Thursday, July 9, 2020

Spiritual Sketching Journal Update

I've been intrigued by my sketching habits.  For much of the month of June, I sketched for 5-7 minutes each morning as part of the Morning Watch devotional time that I led live on my church's Facebook page.

I would return to the same sketch over 3-6 mornings.  I made sketches like the one above and below.

On Sunday, I returned to my habit of sketching in church; I was part of a skeleton crew there to help with the livestream of the service.  I came up with this sketch, which perhaps has more of an Advent theme than a July theme.

I suspect many of us are in this Advent frame of mind, watching and waiting and hoping.

On Wednesday, I created the sketch above.  I started in the morning and finished in the evening.  If I had known how much it would change, I'd have taken a picture in the morning.  Here's what I captured from the Morning Watch broadcast:

I thought it would go in a different direction, a blue and brown direction.  Last night, I kept adding more and more color and then the swirling black lines.  I love the way it turned out.

I return to a theme that must feel familiar by now:  when I feel like I haven't been doing anything creative, let me remember that I have.  I may not have been filling up my purple legal pads with poetry, but I have been creative.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 12, 2020:

First Reading: Isaiah 55:10-13

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 25:19-34

Psalm: Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-14 (Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 119:105-112

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

This Gospel returns us to one of my favorite metaphors: the seed. When I first read this Gospel lesson as a child, I read it as an indictment of the seeds. Clearly some were just bad or worthless. Now, as an adult, I see this Gospel as being primarily about the ground. We've all got lots of potential, but some of us just aren't in the right kind of ground to flourish.

Unlike seeds, we can move. I'm not necessarily talking about a literal move, although the idea of moving to be near a great religious community doesn't strike me as absurd, the way it once did. Many of us move for much more stupid reasons.

Unfortunately, given the state of the pandemic and job markets, many of us are as rooted as plants need to be. However, there are still many things we can do to enrich the soil in which we find ourselves.

We are living in a time of all sorts of online opportunities, and many of them are free. We could spend all of our Sundays--and a good part of our Mondays--watching various religious services that have been livestreamed and then recorded for later viewing.  We can attend all sorts of conferences virtually, and many of those conferences are offered for free or at substantially reduced rates.  We can watch great musicians play their instruments at close proximity--with screens separating us and keeping us safe.

Some of us have more free time these days, and so we can take advantage of these opportunities.  But what about those of us who are working more hours than we ever did before the pandemic?  All of us have some control over bits and pieces of our time.  We should look for ways to make that time more nourishing.

For those of us still commuting to our jobs, there's the time in the car that we could put to better use.  Spend time with something that calms you (a CD, a podcast, a tape). Get something that reminds you of who you're supposed to be. I've noticed that when I'm listening to Godspell, I'm less likely to curse my fellow drivers, and the lyrics stay with me through the day.  I get a similar effect when I turn off all the noise and have silence for my drive.

No matter where we're working--or not working--we can build mini-retreats into your day: find some green space and go there to pray; read something inspiring, if you can't leave your desk; find web sites with inspiring material and visit; close the door to your families, don't answer the phone, and practice deep breathing. 

This may be a time where fertile soil for soul building seems hard to find. We may feel like we're marooned in sand or concrete. But if gardening teaches us anything, it's that soil can be redeemed, and often by small efforts, day after day, just a few minutes each day.  Within a season, we can find ourselves with good soil that will nourish our souls, getting them ready for new growth.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pandemic Protocols

In a time of pandemic, we may not be able to hold each other close.

We think about the possibility that we may have to live isolated in our homes forever.

If we're lucky, we can take long, solitary walks in natural settings.

We may find support from unexpected places.

We find our previous lives, the old normal, fractured beyond repair.

But we keep the light of hope alive, hope for a new creation making all things new.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Mandolin Progress Report

I had planned to spend the month of June remembering how to play my mandolin.  I had planned to play through "Dona Nobis Pacem" at least once each day while I prayed for peace.  As with many of my plans, I had mixed success.

For the first part of the month, I consistently picked up my mandolin daily and played through the song as I prayed for peace.  One day, I didn't play it on my mandolin, but I sang through it and prayed.  And then, my mandolin got out of tune, and I had trouble tuning it, and I stopped picking it up daily.

My spouse tuned it for me, and I've spent the last 2 weeks playing every few days.  Last night, I picked it up again, and I was happy that I could still remember how to play it.  My spouse was working on a harder piece on his violin, which makes it hard for me to hear what I'm working on when I play the mandolin.

We did a bit of internet wandering, as I remembered a Peter, Paul, and Mary version of the song he was working on.  He was playing "Midnight Train," which they interpreted as "Morning Train."  From there, we looked at some videos of Yo Yo Ma and Joshua Bell--nothing like looking at professionals to make me feel like it's useless to pick up an instrument.

Of course, I remember that becoming a professional is not the point.  I pick up my instruments again and again because it brings me a kind of joy.  I pick up my instruments because it's another way to pray.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence and Resilience

How strange to wake up on Independence Day to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds equally split between people who were enjoying the broadcast of Hamilton last night on Disney Plus and people who were watching the broadcast of President Trump at Mount Rushmore.  What a juxtaposition!

It's a strange moment in the history of the nation to be having this celebration of our independence.  A pandemic ravages the planet, people take to the street in levels of protests that we haven't seen since the 1960's, and there's an economic upset that threatens not only to compete with the Great Depression, but to take the record.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

And yet, perhaps out of these ruins, we can build something better.  It's happened before.

I'm grateful that I had a chance to know my grandmother in a deeper way than I would have if she had died when I was younger.  She had survived more than I thought I would ever face:  the Great Depression, World War II, various types of poverty.  And yet, she not only survived, but she had a rugged resilience and a stubborn optimism.

I began the 4th of July week-end yesterday by hearing this new song by Rhiannon Giddens.  It, too, reminds me that resilience comes out of adversity.

It's a good day to be inspired by those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing. It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.

Of course, it's always a good day to do that--let me always be trying to live a life that's in sync with my truest values. Let me always be ready to stake my sacred honor on principles that are that important.

Today let us pray for those who are oppressed by tyranny of any kind.  I will say a prayer for protection and for liberty from tyrannies of all sorts. Today and every day.  Let us pledge allegiance to our God who sets us free.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

This morning, I made a different piece of art:

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn't sleep.  I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn't quiet my brain and go back to sleep.  I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, "So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?"

I did some sorting.  My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated.  All I wanted was a place to put my books!  Books that have been packed away for 2 years now.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.  They were part of a different art project.  I created this shadowbox out of hurricane damaged stuff, including a chest of drawers:

Then I tried to transform that project into something for an art show that I decided not to enter:

This morning, I found those map fragments as I was sorting, and I thought about how they represented my existential crisis of sorts--what map can we follow to the future?  What makes sense these days? 

I added a few more elements:

It made me happy, making these arrangements, even if I didn't have a flash of insight about the way forward.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 5, 2020:

First Reading: Zechariah 9:9-12

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Psalm: Psalm 145:8-15 (Psalm 145:8-14 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 45:11-18 (Psalm 45:10-17 NRSV)

Psalm (Alt.): Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (Semi-continuous)

Second Reading: Romans 7:15-25a

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In this week's Gospel, we see the mystical Jesus. The first part of this week's Gospel has those strange comparisons calling us children in the marketplace, and then Jesus reminds us that he and John are the latest in a long line of people sent by God to get our attention. And then the Gospel ends with that strange bit about easy yokes and light burdens, when the very definition of yoke and burden encompass experiences that aren't easy and light.

Maybe in these days of global pandemic and political raging, you're feeling the more traditional definition of yoke and burden; maybe you're feeling strangled and struggling. Maybe you're weary of the world's problems and the inability of governments to even attempt to solve them. Maybe you wish for a savior to show up in our troubled times. But then you'd have to wonder if we'd even notice, in our world of noise and the distraction of all our screens.

Sometimes, when I feel most bleak, I like to return to the words of the Old Testament prophets. It's good to remember that no matter how terrible our historic age seems, it's not really a new situation. This week's reading from Zechariah commands us: "Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope."

That command is our burden and our yoke. We must be prisoners of hope. We are called to commit to resurrection. That doesn't stop with our belief in a resurrected Lord. That's just one sign, among a galaxy of signs, of a God who creates and recreates the cosmos daily.

In our deepest despair, we must remember that we're Resurrection People. We don't believe in a fixed universe where everyone has a preordained fate. We don't believe that we're doomed. We don't believe that we have to accept our lot with stoic resignation.

No, our burden and our yoke is that God calls us into partnership in this remodeling of the world into one that is more in line with God's vision and plan. Could God just step in and order it to be so? Perhaps. But God didn't create that kind of universe. For whatever reason, God found it much more interesting to design a world in which we have free will. We can put our necks into the yoke that God offers us and discover that what appears to be a burden is, in fact, a blessing that transforms us as we transform the world.