Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thinking of Thankfulness

In a month that we often find ourselves thinking of thankfulness, I've been thinking about un-thankfulness too. Putting a spotlight on thankfulness has shown me the flaws that often lurk in the dark corners of my heart. Selfishness. Discontent. Jealousy.

I typically put Bible verses at the end of my posts, but this scripture really hit home, so I'd like to put it front and center:

"Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened." 
Romans 1:21, NKJV

Oh, God, how you know me!  

I believe in God, but all too often I do not glorify Him as I ought. And, that's when it happens. I become selfish, negative, sharp with my kids and husband, and envious of others.

Or, as the verse more eloquently puts it: I become futile in my thoughts, and my foolish heart is darkened.

Thanksgiving day is almost here, and while it may be all too easy for us--flawed humans that we are--to get wrapped up in the stress of preparing a big meal, traveling, or thinking ahead to Christmas to-dos, we need to know God.

To remember God in the midst of it all. To seek Him without ceasing. Now more than ever.

Dear Lord: Please shine your light into our hearts, souls, and minds. Illuminate our flaws so we may see them and learn to live better. Bless us and our families with a safe, nourishing, and joyful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Finding Beauty in Unlikely Places

All Photos Copyright Elizabeth May, 2010

My last post talked about November, a quiet, little, modest month that often seems to get lost in the mad shuffle from Halloween straight to Christmas.

I also talked about simple joys, like a winter's walk, and how keen observation rewards its viewer. I thought I'd share a few images from just such a stroll. 

While my husband and I were blessed with sun and a vibrant blue sky when we took this walk in late 2009 at my parents' Ohio farm, the landscape didn't look like it would yield much in terms of visual interest. I took along my new camera anyway, and was rewarded richly.

Can't our spiritual relationships often be like a winter's walk? Giving forth surprising treasures when we take some quiet moments to delve into our Bible or pray?

God teaches us that beauty can be found anywhere, if only we take the time to look deeper.

Out in nature, my mind takes a deep breath and forgets the trappings and noise of our modern world. When it's just me (and my dogs!) out on a walk in the woods, there's only the crunch of my boots and the rustle of leaves...blessed, utter calm...

... and God. Not surprisingly, it's blessedly easy to connect with our Creator in the midst of the natural world.

Looking heavenward--both figuratively, and literally--rewards me with a new view. If only I'd look up more often...

At the end of my walk, I'm refreshed, inspired, soothed by the beauty of God's creation. I've learned that He provides even in these increasingly cold, dark days. 

"Each moment of the year has its own beauty." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dear Lord: It's easy to get stressed this time of year, to get caught up in our holiday to-do lists. It's just as easy to feel a little down, as we deal with colder temps, shorter days, less sunlight. Help us as we adjust to this new season. Comfort us with your light and beauty in the midst of the cold and dark. Give us wisdom to take our to-do's one thing at a time and surrender our worries to you. Help us to see with new eyes and find beauty everywhere--even where we least expect it. Amen.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November: The Humble Month

Photo Credit
Copyright 2010, Elizabeth May

November can be austere. Stripped of October's flash and all the Halloween hype, it's pensive, thoughtful--like a bookish cousin to the previous month's party mentality.

The former exclamation points of vivid leaves dotting our Pennsylvania hills have died down. Now it's just bare bark and the few last burnished brown oak leaves stubbornly clinging to their branches. Days are short, and mornings bring thick, robust frosts.

My decorations echo November's sensibility. I stow away the bold orange and black Halloween gear, and leave out garlands of muted fall leaves, gourds, Indian corn. I bring out wheat sheaf candle holders, wooden turkeys, and the ever modest Pilgrims figurines. I make hot tea. I sit in my front room and watch the world outside my picture window.

I've come to enjoy this quiet, unassuming month--sandwiched between the two biggest commercial holidays of the year--for what it is. A respite. A time to slow down. While I've met folks who go right from Halloween to decorating for Christmas and buying for Christmas and planning for Christmas, that's not November for me.

November walks--or most winter walks, for that matter--reward only the observant. I've had to learn to look with new eyes, in order to see beauty where I previously saw nothing. Now I can appreciate the etched look of black branches against the sky. A few vivid red rose hips on an otherwise barren bush. Scallop-edged pale green lichen patches on extravagantly textured tree trunks.

If I had to guess what November's defining personality trait was, I'd have to say humility.

Humility is not something we think much of much these days. "If you have it, flaunt it," seems to be the motto of the 21st century--certainly not "pride comes before the fall," or " the meek shall inherit the earth."

If you think humility seems like a quaint, old-fashioned concept that doesn't have much place in today's society, take a moment to consider what a few of the world's preeminent thinkers and scholars have said about humility.

Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues. ~
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. ~
William Shakespeare 

Humility makes great men twice honorable. ~
Benjamin Franklin 
Humility, like darkness, reveals the heavenly lights. ~
Henry David Thoreau 
Then, of course, there's the Biblical perspective:

Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life. ~
Proverbs 22:4, NIV

But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
Psalm 37:11, KJV

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. ~
Philippians 2:3
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. ~
Proverbs 11:2
Dear Lord: This November, help us to slow down and enjoy the quiet beauty of the world around us. Guide us as we seek humility in a world that seems to prize vanity and ostentation. Teach us how to value others above ourselves; help us learn to serve you with love and joy. Amen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finding Ways to Connect with God: Writing Prayers

"Rumor is you got some kind a power prayer, gets better results than just the regular variety," says Minny to Aibileen in the best-selling novel, "The Help."

"But that ain't me," modest Aibileen says. "That's just prayer."

"You got a better connection than most," Minny persists. "We all on a party line to God, but you, you setting right in his ear."

"The Help" follows the lives of three women in 1962-era Jackson, Mississippi--a young white woman and two black maids. Author Kathryn Stockett chronicles the way their lives become intertwined, and how they end up challenging the prevailing racial boundaries of their time and place, while also forging personal ties.

You might be wondering what the secret to Aibileen's power prayer was. It's pretty simple.

She wrote her prayers out. Every night.

It's easy for me to get distracted during silent internal prayer. Like Aibileen, I enjoy writing out my prayers. (Though, sadly, I'm not nearly as devoted as she.)

Writing my prayers has been an excellent way for me to focus and draw closer to God. (After all, it feels strange to start a sentence about my desire to be a more patient mother and then end it writing out a grocery list--though this is the kind of thing I do in my head all the time when I'm trying to pray.)

While writing my prayers helps me feel like I truly connect to God, the prayers themselves on the pages of my journal live on beyond the purpose of the moment. I find that I enjoy reading my prayers weeks, months, or even years later. I write in a stream-of-consciousness style when I'm prayer-writing (which is a real treat for me, as a professional writer--when I'm on assignment, I can never take such a laid-back approach). But, I'm often a little surprised by what I wrote. In a good way.

It's as if God moved me to be wiser or more eloquent than I usually am. And, I'm sure he has.

When I take time to write with God, he gives me that coveted "connection"; he also gives me a feeling of peace and contentment, a sense of release after I give my cares over to him, and inspiration. My journal pages have played host to book ideas, article pitches, poem drafts.

He gives more than I, in my all-too-human selfishness, deserve. He gives me hope. He makes me feel like anything is possible when I send my writing heavenward.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 16: 11, KJV

Dear Lord: Please help all of us who seek a closer, clearer connection to you. Help to clear the static from our prayer lines. Guide us to the best way we can draw near to you--whether it's written prayer, spoken prayer, praying with friends or family, or some other creative form of worship. Amen.