Inside Out

The movement of the spirit we remember at Pentecost may be a quiet presence longing for space in our lives. We often rightfully seek God’s presence from an external source but not notice the presence of spirit of God inside. I wonder if we miss this internal spirit because we think we need to be better people before we can receive the spirit. Or we are so damaged that we don’t deserve the spirit? Or we are so self-sufficient that we don’t need the spirit? No matter where or who we are, the spirit wants to be alive inside of each of us and hopes to find a way to enter.

Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” offers a picture of how the spirit may enter:

 
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
 
There is an old India fable that shows how God’s spirit comes in through our internal cracks and flaws to use us for spreading beauty.
 
There once lived a water carrier in India. He used two large pots for his task. He suspended a pole across his neck and attached a pot at each end of the pole. One of the pots had a big crack in it while the other pot was perfect. The perfect pot delivered a full portion of water from the stream to the master’s house, while the cracked pot arrived only half full each day. For two years this water carrier made the same journey. The perfect pot became proud of his accomplishments. The cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfections and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

Finally, one day by the stream, the cracked pot spoke to his owner about his bitter failure, “I’m ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize that I have only been able to deliver half my water to the house. There is a crack in my side which causes water to leak out. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value from your efforts.”

Then the water carrier replied, smiling, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” 

On the trip from the stream, the cracked pot looked around. The water carrier said, “Did you notice there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw and took advantage of it. I planted seeds on your side and every day while we passed these spots, you watered them. Without you just the way you are I would not have had beautiful flowers to grace this house.”
 

Shalom,
 
Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 

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God’s Great “YES!”

“There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less: God simply loves you.”  

This message, written by theologian Virginia Ramey Mollencott, clearly and simply states the whole reason and mystery of the Resurrection.  Resurrected love is God’s great “YES.”  We are simply loved and accepted just as we are. It is a gift given to us. 

May we be open to receive the gift of the “YES” of Easter.

Shalom,
 
Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 

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Good Friday


Good Friday reveals the truth of open, pulsing wounds for Jesus and reminds us that wounds are real for all of us. Dying and being wounded are a part of the story of Jesus. It is also a part of our own lives. Jesus didn’t run from death though he didn’t want it. He begged God to spare him of the “cup of death,” but it still happened.

When my husband was dying, he fought hard to keep alive. We fought with him. Death was not welcome. But it still happened. After death, wounds surface that cannot be denied.  Being hurt and wounded is a universal reality of our faith and of our lives. Don’t we often spend time with the wounds of our past?  Don’t we have friends and colleagues who struggle with their wounds? 

Our world, and even our Christian world that has the model of a wounded Christ, often prefers to deny our wounds and vulnerability. We are often expected not to show our hurts. We are to be in control. We are labeled weak if we show our hurts. Or on the other hand, our wounds can make us embittered victims. How many times have we heard, “I will never, never forgive him/her/whomever for betraying me like that.”  Eventually, we may learn that if we repeat them over and over the wounds will suffocate us. Or we can learn that as we name and face them, they can be our teachers. Jesus had wounds. Why would we ever think we need to deny or hid our wounds when he didn’t?  I know in my own ministry, I have more frequently ministered from my wounded places than in my perceived places of success.

Wounds just are. They happen. Sometimes we bring them on with our unwise, foolish life choices and sometimes they come by just living life. Isn’t it a gift to know that wounds don’t need to be our shame? Isn’t it a gift to know that wounds don’t need to make us bitter or victims and judgmental of others?

Jesus had hurting, harsh wounds. We, too, have been wounded. Good Friday reminds us that Jesus knows our wounds because he has been there.

Shalom,
 
Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 

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Looking Beyond the Ashes

Looking beyond the ashes these last days of Lent seems appropriate as a way to begin the journey into Good Friday and the cross. My late husband’s library was substantial. Actually, it was massive. Thousands of both his books and mine were destroyed when our home burned. Our church put together a “book shower” to gift us with replacements of some of our lost treasures. Often the gift givers wrote personal messages about why they chose a particular book. Each book and each message brought a reminder to us that in the midst of all the loss, we were loved.  

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of something I wanted from one of our replaced books by Father Thomas Keating. As I opened the book, a folded note card with “Jolene” on the outside dropped out. This time it was not a message from the giver of the book, but a note in my late husband’s handwriting. It said,
 

“If God can take a grain of sand
and time,
with thousands of gallons
of waterweight,
and make a pearl,
imagine what She
can bring forth from us,
whenever we’re deep, down
and under.”
 
Honestly, I don’t know if the quote comes directly from my husband or another source, but I do know that the message is real.Lent invites us to receive the gift of living in the ashes or being shaped by the sculpturing of gallons of water often enough and long enough to realize that a beautiful new self will surface. It reminds us that pain, loss, healing, and love are all intertwined as gifts to be received even though it hurts.  

Shalom,
 
Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 

 
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Out of the Ashes

The Third Week in Lent
 
In the midst of the times of loss and grief in our lives we often find something unexpected. My husband’s family traveled the world as a career Army family. My father-in-law was often given unique gifts. One that was lost in the fire was a real tiger’s skull from a general in Thailand. I didn’t mind loosing that one. But also in the midst of the destruction, some ash covered but still beautiful treasures kept popping up that carried the family story. Lent is like that. In the midst of the darkness we are surprised by a gift of new insights.
 
I hadn’t realized how close I could feel to victims of loss and suffering until I experienced the ashes.
I hadn’t realized how much I took love and family for granted until I experienced the ashes.
I hadn’t realized how deeply I held onto my false ego until I experienced the ashes.
I hadn’t realized how interconnected we are until I experienced the ashes.
I hadn’t realized how much I needed to depend on others until I experienced the ashes.
 
Yes, finding gems of challenge and potential healing are gifts we may receive from the ashes. 
 
Our losses may vary in intensity and content, but the message is the same. There is no hierarchy in grief and loss.The attack on the world trade center came just 20 days after our fire and my father-in-law died two days later. I started to listen to some voices that said, “Well, that must make your loss look very small.”
 
That comment hurt, and it also made me think I was being selfish to grieve. With help and wise council I learned that no matter the magnitude of one’s grief and loss; loss is real. One gift darkness brings is not to compare who’s loss is greater, but to walk with each other in the midst of all losses. The gift of companionship and care for all is a beautiful treasure that can come from the ashes.

 
Shalom,

Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 

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What Can I Possibly Give Up?

The Second Week in Lent

Lent traditionally invites us to give up something. After the fire, that invitation took on a different meaning. We had given up many of our possessions, so now, what can I possible give up?I muttered to God with a hint of blame and self-pity. Then it came. Give up your self-serving ego. Others have suffered just as your family has suffered. Give up your desire to look at another with any judgment. Give up self-pity. Give up blaming others. Give up asking, “why us?”  Give up finding answers to events and questions that can only be seen “through a glass, dimly.” Give up the idea that we won’t have ashes in our lives. Give up thinking that you are beyond human suffering. Give up the voices that say, “you deserved to have a fire because you are not worthy of good things.” Give up the voices that say, “you must be finding great favor with God to be tested that much.”  What?   

Letting go and giving up are beautifully healing and hard things to do.  

In all of this I am reminded of the prayer that I received from my spiritual director many years ago:

The Welcoming Prayer

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome
I welcome everything
That comes to me at this moment
Because I know it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings,
Emotions, persons,
Situations and conditions.
I let go of my desire for security,
I let go of my desire for approval,
I let go of my desire for control.
I will let go my desire
To change any situation,
Condition, person, or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God
And the healing action and grace within.

 
Not only during Lent but every hour of every day I repeat this to myself. It is not human to “let go” in this way. May we have the gift of being able to do so at least now and then.
 
Shalom,
 
Rev. Jolene Bergstrom Carlson
Executive Director/President 
 
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