Category Archives: Bible

Related to Scripture

Musing: Hands

Hands, Massage Therapy. Photo: TLClark, 6/10/2020.

Emily, an Hospice Massage Therapist, was here today. With gentle touch she provided some relief from the deep bone pain (related to metastasized cancer) experienced by my best beloved.

At one point John looked at me and asked if I was going to take a picture. He then proceeded to tell her about my interest in photography. So what could I do but get the camera?!!

Emily’s tools are her hands. As such they have their own special insurance policy. After all, if something happens to her hands she’s out of a job!

Massage Therapy, Hand. Photo: TLClark, 6/10/2020.

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Later I looked at several scripture passages that mentioned hands. This one, a prayer, stood out to me:

“And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Acts 4:29-30 NRSV

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p.s. When I started this post a week ago I thought about the simple act of holding a person’s hand – something we don’t do outside our homes in this era of COVID-19. Then I wondered about hands and healing in scripture. Before I knew it I needed to be taking care of other business. So, here it is a week later than intended with only a postscript added to complete it.

“Whatever Happens”

Forest. Soft Pastels Drawing by Teressa L. Clark.

A poem for these times from Wendell Berry.

Whatever happens,
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
into the lasting world
and will not leave,
whatever happens.

– Wendell Berry, 1998 I, in This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected & New 1979-2013 (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2013), 183.

The note I wrote in the margin is “love one another.” It’s the new commandment Jesus gave after washing the disciple’s feet.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

– John 13:34-35, NRSV

Today I’d circle the phrase “whatever happens.” The pandemic has made life seem surreal. A month ago my best beloved said, “We are living in a science fiction story.” He’s right. Whatever happens isn’t likely to be what we might have expected two months ago.

I wonder…
Are we learning to better love one another?
Are we discovering the lasting world?
Have we experienced love that will not leave?

Whatever happens, dear friends, may you know you are loved.
And may you make your way into the lasting world.

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Note about the illustration: We have been doing art (or maybe just playing) with colored pencils, watercolor, soft pastels or acrylic paints every Tuesday and Thursday since social distancing and stay-at-home orders started. But not on our own! We’re following Facebook Live Instructional Art Videos by Paula Rotshafer. Look for The Creative Quarantine public group on Facebook or click here.

Musing: Worship in the Time of COVID-19

Sunday Morning Sun on Roses. Photo: TLClark, 3/15/2020.

The roses had graced the kitchen table for more than a week.
On Sunday they became altar flowers.

In this time of physical social distancing
and with a householder in a high-risk category,
we opted to worship God at home.

Come, let’s sing out loud to the LORD!
Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!
Let’s come … with thanks!
Lets shout songs of joy…!

Psalm 91:1-2, Common English Version

There were plenty of options to watch worship.
But I opted to create something a bit more hands-on.
(It might have something to do with the ministerial training in me.)

After Worship, 3/15/2020. Photo: TLClark.
  • SINGING using a keyboard and the songbook Songs & Prayers from Taize;
  • READING from a Bible, the Revised Common Lectionary passages for the day (can be found online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library);
  • PRAYING for others using an intercessory prayer from The New Century Hymnal;
  • LISTENING and humming, and singing along to the “Lord of Light” CD by the St. Louis Jesuits (Bob Dufford, S.J.; John Foley, S.J.; Tim Manion; Roc O’Connor, S.J.; and Dan Schutte);
  • and PRAYING as the Spirit led with paper and colored pencils.
John Praying with Colored Pencils. Photo: TLClark, 3/15/2020.

But the time is coming–and is here!–
when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:23a, Common English Bible

In ordinary times we gather on Sunday morning with other Christians.
For now, this works.

Be well, Friends.

Please wash your hands
and keep a physical distance from others.

And, if it’s in your spirituality, offer a prayer today for patients and their families,
for the the many, many people working to care for those who are sick,
for researchers and lab workers,
for decision makers,
and for everyone who’s regular routine has been upended.

Musing: “Bear Traps”

Shoes on Rug at Front Door. Photo: TLClark, 3/8/2020.

Everything in its place.
A place for everything.

It’s not just about being neat.
It’s about being safe.

You must not insult a deaf person or put some obstacle in front of a blind person that would cause them to trip. Instead, fear your God; I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:14, Common English Bible

I led a memorial service not so long ago for a man who became blind at the age of 18. He participated in programs at Iowa Commission for the Blind and quickly learned to read and write Braille. He also learned to cook, do laundry, keep house, get around on his own, be independent.

One day he arrived home to discover his mother had rearranged the furniture. She’d unwittingly designed an obstacle course which they quickly dubbed a “bear trap.”

Shoes by the front door are a bear trap.
Throw rugs are bear traps.
Moving the spices in the cupboard makes a different sort of bear trap, but a bear trap all the same.

Any obstacle that might trip one up is a bear trap.

The more I consider the verse from Leviticus (above), the more I think that it’s not just about the physical stuff that might block another’s way. It’s also about the obstacles we set up that, intentionally or not, make life more difficult for another.

Steer clear of bear traps, friends.
Don’t set up obstacles that cause another to fall.
And remove bear traps for others.
It’s not only kind. It’s faithful.

Musing: Be Salt

Salt Shaker. Photo: TLClark, 2/26/2020.

“You are the salt of the earth.”

Matthew 5:13a, CEB

I’ve been thinking about salt.

It started with a call from a funeral director. He had a family who was not connected to any church but wanted “prayers said for Craig.” I met with the family the next day and led the memorial service a few days later.

Salt Shaker with Box and Spilled Salt. Photo: TLClark, 2/26/2020.

Everyone who knew Craig knew that he always carried a bottle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. When asked why he’d say, “Everything tastes better with Lawry’s salt on it.”

It’s one of those quirky things remembered when someone has died. Having never met Craig, I would have forgotten it except for two sermons I heard the following weekend.

Salt Shaker with Poured Salt. Photo: TLClark, 2/26/2020.

A retired Catholic priest talked about throwing salt around. Be generous with it. Everywhere you go, fling it out into the world.

I’m still not sure about throwing salt at anyone. But I really like the image of indiscriminate extravagance. Spreading goodness and joy, love and laughter and kindness – anything that makes life a little easier or a bit more pleasant.

Salt Crystals. Photo: TLClark, 2/26/2020.

My pastor talked about being salt. Be seasoning. Add flavor wherever you are, wherever you go in the world.

The challenge: be salt even when it’s hard. Shake up a conversation when it turns negative. Speak up on behalf of one is marginalized or oppressed. Stand up for what is right no matter the cost.

Salt Shaker – Color. Photo: TLClark, 2/26/2020.

May you be salt, dear friends.
May you share salt with indiscriminate extravagance.
May everything taste better because of you and your salty goodness.

Revelation: To Encourage

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

I know there are some beautiful images in the book of Revelation, but I seem to have bought into the idea that the book was written to frighten and condemn. In rereading and reflecting on what is actually written I’ve come away with a new appreciation for this last book in the Christian canon.

John’s revelation is written as a letter to encourage and to challenge other followers of Jesus. The world as he knows it is in shambles. Churches are struggling. Members of the body of Christ are trying to do the right thing but it’s so hard, so confusing. Does it matter? Who cares?

Chapters two and three of Revelation are a series of shorter letters, one each to seven different churches. I was surprised by the notes of encouragement. For example, five of the churches are assured that their patient faithfulness has been noticed and is not in vain.

Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance …  I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” – Rev. 2:2-3

Pergamum: “I know …you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me…” – Rev. 2:13

Thyatira: “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.” – Rev. 2:19

Philadelphia: “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” – Rev. 3:8

“Hang in there,” the author is saying. “You’ve got this.”

During a particularly nasty time in one of my pastorates I led a funeral at a local funeral home for someone who was without a faith community. Making small talk after the service, the funeral director turned to me and said “I see the nonsense at the church is causing a few gray hairs.” It was nearly a throw-away comment. But it meant the world to me. Someone who was not in the fray had noticed and was cheering me on.

Whatever your difficult situation, especially one that is not what you wanted or is not what you expected, hang in there. You’ve got this. It will be OK. You’ve been noticed – by colleagues, by friends, by God. Don’t give up. Keep the faith. We’re cheering for you and believe you will make it through.

Revelation: God Is

Headstone Carving – Handshake. Photo: TLClark, 2019.

“John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from [the one] who is and who was and who is to come …”

Revelation 1:4b (NRSV)

Yes, dear one, there is a God.

Is. Present tense. Now. Today.

Not just today.
But also yesterday.
And tomorrow.

Is. Every today.
Was. Every yesterday.
Is to come. Every tomorrow.

Grace and peace to you from God, the Timeless One.

John, the self-identified author of Revelation, has been exiled to the island of Patmos. The world as he knew it has disappeared. Nothing is as it was. No one knows what is next. There are more questions than answers.

He receives a revelation from God through Jesus. Imaginative, bizarre, and strangely reassuring.

There is a God. In the midst of conflict and chaos, when things have gone from bad to worse, when anxiety creeps in and despair takes over, God is.

“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'”

Revelation 1:8 (NRSV)

God, the Timeless One.

Alpha and Omega.
A and Z.
First and Last.
Beginning and End.
(And in-between? In the messy middle?)

All beginnings. All ends.
And all in-betweens.

Before the beginning and after the end.
Definitely in the messy middle.

God is.

“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

Revelation 4:8b,11

Revelation: Read Aloud

Headstone with Book. Photo: TLClark, 9/2019.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it;
for the time is near.

Revelation 1:3 (NRSV)

The time is always near. There are times when we are just more aware. Aware that life is precious. Aware that things will not stay the same. Aware that some things must end.

The book of Revelation is about end times. At least that’s my first thought when the book is mentioned. Full of weird visions and used by some (to try) to scare folks into heaven, it’s a part of the Bible I generally avoid.

But prompted by a presentation I heard last spring, I re-read the book The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. The chapter “A Story with Dragons: The Book of Revelation” nudged me toward a re-read of Revelation. So far I’ve avoided reading commentaries; that may change.

To add a little discipline to my reading and reflecting, I decided to blog about what caught my attention. I won’t be doing a verse by verse interpretation – that seems tedious to me and would likely be boring for you. At the moment I’m thinking a total of 10 or 12 posts for a book that has 22 chapters.

First observation: Revelation is meant to be read aloud. The words are heard differently when received through our ears rather than our eyes. The text paints some fairly vivid pictures. When I read aloud or am paying attention while another reads aloud, the images have time to develop. I can’t just skip past without nothing more than a glance.

Blessed,” the author says, “blessed is the one who reads aloud … and the one who hears.”

Keeping eyes and ears and heart open with high hopes of encountering the blessing. – Teressa

Musing: Persistence and God

My beloved and I tend to worship God with other Christians twice every weekend: with a Roman Catholic parish on Saturday evening and with a congregation of the United Church of Christ on Sunday morning.

One benefit is getting to sing a wider variety of hymns.

Another is hearing two different sermons on the same Biblical text. (Or, in my case some weeks, hearing one sermon on Saturday and preaching a sermon on Sunday.)

I cannot tell you most of what either preacher said this last weekend. Which is pretty normal. Even when I’m the preacher I don’t remember much of the sermon the next day. Just a main point or two. Or maybe a good illustration.

The text last weekend was the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

Luke 18:1-5 (NRSV)

It’s a parable, a story to make us think. As a parable, there is more than one way to interpret it – even when an interpretation is given in the text (see Luke 18:6-8).

Today I’m remembering the persistence of the widow and the call to not lose heart in prayer – individually (my own life), communally (in the life of the congregation), and world wide. Keep praying. It may not change the situation directly. But it may change me and my response to what is happening. Don’t give up.

But I’m also reconsidering the widow. Who is she, really? Me? You? Us?

Who is she pestering in her persistence? If we are the widow, does that make God the unjust judge?

What if the widow is God? God is the persistent the one. God is the one who never gives up. God pesters the unjust (me?) until the unjust relents and does the right thing.

It’s a parable. Told to make us think.

Thanks be to God for Fr. Michael for naming the widow as God and for all who cause us to rethink what we thought we knew.

Musing: Refuge in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

Psalm 46:1-3, NRSV
Window, St. John United Church of Christ, Melbourne, Iowa. Photo: TLClark, 9/29/19.

We were singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by Martin Luther Sunday morning when I looked across the front of the sanctuary and saw the window pictured above. Too bad I hadn’t seen it earlier – I would have pointed it out while preaching! Did you know Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46?

I quoted Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen more than once in the sermon. Here’s my favorite quote:

“Taking refuge does not mean hiding from life.  It means finding a place of strength, the capacity to live the life we have been given with greater courage and sometimes even with gratitude.”

Rachel Naomi Remen, M D., My Grandfather’s Blessings:  Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, p.165.

Four or five years ago I lead a series of one-day retreats centered on themes from the Psalms. The first focused on God as a refuge/fortress/dwelling place/shelter and used the last line of Psalm 2:13 as the starting point: “Happy are all who take refuge in the Lord.”

Before the end of the day, I invited participants to reflect on questions that moved from being sheltered by God to being agents who join in God’s effort to provide shelter for others. Here are the questions as preserved in my notes:

  • Where have you found a refuge in the midst of life’s storms?
  • Who has modeled God’s loving care in your life?
  • How or when have you provided shelter for others?
  • Who in your local community is in need of shelter today?  How might you respond?
  • What organizations or agencies provide refuge in places around the world?  How might you join their efforts?

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2, NRSV