Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Ever since the Hubble Space Telescope was put into place in the Earth's orbit in 1990, humans have drawn closer into the splendor and marvel of the universe. Click here for Hubble Space Telescope photo gallery. Most of us can only name a few constellations and take very little time each day to pay attention to the wonders above our head in the sky, whether a sunrise, a cloud formation, a masterpiece artwork painting at sunset, or swimming in the Milky Way of stars. The ancient Psalmist told us 3000 years ago truths we all know within our inner spirit when we look with our bare eyes into the star strewn night sky:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them. 
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world. 
~Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV)

The Perseid meteor showers earlier this month, with up to 60 meteors (or "shooting stars") per hour, were lost in the glow of the full moon. Next show up will be the Draconids on October 8-9, 2011, with up to 10 meteors streaking across the moonless night sky on those nights.

This week, I encourage you to go out at night with a blanket. Lie down in a field or grassy area and simply stare into the night sky. If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, look through the glass and let your mind spin with the vast glory of the heavens above. Even in places where city lights block most of the heavenly glory, a few stars still insist on shining their light, traveling across the vast reaches of space, into our eyes to fill our minds and hearts with the wonder and delight of God's wordless glory being proclaimed by the work of his hands. 

Monday, August 15, 2011


On Monday mornings, I typically begin the day with a time of prayer in the Glenstal Book of Prayer. This morning, this time was spent outside, on our deck overlooking the forest. I had a cup of freshly brewed coffee in hand. Here is a selection from this morning prayer service.

Morning Invocation of the Light:
Glory be to God who has shown us the light! 
Lead me from darkness to light,
Lead me from sadness to joy,
Lead me from death to immortality.
Glory be to God who has shown us the light!

Psalm 5:1-3
To my words give ear, O Lord,
give heed to my groaning.
Attend to the sound of my cries,
my King and my God.
It is you whom I invoke, O Lord,
in the morning you hear me;
in the morning I offer you my prayer,
watching and waiting. 

While praying this prayer, I enjoyed watching the Chickadees fly among the Elderberries, over to our bird feeder, collecting their morning meal. Their merry and modest presence in our yard was a delight to my soul. Over a morning cup of coffee, with God's Word open in our laps, soaking in God's creation, there is deep soul renewal that comes from watching and waiting. 

These two spiritual habits, active-spiritual watching and waiting do not come naturally to us or easily in a hurried, distracted culture. We are quick to distraction, getting up to answer the next text, respond to the next cell phone ringtone, or change the channel to seek the next best television show. Sitting still even for a few minutes in the morning, attentively "watching and waiting" is a holy and soul refreshing gift you can give to yourself. What are we watching? We watch with the eyes of the heart, looking to Jesus, "the author and perfecter of our faith". For whom are we waiting? We wait in hope for the Lord, as Psalm 27 reminds us:

I am confident of this: 
I will see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.

Monday, August 1, 2011


In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, featuring jazz songs which experimented in use of alternative time signatures. Included on this album was the song that was to become the quartet's signature tune, "Take Five", with its mesmerizing 5/4 beat. The album was wildly successful, propelling the well-known quartet into the national limelight of jazz stardom.  

Behind that signature song sits a signature human activity. Rest. Settle into an easy chair. It will only take five minutes or so to finish reading this little essay. Nothing to it. Take five. As a jazz pianist, I’ve attempted many times to play Take Five, a song easier to hear than to play. For a while, in graduate school, I played with a great drummer who had the 5/4 beat down. As a result, I was able to settle myself into the offbeat piano jazz vamp of Take Five and enjoy some 5/4 improvisations of my own. 

Taking time off is a common offbeat activity for many humans. As a culture, we usually evaluate our worth by what we produce or by what we do. One of the first questions asked between strangers is “What do you do?” with the answer revolving around our jobs or careers. Even when the question is more generic, such as “Tell me about yourself”, we find ourselves describing our professions, ‘what we do for a living’, as the way we speak about our identity to others. 

When we do take time off, we often fill our weekends with physical activities or home chores, allowing ourselves little time to “take five”. The phrase “take five” refers to more than merely napping on Saturday afternoon during a football game on television. It involves stepping intentionally into a whole new way of living, an offbeat, alternative approach to life that allows for “time-off” in the middle of activity. 

Take five. In other words, stop doing. Let the music play on, and just kick back and listen. Take some time to reflect, to rest, to settle down inside. While the instrumentalists play on, enjoy the echo of the words you’ve just been singing to repeat their phrases inwardly, to penetrate your soul and do their wonderful work in you while you do no work at all. It’s a whole new way of living. Selah. A word stuck right in the middle of many Psalms, a word scholars believe simply means, "take five".

Right in the middle of a business management meeting, hear that song inside your soul. Take a slow breath and rest. While on the cell phone, speeding down the interstate on your way to the next appointment, hear that haunting offbeat melody calling you to rest. Take Five. Try turning off the cell phone, relax your shoulders and take Brubeck’s wisdom to heart, literally.