Silver Linings

By Gena McDonald of Fayetteville, Tennessee, USA

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

One day in 2011, we planned a small get-together with friends we had not seen or talked with in more than 10 years. They live in the Huntsville, Alabama, area. We were to meet for a few hours just to catch up.

That was the week tornadoes blasted Alabama. We were not able to get in touch with our friends until Saturday morning. They had been without electricity almost 72 hours.

The family has an autistic, 15-year-old son named Sam. Shortly after the family arrived at our home, beautiful Christian music was coming from our piano. I went into the family room, where Sam was playing with depth and grace.

He was so into it that chills went through me. I invited them to go to our small congregation.

The next morning our family went to church. Our friends were not there. During Sunday school our pastor mentioned we did not have anyone to play that day. During the final words of a heartfelt testimony, beautiful music came from the sanctuary. We assumed someone was playing a CD.

When we walked into the sanctuary, there was Sam, sitting at the piano, playing his heart out. Our pastor asked Sam’s father if Sam would like to lead our congregation in music that morning. The congregation was overwhelmed. All the way home, I kept praising God for turning chaos into two wonderful experiences.

Do we believe God allowed the severe weather to take place just to bring us this experience? No. However, I believe in my heart it provided God an opportunity to demonstrate love for us.

Yes, bad things happen. But if we look for silver linings in God’s world, then we can move forward and make the best of any situation.

Prayer for Peace:

Creator God, create in us hearts of music and joy. When we are in darkness, let us look for your light. When we are in in chaos, bring us your peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Each day this week find a way to express and embody God’s shalom. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Become silent and imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s peoples, nations, and creatures. Prayerfully open yourself to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom.

What images, feelings, and words come to you? What prayer for peace comes to you from your time of listening? Speak or write this prayer. What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day, this week?

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will burst into song, even amid chaos.

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Remembering with a Purpose

By Ward Serig of Pensacola, Florida, USA

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

One rich blessing God has granted us is memory. Remembering where we’ve been is an important part of our lives. We use many things as symbols to help us remember.

One way I remember is through my collection of cups. On a trip to Canada I bought a souvenir cup from the Chi-cheemaun, a native term meaning “big canoe.” The Chi-cheemaun is the largest ferry boat on the Great Lakes.

The cup not only reminds me of the day my wife and I traveled to Manatoulin Island, it helps me remember the friends we traveled with. We visited those friends, high school classmates I hadn’t seen in years. I remember where and what we ate, beautiful sunsets, morning walks along Lake Huron, and other people, places, and events we enjoyed during our vacation.

I have cups from places I have worked, traveled, and attended school. I have a reminder from the blood bank in recognition of being a donor. I have grandchildren who remind me that I am “the world’s greatest grandfather.”

We remember who we were and where we have come from so we will appreciate who we have become. Then we take our memories and set them on the shelf, where we easily can find them, and place the future in the front of us. It is a future of hope, promise, and peace. These will be our future memories.

Prayer for Peace:

God of wisdom, we place our hopes in you. We have faith in a future of peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Each day this week find a way to express and embody God’s shalom. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Become silent and imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s peoples, nations, and creatures. Prayerfully open yourself to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom.

What images, feelings, and words come to you? What prayer for peace comes to you from your time of listening? Speak or write this prayer. What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day, this week?

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, as I keep memories in their cherished place, I will look to the future, where I can act in sharing Christ’s peace.

Reflections from the Refrigerator

By Deb Crowley of Eaton Rapids, Michigan, USA

Listen to the teachings (of your sacred journey) and discover anew its principles. Do not yearn for times that are past, but recognize that you have been given a foundation of faithful service, even as you build a foundation for what is yet to be.  Doctrine and Covenants 162:2b, adapted

At first glance, one would judge my refrigerator door as unappealing, messy, or filled with junk.

As I stare at it, I ponder what I should take down. The picture of grandkids sledding in the snow, framed with jewels by a special kindergartener? The first handwritten, decorated letter with phonetically spelled words by the same child? Perhaps the photo of the Crowley clan and my niece’s engagement photo should find their way into an album. Maybe Dustin’s framed first-grade photo, which had been a gift to my mom and returned to me when she passed. A double memory.

If not the photos, then surely some magnets could go. But the teapot reminds me of the women I grew close to at a women’s retreat. The Temple represents peace and the purpose for so much of my life efforts. The Haiti magnet from Outreach International speaks of human need and urges me to give generously.

So many memories clutter that door! Maybe a few nondescript magnets will disappear, but the majority of memories are staying for now.

Life gets cluttered and chaotic sometimes. Junk skews our vision. It interferes with our relationship with one another and God. It’s time to step back, examine the pieces and parts of our life that are worth hanging on to and remembering why they are important.

Then, discard, change, or banish the rest! Once set in order, there will be room for experiences yet to be. A refreshed heart…it doesn’t get any better than that!

Prayer for Peace:

Companion on our journey, we cherish and honor our memories. Help us find what matters most and let go of the rest. We look ahead to sharing peace yet to be.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Each day this week find a way to express and embody God’s shalom. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Become silent and imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s peoples, nations, and creatures. Prayerfully open yourself to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom.

What images, feelings, and words come to you? What prayer for peace comes to you from your time of listening? Speak or write this prayer. What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day, this week?

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will set my life in order and make room for peace.

Sacrament of Healing

By Carolyn Brock of Independence, Missouri, USA

”By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Luke 1:78–79

It started as a family conflict. The young woman exchanged words with her father. There was a hurried dash across the compound as he called a curse upon her, followed by her fall, resulting in a fractured ankle.

Months later the ankle had not healed well, even after treatment in the small hospital in northeast Kenya.

The girl asked for prayer, so we walked across the dry riverbed in the cool twilight. The story was told. The separation between father and daughter had not healed, and the girl no longer could walk. Anemic, she had given up eating and hope.

Under the deepening blues of the evening sky, Elkana and Dave knelt on a palm mat under the acacia tree where she had been placed. Consecrated oil was placed on her head. Prayers were offered in English and Swahili.

A sacred hush fell on the gathering of family and friends as the Creator named holy the girl, air, land, and life in that place.

She walked again and began eating. Restored to wholeness within her family, she remained joyful even when her leg later had to be amputated.

The lifting of the “curse” ended the conflict and brought a measure of healing.

Skillful conflict mediation might have changed the outcome of this story.

Dialogue might have prevented the broken bone.

We have much to learn about talking with each other, listening to each other. We are learning but not yet there. Our words may not carry power to curse, but they do wound and bring division.

When wounding occurs we still have avenues of healing and reconciliation. God’s grace comes to us through the sacraments, through anointing and prayer, through our touch and healing presence.

These are the skills and gifts we are given as ministers of reconciliation.

Prayer for Peace:

Companion God, help us to know all the ways we can share your light with those who sit in darkness. May we share with them the prayers, our presence, and Christ’s peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Each day this week find a way to express and embody Christ’s peace. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Prayerfully open to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom. What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day?

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will be present for someone in need.

Christ at the Center of Christmas

By Lu Mountenay of Independence, Missouri, USA

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

This coming Sunday will mark the beginning of Advent. We will start preparing for and counting the days until the birth of Jesus. Or…we will start counting the days until the arrival of Santa Claus. But doesn’t that compete with putting Christ at the center of Christmas?

Maybe we don’t really need Santa Claus in our Christmas. First of all, promoting Santa implies to our children he is real—though he is not. Is it acceptable to lie, sometimes? Wouldn’t our children wonder what else we lie to them about?

Secondly, supporting the Santa Claus fable gives children a shallow motive for being “good,” rather than the right reason. We inadvertently might be teaching them to be good just for the rewards. And what about children in poverty who believe in Santa and are disappointed because they get few or even no gifts? Do they then believe they are “bad?”

After a few “Santa” Christmases, children begin to expect gifts—they may even think they have a right to them. Materialism is fostered. Materialism and generosity run counter to each other—we can’t do both. We ask our children what they want for Christmas, but do we consider the needs of children around the world, or in our own cities and towns?

People might argue that taking Santa out of Christmas takes away the fun, the magic, and the mystery. I would answer: What about the kings riding camels? What about the bright star over the manger? What about the choirs of angels? What about the families coming home to be together? What about the children’s pageants at church and the singing of carols? And what about the child in the manger, God’s gift to all children? The story of Jesus’ birth is filled with fun, magic, and mystery.

Let’s put Jesus Christ at the center of Christmas, and not clutter Christmas with shallow distractions.

Prayer for Peace:

Divine Parent, help us prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth with an eye single to your glory.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Express and embody God’s shalom. Imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s peoples, nations, and creatures. What images come to you? What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day, this week?

Peace Covenant:

Instead of counting shopping days, God, I will count Advent days, and prepare for the Christ child.

Testify to the Truth

By Barbara Borkowski of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  John 18:37

“Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” We hear that phrase on courtroom TV shows. What does it mean to tell the “whole truth”? Truth is subjective these days. My truth can be different from yours. And yet, Jesus brings to us a truth we can trust.

A few years ago at a family camp I talked with a woman who was struggling in her faith. She wondered who to trust, who to follow. She was influenced by a friend at home to think about her life and faith in a different way. She was afraid and anxious about her future and her relationships.

As we talked, we shared how important challenges to our faith can be. As we prayed we experienced the impress of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings us truth in ways that go beyond words and language.

Experiencing the Holy Spirit is an important way to recognize “truth” in our lives. And yet, we need to take the next step as disciples who choose to listen and follow. Understanding Jesus as truth in our lives is meaningless unless we consciously choose to make changes in our lives that allow the Spirit to grow and flourish.

This is true: Following Jesus can bring freedom from anxiety and concerns that otherwise would overwhelm us.

Prayer for Peace:

God of truth, we listen for your voice. We want to be aware of your desires for us. We want to know the truth of what you would have us do.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Embodying God’s Shalom

Each day this week find a way to express and embody God’s shalom. Begin by prayerfully listening to your longing for peace. Become silent and imagine you can hear the groaning of the Earth’s peoples, nations, and creatures. Prayerfully open yourself to God’s yearning for peace and the divine vision of shalom.

What images, feelings, and words come to you? What prayer for peace comes to you from your time of listening? Speak or write this prayer. What small act of justice, kindness, healing, or peacemaking is God inviting you to consider this day, this week?

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will be aware of your continuing revelation for my personal calling.

Frugal, yet Full of Grace

By Jan Marshall of Independence, Missouri, USA

A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  Mark12:42–44

I spent many happy days on the farm with Grandpa and Grandma. Each had a different outlook about life, and each taught me lessons through actions and words.

They lived simply and frugally. I didn’t know until after their death that they were “well off.” You wouldn’t have known it by the way they lived. They both valued saving and spending wisely, yet approached their decisions differently.

Grandpa valued being frugal. When he finally relented and bought a television, Grandma’s joy was delightful. He wore the same shirts until they were too frayed to patch. The new shirts given as gifts remained unused. He shopped the grocery ads, yet didn’t see the paradox (and humor) in driving 30 miles to save a few pennies on his favorite pancake syrup!

Grounded in her faith in God, Grandma saw life full of grace and blessing even in hard times.

She didn’t give a second thought to sharing with someone in need. She canned fruits and vegetables from the garden for her family’s needs all winter. She shared them with others as well.

Grandpa was generous, in his own way, and not as “hard-hearted” as this story might suggest. He feared loss; she saw bountiful blessings to share.

Grandma modeled an attitude toward generosity that provided a foundation for my life. Yet I admit sometimes Grandpa’s attitude comes out in me, too. May I have the courage to continue to make choices guided by Grandma’s wisdom and example.

Prayer for Peace:

Generous Provider, we would return to you an abundant portion of what you have lent us. We would use our resources to pursue peace.

Spiritual Practice:

Sit or lie in a relaxed posture. Imagine sitting or lying on a warm, sandy beach with waves rolling in and out near your feet. Listen to the waves as they “exhale” and “inhale.” Begin to breathe in time with the waves. Become aware of the ocean as the presence of God, washing onto the shore to touch your body and spirit. With each breath receive what the ocean of God brings you. Let go of what is carried into the sea of God’s presence. Give thanks.

Peace Covenant:

God, I will give, without thought to what I lose, but to the blessing and satisfaction of my soul.

Thanks-living

By Dorene Kilburn of Stratford, Ontario, Canada

…and you must give thanks unto God in the spirit for whatever blessing you are blessed with; and you must practice virtue and holiness before me continually. Even so. Amen.  Doctrine and Covenants 46:9b, adapted

Thanking people and being thankful to God are important but often neglected. Even when I begin a day resolving to thank and be thankful, I find, when I look back at night, that I missed opportunities.

When a beautiful solo enhances worship service, how often do we thank the soloist for the contribution to the spirit of the service?

Do we thank the person who notices we’re carrying several bags of groceries and opens a door for us? Do we nod or wave a “thank you” to the driver who lets us through a long line of cars to make a left-hand turn?

That “thank you,” an acknowledgement of something that brought us pleasure, convenience, or encouragement, will be appreciated and might even brighten the other person’s day.

We need to be thankful to God—intentionally thankful for the incredible world that has been created for us and the many people from whom we can learn and with whom we can share.

Let us be thankful for the beauty around us, often in unlikely places. It’s easy to see the beauty in a lovely garden or the lush green of rolling hills. But we sometimes miss a single flower growing through a crack in a gray stretch of sidewalk. Let us be a thanks-living community.

Prayer for Peace:

Generous God, forgive us when we complain about what we don’t have and forget to thank you for our many blessings. May we always remember to be aware of and express thanks for kindnesses. May we share gratitude and peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Making Responsible Choices

Each day this week prayerfully seek God’s guidance in your choices. Discernment invites us to orient our lives toward God and God’s vision for us and creation. Begin by reviewing the responsibilities and opportunities in the day before you. Take these choices into prayer, asking God for wisdom and insight about what matters most.

Offer yourself to God with the prayer of Teresa of Avila: “God, what do you want of me today?” Sit prayerfully with this question as you review the day again. Be aware of images, thoughts, names, or actions that come to you. Ask for a blessing to live this day responsibly and compassionately in the spirit of Christ.     

Peace Covenant:

God, I will take stock of my day and express gratitude to my community.

The Kingdom among Us

By Barbara Howard of Independence, Missouri, USA

…“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”  Mark 10:14

A significant time in our congregational worship occurs early in the service: a focus moment, when the children often participate. It is a way of giving the children a chance to explore the meaning of the lectionary scripture passage. Eagerness and participation go hand in hand as the children respond.

As part of her sermon in a recent Thanksgiving service, the speaker suggested that Jesus grew up with the story of sukkah, a three-sided dwelling in which Jews meet to celebrate their journey from Egypt to Israel, feasting for seven days. Christian pilgrims in Colonial America, grateful for the safety of their journey and the harvest, might have drawn on that tradition as they established a season of thanksgiving.

The speaker invited the children to write and draw on a picture of a sukkah something for which they were thankful.

The children wrote or drew things about their families.

The children’s gift that day, as they sat and worked quietly while the speaker preached, was a powerful ministry of presence.

Attentive silence, not usually associated with the children, was in itself an act of gratitude.

For several years we were primarily an adult congregation. To have the children bring ministry is a reminder of the ever-present Spirit of the kingdom that is in our community, opening us to futures beyond imagining.

Prayer for Peace:

Ever-present Spirit, we are thankful for the children among us. We are aware they can teach us so much. They will be our leaders to peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Making Responsible Choices

Each day this week prayerfully seek God’s guidance in your choices. Discernment invites us to orient our lives toward God and God’s vision for us and creation. Begin by reviewing the responsibilities and opportunities in the day before you. Take these choices into prayer, asking God for wisdom and insight about what matters most.

Offer yourself to God with the prayer of Teresa of Avila: “God, what do you want of me today?” Sit prayerfully with this question as you review the day again. Be aware of images, thoughts, names, or actions that come to you. Ask for a blessing to live this day responsibly and compassionately in the spirit of Christ.

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will hold the children in my heart and listen to what they say.

Ikebana

By Carolyn Brock of Independence, Missouri, USA

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. …But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.  James 3:13, 17–18

One rather-stressful day I wearily climbed the Worshiper’s Path in the Temple in Independence, Missouri. I stopped for a moment of mindful attention at the ikebana arrangement and found myself slowly drawn into a space of healing and beauty.

It was as though I never had seen flowers before—their shapes, colors, and fragrances captivated me. I reverently touched petals and leaves and was drawn to wonder at the perfection of everything from the tiniest grain of pollen to the pebbles in the flat container of clear water. I wept as the flowers offered me their gift of grace and rest.

On several occasions I have watched the creation of an ikebana arrangement during a worship experience. Under the eyes and hands of the flower artist, the singular branches, pods, and blooms are cut and placed in a pattern meant to mirror harmony among sky, humans, and Earth. A community of color, form, and balance is created.

If only creating peace and justice in God’s weary world were as elegant and easy. Perhaps it would help to think of ourselves as being held in the hands of God, who trims unnecessary “stuff” from our lives and places us in right relationship with one another. We do not stand alone. When we yield our separateness, our individual efforts, to the Spirit, we can be brought together in a community that mirrors harmony and justice in the manner designed of God.

Prayer for Peace:

God of flowers, sky, and earth, balance us in your living water. May we leave room in our arrangement of life for the eye to rest and the breeze to blow. May we trim the “stuff” that hinders us from sharing Christ’s peace.

Spiritual Practice for the Week: Making Responsible Choices

Each day this week prayerfully seek God’s guidance in your choices. Discernment invites us to orient our lives toward God and God’s vision for us and creation. Begin by reviewing the responsibilities and opportunities in the day before you. Take these choices into prayer, asking God for wisdom and insight about what matters most.

Offer yourself to God with the prayer of Teresa of Avila: “God, what do you want of me today?” Sit prayerfully with this question as you review the day again. Be aware of images, thoughts, names, or actions that come to you. Ask for a blessing to live this day responsibly and compassionately in the spirit of Christ.     

Peace Covenant:

Today, God, I will pause to learn from the flowers.