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“Resting in God: Like the Flowers of the Field”

Matthew 6: 25-30 (NRSV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or about your body, what you will wear. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these… “

Hosea 14:4-7 (NRSV)
“I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily…
they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon..”

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2007

Reflecting on this icon

What do you worry about most?

How do you envision God taking care of you like God cares for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?

How do you feel yourself blossoming inside or outside?

What is most satisfying about this icon image for you and how is it a window to God?

The Sheer Joy of God’s Humor

Ah, God’s humor. The closer I get to God the funnier I think God is. God‘s humor can be quite complex—or very simple. Sometimes I can only appreciate God’s complex humor in retrospect, like when I’m trying to pursue a life stance that does not fit me anymore and everything falls apart and I finally go to God asking for help and the response is, “HELLO… hello there. I’ve wondered when you would be ready to hear what I have for you that is life-giving.” Only after I’ve seen how hard I was trying to avoid change and also avoid God’s largess for me do I see how God must have been chuckling, gently waiting for me to come to the end of my own efforts. Kind of like watching me try to find my way out of a maze with no outlets when all the time there was a labyrinth available whose sole purpose is to bring me on a secure circling path to God.

Other times God’s humor is simple and things happen that bring sheer joy and laughter. This is not the kind of humor that our culture enjoys, like making mother’s-in-law or people from Iowa look bad or catching people in embarrassing incidents. God’s humor is the sacred and simple kind that I feel when I know that God is here, making connections, being a wise guy in the best sense. I will share a few of these simple God moments, hoping that you will see a few of God’s imprints on your own life.

Just a few weeks ago a friend of mine, a spiritual soul friend, told me that he felt grateful for our companionship. He expressed thankfulness that we understand one another’s spiritual journey and the way it plays out in our lives. I agreed wholeheartedly since he is one of my best work colleagues and friends. He said our relationship reminded him of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi, who were spiritual soul mates several centuries ago. I was deeply moved because I had visited Assisi in the gentle hills of Italy and I not only loved this quaint and spiritual place but I was struck with the story of how much St. Francis and Clare helped one another in their lives and work. I left the meeting with my friend feeling grateful and blessed.

The next day, one of my other friends who does not know the soul friend I was talking with, but who is also a dear friend and spiritual director, brought me a quote from a daily spiritual guide she is reading. The guide contains quotes from a host of spiritual women mystics. She had one particular quote in mind that talked about being more connected with the marginalized in society and living more simply. It moved me deeply because it spoke of the work I am called to do. One part of the quote was particularly meaningful. “The Lord only promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor. That’s because anyone who loves temporary material blessings loses the fruits of love.” This quote was from the letters of Clare of Assisi. The woman I just claimed as my model. Sheer joy. God’s humor.

Another example is a dream I had in the middle of my attempt to sell my condo and move to a simpler life. I was discouraged and had heard from God, in prayer, that I should cease my efforts. A few days later I had a dream in which I was in my condo and it started moving. I found out my condo was on top of a large pick-up truck driving me to another location. A mysterious holy essence was driving the truck. I felt that God was telling me that I was not in charge but that we were already moving inwardly, not outwardly. The message was; just relax. More simple humor.

Money can be a source of anxiety for me, even though I know God is always watching over my finances. Sometimes I just need more reassurance. Know the feeling? So I periodically ask God for a little sign that all is well and that I am going to be OK. Invariably I find a coin in an unusual place, like in a windowsill or in a potted plant, or I find several coins in an unusual formation, like a circle in the street. Or I will get a totally unexpected check in the mail just to reassure me that God is aware of my fears and will provide. Each time one of these gifts appear I just smile. Sometimes I laugh out loud, like when the check is for the exact amount of money to cover an emergency expenditure on my car. Sheer joy. I love the feeling, that divine humor is at work.

One of my friends was praying earnestly for a consulting job that would make use of his best gifts. The very day he began praying he got a call from a client and he was off and running on a large project he loved. The next morning in prayer he laughingly said to God, “Never mind.” It reminded him of the Gilda Radner character on the humor show, Laugh In, for those who remember her or watch reruns. She would go on and on about a subject emphatically stating her point of view. Someone would interrupt her to say the issue had been solved or they would inject a fact that proved her wrong. She would pause and then say, in a high screechy voice, “Never mind.”

Any of these things could just be coincidences but when they happen over and over—and when they are connected to a deep longing and connection to God they may be more than coincidence. One of my spiritual directors said that coincidences are just God’s way of remaining anonymous. The thing for me to do then, is to remember. Notice. Stop. Be grateful. Smile. Feel the joy. Thank God.

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
When have you experienced God’s humor?

How did you recognize it was God?

What reassurances do you ask God for?

What coincidences are you most grateful for?

What humorous thing is God doing in your life now?

Beauty as a Thin Place

One of the ways my soul finds intimacy with God is by immersing itself in beauty. Beauty that speaks of God’s closeness to me include vivid sunrises that shoot purple streaks across the sky, a song whose lyrics go so deep into my memory I cry, or a garden so lovingly tended that I feel God’s spirit in the design, color and scent. I have to confess, too, that moments in sports in which everything moves like poetry, such as the double play in baseball, speak to me of sacred beauty as well. It is as if all is one, and I am connected at a deeper level to the essence of beauty, the Spirit of God behind the beauty.

Another way to say this is to name beauty as a thin place, a place in which the veil between this world and the eternal is temporarily lifted and I get a glimpse of the Holy. Thin places send shivers through my body, make me stop and just absorb the holy. Thin places are everywhere, but if our awareness is not attuned we miss them. They can be stunningly simple, like sunrises or sun dogs around the winter sun, or they can be seemingly complex, like the beauty of a life transformed by forgiveness, a physical illness embraced as gift, or the appearance of an angel. As gifts from the Holy, these are all available to us, but we vary in our willingness to stop and see them.

I’ve explored several ways in which beauty as a thin place has deeply affected my life. One form of beauty I’ve liked since childhood is storms. I used to sit in our three-season porch and watch as the sky turned a yellowish color preceding a big storm. The wind rose, the atmospheric pressure dropped and the first few big drops of rain started to fall. The sky darkened and the rain pelted the windows on our porch. Sometimes we’d get hail stones in our yard, and usually when it started hailing my parents made me come into the house. When I was permitted to go outside again, after the storm, everything seemed cleansed, even renewed.

Now I live in a condo eleven stories above the ground and I can see the storms coming very clearly. I sit out on my deck and watch them, just like I did as a child. Storm cloud formations are dramatic, almost regal, as their huge peaks march across the sky. Storms are, for me, thin places that speak of the mystery of God and the power of nature.

But there are inner storms as well, that act in similar ways as outer storms in my life. They may buffet me about, scare me, send hail into my well planned life, or even stop me totally so all I can do is watch. Sometimes I witness the destruction of something I’ve been clinging to for dear life. Sometimes, when I need a good jolt, my whole body will get involved in a storm, like when I occasionally have an allergic reaction to someone who is unsafe for me. I get sick to my stomach until I agree to put distance between us. The storm is swift and sure. But the cleansing is refreshing afterwards. Storms have a way of wearing away my edges that have become sharp with time. They soften my soul.

Another special form of beauty is the gift of fore-giveness. This becomes an especially thin place for me if I forgive someone else before they forgive me—thus the word fore-giveness. To be the first to forgive starts a special rhythm in my life, a freedom beat. I release the cords that are binding me to another. I let go of the resentment that I carry like a yoke on my shoulders, and I release the need to be vindicated. It frees my soul to take the next steps of intimacy with God.

When I forgive, I do not always tell the other person I’ve done it, but it changes my behavior. I do not need to be angry or spiteful or blaming. Sometimes I write a letter of forgiveness that I do not send. As part of this letter I try to investigate what part of the issue I brought to the table, so I can be honest and forgive myself as well. Do I get reconciliation as a result of forgiving? Occasionally. Reconciliation is a miracle but not a sign of success. Fore-giveness is a beautiful thin place because it transforms me, sets me free, offers me more of the Eternal.

To see beauty as a thin place means I can see the beauty of holy intimacy itself, my connection with the Holy in the world. If I can accept beauty as a gift from God, as a way in which God draws near to me out of love and a desire for connection, then maybe I can live as if I really am God’s beloved. What would it mean if I would take in that truth, that I really am God’s beloved, in whom God is well pleased? It would have to be life changing. I know my heart desires this truth. I know my heart desires beauty. And I know beauty is a thin place.

The 16th century saint and mystic, St. John of the Cross, writes cogently about his heart’s deepest desire in these words.

The Essence of Desire
I did not
have to ask my heart what it wanted,
because of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of
all desire;

to know beauty.

When I first experienced beauty as a thin place, I designed a book depicting twenty of my thin places, naming each page “the beauty of…”. Each page is a gift to ponder. I’ve mentioned several in this essay but here are the rest; the beauty of relinquishment, the beauty of the fire, the beauty of paradox, the beauty of self-worth, of restrictions, of silence, of simplicity, of mystery. The beauty of our differences, of humility, of birth and death, of our shadows, of fearless giving, of embracing, of transcendence, and of holy intimacy. Beauty is a thin place…

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.
St. John of the Cross’ poem is from Love Poems From God

Reflections on this essay
How do you experience beauty?

What affect does that beauty have on you?

How do your thin places affect your life?

How can you cultivate more beauty in your life?

How do St. John’s words speak to you?

Which of the thin places mentioned surprises you the most and why?

Reflections on this video
How have you experienced God’s humor?
How does it affect the situation you are in?
How does it change your view of God?

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