We Shine!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 60:1-6

A phrase often heard – and an action often encouraged – in my yoga studio is “Shine your heart.” To shine your heart means that you draw forward your heart cavity, which is your sternum and upper rib cage, through your shoulders as if a beam of light began shining from your heart onto the wall next to you, the ceiling above you, or the person in front of you. Shining your heart rotates your shoulders back and down, which brings them into proper alignment over your hips and creates space and broadness across your shoulders.

Why is this phrase often heard and action often encouraged? Because my yoga teachers see so many people walking with hunched shoulders…I see so many people walking with hunched shoulders. These persons, their hearts are not shining forward; their hearts are receding, their lights mere flickers. They are bracing for impact. They are in survival mode. They have only just endured the last moment. They are fearful of the next moment. Their shoulders reflect their burdens caused by life’s innumerable weights.

When we walk with hunched shoulders long enough, our bodies begin to accept that shape as our natural shape. When our bodies accept that hunched shape as natural, it cannot be reversed, and we live with its effects permanently.

When I first returned to yoga I walked as someone that rounded forward my shoulders. My body physically manifested the stress I carried. I thought that the way to protect my heart was to shield it rather than shine it. I experienced physical discomfort in drawing my heart forward, in rolling my shoulders into proper alignment.

After years of practice I am growing in comfort with shining my heart. It took time to cultivate this practice. It took courage to face what was causing me to shield rather than shine. It took several brave steps towards vulnerability.

I had to let things go physically and emotionally. I had to forgive. I had to be forgiven. I had to walk away from burdens. I had to open myself to shining and to light.

This week we will ring in a new year that is full of promises, possibilities and potentialities (as the song goes). With the close of one year and the beginning of another we are afforded the opportunity to let things go, to lessen and release burdens, to forgive and be forgiven, to commit or resolve ourselves to shining our hearts rather than continuing to shield them.

Folks that shield their hearts know well the “darkness [that] covers the earth and thick darkness the peoples” (Isa 40:2a). “Arise and shine!” Isaiah says (Isa 40:1a). Christ’s light and life has lightened our burden. Our Christ has revealed a new way forward. What way forward is that for you in 2016? What commitments or changes is God calling you to make so that you can shine your heart in offering to God and shine God’s heart in offering to others?

I find that when I begin with gratitude – for where I have come from, for where I am going, for the people and places and experiences I’ve had along the way – I am more able and wanting to shine my heart.

Steve Harper, a retired pastor and professor in the Florida Conference – and a continuing mentor to many! – shared this reflection as we move to the new year, “Thinking this final week of 2015 about influencers: the people who have influenced me most have not spent their lives identifying the darkness, but rather have devoted themselves to intensifying the light.”

“We shall see and be radiant”says the prophet (Isa 40:5a). We shall see and be radiant as we devote ourselves to intensifying Christ’s light.

With renewal and rejoicing we move on, we move forward, we move towards 2016.

In this New Year, may we open up, invite in, and grow. May we choose light. May we choose life. May we shine.

Prayer: “O God, you made of one blood all nations, and, by a star in the East, revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel. Enable us who know your presence with us so to proclaim his unsearchable riches that all may come to his light and bow before the brightness of his rising, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”*

*”Epiphany,” The United Methodist Hymnal 255.

Jobbbb: Blessing

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 42:1-6, 10-17

This week the Tuskawilla Family concludes our study of Job with a lesson on blessing. It seems a bit jarring, knowing what we have walked through with Job and perhaps experienced through our own reflections during this study, to now speak of blessing.

Job has been through the ringer. Like Jacob, Moses, others before him, and others after him, Job struggled with God. After the struggle he carried the lasting marks of that encounter with him. His physical wounds healed. Hisfamilial and material wealth was restored. Yet, this restoration did not return Job to his Job 1 self. His restoration was a new beginning, bearing in his heart, mind, soul, and strength all that had transpired and allowing that to guide but not define his future.

Job’s discourse with God comes to an end in the first six verses of Job 42. His last words to God before the narrative prose of the epilogue begins are “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” according to the New Revised Standard Version (Job 42:6). Kathleen O’Connor observes that the “in” in this translation of Job 42:6 “reinforces a theology of fire and brimstone, of human inadequacy and divine capriciousness as Job despairs and gives in.”* But other translations of this verse capture Job repenting “of” dust and ashes. Some may question, “How big a difference does this two-letter preposition make?” For O’Connor and myself, “in” versus “of” makes all the difference. Repenting “of” dust and ashes suggests that “Job gets up from his ash heap of sorrow and loss to get on with his life.”*

Job’s witness teaches us that we will experience suffering and that even in the midst of suffering when we feel that God is most silent, our faith – that God will speak again or that our God is already speaking in ways that we are not yet equipped to hear, understand, or interpret – draws us out of suffering, out of dust and ashes, towards new, altered, and continuing life. But to experience that blessing, to allow its transformation to reign and renew, Job had to vacate the ash heap. He had to release his anger and confusion toward himself, his family, his friends, and his God. He had to get up and continue walking forward.

Consider an ash heap in your life. Are you still there? Have you walked forward from it? What blessings did you receive in doing so? What lessons did you learn about God and yourself through this experience?

Join us this Sunday as Todd Zimmerman joins me in co-preaching and shares with us the blessing through and beyond life’s trials. His witness is a powerful testimony of leaving and learning beyond life’s ash heap. Our service will conclude with a special time of reflection and prayer. I look forward to worshipping with you.

Prayer: “O worship the King, all glorious above, O gratefully sing God’s power and God’s love; our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise. Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail; thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.”**

*Thoughts from Kathleen O’Connor in Feasting on the Word Year B Volume IV 196.

**”O Worship the King,” The United Methodist Hymnal 73.