Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Come, O Lord, Come

O Lord, you are in so many ways the opposite of what I expect you to be. I think back to my earliest childhood memories, remembering many a December evening spent lying under our Christmas Tree studying the softly colored lights or staring deeply into our Nativity scene. I would imagine your night in the manger, as I understood it from a little child's perspective. Now, in my adulthood, I marvel at the idea that you, the Lord of All Creation, would come to meet me exactly as the child I was! I am often amazed, my Lord, at your desire to meet me in MY space and in MY heart, as opposed to calling me to search for you in your personal space which exists far beyond my comprehension.

Perhaps I still only understand you from the mind's eye of a child. I cannot say with certainty that I have a handle on the mystery that is the relationship we share. What I do know is that it is Grace and Love that I so desperately need, and it is you who brings these gifts directly to my heart wherever I may be. You come to me! In my anger, you gently call to me. In my pain, you gently comfort me. In my darkness, you shine your light as a guide. In my fears, you look deep into my eyes and say, "Be not afraid, my child." Even in my grave, you reach out your hand and simply say, "Rise to new life." So I suppose it should not be a surprise to me that when I was a child, you came to me then as a child.

In a few weeks, I will stand in a manger built around the altar and lead worship. I will watch in awe as candlelight pierces darkness, and listen in peace as so many voices sing of a beautifully silent night. My heart will again fill with joy and love and hope. Alas, the moment is fleeting - lasting for only a few minutes once each year. But really, it doesn't have to be so short-lived. For you reach out to me, you come to me, every moment of every day. You meet me in the spaces of my life, and in the emotions of my soul. You open your hands and offer up your perfect Love and Grace. Often I am far too focused upon earthly matters, intellectual challenges, and worldly struggles with power, greed, or fear to even notice. Yet, my life is designed by you to be spiritual. I am purposed to live in YOUR kingdom, not MINE. So again and again, you come into my space and time knowing that nothing of this world can ever separate me from you permanently. You come and break down my walls. You come carrying the only gifts I truly need to be at peace and to feel true joy.

Thus, O Lord my God, today I pray to be with you again as a child, looking intently and inquisitively into your manger, staring at you in awe and wonder with my imagination flowing wildly. I want to escape the burdens of adulthood and earthly concerns. I want to know your Grace and Love as only a child can. Come, O Lord, Come. Open my eyes, as the eyes of a child. Today is yet another Advent of your coming. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Life As Sanctuary

THE FOREST
I walk through the woods not to see nature, but to experience life as sanctuary. As I gaze around, I see so many of your creatures, O Lord, each uniquely a reflection of your artistry and creativity.

The forest is not about the individual as much as it is the community. It is a place where the roots of every individual tree are inescapably tied to and connected with the roots of every other. No one tree stands alone, for division in the woods can only lead to vulnerability. Thus, life here is about the collective. On an autumn day, I can stare for hours in awe of the rainbow surrounding me. There is red, yellow, brown, orange, green and even white intertwined as far as my eyes can see. Color doesn't matter here. Differences do not matter here. Instead, the beauty of your creation is found in the diversity which comes together as one.

In the distance, I hear a voice echoing along the paths. Nearby, another smaller voice brushes by my ear. All voices, large and small, are meant to be heard in these woods. It is a place where I am trained to listen intently, without the clutter of my mind wanting to respond or defend. Insects buzz by me unafraid. Wolves howl in the distance calling for the pack. Birds sing carelessly while hawks circle attentively. No voice is cut off here. No behavior is judged against the masses.

I stand in amazement as beams of sunlight pierce through the openings of the canopy above, bringing light to the forest floor below as if a theatrical spotlight has been switched on. It is literally the light shining into the darkness, bringing life and comforting warmth to all who see and feel it. I smile while approaching a clearing, where a strong, healthy tree holds up a kindred spirit whose life has run out and whose body now leans over. The old dead tree is held up as a continuing blessing, even though her life has been drained. Her starkness adds to the beauty of the scene nonetheless. Down below, a few feet away, a little sapling is beginning to stretch upward. He is a glimpse of what one day will be. The woods are the one place I know where the past, present, and future meld into one - displaying true glory and grace across all time and generations. The old are held up while the young are sheltered and nourished. This is family and community at its best in this world. O Lord, I suspect it must bring a tear to your eyes!

Somewhere deep in my soul I come to the realization that this is truly Holy Communion as you, our Redeemer, intends it to be. Life as one family, where differences only enhance beauty and where no division exists. Life where all voices are somehow heard. Life where light pierces darkness. Life where all are infinitely connected across all time and generations. Life where baptismal waters run through and around all who are gathered, every moment of each day. This is true sanctuary, where life in your presence is simple, pure and holy. Thank you, O Lord, for providing me again with a glimpse of your kingdom, and a reminder of your divine purpose for all of us who are blessed to be invited into this banquet we call community and this dance we call the universe. Thank you, O Loving One, for the gift of life in all its diverse glory. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Saints' Reflection

ALL SAINTS' REFLECTION

Today would be my Dad's birthday. Amongst the many things he handed down to me was his love of baseball. Some of my earliest memories involve watching White Sox games with him while hearing stories of Luis Aparicio, Minnie Minoso, and the 1959 Go-Go White Sox team that lost in the World Series. Over the years, we watched the South Side Hitmen of the late 1970's light up the Comiskey Park scoreboard, and celebrated together as Julio Cruz crossed home plate to clinch the division title for the Winning Ugly 1983 White Sox (who should have won the Series). One night in particular I remember well was a night as a child that I begged him to let me watch just one more inning before bed. He acquiesced, enjoying the time with me. Unfortunately for my Dad, that inning lasted over an hour as the Sox plastered the A's for 11 runs - making me ecstatic and my Mom rather angry with him! The White Sox were his baseball love, but he married a Cubs fan! This, by default, ensured that my Dad must make room in his heart for the Cubs as well. Thus, I grew up watching both Chicago teams, and enjoying many nights of discussion at the dinner table surrounding batting averages, earned run averages, divisional races, and even 'curses' which were clearly and solely responsible for why the Cubs and Sox both struggled so badly to win!

The night the White Sox won the pennant in 2005, I cried tears of joy - both as a fan and as a son. I couldn't help but think about my Dad, and what it would have been like to watch that game in Anaheim with my parents. As the Sox recorded the final out in that World Series, I wanted so badly to be able to call him one last time. He would have had that wry smile of disbelief on his face that I grew to know so well at times, and my Mom would have been so happy to see us celebrate with our team.

Thus, as the Cubs make their run this year, finally winning a pennant of their own and battling Cleveland in the World Series, I have found myself emotional again. My Mom would be living and dying with every pitch, and my Dad would be by her side this time, cheering on her team. As for me, the idea that I have seen a White Sox World Series Champion, and have a chance to maybe see the Cubs finally win one as well, has made this kid from the Chicago area both joyful and reminiscent.

My parents taught me so much in life, most of which is far more important than baseball. They were remarkable witnesses of their faith in God, which lives on in me. They loved loyally and outwardly in ways that one could not help but see their devotion in their eyes and actions. They persevered, both enduring difficult illnesses without ever losing their hope or joy in life. They sacrificed on behalf of myself and so many others, knowing that this is our true calling in life. So much of who they are lives in me today, and will be passed down to generations to come. I am a product of their faith, hope, and love - and their loyalty to Chicago baseball.

We all are the living legacy of those who have gone before us, and are called witnesses to those who are yet to come. This is God's way of connecting us through all times and places as one family born of Grace and Unconditional Love. Thanks be to God for those who have taught us so much, and for the opportunity to teach those whom we have yet to meet. Go Cubs Go! Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A New Day Dawns

A new day dawns. As I gaze out the window, I listen intently to the birds singing nearby, and spot a woodpecker busily poking away at the Honey Locust in my front yard. Darkness is slowly giving way to light. In the east, a bright hue begins to take hold. The clouds above have a purple glow, as they gently glide above the morning landscape. The wind blows steadily, and leaves weave their way down to the ground as their natural life reaches an end. The yellow leaves of my Birch trees, wet with drops of rain from overnight, reflect the sunlight. I open a window to find a cool, crisp autumn day awaits me outside.

These days reinvigorate my soul. God's artistry surrounds me, constantly crying out for my attention. As I walk out the door and take a breath, the cool air gives me shivers, awakening my lungs as I purposefully blow steam out into the world like a little child. It is easy to see how the world around me has changed just over this one night. Leaves have changed colors on the Maple across the street, from green to a bright orange. The Honey Locust has lost seemingly half its leaves in one night, exposing bare spots that will linger all winter before making room for new life. The grass has visibly grown amidst cool and wet conditions. Mums have blossomed pink flowers to be admired, if only so briefly. The crispness of fall has changed my personal outlook as well, as some level of anticipation has swelled in my heart. I don't know what the anticipation is, but it is there. Maybe it is an awareness that the oppressive humidity of summer is gone. Maybe it is a knowledge that soon holidays and family meals at a table together will be the norm once again. Maybe it is my deep understanding that change is the work of Your Holy Spirit, O Lord. Regardless of the reasons, excitement fills me once again as I release a gentle sigh.

A Reformation has occurred right before my eyes, its results clear as day for me to see. I am relieved to again be reminded of Your presence within, and constant movement of, the Creation to which I am called as a member. The world never remains stagnant. Life never stays constant. The Church, to which You have also called me, is meant to mirror Your dance with the Creation. Change is the norm. Life cycles are to be celebrated and admired. Traditions are intended to be connections to the past, but not scripts of some already rehearsed future. Reformation and Transformation to a new day is the work of the Holy Spirit. My life as a Christian is ever moving, better defined as a verb than as a noun. Transfiguration to something newer, brighter, and ever more glorious is Your Holy Desire for this world with each sunrise to a new dawn.

So this morning I give thanks to You, O Lord, as a new day dawns. Reformation has been born again. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A New Day Always Dawns

A man sits in his living room, staring out the window - perhaps at the birds flying around the trees or at the moon slowly making its ascent. He sees them, but he is really looking deeply and longingly at something else. He is looking at his own past, the story that he has written and the path that he has trodden. He knows this chapter is quickly closing.

There was a time where he ran around fields as a little boy filled with energy and excitement, playing between his chores on the farm. His older sister had often cared for him many of these days. In some ways, she was his first friend in this world. He loved this place, and his family, but his land and family would soon be torn by the horrors of war. Thus, as a teenager, still but a child really, he embarked upon a long journey that would take him halfway around the world. His aunt had taken him in, and his uncle had arranged for him to learn a trade - as a chimney sweep. As years passed, he had married and been blessed with three children, one of which died young in an accident. For most of his life, he had written to his older sister, and even visited home a few times to see her and her family - until a wall, both physical and ideological in nature, had cut him off once and for all from his childhood memories and his beautiful sister. Sitting here this night, he missed his wife, the love of his life, who had died a few years earlier. He missed his daughter. He missed his homeland, the farm, his parents, and his big sister. Now all that was seemingly left for him was to reflect on a life of hard physical labor, loves that had been lost to both death and the division of this world, and his current loneliness. He no longer had room to dream, but rather only reminisce as darkness fell. The old man would not see the dawning of a new day.

He may or may not have understood this on a spiritual level, but a new day does always dawn. The light a new day brings doesn't necessarily remove or replace the darkness, but it does shine into it. Life adjusts and new dreams form, even in the strongest and most dreary of storms. Forty-three years after that lonely night, some of his sister's descendants would stand face to face with some of his own descendants in a Chicago airport. His hopes, dreams and prayers were answered, even if they had come to fruition long after he had left this world.

His story makes me wonder sometimes, how many of my prayers for my own life will be answered for my children or grandchildren instead. I wonder in what ways I am sowing seeds here and now that will be harvested far beyond my actual sight. All I know for sure is that the old man sitting in that living room that evening continues to have dreams come true, even to this very day, because God never stops listening to our prayers and gazing into our dreams. In God's kingdom, a new day always dawns, regardless of how heavy the darkness is that falls into our lives. And so I choose to never stop dreaming, because I know that God will never stop interacting with my soul. Thanks be to the God who breathes life into us and is eternally living in relationship with us - and thanks be to the God who dares to dream along with us. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sacramental Moments

Quietly and peacefully, I sit on my front porch late at night. Gently the leaves wave in the cool and damp breeze. Overhead, clouds race across the night sky, silhouetted as they pass in front of the bright moon. In the distance, insects make a variety of diverse noises, each one unique in sound and pitch. I watch a ground squirrel peek around the corner of the garden wall, spot me sitting there, and quickly dart off in another direction. Soon he will return to again ascertain if the cost is clear, and his reaction to my continued stoic presence will be the same yet again. Over in the next yard, around a cluster of evergreens, I can see the shadow of a creature moseying along. By the scent wafting my way, it is obvious that she is a skunk out hunting for food, and I smile as she calmly turns toward me for just a moment before continuing on her nightly exploration. Finally, a yellow leaf falls at my feet, as my deciduous brothers and sisters begin to prepare for their long rest. I take another deep breath, and sigh. I am tired, but I could sit here all night content in the world as it moves around me, only occasionally acknowledging my presence. Moments turn into minutes, and minutes pass into an hour. I find myself cherishing my visit into God's calming creation this night.

In so many ways, these occasions are sacramental for me. I experience grace in the silence. I experience peace and wonder in comradery with creatures I normally ignore. I experience hope as I sense just how much beauty exists in the world around us if we only choose to see it once in awhile. I experience God's love as I feel such a mystic presence sitting by my side, appreciating as a Creator that which I appreciate simply as a participant. I am a child here in these moments, and every care is put on hold for another day and time. I have time to worry tomorrow. Right now, though, I feel the joy of God's presence among the glory of all creation. This is holy and sacred ground, because God has placed every life here in this place, bringing us together on this evening with righteous intention.

Thus, in the darkness of an autumn night, I am again baptized as the moisture in the air engulfs me and the breath of God swirls around me. In the moonlight, I receive God's grace-filled presence as if kneeling at a communion rail, my eyes filled with wonder, my heart beating in a peaceful rhythmic union with all life around me, and my mind simply soaking it all in. This is the night the Lord has made, and I have been invited to participate. A sacramental progression has begun. Slowly the day and all its worries are washing away. Slowly this day is fading into a distant past. Soon a new day filled with hope will dawn to bring forth new life. But for now I sit in the stillness, and feel the joy of God's company. Not a word is said, and my soul rests quietly. This is the most impactful moment of prayer I have ever experienced. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seek the Joy Shining Within

Sitting on my desk is a poster collage of eight pictures. They are photographs of my dad ranging from infant to his years in school, the military, and at the University of Illinois. My grandmother gave them to me shortly after his death. I must admit to feeling remarkable joy at the opportunity to see him, even if only in snapshots, at a time in his life that I otherwise would never have known.

The tragic truth of our life is that I only remember my dad as being ill and struggling daily against early onset Parkinson's Disease. My memories with him are tainted at some level. While I fondly remember his love, wisdom, faith, and sense of humor - I also recall vividly that his face so deeply often reflected a sense of dreams and strength that were to be lost. By the time I was in grade school, my parents knew the path they must travel and how difficult it would be.

This is why these particular pictures mean so much to me. They show my dad as young and vibrant, smiling in joy and dreaming of a bright future and a story yet to be written. In one picture, with him wearing his military uniform, his smile is one of genuine laughter and his demeanor is peacefully relaxed. To be honest, I don't remember ever seeing that look in his eyes during our lives together. It serves as a reminder to me that my dad was defined by God's light that shone in his soul, not by some miserable disease that so often dominated his outward appearance.

I have learned through the years to see through people's pain and struggles to what is deep inside. Every person that has graced the earth has been placed here by God, whose light shines somewhere in their heart and soul. That light may shine brightly for all to see, or it may be clouded over by some illness or hardship. Sometimes that light is even dimmed by the darkness of our world. But it is there, abiding deep within each of us, because God's hands have molded us all and God's heart has willed life into every soul. Thus, we are challenged to see through all walls that divide and all darkness that seeks to hide the grace that truly defines our character. We are challenged to remember that every person we ever meet, regardless of their current plight or path, has at some time or another in life known what it is to laugh, smile or even giggle. We are challenged to understand that hidden behind whatever mask time has placed upon our face, stands a child filled with God's light and a hope for new life every day.

I am deeply blessed to have been raised by parents who were staunchly firm in their faith and hope, and who lived the love that God had placed in their hearts. Illness may have stolen some of my dad's dreams, but his joyful smile will forever have the last word. Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska