The Magic of Contemplation

By Elaine Knudtson

Luke 18:15-17

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

 

I am returning to my childhood imagination after spending a lifetime in the modern, material world.  I left the inquiry of childhood to enter the “real world” of acquiring knowledge, education, status and possessions”, only to realize that the wonder of life had been stilled.  The joy of contemplation returns me to that place once again.

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In the chapter “The Ethics of Elfland”, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton states:

“My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery. . . . The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. . . Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense. . .

  • The chivalrous lesson of “Jack the Giant Killer”; it is a manly mutiny against pride
  • “Cinderella”, which is the same as the Magnificat
  • Beauty and the Beast – that a thing must be loved before it is loveable
  • Sleeping Beauty – the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death may be softened to a sleep.

“When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o’clock.  We must answer that it is magic.”

“The only terms that ever satisfied me as describing nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.”  They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery.  A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree.  Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.  The sun shines because it is bewitched. . . When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales; we only need tales.  Mere life is interesting enough.”

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“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”.  .  . Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.  It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening.  “Do it again” to the moon.  .  . It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.  The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be the theatrical encore.”

G. K. Chesterton – “The Ethics of Elfland”, Orthodoxy.

 

20180823_095927This morning Paul and I went for a walk by the river.  We stopped and listened to the river chatter and the crows squawk overhead.  The sun painted the water silver and shone a spotlight on a gnarly tree near the bank.  “It looks like it’s dancing,” I said.

“Childhood Inquiry” by Elaine Knudtson

Simple faith.  Sitting on Jesus’ knee.

Sitting on my mother’s knee.

So many questions.  Everything is new.

Tell me the stories of Jesus.

You mean there really was a Jesus?

I can go there someday and see where he lived?  It’s not just a story?

I can talk to God and He will hear me? I just have to speak my thoughts?

You mean I don’t even have to speak!  It’s like magic!

Not magic?

 

God teach me to dance again,

like I did as a little girl

when I tucked my crinoline into my panties and twirled in the front room until I dropped to the floor in giddy delight. 

The marvel of seeing you in the ordinary

reveals your presence all around me

when I have eyes to see and ears to hear

as a child.

 

Matthew 11:25

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

Striking Contrast

By Paul Knudtson

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As I sit on this park bench in the morning sun on these last days of August,

I notice a striking contrast between the stark stillness of nature before me and the commotion of human activity just beyond.

The trees in their yellow-green dress of early fall, stand so quiet and still;

as if they dare not make a sound,

not even a whisper.

They do not move a leaf.

It is as if I am looking at a photograph in which nothing moves . . . all is still.

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It seems as though these trees are deliberately, intentionally still,

determined to be silent observers

of the arrival of this new day.

They do not move a muscle;

they do not make a noise.

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Like a mother saying, “shh,” to her children,

holding her finger to her lips to silence children,

so these trees say, “shh,” to me;

they bid me sit quietly on my bench and pay close attention   .

These trees do not seem lifeless, inanimate objects;

I feel their presence as I sit here with them standing about me,

as if they possess some awareness

of what is happening in this world.

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But human noisiness contrasts with this palpable peacefulness.

From the North-west, across the river somewhere,

I hear the noise of a diesel caterpillar tractor,

the loud squeaking and clicking of its steel tracks

and snort of its engine as it pushes earth with its shiny

steel blade.

To the East I hear the steady hum of highway traffic,

trucks and cars as they come down the long hill

and cross the bridge across the Bow River.

Above there is the drone of a single-engine airplane,

flying across the morning sky.

A few minutes ago,

a group of women walked hurriedly on the gravel path behind me,

busy in animated and noisy conversation.

They seemed oblivious — I thought —

to these trees and their remarkable silence.

Sitting on Bench

What a contrast . . .

. . . between the still and silent trees,

standing here in the warmth of the morning sun

beside the river that flows gently and quietly along,

. . . and the commotion of human activity.

For these few brief moments,

I have been hospitably welcomed to sit here

among these silent observers,

as if sitting in the company of wise, but silent elders.

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These trees invite me to sit among them for a few moments.

Perhaps I can learn from them

about being still,

about being quiet,

about resting,

about being patient,

about simply absorbing the rays of the sun

and allowing the slow, gradual growth and change

that comes through the cycle of the years.

Such trees are not in a hurry,

but live slowly, day-by-day, hour-by-hour,

staying put,

growing and changing only gradually,

imperceptibly,

but unmistakeably.

There is a contrast.

Still versus busy.

Quiet versus noisy.

Thank you for allowing me to sit here with you for a few moments this morning,

and to learn a little about another way to live,

one that contrasts with the way of humans.

Lord,

Help me to be still.

Help me to be quiet.

Help me to abide in the sunshine,

and so to become like these trees.

“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield

their fruit in its season.” (Psalm 1:3)

 

The Magic Kingdom

By Elaine Knudtson

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.
-Blaise Pascal

I first went to Disneyland in 1968 with my parents and five brothers and sisters.  I remember the feeling of walking across the hot asphalt through the front gates into the Magic Kingdom.  I even remember the red plaid shorts I was wearing—Mom had bought us all new clothes for the occasion. Dad purchased a book of tickets for the attractions, from A through E.  We quickly learned the importance of the “E” tickets and planned our day around those rides.  It was truly magical, and when we left, I knew there would never be anything as wonderful as Disneyland again.

 

I had a similar experience the first time Paul and I went to Europe.  Those 17 days in July of 2004 exceeded all expectations as we saw Big Ben, the Tower of London, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Mont St. Michel, Paris, and the Eiffel Tower twinkling at midnight.  I dreamed about returning to my happy place all year long, and Europe has become a favorite destination ever since.

We crave satisfaction and joy.  When we find it, we want to repeat it again, and again, and again.  My grandsons love to say “again” and “more”.  We watched “Thomas and Friends” on the ipad innumerable times this summer when we got together in San Diego for a family reunion.  But, even though they can’t get enough of it now, if I offered them the same experience in a year or two, I doubt whether it would have the same effect.

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The economic term “Law of Diminishing Returns” states that there is a maximal rate of profit, production, benefits, etc., that beyond a certain point fails to increase                   proportionately, with added investment, effort, or skill. (dictionary.com)

 

Doing it “again” and “again” eventually proves to be dissatisfying.

I have been to Disneyland many times since 1968; the last time being this summer with our children and grandchildren.  My joy now comes from watching the youngest children enjoy the experience for the first time.  For me, the wonder is gone.  Even Europe disappoints if I go there just to see the sights.

“The Magic Kingdom Awaits” by Elaine Knudtson

I quiver waiting for the morning when the gates open and I can enter the Magic Kingdom.

I’ve heard of its delights; the music welcomes me as I walk towards the entrance.

The senses are ignited by colors, flowers, anticipation of what is to come.

They say it’s the happiest place on earth and I am in need of such a place.

But the glory begins to fade with the long lines,

The heat,

And the passing hours.

I may never come back.

Can I squeeze this into a bottle and drink a few drops of happiness each day as a reminder of this moment?

Is this the Magic Kingdom I’m longing for,

or is it only a foreshadow of the gates I enter with you—

where my longings are met; my hunger and thirst quenched.

I am the child you bring into your celebration of everlasting joy.

Do my eyes sparkle?

Do I sit still in awe of the beauty and grace that meets me there?

Can I take it with me when the moment passes?

Don’t leave me disappointed and alone.

I long for those fleeting glimpses of eternity you bring to the hours of my life,

when my senses are tuned to your presence, love, peace and forgiveness.

It is not because I’m old that I long for you, but because I am still the child,

waiting at the gate,

for you to open the door and invite me into the joy of today.

 

Isaiah 55:2

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.

John 4:13-14

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

Everything loses its novelty and appeal eventually, except God.

What doesn’t leave me dissatisfied is the “bread”, the “living water”, the “new creation” that I experience through community, family and quiet contemplation.  When that is broken, nothing makes me happy for long.  We were created for so much more.  C. S. Lewis describes this best in his speech on the “Weight of Glory”.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. . . We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. . .For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. . .

Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” 
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory

Jesus came to complete us; to fill that ache, with his presence.  We find it in solitude, in looking for him in the commonplace—in nature, in community, in chance encounters with other pilgrims, in prayer, and in the living word.

I used to think that old people went to church because they were afraid to die and they needed to be close to God at the end.  Now I know that those who endure are there because they have found that life disappoints, but Jesus satisfies.  This is the great discovery of a lifetime. . . Nothing satisfies but Jesus.

Afternoon Coffee on the Land

By Paul Knudtson

A key aspect to the Old Testament story of Israel concerns the land that God gives to his people.  The story about the land begins with God’s promise to Abraham:

  • Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)
  • Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7)
  • 14The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; 15for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. . . . 17Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-15, 17)

The promise of land was repeated to Abraham’s son, Isaac.

  • 2The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. 3Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.” (Genesis 26:2-3)

There are descriptions of this promised land in scripture. It is “the land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 31:20).

Psalm 37

  • 3Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
  • 9For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
  • 11But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
  • 22for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
  • 29The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever.
  • 34Wait for the LORD, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

I will remain forever happy that I was born into a family that lived in the country. My father was a farmer and lived his entire life in the country. In fact, he only ever lived in two houses—in the house of his mother and father, and in the house that he built for my mother when he was married. That house, the house that I grew up in, is just a mile from the farm site of dad’s childhood home.

 Mealtimes on the farm were regular and at set times. Breakfast took place before we had to go to wait at the gate for the school bus, shortly after 8:30 a.m., the noon meal was at 12:30, and supper was around 6 p.m.  Then there was a coffee break—called “lunch”—around 4:00 p.m. Normally dad came into the house for this coffee break, but there were certain times when dad was working in the field with a tractor—cultivating perhaps—when afternoon lunch could then be brought to him in the field.

I recall one such occasion when we rode with mom in the 1958 turquoise and white, standard transmission Ford Custom, east through the yard and then north to the field where dad was working. Mom didn’t have her driver’s license at this time, so she would usually only drive in the field, or perhaps only a very short distance on the road if the field was not far from home. In the late 60s she took driver’s training when Arthur was in high school in Stettler. I was proud of mom for getting her license, though she never really did much driving. She would perhaps drive over to visit one of her sisters or go to a ladies’ meeting at church. I remember thinking after dad died that it would have been nice for mom to be able to drive places, but I think by that time she had lost some of her confidence, especially when it came to driving in Camrose.

On this particular day, Mom had packed a lunch into a dishpan and covered it with a tea cloth. Lunch consisted of coffee in a thermos for dad and mom—along with ceramic cups, and koolaid with glasses for the kids. Then there would be some sandwiches and probably some cake—chocolate cake with icing and chopped up pieces of walnut. Dad liked walnuts in his cake. The sandwiches were simple—something like butter and jam on pieces of homemade bread. We always had homemade bread or buns that she kept in the bottom drawer in the kitchen.

When we got to the end of the field to the North-East of the farm yard, we sat and waited in the car until dad got around to that place with the Co-op tractor.  He stopped the tractor, turned off the engine, and we drove next to him in the car. Dad was dusty from driving the tractor (which didn’t have a cab) and so he would take off his jacket and swing it against his clothes to knock off as much dust from himself as possible before sitting down for lunch. Dad would put his jacket on the ground beside a rear tire of the tractor and lean against the wheel as he ate his lunch. We sat around him—I don’t remember sitting on anything, so we likely just sat on the unworked ground beside dad.  I remember liking the smell of the tractor as we sat there.

It was a nice family moment—all sitting there in the quiet of the field as we enjoyed the lunch that mom had made and each other’s company. We were always amazed by the way in which dad could drink hot coffee. He liked his coffee to be very hot and could somehow drink it without burning his mouth or throat. He joked that he had hair in his throat.

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Years later, when the grandchildren came along, the afternoon coffee tradition continued.  Grandma had special cups for birthdays or tea parties.  When she passed away, our children were given the opportunity to choose from the house that held special memories for them.  Our oldest daughter pulled a tiny yellow mug from the china cabinet.  “Grandma and I would have a special time together.  She would put a drop of coffee in my milk.  It is a good memory.”

 

“Who, then, is the man that fears the lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.  He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land.”  Ps. 25 12-13

Into the chaos

By Elaine Knudtson

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary  place where he prayed.” Mark 1:35

We have left the quiet security of our home to take a road trip with two of our wonderful, adorable, challenging, over-active grandchildren. Today, as we drive through the heart of the California fires near Redding, we are reminded that not all storms are external. Life challenges us to leave the solitary and step into the chaos.

island during golden hour and upcoming storm
Photo by Johannes 

Jesus came from a quiet place into the Storm.

They tested Him by their doubt and foolish request to walk on water with Him.

They forgot the healings, the feeding of the 5000, the parables, the daily teachings.

How could they be so dense?

What was a storm to the Master of the Universe?

It was THEIR storm.

They watched healings; they listened to parables; they cheered confrontation of authorities; they marveled at exorcisms.

All passive.

No effort required.

But THEIR storm was life-threatening.

Fear invoked panic, helplessness, powerlessness, vulnerability.  They could die. Faith was no longer theoretical; it was critical.

He came through. In the midst of their storm, He was there as a reminder of the divine.

He waited. They pleaded. He acted. All was still.  Status quo restored.  Rest.

Jesus left the quiet place and stepped into our storm.

I enjoy the solitary moments in His presence. No demands, just passive assent.

But He sends me into the storms that require active faith and I forget the love, abandon peace, and surrender joy for anger, demands, control, and fear.

Take me back to that place where I nod, smile, and cheer.

Spare me the moments where I need to trust in the chaos.

Let me avoid the test and taste the glory.

But Jesus left the love of the Father for the cross.

Embrace the chaos.

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You Light up My Life

By Elaine Knudtson

 

Fragile, quivering fears and hope that dares not sprout lest it be destroyed by the impending storm that never comes in this desert of my life.

But you join me in silent reverie each day, repeating the patterns that we expect to last for an eternity.

These are the good old days we will long for when one of us is gone.

It won’t be the Garden of Eden of summer with the piccolo sound of the birds, or the swishing of the creek against the flood-tossed rocks on our morning walks.

It won’t be the breath of the breeze warmed by the sunrise, or the dew heavy on the silver willows and grasses by the edge of the well worn path.

It won’t be the excitement of coming events–vacations, new babies, renovations, reunions, new, new, new anything to take my mind away from the hope I dare not grasp for fear that it will be washed away.

No, what I will long for is your warmth as we lie together like scared children in each other’s arms, fearing the monsters that have existed since we could imagine.

I will long for your prayers–pious or sincere: rants, whispers, silent sights.

I will long to be carried on the wave of faith that transcends time to the shores where hope is certain and faith is sight.

You take me there, as we sit drinking coffee on another good old, boring day that lights up my life.

July 28, 2018 – Our 39th Anniversaryimg_0268

The Sower -Mark 4

By Paul Knudtson

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Hans and Eilert Knudtson – early 1930s

“Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear. . . “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.”.  . The farmer sows the word.  Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown.  As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4: 9, 10, 13-20 NIV)

The parable of the sower and the seed tells us that the kingdom of God does not come through human activity,

not through doing something,

but through doing nothing, through passivity,

through being like good soil,

through hearing, listening.

The farmer does not improve the soil conditions by cultivating the beaten path,

nor does he pick the rocks or pull out the thorns.

The parable is not cast in imperative language, “Be good soil!”

But simply uses the language of description—this is the way things are with the kingdom of God.

 

The parable is about the kingdom, the mystery of the kingdom.  It comes early in the gospel and becomes a kind of interpretive key for understanding the gospel as a whole.  As in the parable, so in the gospel it looks as though there is little promise of a harvest.  It appears that the kingdom of God, as presented by Jesus, is destined to amount to nothing.

Jesus is rejected by his family and by those from his home at Nazareth.

The love of wealth chokes the word in the case of the rich man who, though he likes what Jesus has to say, is not able to surrender his “many possessions”.

The Pharisees and temple authorities are the hardened path, rejecting Jesus outright.

And most disturbing of all, even his own disciples prove not to be good soil.

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Peter, the rock, turns to sand in the time of danger and denies Jesus.

Judas betrays him,

Peter, James and John fall asleep in the garden.

In the end, when Jesus is arrested, all of the disciples desert him and flee for their lives. One looks in vain for much of anything in the gospel that puts them in a positive light.  They are known for their little faith.

At one point, Jesus refers to Peter as Satan and indicates that the disciples are spiritually blind and deaf.

Yet, the parable tells us that in spite of evidence to the contrary,

There will be a great harvest.

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The Son of Man will “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31)

Through suffering and endurance, the kingdom comes to us all.

And though it is “hard to enter the kingdom of God” (10:23), especially if one is rich, “all things are possible with God” (10:27).  In spite of ourselves.

And those who have “left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields . . . will receive “a hundredfold now” and “in the age to come, eternal life” (10:30).  Though like the prophets of old, they may never receive what had been promised (Heb.12:39) until eternity.

 


Postscript by Elaine

 

“Through Gates of Splendor” and “The Shadow of the Almighty” by Elisabeth Elliot are classic biographies that recount the martyrdom of her husband and four other missionaries in 1956 at the hands of the Huaorani people of the rain forest of Ecuador.  They are must reads for those who need to be reminded that God works through tragedy.  A favorite of mine in the 90’s, it recounts the events leading to the death of the five missionaries and the subsequent return of Jim Elliot’s widow, Elisabeth and Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel, to live amongst the Huaorani along with the Summer Institute of Linguistics several years later. (Wikipedia)

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It is our work to show God’s love in the barren places; it is his work to make it grow.

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May They Find Us Faithful

By Elaine Knudtson

Psalm 90:1, 2   “Lord, you have been our dwelling place through all generations.  Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Psalm 71:17-18 “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”

Families are the means by which God passes on His story.  Our impact may never be known as we fulfill our purpose from generation to generation.

 

Grandma.

Rhubarb and sugar, washer boards and wringer washing machines, washing tubs, clothes pegged to the lines.  How did I know you?

In your hands that pared the fresh vegetables from the garden.

In the slop pail we carried to the garden filled with peelings and egg shells.

In the egg sandwiches you wrapped in wax paper for the boarders and grandpa’s                lunch kits.

In the empty glass quart jars you left out until the horse-drawn cart arrived with           the milkman.

In the way you held my hand as we crossed the railroad tracks on our walk to Whyte Avenue to buy meat and produce for supper.

In the pennies you gave me to buy candy or ride the bus.

Did you know that I slid down the wooden bannister while you napped?

Did you know I gouged the ice cream in the freezer and snuck oatmeal cookies from the metal cannisters?

Did you know I cried when I left you to go upstairs to my tiny apartment when Mom and Dad came home at night?

I was the princess.  You and grandpa, the king and queen.

We ruled the castle.  I was the “smo yenta”, the “svenska flicka”, the “scrap yenta” who made grandpa laugh and wrinkle his nose when he came home from the garage with his greasy hands.

When we moved away to start our own life, I was exiled from the kingdom.  No longer the only child.  The magic spell was broken and I was the older sister to a brood of children that didn’t respect my royal status.

You still whisper to me when I make krumkake in December or hear gospel radio in the dead of night.  I can taste you in the candy corn and the mints I give my grandchildren in church.  I see the pride in your eyes when I crochet a blanket; I feel you beside me when I kiss my grandchildren.

Will they love me thirty years after I’m gone?  Will they hear my voice or see the love in my eyes as they enter a room.  Will they know the presence of God in the ordinary, the way you taught me?  Will they feel his presence in the garden or in the hand that holds them as they walk across the tracks to eternity?

You tie me to the ancestors I never knew and I connect you to the future that neither of us can fully predict.  I touch three centuries when I look at you holding my son and daughter in the faded picture on my shelf. 256

What remains?

Love, Family, Faith

A conviction that God is with us through the generations, writing our story with grace and faithfulness.  You stand as a testimony to His presence.  My I be a light to those who come after me.

The mantle has been passed.  May I be worthy of the name

Grandma.

 

Leaving and Receiving

By Paul Knudtson

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Life involves both leaving and receiving. We hear about this in the gospel.

Disciples say to Jesus: “Look we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus says, “there is no one who has left house or brothers and sisters or mother or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-30)

 

I’ve thought about the kinds of leaving that this life involves at all stages:

  • Children leave the comfort of home and go to school with strangers, leaving toys, free time, and the familiarity of routines with parents.
  • Companies downsize and restructure, opportunities for advancement arise elsewhere, or working conditions become intolerable, forcing people to leave their place of work.
  • Seniors move out of their homes to go into assisted living, losing their independence and freedom.
  • The empty farm house where I grew up is a mere shadow of its former glory in the days when it thrived as an active farm. Leaving what once was, is painful.
  • Visiting family is colored by the question, “When are you leaving?” even before the suitcases are put into the spare bedroom.

And the leaving of this life is often painful.  That’s why the rich man in Mark 10 was “grieving.” He didn’t want to leave it all behind.

These words from Psalm 38 may express how we feel when we must leave something we love:

6I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; I go about in mourning all the day long.” “8I am utterly numb and crushed; I wail, because of the groaning of my heart.”

But the leaving referred to in the gospel is matched by a much greater receiving:

One who has left home and family . . . will receive “a hundredfold now in this age . . . and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:30)

Just so, our leaving needs to be balanced by the much more of the receiving.

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Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

It is like the leaving referred to at the beginning of Mark 10, that which refers to the creation story in Genesis 2. Jesus says,

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.” ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.’” (Mark 10:6-8; Gen 1:27; 2:24)

It may be hard to leave father and mother, but one receives so much more through marriage and having a family of one’s own.

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I think of all that I have received by leaving my own father and mother for marriage:

I have children and grandchildren of my own along with a partner who is a witness to my life.

What a joy they have brought to us. Our five-year-old grandson at breakfast one morning said this to his dad as he was eating a piece of bread:

“I’m eating Jesus’ skin, right?” His dad replied, “Well, not really.” To which he replied, “It’s in the Bible!”

We rejoice each time a new child enters our family.  Our hearts are enlarged with each new person.

Such joys are part of the receiving that has gone with leaving my father and mother for marriage.

But the attachment to that which is precious can prevent us from receiving what is far better and far more valuable.

  • Attachment to parents has prevented many marriages from thriving.
  • The rich man’s attachment to money in Mark 10 kept him from following Jesus.

Mark 10 speaks of these attachments that one must give up: “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields.”

What have you had to give up in life? What leaving has defined you?

What does Jesus ask you to leave in order that you may follow him?

Christian faith does not eliminate the pain of leaving that we experience in this life—in some ways it intensifies it, even as Jesus asks people to leave what others do not leave.

thThe rich young man in Mark 10 had to choose between his wealth and Jesus.

Either / Or — his wealth or Jesus.

What either/or defines your life of faith?

Yet, there is something drastic—seemingly reckless or irresponsible—in what Jesus calls the rich man to do—to sell everything he owns and follow him.  In my experience, money and possessions give one a sense of security. Who would want to give away this security?

But it is good to be reminded that not even money in the bank can give us ultimate security in this life.

One day this week as I thought about the struggles our families have faced through the years.  No one is immune.  I read the words of Psalm 36 that speaks of the much more that we receive from God.

5Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, and your faithfulness to the clouds. 7How priceless is your love, O God! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.  8They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights.”

Jesus invites us to follow him and to trust in him above all, and to find our ultimate security in him alone. He invites us to throw caution to the wind as we follow him on the great adventure of faith.

Oftentimes Jesus directs our attention to what is most dear, most precious to us, and even asks us to give this up in order to follow him.

He wishes us to find our ultimate security in him and in his love.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

Trusting in the Lord isn’t always easy for us, but Jesus doesn’t play it safe.

Sell it all and give it away, every bit of it, and come follow me.

Thomas Green likens the life of faith to learning how to float in the ocean. Floating rather than swimming. In swimming, one is in control, energetically swimming to a certain destination; when one floats, one surrenders to the current, allowing it to carry one wherever it will.  (Thomas H. Green, S.J. When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the BeginningsAve Maria Press, 2007)

 

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matt11)

Do you like to feel in control of everything in your life?  Are you a swimmer rather than a floater?

As we see early in Mark 10, Jesus calls us also to give up our self-sufficiency and to become like children.  To leave adulthood in order to receive the kingdom of God.

boy wearing green crew neck shirt jumping from black stone on seashore
Photo by ajay bhargav GUDURU on Pexels.com

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. (Matthew 18)

Kids know that they are not responsible for everything in the world. They don’t usually carry the weight of the world of their shoulders.

This week I watched a mother with three pre-school children walk into Safeway and then a few minutes later leave Safeway. She carried one child, followed by a boy and a girl following him. This girl, perhaps 3 years old, seemed completely lost in the wonder of being a child. She took huge giant steps as she walked across the marked cross walk leading from the store—then tried to balance on the cement parking bumper.

Jesus invites us to leave the burden of adult life for childlike, joyful, carefree living.

Is Jesus saying these words to you?

“Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”

Psalm 127 adds:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”  (v.3)

Jesus looks at us, and loves us, and wants us to be free of all the encumbrances that we are so attached to and that prevent us from finding our rest and security in God.

  • Childhood traumas
  • The painful memories of hurt, abandonment and loss
  • The fear of an uncertain future
  • Unresolved conflicts, broken relationships, estrangement
  • Health worries
  • Financial strains
  • Death and mortality

At the heart of this rest is knowing that we are God’s beloved.

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The disciples had taken the plunge of discipleship, as Peter reminds the Lord: “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

But the gospel is not simply about leaving; instead, the gospel is about leaving in order to receive much more in the company of Jesus:

“a hundredfold now in this age . . . and in the age to come eternal life.”

Conclusion

Though it is hard or impossible to conceive of such a thing, we will one day be asked to give up what is most dear to us—our very lives.

We may think that it was cruel of Jesus to ask that rich man to give up everything he owned, and that it is cruel that God should require all the leaving that is required of us in this life.

But we need to always remember the “much more” quality of the gospel.  We will receive a hundredfold now in this age—and in the age to come eternal life.”

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A Letter From the Past

By Elaine Knudtson

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I wrote myself a letter in 1970 that I found in my closet just last week.  “Live in the moment,” I admonished myself.  “Enjoy one second at a time.”

Does life consist of the seconds?

“I’ve been through an awful lot, but no more than anyone else,” I told myself. “My problems are great, but not insurmountable and my joys are exalted, but they very quickly pass. I am a teenager.”

Foolish, pious young girl.  What did I know about life:

“There is much misery and the threat of death, but these things have a habit of looming so large in our minds that we completely destroy the sensitive place in our hearts reserved for soft, simple things in life.”

I was at the beginning of the race.  Ready to be part of the generation that would change the world.  Lofty goals, high ideals, full of promise.

But last month I retired.  I retired and they deleted me before I was even out the door.

I’m obsolete, the vision of the past, easily replaced, quickly forgotten.

My influence evaporates.

Friends promise reunions, but they are still in the race and the promise will be  forgotten and

“Let’s get together” becomes, “I ought to call her.”

Guilt replaces good intentions.

I’m disconnected.  Just another senior fumbling for change at the check out.

The senior reflects; the teenager hoped:

 

“I don’t know how it happened, but I found myself walking amongst thorny shrubs.  I was in a patch of wild roses.  Only the month before the bushes had been full of bright pink flowers.  Now the flowers had faded and died.  Only the seeds were left. The seed was shaped like a tiny red apple.  It was homely, without vivid color or the soft curves of the pedals, but no matter how much I wanted that seed to blossom again, it would not.  It would take a cold winter and the warm thawing sun in the spring to bring it into bloom.”  (Elaine, 1970)

Could it be that the seed will bloom again in this new chapter of my life?

The teenager focused on the future; now as the elder, I see it was not the prize at the end that shaped my life, but rather the way I ran the race.

What would I tell my teenage self?

Elaine044

Learn to love those you hate

Honor the humble and the meek

Serve those you lead

Value your weaknesses

Be cautious of your strengths; pride                   weakens you.

You will not change the world; make   sure the world changes you for the better.

“I know the plans I have you for,” declares the Lord.  “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “And will bring you back to the place from which (you began).” Jeremiah 29:11-14