PEACE

This old chapel at Augustana College (Illinois) has served as a gateway to so many souls through the generations, as God has molded and prepared them for service to our world. It can be both mystically eerie and magnificently beautiful simultaneously on any given night. This Wednesday evening is no exception. Tonight, I sit in the back and simply watch. The room is lit solely by dozens of candles, as their light cuts through the darkness. The piano has quieted to a silence, as calm has set in. Some students are gathered around the altar with their heads bowed, while others sit in the pews staring forward deep in thought. The emotions of us gathered seem almost physically palpable. Little candle flames flicker and shadows dance up and down the large walls. Over the altar, a large stained-glass window comes to life as the dark figures of the branches on an old tree just outside wave majestically, as if begging to be noticed by someone – or anyone. I am drawn to that image more than any other, as my soul also is longing to be noticed here – by God.
It is here, in this atmosphere, that I seek words for prayer. But on this night, for whatever reason, the only word that keeps resonating repeatedly in my heart is PEACE. There is nothing else but that one simple word. PEACE. Perhaps it is my unconscious hope for my family and friends. It could be my longing for this deeply divided world in which we live. Or this might be my desire for those I minister to. But on this night, I suspect instead that these are the primal cries of a weary and angry soul. PEACE! WHAT MORE NEED BE SAID!
In the hour to come, as silent souls gently wandered off, the moonlight was replaced by lightning, thunder, wind and rain. The storms of life lingering ever so close, even in such a moment of rest and sabbath. This is more than a metaphor for daily existence – it is reality. And so, with a deep-rooted sigh, I smile and remember that in and through it all, God’s moments of peace are always lurking somewhere within our reach, even if they are far too often fleeting. PEACE. AMEN.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

MOMENTS TO CHERISH

A house stands quietly. This past month or so, it has spent its nights alone. The only activity it has seen has been children emptying out room after room while visions of memories flood their eyes. For almost exactly forty years this house has stood at the center of this family. Kids have graduated here and weddings have been staged from here. Holiday parties pulled all the children back to the table here. The garage has stood guard over restored cars while the kitchen has filled with the scent of baked pies. A family has stood vigil in a bedroom over their mother’s final days, and then final hours. The laughter of grandchildren has filled the halls, and these same grandchildren have learned to play pool in the family room. So many of this family’s shared laughs and tears have occurred within these walls. But now their days here are numbered. Soon, adult children and grandchildren will stand in a doorway and take one last look at an empty home.
A new family will move in soon, with their grandchildren coming to spend the night upstairs and their presents standing under a tree in the living room. The mood of this house will once again swing back to joy. Not on this day, though, as rain drops roll down the red and yellow bricks of its exterior. Today is about closure for one family. Today is about saying ‘goodbye’ all over again. Cherished memories will live on in their minds, and love will burn brightly in their hearts in these final hours. God gifts us with these abilities. The memories will last a lifetime. The love will be passed down through the generations. For it is God’s desire that things of the heart stand eternal and cross all moments, whether sorrowful or joyous. So, on this night, their beloved home will stand empty and quiet…but the heartbeat of this family will continue onward to new life and brighter days. Thanks be to God for places we call home…and hearts where we can store that which we cherish most. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE WEBS WE WEAVE

The large spider works through the night, weaving her web back and forth in a tedious pattern while swinging from post to post. By morning, she will have created a beautiful work of art for some, and a deadly trap for others. As I sit and enjoy the sunrise, she rests calmly a few feet away in her new home.

I marvel at this web, at the intricacy of its design. It is unique to her, and will never be exactly duplicated again. Should a gust of wind or a larger creature damage this web, she will simply go back to work tonight and resurrect her web anew. For this little lady is a creation of God, and as such she too has the ability to create. She has a gift, a talent, which in its own way adds beauty to this tiny corner of God’s universe. The spider will use her talent daily, persevering against all obstacles and setbacks while battling against the elements of nature. She will go about her business, hardly acknowledging my presence. Still, the spider’s efforts will not go unnoticed. I find myself truly amazed at the fruit of her labors. How could she have bridged such a large gap between posts? How did she create something so intrinsic and symmetrical? How did she do all this in one night with no architectural plans like I would need? Of course, the answers do not lie within the spider, but rather with the hands that created and molded her. The same hands that created and molded me. What glorious webs of beauty might I weave this day…

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

MOVEMENT IN THE DARKNESS

It is late on a summer night. The air is heavy and warm, while the moon shines down from above. Stars twinkle in the sky, creating a drawing on an otherwise blank canvas. Trees stand as immense shadows seeming to hover over me, occasionally swaying gently in the light breeze. All around I can hear crickets and frogs, their noise sounding like some great orchestra or choir gradually reaching a crescendo. Alongside me, a large spider is busy spinning her spectacular and artistic web. Suddenly, a bat flies past me, disappearing as quickly as he had appeared. Life busily proceeds, even in the darkness.

God’s creation never stops. Out here, growth occurs – even as the world goes dark. Out here, spiders create a masterpiece and frogs sing – even as the world goes dark. Out here, shadows that lurk are simply signs of life – even as the world goes dark. I find it amusing that as a little child I feared the darkness with such ferocity, and as an adult I see its beauty with an equal passion. Perhaps it is my appreciation for God’s glory which is reflected everywhere we take the time to look. Or maybe it is my faithful hope that God’s light shines brightest in our darkest hours. In any case, on this evening, I just take a deep breath. There is movement in this darkness. God is here. Amen.

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

PEACE, SHALOM, SALAM

On a sunny summer day, Lake Ontario was glistening. With each wave, the surface of the water would produce little sparkles seeming to dance in a calm and rhythmic pattern. The waves themselves moved up and down in such a coordinated way as to make it look as if the lake was a living body taking breath after breath. As every wave reached the shore after its long journey, the loud and yet peaceful noise of water crashing into rocks filled the air. Meanwhile, just above the surface, a cool breeze rode those same waves across the waters and onto the shore.

For several hours my wife and I simply observed the calming sanctuary that is God’s creation. Seagulls soared above the water, their wings spread wide as they surfed the winds, gliding effortlessly and calling out as if children at play. A beautiful maple tree emerged from a rock, proving once again that no obstacle can stand in the way of God’s desire to produce life. Large boulders and small stones stretched out before us as a canvass, having been carved, molded and shaped by the artist that is the waves of the lake. Finally, puffy snow white clouds floated across the sky in the distance providing a backdrop for an otherwise endless piece of art. God had sculpted this place on this day, and we could not bring ourselves to take our eyes off of the ever shifting scene. This was God at work before our very eyes. This was pure sabbath rest. Peace. Shalom. Salam.

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

THE SPIRIT OF THE CANADIAN FALLS

I stand at its base, watching in awe as the waters race over the edge above and crash gloriously right beside me. I wonder at the thunderous rumbling that drowns out the voices around me, and at the constant shaking of the rocks – each of whom have endured centuries of such a remarkable current. One can see the erosion and the lines on the rocks – these waters have changed them.

The Falls roars by – the splash at its base exploding upward and outward in all directions creating a wind, a force, a Spirit of its own! Their power is deafening. The mist spreads as if acting of free will. At times it even seems to creep upward as some kind of living being attempting to climb back up the Falls from which it came. Sometimes the breeze lifts the mist and it cyclones around itself – forming what appears to be a tornadic storm engulfing all in its path, including me. For a moment, it is all that one can see or feel. At times, a rainbow even forms in the mist and hovers magically just above the water’s surface. In such a literal sense, the mist is breathtaking in its embrace, as it repeatedly changes the scene in which it exists.

The waters at the bottom of the falls swirl and churn around and around. Plants peek out of rocks worn down from the wear and tear of daily life here. This is where two great lakes converge, and where billions of seemingly independent streams come together to move as one – forming rapids flowing wildly like nothing I have ever experienced before. The water and the Falls are in so many ways their own living creature in constant movement, carving the landscape anew every day. Yet, soaring just above it all are flocks of seagulls simply gliding gracefully with what must be a miraculous overview. The contrast between the powerful rapids and its graceful residents is palpable. It can change one’s heart.

Here, in these moments, I am engulfed in baptismal waters, flowing with such force as to erode that which clings to one’s soul. These waters are life-altering, more powerful and chaotic than the world they help me to forget. For now, all I can see is glory and beauty and strength. I need not understand, but only fully experience, as I stand surrounded by that which God’s hands have crafted so perfectly. Here, the universe has been reduced to live-giving waters flowing through a corner of the creation I am blessed to be observing. In this place, time is no longer counted and humanity is no longer so large. Life is simple – as I release all cares and fully immerse myself in the thundering waters that cleanse all worries. I find myself thinking – ‘If only I could stay and dwell in this sacred moment for a lifetime!’ But then my soul reminds me that the sacredness of this moment will indeed dwell within me for all eternity – and my heart beats with joy again. Amen.

-Rev. Jeffrey G Mikyska

A PRAYER FOR THE AGES

On a scorching hot August afternoon in 2009, we stood upon hallowed grounds in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. This group of youth and adults had traveled with me across several states, and now we solemnly walked in the footsteps of a man I consider a hero. It was here that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce found themselves surrounded, after walking over 1,000 miles in an effort to simply find shelter in Canada. It was here that Chief Joseph famously surrendered on October 5th, 1877. It was here that so many were killed and tortured. It was here that others who escaped froze to death with no food or blankets in the nights to come. On this afternoon, some 132 years later, you could still ‘feel’ the sorrow and fear of this place.

Chief Joseph once famously said, “We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that.” He also eloquently spoke in the years to come of how we all have our origins from the same Creator and thus are ALL siblings living upon our ‘Mother Earth.’ He taught respect, unity and equality – even as one who had every right to be angry. In my mind’s eye, Chief Joseph was a man who reflected Grace out into the world. And so, as I stood on this battleground with my brothers and sisters, knowing that this very spot was the place of his most defeated moment in life, I couldn’t help but feel Chief Joseph’s heart still beating here. Tears welled in my eyes. It was as if his voice still rang out to the centuries.

I pray often that I, too, may be a voice of Grace in this world. I pray that someone, even if it is but one person, will feel a tingle of Hope by having known me for just a moment. I pray that we may all value one another so deeply as to speak on behalf of each other rather than in opposition to one another. I pray that we may learn to see ALL people as brothers and sisters. I pray that we may come to see God’s Love as more important than our theology. I pray that one day, an age of respect will dawn upon our Mother Earth. I pray… Amen.

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

PEACEFUL SUMMER MOMENTS

On a warm summer afternoon, God’s creation is calmly at play. I sit with my eyes closed for a few moments and listen to the sounds outside my office window. I can hear the breeze rustling the leaves of the majestic old tree whose limbs stretch across the street toward our building. Children are giggling as they run along the sidewalk without a care in the world. In the distance, sirens from a firetruck are blaring for all to move aside. Meanwhile, somewhere beneath my window, a bird joyfully sings to her heart’s desire. These are the sounds of summer.

There is something peaceful about these sounds, and this season. Perhaps it can be attributed to the bond we share with the creation around us, as every creature and person enjoys the beautiful outdoors. Maybe it is the sabbath rest we seek this time of year as we intentionally step away from our life’s callings to spend time with those we love. It could also be the warmth, and the lack of harsh conditions as we venture into the world. For me, it is the sounds themselves. They harken back to my childhood, and an easier time. The giggles of children and the rustling leaves remind me of whiffle ball games with friends in our backyards, and the trees that were our bases. The song of a sparrow reminds me of walks at the park with my parents ‘visiting’ the ducks and birds. The sirens remind me of school days and class trips to the fire station where we could climb into the truck. Life was so easy then, and our summers were precious and care free.

These few moments with my eyes closed provide me a glimpse of a peace that is today beyond my adult understanding. They provide me with a sabbath rest. Far too often it is easy to forget that which is true of God’s creation…it is meant to be enjoyed! Here we live amongst that which God so loves and cherishes. Here we experience the work of God’s heart. Here, in this place, we are always children…to God. And thus, on a warm summer afternoon, this child closes his eyes for just a moment, to simply observe that which is ever so holy to God’s attentive ears. Amen.

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

A WEEK OF CONTRASTS AND PEACE

Gene had been suffering from Dementia, and his death just before his 89th birthday can be seen as a blessing. I often provide final blessings and lead memorial services as a pastor. You cannot help but absorb the energy in the room that can range from peace to anger to sorrow – and anywhere in between. This, however, was different – for Gene was also my father-in-law. As I led his service on Tuesday morning, I was ever so aware that this was my wife and our family stung by such a pain. Our nephew gave a beautifully heart-felt eulogy of his grandfather. Cousins, who always make me smile, stayed with us. Friends continually checked in to meet our needs. A whirlwind of emotions circulated through my soul. As I stood at the podium during the hymn “Beautiful Savior” that morning, I intentionally took a moment to gaze around and see the loving tears rolling down familiar faces, and a mysterious sense of peaceful blessing washed over me.

Emily and Ryan gathered at my church with family and friends on Friday for a rehearsal of their wedding. We count Emily’s family amongst our closest friends in this world, and I had been looking forward to this weekend for months. That night we attended a festive rehearsal dinner and heard stories. The next morning we hosted the girls in our home as hairdressers, make-up specialists, and florists came by to help them get ready for the afternoon. The laughter and anticipation was palpable. Later, I smiled again as the groom and his friends played ping-pong in my church’s youth room just minutes before the wedding. During their wedding, I asked them to turn around and look at those gathered in our sanctuary, and then I reminded them that God’s love is ever present in the people who surround us. Their smiles made my heart jump. At the reception, I led a prayer, enjoyed a wonderful meal, and danced with my wife. As the music played on, I took a moment to gaze around and marveled as so many people I personally know and love celebrated with such unbridled joy. Once again, that same mysterious sense of peaceful blessing washed over me.

In one week, two events that stretch across the extremes of our life cycles, both reminded me of the same truth. God’s Love flows through my life in every moment regardless of the mood, bringing a sense of peace and calm. Sure, the world’s negativity can occasionally knock us down, but only if we forget to stop and gaze around. Thank you, O Lord, for the rolling current of your love that ever buffets the moments of our lives. Amen.

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

 

MOMENTS IN A FAMILY’S LIFE

An old man sits in his wheelchair, waiting… He is in hospice care, and no one can know with any certainty his thoughts. A name of a friend or relative is mentioned, and for a fleeting moment there is a slight glimmer in his eyes. A story from long ago is shared, and he looks upward as if watching the memory like an old movie reel. His wife, who passed away years ago, is referenced, and he points to the side of the bed with a weak smile. Perhaps she is here. All the while, he looks around and around, reacting at times and deeply pondering at others. If only he could tell us what he sees.

This family prepares for his death, while they also anticipate the birth of his next great-grandchild. Life simply continues to cycle, as God calls one home while breathing new life into another. Emotions swirl between joy and sorrow. Seconds tick away on the clock hanging on his wall. One might say that life is unpredictable, but that is only partially true. Some constants remain the same, including God’s activity with life. Soon, this man will stand face to face with the God who breathed life into him almost nine decades ago, and will also be reunited with his wife and so many others he has loved and lost through the years. Soon, a baby will scream his or her way into this world, lungs filling with air gifted by the same God. Tears will be shed, laughs will be shared, and memories of the next generation will be added to the oral history of this family. Through it all, God will stand in their midst – loving and interacting every day. This is the flow of grace, and it is one of the few constants life on this earth knows. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.

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