Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Mirage Meanderings

According to Merriam-Webster a “mirage” is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over hot pavement.” It may have the appearance of a pool of water, but it is an illusory or unattainable reality. It also happens to be the name Mitsubishi gave its compact hatchback – an economy car if ever one was made – which I recently drove on vacation over 1500 miles in the great American West.

Our trip took us from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona along a circuitous route that passed through Alamosa, CO; Moab, UT; Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona AZ. Along the way we hiked, explored and photographed five national parks, a national monument, a couple of tourist traps, two of America’s metropolitan centers, and some state and local municipal parks. We spent time with family & friends and had plenty of windshield time to reflect.

As I coaxed the aforementioned Mirage up and over mountain passes, through valleys, forests and deserts, even managing once or twice to pass slower traffic; I kept coming back to the irony of its name in connection with it’s performance. While it had the “illusory” appearance of a car, you had to make an appointment with the accelerator to get up to speed. Long term comfort was “unattainable” given they way it hugged the pavement, revealing each and every crack, crevasse, seal, bump, alteration and pothole. Loading luggage was equivalent to working a jigsaw puzzle, as it only fit in one particular configuration. There was plenty of time for thinking with road noise making conversation challenging. And more than once we had a hard time locating where we had parked the thing, given it’s knack for disappearing between larger vehicles.

Please do not get me wrong. This first world problem of transportation did not inhibit our trip or in any lasting way make us suffer. We made all our planned connections, saw the destinations we had counted on, and rediscovered the beauty and wonder of our nation. It was a wonderful vacation on which the Mirage became something we laughed about. Sometimes it even surprised us, proving advantageous when it came to parking in crowded lots and prompting a smile at the gas pump.

In today’s hectic and turbulent world, a vacation can be as illusory or unattainable for some as a mirage. Our ten plus days in the West and Southwest afforded a disengagement from the news as well as the responsibilities of daily life. I disciplined myself not to check work email, to mostly stay away from news sources, and shun social media. Still, the harsh and horrid scenes of the war in Ukraine, and mass shooting in Uvalde came forth. When, if ever, might those individuals find days of extended leisure, travel, or disengagement from life’s hard truths? Such dreams must seem a mirage.

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An Easter Foot Race

Each of the Gospels has its own unique emphasis as it shares the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. In John chapter 20 we are told how Peter and John ran to the tomb after Mary reported it was empty. Verse four says, “The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” Why was this detail of having arrived first, important to John? Did it give him bragging rights? “I beat Peter to the tomb!” I have often puzzled over this aside within the Easter story. On Easter there was a race and John outran Peter. It seems like the kind of detail one commits to memory around a life changing event. It’s the event that is important, but it’s importance is mirrored in the details that are remembered around it. For John, outrunning Peter was one of those details.

But they were not the first to run that morning. Backing up to verse two we see that Mary Magdalene was the first to run. She ran from the tomb to tell Peter and John what had been discovered: the tomb was empty. They ran to the tomb to verify her claim and see for themselves. Lot’s of running.

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02-22-2022

There are certain calendar dates that get your attention. You know what I mean, right? We all know the date 9-11-2001. Many of you remember 12-07-1941. What about 11-22-1963 or 04-04-1968? Those are the dates of John F. Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassinations. Then there is 1-28-1986? That’s the day of the Challenger’s explosion. What about 11-11-1918? That’s the date a cease fire was signed (at 11 a.m.) to stop the hostilities of WW I. Then there’s 5-8-1945 (VE Day) and 8-14-1945 (VJ Day or Victory in the Pacific Day). Every generation has it’s significant dates we commemorate. Some are great, some are sad, most are never to be forgotten.

When you add in your own personal dates, birthdates, anniversary dates, death dates of loved ones, we each have a number of dates we more or less keep track of. They may not be on our minds every day, but when that day rolls around on the calendar, we pay attention to it.

My wife teaches first grade. In first grade they keep track of days. For example the 101st day of school is a big day. It might be associated with 101 Dalmatians. The 180th day of school is an even bigger day – it’s the last day of school for the year. Lori told me that her class would be observing today’s date as well. It’s not often one comes across a date like 02-22-2022. That’s six “2’s”! One of our grandson’s recently turned 2 years old. I think he would be excited about all those “2’s” in todays day. Are you?

On March 2 the first graders always celebrate Dr. Seuss day – its the birthday of Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel – he of the rhymes and writings of all things seussical. It also happens to be my birthday. I’m not too proud to say there have been years when I was not all that excited to share the day with a guy that has been dead for so long! I’m still trying to get over it.

What are the days and dates that you recall. My Grandma Cash always spoke of “old blue Monday”. Monday, it seems, was the day my Grandpa Cash, her husband, died. She commemorated that day of the week often in his absence. Do you have any days of the week like that? What about days of the month or year?

I have not always done a good job remembering dates associated with loved ones. FaceBook helps me remember birthdays now – sometimes a little too much! But I do remember my Dad’s birthday – 04-07-1929, and my Mother’s 03-08-1932. I could not, however, tell you when their Anniversary comes around – sometime in October.

Sometimes a date only means something to an individual or a handful of individuals. For example, I remember the date I started my current pastorate. My first Sunday was 11-11-2007. This past year I was surprised when a church member mentioned the day to me and told me she had it written on her calendar.

Sundays have always been dates that featured prominently in my memory. It stands to reason that pastor’s know the calendar dates of a year’s Sundays. They are kind of big days in our routine. What are the big days in your routine?

Maybe on this unusual day – 02-22-2022 – it’s a good time to reflect on the days and dates of your life. Give thanks for those that bring a smile to your face. Try to move past the ones that make you frown or worry or bitter. Most of all, thank God for today. There’s never going to be another one like it.

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A Winter Spirituality

The poetry of Christina Rossetti, who gives us the hymn lyrics for In the Bleak Midwinter asks the reader/singer to pause and consider the spiritual gifts of this season.  Later composed into a hymn by Gustav Holst, this poem, originally titled A Christmas Carol, is replete with the imagery and feeling of this dormant season. Consider a few of the phrases she uses to conjure the imagery of winter’s starkness:

  • “Frosty wind made moan”
  • “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone”
  • “Snow on snow on snow”

It makes one cold and chilled just reading it! Yet, there is a purpose in winter’s fallow days. It is a season of replenishment as the rains and snows fall upon the earth. It is a season that marks the end to another cycle of growth and life – trees letting go of last year’s leaves and putting final touches on another ring of growth to gird their trunk. Winter is more than a mere season of meteorology, it is a spiritual season as well.

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Up and Away

On a recent Sunday morning as I stood outside the front entrance of the church, getting some air and waiting to greet folks as they arrived, I looked up to see a hot air balloon aloft in the distance. Initially hardly more than a speck, the balloon gained in size as it closed the gap between us. Making use of a substantive air current, in just a few minutes it was overhead to the delight of a growing group of worship arrivals. Many, like me, were snapping photos, angling to catch both the balloon and the peak of the church building in their picture. Others were speculating who the pilot might be, naming a local man known to have flown balloons for some time. Some arrived commenting on how they had been watching the balloon as they drove in that morning. Still others were recalling prior hot air balloon experiences they’d had – a ride while traveling in Australia, attendance at the Albuquerque, New Mexico festival.

Photo taken by Dan Cash

I rather wished we could’ve relocated worship outdoors that morning, given the blue sky and warm weather. Then speculated how challenging it would be to keep a congregation’s attention while a hot air balloon went over. Not a chance! I think you’d have to call an audible, suspending whatever was happening in worship, to let people enjoy the sight.

There is something rather uplifting and serene about seeing a hot air balloon aloft. I was immediately taken back a few weeks to having witnessed four in flight together over Colorado while taking a morning walk. Then recalled another occasion, years prior, also in Colorado, having come upon a balloon festival near Aspen. The fields were in full color that day as the balloons dotted the landscape. Maybe it’s the size, colors or the silence of these airborne vessels that can stop you short when you see them. Their hushed travel interrupted by the occasional plume of fire gushing more air into the balloon. It’s the rhythmic music of rests with the occasional whole note of gas, igniting the elevated air ship to greater heights and distance.

Some years ago our church observed our own neighborhood celebration with tethered hot air balloon rides on the lawn. People lined up and waited for their turn in the basket, young and old alike, a quick up and down ride that offered a taste of what such travel might entail. It was a great part of a fun day together, it’s memory brought back by the unexpected spotting of our Sunday morning balloon guest.

FBC Faithful at 50 Celebration in 2014.

Worship is sometimes described as that which creates or facilitates an encounter with God, causing the worshipper to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and holiness. Much effort can go into the elements that lead to worship on a typical Sunday. A preacher will spend hours crafting a sermon. Musicians will rehearse. Worship leaders give much thought the service’s flow. Then there are the other moments, like the one that spontaneously developed outside the front entrance to the church this past Sunday. A moment when an unexpected worship leader caused us to look up, reflect, and notice the wonders of life as God has created it.

Turns out we didn’t need to relocate worship outside the church, it had already happened. We had been called to a moment through the artistry and simplicity of an overhead leader causing us to stop and worship God outdoors, before we went inside to continue.

Photo taken by Wayne Lovelace

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