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. 

Playing for Hope

My family and I once lived in a community with a high percentage of immigrants from Serbia-Croatia, people who had fled the war in the earl...