"Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.... Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting."

Frederick Buechner

Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Five: Whatcha Reading?

MaryBeth, over at RevGals invites to write about what we are reading for this week's Friday Five meme:

1. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
2. Women and Redemption by Rosemary Radford Ruether (only about 25% through this book, will take awhile to finish it; very good).
3. Radical Wisdom by Beverly J. Lanzetta (I've finished this one, but still thinking about it, excellent book!)
4. Real Simple, April edition
5. Absence of Mind by Marilynn Robinson (I finished this, but still thinking about it. Very thought provoking.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five: Signs of Spring

Jan, over at the RevGals blog invites us to name five signs of spring:

1.
Baby bunnies in green grass


2. 
Dogwoods in bloom





3. 
Planting the garden



4. 
Spring flowers in bloom




5. 
Easter egg hunt

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Of snakes and vulnerability

A reflection on Lent 4B  - Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my great-grandmother who lived outside Pocatello, Idaho, in a big yellow house on a family farm. My great-grandfather, and his parents before him, farmed the land. The front of the house was on a dirt road with a deep ditch that ran between the house and the road. I remember playing in the front yard of this house where my brothers and I would find frogs and garter snakes near the ditch. I had no fear of snakes and would readily pick up a  baby garter snake like I’d pick up a kitten. 

Years later, as a college student, I lived near several beautiful national parks in southern Illinois. These parks were prime hiking areas through rugged terrain, the remnants of glaciers which left huge rocky bluffs, dark forests, and deep freezing cold lakes. This was a natural habitat for venomous snakes; rattlers and black water moccasins, among others. The distinctive noise of a rattle snake always gave me fair warning, but water moccasins were more subtle, one had be attentive to avoid them. 

Now I rarely encounter snakes, but when I do I am extremely cautious around them because I can’t identify them, and I never know if a snake is poisonous or not. 

Some people are terrified of snakes, and for good reason. Statistics list a fear of snakes as one of the greatest fears people have. Certainly the Hebrew people were afraid, as we heard in our reading this morning from Numbers. The people were weary of walking and eating badly and never having enough water and they were really afraid of snakes. God heard their complaints and grief and responded by turning the very object of their fear, snakes, into a source of healing. Moses’ snake on a stick became a symbol of God’s healing grace to the Hebrew people. 

Many times in life, that which causes our greatest grief and sorrow is also the stimuli for our deepest spiritual growth. Looking back, we might consider Moses’ snake stick to be a metaphor for spiritual growth and maturity. The paradox of illness that brings healing, of vulnerability that brings security, of death and new life, is a theme in our chapter this week in our Lenten book, “The Restoration Project” as we consider what it means to be stripped. 

In “The Restoration Project” the author aligns being stripped with deterioration, with the process of reversing the deterioration of DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper by stripping away years of dirt as well as paint from previous attempts at restoration. We humans deteriorate too from unhealthy behaviors such as feelings of entitlement, prejudice, and judging. Jesus reminds us that we are not behave this way; we are not strip others of their basic human right for dignity and integrity. 

And yet people are stripped all the time. People are stripped of life - think of those murdered or under the threat of terrorism and war. Stripped of hope, think of those in poverty or war torn regions or deeply depressed. One can be stripped of integrity, think of those who are raped, abused or belittled, those who have suffered decades of racism or sexism or genderism. One can be stripped of responsibility if one is fired or laid off or in other ways deprived of meaningful work. One can be stripped of one’s identity by abuse or oppression or imprisonment. One might be stripped of one’s name, sold into marriage or kidnapped or trapped into sex trafficking or human slave labor. One might be stripped of one’s knowledge by disease or an accident. There are countless ways that one can be stripped. 

On the other hand, stripping can be paradoxical. When one is intentional, one can  be stripped of the behaviors that limit our ability to grow in relationship with God. Stripped of envy, greed, gossip, complaining, or a failure to embrace our true self-worth as God sees us. These may be unconscious; learned behaviors from our family system, or socially reenforced values that emphasize the individual at the expense of everyone else.  No doubt there are behaviors and values from modern society that we need to be stripped of. Stripped of these so that we can recognize the ways that God is active in our lives. When we are able to truly embrace the depth of God’s love for us we find we have no need for envy, for greed, for self-aggrandizement, for belittling others, for belittling self. As one develops a sense of self grounded in God, one also forms with in one’s self a deeper level of self-awareness and other awareness, of compassion and acceptance of others for being who they are.

When I was growing up my role in my family was to support my mother’s version of her self and the world around her. This was a subtle, unconscious process between my mother and me, as most interpersonal family dynamics are. As a young adult I wasn’t able to sort out what I really thought about anything, my sense of self and every opinion I had were wrapped up in my mother’s definition of the world. Confused and depressed, I sought help by going to therapy. It took a long time for me to reorganize my interior sense of self. I had to strip away the false identity I had acquired from my family system, and grow a new sense of identity as my own person within that family system. Therapy was the process that helped me look deep into myself. But I was able to be vulnerable and do that deep work because of my prayer life and relationship with God. God pushed and prodded me, whispered into my soul, and sustained me through all my struggles, into a truer sense of self. Becoming a mature Christian is a lifelong process. I have been blessed to grow in my faith and in my personhood because I have been a member of mature Christian communities and thus with other people who are on a similar journey. 

The Gospel of John reminds us that God’s love, expressed in and through the life of Jesus, is expansive. Jesus shows us how to be mature Christians. I lose sight of what Jesus teaches when I put limits on what God’s love is like. But I have tried to strip away those limitations I’ve placed on faith, placed on God, placed on love, placed on other human beings. No doubt doing so has left me vulnerable. But, much like the people who encountered Moses’ snake on a stick, God’s grace was able to work through the most vulnerable aspects of my life, transforming them into healing and wholeness.

What is your snake on a stick, your vulnerable place, that is longing to be healed? 




Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Five: some silliness and some seriousness....

Over at the RevGals, Karla offers this Friday Five:

1.  What have you got going on today? I hope to get my sermon written today, because my husband is off work tomorrow (he often works on Saturdays) and the church has a fundraiser for the youth pilgrimage this summer. Thus, there will be too many distractions tomorrow to write a sermon. So far I have already ridden the recumbent indoor bike for 60 minutes and read "Feasting on the Word" in preparation for writing the sermon. I have a few ideas.....
2.  What about a prayer request, how can we pray for you today? I am still on the mend from six weeks of viral/bacterial cold/bronchitis/sinus infection crud, prayers for ongoing healing are appreciated. 
3.  What makes you curious? After years of interior peacefulness, my inner life is being stirred up. I have no idea what this means or what will come of it. I don't particularly like it, especially at my age (58), when all I really want to do is settle in until retirement, do some good work, but not be STIRRED UP. Oh, God, what do you have in mind for me, now? So, I am curious to see how this unfolds and what comes from it. I'm not expecting anything too dramatic, but it may be transformative, regardless. 
4.  If you got stuck in an elevator for three hours, (if that is too scary, locked in a room or stuck in a traffic jam), and could magically have any book or activity appear in a pouf to you to while away the time, what would it be? If I were stuck some place for three hours (and it's happened to me in traffic jams...oh how I hate that), I hope for a couple of things: water and coffee, my kindle so I can read, my cell phone so I can call people or play solitaire. Of course if I were to drink that water and coffee I'd also need a bathroom...
5.  Use these words in a sentence.   Thirteen, lampshade, [a historical person, like Cotton Mather or Judy Garland} basket, hedgehog, and daffodils. I would love to take a thirteen day vacation Hilary Clinton wherein she could tell me stories about women around the world, and her work for justice, while we carried lampshade shaped baskets and gathered hedgehogs and daffodils. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

God, where are you?

Melancholy.

Say it's this winter. It started off warmer than usual, and left me hopeful that winter would breeze by without much impact. November and most of December were easy, no snow, nothing extraordinary. I thought, I can do this. I can make it through winter. Then it all came tumbling down. Snow and bitter sub-zero temperatures that left one perpetually chilled. Cold and ice took hold of everything and forced me indoors, hibernating with a cup of hot tea. How long can it last? Surely not long, I thought. But it has lasted, relentlessly cold and snowy until I can barely stand the sight of the sun reflecting off the frozen surface of snow that lingers like a bad house guest.

Say it's the cold virus that struck me in late January. How bad could it be, I thought. A week, maybe two? I drank Airborne and consumed Zicam. Then I lost my voice to a bacterial infection from the chest gunk cold residue that made a home in my bronchial tubes and voice box. Ten days of antibiotics and I thought I was well. Two days later it all came back. Now three weeks later, a total of six weeks of this cyclical viral/bacterial crud, and maybe....just maybe, it's released its hold on me. We'll see. I'm on day three without antibiotics, there's still time for it trick me again.

Say it's the digestive crap I've been dealing with since last October. GERD? or not. Gall bladder? or not. I've seen my internist, see my chiropractor regularly and get massages twice a month, take yoga class and meditate. I've been to the ER for a migraine and a round of head and abdominal CT's, had an abdominal ultrasound, had blood work. It looks like something WAS going on back in December....but now everything is looking normal. A endoscopy is scheduled for the end of March. Maybe it's GERD after all, even though Prilosec made me feel worse. My mother had it. I'm not much like her, but maybe this is one thing I have inherited from her....in the meantime, Zantac is working well, except I have to take it twice a day....

Say it's that I have not been able to keep up with my beloved yoga practice during these six weeks of viral crud. I am off my rhythm and out of sync. I feel disoriented and a little scattered. Yoga and meditation ground me and help me feel focused.

Say it's my childhood and my dysfunctional family system. It's my brother who isn't answering my phone calls or text messages. Is he too busy? Is something wrong? Is he mad at me (and if so, what did I do?). Say it's a history of grief and loss and cut-off and lack of family connection which have grown more intense as I try to reconnect, and endlessly hope that maybe I could have a family. I do have family - my husband and children - are wonderful. We have made some strides toward health! Still, I grieve that the family I grew up with, who have known since my birth, are distant, rarely communicate,  and are mostly unavailable to me. It leaves me a little untethered and requires me to work harder to feel centered and anchored to the world. Grief is the undercurrent of my reality. It always has been. Not that I am always sad. I'm not.

But melancholy. That is the tone and texture of my life, and more so now. Shades of gray with out the icky sexual abuses of that stupid book and movie, but with remnants of what it means to be a woman in the world today. Always less than. Struggles to be heard, valued, recognized.

Say its a propensity toward grandiosity. I know this is a reaction to really feeling insecure and not worthy. So I begin to think I am better than I am, but underneath I know I am really not good at all. I'm a lousy priest. I don't know how to lead. I can't preach. I sure as hell can't write, I hated that technical report writing class in college. I'm not as good as.....and so I work to just accept myself as I am, as good as I can be. But damn, it's hard work. Daily. And, at 58, this is probably as good as it get.  The bell curve is swinging in the other direction, the downward slope. Can I just retire and not be in the public eye and just read and write and take yoga class and be a wife, mother, and maybe, if I am lucky, a grandma? I'll knit and drink tea and have a garden. Can I just drop out of life as I've known it for the last 20 years? Say that would fix everything. Or, not.

Say it's my Saturn return. In astrology Saturn takes 29.5 years to travel around the solar system. 29.5 years to return to where it was when one was born - astrologically significant for one's maturity - the return of Saturn to it's place in the horizon when one was born. At 29.5 I had been married for over a year, and had just had a miscarriage. I was working in a job I hated and life was challenging. But by 31 everything was different. The course was set for the life I have ended up living - married with children and a member of the Episcopal Church. That Saturn return matured me and set me on a course for life. Now, at 58, I face my second Saturn return. Again, a time of maturity, where not as much will change. Or maybe it will. It all depends on how much work I have done and how much work I still need to do to mature and be the woman I am called to be. The degree of suffering and constriction one feels from one's Saturn return is correlated to the degree that one resists its pulls and pushes to grow. My Saturn return will not be fully felt until the middle of 2016. But really, astrology is just a system, an attempt to explain the varieties of life in some system of order. But it's only that, and it's always wrong, because life is filled with unpredictability.

In the meantime, melancholy grips tighter.

Knowing that it will not help to resist the inner unrest that I feel, I can only accept it and listen. Listen to what the Spirit is whispering to me. I hear a call to growth, but I also hear a warning. Not yet. Now it not the time. I still have things to learn and work to do. So waiting is also a component of the melancholy. And wondering. What will come of all of this?

Say it's the work I am doing as a Spiritual Direction intern. But perhaps it's really the need to find a Spiritual Director. I've had two in my lifetime, great ones, perfect for me. But I've gone two years now without one. And I am feeling the loss of that companionship. It's not easy finding someone with whom to do this inner work. I have some ideas of where to go for Spiritual Direction, but haven't yet acted on them. Soon. I feel that will happen soon.

Say it's the work I am doing with Family Systems and Congregational development. That is the most life-giving work I am doing right now. It feeds me and excites me. And, I have no idea what to do with it. Waiting.

Melancholy.

Maybe this is the end of winter as the temperatures this week are forecasted to be in the 40's and 50's? Maybe the grip of grief, and sickness, and sorrow, and fatigue, and boredom, and yearning will ease if I can go outside and feel the warm sun on my face. At the very least perhaps it will make this lugubrious time feel less hopeless and endless.

And, honestly, I know that it is not endless. This too will pass. I just need to move through it, and learn the lessons it holds for me.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Listening for God

A reflection on the readings for the second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 17:1-16; Mark 8:31-38

Almost every Sunday between the 8am and the 10am service I join Sean and the choir for their vocal warm-up as they prepare for the worship service. In the actual service I end up either singing with the congregation or singing by myself with the congregation responding. I rarely sing with the choir. Warming up with the choir is one way I prepare for worship.

One of the main things Sean works on is helping each choir member hear the voices of those around them and to blend their voices so that no one voice stands out more than another. That is the work of choral music, a blending of voices to a unified whole. It is also the work of orchestras, blending the instruments to create a whole sound. Blending voices is a skill that requires one to be simultaneously aware of one’s own voice and aware of the voices of those around one’s self and the ability to soften or raise one’s voice so that it becomes part of the mix. This is not necessarily difficult, but it does require one to listen and be intentional about how one is using one’s voice. 

Listening is the theme of our Lenten reflection this week from chapter three of the book, "The Restoration Project."  Listening for God is the primary point of the chapter, but in order to listen for God one must learn to listen to one’s self and to others. Listening for God happens in community and it happens in small groups and occasionally it happens to us as individuals.  The reason we listen for God is because this is one way we do our part to be in relationship with God. We listen for God so that we can be aware of how God is working in our lives, how God is calling us to our most authentic sense of self, and how God is calling us to respond to the needs of the world around us. 

In the Genesis text we have an example of Abraham and Sarah listening to God. God chooses to be in relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah leave family, land, inheritance, for a new land with God. In doing so, Abraham and Sarah form a relationship with God and find their truest, most authentic sense of self. God even gives them new names. In naming them God names their truest sense of self; God validates them. 

As humans we find our foundation, the core of our being, in God’s relationship with us. As Christians, we have an example in Jesus of how God brings forth one’s most authentic self when one is faithful to God - when one lives from the values, principles, and beliefs that God inspires, which scripture tells are: love God, love self, love others, do justice, be humble, be mature, forgive others, look to self first, stay in relationship, pray, reflect, be aware.

As part of the covenant God requires Abraham and the male descendants to be circumcised. Sarah becomes pregnant and has a baby. The covenant is embodied and has a physical nature to it, requiring a level of engagement that is more than just intellectual. God claims our entire being. When we are attentive to God and how God is calling us into relationship with God, we become attentive to our whole selves with a level of authenticity that transcends how the world tries to define us.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles who had differing understandings of faith. Paul writes that since faith begins in God no one group of people has ownership over what faith in God looks like and is. God can create faith in any one. God creates faith in us, the potential for us to reach our fullest sense of self, but it requires our desire to be in relationship, for us to engage and to nurture our faith and our relationship with God. We do this through prayer, through living in community, through acts of kindness and service, through becoming attentive to ourselves and the ways we contribute to the brokenness in the world and then try to heal ourselves and those broken places - we begin by changing ourselves. 

In these times of great suspicion and accusation, of blame and shame, God points us to look first at ourselves. If our efforts are not working toward building up the whole through acts of loving kindness and justice, we need to re-examine what we are doing. 

Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark asks some difficult questions about identity. 

Who is Jesus?
Who is Satan?
And, oddly, in a series of readings about identity, it asks, What does it mean to deny one’s self?

The church tells us many things about the identity of Jesus. Praying the Nicene Creed gives us a historical understanding of Jesus as human and divine. Ultimately Jesus reveals to us what it means to have one’s authentic identity grounded in God.  In Abraham and Sarah and others whom God names, we catch a glimpse of God bringing forth one’s most authentic sense of self. In Jesus God reveals this fully - Jesus is God’s love made manifest in the world. God’s love never ends. God loves everyone. God’s love means we are worthy and that we matter. 

Who is Satan? Satan is the energy, the pulls and pushes in this world that try to define us as anything but the way God sees us. Satan is that which tries to tell us we not good, that which tries to oppress us and hold us down, that which causes illness and suffering, that which seeks to pull us away from God. 

In response to all these distractions which aim to pull us away from God, God reveals God's self to us in our most vulnerable place. This can feel like we are being asked to deny our selves.  But what we are denying is our inauthenticity that has become bound in the negative messages the world tells us about ourselves, which deny our truest nature founded in God. Deny the self from all the negative messages that world tells us we are, not good enough, not smart enough, not worthy. Denying our inauthentic self is the cross we need to pick up and carry, because it will lead us through our most broken parts of the self and into a wholeness that only God can offer.

Through grace God reveals to us our true nature, our full identity. To recognize who truly are we need to listen. Listen deeply in community, and hear how God is resonating through us. Listen deeply in  prayer. Listen deeply to one another, see how God’s love resonates through each one of us, calling us to harmonize in tune with God. Listen to God who has named us and enlivened us to our true selves. Listen to what God is saying within. God says, you are worthy. You are loved. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Five: FROZEN

Deb, over at the RevGals blog offers this Friday Five meme:
1. For The First Time in Forever: Tell us about a magical first snow day – for a child, a transplanted southerner, or maybe you have a great story from the first snowfall in your area this season. 
As a child I loved to ice skate and go sledding. I lived in Salt Lake City until I was nine, there the opportunities for great sledding hills were prolific. It was thrilling to race down a hill and then exhausting to walk back up to the top only to be repeated. These hills were really mountain foothills...
When my kids were little I made sure to do the same with them. I have fond memories of ice skating and sledding with my kids, always followed by hot chocolate for them and tea for me. 
2. In Summer: Tell us what you look forward to when it’s warmer again.
I look forward to the ease of summer - shorts, t-shirts, sandals. Long walks outside. Warm temperatures. Having the house open, a nice breeze blowing in. The sounds of birds. The flowers and trees in bloom. And planting a garden. 
3. Reindeers are Better than people: We are in the business of loving people. But sometimes… Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to love. Do you have a tip, a mantra, or a perspective that helps?
Focus on one's self, and what you need to do to be less anxious while staying connected to people. Don't let the anxieties of others make you anxious. Practice ways to gain perspective - take a walk, do yoga, workout, get a massage, pray. pray. Don't react when emotions are high, wait until you have calmed down. 
4. Fixer Upper: Since we are in the season of Lent, what are you doing in the area of self-improvement?
Well this Lent seems to be all about my physical health. I'm on my second course of antibiotics for respiratory illnesses (throat, bronchial). And I'm going through tests to determine if I have gall bladder disease or if it all really is GERD...or something else. 
5. Let. It. Go. What would Elsa do? Are you de-cluttering? Moving on? Accepting a hard reality? Finding freedom?
I'm studying - as a spiritual direction intern and as a student of family systems in congregations. It's all good stuff. 
Bonus: Frozen, thawing out or thawed, share a picture from your winter this year!
Well. No recent photos of me...wish I had taken one when I was in Chicago a few weeks ago having brunch with my daughter and a friend....but we were too busy having fun!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Praying

Reflection for Lent 1B

I have a confession. I am not very good at praying. More specifically, I am not very good at praying in “typical ways.” Particularly, I do not kneel on my knees at my bedside and pour out a series of confessions and petitions to God. Although I did do that when I was child. Then I remember praying for each person in my grammar school classroom, beginning with the child in the first chair of the first row and going chair by chair to the last person.

When I found the Episcopal Church, I prayed on Sunday mornings, I prayed when I came to church. With my young family we prayed before meals saying a simple prayer that Dan remembered from his childhood, “Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts”…. I also prayed with our children before bedtime, a little prayer that looked back over the day, at what had gone well and what had not. 

For a long time I prayed the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer. I’d rise early in the morning and move through morning prayer, aim to say evening prayer before dinner, and pray compline before bedtime. I loved the idea of a cycle of prayers but having young children made a consistent cycle of prayer challenging. Once, for about four months, I prayed my way through the psalms. 

I once had a spiritual director who suggested to me that walking my dogs was a form of prayer. I found  this idea pretty radical, something you’ll understand if you’ve ever tried to walk more than one dog at the same time, moving as fast as you can as you attempt to control the dog and teach them good walking manners while also hoping to wear them out, with a futile hope that they will be quiet for the rest of the day. Buddhists find washing dishes or chewing food prayerful. There is the potential for any ordinary activity to be prayer, if that is our intention. 

Eventually I settled on a daily practice of 30 minutes of meditation. I did not realize that meditating was an ancient form of prayer in mystical Christianity. 

It was in seminary that I learned about mystical Christianity and famous women mystics like Teresa of Avila. 

Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century in the Castile region of south central Spain. Born to a wealthy family Teresa was social, friendly, attractive, and outgoing. She joined a convent after the death of her mother, primarily to avoid marriage, or at least to put off marriage for as long as possible. Typical of Christians during the time of the Inquisitions, she was highly religious.  But she was never one to follow the rules not could she blindly obey what was being enforced by the church hierarchy. She had her own sense of God, her own understanding of faith, and in due time she fashioned her own way of being a faithful, practicing Christian. Although her way was unique she survived every inquiry from the Inquisition, despite many investigations.

In those days the church frowned upon silent prayer and enforced the idea that people could only pray the ascribed spoken prayers provided by the church.  But Teresa’s mind grew bored and weary with prayer that used words. She would pray them in a rote, mindless, meaningless way that she found mind-numbing. Only when she fell into contemplative silent prayer was she able to pray in a way that became transformational for her. In the silence Teresa experienced God’s presence. 

Teresa’s two most famous reflections on prayer are the Interior Castle and the garden. The Interior Castle is a metaphor that describes the action of praying as if one’s interior life were like a castle with many rooms. Moving through the eight of the rooms of the interior castle one develops an ever deeper awareness of one’s relationship with God. The garden metaphor of prayer describes the prayer life in four steps, marked by four different ways a garden might be watered. 

Beginners on the path of prayer are like a person trying to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of weeds. God assists beginners by pulling up the weeds and planting good seeds. The seeds God plants in us represent our potential relationship with God, but, they need to be watered. Watering happens when we pray or try to pray. Teresa writes that the effort to pray happens in four stages analogous to watering. The effort moves from lugging water to irrigation to a good rain storm. Lugging water is what prayer may feel like for the novice prayer - laborious and not very effective. Irrigation is prayer that is more effective, but still something is lacking or the effort remains a challenge. When a garden is watered by rain it represents those moments when our prayer life is perfectly aligned with God and we feel the peace of God’s presence. 

Nurturing our relationship with God, self, and others, is the focus of Lent. Nurturing these relationships through prayer and other acts of living out a vibrant Christian faith is the intent of our Lenten practices. This year we are using the book, “The Restoration Project” to help us explore how we can nurture these relationships. Each Sunday during coffee hour we will have opportunities for exploration. You are invited to consider one of them. Perhaps you will want to sit at the table with the jigsaw puzzle and chat with others working on the puzzle. Perhaps you will want to take on knitting or crocheting a prayer shawl. Prayer shawl ministries are powerful forms of prayer, each stitch of the shawl represents a prayer, and when given to a person who is sick or in need, that person is literally wrapped in prayer. Maybe you will want to pray with color or you will want to discuss the themes  in “The Restoration Project,” or maybe you would prefer to sit quietly and read the book? Each table in the Fellowship Hall will provide you with a different one of these opportunities and each Sunday you are invited to consider which table you’d like to sit at. We’ve also started a blog title “Soul Restoration”  with meditations being offered on the themes of the week. The first meditation was posted on Ash Wednesday and considered what it means to observe the world around us in an effort to see God. The second reflection is also posted and it reflects on “Watching for God” which is our theme for this week. You can find the link for the blog in the Lenten brochure, on the Facebook page and on the website. 

Now I’ve come to understand that whether I choose to pray while walking, pray with silence or with words, pray with color or while knitting a prayer shawl, pray with music or pray in another form, it is my intention that makes it prayer. I am praying with intentionally when I pay attention, observe what is going on around me, look for God, and become mindful of how the activity I am doing in prayer offers the potential of growing my relationship with God, self, and others. 


I invite you in this season of Lent to explore what prayer is for you and how prayer leads you into a deeper awareness of God’s presence.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Five: Lent

Jan, over at the RevGals, offers this Friday Five:
This is the beginning of the season of Lent. What are your thoughts, hopes, and prayers?
For today’s Friday Five, share five things about Lent.
If you’d like some guidance, here are a few suggestions:
1. books - the church I serve, along with a sister church in our town, are reading and engaging in the book, "The Restoration Project" for our Lenten series. 
2. new ideas - At my church we will engage "The Restoration Project," and it's emphasis developing formational Christian practices, during coffee hour on Sunday. We will have a variety of themed table tops where people can chose to sit. Two will have jigsaw puzzles (The Last Supper, The Life of Jesus) with the idea that as people put together the jigsaw puzzle they will engage in conversation and build relationship. One table will have knitting and crochet for starting our prayer shawl ministry. Another table will have mandalas, blank pieces of paper, and colored pencils for praying with color. Other tables will have discussion questions from the book, or the option to just sit and read the book - because for some this may be the only opportunity they have to just sit and read. 
3. websites - we started a blog for reflections to accompany the Lenten series and engage people who choose to connect with the material on line. Soul Restoration
4. poems, hymns - sure, poems and hymns are good ways into a Lenten practice.
5. to do - more than I can list. Simplifying life is one of my goals. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sacred Deeds

A reflection on Mark 1:21-28 for Epiphany 4B

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, not to be confused with Harold Kushner of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” fame, is a retired rabbi who grew up in Michigan and served a synagogue on the East coast. Larry, as he likes to be called, also writes about Jewish Mysticism. In one of his books he tells this story:

In the middle of a cold winter night, his wife, six months pregnant with their second child woke him. She said, “Larry, I know this sounds crazy, but I would give anything for a chocolate bar, especially one with almonds. “ Larry replied, “Don’t worry about a thing.” 

And he proceeded to pull on jeans, sweatshirt, and a coat over his pajamas. Outside it had been snowing and there were a few inches of snow on his car, driving was slow and slippery. And of course it took him a few minutes to realize that in this small town of Massachusetts everything would be closed. Where would he find a chocolate bar in the middle of the night? Then he remembered the Holiday Inn on the highway. The night clerk must have though him a little crazy, coming in out of a snowstorm, pajamas and all, to buy a candy bar out of the vending machine. 

Once home, and his wife’s craving satisfied, Larry reflected on this strange night. How on this night and under these circumstances, he had never given a thought to doing this, he just responded to what his wife desired. And it felt good, he felt good having done something so selfless and out of great care for another. He says it made him happier to do what his wife wanted than to have done anything that he wanted, like sleep….He calls this doing sacred deeds.

Doing sacred deeds, even one as seemingly mundane as this, helps us to transcend our selves, our lives, our worries. Doing sacred deeds is part of our calling as Christians. Jesus models the way, and our baptismal covenant helps us understand what we are to do.

Every time I prepare a family for baptism we discuss the three renunciations and three affirmations found in the baptismal liturgy. These six questions ask us to have some clarity about our faith, our understanding of who Jesus is, what evil is, and how we intend to support this person in their life in Christ. These are heady questions, provocative questions. The conversations I have with baptismal families is intended to help them articulate an understanding of what they are agreeing to so that they are not just going through the motions but have a real sense of what is evil in this world, who is Jesus, and what does it mean to put our trust in God’s grace? 

Baptism is the first step that one takes to become a member of the Christian church. Often baptism is done to us when we are babies, and so the first steps of formation happen with our families. Hopefully, as we grow up, our formation takes place, in a church that offers us opportunities to wonder, to question, and to develop a mature faith. Growing in our faith is a process of engaging in spiritual practices that inform and form us and can sustain us when life is challenging. 

Today we will baptize Ike Frady, welcoming him into the body of Christ. For several weeks we have been praying for Ike, using only his first and middle names. This is because today Ike’s surname is the same as all of ours, Christian. In a few minutes Ike will become part of the long historic Christian family. But what does this mean today?

In her book, “The Practicing Congregation, Imagining a New Old Church,” Diana Butler Bass speaks about the church community as a place anchored in a rich heritage where people are formed by the practices of our faith, which include a variety of sacred deeds. 

Butler Bass suggests that some people who come to church on Sunday are like tourists – they are taking time out of their “real” lives to do something different. Perhaps coming to church on Sunday gives them a respite from the daily grind? May be it offers them a place to be with friends? But afterwards the person returns to their real life, essentially unchanged from the respite.

The question for Christian communities like ours is, are we offering people an opportunity for transformation by inviting them, or inspiring them, to become part of a common journey into the rich life of the Christian faith?

To be a place where those who come here on Sunday are motivated to become part of a common journey means that we are offering people a compelling sense of mission. A  mission that calls out and speaks deep into their soul, addressing a profound, perhaps unrecognized, longing.

As a Community-Centered Church, we are discovering what it means to to be a place where people who are on a journey can join in, no matter where they are on the path. Some people are not even aware that they are on a spiritual path when they come here for a meeting or a class. But coming here means, for us, that they have entered into our mission, into a shared journey of building community. 

The question we are asking is how are we meeting them along the way? How are we seeking to build relationships?

Other people who come here have a greater awareness, even a desire, to be on this journey. These people may actually seek out relationships with people here, finding in us a mutual desire for companionship, sacred deeds, mission. 

Some are actively leading the way, inspiring the rest of us to follow. 

Our Gospel reading this morning from Mark, in fact the entire Gospel of Mark, offers us a vision of God manifesting God’s self in the person of Jesus. In Mark, the God we experience in Jesus is abrupt, breaking into all the ways we are stuck and, unsticking us. Mark names these sticking points as demons. These demons pull us away from the love of God. Jesus casts out the demons and sets people free. Released of their demons people are free to join the journey of people on a mission out to change the world one sacred deed at a time.