Thursday, April 16, 2015

SPRING, THE LOVER

SPRING, THE LOVER
Leona Choy

Spring startled me today
as I shook out the dust mop.
He took me by surprise
for I didn't realize
he was around yet.

He slipped behind me
ruffled my hair with the wind
kissed my cheek with the sun
and then laughed
to see me blush.

His warm breath caressed my neck
teasing me, making me restless
as I swept winter from the porch.
I tried to get him off my mind
by staying inside at humdrum tasks.
Spring rustled the curtains to get my attention
and flirted with me
through the open window.

I can’t resist him!
I must run away with him
right away today, so I race
with trowel and seeds in hand
to our garden rendezvous
our "special place"
eager once more
for the touch of the rich mulch
and sweet earthy scent
of Virginia country soil.

Despite the lingering chill
of the retreating March wind
in ecstasy I kneel
in the moist flower bed
breathing hard, delighted to feel
basic nature and the hope of life
incipient in the seed
that is about to experience
resurrection.

So I yield to my impulse…
I cast off my winter inhibition
and yield to the thrill
of Spring's embrace!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

IS GROANING OKAY?

“Meanwhile we groan....” (2 Corinthians chapters 4 and 5) Some of us do at times. And then feel guilty about it.

What is a groan? “A low, mournful sound uttered in pain or grief; a guttural, almost inarticulate sound; a deep sighing due to a sudden or prolonged overburdening, as with a great weight or pressure,” defines the dictionary. That describes how we sometimes feel in our mortal bodies, these temporary buildings or tents, as our limitations and weaknesses increase, when our burdens grow heavy, and when our age weighs on us.

Some of the things that the Scripture lists which cause our groans are:

afflicted in every way (hedged in, pressed on every side)
perplexed (troubled and oppressed)
suffer embarrassments
unable to find a way out
persecuted (hard driven, pursued)
struck down (to the ground)
death (actively) working in us
earthly tent being torn down, destroyed, dissolved
being burdened
our outer man (progressively) decaying and wasting away

I wonder with how many of those situations we can identify? Especially when we find ourselves in prolonged, chronic weakened and painful situations.

There is a time to bear our suffering silently, enduring and persevering through the trials. And there are times when to “groan” and express our feelings helps to release our inward suffering. That is not the same as complaining. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit Himself groan with too-deep-for-words sounds as He intercedes for us? So He hears and understands our groans. The Spirit carries our often ill-formed and misdirected, and self-focused prayers directly to the Father through Jesus. But before they reach God, the Spirit shapes up our prayers and groans to be acceptable to the Father as promised in Romans 8:26-28.

Christ in Gethsemane must have groaned with the agony of anticipation of the trials and intense pain that was ahead of Him. He had a body of flesh like ours. His sweat was like drops of blood. He knew how physically helpless He would be when nailed to the cross unable to move and with the most excruciating suffering.

But the bright side of groaning is that we “don’t lose heart” -- “become discouraged, utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out, despondent with fear, faint with weariness...” (Eph. 3:13; Gal. 6:9; 2 Cor. 4:16). Whatever the trials or afflictions, we are not:

cramped or crushed
not driven to despair
not deserted to stand alone
never struck out and destroyed
the life of Jesus is manifest through us
our inner self is being (progressively) renewed day after day
we have from God a building, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens

If we find ourselves in a groaning situation, let's take courage and continually draw on God's strength until we see our Lord face to face. There is never a day or a night when we don’t need to lean hard on Him, even after a lifetime of walking close to God. Let's press even closer in afflicted times...and “groan” without feeling guilty.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

SINAI VS CALVARY

                                    Thoughts For Holy Week and Easter


On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land years ago I visited both MOUNTS. I confess that I only made it half way up massive Mount Sinai in our trek in the dark before dawn, although many of our tour group made it to the summit to view the sunrise. Moses must have been in good physical condition! The contrast between the two locations caused me to reflect.

THE TWO MOUNTS
Leona Choy

Sinai thunders “Do!”

Calvary whispers “Done!”

As Moses climbed Mt. Sinai
so I will try
sweating and straining
stumbling over rugged rocks
slipping on steep slopes
attempting Sinai's pinnacle
making it only half way.
Sinai thunders “Do!”
THE LAW, imposed for the good of man
measures with a perfect divine ruler
man's inability to attain
a "mission impossible" standard:
breaking one law
I stand condemned by all.

Calvary whispers “Done!”
GRACE, bought by the blood of the One
who dragged a rugged cross
over rough cobblestones
up Calvary—instead of me
and made it all the way
bought my freedom from the Law!

Sinai thunders “Do!”
Calvary whispers “Done—once for all—
Jesus declared:
IT IS FINISHED!”

Saturday, April 4, 2015

HIS SANDALS

                      Background
"And they all left Him and fled. And a certain young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he left the linen sheet behind, and escaped naked." 
Mark 14:50-52 (Mark is the only Gospel writer who records this incident.)

The early Church is practically unanimous in ascribing the Second Gospel to Mark, the cousin of Barnabas and associate of Paul and Peter. Strong tradition also supports the assertion that in this Gospel is recorded the recollections and preaching of Peter, who calls Mark "my son" in 1 Peter 5:13. Most scholars hold that this is the earliest of the four Gospels, safely dated between A.D. 50 and A.D. 70.
HIS SANDALS
Leona Choy
 
(An imaginary scenario)
What happened to Jesus’ sandals?

No one wanted them!
Soldiers jerked them off
to nail His bare feet
to a rough-splintered cross
callously casting lots
for His seamless garment.
They tossed aside His filthy sandals
caked with mud
and stained with blood
from scourging and His painful struggle
up Golgotha's hill
—not worth a throw of dice.

Then I noticed the sandals
hugged tightly under the arm
of a frightened youth.
They called him John Mark.
Where had I seen him before?
At the synagogue door?
Or helping his mother
host them all at the Last Supper?
Perhaps in Gethsemane
running naked from the grasp
of Jesus' enemy?

What would that lad do
with the precious sandals?
Were they just a souvenir
of a grizzly spectacle
that even in a later movie age
would be rated "R"
for violence and brutality?

Hiding alone in the shadows
on the fringes of the crowd
the young man watched wide-eyed
the suffering, dying Man on the cross.
Without Parental Guidance to explain
would he grasp the meaning
of this scandalous documentary?

Would this wide-eyed youth
understand the dreadful drama
he beheld that historic day
outside the city wall?
Would he realize God had planned
this event from Eternity?

Would God provide a mentor
to relate the significance
of the death of this Man
who laid aside His sandals and robe
in the Upper Room
and stooped to wash
the feet of His friends?

Would that youth ever wear 
those sandals? Would he dare?
Would he be found worthy
and chosen eventually
to walk in the sandals
of that Man of Galilee?
Would they be to him
like the mantle of Elijah
enduing him doubly
with power for service?

Would he wear those very sandals
to take the Good News
 one day far away
on missionary journeys?

YES! And he would write
in the Gospel that bears his name
for those who weren't there
those scattered everywhere
down the corridors of time
what he had seen firsthand
with his youthful eyes
and received from the keen memory
of Peter the fisherman-disciple
who had known
the beloved Christ of Galilee
and followed Him
in his own sandals!

Friday, April 3, 2015

JESUS' CROSS AND OURS


(Encore blog post by request for Easter Triduum)

I never thought very deeply about the story of Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His cross. 

Wasn't he just a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, an insignificant, curious passer-by, as he was referred to in the Scripture, who was randomly picked from the crowd? What was so important about that event that all three synoptic gospel writers would record it? In one of the Stations of the Cross we commemorate it. There must be more here than meets the eye!

Where is Cyrene? I was surprised to find that it is in North Africa not far from the modern day city of Benghazi in Libya which has been prominently in the news since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2012!

I searched for more information, I found that a condemned person was always forced to bear his own instrument of torture, in this case at least the heavy crossbeam of a cross. But the soldiers didn't want a prisoner to die on the way up the hill to his crucifixion because that would spare him from the planned cruel torture of a deliberately slow and painful execution. A criminal was deliberately crucified in a public place where it would serve as a warning and deterrent to would-be evildoers. Jesus was already staggering under the weight of the crossbeam and falling repeatedly from extreme weakness after his agonizing, prolonged scourging by the soldiers.

In various translations of this biblical passage Simon was said to have been “pressed into service” or “seized” or “compelled.” He obviously didn't volunteer; he had no choice; he was forced to do so at the point of a spear. 

Who was this Simon whom Mark so precisely identifies that he even records the names of his sons and that he had come to Jerusalem from “the country” or “the fields.”  Since Mark wrote his gospel for Jewish believers, it is likely that by the time he wrote the gospel story the inclusion of the names of his sons in Mark 15:21 may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community. Tradition says that Simon's sons Rufus and Alexander became missionaries of the gospel; It has also been suggested that the Rufus mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene. 

Libya is separated from the Holy Land by Egypt. Simon would have had to cross Egypt by land or come by sea. Libya was under Roman rule at that time but there was a Greek colony in North Libya along the Mediterranean Sea with a large settlement of Judean Jews.  Most of Libya is covered by the Sahara desert except for that special long strip of Northern coastline where eighty percent of Libya's people live. Cyrene became an early center of Christianity in the centuries after the Church began to spread. Some also link Simon with the "men of Cyrene" in Acts 11:20 who preached the gospel to the Greeks—the Cyrenians would have known how to speak Greek. 

Why was Simon there in the crowd that was following Jesus to Golgotha? Were his sons with him? Were they adults or children? Was he a laborer or a wealthy foreign businessman? Was he a Jew from the diaspora or a dark-skinned Libyan native? Was Simon a believer in Jesus already when he carried Jesus' cross? Was he a devout Jew who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover according to the requirement of Judaism?  Or was he only a curious pagan caught up in the drama of a Roman execution until he became part of what was a life-changing event for himself and his sons and perhaps his heritage for generations to come?

Simon, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Did you stay at the cross after you carried it up the hill for Jesus and watch salvation history unfold? Were your sons at the crucifixion with you?  “Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” Did you become a Christian as a result of seeing Jesus die on the cross or perhaps hearing the witness of the disciples about Jesus' resurrection? (Someone ought to write a novel about this man!)

Simon, “Were you there when the Holy Spirit came?” Were you among the 120 in the Upper Room? In the biblical account of the birth of the Church on Pentecost in Acts chapter two in the list of places from which people were present at the event, “the districts of Libya near Cyrene” was noted. Simon, “Were you there?” We can only speculate.

What is the take-away insight for us from this special event? In His suffering humanity and to accomplish His mission from His Father, Jesus allowed Simon to help carry His cross. He could have called ten thousand angels to strengthen Him to carry the heavy cross, but He permitted and welcomed a mortal man to help Him. In His teaching before the crucifixion Jesus spoke about the necessity of taking up our cross and following Him. (Matthew 16:24) On the way to Golgotha Simon didn't carry his own cross; he carried Jesus' cross.

We can't do what Simon did. We can't carry Jesus' cross. Jesus gave His life once for all on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and to obtain eternal life for us. So then, how can we bear Jesus' cross for Him now? Jesus declared that whatsoever we do for others or to others, we do as if we did it unto Him. The Lord receives it as literally done to Him! (Matthew 25:35-46) In practice then, we are to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Each of us have unique personal crosses to bear as well as burdens, afflictions, and problems. There is a sense in which we must with courage and God's enabling accept and bear our own cross, the cross that God has given us in His love. By this we glorify Him and give witness to Him. However, there is a further sense in which we should reach out in love and compassion to help others shoulder their crosses as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus. By so doing, we are privileged to partake in Jesus' suffering, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)

YOUR UNIQUE CROSS

The everlasting God has, in His wisdom,
foreseen from eternity the cross
that He now presents to you
as a gift from His inmost heart.

This cross He now sends you
He has considered with His all-knowing eyes,
understood with His loving mind,
tested with His wise justice,
warmed with His loving arms,
and weighed with His own hands,
to see that it be not one inch too large
and not one ounce too heavy for you.

He has blessed it with His holy name,
anointed it with His grace,
perfumed it with His consolation,
taken one last glance at you and your courage,
and then sent it to you from Heaven,
a special greeting from God to you,
an alms of the all-merciful love of God.
Saint Francis de Sales
1567-1622

Friday, March 27, 2015

I NOTICE!


TO NOTICE: "To become aware of something that has caught one's attention;
to observe; to recognize" (Dictionary)
“Forget not all His benefits”
the Psalmist writes.




I NOTICE!  I NOTICE!
Leona Choy

This morning I seized a fleeting moment
that nearly slipped through
my careless fingers.

Outside my bedroom window
I noticed swelling new buds
on naked branches
that lifted their bony fingers
toward the grey dripping sky—
such a simple thing
but it announces spring!

I raised the window. 
Sounds of spring rushed in
 carried on wings of chill, damp air:
An advance-scout robin
chirped on the soggy lawn
celebrating the foggy day.
The monotonous rhythm
from the drain spout
kept tempo with the music
of retreating rain.
God, I notice! I notice!

I echoed the throb of new life
I savored the season
trying to pin down the moment
and capture it with both hands
so it couldn't fly away.
I lingered at the window sill bewitched
and breathing basic life.
Lord! I notice! I notice!

Too many springs have passed
unheeded, unclaimed, as I rushed about
preoccupied with my many doings
missing the very One whose fingers
gently touch the earth each spring
with fresh, created life.

Is it possible to miss God
by permitting the pursuit of the ordinary
to obscure His face?

How quickly the noise of daily life
can dull my ear to God
and the pace of my activity
contribute to losing
awareness of His majesty
of His intimate care, of His reality.

But today I noticed God
in the wee buds springing to life
through His cycle of renewal
on bony-finger branches of naked trees
silhouetted against the grey dripping sky.

God smiled and whispered,
"Thank you for noticing!"

*****

Wonder of wonders, God notices ME!
He tenderly, intimately notices all the details of my life
 every moment of the day and night.
I don't understand how that is possible
given the billions of people on earth 
and His meticulous administration of the vast universe
including this seemingly insignificant
 tilted, blue-green Planet Earth.
But the Scripture declares, "the eyes of the Lord
 are upon the righteous...
the Lord looks from heaven and sees all the sons of men...
He cares about you watchfully...."
Jesus said that His Father was aware of each sparrow
and each hair of my head. 
 Incredible!
Thank You, God, that You notice ME
and You take care of my every need!
*****

(Encore from Leona's poetry collection
 LATTER RAIN: Wordsmithing Verse
in the Vintage Season of my life)  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I STAND CORRECTED!

I thought my memory served me well, but I was only partially correct. We did sing the chorus “Peace like a river” at times during my teen years at our “Singspirations,” but now I remember that when we were ready to pack up and go home, it was more often “Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace.” A couple of the other survivors from that long ago experience might correct me.

It is based on Isaiah 26:3, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee."

The Amplified Paraphrase version richly enhances the meaning and is completed by verse 4:

“You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You and hopes confidently in You. So trust in the Lord—commit yourself to Him, lean on Him, hope confidently in Him—forever; for the Lord God is an everlasting rock—the Rock of ages.”

To be “stayed” on the Lord means to abide in Him, settle on Him, be securely anchored in Him, steadfastly remain, continue resolutely grounded in Him without being moved. It is an endurance and persistence and everlasting word packed with meaning.

The Lord is "stayed" on us; the Scripture says "we are graven on His palm" and "we are the apple of His eye." Because God never changes, “Even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you!” (Isaiah 46:4) what I experienced of His perfect peace in my teens, is meant to sustain me in my advanced calendar years. 

God is the One who gives me perfect peace and rest; but it is conditional. I am the one who has to do the "staying" of my mind on Him in order to qualify for His peace that passes understanding.
 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee;
When the shadows come and darkness falls, He giveth inward peace:
O He is the only perfect resting place - He giveth perfect peace!
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stay'd on Thee.