Friday, January 30, 2015

Preparing for Candlemas

A year ago, I'd have been on my way to Mepkin Abbey, and two years ago, I spent the same week-end at Mepkin Abbey. 

It was my first time celebrating Candlemas, the feast day which occurs Feb. 2, which celebrates the day 40 days after his birth when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple.  The priest Simeon holds the light of the world in his hands. 

The monks change their worship space, and often a piece of art helps commemorate the day.  Above you see the art for Candlemas 2013.  I was also struck the first year by a flowering branch. 

Through the four days that I was there, the flowers unfurled.

It's the time of year when we're all longing for light.  We get 30-60 more seconds of light each day, but in those tiny increments, it's hard to realize the small beginnings of spring.

It's a good week-end to think about the ways we can capture the light.  Maybe we will light candles--strike a match against the darkness.

Maybe we'll hang colored glass at our windows--let the light scatter into colored sparkles.

Maybe, as the full Christmas season comes to a close, we'll enjoy the flowers of the season.  Below, the amaryllis that was in the chapel last year.

And my poinsettia, which has lasted since Christmas 2013.

We all hold the light of the world inside us.  In these darker days of winter, we need to remember to let that light shine brightly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Technology and Community

Long ago, I went to a different church and served on a different church council.  I still keep in touch with some of those parishioners.  Yesterday's post about modern demons, like the demon of disconnectedness, struck a chord with one friend from that time period.  He wrote to talk about feeling disconnected from communities, as yesterday's post discussed.

About a year after I served on church council with him, he and his wife moved to Costa Rica, and they have since moved to Peru, where there is only one Lutheran church, but the service is in Spanish.  The ex-pats who speak English tend not to be Christians.  He talked about these blocks to connectedness.  I was touched that he wrote, and I wrote back.  I've pasted a version of my ideas below.

I've always wondered if electronic/online communities can serve as a community of sorts for people who don't have access to churches where they can gather in person. I suspect it would work better if people had some sort of connection before they left and then returned electronically.

For example, if a former church where you still knew the members attending broadcast its service in real time, and you could stream it on your computer, would you feel connected? Or would it make you feel worse, with no real people around you? These questions intrigue me.

At work, where I spend most of my time, I, too, find few Christians. So, reading all sorts of things via computer during the work week helps. But how would I feel if that was my only connection to Christianity?

It's hard to maintain community, whether it be electronic community or in-person community.  Technology can be used for good or ill when it comes to community building.  I wonder what tools are out there that we're not utilizing?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, February 1, 2015:

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

What on earth are we to make of this Gospel? Here we see Jesus casting out demons, an act which might make us modern folks very uneasy. We don't believe in evil spirits, do we?

Do we?

In her book, Preaching Mark, Bonnie Bowman Thurston points out that the person who had demons was cast out of the worshipping community, and thus away from the presence of God. She encourages us to wonder what "demons" separate people from our worshipping community today.

We might broaden our scope to think about what “demons” separate people from their larger communities in general. We might turn our analytical skills back on ourselves. What separates us, as individuals, from the communities of which we yearn to be part?

For some of us, it is that we just do not feel worthy. In her book High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver describes her childhood as a child who read a lot; as a consequence, she says she’s often surprised as a grown up to find that people really do want to be friends with her. Many of us suffer from the kind of low self-esteem that might be described as a demon plaguing us.

Or maybe we don’t want to be part of any of the societies we see around us. Maybe we’re turned off by the values which can be so different than ours. Maybe we’re surrounded by mean people, by greedy people, by people who do not want the best for us. It’s not a far stretch to describe some of the larger communities in our world as demon possessed; evil does seem to be in charge.

For many of us, the issue is time. We’re increasingly overburdened by our to-do list. For those of us still lucky enough to have jobs, we’re likely doing not only our work, but the work of those who have been fired or not replaced. We work longer hours, and then we have family commitments, and our possessions need attention. We never have much down time, even when we sleep or go on vacation. We may feel tormented by demons who never leave us alone, who bedevil us so much that we cannot think.

For many of us, those demons are our electronics. Many of us are possessed by our smart phones, by our Internet ramblings, by all the things which promised to connect us (the demon seduction) but that leave us with so little time to make real connections with that which would bring us joy.

For this week, let us think about all of our personal demons and all of our societal demons. Let us decide how we will attempt to cast them out. As a church, what can we do to minister to those afflicted? As individuals, can we be doing more to reach out to those who, for whatever reasons, feel on the outside of our communities?

When my mother-in-law was sick in the hospital, the hospital had us wear visitor stickers on our shirts. Sometimes I would forget that I was wearing mine, and I'd go to the grocery store. I noticed that people treated me more kindly. That sticker showed that I wasn't having a normal day.

We should go through our lives, seeing our fellow humans as wearing similar stickers that show their need for our gentle treatment. Think of what a different world we would inhabit if all people of faith made gentle treatment of their fellow humans a daily practice. Think of how those demons would be diminished.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Poetry Tuesday: Early Morning Thoughts on Angels

At church on Sunday, we were talking about Jesus in the Temple and how surprised Joseph and Mary were to find him there.  Our pastor said, "Come on--there were angels at his birth.  What more do you need to know your child is special?"

There are many answers to that, of course.  We could argue that most parents of newborns feel that someone very, very, very special has been delivered to them.  I argued that the Gospel of Luke wasn't meant to be literal.  Maybe those angel choirs symbolized the feelings that many new parents have about their babies.  One woman theorized that it had probably been awhile since Jesus did anything special.

The season of Advent to Ash Wednesday always sets me to thinking about angels.  I am a good English major, and so I am well aware that more of our theories of angels come from Milton than from the Bible--or worse, from people's desperate desires, and the purveyors of sentimentality who prey on those people.

On the days when I believe in literal angels, I believe in them as a species separate from humans, living or dead.  When I die, I will not join the angel choirs.  Those choirs are for angels.  Humans do not die to become angels.  Angels were in existence long before humans.

I like the idea of angels moving amongst us, but not in the same way that most people do.  I don't believe in guardian angels who are there to step in and save me from myself.  But I do like the idea of angels who take an interest.  I do like the idea of angel messengers, although I suspect that most of us are deaf to the message.

Long ago, after the exhaustion that comes from explaining medieval ideas of angels and their place in the universe so that my Brit Lit students could understand Milton, I wrote the poem below.  For many decades, I've been writing poems that imagine Jesus moving through our modern world (see "Heaven on Earth", "New Kid," and "Strange Communions").  Occasionally I play with similar ideas with angels.

Here's my take on guardian angels.  I wrote it after hearing voices I couldn't identify outside my window in the wee, small hours of the morning.  Readers of Milton's "Paradise Lost" will notice some echoes.

Strategies Before Sunrise

The neighborhood angels congregate
outside my window. It’s very late,
3 a.m.—and they know their charges sleep
safely under the covers in darkened homes.

The angels make calls
on their interstellar cell phones to check
stock prices, check on family members. Sell,
buy, a career change, the futures
market, sleep, snack: their arguments
filter into my dreams.

These angels drink light beer
as they play checkers, strategizing
while waiting for sunrise. They’d prefer
a more challenging game, a better beer,
a darker blend, foamed with honey
and the yeasty blend which bespeaks bread.
But only rebel angels partake of chess, lagers
and all the forbidden conspiracies which tempt
the good citizens of the celestial spheres.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Feast Day of Timothy, Titus, and Silas

Today we celebrate the lives of Timothy, Titus, and Silas, missionaries and friends of Paul. Imagine having Paul as your mentor. Imagine that your work together is so fulfilling that you become friends. Imagine that you are one of the organizers of the early church.

In many ways, those men lived in a time as tumultuous as our own time. The Christian church of their time faced just as much chaos and confusion as our own time. Many of us look back and imagine the time period of Paul as a golden age of Christianity, but in truth, it was one of those time periods of competing directions, and it wasn't always sure which way Christianity would go. Would it stay a denomination within Judaism? Would it be persecuted out of existence? Would it continue to embrace its egalitarian beginnings? Would it be adopted and co-opted by local governments? How far-flung could the faith become and stay faithful?

We face similar questions, against a different set of canvases. It's worth pondering today, on this day that we celebrate the lives of missionaries and Church fathers, what roles we might play in the next emergence of our Christian faith.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fishers of People

Today many of us will hear the invitation stories of Jesus.  It's early in his career, and he's inviting people to come and see what he's all about.  He'll make them fishers of people!  And some of them drop their nets and leave everything behind.

Later in one of the Gospels, Jesus will heal Peter's mother-in-law.  I remember the first time that idea sunk in.  Mother-in-law?  Does that mean that Peter had a wife?  What happened to her?

I always thought of these early disciples as very young.  But in a recent post, a friend of mine who's recently been to the Holy Land, dispels that idea.  While he was there, the group went to an archaeological site, and he considers the implication of these recent finds:  "This archaeological discovery is important because it dispels the myth that Peter and Andrew, James and John, were peasant fishermen. In fact, they were middle class business men who most likely had a fleet of fishing boats and lived a comfortable lifestyle."

In some ways, it's easy to give up everything for Jesus when one is young and hasn't made commitments yet.  When one is middle-aged and has a mother-in-law--with all the commitments that relationship implies--it's harder.

But maybe the reality is that it's hard, no matter at what age the invitation comes.  My friend has an interesting take on this question of what it means to follow Jesus.  He approaches the question from the standpoint of what it means to leave everything behind to follow Jesus.  He asks what we need to leave behind--and it's not necessarily our in-laws or our mortgages: 

"Some of us will need to leave behind our need to simply make more money and feather our nests, and learn the values of service and generosity. Others will need to leave behind our need to be in charge our our own destiny and trust Jesus to be in control of our lives. Some will need to leave behind our fears of what the future will bring and venture into the great unknown. Others will have to leave behind our need to control or manipulate other people, and ask how we can best serve our neighbors."

It's a question that we should never have too far away from our consciousnesses.  It's hard to stay focused on the triune God.  So many things pull our attention away from God.  What do we need to leave behind to be better followers?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

God Calls Us to Communion

How do we experience the call of God?  Is it as clear as the tolling of a bell?

Do we understand the steps involved?

Perhaps we experience the call as a walk through a corridor, surrounded by stone, struck by sunlight.

Maybe the call is partially hidden, only glimpsed if we learn to see in a new way.

Or maybe the call is a clear sign.

Whatever the nature of the individual call, we know that we will not walk the path alone--it's a call to live in communion.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Remembering Marcus Borg

One of my favorite theologians, Marcus Borg, has died.  I grew up Lutheran, stayed a Lutheran (of the campus ministry variety) through undergraduate and graduate school, drifted away, and then came back to church 5 years later when I was 33 or so. 

I remember the first time I read one of his books.  In 1999, I was writing an academic essay in which I compared the character of Lauren in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower to Jesus.  I had the kind of knowledge about the historical Jesus that English majors have and that people who have grown up in the church have--but I knew that I might be wrong about some of the details. 

So, I did what every good academic does, and I headed to the library.  I read book after book by Jesus Seminar people.  I read all sorts of interesting history, especially in light of recent archaological discoveries.  And I haven't stopped reading, although my reading has broadened.

It wasn't Borg's writing that made me want to go to church--that would be Kathleen Norris.  But he was one of the scholars who convinced me that I could go to church and not have to leave my brain at the house.  And that aspect of modern Christianity has become increasingly important to me. 

I love Borg's willingness to express doubt.  He admits that he's not sure of how prayer works, or if it works, but he does it the way that he practices other good manners. And he does it because he's willing to admit that he doesn't know everything: "I myself have no clue what the explanatory mechanism is, and I am content not to. And this leads to my final reason for continuing to do prayers of petition and intercession. To refuse to do them because I can't imagine how prayer works would be an act of intellectual pride: if I can't imagine how something words, then it can't work. To think thus involves more than a bit of hubris" (The Heart of Christianity: Discovering a Life of Faith, page 197).

Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192).  That has been my rallying cry whenever I want to moan in the words of Samuel Beckett, "I can't go on like this!"  I would take this idea one step further.  We don't even have to believe in what we're doing.  We can fake the emotions, until the spring of faith renews.

Jesus comes to show us what a God-drenched life would look like. I recently rediscovered this quote by Marcus Borg (from a lecture that he gave in 2006) in my notebook: "Jesus is the epiphany of God. He shows us what can be seen of God in a human life. There's much of God that can't be shown in a human life, but Jesus shows what can be seen."

I love Borg's insistence that Christ's execution was not about atoning for the sins of the world.  It was Borg who first taught me that crucifixion was a punishment reserved for people who were a threat to the state.  It was Borg who made me think long and hard about this, when he notes:  "We should wonder what it was about Jesus and his movement that so provoked the authorities at the top of the domination systems of their time" (Jesus:  Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, p. 273).

Borg is not a believer in atonement theology, but his beliefs make sense, especially in light of his thorough examination of the domination systems that rule our world; Borg's primary focus is the political systems.  This quote sums up his view:  "According to the gospels, Jesus did not die for the sins of the world. The language of sacrificial substitution is absent from their stories.  But in an important sense, he was killed because of the sins of the world" (Jesus:  Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, p. 274).

But Borg doesn't leave us stranded back in Roman times.  He does a great job of showing us how this long-ago life of Jesus can transform the way we live.  My favorite book of his is The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith.  In this book, he talks about his own life as a Christian, in ways that surprised me.  I would have thought he would find it difficult to find a modern church where he could live within the mysteries.  But he insists on the importance of finding a good church, one that makes us happy at the thought of attending.  For those of us who say we're spiritual but not religious, Borg develops an idea that he credits Huston Smith for initiating:  ". . . religion is to spirituality as institutions of learning are to education" (The Heart of Christianity p. 219).  You could do it all yourself in the arena of religion/spirituality or learning/education.  You could read books and pray and teach yourself all kinds of things.  But why deny yourself the resources and community of the institution?
The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith is a wonderful book, full of experiences from regular life.  Here's one of my favorites:  "When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed" (page 154). We are called to have soft, open hearts.  Borg never moved far away from that concept in all of his theology. 

Marcus Borg may not have believed in the bodily Resurrection in the way that the church of my childhood taught it.  But when I read his books, he gets to the heart of what the Christ's resurrection should mean for us in a way that so many theologians don't.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Prodigals Returning

How are you doing on your New Year's Resolutions?  Here we are in the 3rd week of the new year.  It's a good time to assess.

Or maybe not.  Perhaps you're feeling a bit of despair over how shallow your commitment was.  But you could still get on track.

I've written a post for the Living Lutheran site that considers what we can learn spiritually from our failed new year's resolutions.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"Now is the time of year when many of us return to regular life. We put away the excesses that often come with December. We return to jobs, exercise, regular bedtimes, housework and moderate eating. We might also be struggling with a smidge of depression – December was so much fun, so lovely, so festive!"

"Psychologists remind us that failure is often necessary before we fully adopt the positive habits we want or before we fully discard the habits that aren’t serving us. So now is a good time to reframe our efforts. We’ve been learning what doesn’t work. We’ve been experimenting to find what our souls need."

"We need to start where we are, not where we think we should be. Far better to be the person who goes out for a gentle jog for 10 minutes, and then next week runs for 15 minutes, and throughout the year, adding five minutes each week. In horse training terms, we need to keep the jumps small and achievable. But we also need to keep challenging ourselves so that we grow spiritually."

Go here to read the whole essay.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 25, 2015:

First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Psalm: Psalm 62:6-14 (Psalm 62:5-12 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Gospel: Mark 1:14-20

On Monday, I celebrated the life of Martin Luther King by going to see the movie Selma.  It is interesting to read this Gospel with scenes from that movie in my head, the different ways that the characters responded to the call to help craft a better society. And then, I read this week's Gospel, and again, I'm thinking of this idea of a call.

I'm interested that in this Gospel (as well as other stories we've had recently, like Mary's call in Advent), people don't seem to hesitate. They don't weigh the cost of discipleship. They don't create a spreadsheet that compares the pros and the cons.

No, God beckons, and in this week's Gospel story, these men leave their normal lives immediately.

Likewise, in the stories of the Civil Rights Movement, we see people living fairly ordinary lives when they are called to be more and to do more. It made me wonder about my own life, what calls I've received, what calls I've neglected, what calls I've followed. It has made me wonder about other people's lives and the surprising turns they've taken.

Our culture seems to love these stories of the call that cannot be ignored, the call that launches people on to great things. But often, a call is a niggling feeling that one has for years. Maybe we take little baby steps towards that call. Or maybe we try to ignore it until we can't anymore, and we explode into interesting new directions. Or maybe we decided we'd rather have a life of comfort and familiarity, and we turn away from our call.

The good news is that God continues to call us anyway. No matter how many times we reject God and God's hopes for us, God comes back to see if we're interested.

God has great visions for us. But even if we can't rise to those grand plans, God will entice us with smaller parts of the larger vision. And then, years later, we look up, amazed at how our lives' trajectories have changed.

What is God calling you to do? And if you're not comfortable with the larger plan, are there smaller bits you can do right now?

Maybe you're not ready to go back to school, but you could take a class or two. Maybe you can't leave your job, but you could try something different through volunteer work. Maybe you can't solve the larger social justice issue that keeps you up at night, but you could write a letter or educate your fellow citizens.

We are all so much greater than we know. Christ came to us to show us what is possible in a human life--and so much is possible. What part in this great human drama were you born to play?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Selma": A Call to Be Our Better Selves

I have seen the movie Selma.  For a more nuanced review, see this post on my creativity blog.

Because this is my theology blog, I want to think about the spiritual aspects of the movie.  I was oddly surprised at how deeply spiritual the movie felt.  Much of the music came out of African-American spirituality, many of the scenes were set in and near churches, and at key moments in the plot, we see people pray.

The movie also does a great job of showing the mixed motives of the leadership, especially the younger SNCC leaders, who aren't necessarily as committed to non-violence.  I particularly liked seeing that the way wasn't necessarily clear--it seems clear from a distance, but it wasn't.

One of the stories that the movie didn't tell, but hinted at, was the role of white churches.  We see some white church leaders come down for the second march at Selma, and we see their numbers grow by the third march.  I was inordinately happy to see the nuns appear, although they don't play much of a role.

My grandfather was a white, Lutheran pastor in Greenwood, South Carolina at the time.  My mom remembers much conversation about how the white churches in Greenwood would react if anyone tried to integrate the churches.  I wish I could say that my grandfather was on the side of history and justice, but he wasn't.  He planned to call the police.  I need to check with my mom, to make sure I'm remembering the story correctly.

I want to make excuses for my grandfather.  I know that part of his desire to call the police would have been because he saw integrators as outside agitators.  I want to believe that if a young black family came to church with a sincere desire to be Lutheran and enter the life of the church, he would have made sure that they were welcome.  I want to believe that, but I'm fairly sure it's not true.

I now go to one of the more integrated Lutheran churches I've ever been to--I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the most integrated churches in the U.S.  We have black members who are descended from slaves, in addition to black members who come from the Caribbean.  We have a wide variety of white people, people descended from Northern Europeans as well as a wide variety of Hispanics.  We have at least a third of the church who can fluently speak at least one other language.  We have some native Floridians, a rare species.  At one point, we had a transgendered member, and we were fairly welcoming; she changed churches when her work schedule changed, but I also suspect it's because it became exhausting to be the only transgendered person, no matter how welcoming we were.

I realize that my church is rare, that the average church is still as segregated as it was during the 1950's and 1960's.  But at least many of us understand why that segregated state is less than optimal.

I want to believe that now, more churches would stand with Martin Luther King, but again, I know that is likely not true.  We are a fearful people, and just because a prophet has powerful words, it doesn't mean we will be courageous.

It is good to have a movie like Selma to remind us of what we are called to be and of why it is important.  It is good to have a movie like Selma that calls us to be our better selves.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Arcing, Bending, Inching Towards Justice

This day has always felt almost sacred to me. I've always been impressed with the Civil Rights movement, with how they stayed civilized, even when the agents of civilization (the police, the sheriff, the white establishment) seemed mad and crazed with rage. I've always been impressed with how they held fast to their beliefs, even when they flew in the face of what society might teach us. I've always been impressed with the changes that they wrought.

My younger self, that impatient nineteen year old, was impatient with how long social change took. My older self looks back at how far we've come and how quickly, and I suck in my breath and pray for continued success. A black president: my nineteen year old self would not have believed it would have happened in her lifetime. But it has.

At one point, having this day declared a holiday seemed an impossibility.  I remember the first year the nation observed it.  It was a much more quiet holiday in the 80's than it is today.  And as I said, now, a black president.  Social change often seems slow, downright glacial--and then, we zoom ahead.

May we always be moving ahead.  History also shows us that we can slip behind.

But let me also remember King's approach to history.  In 1996, when I was feeling despair, my friend Shannon gave me my favorite Martin Luther King quote: "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice." I'm fairly sure he said this the night before he was killed, or perhaps it was the night before the night he was killed.

Today is a day to dream big and bold visions. We could change our society. We could make it better, bending towards justice. What would that society look like?

We have to dream that dream before we can achieve it. We have to find the courage to hold tightly to our visions. We have to face down all the fire hoses, both those of our minds which inform us of the impossibility of our dreams and those of our society, that tells us to move more slowly.

But first we have to dream. Dream boldly, today of all days.

And we have to be patient and realistic.  We have to realize that the work that we do may not yield results right away--perhaps not in our lifetimes.  Yesterday's episode of On Being featured an interview with John Lewis, an old Civil Rights worker and a member of Congress.  He ends the interview this way:  "Well, I think about it, but you have to believe there may be setbacks, there may be some disappointments, there may be some interruption. But, again, you have to take the long, hard look. With this belief, it's going to be OK; it's going to work out. If it failed to happen during your lifetime, then maybe, not maybe, but it would happen in somebody's lifetime. But you must do all that you can do while you occupy this space during your time. And sometime I feel that I'm not doing enough to try to inspire another generation of people to find a way to get in the way, to make trouble, good trouble. I just make a little noise."

Today is a good day to think about how to make that noise--and to think about the next generation.  History will bend in some direction:  how can we help it arc towards justice?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Non-Violence Training

In a discussion about the film Selma, NPR's Linda Holmes notes that she grew up around Quakers, and she was interested in how the film showed the strategizing of use of non-violent tactics.  She says, "Non-violence is not passive.  Non-violence doesn't just mean you don't do anything. . . . There was a tremendous amount of strategy."

I plan to see the movie tomorrow, so today's blog post will not be about the movie.  I wanted to think about non-violence, and how few of us are trained in non-violent tactics these days.  And then I tried to remember how I was trained.

It wasn't in standard church youth groups.  The most my youth groups did in non-violent training was to talk about peer pressure and how we could resist. 

I got some non-violence training in Lutheran Student Movement retreats.  But then we didn't go out and protest, so perhaps I'm remembering incorrectly.  I remember a few events in the D.C. area where we went out to peacefully assemble and/or march, and leaders reminded us of what to do if the police showed up.  I remember a retreat during that time when we were taught how to go limp and make our bodies heavy, should the police show up.

I've never thought about this before this morning, but the training I got in resisting peer pressure and resisting violence/arrest were remarkably similar in this one thing:  I never really had to use that training, at least not in the ways that the trainers imagined.  No one has ever tried to get me to take a drug.  I am a white, middle-class (and now middle-aged) woman--I am allowed to assemble in peace.

Now that training has helped me in other ways, no doubt.  I have always thought that if a rapist ever tried to drag me away, I know how to make myself even heavier than I am.  Thankfully, that hasn't happened.  But every day, I face peer pressure of some sort, but it's usually the pressure to join in the whining, the negativity, the suspicion of others in the work place.  I'm not always successful in resisting that peer pressure, but at least I'm aware of it.

I think about church youth groups and how we might assume that once teenagers are older, they're safe from peer pressure.  But the best churches know that believers will always be facing all sorts of peer pressures.  They may seem not-so-dangerous, but they can be every bit as insidious as those shadowy peers offering me drugs that my church youth group leaders feared.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Spiritual Practice of Soup

If I wrote a book of spiritual and artistic exercises or any sort of self-help book, it would include a chapter on having nourishing food in the house.  How can we nourish our spiritual and artistic selves if our physical selves are starving?

Last Saturday, I had a group of friends coming over for quilting/knitting/catching up and lunch.  I told everyone I would make a big pot of soup.  But as I thought about what kind of soup to make, I couldn't remember which of my friends had which dietary restrictions.  I knew that my Hindu friend would not eat beef, and one of us is vegetarian.  One of us won't eat anything with alcohol in it.  Were any of us vegans this month?  Anyone avoiding gluten?  I couldn't remember.

So, I played it completely safe.  I went with a simple vegetable soup.  I was surprised by how delicious it was, given that it was so easy to make.  It was easy, because I make sure to have these kinds of ingredients in my pantry and freezer.  That's good, since we didn't have many fresh veggies in the house.

I started with a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes:  into the pot which was heating.  I had a package of frozen mixed veggies:  peas, corn, chopped carrots, and green beans.  I used a can of kidney beans so we'd have some protein, but any bean would do.  I used a can of pumpkin which thickens the soup and significantly raises the vitamin A content, and since it was so thick, I put in a can of water.  I gave it a swirl of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, plus basil and oregano, my favorite herbs.  I also used some onion powder and garlic powder, since I didn't have any fresh onion or garlic.

Then I let it simmer.  It was delicious when I served it, and even more delicious later, and I'll tell you why:  I accidently let it simmer all afternoon.

When it was time for lunch, I heated up the soup and turned down the heat in case anyone wanted seconds.  At some point, I thought I had turned off the stovetop, but I hadn't.  So the soup simmered and thickened all afternoon.

Happily, it never got to the scorching point.  And I've enjoyed it all week long.

One of my plans for this holiday week-end will be to make more soup.  Or maybe I'll make a casserole.  Maybe both.

I know people who hate having leftovers.  Those people must have plenty of time to cook.  Or the money and metabolism to eat out every day.  That's not me.

I know people who claim that cooking is too complicated.  But a good pot of simple soup shows how simple it can be.  I didn't even have to puree part of the soup to have a thicker soup.  I didn't have to pay attention to it at all.

I think about how people talk about how hard it is to feed our families, to come up with something for dinner.  But with a pot of soup, you just need some bread, and dinner is ready!

It's also good to remember how easily this soup could be enlarged.  For those of us who have lots of people to feed, all we need is bigger portions and a bigger pot.

I've always been attracted to churches who feed the hungry from their kitchens.  I wish more of us would do this.  I understand why so many of us can't--we can hardly get people to come to church on Sunday.  How would we staff a daily soup kitchen?  So many churches can scarcely pay the bills they have now--how would they fund a new project?

I like my church's approach.  We combine a simple soup supper with a Wednesday night service:  nourishment for body and soul!

We could do the same thing at home:  a soup supper with a bit of devotion time.

But at the very least, we should have a pot of soup ready to nourish ourselves or whoever else might need it.  How can we nourish the world, if we're not nourished ourselves?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Poetry Thursday: a Photopoem

A different approach to Mepkin photos and the meditation they inspire.  Today, a poem with a Mepkin photo between each stanza. 

If you want to know about the writing process that led to this poem, see this blog post.  This poem, without the photos, was published in Adanna.

Restoring the Seams

She used to count every rib,
a loom around her heart,
like the Appalachian tool
that spools honey into her tea.

 But years of good food and wine
now hide her ribcage.
She lets the seams
out of the side of her favorite
dress, a dress bought long ago,
a dress stitched by a distant
woman in Afghanistan in a different decade.

She thinks of that country
come undone, torn and shredded.
She slides the seam ripper
under threads made softer
by the humidity of many Southern summers.

 She thinks of distant graveyards,
young men buried in alien
landscapes. She thinks of English ivy,
that invasive immigrant, clinging
to the marble markers,
obscuring the names beneath.

 Hours later, half blind from restoring
seams, she walks the woods
of a neighboring monastery.

 The monks have reclaimed
an old slave cemetery, but a toppled
angel lies face down in the rich dirt.
She sets the angel upright
and brushes soil off her half-eroded features.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 18, 2015:

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

Psalm: Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 NRSV)

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Gospel: John 1:43-51

In this week's Gospel, people get an invitation.

Of course, it may not be the call they were expecting. We get a sense of that when Nathanael says, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (verse 46). Our Scriptures show us a similar story time and time again: God makes an offer, but it's not one that people are expecting. Often, their expectations blind them to the presence of God.

Nothing has changed today. Our Bible stories train us to look for burning bushes, so we ignore the still, small voice that speaks to us out of the darkness of a sleepless night: it's not God, it's indigestion. We're ready for hosts of angels, or bright stars, or wise men who let us know that there's a new savior on the scene--but we don't make time to attend to the daily work of spiritual discipline that might lead us to God's insight.

The story we get in today's Gospel seems like a young person's story. How hard is it to give up everything when you're young and don't really have all that much to give up? I think of the mother of Andrew and Simon Peter, who must wonder if her sons have lost their minds. I imagine her sighing, saying, "Eh, they're young. They'll come to their senses and come back to the family business--I give them 6 months of this homeless lifestyle, following this wackadoo Jesus."

John is the most mystical of the Gospels, so we have this portrait of Jesus, who prophesies that these men will see great things. And they drop everything and go.

Would we follow Jesus, if he appeared today? Or would we offer our standard reasons for why we can't possibly accept the invitation before us:  no time, conflict of interest, kids have after school activities, no time, guests in town for the week, laundry and grocery shopping to do, too much work to do, no time.  After all,  we are people with responsibilities; we can't just abandon them to follow some guy around the countryside. Experts tell us that it takes 4-8 invitations before a friend will come with you to church. Imagine what Jesus faced as he offered invitations to total strangers.
How could Jesus frame this invitation to make it compelling?  How can we? 

For me, it's Christ's vision of a Kingdom of God on earth, a vision where everyone has enough and suffering ceases. This vision is the Good News that Jesus came to deliver: we don't have to live the way we've been living!

In the coming weeks, we'll read the narrative of Jesus. Listen for that message. Try to hear with new ears, so that you, too, can "come and see" (verse 46).

And in your daily life, be on the lookout for God. God is still alive and moving through the world, making invitations to those who have ears to hear. On a daily basis, an hourly basis, God constantly calls us to come and see. God always calls us to transform the world and God promises that transformation is possible, even probable. We are Resurrection People: Life blooms even in the middle of death, even in the deep midwinter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Welcoming Church, Welcoming Synod, Welcoming Vows

In 2013, the Florida-Bahamas Synod became a Reconciling in Christ Synod.  Just last week, Florida became the latest state where same-gender marriage is legal.  Yet those of us who follow ELCA politics know that we do not have a definitive policy on same-gender issues.  As a church, we respect the "conscience-bound beliefs" of us all.  Thus we have agreed to disagree.  It's a policy that I hated at first, but have come to respect.

Now churches all across my state will be discussing what to do when a same-sex couple wants to have a wedding in the church.  Or will we?

I imagine that many have already made up their minds.  Many have already put into practice what the official policy will be, even before it will be official.  I know that Florida is very diverse, so I would be surprised if we didn't have a wide spectrum of official policies.

I know that many churches will stay silent on this issue--why upset the mostly older congregation when the question isn't likely to come up?

Here's what I yearn to see:  same-sex couples treated the same as mixed-gender couples.  My church does a reaffirmation of wedding vows, which is like a miniature wedding, right there in the middle of the worship service.

When a same-sex couple stands before us all to reaffirm their wedding vows, I will see that as a sign that we have accomplished our mission of being a welcoming church.  It's one thing to have same-sex couples in our midst, to have them feel welcome enough on their first visit that they come back.  It's another to truly celebrate their commitment.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Spiritual Discipline of Saying Please and Thank You

Yesterday's post about decluttering, which may or may not be a spiritual discipline, made me think about other aspects of life, which could take on aspects of a spiritual discipline.

Last week someone told me that I'm the only person at school who ever says please or thank you--another type of invisible work.  At first I thought that she was upset and must be exaggerating, but then I started listening to those around me.  I realized that she's right--very few people say please and thank you.

I started saying it more after watching my sister and brother-in-law interact with my nephew when he was a toddler.  I noticed that he was more likely to engage in the kind of behavior that they wanted when he was thanked for it.  I started trying it in my own home.

It may feel silly to say, "Thank you so much for unloading the dishwasher."  We might argue that people should do their chores without needing that affirmation.  But those daily processes go more smoothly with a please and a thank you.

Spiritual folks of all sorts have long extolled the virtue of gratitude.  I would argue that we need to expand it. Not only do we need to show gratitude to our creator, but we also need to show gratitude to all of those around us.

And on the days when we're snippier than usual, it won't hurt to write a note or an e-mail to apologize.  Last week my spouse thought that I had been critical, but I certainly hadn't meant to be.  In our younger days, this kind of unpleasantness could have dragged on for days. 

But in midlife, I've come to realize that my intentions aren't the only thing.  Others have a right to feel the way they feel.  If I didn't mean to affect them that way, I need to apologize.  And so I wrote a note, apologizing for letting my hearbrokenness about work poison our time together.  I wrote a note because I had to leave before he work up.  Thus, I returned to a home with harmony restored.

This week is the first week of Winter quarter at school.  I will be engaging ever more fiercely the spiritual discipline of saying please and thank you--and the spiritual discipline of smiling, not scowling.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Decluttering as Spiritual Discipline

I came across this blog post that talks about decluttering as a spiritual discipline.  Ruth Everhart says, "Perhaps the word 'unclutter' reminds you more of Martha Stewart than Martha the sister of Mary and Lazarus. But I believe that clutter — “stuff” — is more than a nuisance. It can be a spiritual stumbling block."

Stuff as spiritual stumbling block!  Those words resonated with me this morning, especially after a period of decluttering yesterday.

The more we got organized, I found myself spiraling into a sour mood.  Part of it was the putting away of the Christmas stuff--always a bit of a sad time for me.  I know that I'll see these objects in 10-11 months.  But I have so loved having them out.  I love the lights, the decorations made by people who love me, the reminders of the miracles.  But it's time to put them away.

Every so often, we try to remember to ask ourselves about stuff that we've stashed to revisit later.  For example, we have an easel behind a door.  We haven't painted a canvas since we moved here in July 2013.  Should we keep the easel?

It's a tough question.  If we get rid of it, I'm admitting that I'm not likely to paint anytime soon.  I know that.  But if I give away the easel, I feel like I'm committing to that reality.

I also feel sad because that easel reminds me of a happy time in the 90's when I was painting like a mad fiend.  I was deliriously happy then.  Sure I could take a picture and not keep the object--but there's just something about the object.

And then there's the money that we've spent on certain objects and tools and supplies.  To give them away means I have to forgive myself for spending money on stuff that I might not have used optimally.

Occasionally I can subvert my negative spiral by finding a worthy home for the objects.  When we gave away some extra musical instruments to a Lutheran church that's created a Friday night music program for at-risk youth, I felt good about that.  When I gave much of my excess fabric to a woman who has a church which makes quilts for Lutheran World Relief, I felt good about that.

If I thought about decluttering and letting go of possessions as a spiritual discipline, would it become any easier?  Let me try thinking about it differently.

I'm not getting rid of junk, but I'm releasing my excess so that it can find its true purpose.  My excess can move on in the world to bless someone who has less.

But more than that, I'm creating space so that I have more attention left for God.  Our possessions, even when they're just stashed in a corner, prove a distraction--if only in the periodic conversations we must have about what to do with them.

I suspect that's why time and time again, we see Jesus return to the theme of giving away our possessions.  I will likely never be to the point where I can head out with very little, like those early apostles. 

But I could begin by cleaning out some shelves.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poetry Saturday: The Sky Speaks the Truth

Here we are a week into the new year.  Happily I have been successful at my goal of writing a poem on each Tuesday and Thursday.  Thursday I thought I would write a poem based on an idea I had when I almost let my grandmother's mixing bowl slip through my wet hands as I washed it.  I had a vision of God's mudslicked hands letting the goblet of the sky slip. 

But I had written the line down on a scrap of paper that I left at the office.  I couldn't quite recapture it, and it frustrated me to know that a better line was at school.  So, I shifted focus.

I reread T. S. Eliot's "Gerontion."  I took lines and images and spun my own poem.  It's not quite done, so I won't post it here. 

The week before, on a poet's Facebook post, I had read this quote from Eliot "Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."  I thought, why don't I know this poem?  And now I can't get these images out of my brain.

I see some of those images in the Epiphany poem that I wrote on Tuesday.  I had a painter colleague/friend drop by my office the other day.  He asked how my poetry was going.  I showed him the poem I wrote during Tuesday's afternoon meeting.  He read it and looked up.  He said, "You just created this out of nothing?"

Well, not nothing.  The first line is from my writer friend/colleague at who sat in front of me at the meeting.  I had been thinking about T.S. Eliot, both "Gerontion" and "Journey of the Magi."  I had Epiphany images in my head, and I wrote them down.  Then, off I went.  I wrote a bit about the writing process in this post, but I didn't post the poem, as the blog post was getting long.

As I look at the poem again, I'm struck by the echoes of Isaiah, the imagery from Ash Wednesday.  I'm wondering if I should do more with the poem or start a series or just move on.  I'm letting everything percolate for awhile.

 Here's the poem, which has no title at this point.  Consider it a working draft.

The sky spoke the truth.
The full moon waxed and waned,
and the star continued to blaze,
outlasting the murderous dictators,
pathways made straight
for the march of rigid empires.

Wise men would come and go, wise women
too, those who said yes, those who asked
why.  The highborn made lowly,
the outposts uplifted.

You who have worn the bridal
gown now cloaked in sackcloth.
Ashes smudged on foreheads,
they persevere.  Some would forsake
these epiphanies, but we know:
the truth shall set you free. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Amazing Baptism Affirmations

This week, many of us throughout the Christian world will be celebrating the baptism of Christ.  It's a good time to remember our own baptisms.  It's a good time to remember the words of God at the baptism of Jesus: "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased."

Note that God says this at the beginning of Christ's ministry, before Jesus has actually done much. Here's the best news of all: God feels the same way about each and every one of us.

Here we are a week into the new year.  I don't make resolutions, but I do have goals.  So far, I'm not doing as well as I'd hoped.

This morning, I needed to read this post that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site.  I needed to be reminded that God loves me, even before I've made any self-improvements.

My post ends this way:  "God loves you; you are God’s child, and you please God as only you can. Remind yourself of this good news proclaimed at your baptism. Proclaim it yourself at every opportunity."'

Let my life be such a proclamation!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Creative Project to Use When We Discuss the Sabbath and Technology

I love this idea in this blog post by Rachel Barenblat.  And what a great first sentence!  She says, "It really wasn't my intention to base multiple Hebrew school lessons this year around repurposed undergarments. But sometimes this rabbinic life takes me into places I didn't exactly expect to go."

She describes being in line at the dollar store to buy tube socks for her fifth grade students.  She wanted something that would work as a cell phone case, but it needed to be cheap.

What impressed me was the larger lesson that she was trying to teach.  She was teaching about Sabbath, about work and what kinds of work are allowed on the Sabbath.  She pointed out that some more traditional Jewish populations don't even use electricity on the Sabbath, and they had a good discussion about that.

But her point was larger than that.  She was attempting to teach what we all need to learn:  how to manage technology so that it doesn't rule our lives--because, of course, the One who should rule our lives is not our cell phone.

Then they decorated the socks to be cell phone covers/bags.  They used spiritual symbols and phrases.  I would also love to add reminders to turn the phone off or to be present to humans that are physically present, not just on the other end of a phone.

I LOVE this idea, and I love the larger lesson, which seems SO important.  I love that this project should be fairly cheap--and since the socks won't be going in the washer, one wouldn't need to use the more expensive fabric markers.

And though Rachel used the idea with Jewish students, it's an idea that would translate across spiritual disciplines, which could lead to an interesting discussion of Sabbath practices across religions.  I could see this working equally well  in a secular setting--I don't know many people who feel they are well balanced when it comes to technology use.

I hope to use this idea at the first possible moment.  And I'm tucking it away for Vacation Bible School.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, January 11, 2015:

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm: Psalm 29

Second Reading: Acts 19:1-7

Gospel: Mark 1:4-11

Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and it's a good time to remember our own baptisms. We might spend some time talking about what baptism meant to our families. We might think about what it means to us. When I read this Sunday's Gospel, I focus on the last verse: "Thou art my beloved son; with thee I am well pleased." The good news that Jesus brings us is that God feels the same way about each of us.

What does this love mean for our post-baptized life?  We might look at the baptismal service in our hymnals, and think about what it is that we promise when we baptize.

Hopefully, if we were baptized as children, we had adults in our lives who took those vows seriously. As we grow up, we're expected to do these things for ourselves. Do we get to church regularly? Do we read the Scriptures? Do we surround ourselves with people who will honor those commitments we've made and help us on our journeys?

As we participate in the Church's rites and practices, we are reminded again and again of God's love for us. We are given much in the way of symbolic language that helps us understand. Baptism is one of those rituals. We bathe on a regular basis, and wash our dishes and our clothes and our children, so the idea of water washing us clean is not unfamiliar to us.

We might use water to remind us of the gift of God's grace. We could take a cue from Martin Luther, and remember our baptism each time we take a shower. If we're caught in the rain, we could lift our faces to the rain drops and thank God for all the gifts that we rarely appreciate fully. As we water the yard and the garden, we can think about the restorative power of water on a parched plant.

As we prepare to leave the season of Christmas and Epiphany, we can return to those stories to be reminded of God's love.  Look at the great lengths God has gone to let us know of that love. God becomes a little baby, born in a stable--and why? To let us know of God's love. God becomes a refugee because of Herod's jealousy. God loves us so much--the Bible is full of stories that show God going to great lengths to show humanity this love. An observant person might say that God still goes to great lengths to get our attention.

The juxtaposition of Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ also gives us an opportunity to see how differently people respond to this gift of grace and love. Herod is so threatened that he slaughters every child in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. John, on the other hand, tells everyone about the coming arrival of Jesus.

How will you respond to God's great gift of love?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Feast Day of the Epiphany

Today is the last day of the Christmas season, unless you celebrate until Candlemas in early February.  Today on the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate the visit of the Magi, the Wise Men who come to visit the Baby Jesus.

Today is a good day to think about wisdom, about gifts, about the shadow side of this story, which is Herod, who stews over this vision that the wise men have given him. We might think about all the ways we turn good news into bad, of the ways that we stew over our thoughts and turn them into poisonous actions. We might make an Epiphany resolution to watch our thoughts carefully and to track our actions even more carefully.

If you haven't already undecorated your house, today might be the day to do that, to transition back to the scrap of ordinary time that we have before the penitential season of Lent begins.

You might play the Christmas music one last time and take a contemplative moment. You might think about the Christmas season we just enjoyed (or did you just endure it?) and plan for next year. What didn't you do, and what did you wish you had done more of?

You might shop the post-Christmas sales, like the wise man or woman that you are. Now is a great time to buy Christmas cards for next year, to buy Christmas-scented candles, Christmas coffees and teas--in short, a great day to pick up a bargain.

Most of us have already bid good-bye to Christmas and returned to our every day lives. Today is a good day to take one last Christmas moment, to recover our capacity for wonder, to delight in the miraculous, to look for the unexpected, and to rejoice in the amazing Good News of a God who loves us so much that the Divine One comes to live with us.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Epiphany Approaches

Here we are, the Eve of the Feast Day of Epiphany, the day that celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men.

I suspect that we think of them in fairly traditional terms, like the picture above.  Wisdom comes in many shapes.

Those of us who have been living for awhile know that wisdom comes in many forms.

Today might be a good day to visit a library--we wouldn't be the first people to find an epiphany in a book!

Or maybe we need something that keeps us firmly planted--why not plant some bulbs for spring? 

If not dirt, why not bread dough?

Many cultures celebrate Three Kings Day with a special bread.  Many families have charms that are baked into the bread that signify what will come in the new year.  Even if you don't have special charms, you could use things you do have:  a nut, a foil wrapped coin, a dried cranberry, a piece of frozen fruit.

This blog post gives you a recipe, with photos, for a simple, no-knead 3 Kings Bread.  Why not bake it for tomorrow?

But as we celebrate the happier aspects of this day, let us not forget the ultimate impact of those Wise Men--the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt.

We like to think we’d have reacted differently to Jesus, had we been alive back in the time of Herod. We like to think that we would understand the Epiphany in the ways that Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not. Would we?

 Yes, wise men and women still seek him, but daily life often grinds our capacity for wonder out of us. We miss the miraculous as it twinkles at us, daring us to see, inviting us on a marvelous journey.

Let this be the year that we see the portents and the signs, the year that we say yes to God.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Staying Present as Christmas Passes

Soon the Christmas decorations will be put away.  I'm feeling a bit sad about this, but it's a larger sadness.  I had a very good quarter, from October 1 to today.  We had good trips and wonderful times with family and friends.  I only had the occasional stress about my classes.  I had a good quarter as an administrator.

The time period between October and Christmas is one of my favorites of the year.  I always feel at least a bit of sadness when it's time to say goodbye. 

Longtime readers of this blog will know already that I am not good at living in the moment.  I'm always looking back, missing what is passing away or what has been long gone.  I always keep an eye to the future in the hopes that by doing so, I won't get too far off track.

Last night, I walked outside to see the moon.  I looked up and down the street while I waited for the clouds to move away from the moon.  Only one house still had its Christmas lights on.  It looked so cheery.

I understand why some people have put the decorations away.  Most of us are back at work, and there's not much time to put the house back in order.  Still, a part of me mourns the loss of the lights beating back the darkness.

The year will race on.  Soon it will be October of 2015, and I can enjoy these pleasures again.

In the meantime, I will continue to work on staying present and enjoying what the day and the month and the season gives me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Antebellum Christianity

I have been reading The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd's wonderful book about slavery and the Grimke sisters.  It's been on my list since seeing this interview with her in O magazine a year ago.

It's a wonderful book on all sorts of levels; for more on the book, see this post on my creativity blog.  As you might expect from a historical novel, it's informative on all sorts of levels.  I'm particularly intrigued by its window into pre-Civil War religion.

The novel revolves around a wealthy Charleston family, the Grimkes (yes, those Grimkes) and their slaves.  The family has strong Episcopalian roots, but the main character becomes part of both Presbyterian and Quaker communities.  It was seen as somewhat shocking and low brow when she attended Presbyterian gatherings, but her Quaker yearnings are so strange and shameful that a cover story must be invented to explain her journey north.

It's an interesting contrast.  Now I see Quakers as very cool, one of few denominations to consistently live as an institution with harmony to its ideals--no pockets of shame in being in bed with less savory elements of empire.  But during the antebellum period, the book makes clear what a strange sect it would have seemed.  For one thing, women were allowed to preach, and in a time period where women were rarely educated at all.

The book also looks at the birth of the AME church, another church which would have seemed very strange to most antebellum people.   And not only strange, but dangerous--Kidd does a great job of showing how the church incorporated slavery/bondage and rescue stories from the Bible to inspire the slaves and free blacks who were part of the congregations.

I am not done with the book--I have about 100 pages to go.  I look forward to seeing how Kidd ties all these elements together.  I suspect I will learn more about nineteenth century Christianity along the way.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Keep the Christmas Season Going

Perhaps, like me, you are feeling a bit sad as you realize that more and more houses have lost their Christmas lights.  I think of my first February trip to Mepkin Abbey, where I was so happy to see that some of the Christmas decorations were still up.

Catholic monastics are more likely to celebrate the liturgical year more fully than regular churches.  For example, there are people like me who will try to keep the Christmas season going until Epiphany, Jan. 6.

But really, the Christmas season lasts until Feb. 2, Candlemas, the feast day that celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple 40 days after the purification of Mary, which would have happened just after the birth of Christ.

I love seeing the Christmas wreaths that are still up in February.

Even down here, in tropical Florida, I still have pumpkins from October on my porch that haven't started to rot. 

Maybe next year, I'll get a real wreath and keep it up as long as possible.

I loved this blooming amaryllis that was in the chancel last year--just gorgeous.

Even as the rest of the world seems willing to sink back into the bleak midwinter, I will look for ways to keep Christmas going.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Gratitude Haiku for 2015!

New Year's Day:  another year begins.  What are your spiritual goals and intentions for this year?

If your resolution is to have a more spiritual life, or a deeper spiritual life, you are not alone.

But what does that mean?  More prayer?  A retreat?  Discernment about life shifts?  Putting more of your efforts towards the service of God's vision?  Increasing your giving by 4%?
I have a blog post up at the Living Lutheran site which suggests a different spiritual practice for the coming year:  the gratitude haiku.  It's a variation on some tried-and-true spiritual practices, practices like keeping a journal, keeping a gratitude list, being more observant, weaving the arts into every day life.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"As the old year careens relentlessly toward the new year, you might be thinking of the resolutions you want to make. Perhaps those resolutions will help you change your body. Maybe you’re hoping to pick up a good habit or two – hopefully to replace those bad habits. Maybe you’ve even made some spiritual resolutions."

"The practice of gratitude journaling is one I've come back to periodically. You might have done it too – at the end of the day, write down five things that fill you with gratitude. There’s no doubt that it's a powerful practice. But I want to be honest. When I've kept this discipline for any length of time, my gratitude lists begin to seem quite similar. As always, cultivating a quality of mindfulness does not come naturally to me."

I wonder what it would be like if I wrote one per day, each and every day this year. I suspect that at the end of the year, I’d be a much different person.