Friday, April 28, 2017

Logos: Luke 24:15-16

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  (Luke 24:15-16)
I've heard much discussion regarding why Cleopas and his companion didn't recognize Jesus as he walked with them. The simplest explanation, I think, is what the verse says above: their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

But, thinking about the idea of not recognizing someone, are there lessons in that for us?

I can't tell you how many times I have been walking, and passed by someone I know - and failed to even see him or her.  We get so preoccupied with ourselves that we don't connect with the people around us. Shouldn't wee see the people near us? Surely that is the first step to loving our neighbors - leaving behind our self-preoccupation.

Do you ever walk by someone and not see him? And I don't mean that you are preoccupied; I mean that you look away? Don't we ignore the homeless person the street, the grocery store checker or those rushing by us on the sidewalk? Is it true, do you think, that while we notice them, we fail to notice that they are human? We don't see them as fellow children of God? Surely that is another step in loving our neighbors - recognizing that person as a person?

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and just think, "Stop talking to me. I am so busy - I have so much to do - and your words aren't interesting to me."?  I wonder, in their grief, if that was part of the "not seeing him" of Cleopas and his companion.  Surely that is another step in loving our neighbors - listening to them with a glad heart.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Look for Questions

One morning, I read this:

Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening to the questions it asks. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)

And you can take heart that I am on the R chapter, and soon to finish this book and move onto another one - there just can't be that many more posts inspired by this great little book.

That statement stopped me. Think about it for a minute. Do you think it's good spiritual advice.

We want answers. We already have questions. Have do I live my life? What is right and what is wrong? Can I judge the actions of the person next to me? In the next town? In the next country? Does God support what I'm doing? What is my purpose? What is my call? 

I don't really want a book that just asks more questions. But think about the questions the Bible asks:

Who is my neighbor?
What is the greatest commandment?
Am I my brother's keeper?
What is truth?
Why is this horrible thing happening to me?

If we take the questions from the Bible and pray about them, it becomes a living book as God speaks into our lives. It's harder to do, it doesn't give us easy answers that we can use to beat each other up. But it does offer us the grace of sanctification.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Perspectives: Notes

It seems I'm continuing the series of posts in the "here is a picture I took in the Lady's Room."  Sorry!

Take a look at this image.

There is a little shelf the women's room where I work. I've noticed that in the past few weeks, it has been moving around the room. One day it might be where it has been for probably over ten years. Another day it will be under the sink. Another day it might be between the two spots. I haven't thought much about it other than to wonder why it kept moving.

One day the first sign appeared. All capital letters / red ink: "STOP MOVING THINGS.  THANK YOU!!!"   Of course, I took a picture, because I thought it was a great commentary of how we are in the church.  Stop changing what we know!

And then, later that day, a second sign appeared, on the back of the first one:
Who put this sing here? Table moved to accommodate lady on walker!!! Besides this table belongs to someone ... don't be so ugly!
And a smiley face.

Now we're having arguments via notes. 
  • I wonder sometimes if there are better ways to deal with conflict in the church - or anywhere. 
  • I wonder sometimes if we fail to see the big picture. I work in the office with the lady on the walker, and never considered that the shelf was moving to accommodate her, and I imagine the person who wrote the first note didn't consider that, either.

Change is hard. We don't know what we don't know. And sometimes we are not always patient with each other.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Love filled the Church

The old cemetery stood in the yard,
dripping with the tears of rain,
its only voice the silence of the tombstones.
With it, an abandoned country church.
White siding, cement blocks
The word Methodist above its door.
Empty, except for pews 
and the old wood burning stove.
Echoes of the faith that had been found there
reverberated through the room.

Bright yellow flowers at the door
offered hope of life.
Life in the hollows of a mountain
A river flowing by.

I lift my eyes to the mountains -
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.

Today, with the rain outside,
Love filled the church.
The floor creaked from the strain
of unaccustomed company,
If, as they say,
the green walls could talk,
they would tell of past preachers, 
who taught of grace,
in the middle of a cemetery,
and salvation.

For everything there is a season
and a time for every matter under heaven
(Turn turn turn)
A time to be born, and a time to die.
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.

The new preacher,
the brother,
who spoke of thin places,
of visions and dreams.
Brought his sister to life
as her spirit of living was celebrated.
In the room where their grandparents
shared their faith,
the grandson led people
to the light of God
and gave voice to God's message
in the silence of the tombstones
as light poured through the windows.

And his sister said,
Let not your heart be troubled.
Neither let it be afraid.
for I go to prepare a place for you.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

On Principals

My thoughts a few weeks ago as I read a passage from Buechner's Wishful Thinking. These are words about Principles.

"Principles are what people have instead of God."

What? Think about that for just a moment. Do you agree with that? We've been raised to consider that principles are a good thing, and, honestly, I don't think Buechner is saying that's not true. So, let's keep reading.
To be a Christian means among other things to be wiling if necessary to sacrifice even your highest principles for God's or you neighbor's sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick up a baseball bat if three's no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child.
Consider the Pharisees. Do you think they were holding onto - if not principles - then the law, above the love of neighbor? In the same way that a principled person is a good thing, a Pharisee was not a bad person. I think Jesus was trying to tell them that they were holding onto the law more than they were clinging to God.

Do we do that?  Do we hold on to our principles above our trust in God? 

"Jesus didn't forgive his executioners on principle but because in some unimaginable way he was able to love them."


Friday, April 21, 2017

Logos: Acts 2:26c

... therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope.  (Acts 2:26)

I see children who are fed,
who are cared for, 
who are nurtured,
even if they have no home.

My flesh will live in hope!

I see the one who has been hurt,
whose family has been killed,
whose life has been turned upside down
by someone else,
by someone who could be the object of hate,
but is instead forgiven.

My flesh will live in hope!

I see the man in pain,
who has lost his love to horrible disease,
who has suffered with her,
for her,
wishing to suffer instead of her,
but is now without her.
I see the church 
surrounding him with love.
He is not alone.

My flesh will live in hope!

I see the town 
destroyed by flood.
I see the mud, the loss, the grief.
I see the caring come to offer solace,
I see the resurrection of the town.

My flesh will live in hope!

Christ is alive
Christ is within us,
Christ is with us.

and my flesh will live in hope!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Finance as Ministry

A few times this spring, I have been asked to teach a church finance class. I've served on both the Finance Committee and the Lay Leadership Committee in a church, so I know the conversation that happens when it is time to appoint Finance Committee members. "He's a banker - he should serve." "She's an accountant - let's ask her." There is nothing wrong with this - except that it can create a committee that is rather one sided; it can create a committee that believes it lacks creativity - and might believe that the idea of using creativity in Finance is not necessary.

Have you ever heard a Finance person talk about stewardship to a congregation? I can recognize that the person is a banker or a CPA - there is a way of speaking about money that they have been taught. And, again, there is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't always communicate well with people who are not financially minded.

I talk to the church treasurers, the chairs of finance and stewardship, and the financial secretaries about the need to be creative in their ministries. How we communicate about money can require some creativity, but they feel unable to do it.

Here are my two suggestions:
  1. Appoint people to the Finance Committee who are creative. Round out the membership. Or appoint a Stewardship Chairperson who is creative.
  2. We (all of us) need to stop thinking we are not creative. We were created to create. Don't be afraid to step out of the box in which you are comfortable. 

I think it all can be summed up with the sentence: "Finance administration in a church is a ministry." Live into it.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Perspectives: Enough?

So, this might be a weird picture to show on the blog. I don't normally take pictures in the bathroom, but sometimes one just has to be captured. This is a shelf in the restroom in the shop where I have my hair cut. I was so stunned by the amount of toilet paper stored on this shelf that I to take a picture. 

Are they afraid of running out? 

Do we do that? Are we so afraid of running out of something, that we hoard? When is enough, enough?

I think the foundation of generosity is two things:

  1. Gratitude - knowing how much we have received from others and from God and expressing gratitude for it.
  2. Letting go of fear - finally realizing that there is a point when it is enough, and we can

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Notice what you notice

"Notice what you notice." This was the theme of Amy Shanholtzer's sermon at a recent Lenten luncheon at St. Marks United Methodist Church.

Notice what you notice. She asked questions such as:
  1. What was the eye color of the last clerk who checked you out at the grocery store.
  2. What was the name of the last server who waited on you at a restaurant.
I rarely notice anyone's eye color, and, although I hesitate to say it, I can't remember the last person who checked me out at a grocery store. If I'm there by myself, I often use the self-checkout lines. I also can't remember the name of the last server I had a a restaurant. 

I wondered why any of that would be important.  According to Amy, and she is correct, noticing what you notice means that you take an opportunity to notice God around you. 

Along those lines, if I pay attention enough to a grocery check out person that I notice his eye color, then I must be seeing that person AS a person - a child of God. If I pay attention enough to remember a waitress's name, then I am seeing her AS a person - a child of God.

Seeing someone as a person is certainly a way to open myself up to the presence of God.

(Hattip to Amy for the great sermon)

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Monday, April 17, 2017

An Open Mind

Think about Nicodemus in John 3. He was a Pharisee. All of his life, he had been taught the rules. The Pharisees believed that following the law was what pleased God. They believed that the exile of Israel from Jerusalem into Babylon had been allowed by God because they had not followed the law. I imagine they lived in fear of this happening again. 

When I was researching the Dead Sea Scrolls for a Sunday school lesson, I saw how detailed these rules were. There were arguments as to how to move liquid from one jar to another so as to not disobey the law. Something that simple caused mistrust and dissension.

And here is Nicodemus, coming to Jesus to ask questions. He comes in the night - perhaps afraid to be seen. It could be that John included this detail in the story to emphasize how "in the dark" Nicodemus was. Either way, he comes, and he asks questions.

And he's open to the answers - even if he doesn't understand them. He listens, and perhaps he believes. Nicodemus is one of those who come and claim Jesus' body after the crucifixion. 


How do we approach something we do not understand and have open minds like Nicodemus did?


Friday, April 14, 2017

For God So Loved Her, Part 5

Adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona a few weeks ago....

There is a Thursday evening worship service at my church called Common Grounds. It is a worship service with a free meal; each week over 100 homeless or marginally homeless people come to eat and to be fed – in all ways. One year, the pastor decided to combine Common Grounds with our church’s Maundy Thursday service – the communion service that remembers Jesus last supper before the crucifixion. That night at church there was a common meal, with members of the church and the homeless who attend common grounds. One woman stood to the side and asked someone else, “What do we do? Are we supposed to sit with them?”

God so loved both the homeless and the not-homeless...

What barriers do you imagine there are between you and those who need the grace of God? Will you break through them? Can we imagine ourselves as Jesus, breaking the rules to speak with an outsider? Will you tell everyone what a difference God has made in your life? Can you convince them? Will you?

This is what the woman at the well did. God reached out to her – as God reaches out to us – the outsiders. Her life was so changed, that she had to tell the story.

The story from John says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony,”

Will you share the good news? Will you tell people that God so loves you, that he broke down all barriers to change your life? Will you act like Jesus did, and break through whatever barriers exist to tell other the same good news?

In the words of Randle Mixon, "What does it mean to be so fully rooted and grounded in God, so centered in our own experience of the Christian story, that we cannot keep from sharing it? In the words of the old hymn, when we feel our faith in our very bones, "how can we keep from singing?"

Go from this place and let your words, your very life, be your song, so that everyone can come to know the Good News of Christ.

Because there are no barriers. The is only God, who so loved the world.

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

For God so Loved Her, Part 4

Adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona a few weeks ago....

There are two words that some people in church don’t want to talk about. One of them is stewardship. I love to talk about stewardship (but that’s a different sermon). The other one is evangelism. Evangelism is simply telling people that God has made a difference in your life and then perhaps convincing them that God can do the same thing in their own lives. It’s framing your story around these three questions – what was your life like before? What happened when you encountered God? What difference has it made in your life? You have a story. Will you tell it?

First, we have to remember what our lives would be like without God. And we have to recognize that God is present in our lives, and that God loves us.

Have you ever been the outsider? Ask yourself, what barriers has God broken down – what rules has God broken – to speak to you?

We sometimes condemn the woman at the well for her “loose morals.” We consider her to be a sinner. Here is the rub – we are all sinners. And here is the good news. Jesus went out of his way – because I don’t think his trip to the well was a coincidence – to speak to her. Not only that – but to reveal himself to her. Barriers are nothing. God has broken through all of them.

For God so loves you…..

God has broken though what separates us from God. Sometimes, though, we fail to recognize that. I mentioned earlier that I went on a Walk to Emmaus. I don’t want to give anything away – although there are no secrets – but there is a point during the walk when you are asked to consider the question of what stands between you and God. And to let it go. Give it up. Turn it over to God. I ask you today to consider that question. What do you think is a barrier between you and God? Turn it over to him. Be grateful that God so loves YOU that he gave his son so that you can have eternal life – living water. Recognize how God has worked in your life.

When you realize that God loves you and has broken down the barriers that stand between you and God, and you see the beginning of your faith story.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

For God So Loved her, Part 3

Adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona a few weeks ago...

What is living water? This woman – all of us – have a thirst we cannot quench on our own. It is a thirst for the presence of God – what one author called a thirst for the soul of God. And God is the one who can satisfy that thirst. God is the source of living water.

How can Jesus offer her – or offer us – living water? He can do it because he is God. Jesus offers her living water, and then shows her what will convince her that he is God – that’s why he tells her about her life. And when she speaks of the Messiah, he says, “I am he.” Or just “I am.” Sound familiar? This is the first of many I am statement from Jesus recorded in John, and it echoes God’s conversation with Moses from the burning bush. Tell them I am. Jesus is revealing to this woman that he is the messiah – that he is God – and then offering her the love of God – living water.

Barriers are nothing. God loves this woman, and he has sent his son to her, not to condemn her, but to offer her eternal life.

And what difference does it make in her life – every difference in the world. So much so that she goes back to town, and tells everyone what has happened, and then walks back to the well, so that those in her town can meet God. Jesus has made such a difference in her life that she can’t help but spread the news!

What difference does this make in our lives? Do we recognize the difference? And how can we keep from running to people and telling them about it?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

For God so Loved Her, Part 2

Adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona few weeks ago...

Is there anything surprising about the idea that God loved the woman at the well? Why wouldn’t God love this woman? I think there are many people – people in Jesus’ time, and people in our time – who would say that at the very least that this woman is an outsider, and at worst, that she is a sinner who is unworthy of love. Let’s look at that a little more closely.

First of all, she is a Samaritan. Samaritans lived north of Jerusalem in what used to be the Northern Kingdom of Israel. When the Northern Kingdom fell, the Assyrians took away the 10 tribes of Israelites who lived there, and “foreigners” into the country. These new people married the Israelites who remained in the land; the Jewish people of Jesus’ day considered that kind of intermarriage to be BAD – with a capital B. The Samaritans worshipped God differently – and worshiped God in a different place - not in Jerusalem. We hear the woman at the well referring to it when she says, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” The Samaritans are the result of marriage with foreigners – they worship God the wrong way – I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, Jewish people and people from Samaria were not friends. In fact, Jews traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee in the North would go out of their way to avoid Samaria – so much so that it would double their travel time, but Jesus does not. Jesus walks right into the heart of Samaria, and strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan at the well.

But that’s not all. In addition to being a Samaritan, she is a woman. At the time, it would be sinful for a Rabbi to even speak to a woman in public – even it that woman were his wife. It was so bad, that sometimes Pharisees were referred to as “those bruised and bleeding Pharisees” because they would shut their eyes when they were walking down the street and saw a woman – so much so that they would run into walls – hence bruised and bleeding. And yet Jesus speaks to this woman.

She is definitely an outsider. So much so that there were barriers between her and perhaps her entire community, between her and the disciples and other Jews who might have been listening to this story. We might even conclude that there were barriers between her and God. But we would be wrong.

We can see that in the way Jesus speaks with her and what he reveals to her.

Jesus tells her about her life. He tells her that he knows that she has been married five times and is living with another man who is not her husband. And this is where I get frustrated when I hear people talk about this scripture. We look at this story, and all we see is what we consider to be sin. We make comments (we do, and people who teach, preach and write about this scripture do) – we make comments that she was a woman of loose morals, a woman who Jesus forgives, and offers living water.

But, the scripture doesn’t say that. In this passage, there is no mention from Jesus that he is pointing out her sin to her, and there is no mention that he is forgiving her. I don’t believe Jesus is telling her about her life to point out to her where she has gone wrong. He is telling her about her life so that she will recognize who he is. She knows there was no way he would know about her life. By telling her, he is showing her that he is the Messiah. He doesn’t offer either judgment or forgiveness. He offers revelation and love.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

For God So Loved Her, Part 1

The following posts are adapted from a sermon I preached in Ona few weeks ago.

There is a woman John writes about in his gospel (chapter 4) who had a story to tell. I love her story – I wish we knew her name, but she has a great story.Think about the story of the woman at the well.  Maybe I shouldn’t have favorite scriptures – but I do, and this is one of them. This is a great story – full of depth and meaning for us. I’m grateful John told it, and I’m grateful we can examine it today.

It’s important, don’t you think, that before we attempt to apply a scripture to our lives, that we look at it closely. Where does it sit in the Bible as a whole? Who are the people in the passage? What does that say about the message? I want to start with questions like those, because as I was preparing for today, the answers to those questions were ah ha moments for me.

John 4 – amazingly enough – is just after John 3. Did you talk about it last week? We did in my church because it was one of the lectionary readings for last Sunday. In it, Nicodemos, a Pharisee, comes in the middle of the night to ask Jesus the questions that had been on his mind. Remember the story? Remember the verse that comes near the end? John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible – "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Is it only coincidence that this story about this nameless woman follows the story about Nicodemous? I don’t think the writer of the Gospel of John does anything without a purpose – it’s a very well crafted Gospel. In fact, if you look at the two stories, they mirror each other in many ways. William Barclay, who wrote some great biblical commentaries in the last century, wrote that in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, we see “God so loving the world, not in theory but in action.” In the 3rd chapter of John we hear Jesus talking about the love of God; in John 4, we see him demonstrating it.

Not only does God so love the world – God so loves this woman.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Logos: Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
I read this yesterday in God is Closer than you Think by John Ortberg - he was writing about the incarnation:
Now he wasn't just helping them. Now he was one of them. From this day forward he wasn't just on their island; he was in their skin. First he had chosen to live as they lived; now he would die as they died. Now they were in it together.
From the moment Adam and Eve left the garden, God has been working in our lives to bring us back to who we are created to be. God has always been there, but the incarnation changed the game. With the incarnation, Christ was not only divine, Christ (and therefore God) was also human. 

We say that God is with us, among us. True. But God has been one of us. Consider today what a difference that makes.

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Thursday, April 06, 2017

He will bring you himself

What do we say about prayer? We say things like, "I prayed, but the answer was no." "I prayed, but God didn't answer me." "I'm not good at praying."

Do we think prayer is magic? Do we think that we ought to be able to say the prayer and then have the world change around us? Is that attitude enhanced when we pray and what we have prayed for happens? Sure it is.

But I would counter the ideas that our prayers are answered with a "no" or that our prayers are unanswered with this quote from Frederick Buechner:
...keep on beating the path to God's door,m because the one thing you can be sure of is that down the path you beat with even your most half-cocked and halting prayer, the God you call upon will finally come, and even if he does not bring you the answer you want, he will bring you himself."

He will bring you himself.  How can we ever say that a prayer is unanswered or that the answer is no. He will bring you himself.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Perspectives: Have you been served?

Have you ever noticed that during communion, the pastor who is leading cannot serve him/herself. Someone else has to do it. It would be easy to reach for a piece of bread, dip it in the juice, and eat it, but the pastor never does that. Someone who is helping, hands him/her the bread, holds the cup, and says the reassuring words of remembrance - This is the body of Christ, broken for you. This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Whoever we are, we need someone to serve us. It is the way church is created. Church and grace are not solitary pursuits. 

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Nature is my church." Don't get me wrong, I find God in nature all the time, and nature - God's creation - can be a wonderful place to encounter God. But it isn't community and it isn't church.

Church is the place where we can serve. Church is the place where we can be served. Both of these must happen. 

It's hard, isn't it, to be served. But it's necessary.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Wordless Prayers

Think about the person who knows you well. Think about that person and all the ways you communicate with him (or her). When you are together, your facial expressions, your sighs, your noises, your body movements - all of them - communicate what you are thinking to the other person. That person who knows you so well can read those non-verbal means of communication and can understand what you are feeling - sometimes even what you are thinking.

If that person, who is not inside your head, who is not with you every moment, can read you like that, then what about God. What about God, whose spirit dwells inside of you, who knows you better than you know yourself?

Why do we think the only way to pray is to form words? Why do we think that we haven't communicated with God?

Could it be that while God is hearing us, we are not listening to God?


Monday, April 03, 2017

I Stand

Inspired by Psalm 148

I stand, and watch God's creation,
as the heavens praise,
as the earth sings it alleluia.

I listen,
as the goodness of God is declared
by the shining of the sun,
by the glowing of the moon,
by the twinkle of the stars.

I watch,
as the wonder of God is praised
by the water-dancing of the sea creatures,
by the crackling of the fire,
by the plinking of the hail on the roof.

I stand,
as the beauty of God is sung
by the soundless falling of snow,
by the screaming of the wild wind,
by the thundering of the storm.

I am silent
as the awesome nature of God is shouted
by the rising of the mountains,
by the budding of the fruit trees,
by the swaying of the trees.

I laugh
as the praise of God is spoken
by the mooing of the cows,
by the creeping of the snakes,
by the sweeping of the birds.

I wonder
Is it possible for me to praise my creator,
not only with words of my mouth,
not only with the song of my heart,
but also with the very nature of my being.

Let the name of the Lord be praised
By all of God's creation,

including me.

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