brian j plachta
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by brian j plachta on June 30th, 2020

When a new automobile rolls off the assembly line, the automaker gets a Certificate of Title for the vehicle. The title lists the year the auto was manufactured along with its serial number, make, and model. It identifies the car as one of a kind.

After your birth, the hospital issued a birth certificate. The certificate listed your name, date of birth, sex, and your parents’ names. It identified you as unique.

Imagine if God imprinted the word “BELOVED” in large bold letters on your birth certificate—because in God’s world, that’s who you are: the Creator’s Beloved child.

The Source of Life deemed it vital for you to be breathed into existence. The world would be incomplete without your make and model, without your unique personality and gifts, and without the love you’ve been given to splash upon the earth.

According to Urban Dictionary, “A beloved is a much adored, treasured, loved one.” The word defines someone loved unconditionally with the strongest of devotion—a person gifted with a love so rare and true that it’s the purest of all loves.

This is the “first love” with which each of us have been created. God’s original blessing of agape love for us existed long before our births. This first love was written in the heavens before the beginning of time. The Creator gave us life and unconditional love so we could be part of his Divine Plan, with each person having a unique role in the universe’s unfolding.

Henri Nouwen, in the Now and Then podcast, addresses the central question, “Who am I?” He invites us to embrace the answer with an ever-deepening knowledge we are the Beloved. We are God’s Beloved.

There are many other loves in our lives—our family, friends, and mate. Each individual loves us with human love, which differs from God’s Divine Love. Nouwen points out that human love is imperfect, so we’re often hurt by our loved ones. Our relationships are filled with passion and joy, but are also the source of pain and suffering.

When we’re hurt by a loved one, Nouwen says we should remember our first love—the voice of God that calls us the Beloved. When we claim the Creator’s unconditional love, we recall who we are and find the inner strength to forgive and grow.

And when headbanging self-talk overwhelms us, remembering who we are allows us to replace our negative thoughts with truth.

We’re not our work or accomplishments, Nouwen states. We’re not our mistakes or what others say we are. We’re not what we possess or our social status. We are the Beloved—God’s Original Blessing. All of us. Everyone. Without exception.

This basic truth is difficult to claim because life is filled with noise and competition. We’re flooded with unkind words that shame us and tell us untruths. This pain can overshadow the incredible love bestowed upon us—the unconditional love that’s marked on our birth certificates.

We are the Beloved. If we can embrace this truth, it becomes a natural part of how we live. It shapes our vision and molds our personality as we become what we claim.

This week, tattoo the word Beloved on your heart. Savor it like a cup of fresh tea.

You are the Beloved.

Claim it!

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on June 25th, 2020

That Voice

that voice
that inner voice
the one I can’t see
or touch or hear
except with the ears of my heart

that elusive voice,
which rises above all others

quiet, soft, mysterious,
it splashes
the marrow of my heart
with love

I seek that voice
Rise early in the morning
sit in silence
hoping I can find it,
hear it

it finds me
as dawn’s gentle breeze
blows back the veil
from the face of God

I hear the Creator’s voice
It offers healing
Bestows wisdom
Awakens my soul
Provides guidance
Invites me to taste the joy of being alive

the mourning dove coos
outside my window

she too hears that Voice
together we sing praises
to the One
who gives life

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on June 20th, 2020

“Who am I?”

It’s an important question, since our answer shapes the core of our identity. Am I my work? My role as a spouse or parent? Am I what people think about me? Am I my accomplishments?

Jesus asked  Peter, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then recalled what his Father told him at his baptism, “You are my Beloved, upon whom my favor rests.”

According to an article in Tabletalk Magazine, as Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding, he realized that every prophecy in the Old Testament was written to and about him. He came to know he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Son to embody the wisdom and righteousness of the Psalms and the Proverbs to become the source of that wisdom and righteousness for us. He realized he was the Son of David, and his mission was to personify the saving and unconditional love of the Father.

Imagine that lightbulb moment which must have occurred while Jesus was praying, studying and reading the Old Testament scriptures and realized “OMG. I am the one about whom all of this stuff in Scripture is written. I am the Good Shepherd, called to lead my Father’s flock.”

It must have taken immense courage and conviction to embrace who he was, to ignore the rulers and religious leaders who contradicted him, and then to fulfill his mission.

Isn’t that what we’re called to do? Aren’t we given the task of discovering who we are and embracing the unique role God has given us?

If so, how do we do that?

While there’s no cookie-cutter approach to discovering who we are, Jesus’ life serves as a model.  Here’s some of what he embodied through his life’s journey.

1.You are my Beloved.  Jesus claimed the words his Father spoke to his heart at baptism. He refused to let the world, politics, or his accomplishments define him. He let the Father tell him who he was. These same words are spoken to each of us: “You are my Beloved.” Our task is to embrace those words in our hearts and not let the false voices in our heads tell us otherwise. Celtic author John O’Donohue writes, “Because the mind is always engaged with whatever is happening now, it often forgets who we are. The heart never forgets. Everything of significance is inscribed there. The heart is the archive of all our intimate memory. What is truly felt leaves the deepest inscription. Each of us carries the book of our life inside our heart.” Written on our hearts are the words, “You are God’s Beloved.”  Trust that truth.

2.Solitude. Jesus looked to the Father for wisdom and understanding. He took time each day to be alone with God to remind him who he was. In the quiet, Jesus received the guidance and direction he needed for the day. Lakota elder Frank Fools Crow taught that like the hollow shaft of a feather, we too must become a “hollow bone” through which spiritual energy and wisdom can fill us. Jesus knew the inner voice of God could be heard in the silence. He created hollow space every day to be still and listen. It was the source of his Divine Power. If we create sacred space for daily solitude with God, his inner voice becomes our Divine Power too.

3.Discovering our Gifts. As Jesus read the scriptures, he discovered his gifts of leadership, healing, and teaching. We too have been gifted with unique talents intended to be life-giving for ourselves and others. Our task is to discover those talents and use them to bring about the kingdom of love here on earth as it is in heaven.  In an earlier blog titled Tap Into Joy, we discussed resources that can help us unearth our talents. Taking a spiritual gifts inventory is a good way of discovering who we are and what we’ve been called to be. Discovering our gifts is life-giving.

4.Embracing our Gifts
.  Jesus was and is the Light of God who used his unique talents to teach the world how to love. He reminded us not to put our light under a basket—not to hide our abilities. Instead, like Christ, we’re called to be the Light of the world. John O’Donohue offers the same wisdom. He writes, “There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” To be whole we must claim our gifts, embrace them, and put them at the service of the Universe.

The Gift of Vulnerability

I’ve got a confession to make. I’m sometimes scared to be a writer, teacher, and spiritual mentor. I worry if anyone knew what it’s like to be me on the inside, they’d never read my words or ask me to walk alongside them.  When I show up to the page to write, I often shudder with fear. I’m not sure what to write or what to say. I want to run away. But then I sit in the quiet and listen, and the words flow—not from my mind, but from my heart.  

We make ourselves vulnerable by claiming and becoming who we are—who we are called to be. It’s much easier to let what we wear, what school we attended, what politics we claim, or our social status define us. But all that stuff leaves us empty as we search for something more.

Maybe vulnerability is a gift. By asking God to tell us who we are and what we’ve been invited to do to make the world a more loving place, our willingness to be vulnerable creates the hollow space for God speak to our hearts.

Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom

Years ago, after my mom died and my youngest child left for college, a buddy encouraged me to get a tattoo to acknowledge these milestones. I thought and prayed about it for several weeks. Then at church one Sunday, the Old Testament reading was about Solomon’s prayer for wisdom. I felt the God-nudge, and later that week got a small tattoo on my leg depicting the symbol for wisdom as a reminder to pray for God’s wisdom in the second half of life.

I am not a wise man. But I know from where wisdom comes. It comes from the silent whisper of the Holy Spirit.

And so, I sit each morning and listen with my heart. I don’t listen to the words in my mind or the words of the media or politics—their alleged “wisdom” is a noisy gong too devious for truth.

I listen for God’s wisdom. Sometimes I hear it like a gentle whisper deep within my soul. Even when I don’t hear it, I sense God is here, somewhere between the spaces of each breath, reminding me of who I am.

O God, tell me who I am.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on June 14th, 2020

June – the beginning of summer’s lackadaisical days – it’s the time we tend to pull back from daily routines and create space for frolic and family vacations. Whether it’s a staycation or a let’s-explore vacation, summer gives us new opportunities to experience the glory of God.
My fondest memories of summer are those wrapped in nature, next to my father. When I was 8, my parents rented a small cabin just down a dirt road from a spring-fed lake. One night, Dad invited me and my siblings to join him for a midnight swim.

Steam rose as we tiptoed into the lake’s silky-smooth water. My heart pounded with a mixture of excitement and fear as Dad jumped into the depths of the lake. When he came back up, he stood tall next to me, shaking water from his hair. The droplets sprinkled my boyish skin. I felt like I was being baptized for a second time.

Dad gazed up at the starlit sky. He stood silently in the water, immersed in reverence. It was if he were connecting to something or someone up in the heavens, but the bond was much closer. He closed his eyes and folded his wet hands on his chest. I could almost hear his heart beat.

“Look, son,” my dad said as he opened his eyes and pointed to a shooting star flashing across the cathedral sky. “That’s how much God loves you. He created all of this – the stars, the lake, the trees – simply because he wants you to be happy. He wants you to enjoy the gift of life he’s given you.”

We gazed at the dancing stars for several long moments. I shot a side-glance at my dad. He was contemplating the sky. He didn’t move or talk. His head tilted slightly as though listening to someone speak. The muscles of his face were soft and relaxed. A smile radiated between his cheeks.

It was as if Dad were absorbed in prayer – like he was listening to an inner voice – a voice that had no sound but was speaking to him, through him.

It took years before I understood the voice my dad heard that summer night. But standing there next to him in the water, I knew that voice was real. I knew Dad heard it and I wanted to hear it too.

Now, as an adult with children, grandchildren and life experiences of my own, I understand that Dad was guided by God’s voice, and his reliance upon that guidance made him whole. It allowed my father to recognize and follow the path God unfolded for him day by day. It shaped and filled him with wisdom.

I also understand now why Dad spent time quietly each day sipping morning coffee alone in his den. I know why Dad turned off the car radio when he took my sister and me to school. He was listening for that voice – God’s summer voice – the one he heard as we stood bathed in the star-lit lake.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice … and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27) Have you heard that voice? Have you entered the quiet and allowed that voice speak to you – guide you? I think the voice Jesus refers to is the Holy Spirit – the one who whispers to our hearts – the voice of love that leads and guides us on life’s pathway.

Perhaps as men and women, fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts we can learn to hear that voice and follow it.

And through teachable moments like that midnight swim with my dad, we can show our loved ones how to recognize that voice too.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on June 2nd, 2020

Bill W, the author of the Big Book, as they call it in Alcoholics Anonymous, learned a valuable lesson through the ups and downs of his life. He offers this wisdom as a key to happiness:

“When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away . . . . And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me. I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake . . . . Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” —Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), 4th Edition, P. 417

Bill was a wise man.  His wisdom continues to inspire and guide many people decades after his death.

But, I need to be honest. Acceptance doesn’t come easy for me. I’m a fixer—a how-do-we-solve-this-problem kind of guy. So, when I bump into things in life I can’t control, I find myself on a high-speed highway heading head-on for an emotional crash and burn, because I want to  push back, dig in my heals, and try harder.  But when I do, I often fail and hurt others along the way.

There are just some things in life I can’t control—like the weather, people’s attitudes, the death of a loved one, or a peaceful protest in my city that fast-tracked into a riot.

Gradually, I’m learning to recognize when those uncontrollable things happen, and instead of moving into high gear fix-it mode, I bring them to God like an innocent child, holding the problem in outstretched hands and saying, “Poppa, it’s broken. I’m broken. Can you show me how to either let go of this problem or refocus on what you’re calling me to do?”

Accepting life on life’s terms doesn’t mean becoming passive and letting the world walk all over our hearts. Rather, by taking the problem to Poppa, he helps us discover the wisdom he’s inviting us to learn through life’s experiences. Life becomes our teacher.

Sometimes acceptance lessons come in small trivial ways.

For example, I am a backyard birdwatcher. I love to pour birdseed into the feeders around my house and cottage and watch the blue birds, cardinals, and sparrows fill their bellies. There’s a giving and receiving that breathes joy into my heart.

But then along comes Mr. Squirrel. He grabs a hold of the feeder and chomps away at the seed like he’d just gotten off a week-long fast.

I used to run and scare Mr. Squirrel away or put baffles on the feeder pole to block his path. That worked for a few days, but soon he’d be back, laughing at me after having found a creative way to get to the seed.

As I sat baffled, watching my furry friend and teacher chomp away, I took the problem to Poppa. After several moments of reflection, I heard the Creator whisper, “Let it go. Let your feeder be a source of joy, a community of feasting wildlife. Be delighted by this explosion of nature that brings beauty into your life.”  

The next night as my wife and I sat around a roaring campfire, a band of raccoons hustled up the tree to the birdfeeder. We chuckled with joy as the bandits entertained us.

Lesson learned.

Sometimes acceptance lessons come in bigger ways.  

Like the other night as I watched local news showing a peaceful protest fire-cracking into a riot. A band of dissidents smashed and looted their way into businesses on either side of my downtown office. I held my breath in fear and anger, knowing I was powerless over the determined mob. I wanted to run downtown and protect my property, but doing so would only fuel an already volatile situation.

I was helpless. I had no control over a situation that could affect me and my business.

I watched and I prayed. I took my fears to Poppa and asked him to open my heart and take the anger inside me away.  That night, I dreamed my office windows had been blanketed with crayon-papered images created by innocent, faceless children. The next morning, I hesitantly went to work, afraid of what I would find—especially as the closer I got to my office, the more damage I saw. I parked and walked down the street, stepping over glass and around police tape. When I got to my office, there was no damage. Nothing. My office building had been spared. My prayers had been heard.

There are many things I can’t control.

I can’t fix the racial tensions that continue to divide our nation. So many previous administrations have tried without success. The only thing I can do is ask God for help—and  open my heart and let love expand it, rather than letting anger shut down my soul.

The fixer in me wants to offer a solution. I’ve followed the vision of Candace Owens, a young black woman who continues to preach that providing strong literacy skills and expanding employment for the black community, not violent protests and riots, are how to focus on solutions for her race. I would love to see a national task force consisting of wise men and women, not politicians, who would convene like the Covid-19 Task Force and offer constructive solutions to an age-old problem.

I’m going to write our government leaders and propose this task force idea. I’m also going continue to encourage Candace with her Bill W focus-on-the-solution approach. These are tiny pieces of a much larger puzzle. But it’s what I’ve heard Poppa invite me to do.

Acceptance flows in me by changing myself and showing up to the page each day and writing. Those are the tools I’ve been given. In doing so, I’m invited to find the key to inner happiness and embody as best as I can the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.  In the process, I’m discovering the daily gift of choosing G.A.—aka grateful acceptance.

—brian j plachta

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

by brian j plachta on May 28th, 2020

How do I reconcile these conflicting emotions?” I asked Don, my spiritual director.

You don’t.” He held out both arms, cupping his hands.  “Rather, you hold the both/and of them like ying and yang, the sun and the moon, and let them breathe wisdom into your heart.”

I had shared with Don my conflicting emotions of grief and joy because of my dog Riley’s recent death.

On one hand, I hold the grief of losing the physical presence of my best friend and companion, and in the other hand I cup the joy that Riley is in heaven free of pain and playing divine catch with my mom and dad.

In his book, The Promise of Paradox—a Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life,  Parker Palmer echoes what Don was teaching me. Palmer says we need to name the conflicting emotions in each of our life situations and then hold them without trying to reconcile them or push them away. Eventually, a third force—a deeper wisdom—arises that teaches us the life- lesson we’re invited to embrace.

Much like the sun and the moon, which provide balance between day and night, regulate ocean tides, and create the environment for plant life to emerge, our conflicting emotions provide rich soil to nourish our growth.

When we hold the both/and of life’s holy tensions and bring them to God, we create inner space in our hearts and minds to let in Divine Light. And, mysteriously, if we listen deeply and tend our souls, the wisdom of paradox emerges.

“I refuse to let grief overwhelm me, yet I cannot be a Pollyanna and pretend joy soaks my heart,” I confided in Don.

“What does Riley’s life teach you?” Don asked.

“Unconditional love,” I replied as tears streamed down my cheeks. “Riley taught me—and his Spirit continues to teach me—how to embrace an ever-deepening compassion for myself, others, and all creation like he did. He teaches me how to let go of grudges and forgive, how to see life through the inner lens of my heart, and how to trust God’s in the tough stuff too.”

“That’s it!” Don said. “Can you let Riley and God love you with Divine Compassion? Let their unconditional love soak into your body like spring rain? Allow their love to embrace you, heal you, and transform your pain with the Divine balm that opens your heart to the presence of the inner light that guides from within.”

“Yes.”  I placed my hands on my chest near my heart. “I feel the warmth of Riley’s presence. I hear his voice and know he’s here. I’ll let him continue to teach me how to be loved and become love like him.” I paused, took a deep breath, and looked at Don. “But why does love sometimes hurt so deeply?”

“Because it’s real,” he said.

When life gets tough, don’t push emotions away or drown in them. Instead, name the conflicting emotions you’re being invited to hold, some of which might be:

·  Clinging and letting go
·  Breaking and healing
·  Judging and accepting
·  Hatred and forgiveness
·  Fear and courage
·  Mystery and clarity
·  Imperfection and perfection
·  Darkness and light
·  Human and divine
·  Grief and joy
·  Weakness and resilience
·  Loneliness and solitude
·  Death and resurrection
·  Sadness and unconditional love

As you name the both/and of your emotions, hold them in cupped hands. Then bring them to the God of Light.

Hold the paradox, listen to what emerges. Let the Creator breathe wisdom into your soul.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on May 24th, 2020

“My lungs breathe even when I’m not aware of my breath. God is with me even when I’m not aware of his presence.”  
My friend Paul prayed those words as we began our monthly spiritual-direction session focusing on God’s movement in his life.
Paul continued his prayer, “Hineni—here I am—that’s the word, God, you’ve given me, which, like my breath, invites me back to an awareness of your abiding presence.”

I asked Paul to tell me more about the word hineni— pronounced hee-nay-nee—and it’s importance to him. He said it was the Hebrew word Abraham spoke when God called him to the mountaintop to sacrifice his son Isaac.
“Hineni—here I am,” Abraham said as he stood ready to drive a knife into his son’s body to complete the sacrifice God had called him to perform.
“Hineni—here I am,” was God’s reply as he took the knife from Abraham’s hand.
Paul said, “I got to thinking how God is always present to me, but I miss it—his presence—because I get caught up in household chores, making a living, and the busyness of life. But, over the last few weeks, I’ve carved out morning time in which to meditate, and I’ve become more aware of that Presence. I start each day in the quiet by focusing on my breath.  I place my hands on my chest, feel my lungs expand, and recognize my breath—the breath of life—sustains me—just like God.”
I invited Paul to tell me more.
“When I show up in the morning to be alone with God, it’s like I hear him say to me, ‘Here I am.’  And as I focus on my breath, I respond back, ‘Hineni—here I am.’  I recognize how much God loves and guides me. And I’m falling more deeply in love with him.”

Later, I reflected on Paul’s words. Hineni is the reply of someone called to perform an important task. “Here I am—Hineni,” said Abraham, Moses, and many other prophets when God called their names. It’s also the promise God provides when he tells us in scripture, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.”  (Isaiah 58:6-9).
Maybe the task God’s chosen for all eternity is to reveal his love for us in countless ways, such as:
Here I am in the quiet, comforting you, guiding you, showing you the pathway to inner peace.
Here I am in the mourning dove’s coo as she sings tender chants of delight, rejoicing in the gift of another day.
Here I am in the colors of the sunrise that fill your heart with the taste of my delicious light.  
Here I am in your loved ones who hold you and journey with you, revealing the gift of my love embodied in their lives.
Here I am to comfort you when you suffer, and I hold you with my unconditional love.
Perhaps the task we’ve been given, if we so choose, is to show up, to know the Creator’s abiding love, and respond to him, “Hineni—here I am too,”  with words such as:
Here I am to receive your love, Lord, to let it embrace me, let it fill me with your compassion and delight.
Here I am to be your Beloved, to let your favor rest upon me.  
Here I am to notice your Presence and let it become our sacred story.
Here I am to rest my head upon your breast and let you nourish me with your love.
Here I am to do the work of your hands, to embody your presence in my life, and fulfill my task of loving you, myself, and others with the gift of your grace.
Maybe “here I am” is a two-way street. It symbolizes a rich relationship in which God and we show up, become aware of one another’s presence in each moment, and embrace the important tasks we’ve been given—to abide in love with each other.

Sometimes when I don’t feel God’s presence, I tell him, “I miss you. Where are you?”  Often I hear God whisper in response, “Here I am,” and we smile.
I wonder if God sometimes feels our absence too.  In those moments, does he yearn for us, asking, “Where are you?”  and then await our reply?
We’re not always aware of God’s abiding presence. It takes inner work, focus, and daily soul care to shift our attention to the Great Here-I-Am.  


—brian j plachta


Note:  The directee’s name has been changed for privacy and his permission obtained.

by brian j plachta on May 17th, 2020

“Two men looked outside between prison bars. One saw mud. The other saw stars.”
My mother often shared that story with us kids to remind us that perspective matters. She said every circumstance in life has a both/and. It’s a mixed bag of sadness and joy, suffering and gratitude, pain and compassion. If we can recognize and hold the two tensions within us and bring them to God to help sift and sort through, we’ll discover the underlying wisdom we’re invited to integrate into our lives.
Today, I’m holding the “holy” tension of anger and gratitude. We’ve just learned our twelve-year old retriever, Riley, has cancer. The softball size lumps in his abdomen are growing and will likely take him to the “other side” in a few days or weeks. He’s not in pain. But, there’s nothing we can do for him but maybe give him ice cream—and love him.
I don’t know how to reconcile my conflicting emotions of anger and gratitude. I’m grateful for the gift of Riley’s life. We call him “goddog” because the word “dog” is “God” spelled backwards and Riley’s unconditional love and beautiful smile embody what the Creator’s pure love looks like.
But I’m sad beyond words. Riley owns a piece of my heart and watching him slow down, stop eating, and lay peacefully at my side as he walks this death march overwhelms me with waves of sorrow.

I just want to flip the switch in my brain and become an instant star-gazer—focus on the love and joy Riley has brought to our lives, but the mud-digger in me is sloshing in the quicksand of negativity, anger, and sadness.
So, how does one dig themselves out of the prison of negative thinking when life hits us hard?
The Art of Lamenting

Perhaps the answer is found in the art of lamenting.
In the Psalms, David provides us with a simple pattern to handle the conflicting elements of life. He teaches us how to lament.  
When confronted with the dangers and despair of life, such as Saul trying to kill him, David cried out to God. He let himself touch his feelings and express his anger and fear. He shook his fist and vented his frustration.
After releasing his emotions, David cried for help. He asked God to show him the way out of his perilous circumstances—and his negative attitude. Today we might call it a “help” prayer.
Then David waited. Listened. He opened his heart and let God speak to him.
Eventually, the answer came, the path unfolded, and David discerned the wisdom he was being invited to understand and incorporate into his life.
David became a great king and loving servant by discovering the three-fold art of lamenting:
Venting by feeling our feelings and expressing them;
Crying out to God for help; and
Listening for the Holy Whisper.
Lamenting vs Whining

Lamenting differs from whining. Lamenting acknowledges our suffering and allows us to release the pent up emotions with which life chokes us.
But lamenting doesn’t stop there. Like star gazing, lamenting looks up and reaches out to God for wisdom and understanding. Then, having lifted our eyes to the heavens, we see the shooting star of God’s guidance.
The star-gazer admits the problem, and looks upward to focus on the solution. He never denies the sadness and suffering part of life, but transforms it with the Creator’s help into wisdom and understanding. This on-going transformation leads to joy and gratitude.
Avoid the Mud Pits
The mud-digger focuses on what’s wrong with life—what’s wrong with him and what’s wrong with the universe. He allows negativity to drag him down like quicksand into the depths of despair, anger, and frustration. He whines and joins the unhappy mob of prisoners slinging mud at others and becomes stuck there. He stops at the problem, unwilling to seek Divine Assistance to progress into the solution.
Henry Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son, says we have a natural reflex to move toward negativity. It draws us like a magnet into hopelessness. Therefore, we must shove against that tendency, so we can cast off the darkness, and live in the light.
Be Compassion
In my quiet time this morning, I took my lament over Riley’s impending death to God. I shook my fist. Told the Creator, I’m angry at him and the universe. I asked him why he allowed death to be part of creation. Tears shook my heart as my eyes burned with sadness.
Then I asked God for his help to understand what I’m supposed to be learning as I walk alongside Riley and my family through this time of letting go.
And in the quiet, I heard the Creator’s voice say, “Be compassion. Feel the sadness. Cry. Let the pain out. Be compassion for yourself, Riley, and your loved ones who also grieve.”
“How can I be compassion,” I asked God, “when the loss of Riley feels like wolves grinding their teeth at my heart ripping a piece of it away with their fangs?”
“I am Compassion.” I heard the Silent Whisper. “Let me hold you in my heart and grieve with you. Together we’ll transform the sorrow so that it swells your heart with Divine Compassion.”
The Creator’s words reminded me that I have a choice. I can let life’s hardships embitter or better me. My heart is not being torn, it’s being expanded. By embracing the both/and of suffering and love, God’s grace allows me to  “Be compassion.”
Gerald Sittser in A Grace Disguised explains it this way: “I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am. Sorrow took up permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.”
Reach for the Light
I wonder if my mother’s story about the two prisoners and King David’s wisdom about lamenting are pathways toward becoming the star-gazers we’ve been created to be?
In the movie Balto, Steve Winwood sings the theme song, which highlights the true story of how a brave half-wolf half-dog dug deep into his soul and, against the odds, delivered a vaccine to save the citizens of the remote town of Nome, Alaska, from a deadly diphtheria epidemic.
Perhaps the words of the song invite us to check-in with ourselves and consider whether we’re mud-diggers: focused on darkness—or star-gazers: willing to let the Light of Christ transform us through lamenting.
Like Balto, we’re invited moment by moment, day by day, to discover who we are—whose we are.  
Balto and Riley are teaching me to reach for the light, be compassion, and become a star-gazer.
As I lament and listen to the words of Balto’s song, which you can click on with this link, Reach for the Light, I hear the call of the star-gazer.

Can you hear that call too?
—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on May 11th, 2020

“Why don’t you throw out that raggedy t-shirt?” my wife prodded as I pulled on my 1999 River Bank Run 20K shirt. “It has so many holes in it.”

“I can’t do that.” I smoothed the prized shirt over my shoulders and chest. “I got it when I ran my first 20K road race. It’s part of me.”

As I thought further, however, I realized my unwillingness to discard that rag-tag t-shirt was not about letting go of a worn-out garment. My resistance had something to teach me.

I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return of the Prodigal Son. In it, Nouwen describes his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting inspired by the parable of the prodigal son. Meditating on the painting for hours on end catapulted Nouwen onto a long spiritual journey of inner growth.

He discovered the father, elder son, and prodigal son depicted in the painting represent the trinity of personality traits found within each of us. It also contained an important message about the goal of our spiritual journey.

The Wandering Son/Daughter

A part of us is the wandering son/daughter. We want it our way. We seek gratification through fortune, fame, and adventure. We resist letting anyone tell us how to live our lives because we think we know how to do it. We have to touch, taste, and feel life’s experiences, and doubt we need a guide.

We leave our physical home trying to determine who we are and where we belong in the world. We look outside ourselves, hoping some person, thing, or event will help us uncover our purpose and attain wholeness and inner peace.

In doing so, we deny the spiritual reality that every part of our being belongs to God, that the Creator holds us safe in an eternal embrace, and that we are carved in the palm of Divine Love.

Eventually, however, we’ve had enough. Our dissatisfaction with ourselves and disappointment with life invite our souls to lead us back home to the center of our being where we know we’re loved unconditionally by the One who formed us. This spiritual “home” is where we hear the voice that says, “You are my Beloved; on you my favor rests.”

The Elder Son/Daughter

We’re also bits of the elder son/daughter. Smug. Self-righteous. Manipulative. Always doing the “right thing” with the wrong motives. We judge others and ourselves because we and they can’t seem to “get it right.”

We want others to affirm us, notice how much we do, and observe how we sacrifice and give—and when we don’t get equal treatment or sufficient acknowledgement, we pout.

As the elder son/daughter, we are the “good sibling.” We stayed home to tend the family and the farm. But deep inside we feel we never measure up. Our good works don’t produce the love we keep looking for from others.

At some point, we accept ourselves as we are. We embrace the original goodness that comes from the Father. We let go of our resentments, and open our hearts to the unconditional love offered by the Divine. We know everything we need comes from the Creator. We return to the house of joy.

The Compassionate Father/Mother

Like the t-shirt I resisted letting go of, Nouwen says he grappled with his prodigal and elder son personalities. He clung to his broken self, wallowed in his inability to oust his fears and insecurities, and searched for human love endlessly. Nouwen used anger and rebellion to keep his distance from God.

His ego clutched his accomplishments, letting what he did define who he thought he was. As a result, he became arrogant, self-righteous, and unforgiving.

He was stuck in his broken son mode. He continued to feel he’d messed up and hadn’t “earned” his place as a real son. So, he ran from the Creator, not realizing he was running from himself.

One day, a trusted friend told Nouwen, “Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize you are called to become the father.”

The words struck Nouwen like a thunderbolt. In all the years he’d pondered the father embracing the son in Rembrandt’s painting, it never occurred to him that becoming the compassionate father/mother is our vocation. It’s the ultimate goal of the spiritual life.

Nouwen’s friend spoke further. “Look at the father in the painting and you will know who you are called to be. People around here don’t need you to be a good friend or even a kind brother. We need you to be a father who can claim for himself the authority of true compassion.”

In that moment, Nouwen said he grew up. He dropped his broken son images and welcomed the Father’s unconditional love. He opened his heart, claimed the truth that he was God’s Beloved, and let the Spirit begin the life-long work of forming him into the Compassionate Father/Mother.

We’re Wrapped in Divine Love

God is waiting, nudging each of us to accept and grow into who we are: the Beloved. The Ones upon whom God’s Divine Favor rests.

When we embrace the Creator’s unconditional love, we take off our worn-out t-shirts. We drape our Spirits with the garment of Divine Love.

In doing so, we become the compassionate Father/Mother and grow up on the inside. We accept the unfinished parts of our personalities, but don’t let them overshadow the truth of who we are and who we are becoming.

The pathway to transformation begins when we accept the Creator’s Infinite Unconditional Love. It’s too good to be true, but yet it is true. We are wrapped in the garment of God’s all-embracing love.

We are home. We are One with the Father/Mother who formed us in the womb and rests inside our hearts holding us, guiding us every step of the way.

One with God

Before his death, Jesus’ final prayer was that we would know we are One with God, just as Jesus realized he was One with the Father. He asked the Father to help us understand we are loved unconditionally by the Maker—so agape love would be written on our hearts and lived out through our lives. (John 17:20-23).

When we embrace God’s Infinite love for us, we become the Father/Mother. We bless others. Grieve with them. Forgive them. Bestow abundant compassion upon them.

Claiming our True Self

As I pondered Nouwen’s words, I wrote this in my journal, “I am home. I’m the Beloved—One with the Father.”

The words scared me. They opened a vulnerable space in my heart. For years, I was fearful I’d use those words to become self-righteous and smug like I’d done so often before. I also didn’t feel worthy of being God’s son because of my many failures. So, I resisted the invitation to grow into my true self.

But instead of getting stuck in my ragged son-like shortcomings, I’ve now begun to ask God for the grace of acceptance and humility to live into the truth of who I am. And slowly, I feel a shift within me.

I recognize more often when I’m clinging to my prodigal and elder son. I notice their traits when they get a grip on me. And instead of running from myself and God, I open my heart with compassion and ask the Father to love into wholeness those unfinished parts of me.

Growing Up on the Inside

Scripture says it’s time to put aside our childish ways. By holding fast to my prodigal and elder sons, I neglected to let the Spirit invite me to become who I already am and who I am becoming: a compassionate father. Like Nouwen, I must put away my childish ways and grow up on the inside.

Each of us are called to become the Compassionate Father/Mother. It’s the goal of our spiritual journeys.

When we claim our spiritual fatherhood/motherhood as God’s Beloved, our lives bless others. We love without conditions. We forgive endlessly. We put on the garment of Divine Fatherhood/Motherhood and carry out our vocation: to be the human image and likeness of Divine Love in the world.

As I continue to move through this inner unfolding, I’ve found it helpful to find a photograph of myself that depicts the Spirit of the Father/Mother I want to be. I’ve placed that photo on my cell phone and lap top as a screen saver. It reminds me of who I am and who I’m becoming.

This week, find a photograph of yourself, one that invites you to claim your inner truth—you are God’s Beloved, called to be and become the Compassionate Father/Mother. Then get rid of that ragged t-shirt and wrap yourself in the garment of Divine Love.

—brian j plachta

by brian j plachta on April 30th, 2020

What happens when you push the pause button on a movie or video?

The movie stops. A still picture freezes on the television screen. Quiet reigns. We then have time to grab a favorite snack or stretch our legs before we return to the action.

What happens when an unexpected pandemic pushes the pause button on our lives?

Life, as we know it, pauses. We shelter in, work remotely, or, if our jobs have slowed or vanished, perhaps not work at all.

City streets are empty of morning and rush hour traffic. Restaurants and movie theatres are closed. Sports and school and even church have stopped. The world is in pause mode.

We may not be able to get the products we’re accustomed to. There are shortages of things we’ve come to believe as “essential.” And the news blares the daily death toll and warns of economic calamity. We feel powerless.

We are powerless.

Or are we?

What if we looked at the other side of this situation? We have time to read and do crafts. We have time for quiet reflection as we let go of our rush-rush life. There’s even time to rest and play.

People are taking walks. Families are eating together. Mothers and fathers are playing basketball and baseball with their children.

Webinars and zoom meetings pop up to lift our spirits and give new understanding about how to maneuver through our disrupted lives. Spirituality abounds with creative social media and video technology. Courage reigns as medical and other professionals risk their lives to care for the sick and suffering.

God did not cause this pandemic. People did.

But the Creator walks alongside us and uses everything—even a world-wide virus—to help us grow, learn, and rediscover the simple things in life. Things like reading a book, spending time in meditation, and leaning into the support of loved ones as we ebb and flow with faith and fear.

Thomas Keating, the monk who pioneered the meditation practice of Centering Prayer says daily quiet time is key to living a life of inner peace, balance, and wholeness. He said the Holy Spirit inspires men and women to return to solitude each day to reconnect with the Inner Voice of God and gain wisdom and guidance.

Years ago, Brian Casey, a lawyer-turned-lay preacher, held a week-long mission at our church. By the middle of the week, I was awestruck by his words about the unconditional love of God and how the Creator of the stars and moon, sun and oceans desires to communicate with us.

I didn’t know God had a voice! I didn’t know God wanted to speak to me! But when Jesus promised he was the good shepherd and the sheep could hear his voice, Jesus meant it.

I met with Preacher Brian after one of the evening sessions and asked how I could hear God’s voice. He told me the Creator speaks in the silence of our hearts. So, we have to hit the pause button each day and spend quiet time listening, waiting, and letting our souls rest in God so we can hear the voice of wisdom. Brian said quiet time solves everything because it allows us to hear the Divine Whisper.

Since that mission, I’ve made it a daily practice to get up each morning and spend time alone with God. It’s been a game-changer.

During these uncertain times, I have an inner place I can visit to talk with God, share my fears and joys, and get insight as to how the Creator is leading and guiding me, my family, and my workplace. This place of interior prayer has become a safe haven in this pandemic storm.

I wonder if this is the “Great Pause.” Is this unprecedented time in history an invitation to slow our hurried lives, turn off the noise of the world, and quiet our hearts so we can reconnect with our souls?

I believe it is. We may never have a better time to pause our busy lives and listen to God’s voice.

God didn’t cause this pandemic. People did.

But that doesn’t mean God isn’t here to help us through it and make the most out of this unique situation.

Create your own safe haven in this pandemic storm. Pause. Sit in the quiet and listen.

Tania Harris, a pastor who’s made it her life’s mission to teach others how to hear God’s voice says we can all hear the Creator’s voice. We just need to learn how. Check out her website by clicking on this link to learn more:

God Conversations---Heard from God lately?

God is speaking in the midst of this Great Pause. Listen. Can you hear the Divine Voice?

—brian j plachta

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