Take Me Out to the Ballgame…

I remember the excitement with which I attended my first professional baseball game. I was about 7 or 8 years old. As an athlete and a lover of all things sports related, I was extremely happy to be going to Fenway Park with my parents and one of my siblings. I recall the crowds, the noise, the vendors (“Get ya program heeere!”), the field, the hotdogs, Pesky’s Pole, the announcer’s voice, seeing the players that I knew from watching games on TV or listening to them on the radio, and more. Of all these things though, what struck me most was the singing of the national anthem, the 7th inning stretch complete with the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, and all the moments in between and after where the crowd was in unison. At the time, I remember thinking and feeling that it was the most awesome thing, I had ever experienced.

More than three decades later, I still find the singing of the national anthem and the 7th inning stretch to be so moving. It is similar to those moments at a graduation or a concert where people from all walks of life are joined together for the same purpose, and in the same spirit. It is as if the human spirit is overflowing in joy, anticipation, excitement and celebration. There is a sense of togetherness…a sense of unity. It is exhilarating!

In those moments, what “side” we are on, ceases to matter. For in those moments, we are one. United, and all the things that cause division are gone, at least temporarily. How precious those moments! How brightly we shine, or rather, how brightly the Spirit shines within and through us.

I cannot imagine such things (a national anthem, graduation, concert, etc.) without openness to the Spirit from which active participation springs. Imagine what it would be like if instead of singing a national anthem, we spoke it, or, if instead of clapping with applause, we just stood there silently or gave only a nod of approval. How bizarre would that be? It would be spiritless. I don’t think there is any way we would accept such a lackluster response!

Imagine if that was the norm at such events though. Would we continue to attend them? Would they mean less to us? It certainly seems like we would be less apt to attend or to participate.

I wonder…why are we less open…why do we accept less in some areas of our lives as compared to others? What determines how actively we participate? Again, imagine how less invigorating the start of a ball game would be if we spoke the national anthem instead of singing it; or imagine what it would be like to be at a concert and to not be standing, clapping and/or singing along.

What is the difference between those moments where I so readily unleash the Spirit within and allow myself to participate fully, in communion with those around me and the moments when I do not? What holds me back? What prevents my heart from being in those moments?

How different the world is when that Spirit is present. What a difference it makes!

Keeping it Real…

“My perspective is that you should be IN the world but not OF the world.”
– Dave Davies, Musician

It seems fair to say that at times, it is difficult, at best, to be in the world, and not of it. As I sit with this thought, experiences come to mind and my heart becomes filled with gratitude as I see, or see again, that my greatest moments (those accompanied by peace, joy, and a sense of freedom and well-being), have been those that the world could not give.

We live in a world where we have so many choices and so much available to us, pretty much all the time. It seems as if we have become conditioned, to start with “What do I want?” rather than, “What do I need?” and “What is truly good for me, and for those around me?” Yet, when I reflect on being in the world and not of the world as well as on experiences that have embodied peace, joy, and well-being, I realize that so many of them started out with me not getting what I wanted (or what I thought I wanted so much). They also culminate with me getting what I needed most even though I did not realize it from the start. In between the two, not getting what I want and getting what I need, the difference maker in terms of how bumpy the road has been seems to have been dependent on where God was in the mix.

The times where I kept trying to push through and “make things happen,” have been times where I have experienced frustration upon frustration. It was only when I let go, stepped outside the tunnel, and looked around that I saw how stuck I was on what I wanted or what I thought we (God and I) wanted, and that somehow I had managed to leave God behind while I continued pursuing “the dream.” I imagine that God has had many a light-hearted chuckle over those times as God has waited for me to come back around; and, although I may not have found it funny at the time, as I look back, I feel like God and I can chuckle about it together now.

As I continue to look, the times where I paused at any roadblocks or unforeseen circumstances, instead of trying to forge ahead with all my might, have been the times where I have not only asked, but have also let God be with me, with an openness, and have let God be God. These times have also been the times where I have not felt pressured one way or another and have been able to wait until I had a better sense of what way to go, or what to say or do.

Part of Jesus prayer for the Apostles was, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” I imagine that this is also part of Jesus’ prayer for us.

So how can I manage to be in the world, but not of the world? My experience tells me that while forging ahead with grit and fortitude has led me to some bumpy roads, it has also, when preceded and accompanied by prayerful pauses and listening, led me to smooth roads with pretty amazing views. My experience tells me that it is fine, as long as my eyes and my ears, my head and my heart, are fixed on God.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal
of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and
pleasing and perfect.” – Rom 12:2

You Gotta Have Spirit…

Imagine what it must have been like for the Apostles as they came to know and love the Lord. The Messiah, the Anointed One of whom Scripture referred was not only there in their midst, but was also teaching them, loving them, and leading them. And, although Scripture and Christ forewarned them of what was to come, it seems they could have never imagined exactly what would happen leading up to and through His crucifixion. They had suffered a great loss and were left afraid and probably disillusioned by the arrest, trial and crucifixion of the Lord. The Bible tells us that they were locked away in an upper room when Jesus first appeared to them as a group. His first words to them were, “Peace be with you.” There was no, “Where’d you all disappear to?” or “How could you do that to me?” or “Thanks a lot for running off, and for denying me.”

There was no condemnation, but a greeting of peace and a reunion so to speak. Imagine what joy they felt as they saw the risen Lord. I think if I was there, my initial reaction would be overflowing joy along with supreme relief and the words, “Oh, thank God! You’re here!” There would be a sense that everything was more than okay again.

I wonder what it was like for the Apostles to learn that Jesus would not physically be staying with them, but needed to ascend to be with His Father. We know that regardless of how it was for them, they carried on and not only did they carry on, but they also helped to expand the numbers of followers of Jesus Christ. They evangelized! In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about the early church and see evidence of trials and tribulations, and victories. The Apostles experienced both joys and sorrows as they strove to live the Good News and to go out into the world and spread it.

How did they go from cowering in an upper room to becoming fearless evangelizers? The Bible tells us they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It also tells us that they had each other. Before that though, they were, and likely continued to be, students of God’s Word and then Jesus’ ways; embracing both as fully as they could. However, it was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit that they were able to fulfill their mission of evangelization. What a powerful combination! United in faith and filled with and inspired by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit.

I imagine the places the Apostles went, the words they spoke, and the experiences they had would have seemed as being beyond their wildest dreams, but that once filled with the Holy Spirit, there was nothing beyond their wildest dreams, nothing impossible; there was an unwavering hope that can only come from being rooted in God.

Filled with the Spirit, united in faith, and faithful to God and God’s way, how many amazing, beautiful, life-giving things have happened in our lives and in the world, through the course of history, when people have banded together this way. How inspiring, when we, through Jesus, are the best we can be!

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It’s Not All Pasta (and Peas)…

One of my favorite early childhood memories (preschool to early grade school age) is spending the afternoon playing and then having dinner together with some of my cousins. We had so much fun together. It wasn’t all perfect though. We had our moments of disagreements (maybe even downright feuding), but overall we enjoyed being with each other.

As I think back to the times we spent together, I recall those Fridays where the meal served was pasta and peas (elbow macaroni with sauce and peas). Although I can chuckle about it now, when I was a child it was no laughing matter. You see, I’m not sure that any of us even slightly liked peas. What child does? However, we needed to eat our veggies; there was not much choice in the matter.

Here’s the kicker though, some of us were lucky enough to get pasta without peas. There would always be a small bowl of pasta without peas, and of course, that would run out faster than you could say, “pasta and peas.” It was first served to those who portrayed their hatred of peas the best. Unfortunately, I was not the squeaky wheel and never quick enough to beat out my older siblings and cousins with what was left over, after those who were most intolerant of peas were served. Thus, it was pasta and peas for me just about every time (and pushing the peas to the side of the plate was not an option).

As a child I remember being disappointed at having to eat peas and, sometimes, even resentful of those who escaped having to eat them. As I think back to those days though, in addition to seeing humor in the situation now, I am also struck by the way I feel such love and joy in my heart as I think about my cousins and the time we spent together. There was, and is, a loving bond between us that no length of time or distance between us could ever erase.

When I think about this, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Just as these dear memories of time spent with my cousins and siblings remain in me and with me always, so does Jesus. Just as they and the feelings of love and joy associated with them are available to me always, so is Jesus and the peace, love, joy, strength, hope, courage and all that Jesus embodies. All available to me, to all of us, and ready for the taking, regardless of whether or not pasta and peas is on the menu, and regardless of whether or not it is smooth sailing or stormy waters. There is always something greater. Hold onto it, and we will not be disappointed.

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