The Desire to Know

 

“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:4-5 (emphasis mine)

 

We want to know what God knows, don’t we?

 

We want to know good and evil.

We want to know why. Why does this happen, why doesn’t that happen?

We want to know the outcome of our days, the number of our days. We want to know what the future holds. We want to understand the past. We want to know what we should do in the present. What decisions should we make? Should we go this way or that way?

 

We want to know.

 

We don’t want to trust.

 

In my own life right now this desire surrounds me on all sides. We all want to know what the results of Bryan’s next PET scan will show. We want to know if the cancer is getting worse or getting better. We want to know what the outcome will be and what steps and decisions are best for us to make now. We want clear knowledge, assurance, and direction about what the best treatments will be going forward. We want to know the future and the number of our days.

 

And with my daughter we want to know how she will develop. Will she walk? Will she talk? We want to know the exact steps we have to take to make sure that she does do those things.

 

We want to know good and evil – we want to know what path is best to take (what path is good) and what path is not (what path would be evil for us). We want to know where we should live, where we should work, how we should spend our days.

 

We want to know… because we want to control.

 

But, the truth is we cannot be like God. We are not God.

 

Even with the knowledge of good and evil, even with our eyes being opened as Adam and Eve’s were, we are still not God. The serpent lied.

 

And yet the desire to be God, the desire to know, to control, to determine our own destinies, is not lessened, it has only grown greater.

 

Knowing may be desired, but it is not in our best interest. It is not what God desires for us. I am not sure we could ever understand or know as God does – we are not God (although we often set ourselves up as little gods).

 

And so God hides himself. He veils the future. He speaks in parables. Not to frustrate, but to help. To lead us to trust.

 

It is not knowing that God wants from us, it is trusting. Trusting in Him. Following Him with faith like a little child’s.

 

Today, as every day, I find myself surrounded in unknowing, surrounded in waiting. And God asks, “Will you trust? Will you stay in the unknown, will you be content in the waiting, will you live in the now?”

 

Adam and Eve’s story becomes for me a parable for my own season of unknown. Will I, as my ancestors before me, usurp control and grasp at knowing? Or will I trust?

 

I hope I trust.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

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Candlemas (February 2nd)

For a long time now I have been drawn to many of the rhythms of the church calendar. High church traditions carry a lot more mystery, mysticism, and ritual than the traditions I grew up with and this appeals to me. I’ve written a lot about the major seasons of the church calendar in the past. I’ve written about Advent and Lent a lot in particular, and also about Epiphany and other church holidays. But, I’ve never written about Candlemas before, because honestly I had NEVER heard of it before this past month.

Funnily enough, it first came to my attention threw Pinterest, when the lovely Jerusalem Greer started pinning things about it. I sort of ignored the pins at first, but the more she pinned the more I was curious, and then she posted this post about why she likes Candlemas more than Groundhogs day. And that sealed it for me – this is one holiday I want to make a tradition in my own home.

I love the symbolism of it – the light, and candles. I love the remembrance of Jesus being presented in the temple (an often over looked story, perhaps?). I love the french tradition of crepes for dessert on Candlemas. And I love the little rhyme that goes with the day:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight;
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.
(old English song)

So, tomorrow I plan on lighting a candle, making some crepes and reading the story of Jesus being presented at the temple. Nothing fancy or elaborate, but a start to our own little Candlemas tradition.

Any of you have any Candlemas traditions? Have you ever even heard of this holiday? I’d love to hear.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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There is No Contentment without Gratitude

This past Sunday at church the sermon was about contentment.

It seemed to me that the heart of the sermon was that we should be content with only Jesus, because Jesus is really all we need and all we really have (we came into the world with nothing and we will leave with nothing). And it seemed that the answer he gave for being more content was to remember and focus on how all we need is Jesus. Well, the more I think about it the more I sort of have issues with this…

While I think focusing on our lack, on how little we truly have, on how we came into the world naked and we take nothing out of it, does knock us off our high horses and works great for combating pride, I don’t think it works so well for combating discontentment. Or at least not for me.

When I focus on how all I really have is Jesus it doesn’t make me content, in fact it actually feeds my discontentment a little. I think this is partly because it draws my attention to my lack instead of my abundance. But, also partly because, truth be told, I want more. Jesus isn’t all I want. And perhaps it’s sacraligious, but I’m not so sure that he’s suppose to be all I want.

Ok, hear me out… Here’s my thinking. Adam (as in the “first man”), prior to the fall, was perfect and God walked with him in the garden. He had everything he needed and he had God beside him. But, he wasn’t really content. He wanted more. God himself said it wasn’t good, God himself said Adam needed more. He needed community. He needed a partner, a friend.

So, here’s what I think. We do need God. But he isn’t all we need. We also need each other. We also need community and friendship and love.

Focusing on how all we need is Jesus and all we have is Jesus isn’t the answer to our discontentment because it just draws our attention to our lack instead of our abundance, and because it misses a truth that God created us not just for Himself, but for each other as well.

For me, the best answer to my discontentment is gratitude.

Gratitude combats discontentment because gratitude takes our focus off what we don’t have and onto what we do have. It grows contentment in us as no other displine can.

When I focus on how much I already have, and thank God for all the good that comes from his hands it’s impossible to stay discontent.

Contentment isn’t focusing on how all we have is Jesus. Contentment is accepting where we are and what we have, accepting ALL things as good gifts from the hand of a loving God. When I focus on that, when I embrace where I am, where God’s placed me, that is when I grow contentment in my soul. When I embrace all that I do have, all that a loving God has given me that is when I find contentment and peace to walk through whatever lack I may have thought I had.

Gratitude and contentment go hand in hand. Personally I do not think there is any way to find contentment without gratitude.

What do you think?

Rejoicing on the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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Liturgy for Marriage

In the past year or so I have often found myself unable to pray – with too many thoughts running through my head and no coherent words. In those times I’ve found it particularly helpful to use form prayers and liturgies. At times though I have found it even more helpful to write my own liturgies and form prayers. I think writing helps me to process all of the thoughts I’m having on the topic. Lately I’ve particularly written prayers in liturgy format, with everything broken down for different people to read – I’m not sure why I do it that way since often these are read/prayed only by me or occasionally by my husband and me together. Maybe I break it down into more people because I’m longing for community in my prayer life or maybe because something about communal prayer just feels right to me – I don’t know…

Anyway, this past week I was thinking a lot about marriage – my marriage and the marriages of a few friends who have chosen to share with me about their marriages. I wanted to pray for us and each of them, but I felt stuck. It felt like there was so much I could pray and I had no idea where to start. So, I went to the books. I started with The Celtic Book of Daily Prayer, The Anglican Book of Prayer and the Bible. Before I knew it I was writing – piecing things I found together with my own thoughts and concerns for all of our marriages. This is what I ended up with:

Liturgy for Marriage

Leader:
Father of Marriage,
you created us one for another,
and first established the holy gift of marriage.

Women:
In  your infinite wisdom you knew that it is not good for Man to be alone,
and shaped us from the clay into corresponding shapes,
perfectly fit for one another.

Men:
And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife.

Leader:
Father of Marriage,
draw us back to the beginning.
May we be naked and unashamed before our spouses.
Take away the walls that we build up between us.
Give us courage to open our hearts, minds and bodies to one another ever more deeply,
that we truly can become one in all areas of our beings.
Grant that in our openness we can meet each other with grace, forgiveness and understanding.
Just as there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, may there be no condemnation in our marriages.

All:
Father of Marriage,
forgive us for the ways we have tarnished your gift of marriage.

Person 1:
You know our every hidden part, forgive us for the things that we try to keep hidden from our spouses and shine light in the dark places of our souls.
Forgive us for the anger, resentments, and hurts that we hold on to and tuck away.

(pause for reflection)

Person 2:
Father of Marriage,
transform our marriages into your intended sacrament of unity.
May we be to the other a strength in need,
a counselor in perplexity,
a comfort in sorrow,
and a companion in joy.

Leader:
O God, creator and preserver of all life, author of salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the world you have made, and especially upon our marriages, which you have sanctified. Eternal God, you are the giver of all good gifts, all that we have has come from your hand, and you have given us one to another.

All:
Draw us this day into a more perfect union, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Leader:
Jesus of Love,
Out of tender love for each one of us  you walked this earth
and chose the way of the cross.

Women:
You have generously bestowed your love upon us,
setting for us an example of how we also should love.

Person 3:
For you, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with
God something to be
grasped;
but made yourself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
you humbled yourself
and became obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Men:
Lord, in our marriages may we each have that very attitude of Christ –
Daily humbling ourselves and taking on the nature of a servant.

Leader:
Jesus of love,
teach us to submit mutually to one another.
May we love one another deeply as you love the church –
a love marked by giving, not getting.
Your love makes the church whole.
Your love reveals each of us for who we really are, Children of the living God.
Your love evokes beauty.
You see the best in your church, your bride.
Open our eyes as well, that we might see the best in our spouses,
May we see them for the magnificent children of God that they are.
May we see the best in them, believe the best in them, and speak the best of them always.

All:
Jesus of love,
forgive us for the ways in which we have let our self centeredness keep us from following you to the cross in our marriages.

Person 4:
Forgive us for the hurt we have caused in our marriages by what we have done and by what we have left undone.
Forgive us for the ways we have not obeyed you and lived out the gospel in our marriages.
Forgive us for the ways in which we have hindered our communion with you because of the ways we have hindered our communion with our spouses.

(pause for reflection)

Person 5:
Jesus of love,
transform our marriages into a reflection of your love –
that unity may overcome estrangement,
forgiveness heal guilt,
and joy conquer despair.

Leader:
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon us, that we may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that our homes may be a haven of blessing and peace;

All:
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Leader:
Spirit of Unity,
Through you two become one flesh.

Women:
You intercede on our behalf and on behalf of our marriages.
You are full of infinite wisdom and truth.

Your timing is perfect.
And in you is infinite peace.

Men:
You are the vine and we are the branches,
Apart from you we can do nothing.
We cannot change ourselves or our spouses.

All:
We recognize that it is only by your indwelling that we can hope for transformation in our marriages.

Leader:
Spirit of Unity,
We believe and trust that you are present with us and active in our marriages,
And we ask you to come and breathe fresh life into our love.
Give us the light to understand our spouses better.
Give us strength to fight for one another instead of against one another.
Give us passion and deeper desire for each other.

All:
Spirit of Unity,
forgive us for our arrogance and pride.

Person 6:
Forgive us for trying to make our marriages better in our own strength, instead of looking to you and your strength for our transformation.
Forgive us for our lack of unity – for the ways in which we seek out our own personal desires instead of seeking what is best for our spouse and our marriage as a whole.

(pause for reflection)

Person 7:
Spirit of Unity,
transform our marriages into an unbreakable bond.

Person 8:
Excite our love,
strengthen our weakness,
encompass our desire.

Person 9:
Shield our thoughts,
and cradle our bodies,

Person 10:
and as we breath this prayer,
in our hearts may we feel
Your presence.

Leader:
O God, by the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon our marriages. Defend us from every enemy. Lead us into all peace. Let our love for each other be a seal upon our hearts, a mantle about our shoulders, and a crown upon our foreheads. Bless us in our work and in our companionship; in our sleeping and in our waking; in our joys and in our sorrows; in our life and in our death. Finally, in your mercy, bring us to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home;

All:
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Returning to Lent

The past few years I have found much encouragement and growth in following the Christian calendar and keeping my thoughts and spiritual journey somewhat in line with the church seasons. The cyclical nature of the seasons, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time, have drawn me deeper and deeper into my understanding of and relationship to the Triune God. But, during the past year of pregnancy and the early months of motherhood, I found myself in a season of my own and unable to fully relate to or participate in the church seasons. In fact I didn’t even have a single thought about Advent this year until it was over – really I didn’t have a single thought about much of anything accept my dear difficult child.

Today I woke up to realize that it is Ash Wednesday, and I felt suddenly like I need Lent this year. Need Lent like I have never needed it before. Lent is when we remember the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert. Lately, I feel like I am wandering unknown territory, my own desert. Lent is also when we remember Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Lately, I feel tempted. I feel tempted to ignore God and focus solely on my immediate physical needs. I feel tempted to escapism instead of being present with where I am and what my life looks like at the moment. I feel tempted to despair and to feel like my life has no broader purpose or vision amidst the mundane of peek-a-boo and dirty dishes.

Lent is also a time of repentance and purification during which we prepare again to celebrate and remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I remember learning that for a time in the early church Easter was the only time that they baptized new believers and Lent was for these new believers a time of preparation for baptism. Lent was a time of preparing to enter into the family of God. Eventually “older” believers began to also celebrate Lent as a time to renew their faith and commitment to the resurrection life that God offers. This year I feel this subtle historical significance of Lent. I need this. I need to come to God anew. I need a fresh start with Jesus.

Thanks to Christine Sine I recently read this quote from Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year and it really spoke to me about why I need to participate in Lent yet again:

Lent is not a ritual.  It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out.  It is the moment when, as the baptismal waters flow on every Easter Vigil altar, we return to the baptismal font of the heart to say yes once more to the call of Jesus to the disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39)  It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.  (111)

I want to begin my “spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.” And so this Ash Wednesday I bow my head and heart and say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Come and draw me into Lent. Show me once again who you are. Teach me anew who I am. I am thirsty and weak, weary and confused. I don’t know how to listen to you. I don’t know how to speak to you. I don’t know how to follow you. I don’t know how to love you or obey you. Come, Lord. Lead me once again through the desert.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

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