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The Blessings of the Bitter

A few weeks ago, my husband attended a workshop on Scottish food and drink. It was a recreational class, and he went to enjoy new cuisine and learn a little more about the culinary history of the Scots (for example, how in the world did haggis come about?). After an afternoon of learning about the geography and its effects on the various products that come out of Scotland, the instructor said something fascinating: “Our palates don’t fully develop the ability to appreciate a range of bitterness until we’re in our late thirties or early forties.”

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Contemplative Prayer for Everyone

As I began to contemplate (verb chosen deliberately) the writing of this article, I did what any alert 21-century seeker would do: I went online. Sure enough, my article has already been written many times, both tersely and expansively, eloquently and no so eloquently, and almost exclusively under the rubric “Centering Prayer.” As I browsed among the offerings unfurled upon my screen, it became clear to me that more than enough has already been written about method and that I was drawn to something deeper.

So after the Web, I turned to my faithful Webster’s. The very words contemplative and contemplate have mystery at their heart: in ancient times the templum (temple) was the space where soothsayers practiced divination, seeking signs and omens. There is something uncanny here, a suggestion of otherworldliness, a sacred precinct set apart in the busy marketplace for a different kind of study and knowing.

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Letters to the Editor: Dear Reader

We attempted something different for Join the Conversation this time—we wanted to hear your input on the topic for this issue, to be included in this issue. Typically, reader feedback is an issue or two behind schedule due to the nature of publication and our “letter to the editor” style for this feature. This time, we reached out to you via Continuing the Conversation, our quarterly e-newsletter (which is a response to your request for more of the things you like from the print journal), to ask you how you respond to God’s repeated invitations away from fear and toward him.

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Front Page: Lessons From A Snake

When lovelessness is present, we become wounded. Woundedness can give rise to the two basic forms of evil
in relations to others—assault and withdrawal.

— Dallas Willard

Fear and love are the warp and woof of the universe; opposites—both physiologically and spiritually. Neither can be fully alive in the presence of the other; emotional oil and water.

I learned some of this from two encounters with snakes.

Have you ever met a snake—so close you could see the black in its eyes?

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As For Me and My House: I Will Not Fear

Tears streamed down the woman’s face as she embraced me. “I’m so sorry about your daughter” were the only words I could muster. I was standing in a crowded parking lot on a very hot June morning. I was working as a consultant for homicide detectives who were investigating the rape and murder of one young girl and the violent rape of another. We had convened in that place for a coordinated neighborhood canvass in an attempt to stir up new evidence as to who committed the two crimes. This woman’s daughter had been brutally murdered in broad daylight, just a few hundred yards from her high school. Like most teens, at the time of her death this young girl’s mind was undoubtedly occupied with homework, boys, and the routine business of the day. She believed she would live forever, and her mother, like most of us parents, assumed she would see her daughter grow up, marry, and have her own children. None of these things matched reality.

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As For Me and My House: In Thee Will I Trust

There is nothing quite so startling as tiny cold fingers poking you out of deep sleep coupled with the repetitious phrase, “Mom, Mom? Are you awake? I’m scared!” Whether they are daytime fears of calamity or the nighttime fears of the unknown and separation, childhood fears are common, and everyone seems to have an opinion on them and how to deal with them. To be sure, many childhood fears are specific to circumstances. For example, we live in Colorado, and at the time of this writing, we are watching a wildfire burn on a ridge about thirty miles from us, as the crow flies. We often want to quiet these fears directly, to come at them head-on, and while that might work for a short time, it is a Band-Aid solution instead of a deep healing for the disease of fear.

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O Taste & See: Meditation on Rembrandt’s Supper at Emmaus

It’s a familiar story: Two disciples on the road to Emmaus late on the day of the resurrection encounter a stranger, share with him the sorrowful news of the crucifixion, and invite him to supper. As he breaks bread with them, “their eyes were opened.” One might easily read past this simple declaration and miss the enormity of what it reports. Rembrandt didn’t miss it, however. His 1628 Supper at Emmaus takes bold measure of the amazement, shock, even terror of that moment of revelation. However much any one of us might wish we could see the Risen One face to face, Rembrandt reminds us it is good to remember that the darkened glass through which we see protects us from something few could withstand.

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Poetry

When You Walk through the Waters
—Isaiah 43
1
When you walk through the waters,
I will be with you;
and pass through the rivers,
I will be by.
The waves and the currents
shall not overwhelm you;
my hand reaches down,
and my presence is nigh.
(Chorus)

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Ancient Christian Wisdom for a Postmondern Age: How The Fear Of The Lord Destroys Fear

At the heart of early Christian theology and practice was biblical interpretation. Important subjects such as fear were studied, explored through a close reading of both New and Old Testaments. Early Christian writers found in Hebrew Wisdom literature, the Psalms, the transformation of the disciples from a timid band of tradesmen to apostles fearlessly proclaiming Christ to the religious and political elites of their day, and the miracle accounts and parables found in the Gospels rich resources for developing a Christian understanding of fear.

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Back Page: Casting Out Fear

How do we deal with our fears? How do we let go of anxiety and trust the Lord, moment to moment, whatever the twists and turns of the journey?

I sit in a sunlit parlor and ponder these mysteries, reflecting on the continual movement of time. Nineteen women have gathered to study Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who gave his life for the sake of Christ Jesus and his church. His execution came at the end of World War II. So many decades later, we are attending a study group in the cool, green wetness of central Louisiana. The rooms are large and handsome, tables decorated with books and flowers, windows

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