Moments of Awe and Wonder

I stood there, staring out a window from the quiet safety of my home. I watched the destructive chaos swirling just on the other side of that thin pane of glass separating myself from the ‘outside’ world. The wind fiercely tossed our trees to and fro with frightening ease. Rain and hail pounded away at the delicate flowers trying desperately to stand upright against this force. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled, shaking the glass in front of me as if an explosion had just rocked the neighborhood. Repeatedly, the lightning startled me – it was so very close and most certainly stretching downward for something to touch and connect with. There in the safety of my doorway, I gazed at the raw strength and fury of God’s creation unleashed.

An hour later, I drove down streets literally coated in leaves and partially blocked by downed trees. The nearby river had swelled beyond its banks engulfing yards, streets, and parking lots. The resulting destruction was clearly on display, even as the sun gently peeked out from behind menacing clouds to exhibit its rays. Meanwhile, a rainbow also appeared, stretching like a glorious painting across the canvass of a now brightening sky. Birds sang, cautiously giving the all clear signal while anxiously awaiting the sounds of other voices within their community. Some squirrels and birds were already assessing nests lost to tree damage and destruction. Some trees stood, now as only a portion of what they had previously been as a whole. In just a few stormy minutes, the landscape of the world around us had been drastically altered.

I have learned in ministry that the storms and chaos flowing in and out of our lives leave an indelible mark upon us. Sometimes I am left standing in the middle of the storm myself, being blown around by swirling winds and pelted by torrential downpours as all my efforts at control must be abandoned for simple survival mode. Other times I am allotted a chance to simply observe what is unfolding – even if from an admittedly very thin distance. I have even held the hand of a stranger after a storm has destroyed all they have ever known and worked for, or after one of the storms of life has torn their heart to pieces. In those moments, an unspoken unity and love shines its rays into unspeakable pain and darkness. In all these situations, I find myself forever changed by the encounter and left in awe of both the glorious power of nature, and the infinite fragility of life, in God’s creation. I pray never to lose the amazement I experience in the beauty of a rainbow. I pray never to lose the bewilderment I feel as I watch all the forces of our atmosphere loosed and free. I pray never to lose the emotion I feel as I hold the hand of a brother or sister in times of anxiety or immeasurable sadness. I pray that in all storms and in all silences and in all joy – I will always have the ability to feel that moment to its fullest regardless of its outcome. For I know that this is God’s world, and I am simply blessed to be afforded a place to stand, look around, and soak it all in. Thanks be to God! Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A PASTOR’S IDENTITY

Simply believing in God and following rules has always felt far too shallow and far too easy for me. Instead, I have always sensed it is RELATIONSHIP that God seeks with each of us. I personally have what might be defined as a Contemplative Faith, meaning that I strive to live my daily life in an ongoing relationship with God and all of God’s children/creations. As a result, I cannot dismiss or divide or hate, because in doing so I would hurt and disappoint the God that I know and love as my Friend. Yes, I view God as my Friend and life-long companion. To sin in my eyes is not to fail at obedience to some rule, but rather to disappoint the heart of one I love – and who loves and forgives me in return. This relationship is all about love, not guilt. Relating to God forces me to see through the eyes of the Creator who intentionally and with purpose places all people and things here in the universe. Connecting with God makes me feel an appreciation and value for all life – because it is the work of my dear Friend’s soul. This is why I feel my Call to ministry so deeply.

In my heart, I have come to know relationship as the true meaning of life. (Ironic for someone who purports to be an introvert.) I live within the truth that we are here to love and connect and relate, for God placed every one of us here with a divine purpose. To truly love God means we must truly care for one another universally – not because it’s a rule, but more so because we care about how God feels and who God loves. The grace I feel comes from the knowledge that no one can be meaningless to God’s heart.

I see life as a blessing in that it is defined by relationship and connection. Thus, my life is measured more than anything else by the laughs, tears, and memories I share. I am never truly alone, as God is ever knocking at the door of each of our hearts – often through those around us. So this day, and every day, GO IN PEACE AND LOVE FULLY! AMEN!

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

 

WHERE HEARTS GATHER

Matthew 18:20 – Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.

This particular verse has always held deep meaning for me as a pastor. It rings especially true when I contemplate God’s presence in every heart, for a heart can only beat if God wills it to – and breathes life into its lungs. Indeed, God even intentionally and meticulously plants as a seed in every heart the Grace and Love that exists far beyond our human comprehension, giving meaning to our lives as our hearts are divinely purposed to serve as God’s place of operation within our world.

As a result, I have come to see this verse over the years as a reminder that wherever two or three HEARTS are gathered, there God is amongst us. It is God’s Love which is rhythmically beating as we gather in community around baptismal waters, sacramental meals, and favored hymns. It is God’s Grace which is gently flowing as we gather in service at food pantries, disaster zones, and homeless shelters. It is God’s Light which is brightly shining as we gather in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in prisons, hospitals and refugee settlements. God is present wherever our hearts gather, because I can truly see God outwardly in the ‘other’ – just as much as I can truly see God when I quietly turn inward within myself. Thus, although I may never quite wrap my mind around this, I also have come to know that my heart beats as one with the Heart of God itself, which remarkably means that my own simplistic little heart, which I so often take for granted from moment to moment, amazingly serves as a mirror reflection of the Loving Creator to all the world! What an awe-inspiring and beautiful thought this is!

So, on this day, I give thanks because God’s Heart has somehow been made into my life’s mission. I give thanks because our gatherings are somehow made to be holy by the presence of God in the heartbeat of our community. I give thanks because somehow I can see God in you, even as you see God in me. I give thanks, because wherever at least two or three of us gather together, God’s Heart pumps an incomprehensible Peace into these sacred moments, regardless of whether they be filled with sorrow, conflict or joy. I give thanks, because we are many, often feeble, hearts that yet are beating as one holy mission. I simply give thanks – to God’s Sacred Heart. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

Prayer Time on God’s Porch

The sun shines gloriously on a warm early-summer morning, its rays breaking through the thick canopy of the trees stretching above. A downy woodpecker hops around a maple searching for carpenter ants, her agility is almost acrobatic. Her activity will be as beneficial for the tree as it is for her young. Nearby, a bunny nibbles away at the grass, while a ground squirrel not five feet away eats seeds while watching his bigger brother attentively and cautiously. In the air is the sound of a cardinal singing praises to a new morning, while a robin stands at the base of a fledging cypress, occasionally pecking the ground below in search of a worm. In the distance, under a pine, a squirrel calmly takes it all in, waiting for that moment of inspiration where she can come bounding onto the scene and send everyone else scattering in all directions. In the midst of all this activity, a gentle breeze flows along bringing comfort as it cools everyone in its path. This is God’s creation as God intends for it to be, with all creatures great and small coexisting in a peaceful and beautiful setting.

This, for me, is a time of prayer. It is silent and still, and yet the most relational moments I will spend with God this day. Not a word needs to be spoken. Instead, I find myself just sitting with God. I am watching the world with loving interest, side by side with the Loving One who created it all. In these minutes of observation, I realize again that God does not ask of me a laundry list of my worries, but instead desires only my attentive heart. It is here, immersed in God’s kingdom, where God and I connect at the deepest levels. For in this place of sanctuary, my life is no longer about me or humanity, but rather is focused upon that which God has done and made. This is not an escape from reality, as much as it is a homecoming. So, I take time to silently watch and listen, because God’s Grace rings out the loudest in our experiences of silence. Thank you again, my Lord, for calling me into Your moments of prayer, and for saving a seat for me this morning on Your porch. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

The Cycles of Life

Alan was looking forward to coming home. He had spent his 21st birthday a couple months earlier as a member of the United States army fighting in Vietnam. It was March of 1969, and he was just two weeks from his homecoming. Alan, as he often did, mailed a letter and a picture or two to his mom, Bernice, back home. In the next few weeks, Bernice was hosting a baby shower for her younger cousin Karen, preparing to welcome her son home, and also getting ready for the confirmation of one of her daughters as well! Much anticipation was in the air for this family!

A week or so later, on what was the fourth weekend of March, extended family gathered together for Karen’s baby shower. Bernice shared letters and pictures from Alan, as all wanted to know as much as they could about his well-being. They smiled at his latest letter and pictures, spoke of his impending return home, and went on with the business of opening gifts and sharing cake. It was a joyous day. But just 24 hours later, this family would be rocked by a knock on the door from a couple of servicemen. Alan had already been gone even as his family sat reading his letter the day before.

In the weeks to come, Alan’s younger sister Debbie would celebrate her confirmation – on the morning of her brother’s Memorial Service. And by the middle of May, Karen would give birth to her only child – Jeffrey. This family found itself cycling between the joy of new life, the light of faith, and the darkness of deep grief.

In the years since, I have been honored to preside over the Memorial Services of both Alan’s sister Debbie and his father Len. I have also had the great joy of officiating the wedding of his niece Sara. These are the people whom he missed so dearly and longed to see again, and those whom he never had the joy of welcoming into this world. Yet, at a level none of us can comprehend, Alan’s love and spirit lives in each of these monumental family moments. For God’s heart desires Life, Grace and Love – and thus there is light slicing through every cloud of darkness, and there is the blessing of new life standing face to face with every death. Such it was that April in 1969, as Debbie stood before an entire congregation that upheld her in blessing mere hours before they gathered again around her family in love and support to say goodbye to Alan. Such it was that May in 1969, when Karen gazed lovingly into the eyes of her newborn child just a few weeks after attending Alan’s gut-wrenching funeral. A community’s love shone through the shroud of grief, and new life screamed into the world in the wake of a devastating loss.

This is the cycle of life in which we live. These moments that make up this never-ending cycle are in their own way holy occurrences, because with God life is divine, and therefore darkness and death can not be the final word. So, on this particular Memorial Day, I spent a few minutes thinking of my cousin Alan. We never actually met on this earth, but our souls have cycled ever so close on many occasions. Thank you, O Lord, for holy moments shared as family, and for the intricate pattern you weave each of us into in this beautiful web of life. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

LIFE IN THIS FLOCK

I know my Shepherd’s voice, even as I prepare this morning to officiate over two funerals in four hours (my third and fourth funerals in six days) ranging from a newborn to a gentlemen nearing 90 years old. I cannot help but find myself feeling rather emotional on this dreary morning, though still honored at the trust these families put in me, and the faith you show to me. Thus, even on a day like this, I can proclaim that you are my Lord and my Shepherd, and I am of your flock. I will shed tears today with a young couple mourning their child, and yet will also smile at the sound of my Great Shepherd’s beautiful voice. So as I ready myself for this day, my heart finds solace and warmth at the thought of your presence, even amidst moments such as these.

I have learned all too well that life in this flock can be both awe-inspiring and devastating at the same time. Sometimes, glory comes shining through as love and hope light a path to that which is yet to unfold. Other times, storms role across the plains seemingly without break. Occasionally, the field is dry and bland, but then, in a blink of an eye, new life and renewed passion emerge. Such is life as a sheep in this world. One day I can be giving a ‘high five’ to a child preparing for his First Communion, and the next I can be walking through the valley of death with four devastated families. Yet, all the while, your voice O Lord, the voice of my beloved Shepherd, calmly whispers into my heart, “I am here, my child, live in the peace of that knowledge.”

It is this knowledge that calms the storms of my soul. I wander the field, but never alone – for you are ever watching and ever present. In various moments of need or randomness, you call my name as a shepherd reigning in the flock. The thought that I am always within range of your voice is all the grace I need. Therefore, my Lord, I turn this day over to you, as with every other, recognizing that as I roam aimlessly, you keep watch both by daylight and by night. This is the ultimate truth of life in your flock. This is love made complete. So I thank you my Lord, for this day, and for moments of emotional connection with fellow members of this, your flock. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

GOOD FRIDAY

O Lord, we walk by your side grimly, each carrying the crosses we bear in this life. The road winds as we approach the base of a hill – Golgotha. But here is where our lives are transformed. Grace dictates that we each hand our crosses to you. I do so reluctantly, knowing the pain it will cause you, and yet understanding that I desperately want to avoid this suffering at all cost myself. It is now yours to endure, while I watch silently awestruck by your love. No amount of gratitude is enough. Thus, I can only stare at you solemnly. You look into my eyes, and I turn away painfully aware that there are no words sufficient for me to say. And so I simply keep vigil with a mournful soul, all the while observing grace upon grace fulfilled. Finally, in one jarring moment, you call out – and all of creation cries out with you. In another flash, the world grows quiet, and I find myself walking away stunned by the enormity of your heart once again. O my brother, Jesus – it is your love alone that makes us worthy. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

The Community Gathered At The Cross

I find myself standing near the base of the hill at Calvary on a Friday staring at you, my brother Jesus, hanging there upon the cross. There is both wonder and horror flowing through my heart. I marvel at your humility. I sense your perfect love. I feel guilt and redemption all at once. I am unaware of the throng of souls representing all generations who stand with me here. They are somehow invisible to me on this day, as they are most. Rather, I am lost in ‘my’ moment, completely oblivious to anyone or anything but you and that cross sent to save me. But this is actually YOUR moment. This is a moment for all of humanity and creation. You, my Lord, see everyone in the crowd of humanity gathered through all times and places. You call us each by name and look deeply into our eyes. You love my brothers and sisters, even as I sometimes don’t even notice them. You call the names of people I don’t even bother to know. You love the ‘other’ so much deeper than I can even love myself. And so, as I stare intensely at you, I fail to recognize that your eyes are imploring me to look instead upon those standing around me.

They, too, are the object of your love. They are all my family, my friends. They all have as deep of a meaning and purpose to you as I do. They, as well as I, are the object of your affection and salvation. Thus, you beg for me to see the ‘other’ standing right next to me, for he or she is also your child and your true love. So, reluctantly but with your encouragement my Lord, I take my eyes off of you and look around, finally beginning to notice those who have gathered here too. He is a college student half my age who only wants a chance to go to nursing school without carrying a debt he cannot repay. She is from Syria, seeking the opportunity to simply live in peace and safety. He is a senior citizen on a fixed income who now feels he lacks purpose, but who has a great story and remarkable wisdom to share. She is a toddler holding tight to her mommy’s hand and her doll. Near me stands another young man in great pain desperate for answers, while behind him is an elderly lady whose hand is held by a hospice nurse. Meanwhile, a homeless person moves through the crowd aimlessly, almost invisible and always hungry. As I gaze around, there are no walls of division and no dirty looks. There are no fiery speeches about greatness or past glory. Here, no one judges. Here, everyone is valuable. Here, everyone is welcome. Here, around this cross, is a community with only one law: Love your neighbor. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church of Elgin, IL)

 

A Fateful Prayer Years Ago…

On a warm sunny morning, I find myself sitting on a bench staring at the altar of an outdoor chapel. The huge magnificent tree behind that altar waves gently in the breeze. All around me I hear birds and insects who are either busy at work, or peacefully singing before God. Quietly I pray. On this morning, my prayers are simple, and yet my heart is pounding. After yet another long night of wrestling with God’s calling out to me, I am prepared to surrender. So I sit here admiring this glorious sunrise, and tell God that I will finally take the risk and go to seminary. I will at long last seek the courage to turn my life over to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I reluctantly pray, with a large sigh, “Ok my Lord, let’s do this.” In these few moments, I sense my life and my very identity are about to change forever.

Many years have passed since that morning. Indeed, decades have gone by. I have since lost loved ones who were amongst the first to know, and found new loves to shine in my life. In fact, there has been only one constant through all these myriad of sunrises – change. My life has become the workplace of the Holy Spirit. My heart is open to be used for empathy. My hands are available for hard labor in moments of disaster response. My mind is ever seeking new wisdom as I study and teach. My soul has leapt for joy as I have baptized a newborn, and cried in sorrow as I have eulogized a tragic death. My eyes have made contact with those at the communion rail hungering for grace, and with those in a hospital bed desperately seeking any sign of hope. I have uttered prayers of thanksgiving, and shouted prayers of anguish and anger. The one truth that holds for every day is that each morning brings with it some semblance of new life and new birth. I know understand the role of a pastor is to accept this fact – for renewal and transfiguration are the work of the Spirit. Thus, I have learned to celebrate change rather than fear it.

I am amazed daily at the journey I travel hand in hand with the Lord. I am but a tourist, and God my guide. My life is God’s to use. My soul is God’s clay to mold. My heart is God’s to open. As overwhelmed as I felt that morning in an outdoor chapel, today I find myself equally grateful for this calling. So as I sit enjoying this sunrise, so many years later, I find myself reciting the words of one of my favorite songs, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night.” Thank you, my Lord. I again this day turn my life over into your hands. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

This Space Is Sacred

On a dreary morning, an eagle soars above my house, gliding effortlessly as she rides the waves of the winds. She swoops down to the tree tops, before ascending again and disappearing into the low cloud cover. Smaller birds scatter into the pine trees, as if some sort of alarm has been sounded. Their chatter from tree to tree reaches a loud crescendo before they all return to the ground searching for seed. The crabapple tree hovering above them is just beginning to form a few early spring buds, as its stretches back to life from a long winter’s night slumber. Just then, the birds scatter yet again, as this time a squirrel bounds across the yard and leaps into the tree, scurrying hurriedly up the branches. I stand and watch peacefully and quietly, as life goes on all around me. God’s creation is busy this morning.

It occurs to me now that God’s creation is always busy, if I just stop long enough to pay attention. Every creature I have witnessed on this morning was placed here intentionally by God. Mine is not to know why, but rather just to acknowledge this as fact. In God’s eyes, these creatures are my brothers and sisters, as worthy of being here as I am. They have the same life-giving breath within them that I do. They have been molded by the same hands of the Creator as I have. God is active here, on this morning, and in my front yard!

Now my mind is spinning, as I am reminded of a thought that is deeply engrained in my heart. God is always present! God’s glory is always right here! God’s grace and life is always at my side! I am never alone. I need not seek God in specific places, because God is ever seeking me exactly where I am. THIS SPACE IS SACRED! This space is inhabited by God’s creatures, including myself. This space in the universe is teeming with life that is granted with a purpose by our loving God. This space, in which I myself exist and go about my daily routine, is truly holy in ways I cannot seem to fully comprehend. These thoughts warm my sometimes weary spirit. Thus, once again this day, I can smile and gently say, “My soul is well.” Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)