Our dog demanded to go outside this morning before the sun rose. Stars shone in the inky sky above. Above each house on our street a white mist rose from each chimney. The crunch of the snow beneath my feet told much about the icy air that stung me between my wool hat and up turned collar. And immediately I remembered the wisdom of the Psalmist who did not have a well insulated house nor a gas furnace. “Who can withstand God’s icy blast?”
But the Psalmist did not stop with snow and hailstones. He anticipates spring when God sends his word that causes the waters to flow.
When have you looked beyond a current hardship?
He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.
Psalm 147:16-18 (NIV)
Normally I pay no attention to pseudo holidays, those days designated by one organization or another to commemorate this thing or that event, except chocolate ice cream soda day. But that is a different matter all together. But today’s holiday really grabbed me.
Today’s holiday celebrates neither a thing, nor a person, nor an event, but a process. This process has impressive benefits and few if any costs. Scientists studying this process have detected quantifiable improvements in participants’ physical and psychological health. It measurably reduces levels the stress hormone cortisol and raises the hormone oxytocin which facilitates feelings of trust and attachment. It takes only a few seconds, but doing this longer and more frequently is normal. It is inexpensive, safe, and effective.
Complete strangers can benefit from this process. Thus some people have been known to stand at shopping malls and offer this process for free to any and all takers.
And romantic partners benefit significantly more. One respected sex therapist recommends couples engage in this process standing on their own two feet, neither supporting their partner nor being supported, focusing deeply on themselves, until they thoroughly relax. He writes about doing this process with his wife for ten to twenty minutes, sometimes even longer.
In our media oriented society where sending texts and email or updating one’s status on Facebook qualifies as a friendly connection, I can understand why this process warrants its own special day.
With whom might you engage in this process
to physically express God’s love?
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven: …
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
– Ecclesiastes 3:1, 5b (NRSV)
January is a great month for health clubs. It’s the month when millions of people decide to get fit. Hundreds of thousands of people will investigate clubs in their area and invest in a membership in one. Then for the next several weeks they will go daily, at least every few days, … well twice last week, … this week will be better. And by spring tens of thousands of people are still at it, to some degree.
I can relate to this. For over twenty years I have been doing exercises for my back. I have developed detailed plans and tracking methods. They all have worked for several months. Then an unusual event or trip interferes with my new routine and I miss a day. And once having demonstrated that I can miss a couple of days, I am more likely to excuse missing a few more times to exercise. And soon I am down to exercising only a couple of times a week, next week will be better, … Then my back will ache and I will get back into my exercise routine again or start a new routine.
My struggle with maintaining a regular exercise routine has taught me about repentance. Like my exercise routines, turning toward God has happened in the past with continuing efforts to return toward God.
Repentance, like exercising, continues longer with other like-minded people. For a few years I swam laps at the same time on several days each week alongside other people. When I missed a day, they would ask where I had been and encourage my return, as I would also do for them. Similarly each worship service includes a unison prayer of confession and passing of the peace as we welcome our neighbors return.
My exercise program has succeeded, not because of continuous success, but because of repeatedly returning.
Therefore tell the people: This is what the LORD Almighty says:
‘Return to me,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD Almighty.
– Zechariah 1:3 (NIV)
Have you ever been stuck behind a large slow-moving truck?
I have lived in places with curved hilly roads where heavy trucks would lumber up hills and carefully navigate curves. Hills that my little car would zip over and curves that practice had taught me where to enter and how fast they could be taken even when wet. Early in my career a mentor had called those slow-moving trucks enforced prayer time.
One could anxiously look for an opportunity to pass those trucks, but they would be few and far between. Often when the road straightened those same trucks would pick up enough speed to make passing unnecessary or unduly hazardous. Occasional roadside crosses often bore witness to more daring drivers. Thus I would often use those interminable minutes following a slow-moving truck listening for God.
This week perilous cold and blowing and drifting snow encouraged us to cancel our Sunday morning worship service and then clog local roads for two straight days. Although some people deemed their travel essential or desired to test their driving skills, we chose to stay home until the roads had cleared. For two days we got to sit at home read, relax, and listen to God.
How have you encountered God during this perilous cold?
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
– Psalm 27:13-14 (NRSV)
This morning a fresh layer of snow covers the bare branches and dried plants from last year. Only a hope for a new beginning remains visible. A hope that this year our maple tree will push forth healthier leaves. A hope for ripe tomatoes, crisp spinach, and pungent basil.
Nature demonstrates for me my hopes for the coming year, that my experiences from the previous year will be put behind and fresh opportunities and relationships will blossom. The changing of the calendar reminds me to take inventory of that I wish to hold onto and things I might avoid should they arise again.
Shedding of what has been with renewed hope for what might be warrants celebration with cheering and song and good food so we might joyously thank friends and family and especially God our creator for renewal in the coming year.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
– 2 Corinthians 5:17