Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. How much time have you devoted to God this week? If you are like me, my assessment looks pretty dismal. It’s just that every day I face so many things to do. But I have to ask myself – what things eat up my time and snatch away my focus.? Have you ever felt your life needs decluttering? That is what I have faced this week. As I prepare for bed, I list those things that I need to prioritize when I wake. But my morning to-do list often dissolves due to the clutter. Can you think of what clutter is in your life? While we are in this moment together, take a deep breath and let’s examine the ways we add clutter to our lives.
My obvious clutter often starts with the kitchen countertop. It usually collects a bit at a time. There is the flour canister that used to be stored in the pantry, but since it was being used often for a series of days when I cooked, it stayed out. Now in its place in the pantry stands a box of Bisquick, so the flour canister stays on the counter. Also on the countertop sits the recently purchased jar of garlic stuffed olives that hasn’t found a home and a towel on which set several pans, air-drying after being washed by hand. So the clutter grows and soon it needs a focused stretch of time to get everything in order. And there are other ways we add clutter to our lives.
Why do my morning plans dissolve and the to-do list suffer? Because I turn on the news to see what is happening and scroll on my phone to check news links. It’s amazing how I can be distracted by not-so-news-worthy items, like “50 Kitchen Hacks You Never Thought Of”. This seems like a worthy pursuit; however, when I check the time, I wonder how an hour (or more) could have possibly passed already. Has this ever happened to you?
It is far too easy to get distracted and let the clutter take over. When the flat surfaces in my home start to gather miscellaneous items, so do the spare moments when I react to things to do, read or research. Have you discovered Google? It is an amazing tool for the easily distracted mind. I’ve gotten to the point where any casual conversation can bring up a question where I must instantly turn to Google for an answer. It doesn’t matter if the answer is all that important, there are numerous answers, and then I also find other suggested queries that lead me down more Google “rabbit holes”.
Although it’s embarrassing to admit to the clutter in my life, I bring it up to show it’s a powerful force. The clutter of material things and the clutter or distractions for my mind detracts from the time I could be focusing on my relationship and communication with God. But how can I declutter? How do you eliminate the clutter so your focus on God is intentional and uninterrupted?
I’ve mentioned before that I find it easier to focus when I write prayers and thoughts in a journal. But the clutter of to-do lists distracts me. Here’s a thought! I should add journaling to my To-Do list. That is one way to be more intentional. I also find that if I don’t have the right kind of place in my house to get away from it all, I get in my car and drive to a nearby park. I have discovered multiple paths in the county parks.
I appreciate the time that I’ve just taken to examine the clutter in my life. It helps me understand it and, hopefully, control it instead of it controlling me. I pray the same for you. Look at your time and how you’ve spent it. How do you manage the physical and mental clutter in your life? This is a sincere question and I appreciate any suggestions that you may have.
Dear God, I thank you for your listening ear. Help me to declutter my mind so I can focus on the praise and prayer that I need to express. Hear my voice and help me be quiet and hear yours. Help me be released from the clutter of material things and the attention-seeking thoughts crowded in my head. I praise you for your power and strength and thank you for your never-ending grace. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. The lectionary theme this week is about prayer, using Luke 11: 1-13 where Jesus provided instructions about praying and offered a part of what we call The Lord’s Prayer as an example. This caused me to reflect on prayer life, in general, and mine specifically. What draws us to prayer? Joy, love, repentance, worries, sadness? What provides us with the best prayer experiences? Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath together, open our inner selves, and listen for the whispers of the Holy Spirit as we prepare for our conversations with God.
Let me ask you – what is your prayer life like? When did you first experience prayer? When has your prayer life been strongest? What impacts your prayer life?
These last couple of weeks have brought me face to face with a full spectrum of absolute joy to deep sadness, and all of this has impacted my prayer life. My emotions overflowed in both directions, and, truthfully, rarely resulted in voiced full sentences to God. My prayers were, at times, unvoiced words and thoughts. But prayers don’t need to be worded in flowery phrases. Jesus taught, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
This last week I experienced friendships, some were newly formed and others were deeply-rooted and developed over the years, even decades. I offered my thankful praise to God in popcorn-type moments for the great joy that filled my heart. I was especially thankful for those moments because they helped me turn to God when my heart felt broken or scared. I took those feelings and requests to God, also, sometimes in sentences, sometimes in broken thoughts and concerns.
Often my prayers are quick reactions to moments of happiness or periods of need. But prayer life is incomplete if it is not given intentional and devoted time. Where do you find your intentional prayers best expressed? My drive to work or my walk from the parking lot to my office provided me with a time to pray. Now that I am retired, I seek out a quiet walk in the morning along one of the paths in a nearby park. How about you?
I also appreciate the shared prayers and guided meditations in our worship services, at retreat campfires, and in any group experiences where we have intentionally sought the presence of the Holy Spirit as a faith community. Sometimes I struggle to set the intentional time aside, but I never regret it.
Where and when are your best prayer opportunities? What do you include in your prayers? Have you included praise, thankfulness, repentance, and supplication? In the scripture from Luke, we are told to pray using all these aspects. As I reflect on my prayer life, I am reminded that I must slow down; pray in the moment, but also pray intentionally; pray in private and in community; pray for myself and pray intercessory prayers for others. I must designate intentional prayer time and remember the guidance that Jesus taught.
Now is an intentional moment for each of us to pray. Don’t worry about the smoothness of your words. Pray your heart. That is my prayer for you. Open your mind to communicate to God and allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to flow from your mind to your heart and from your heart back to the Holy Spirit.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Have you ever had a week where life seems to overwhelm your plans and schedules? Personally, I’ve raced to clinic visits, doctor appointments and trips to the lab and found little solace in the potentiality of solutions, because that is all we got – potential answers. So join me as I take a deep breath, close my eyes for a moment and just breathe in and out, cleansing my anxiety and removing the worries. Let’s turn our minds to the Holy Spirit to refresh and refuel. Let’s explore a Spiritual Practice where we center our thoughts, hopes and prayers on blessings for ourselves and others.
Today we will experience a blessing of Loving Kindness. Take a few moments to quiet yourself and find a comfortable position.
Allow the following words of blessing to resonate in your heart and mind. Pause at the end of each phrase and give yourself time to repeat it again.
May I be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat.
May I be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat.
Think of someone who is beloved to you. Visualize the person as you pray. Insert the person’s name into the prayer in your mind:
May my beloved __________be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat.
May my beloved __________be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat.
Now think of a close friend. Visualize the person as you pray:
May my friend be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat
May my friend be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat
Think of someone with whom you are in conflict or someone who has harmed you. Visualize this person. Breathe deeply and lovingly pray this blessing:
May the one who harmed me be blessed with loving kindness. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with health. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with true happiness. Pause. Repeat
May the one who harmed me be blessed with peace. Pause. Repeat
Praying for blessings for yourself and others, loved ones or your “enemies”, strengthens your own peacefulness and compassion. As your soul seeks contentment with a thankful heart, may you go forth filled with the spirit of loving kindness, thankfulness and peace.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. How has your life gone this week? I would love to hear the blessings that have poured upon you. In fact, I’m sure that could bolster all of us. But let me ask you, what issues have caused you pain? What has strained your soul? Some of you are, no doubt, asking why am I focusing on the negative? Why am I scratching at the irritants, digging at the abrasions, and focusing on the pain? I found myself asking this same thing. Especially since I have been reading the story of The Good Samaritan. Do you remember this story? Let’s review it.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” (Luke 10:30-35)
All the times I have encountered this story I have focused on the Good Samaritan, the person who was filled with compassion and put aside his distrust and ill feelings and helped someone in need. We learn that to help our neighbor, to love our neighbor, we see that person with the eyes of someone who lives the Enduring Principle “The Worth of All People”.
But there is another story here. There is the story of the divisions that cause us to distrust and pull apart from one another. Perhaps we have to identify those issues whether it be about social status, religious views, gender equality, gender identification, or whatever way we define “us” versus “them”.
Let me ask you what conditions (characteristics) might make you hesitate to help a person in need. Think of people you might describe as angry, outspoken, homeless, non-conforming, troubled, unclean, or mentally ill. What would you add? What about your neighbor – what do you think they would add?
Now I want you to fill in those characteristics using Love Your Neighbor.
Love Your Neighbor.
Love your ___________ neighbor.
Love your ___________ neighbor.
Love you ____________ neighbor.
You get the idea.
Now you need to ask yourself, what about these conditions make you respond the way you do?
We are challenged to love those neighbors who make us uncomfortable, those neighbors who upset us and don’t agree with us, and those neighbors who don’t love us back.
We must identify our issues and find a way to love each other despite our disagreements and our divisions. And that is part of our mission.
Dear God, forgive us our transgressions and help us learn from one another. You love us all. Help us embody your love as we struggle to love one another. Help us open our eyes, open our arms and open our hearts every day and truly live your commandment to love one another. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. This week I was overwhelmed with beauty. There was a picture on social media that as I gazed at it, it pulled me closer to the Holy Spirit. My heart began forming thoughts and a sense of invitation. This picture stirred so much in me that I would like to share it with you as our simple devotion today. So take a deep breath and exhale. I invite you to find the majesty of God as you gaze upon this magnificent expression of God’s sacred creation.
When I look at this tree, I see the outreached arms of God.
O God, I am only a small speck in this world, but I know you have room for me where I can shelter when I am afraid.
A place where I can be weak because you are strong.
A place that is sometimes distant, but never so far that you can’t reach me.
There are so many directions that I could go, but you are always there.
Look again at this picture. Where are you? Down low and well-grounded? Near the center, or up high? Perhaps you are out at the outermost tip of a branch. But are you confident of God’s strength or are you hanging on and fearful of falling? Somedays, are you snug at the center, resting well where the branch starts to spread outward, but close to the trunk of the tree?
I invite you to gaze again at this magnificent tree and create your own story, your place, in the arms of God.
Where are you?
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Welcome to a place of peace, kindness and exploration of faith. As you reflect back on this past week, please stop a moment and think deeply and carefully. I’ve suggested before that at the end of each day we should stop and look back to see where your life moments were tied to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Whatever time of day it is for you right now, I challenge you to look back over the last 12-24 hours and find where the Holy Spirit nudged or guided you in a certain direction.
So, “What is God doing in your life these days?” Perhaps I should have led with that question.
Our congregation has been focusing these last few weeks on the Holy Spirit – how to be open to it and discern where our faith journey should lead us. In years past we’ve provided a building as a women’s hypothermia shelter. We’ve also offered English classes for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and when the pandemic closed the DC churches, we surprised ourselves by plunging right in and successfully moving our classes online.
These are great projects but I feel a persistent push to continue to ask what is ahead for us. This week I began scouring for potential service projects and I was drawn to Friendship Place and its program/support to end homelessness in DC. I took a few screenshots about their speakers who would come to churches to present their programs and help organizations explore what they could do.
Then, in the midst of my research, I received word that there was a person who was literally on our church steps and in need of shelter and food. I met with this person, listening to a bit of their history and passions, their desire to take what they experienced as a homeless person and raise consciousness that would better serve the homeless. I can’t ignore the timing and circumstances of this situation. It too closely intersects with my recent quest for a way ahead for our congregation and the detailed shelter information I had recently acquired. Now as I ask myself, “What is God doing in my life these days?”, I have an answer.
I don’t know where this recent experience will take me nor the congregation. Is it a nudge, or is it a significant step? I don’t know. I do know that I can’t ignore it. I do know that the presence of the Holy Spirit is undeniable here. I do know that no matter the outcome, our first steps are acts of love, kindness, and acceptance. The words of the Community of Christ’s Mission Prayer ring clear: "God, where will your spirit lead me today? Help me to be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen”
So what is God doing in your life these days?
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. In the DC area, today has been a wonderful respite from the heat we have experienced recently. The high yesterday was 99o F, humid, and miserable. However, this morning when I walked outside, it was a cool, breezy 70o F and the contrast was shocking. It made me relax, smile, and just close my eyes and feel the breeze. I thought of the breeze being like the Holy Spirit. Can you feel it? Let me help free your mind and take you on a journey where you, too, can feel the Holy Spirit breezing past you and around you, settling upon you and helping you feel the presence of God.
If you aren’t where the weather is beautiful and breezy, find yourself a cool spot near an air conditioner or a fan and let the breeze flow over you. Wherever you are, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Say either out loud, in your mind, or sing in soft, low tones, “Come Holy Spirit, Come. Come, Holy Spirit Come….” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEISMqHTWV0)
This song awakens me to wonderful memories of sitting around evening campfires with people who are seeking the spirit of God at this mutual moment. We pause our activities, we empty our thoughts of everything but God and the Holy Spirit and we allow the music to fill us. Fill that empty space where to-do lists once ruled, fill it with gentle calls of “Come Holy Spirit, come. Come, Holy Spirit, come…”
As I’m reliving that Zen-filled moment of quiet and dusting off memories of years past, my mind’s eye sees campfire flames flickering upwards, sometimes in a soft wave, sometimes crackling as bits of bright ember burst out in a small spray. “Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come, Holy Spirit, come…”. Come in the silence, come in the minute sounds of the forest behind us or the lapping of the waves on the nearby shore. Can you see it? Can you feel it? Where are you as you focus your mind, then your heart, and seek the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps you are someone who finds music to be the gentle conductor of the Holy Spirit. Here is another beckoning song, calling out in faith and anticipation, perhaps even desperation, trusting that the invited guest is settling in. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDyX80iN4S4
What speaks to you and opens your heart, mind and soul to the presence of the Holy Spirit?
Where have you had your encounters, no matter how small? And when was it not a gentle breeze, but a knock-you-down, mighty wind?
Share your stories. But if this memory, or this moment, is so personal you don’t want to put it into words, allow that. But, by all means, let it breathe and live. Come, Holy Spirit, come…
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. As I moved through this past week, I found the presence of the Holy Spirit speaking to me. Sometimes it was just a slight nudge. Other times it was a bulldozer (which could be quite unsettling). When it was difficult to face the hurtfulness of others, I looked inward and outward, seeking an olive branch when my instinct was to wield a large timber. I looked to the Old Testament scriptures which offered the faithfulness of God, the New Testament which offered the living examples of the ministry of God’s son Jesus, and the ever-present gift of the Holy Spirit – promised by Jesus and gifted by God. Which of these three do you reach for when needing counsel, comfort, wisdom and hope?
I appreciate the scriptures of the Old Testament – especially learning the stories of those people who led imperfect lives but whom God still used to pass on his message of love and grace. And, of course, the books of Psalms and Proverbs which individually and collectively speak to my good days and my bad. What in the Old Testament speaks to you?
I use the scriptures of the New Testament to find the God I know best. It is Jesus’ words, actions and death that provide the greatest illustration of God’s immense love for us. Jesus poured out love and acceptance to the marginalized. We would find him today providing ministry to the homeless, the poor, and the incarcerated. How can I ignore any of these people when I know Jesus would be among them in his ministry?
I have learned from reading the stories of Jesus’ teaching, but I don’t get to walk with him to learn like the disciples did in his time. In my day-to-day life, I have the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus and gifted by God. I love to look back on my day and reflect on those times influenced by the Holy Spirit. Some were mere moments of feeling God’s care, at other times there were decisions and actions that altered my day’s journey. When have you seen the workings of the Holy Spirit in your life or the life of someone else?
The Holy Spirit led me to new and enriching experiences. Have you ever had a conversation with anyone in a homeless situation? For many years my husband and I shared dinners at a local men’s shelter. At first we just dropped off the dinner, thinking the men wouldn’t want us to eat with them. But the Holy Spirit intervened and we felt a strong push to bring the dinner and sit down to eat with the men. I didn’t anticipate what their perspective might be. Once one of the men at the shelter expressed his appreciation for the meal and companionship, and commented about most people would never dream of sitting at the dinner table with “the likes of us”. Another time, after a lively conversation, one man thanked us for validating that they had an opinion that mattered. The Holy Spirit offered us an amazing experience. When have you been led by the Holy Spirit to reach out as an individual, family, congregation or community?
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and it is a wonderful time to acknowledge the Three-in-One. We find “God the Father” in the words of scripture, “God the Son” in the life of Jesus, and “God the Spirit” in the continuing companionship and guidance of the Holy Spirit. I pray you find all three as you seek the One – the God of love who is manifested in all these forms. Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Today is Pentecost – the 50th day after Passover commemorating the day so long ago when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples, just as Jesus had promised. All done in a marvelous and miraculous way.
“Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.” (Acts 2:2-3)
Yes, that image is miraculous, but we need to realize the full miracle is that the Holy Spirit came to stay. It was not just for the people of that time. It was for us today, a true testament to God’s everlasting love. Do you ever wonder why God gave us the Holy Spirit?
Jesus taught about God’s love. He spoke about it and he showed it in the way he lived his life. When Jesus died he told the disciples that he was leaving, but he promised they would never be alone because God would send the gift of the Holy Spirit. Why? So God could remain close to us. That is a profound statement… the gift of the Holy Spirit is so God could remain close to us. Are we really talking about God’s intentional desire to be close to us? It is He that is seeking us? Don’t we usually think of it as us seeking God?
Think of a time when you opened your heart and sought the comfort, guidance, and support of the Holy Spirit. It was an intentional act on your part. Now think of a time when you were not seeking the Holy Spirit, but you felt its presence anyway. It was an intentional act of God.
I find it interesting that we talk about inviting or “invoking” the Spirit of God to be with us at the beginning of our worship services. If we acknowledge that God is always with us, I think we are misidentifying that moment at the beginning of our worship services. We are not opening the church door and calling for God to enter. We are opening ourselves to receive God’s presence – through the Holy Spirit.
I particularly love the hymn, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”. I love the image of feeling God’s breath on me. God would have to be so close for me to feel His breath. So close. I know He is all around us, but to realize He is that close that I should, could and would feel His breath startles my mind. It must have been like that on that day when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples.
Let me leave you with that hymn. “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”. Take a deep breath 3 times. Click on the link and close your eyes. Feel God’s breath upon you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ph-t8P2r_I
God is seeking you today and at this very moment. Feel his breath?
Author: Bonnie Barber
Various authors throughout the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center and beyond provide these thought-provoking weekly devotions.