Some of us, including me, struggle with a head-based spiritual life. It is difficult for me to open up my heart before God, probably because it is difficult for me to open up my heart to myself. Last week I heard the following quotes which were like candles in the darkness:

“I will remind you of only one thing: one must descend with the mind into the heart, and there stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing within you. The prayer takes a firm and steadfast hold, when a small fire begins to burn in the heart. Try not to quench this fire, and it will become established in such a way that the prayer repeats itself: and then you will have within you a small murmuring stream.”
Theophan the Recluse

“Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart—that is, in the point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one within ourselves, with God, and with others and the whole of creation. In the heart of God the Spirit dwells, and there the great encounter takes place. There, heart speaks to heart as we stand before the face of the Lord, ever present, all seeing, within us. And there, in the place of the heart, spiritual formation takes place.”
Henri Nouwen in Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit 

I don’t share the following quote lightly. The next few days are some of the busiest of the year for me. But this encourages me to find and take the time in the midst of serving and participating, to do the one thing I need to do.

“It is tempting to always keep busy; there’s so much to do and there are so many in need.
But the point of all this running around is to support the real work of life.
“You are anxious and worried about many things,” Jesus once told Martha, who was “burdened with much serving.” And then he said, “There is need of only one thing.” Mary, Martha’s sister, instead sat at his feet, and today she washes them with oil.
It’s not easy to know how to direct our energies, but if our busy lives, even lived in service to others, never allow us to stop and be with the ones we love, then our purpose is defeated.
It is Holy Week, a time for contemplation. So take a break from much serving and find the one thing that is most needed.”
Amy Andrews in “A Book of Grace-filled Days”

I have found the daily meditation from the online site Sacred Space very rich for me recently. Today, in conjunction with the passage where Judas betrayed Jesus, it offered these thoughts:

“Holy Week is an invitation to walk
closely with Jesus: we fix our gaze on
him and accompany him in his
suffering; we let him look closely at us and see us as we really are.

We do not have to present a brave face to him, but can tell him about where we have been disappointed, let down – perhaps even betrayed. We avoid getting stuck in our own misfortune by seeing as he sees, by learning from his heart.”

And:
“Conversation requires talking and listening.
As I talk to Jesus may I also learn to be still and listen.
I picture the gentleness in His eyes and the smile full of love as He gazes on me.

I can be totally honest with Jesus as I tell Him of my worries and my cares.

I will open up my heart to Him as I tell Him of my fears and my doubts.

I will ask Him to help me to place myself fully in His care, to abandon myself to Him, knowing that He always wants what is best for me.”

Sacred Space
http://www.sacredspace.ie/

I have been finding this passage a good reminder as I journey through the season of Lent: 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed freeand break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and He will say: ‘Here am I.’

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
Isaiah 58:6-11

  

Dusty life

March 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten journey which culminates in the celebration of the resurrection from the dead. In between the beginning and the end of this life season, there will be a lot of dust. Dusty roads, dusty furniture, dusty thoughts.

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Sometimes we write on the dust: our names or a simple drawing. Sometimes we close the door on the dusty room. Sometimes we cover up the dust with another layer of stuff. Sometimes we watch balls of fluffy dust float across the floor. And sometimes we try to deal with it: wiping, washing, blowing it off the surface of our lives. But the dust always returns.

There is an Ash Wednesday blessing by Jan Richardson that takes a more hopeful view. It is a reminder that God formed us from the dust. Dust is not a problem for Him. Neither are ashes or brokenness. He creates, He remakes, He redeems and brings life again.

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There is hope.

Excerpt from”Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?…

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,…”

You can read the whole thing here and see Richardson’s artwork which illustrates the blessing.

A song about talking with God…

“Help Me, Thank You”
by Jason Gray

“The two best prayers I know
Either one is always apropos
Like my oldest friends
They know just what to say

Some days my cup of blessing fills
Other days I trip and when it spills
I’m not guessing either way
I know just what to pray

Help me, help me, thank You, thank You
Whether you’re riding high or feeling low
These are the two best prayers I know
Help me and thank You

The more life I live I find
The two prayers intertwine
Like my fingers do
When I bow my head to pray

Blessings can be so confusing
Winning when I think I’m losing
The wounds of yesterday
Might be my saving grace today

Help me, help me, thank You, thank You
Whether you’re riding high or feeling low
These are the two best prayers I know
Help me and thank You

With eyes wide open at the wonder of it all
Or with broken wings when I’m spinning in free fall
‘Hallelujah, deliver me’

They’re rising up inside of me
Rolling off my tongue
Before I thought to bid them come”

“The point of prayer is not to get answers from God but perfect and complete oneness with Him.”

Oswald Chambers

♦◊♦

“Prayer is living with openness to God. Our life becomes a prayer, and our prayer becomes our life as we begin to live with this openness as the core posture of our hearts” David Benner

♦◊♦

“May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou I speak to.”
C.S. Lewis

Lest we forget…
Our Heavenly Father cares for everyone in the world; He has the whole world in His hands.
Verse 1
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Verse 2
He’s got the sun and the rain in His hands
He’s got the moon and the stars in His hands,
He’s got the wind and the clouds in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Verse 3
He’s got the rivers and the mountains in His hands,
He’s got the oceans and the seas in His hands,
He’s got all the animals in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Verse 4
He’s got everybody here in His hands,
He’s got everybody there in His hands,
He’s got everybody everywhere in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Verse 5
He’s got the little biddy baby in His hands,
He’s got my brother and my sister in His hands,
He’s got Mom and Dad in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

Verse 6
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole wide world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“As long as we dwell in time, there will never be more of Him available to us than now. Our walk with Him, our acknowledgment of Him with us, within us, while remaining fully sovereign—all this in the now—is what faith apprehends. God is available to us; Jesus is indeed, we are born again of His Spirit, the living Fountain within. We practice His Presence.”
Leanne Payne

♦◊♦

“Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?”
C.S.Lewis
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♦◊♦

Ozymandias
” I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

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All Shall Be Well–Words and music by Andrew Peterson

This ballad by Andrew Peterson tells a story of holding on to hope, which is probably what is needed as we close out the first month of the year and head into the second. The newness has worn off, our bright beginnings have started to get a little tarnished. But we keep heading toward our destination.

Here are the words to the song and Peterson’s notes on it, which are on The Rabbit Room website.

“ALL SHALL BE WELL
(based on Matthew 16:18, Matthew 5:16, Luke 15:20-24, Luke 15:4, Isaiah 40:8, Hebrews 12:1)

“We touched down on the sound (1)
At the top of the world
In the land of the midnight sun
Where the frozen river melts away
And breaks into a run (2)
Into the sea, into the mighty waves
That waited just to see it
From a long way off that river thawed
And the tide ran out to meet it
“Welcome home, unfrozen river, welcome home” (3)

‘Cause all shall be well, all shall be well (3)
Break the chains of the gates of Hell
Still all manner of things will be well (4)

See the quiet hearts of the children of
The children of this land (5)
They have stayed alive in the day-long night
By the fires that warm their hands
There is a wilderness inside them
It is dark and thick and deep
And beside the fire at the heart of that wood
Is a precious missing sheep (6)
So go on in, hold your torch, let it shine

Cause all shall be well, all shall be well
Break the chains of the gates of Hell
Still all manner of things will be well
All shall be well, all shall be well
The Word of God will never fail
And all manner of things will be well

There’s a light in the darkness
There’s an end to the night (7)
I saw the sun go down on a frozen ocean
As the man in the moon was rising (8)
And he rode the night all full and bright
With his face at the far horizon
And the night can be so long, so long
You think you’ll never get up again
But listen now, it’s a mighty cloud of
Witnesses around you (9)
(They say)
Hold on, just hold on
Hold on to the end
All shall be well, all shall be well
Break the chains of the gates of Hell
Still all manner of things will be well
All shall be well, all shall be well
The Word of God will never fail
And all manner of things will be well”
——————————————-
Peterson’s notes on his song:
“1. The Norton Sound. The towns we visited were mostly coastal, the farthest north of which was Nome.
2. Those of you who live in cold climates know about the “river going out”. I remember seeing in a town in Minnesota an old car parked on a frozen river where everyone could see it. The town held a yearly raffle to predict what day of the spring thaw the car would finally sink through the ice. Well, in Alaska there’s much speculation about which day of spring the ice on the rivers will break apart and pour into the ocean. It apparently all happens in one raucous moment, and we missed it by two days. It was the talk of the town. I couldn’t help thinking of the thawing of the heart of the prodigal son and his eventual return to the arms of his father.
3. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” –Julian of Norwich
4. Which is to say, all Hell may break loose, but in the end things will be made right.
5. Many of the Native Americans I met in Alaska were quiet, stoic, intimidating. But behind those fierce eyes was much kindness, and much that needed kindness, too.
6. The landscape of that wild country was much like the inner terrain of that country’s people. Dark, dangerous, but with the bright, warm fire of a soul burning somewhere inside, a lost sheep waiting to be found and loved and carried home.
7. This of course refers to the long night of winter. The occurrence of depression and suicide in Alaska is many times that of the lower states, which is part of why I wanted to write a song of encouragement.
8. On the shore of the coastal village of Unalakleet I sat by a fire and watched the sun slide at a 45 degree angle into the sea while behind me a fat yellow moon lifted over the mountains.
9. I thought about the mighty “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews when I saw that moon surrounded by clouds on its long journey into the night”.

New year, new life

January 24, 2017 — Leave a comment

I’m having a very slow start. I’m just now looking ahead to the new year–the one that is already three weeks old. And in today’s instant world, three weeks is so past tense.
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But here I am, waking up from the comfortable hibernation of a family visit and seven hours of jet lag. Like a groundhog, I am looking at this year’s sun for the first time.
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To shift metaphors, I feel like I have missed that starter’s pistol. Everyone else has bolted out of their running blocks and now they are racing down the track.
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I’m yawning and stretching and wondering where I am, let alone where I am going.
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However life is more like a marathon than a sprint so perhaps all is not lost. Before plunging ahead, I’m taking the time to look back on last year [the one that feels like a decade ago], and look ahead to this year [the one the already feels half-gone].
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Because we live in eternity, it’s never too late to re-evaluate the direction we’re taking or to make adjustments or to shed an old cranky habit and take on a different approach. The promise of something new is always here, always now.
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In that spirit, here is a blessing based on Numbers 6:24-26 for the new life that is growing and that is to come:

The Lord bless you.
May you be blessed with blessing from the good and loving Father
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and keep you;
May you know the everlasting arms that hold you, that you can lean on, that will guide you to paths of righteousness and pull you back from danger
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the Lord make His face shine upon you,
May you stay close to your Father, who has brought His light into the world through Jesus. May this life-giving light that shines in the darkness and penetrates through the gray clouds of this world, illuminate your heart.
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and be gracious unto you;
May you walk in the fullness of grace that He has given to you freely
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the Lord lift up his countenance on you
Yes, may you know and live and walk in the Father’s abundance of blessing, as His chosen child, created, redeemed, sustained and comforted, in this life until the world to come.
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and give you peace.”
May you receive the gift of the Lord’s peace, that is, shalom;
of green pastures and calm waters,
guarded by the great Shepherd of the sheep;
whose love overtakes fear and anxiety, and who names you, “Beloved.”
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Be blessed.

I recently discovered the duo “All Sons & Daughters”. Their song “Christ Be All Around Me” is a variation on the Lorica prayer.

I find the lyrics both comforting and encouraging as we settle in to the journey of this new year. The music video, which has the lyrics, is a excellent way to experience the song. Enjoy!

“Christ Be All Around Me”

As I rise, strength of God
Go before, lift me up
As I wake, eyes of God
Look upon, be my sight

As I wait, heart of God
Satisfy and sustain
As I hear, voice of God
Lead me on, be my guide
Be my guide

Above and below me
Before and behind me
In every eye that sees me
Christ be all around me
[x2]

As I go, Hand of God
My defense, by my side
And as I rest, breath of God
Fall upon, bring me peace
Bring me peace

Above and below me
Before and behind me
In every eye that sees me
Christ be all around me
[x2]

Oh oh, oh oh
Christ be all around me
Oh oh, oh oh
Christ be all around me

Your life, Your death
Your blood was shed
For every moment
Every moment
[x4]

Above and below me
Before and behind me
In every eye that sees me
Christ be all around me
[x2]

Oh oh, oh oh
Christ be all around me
Oh oh, oh oh
Christ be all around me

Lux Venit by Michael W. Smith

An appropriate song for the day after Epiphany:

“Lux venit lux venit [the light has come]
Lux venit sursum corda [lift up your hearts]
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

By sword by flame
In death solemn ages passed
And voices young
Grow old weary
Holding fast
Hope for the dawning

Lux venit lux venit
Lux venit sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

In grace in might
The babe lay in stable stark
Redemptions’s light
Pierces through the shadows dark
Alleluia

Lux venit lux venit
Sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come

Lux venit lux venit
Lux venit sursum corda
Lux venit lux venit arise
Shine for your light has come
Alleluia”

“Jesus did not shun our world and it’s poverty and conflict. He embraced it. And he desires to embrace us today, in this day. Right where we are. Right where we are feeling most distant. Right where we are feeling least “religious” or “ready”.”
Creighton University Advent

♦◊♦

“God’s gift at Christmas is relationship, not just another human relationship but relation to God the Father by standing where Jesus stands, standing in the full torrent of his love and creativity, giving and receiving.

“To come into that place and to be rooted and grounded there means letting go of our fear of dependence and opening our hearts to be fed and enlarged and transformed. And that in turn means looking at how we handle dependence in ourselves and others, how we accept the positive dependence involved in lifelong learning and growing, and help one another deal with it positively.

So the important thing is not that everyone gets to stand on their own two feet and turns into a reliable “independent” consumer and contributor to the GNP. What we expect from each other in a generous and grown-up society is much more to do with all of us learning how to ask from each other, how to receive from each other, how to depend on the generosity of those who love us and stand alongside us.”
Rowan Williams
[HT Alan Jacobs]

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

This is a standard Christmas hymn, but I am usually focused on singing it rather than focusing on the words. As we head into a new year, it’s worth praying this sermon/hymn.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
Refrain

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
Refrain

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Refrain

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Refrain

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.
Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Refrain

When the dawn is dark

December 28, 2016 — 1 Comment

I know we are in the midst of celebrating Christmas with tidings of comfort and joy, with treasured family visits, with the warm feeling of gifts and holiday glow. But while we live on this broken earth, there is always a ‘but.’

And today the ‘but’ is the commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents [to say we are celebrating the feast doesn’t seem quite right]. The Holy Innocents were the children murdered by Herod after the Magi failed to return to him with news about Jesus.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” {Jeremiah 31:15}

So three days after we celebrate our savior’s birth, we pause and remember those defenseless children who died shortly after, and the grieving parents they left behind.

As LaVonne Neff says about Christmas,
“And they all live happily ever after …except for those Bethlehem babies that Herod murdered, of course; and Jesus’s family, who were so afraid of the new king that they hid from him in Egypt; and Jesus himself, who was executed by a Roman puppet too timid to stand up to the mob; and most of Jesus’s best friends, who within a few years were dead, and not of natural causes…”

We hold on to the hope of Christmas that a light has come to shine in the darkness. But we also acknowledge the truth that sometimes the new day dawns dark. Sometimes thick clouds obscure the light. Sometimes joy is followed by great pain and agony.
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But– all is changed.
The ‘but’ has turned to ‘and’.

Now Immanuel has come.
And God is with us.
Christmas means we have received something even better than God’s power. We have received God’s presence. He is with us in the darkest dawn and in the longest night. He is with us in joy and gladness, and with us in suffering and sorrow. We are no longer alone.

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They will call Him Immanuel” (which means, “God with us”). Matthew 1:23

You came down

One of my favorite new Christmas songs:

“Oh Saviour of our fallen race,
Oh brightness of the Father’s face
Oh Son Who shared the Father’s mind
Before the world knew day or night
Oh Jesus very light of light
Our constant star in sin’s deep night
Now hear the prayers Your people pray
Throughout the world this holy day
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown

Remember Lord of life and grace
How once to save our fallen race
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s son
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown

For from the Father’s throne You came
His banished children to reclaim
And earth and sea and sky revered
The love of Him who sent You here
Oh Christ redeemer, virgin born
Let songs of praise your name adore
And with the Father be adored
And Holy Spirit evermore
You came down
You came down
You came down
You came down
To a stable and manger
Not a kingdom or a crown”

From Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn’s album: Christmas

“…the most necessary conversion for those who have already followed Christ and have lived at his service in the Church…does not consist in abandoning what is evil, but, in a certain sense, in abandoning what is good! Namely, in detaching oneself from everything that one has done…

“This emptying of one’s hands and pockets of every pretension, in a spirit of poverty and humility, is the best way to prepare for Christmas. We are reminded of it by a delightful Christmas legend that I would like to mention again. It narrates that among the shepherds that ran on Christmas night to adore the Child there was one who was so poor that he had nothing to offer and was very ashamed. Reaching the grotto, all competed to offer their gifts.

Mary did not know what to do to receive them all, having to hold the Child in her arms. Then, seeing the shepherd with his hands free, she entrusted Jesus to him. To have empty hands was his fortune and, on another plane, will also be ours.”
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa

[number five in our sparkling constellation of grandchildren

In the Bleak Midwinter, sung by King’s College

In the Bleak Midwinter

The last line of this hymn says “give him my heart”–because the singer is so poor he or she has nothing else to give. But the reality of my heart is not always a worthy gift. Sometimes it feels like the bleak midwinter: frosty, hard and stony. Other times, it is poor, devastated, weak and broken.

And yet the truth remains that this is what my heavenly Father wants most from me: my heart. He wants to be with me face to face. He wants me to bring the truth of who I am: my thoughts, my feelings, what I have done, what I hope to do, what I hope not to do. This is who He wants to love. And this the gift of my incarnation: bringing myself to God as He has brought Himself to me.

In the Bleak Midwinter
“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
For the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.”


I look to God because He first looked at me.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

John 1:48

The Eyes of my heart
“Every day
I see more of Your beauty
Every day
I know more of my frailty, Lord
And I can only hope that I’ll be changed
Even as I look upon Your face
For the eyes of my heart
They’re on You for ever, they’re on You forever
Yes the eyes of my heart
They’re on You for ever, they’re on You forever
Every day
I see more of Your greatness
Every day
I know more of my weakness, Lord
And I can only hope that I’ll be changed
Even as I look upon Your face”
Tim Hughes