Saturday, January 18, 2020

One Year, One Book of the Bible

While I've been here at the onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction, I've come across many great ideas.  To be honest, most of them are not ideas that were completely new to me.  For example, I had a long conversation with a woman about not consuming news first thing in the morning.  I've thought of doing that before.  In fact, I came across an entry in my offline journal that talked about the possibility of doing sketching/journaling in the morning for 30 minutes before turning on the computer or the radio.

I do plan to go back to that plan.  But I've also decided to adopt a simpler approach to the morning.

Yesterday at the end of the morning worship service, the director of our program suggested that we take the next year and read one book of the Bible.  He talked about people who read the whole Bible in a year, but he says that we'll be much more enriched by focusing on just one book.  He suggested Psalms, John, or Philippians.  He suggested that we read straight through and when we get to the end, we start over.

Of all the ideas I've heard this week, this one jumped out at me, and I'm not sure why.  But time after time, our teachers this week have stressed that if something leaps out at us in this way, we should pay attention.

So this morning, I turned on the computer, the way I usually do.  But instead of going to the various NPR sites so that I could catch up on programming, I read the first chapter of the Gospel of John.  I've decided that I'll read one chapter each morning, that I'll read through the book chapter by chapter, one chapter each morning.  When I get to the end, I'll start the book again the next morning.

If I do nothing else, I'll do that.

I like this idea because of the time commitment.   It will take me a very short amount of time to read one chapter, so even on mornings when I'm pressed for time, I can do that.  If I want to read further, I can.  If I want to read the chapter in a variety of versions, I can, if I have a computer.  This morning, I began with The Message, then switched to NSRV and then New English--and just for fun, the Jubilee Bible, which I hadn't heard of before this morning.  As always, I am struck by what Eugene Peterson managed to do with his paraphrase/translation that he gave us in The Message.

I love the simplicity of this plan.  If the weather is bad, I can do it.  It won't require supplies, like a morning discipline of sketching would.  When I'm traveling, I can still read a chapter, and I won't have to bring an extra book along.

The cool thing about this practice is that it doesn't preclude other practices. I can still pray the liturgy of the hours, which I try to do each weekday morning.  If I have time, I can still sketch or write in a journal or blog.

I'm not sure what to expect, but I imagine it will be like keeping a gratitude journal:  at the end of a year, I'll be changed in ways I wouldn't have been without this practice.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Insight from the Second Day of the Onground Intensive

I have now sense a rhythm to the onground intensive for the certificate in spiritual direction.  It's an interesting mix of instructional time, worship time, small group time, and some alone time.  Each onground intensive has a focus on a particular praxis/practice; this time, it's solitude, and in June, it will be silence.

So far, I've been to 3 instructional sessions.  The first, for those of us here for the first time, focused on thinking about how spiritual direction is different from life coaching, therapy, pastoral care, or any of the other types of care.  One answer:  if the Holy Spirit isn't a 3rd partner, it may be valuable work, but it isn't spiritual direction.  One might wonder how this work would be different from pastoral care.  I would say that spiritual direction has both partners listening for God's direction during and between the sessions, while pastoral care could be something less than that, like helping a parishioner after a death in the family.  There's significant overlap between the types of care, significant borrowing of best practices (that last part is mine, to remind me that it's OK to borrow best practices if one discerns that path).

The 2 instructional sessions yesterday focused on mysticism (primarily the type that comes to us by way of the ancient desert fathers and mothers and medieval mysticism) and icons (the Orthodox type).  While much of the information wasn't new to me, I loved the sessions.

Yesterday we had almost 3 hours that we were to spend in solitude, which meant not only minimal human contact, but no books, no Internet, nothing that took our attention away from this time with God.  We agreed that journaling was O.K. 

So, I journaled, I walked around campus and took pictures, I journaled some more, I impatiently checked my watch to see if it was time for dinner . . .  .  Very interesting to realize that when I say I yearn for alone time, I'm likely to fill that time with reading or worse, with vapid Internet reading.  I finally sat down in the converted sunroom of the house where I'm staying and started to sketch:



I was intrigued by how much the sketching quieted my mind--not just focused, but quieted.

We bookended the day with worship.  In the morning, we walked the labyrinth, which is not an easy task in this labyrinth which is really not set up for a group to walk it--it's got very narrow paths:



In the evening, we had Compline, with a liturgy written by our director.  It was lovely, although a little too brightly lit.

I really like my small group, which is good, because I'll be spending a lot of time with them over the next 2 years.  I can't say much about them, because everything in small group is confidential.  But it's a relief to realize that this aspect will work for me--it isn't always the case.

As I've moved through my time here, I've thought about how this experience is like a retreat mixed with a conference mixed with some aspects of a college session.  If I had ever been part of a low residency MFA program, it might be a lot like that.

I've also been thinking about my yearning for seminary.  Being here makes me realize that I'm not sure the online type of approach to seminary is what I yearn for.  If I go to seminary, I think I want it to be the full, on campus experience.  I REALLY miss being on a campus.  I didn't realize how much I miss it.

Yes, in a way, I spend much of my waking hours on a campus.  But it's such a different kind of campus.

I think my seminary yearnings might be the same old yearnings to run away and start over, yearnings I've had since my teenage years.  That doesn't mean that those yearnings are frivolous or that those dreams are meaningless, but I want to recognize this insight.

One reason why I chose this certificate program is that I could do it without exploding all the other parts of my life.  And being here helps me realize how much of this material will be important as I move through the rest of my life.

Will it open new career doors?  I don't know.  But for me, that's not really the point.  I needed something that would help me feel better about the future.  This program does that, and thus, it's invaluable to me.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Onground Intensive: An Overview Based on the First Day

I am writing on a desk in a converted sunroom.  I'm in Columbia, South Carolina, on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary--Southern, for short.  I'm staying in an old house across from campus, the kind of house that's set up for short term visitors.  There are 4 bedrooms upstairs, each with 2 twin beds.  The downstairs rooms have an assortment of furniture:  2 dining areas, a kitchen, and a living room with furniture that has seen better days.  The floors are creaky wood, but charming.

I'm here for the first of 4 onground intensives as I work on a certificate in spiritual direction.  Yesterday was our first day together.

The group is larger than I expected--and more diverse.  We are mostly Lutheran, but we have a smattering of Methodists and Episcopalians, plus some non-affiliated and a Franciscan male in a brown habit.  We are mostly white, but there are some African-Americans.  I am surprised by how far away some of us live--more people from the middle of the country than I expected.  We are older, which makes sense.  Younger people likely can't get away for a Wed-Saturday intensive.  I had some trouble myself.  I used vacation time, but I've still had to log in to try to assist with issues.  There are more women than men.

We've had one instructional session, which was fascinating.  We've met several times in small group.  I like mine, which is fortunate, because they will be my small group for the next 18 months.

Yesterday, I went to two worship services.  I got to campus early, and as I walked around taking pictures, a man in the chapel told me they'd be having a service at 11:30 and invited me to come.  So I did.  The light streaming through the stained glass into the beaming white marble interior was stunning.  Here's a shot of the rear of the chapel, with the tall wall above the door to the vestibule:



Here's the front of the chapel:




Our evening service was more subdued in terms of color, but still moving.  It was created with a Celtic theme, so we sang "The Canticle of the Turning," (and others) and we had prayers based on the writings of St. Brigid, St. Patrick, and others.

I love being back on a traditional campus--LOVE it.  It reminds me of my undergraduate campus, Newberry College.  I could move into the library and never leave.  It has great spots to read, to write, and huge windows.  And what a great collection of books.  Of course, they're all categorized around religious themes, so if you wanted a research/university type library, you'd be disappointed.

It's very strange, too, to be on this campus.  I thought I had visited it back in the 80's, but maybe not--it doesn't feel familiar at all.  But many people I know have come to this school, as have some of my family members.  As I walked around campus yesterday in the hours before the intensive began, I felt almost breathless with the homecoming aspect of it all.

I am so glad I decided to do this, even though it's not easy to get away.  But it's never easy to get away--there would never be the perfect time.  I'm glad to have this opportunity and grateful for those holding down the fort (the fort at the office, the fort at home, so many forts which need holding down) in my absence.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 19, 2020:

First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 40:1-12 (Psalm 40:1-11 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Gospel: John 1:29-42

This Sunday's Gospel continues the story of Jesus' baptism, and it has lessons for each of us. Notice that Jesus doesn't get baptized and go home to sit on the sofa. He doesn't say, "Well, I'm glad I got that spiritual landmark over with. Now I don't have to do anything else until I die and get to go to Heaven."

No. Jesus goes out and tackles his mission. What is his mission? The same as ours: to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is revealing itself right here, right now, that God is breaking through our mundane daily life to transform us into better people in a better world.

But notice that Jesus doesn't go around yakking about this all the time. He's not the type of guy that drives most of us crazy, all talk and no follow through. When people ask about his mission, he says, "Come and see."

And what will people see? They will see a man healing the sick, comforting the poor in spirit, feeding the poor in wealth, eating with the outcast, and supporting the lowest people in society's social stratum: women, children, demon possessed, tax collectors, the diseased, and the like. They will see a man who sacrifices his social life and prospects for a long life so that other lives will have improvement. They will see a man of constant movement.

What do people see when they look at our lives? I've said it before, but it bears repeating: people pay attention to our actions. If our actions don't match our words, people don't accept our words. But it's worse: people see us as hypocrites, one of those Christian types they hate so much. But wait, it's even worse: if our actions habitually don't match our words, people begin to assume that ALL Christians are hypocrites.

It's tough, this mission of being God's hands in a world that needs so much. So, let's start with a simple approach. Each morning, ask God to help you be the light of the world today. Remember that the world watches you, waiting for your light. Remember that when your burn this way, other people will be drawn to you and will want to be part of this vision of a better life that you inspire. Forgive yourself for days when you're a dimly burning wick (to use the words of Isaiah's, in last week's readings) and remember that God does not extinguish a dimly burning wick. Even a dimly burning wick is better than no flame at all.

Martin Luther said that faith should move your feet. We are called to be Movement People. And even the smallest movements can lead to great changes down the road.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Day Before Travel to the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program

Today is the day before I leave to go to my first onground intensive for the certificate program in spiritual direction.  Yesterday at end of the church service, my pastor invited me to the front, told the congregation of my plans, said a prayer of blessing, and then anointed me with water that he brought back from his Holy Land trip.  I felt surrounded by love and support from my congregation.

It was the Sunday that we celebrate the baptism of Jesus before his ministry began in earnest, so much of the service felt meaningful, from the music about listening for God's call and wading in the water, to the reading/sermon to the ways that the sanctuary has changed (last week we still had the Christmas trees up).

I am headed to Columbia, South Carolina, to the seminary where my grandfather went 90-ish years ago; he was significantly younger when he went there than I am.  I am headed to seminary, the way my mom did when she was my age; like me, she was going to seminary for a non-ordination track.  Unlike me, she got a chunk of time off from the church where she worked, and they continued to pay her.  It was a different time, and we have very different employers.

I feel a bit anxious about leaving my school for 4 days at the beginning of the term.  But to be honest, I always feel that anxiety, except for when I leave between Christmas and the New Year holidays, the one week when nothing is likely to happen.  Outside of that week, there's never a good time to leave; various situations can unravel very rapidly.  I remind myself that even if I was on site, situations could unravel. 

This morning I realized that I don't really know what kind of housing I'm headed to when I stay in seminary housing.  Will it be like a dorm where we have some communal spaces?  I'm sharing a room with a pastor friend that I met through the Create in Me retreat.  Future scholars take note:  the Create in Me retreat has done more to change my life than anything outside of my experiences in school.

I will take a towel and washcloths, just in case. I also wrote my pastor friend--maybe I don't need to bring linens with me.  But I am in a car, so I am happy to be able to travel with excess.

Yesterday I was wishing that I had time to create a mix tape of sending music--what do we call mix tapes these days?  In old days, I had the music in my collection, so it was easy to make a mix tape.  These days, I would have to buy some music.  I'd like "Maybe God Is Trying to Tell You Something," that wonderful song from The Color Purple.  I'd like "Children Go Where I Send You," from the Peter, Paul, and Mary Christmas album.

But I am running out of time, so I'll just sing those songs as I drive up I 95 tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to time away, to immersing myself in this new program, this new seminary setting, and hopefully a new approach to discernment.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of Our Lord: Sanctuary Elements Year 3

I have never thought of the Baptism of Our Lord as having the same sort of decorating possibilities as Christmas, Advent, Lent or Easter.  But for the past several years, our church has risen to the occasion.

Two years ago, our pastor was out of town, and he asked me to decorate.  I did a lot with the space under the altar:



I also used the ledge on the back wall as a focal point.



I loved the way the sanctuary looked at the end.  Perhaps that's what gave me courage to keep transforming the sanctuary throughout the liturgical year.

Last year, when I arrived at church, my pastor had already started decorating.  I asked if I could add the ribbons, and he said yes:



This year, because of scheduling issues, my pastor decorated without my help.  Here are the pictures he sent:


And a close up:




It's interesting to see how we have used similar elements throughout the years--similar effects, and yet different.  It's good to keep changing, so that people don't get bored with the same displays, year after year.


Saturday, January 11, 2020

First World Problems: The Car Edition

Right before Christmas, South Florida had a freak rain event, although these flooding rain events outside of a tropical system are becoming more common and less of a freak event.  We were out of town, and we returned to a drowned car, which we had left parked on the street.

I was happy when the insurance adjuster declared the car totaled.  She said that she could tell that the water came up to the dashboard--to the dashboard!  From a non-hurricane event!  We got half of what we paid for our 2014 Toyota Prius.  It could have been much worse.  Our rental car is also covered.

My spouse and I have spent much time talking about cars:  what's necessary, how much gas mileage is acceptable, how floodproof can we make the car, how much do we want to spend.  It's a variety of the conversation we've been having since we met in college:  how do we live according to our values?  How do we live a satisfying life that doesn't sap the possibility of a satisfying life from others?  How do we share?

We have also spent a lot of time--A LOT--researching vehicles.  Have we always had this many choices?  We've been researching both new and used cars, which leads me to think about how many cars there are in the U.S.

I've also been thinking about the journey that our clothes make.  Many of our clothes come from factories in non-Western countries.  We wear them and then many of us donate them so that they get at least one more wearing in Western countries.  Eventually those clothes make their way back to non-Western countries for another wearing or two, and then our clothes have a whole other cycle of life as rags.

Do cars have a similar life cycle?

My spouse and I tend to drive our cars into obsolescence, so it's hard for me to imagine that they have much life left as cars when we're done with them.  I put over 250,000 miles on my 1987 Chevy Nova, and someone still wanted to buy it from me, even though it was leaking 4 quarts of oil a week and running on 3 of 4 cylinders.  But I can't imagine it had many more years as a car left; my trusted mechanic got to the point where he refused to work on it anymore, telling me that it was immoral for him to keep taking money from me.

I am aware, painfully aware, of all the ways that our cars are an apocalypse for the environment and for longterm sustainability of humans on this planet.  We did discuss mass transit options, but it was a brief discussion.  Unless one is going in specific north-south directions, South Florida doesn't do mass transit well.  And South Florida motorists make the area deeply unsafe for people on motorcycles or bicycles, so those options are out.

We will likely spend more than we want to on a car that isn't as fuel efficient as we'd like (but hopefully a hybrid) so that we have a chance of navigating flooded streets and so that my husband who puts many miles a week on a vehicle has a better commuting experience.  I want to believe that our charitable contributions will offset the impact of the vehicle, but I'm not going to delude myself that way.