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Daily Encouragement - June 23

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;[a] only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,[b] but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-17 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 Children’s books have always been one of my favorite forms of writing. There’s a reason: they tend to be clear, direct, and engaging - unlike adult literature; which is, not infrequently, the exact opposite. For the first 65 years of my life, I’ve cherished two children’s books as my all time favorites: The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and The Little Prince, by Antoine de St. Exupery. (Just for the record, I also loved Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess, also by Burnett; and the same goes for Wind, Sand and Stars, and Night Flight, also by St. Exupery...but my favorites were, in each case, their last works. And I keep hoping that “saving the best for last” is not just for authors...or Jesus - check out John 2:10, NIV.) The wonderful woman who taught me, and several generations of other students, the French language, often remarked that when learning to read literature written in a foreign language, children’s books are the best place to start. The language in children’s books, she said, is spare and vivid, and impresses itself on the mind. (Amen to that.) She insisted that we begin by reading The Little Prince in the original French - and I will be forever grateful. Thank you, Mrs. Rulnick! Even the French professors I had at Dear Old Duke did not hold a candle to you in terms of inculcating a love of the language. But I digress... because what I wanted to share with you is that I have a new favorite children’s book: Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. If you haven’t read it, make every effort to find it on Amazon, or Kindle, or E-Books, or wherever you buy books online. It’s also possible to go to YouTube and read it (or hear it read, which is even better) for free: just make sure you choose the version with both the text and the artwork - it takes both to tell the story.  And what a story it is. When Miss Rumphius is still called Little Alice, she informs her grandfather that when she grows up, she will go to faraway places; and when she grows old, she will come home (to Maine) and live by the sea. Her old grandpa, who is both an artist and an artisan, affirms that these are both valid aspirations; but, he instructs her, there is a third thing that you MUST do: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Alice agrees. When she grows up, she moves to a big city far away, and works in a vast public library, where books can take her to faraway places...but it’s not quite the same as being there. So she journeys all around the world, sailing seas, climbing mountains, crossing desserts - and everywhere she goes, meeting people who will always be in her heart. When she grows old, she comes home to live in a house by the sea, where she is almost perfectly happy - except that she hasn’t done The Third Thing: she can’t figure out how she can make the world more beautiful. Remembering her childhood rock garden, she plants a few lupines, which have always been her favorite flowers; but the next spring, she can view them only from her window, because she’s bedridden with an old back injury - sustained while clambering down from a camel! Being bedridden is no fun, but it gives her time to think about The Third Thing. When she’s able to be out and about again, she discovers that the seeds from her few lupines have been spread far and wide by the wind and the birds...and then, inspiration strikes: she will sow lupine seeds wherever she goes. And so she does. Miss Rumphius is by then called The Lupine Lady or That Crazy Old Woman, but she has found her Third Thing: she has made the world more beautiful. Which is almost (but not quite) the end of the story. She has one more thing to do: she passes on to her great-niece Alice the mandate her grandfather gave to her: you must do something to make the world more beautiful. The great-niece agrees; though, as the last words of the book reveal, she has no idea of what that will be, or how she will do it. Over the last several months, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like Miss Rumphius and her great-niece. There are bound to be things I need to be doing to make the world a better and more beautiful place; like, for instance, fighting racism wherever I encounter it - especially in myself -and becoming a better ally in that epic struggle for justice. But how to do that while respecting the conditions of executive orders and following the ongoing advice of public health experts to stay safe? That is the question -at least for me; and according to what many of you report, that’s also the question for you. How to be proactive in a pandemic? It’s no easy thing to discern, especially if you have small children or aged parents in your home, or if you yourself have pre-existing conditions that put you at greater risk of contracting - and then spreading - the virus. But for those of us who understand and intend ourselves as followers of Jesus, there’s some powerful help to be found in the words of St. Paul, who knew a thing or two about rules and regulations, and laws and legalisms of various kinds. Some possibilities soar above all the restrictions of political, religious, or even epidemiological considerations - possibilities like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We don’t have to ask anybody for permission to be loving or joyful; experiencing peace and patience are among the things that (no,no) they can’t take away from us; showing kindness and goodness can never be outlawed (though some have tried); faithfulness and gentleness are needed at all times and in all places, no matter what else is going on in the world; and as for self-control - well, is any quality more urgently called for at this moment? Paul hammers home his point: no permission is required to live in any of these ways, and no earthly power can stop us from doing so. Or, as Paul puts it, “Against these things, there is no law.” Ha! It’s enough to swell the heart and lift the spirit...until we remember just how impossible it can be to live in these ways, left to our own devices and desires, much less our own resources. Thankfully, the even better news is: we don’t have to. Jesus knows our every weakness; the Lord has made provision for these qualities to be grown in us and expressed through us, as “the fruit of the Spirit” who lives in us. Seriously, we can take it to the Lord in prayer: we can ask the Spirit to weed out all that’s undesirable in us, and to feed and water what is most like Jesus. It’s a prayer the Spirit is longing to answer! And when the Spirit does, we will have found our Third Thing: we will be doing something to make the world more beautiful. “I would be true, for there are those who trust me; I would be pure, for there are those who care; I would be strong, for there is much to suffer; I would be brave, for there is much to dare. I would be brave, for there is much to dare. I would be friend of all - the foes, the friendless; I would be giving, and forget the gift; I would be humble, for I know my weakness; I would look up; and love, and laugh, and lift. I would look up; and love, and laugh, and lift.” (Howard Walter, 1906 / The New Cokesbury Hymnal Online) To you, O God, we lift our urgent prayer that you will make us more like Jesus. In the power of your Spirit we pray. Amen.  Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

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