Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

“Inch by inch, row by row; gonna make this garden grow. All it takes is a rake and hoe and piece of fertile ground.”
Those are the opening lyrics to David Mallet’s folks song often performed by John Denver. They’ve been in my mind and heart this summer as I have been giving effort toward tending a new garden plot.

Gardening is part of my therapy – my mental health therapy. When I’m in the garden, planting seeds, pulling weeds, tending plants or picking produce; my mind is not occupied with outside worries. For some reason working in the soil and watching the wonder of plants grow, blocks out all the other stuff. I think I inherited this behavior from my dad. He used to tend a large garden, spending hours in the summer evenings cultivating produce that blessed our dinner table. Now, as I look back, I wonder what kinds of things he was working out during his gardening therapy?

This season I’ve been breaking in a new garden plot – or is it breaking me in? We moved in the late winter and I converted some of the new home’s landscaping area into my flower and vegetable garden. It’s worked out pretty well. Early spring lettuce and spinach have been followed by bush beans, carrots, green peppers, summer squash, a variety of tomatoes, pole beans, and an abundant crop of butternut squash. The Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult to procure all the seeds I had hoped to sow in the spring, but I’ve enjoyed tending what’s come up.

I have also enjoyed having a new gardening buddy, our grandson Oliver. He is my produce picker. At 2 1/2 he has great enthusiasm for picking a tomato and digging a carrot. It’s fun to see the growing season through his eyes. I’m hoping we’re planting the seeds of new generation of gardener in this young lad. He does like to water the garden, so maybe that’s a start!

Granted my generational effort at gardening is less industrious than was that of my parents. For them, a big garden was a means of helping feed a family of five children. All of the canning and freezing of vegetables was a lot of work. In our household it’s really just a pick it and eat it endeavor. In that respect we enjoy most of the produce in the moment, while holding on to what will keep (without much effort on our part) for later. Any extra the garden produces is given away – which is fun as well.

“Inch by inch, row by row. Someone bless these seeds I sow. Someone warm them from below.”
This prayer reminds me that gardening, for me, is not only practical work and mental health therapy; it is spiritual practice. My image of God is often that of a gardener, working in the midst of our lives, cultivating, pruning, training, producing, and harvesting. God invites us to grow and asks that we yield to a Gardener’s best practices when it comes to bearing fruit.

Maybe this is why the garden is for me such a natural place of prayer. Life began in a garden and I believe will begin again in a garden. God has never left the garden of Creation, but waits in eager expectation for the sons and daughters of creation to come into their own.

The work of discipleship is the tedious, enjoyable, cultivating work of tending – cultivating – training – pruning – producing – bearing and harvesting. Time to get back to the garden . . . . .

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Living Forwards

There is a quote attributed to philosopher Soren Keierkegaard that says: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I think this is a very apt saying in these days. In my pastoral visits and talks with people over the past few days, the conversation has often paused around current events for a time. Top among these events, of course, is the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s related happenings:
– Should school resume? If so, how? In person or online?
– When will we all be able to come back to church? As it used to be?
– When will this (virus, time of caution, etc.) be over?
– What will life (ministry, work) look like post-virus?

Many of these questions are forward looking. But they also carry a yearning for understanding that may only be available in hind sight – that is by looking backward. This makes me ponder the relationship between the choices we make to move forward, and how they will be judged when at last we can look backwards. Do you follow?

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Filed under #change, Christian Faith, COVID-19, Family, Hope, Leadership, Ministry, Spiritual Formation, Uncategorized

Staying Vigilant in Loving Others

Note: My day began with a news report that 31 states in the USA are now seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. Thankfully, Indiana is not among them. However, cases here remain steady and could always spike again. All of this has me thinking about what is asked of us as followers of Christ in doing our part to keep the virus from spiking? This blog post attempts to address that question.

I have often thought that pastoring a congregation is something like trying to herd cats. Cats, in my observation, are some of the most independent mammals on earth – next to human beings that is. As an American Baptist I have long respected the individualism of our faith heritage. Baptists, in general, are a people who talk about freedom. We champion the religious freedom we enjoy in our nation, and we also champion the soul freedom of each individual to directly connect with God through Christ Jesus. We generally do not like to have our freedoms curtailed or imposed on by others. If you do not agree with that last sentence, I’d like to invite you to the next Baptist congregational meeting where any substantive change is being proposed.

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A Time to Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die. . . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn . . . Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,4

This past week our nation surpassed the 100,000 mark of persons who have died from the COVID-19 pandemic.  This morning I listened to a New York Times podcast that marked this awful milestone by sharing the names – and a little of the story – of 100 of those individuals.  I was moved by this memorial effort.

It is important that we remember and mourn these lives.  We may say, I don’t know them, how can I grieve?  To which I would say, you likely do know someone who has suffered a loss to COVID-19.  Our congregation mourns the loss of two of our members to date.  Our community has counted thirty-four deaths due to the virus.  In the future both of these numbers may rise.

Others have lost income, jobs, and security.  Many are living with a heightened sense of anxiety and have lost innocence, independence, and peace of mind.

Loss has a way of adding up, over time.  Loss not acknowledged or mourned can overwhelm us as its toll accumulates within our person.  If not processed, it will come out as anger, frustration, stress, or surface in other ways.

My own temptation is to press on, push down those feelings of loss, and not dwell on the bad news.  But that only works for a little while.  Each day something eventually reminds me that we are not in a normal time. There are visual cues everywhere, auditory ones as well.  The loss is often palpable.   

So, despite my first thought to not listen to today’s The Daily podcast, given its topic; I’m glad that I did.  It gave me permission to sit for a moment with the reality of those 100 lives, representing over 100,000 lives and over three times that world-wide.  

It helped me process some of what I’ve been feeling. It interrupted my day and my avoidance, pulling me back to simple faith amidst the uncertainty of life.  Faith, that now and in the end . . . . “all shall be well, and all shall be well” (a quote attributed to Julian of Norwhich which comes out of her arguing with God regarding the presence of suffering and death in the world).

Grief processed, mourning permitted, loss acknowledged, and – yes – prayer argued helps reset our mental outlook and reorient us under the care of the Good Shepherd, whom we follow even through death’s dark valley. 

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Producing the fruit of Perseverance

We discussed the topic of “perseverance” in a weekly Zoom Bible study yesterday, and it’s a topic I keep thinking about. Specifically, I’m pondering the extent to which perseverance is a human effort or a spiritual gift. What do you think?

While I do not find the word listed in any of the typical spiritual gift passages (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4), Paul does write about perseverance in Romans 5. There perseverance seems to have a quality of a spiritual fruit, if not gift. Paul writes, “we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” v.4

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Filed under Christian Faith, COVID-19, Hope, Leadership, Ministry, Pastors, Spiritual Formation