I have relished it,” than the church bell rang.
Thither he hurried forth with his afternoon sermon. I watched him as he hastened along, his eyes bent fast upon the dusty road till he disappeared at the end of a quarter of a mile.
The little incident recalled to mind the copy of a missionary paper brought to my notice a few days ago, in which a “Christian” pugilist commented upon a recent article of mine, grossly perverting the spirit of my pen. Still I would not forget that the pale-faced missionary and the hoodooed aborigine are both God’s creatures, though small indeed their own conceptions of Infinite Love. A wee child toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.
For more information about her life, please click here.
Sometimes life brings us to a crossroads, where we must decide to take the known, trodden path, or step out in faith and try something new. New represents risk, the unknown, the unpredictable; but it is at that cutting edge that we learn to breathe deeply, to appreciate life for what it can be, and to see with fresh eyes the past path we’ve travelled.
Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by what you’re going through; I’ve gone through quite a lot in my life, and I’ve learned that my mindset or attitude can greatly affect how I perceive my situation, and whether I’m drained by, or overcome by, my circumstances, or whether I gain strength and overcome them. That’s the “boiling water” principle.
As a writer, I know the importance of engaging the physical senses of a reader in order to draw them into the worlds I create; if you can taste, see, smell, touch and hear the world, these windows to the soul conjure an experience of involvement – your brain crosses the threshold between reality and fantasy, and you enter another world.
If you can vividly imagine something, your body will respond as if it were a real experience; for example, imagine the spray of juice as you peel the skin off of a succulent orange, the feel of the wedge as you tear it loose, and the explosion of juicy taste in your mouth as you bite into it. Did you feel the juicy peel on your fingertips? Did your mouth produce more saliva in response? The more your senses are engaged, the more it will feel like a tangible experience, and your mind will remember it on a deeper level. The more we practice, the easier and the more realistic it becomes.
I recently discovered a book called, “O Taste and See – Discovering God through Imaginative Meditations” by Paul W. Meier; in it, he makes the point that we cannot fall in love with an abstract concept; the more concrete we can experience our relationship with Jesus, the more we can fall in love with him, and accept his love for us.
Jesus used imagery in his teaching; he spoke in parables, or made analogies. His stories were often agrarian and culturally relevant, relatable to the audience listening to him. When he talked about the woman searching for a lost coin in Luke 15, it conjured in the listeners’ minds all the associated elements: The sounds of her bustling about in search, the moving around of wooden furniture on a floor of packed earth, the sounds of a broom swishing, the smell of oil in the lighting of the lamp, and the relief and joy when she found that missing part of her dowry; it was worth calling the neighbours together for a party! And with a party comes noise, conversation, perhaps music, and the tastes of food and wine.
The importance of meditating on scripture was driven home to me again recently as I began devotionals with this book; Jesus said repeatedly that to know the Father, you must know himself – that the Creator is revealed through Christ. By taking the time to get comfortable, to let go of what distracts our minds and eyes and take a few deliberate, deep breaths (it’s a technique used in various kinds of meditation – it’s simply a physical cause and effect: As the brain receives oxygen it knows that everything is fine, and it can relax its guard or its vigilance in the instinctual readiness for “flight, freeze or fight”), we can prepare ourselves to receive from God.
I would like to encourage you to read one of the parables or one of the stories about Jesus’ activities, and take the time to sink into it – place yourself in the story as one of the close followers of Jesus (for instance, as John, if you are a man, or as one of the women who travelled with Jesus, if you are a woman). Take time to walk with him, to imagine the sounds of the market, or the lapping of waves on the shore, or the wind in the olive grove or field of grain. Close your eyes and dwell in that place a moment, with Jesus by your side. Go on that journey with him. I can guarantee you that when you do, it will stay in your memory for days, if not much longer, and by experiencing him in such a concrete way, you will begin to love him more, and to sense his love for you all the more.
Isn’t it amazing that the smallest of life forms can upend your life, change your priorities overnight, and put your schedule, and even deadlines, on hold? Otherwise known as the flu bug. It knocked me for a loop or three just after the New Year, and I’ve been battling it off ever since. Everything, and I mean everything, gets put on hold at such times.
I’m sure you all know that there is no convenient time for a flu, but sometimes it’s easier on the schedule than others. I’m grateful that it was after Christmas, because on Christmas Day I was at last able to complete the first draft of my next novel! And later this month I don’t need it, because I get to go and stay in a posh resort overnight, also known as a hospital bed, to catch a few hours of sleep while they remove a few plates and lots of screws from one of my ankles, making it easier to get through airport security. My bone will look a bit like Swiss cheese after they’re done, which means I get a few weeks of feet-up-and-read-lots-of-books time, followed by the ability to walk, exercise, and get a bit of muscle tone back. Woohoo.
I began thinking about loops, in the wider scope, while I had some down-time this past month: They come in all shapes and sizes; sometimes they’re hiccups in relationships, jobs, studies, goals or even social or environmental challenges. Those loops, we can handle; they’re all essentially first-world problems, so I won’t complain; at least my loops don’t include wondering where my next meal will come from, where I’ll be sleeping tonight, or how to find clean water and a safe hiding place from men with guns hunting me down. Even though my schedule has gotten thrown on its ear, and I feel like something the cat dragged in, I will count myself blessed.
If you’re going through loops of your own right now, look for the things in your life that remind you that you are blessed, and remember that jumping through loops will make us stronger in the end.