Monday
Jun032013

Here Now

Well, I'm back from running around everywhere, and it is good to be home. Traveling is fun, seeing new places and people, being immersed in a different culture, but there really is no place like home.

I find myself thinking about summer today, even though the weather isn't hot yet, it will be later this week, and pretty soon we will all wish it was a bit cooler. It is one of my favorite times of year, especially here in the Northwest where the summers are the best in the country, if not the world.

We are also entering what is called “Ordinary Time.” It is the long green season that comes between Easter and Advent. It is the longest season of all, a season that is not focused on the particular big events in the stories of faith we have from the Scriptures. It is not about the Passion story, or Easter, or the nativity and incarnation or any of the other high points. At least not in a particular sense. Of course every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, and the reason we gather together is precisely to celebrate that resurrection.

But in Ordinary Time we see how the resurrection and the truth of the gospel is present in our everyday lives. The new life we have in Jesus in not just about feasts and having lots of special music or having everyone dress in their best clothes.

This new life is present in everyday life, in ordinary life. It is present in the sun that warms us, in the water that quenches our thirst. It is present in our planning, in our resting, in our eating, our conversation, our driving, our shopping. It is present in the air you breathe, in the very being of your existence.

It is as miraculous and mundane as the birth of child or the gradual healing of a scratch. It is ordinary, normal, natural.

Far too often we see God or look for God or expect God in the miraculous, the surprising, the extraordinary. And while sure God is there, that is in some way the least important place God is present. The most important place that God is is in the normal, the mundane, the ordinary.

Consider this. Imagine if as a child the only interest you took in your mom or dad was on your birthday or Christmas? What kind of relationship would you expect out of that? What does that say about you? While of course we expect the people in our lives to be around for special days, it is really their everyday presence that matters most, has the greatest impact, and in the end is where we should really put our effort and energy in the relationship. Wise people know this, and the same is true for God.

Don't invest in the miracle. Invest in the ordinary, and you will see that there is nowhere where God is not.

Wednesday
Apr242013

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

To be raised from the dead is not just something that happens to our future, it is something that happens to us now. St. Paul writes: 2 Corinthians 5.17: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! This newness is expressed throughout our lives, not just how we are in the world, but in how we perceive the world, seeing it through God's eyes.

Thomas Traherne was a 17th century poet, pastor, and theologian. His writing were not very well known until long after his death. However, when they were discovered and reprinted, his mystical poetry captured imaginations and he became a favorite of people like C.S Lewis and Thomas Merton.

Much of his poetry is written as one new born, showing a love, delight and exuberance for the beauty of the world and the people in it. It demonstrates a closeness with God and a strong conviction that he first gift is he gift of life. To me, it is resurrection poetry, and I thought I would share some this month.

 

Salutation

 

These little limbs,

    These eyes and hands which here I find,

These rosy cheeks wherewith my life begins,

    Where have ye been? behind

What curtain were ye from me hid so long?

Where was, in what abyss, my speaking tongue?


         When silent I   

    So many thousand, thousand years

Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,

    How could I smiles or tears,

Or lips or hands or eyes or ears perceive?

Welcome ye treasures which I now receive.


         I that so long

    Was nothing from eternity,

Did little think such joys as ear or tongue

    To celebrate or see:

Such sounds to hear, such hands to feel, such feet,

Beneath the skies on such a ground to meet.


         New burnished joys,

    Which yellow gold and pearls excel!

Such sacred treasures are the limbs in boys,


    In which a soul doth dwell;

Their organizèd joints and azure veins

More wealth include than all the world contains.


         From dust I rise,

    And out of nothing now awake;

These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,

    A gift from God I take.

The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,

The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.


         Long time before

    I in my mother’s womb was born,

A God, preparing, did this glorious store,

    The world, for me adorn.

Into this Eden so divine and fair,

So wide and bright, I come His son and heir.


         A stranger here

    Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;

Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,

    Strange all and new to me;

But that they mine should be, who nothing was,

That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass.

 

Sunday
Mar032013

Let us Listen

Last month I wrote briefly on the basics of prayer: what it is, how it is done, etc. We looked at the large variety of ways to pray: out loud, silently, with words, with intentions, with silence, alone, communally. There were some suggestions for how to pray out loud and a couple of guidelines to get started.

 

Now I want to talk about the other side of prayer. If prayer at its most simplest is communication with God, we have to consider that communication always goes both ways. Prayer is not then simply talking with God, but also listening to God and listening for God. It is a dialog, not just a monologue. So how does God communicate? An audible voice is, of course, extremely unusual. What should we listen for? How does God speak to us?

 

Let me suggest three ways: (1) Word and Sacrament, (2) other people, and (3)what I'll call meditation. These aren't the only ways God speaks to us, and God can use many methods. However, these three are probably the most typical, and throughout the ages, those who diligently practiced listening to God write most regularly about these three things.

 

First God speaks to us in Word and Sacrament. That means God speaks to us through reading and hearing the Scriptures. God does this when we hear something we've heard a thousand times as fresh, or when a particular scripture hits us where we are. God also speaks to us at the font and the table and the countless experiences of God's presence we have in our liturgies. God speaks to us directly and unequivocally in these things telling us we are God's children, that Jesus is present with us, caring for us and feeding us, and that God loves us with an unquenchable love. Here God is always speaking; if we listen.

 

Second, God speaks to us in other people. This happens when someone gives us good advice or a hug or comforts us in times of trouble. God tells us that God loves us when we hear others tell us that they love us, when we feel valued and appreciated. God speaks to us in appeals to be kind and do justice, when we are challenged to follow the path laid out by Jesus. It is in this way, too that we often speak on God's behalf to one another, becoming the very voice of God; whether we realize it or not.

 

Finally God speaks to us in what I'll call mediation. This kind of communication is often very direct as the experience of listening to God is a very direct intention of meditation, times of quiet when we can mull over life and pay attention to what is going on and be at peace. I think Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury has good words here:

 

If all prayer is trying to listen to God we have to remember that the God that we are seeking to meet is a person, and we come into a personal presence. And that means of course, that praying is about a great deal more than words in the same way that personal presence is about a great deal more than words. The Word of God – the way God communicates – is by being God, by being himself; so one of the primary tasks of any kind of prayer is 'How do I let God be God?' 'How do I empty my mind and heart, not so as to confront a kind of void but so that the personal presence of God can come in? And words are part of that but only a very small part.

 

Are you praying? I hope you are. If communication is the most important part of any human relationship, why would we think it is different for a relationship with God. Talk to God. God is listening. And don't forget to listen on your part. You may be amazed to hear what God is saying to you.

Sunday
Mar032013

Let us Pray

I'd like to write about prayer this month, and since prayer is communication with God, and since communication with anyone has two parts (speaking and listening), I'm going to split it into two parts.

 

Now when I say speaking, I am not of course simply talking about speaking as such. There are many ways to pray: out loud, silently, with words, with intentions, with silence. We pray together and alone. We pray using words that have been written, such as the Lord's Prayer, corporate confession, even many of our hymns. But we also pray using our own words as they come to our minds and lips. Sometimes we pray only by offering up our feelings and intentions toward God.

 

There are even different kinds of things we do in prayer, giving thanks, praising God, talking over problems, and offering up our petitions, asking God to help us and help others. Our liturgy is wrapped in prayer from beginning to end, asking forgiveness, praying for ourselves and others, praying for the world, offering our thanksgiving in the midst of story telling. Our liturgy captures most of the forms of prayer we know: praying together, one praying on behalf of all, written prayers, free form prayers, asking, thanking, silently and aloud.

 

Our body also shapes and is shaped by prayer. We might pray with our hands clasped and our eyes closed. We might pray with our arms and eyes open. We might look up toward the heavens, we may bow our heads in reverence. We may walk as we walk with a friend, or kneel in supplication, or sit in meditation. These positions and actions might mean different things to different people, but they do mean something. If you doubt it, just try a different position during prayer and see how it makes the experience of prayer different.

 

This may all seem kind of complicated, as if there is a lot to learn about prayer, but actually, like most things about our relationship with God (or anyone else for that matter), things are simpler than they appear. Prayer is, after all, simply communicating with God,

 

Most times praying by oneself can be the simplest form. Simply address God. God is everywhere; God is there. Speak to God, aloud if you like. Say what you mean. Nothing is hidden from God; hide nothing. Be honest; God will not take offense. Ask. “Prayer,” after all, means “Ask.”

 

If you are not sure what to say, the Lord's prayer covers just about everything. Simply sitting in silence and offering up our thoughts works too. One thing to remember: Giving thanks is always good; a good thing to start with and a good thing to end with.

 

If you are ever asked to pray out loud, remain calm. The same rules apply. Give thanks, ask, give thanks again. Try and stay on topic. Ask for God's blessing if you can't think of anything else. It doesn't need to be eloquent. That's it. Keep it simple.

 

Finally, when it comes to God, we sometimes forget that communication has two parts: talking and listening. When people talk about prayer, they usually speak about it in terms of talking, how to talk to God. Unfortunately there is too little reflection on how to listen to God, and often very little attention paid to how God speaks to us. I'll write about that in next month's newsletter.

Wednesday
Nov282012

Advent

I've noticed something over the past few years. I wonder if you have. The Christmas season has stopped its calendar creep. Have you noticed it? It seemed Christmas stuff had been going up earlier and earlier every year, driven primarily by, well, general greed, both of companies and, of course, us, who are willing to spend and spend and spend. I remember when it jumped Thanksgiving and moved into early November, and for a while it was making moves in late October, but then it came to a screeching halt.

Why? Was it general embarrassment? Was it everyone finally waking up and saying a corporate, “Stop the madness?” Is this a sign of sanity in the world? Probably not. Let me tell you why.

Halloween. Halloween, you say? Halloween. But how did this young upstart halt the juggernaut of “Christmas?” Quite simply, and as with so many things, money. Yes, money. Not decency, not restraint, not a thoughtful consideration of where this was all going. Simply because Halloween started making big bucks. When it comes to spending Halloween is quickly gaining on Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day and the Superbowl. It will probably surpass them soon, and has already surpassed them in a few other countries. Most people under 45 consider it their third favorite holiday after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Retailers have to ask themselves, why drain one cow dry, when you can milk two; you get more milk anyway.

Now we go from spending frenzies on Halloween to Thanksgiving, and without even taking a breath to let our our belt and take a nap, we leap into Black Friday, now Black Thursday. It is a crazy time, from Black Friday to the Christmas eve rush. Anxiety peaks this time of year for a lot of people, and while it can be fun, I think we all can relate to the Grinch's complaint, “All the noise, noise, noise, Noise!” We don't get all wrapped up in this craziness in the church, and I'm glad for that. I hope that we can be a refuge from the pressure, the anxiety, the lists and hearing Silver Bells for the millionth time in the mall.

Advent has sometimes been seen as a time of penitence, or somberness, or a build up to Christmas, but there is not reason that it should be. It is not really even a time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus, because, well, he's already here. But it can be a time to reflect and consider some good questions: what does it mean for God to be “with us.” What does it mean for Jesus to come again and again and again?

This Advent we'll continue the tradition of sharing a meal and having a quiet service of Word and Sacrament. We'll eat together Wednesdays around 5:30 and our service will start around 6:15. In our service, we'll be reflecting together on questions I think the readings for each Sunday of Advent present: How can we “be awake?” How can we prepare the way for the Lord? What do we do in times of change and transition? How do we accept God's will for us? I hope you'll be able to join us, and join the conversation.

 

 

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