The Chalice

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend time in the National Gallery of Art. Harry and I had been there briefly some months before but we hadn’t had ample time to fully contemplate the beauty of some of the grand masterpieces housed there. We were both hoping to have a more spiritual experience as we prayerfully sat with some of the more religious pieces that told our Christian story and contemplate their meaning. This would require moving at a slow and deliberate pace, even sitting for some time in one place rather than hurrying through the entire exhibit.

The day didn’t disappoint as we gazed at gigantic landscapes brimming with detail from every vantage point, close up and far away. We were captivated by the blue hues of Picasso’s the tragedy and caught up in the mystery of the painful and eerie scene along the shore of a sea. We noticed the way Jesus changed in each depiction throughout history from a humble man to a strong angelic warrior. We wondered about Mary and what each painting had to say about her over the centuries.

But the most intriguing of all unexpectedly caught the corner of my eye as I hurried through the part of the museum that housed the sculptures. I had not planned on being drawn to those items and so… even though I said I wouldn’t hurry, I tried to hurry by assuming that somehow I knew the experience that God was planning for me and that it wasn’t going to happen in the sculpture section. Read more

the inspiration of others

There are moments in our lives when God uses people to inspire us and till up some of the hard soil in order to prepare us for the new growth that he is bringing about. I will never forget attending a recent homecoming event at Eastern Mennonite University and hearing the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award tell her story.

Nadine Brunk, after the prodding of doctors and friends, took an unexpected medical mission trip to Haiti. While there, the suffering of Haitian women during childbirth moved her deeply. Nadine shared a pretty staggering description of truck loads of newborns and mothers that die each week due lack of resources such as prenatal vitamins, medication for worms, antibiotics and training; specifically the training that she had. She was deeply moved with compassion for her Haitian sisters and instead of returning back to the states and settling back into her routine, she dared to ask God the question, what is you invitation to me  with the unique gifts that you have given me in this oppressive situation?

She continued to sit with the enormity of the problem, the intense pain and suffering of the women and their unborn babies. She allowed the unsettledness she experienced to open her more deeply to what God might be calling her to.

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more thoughts on the gift of time

One of the reasons I feel we misunderstand and misuse our time is because we do not view it as a gift. We generally move from day to day with the assumption that there will be another. The consequences? We move from activity to activity, meeting to meeting, shopping spree to movie night, barely able to take it all in. We can easily fall into a sort of stupor where we are kind of sleepwalking through our days, entranced by the ticking of our watches and how our culture defines our day. All the while, we are never fully awakened to the gift at hand, one more day in the presence of God. Read more

Some thoughts on the gift of time

It is always intriguing to me when the various streams from which I am reading all come together in one congruent message. For the past several weeks, I have been reading about the gift of time… each new day… how we receive it… how we perceive it.

It began as I was reading Eat, Pray and Love… the author reminisces about her time spent in Italy and the beautiful way Italians relish each day and especially the sheer beauty of doing nothing, “Bel far niente”. I literally laughed out loud as I read it because having lived there for ten years, I knew exactly what she was describing in her book. At the same time, I saw, perhaps for the first time, the beauty in what I had learned from my Italian brothers and sisters. Read more

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

The spirituality of place…

During his ministry on earth, Jesus would often steal away from the crowds to reconnect with God. I am keenly aware that if Jesus needed this in his ministry, it is a good idea for me also. But it is not just because Jesus did it. I am aware that I can quickly get caught up in the hectic pace of our culture or adopt ideals about my role that don’t come from the One who has called me. If I linger to long in an unhealthy place, it can begin to taint all that I do… even the good things.

Over the years, I have become aware that the mere action of going back to the physical place where I have met God can usher me into  into God’s presence. It is the power of ritual. Ritual is a habit or repetitive action that holds within it the power of memory and transcendence.  This would also be true for our practice of prayer and other actions that can become powerful rituals in our lives.

The beauty of ritual is that whether I feel like it or not… whether things are going well for me or not… returning to the practice itself and going through the motions can bring about spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and a sense of connectedness.

There are many examples of the spirituality of place in the Bible. The children of Israel were experts at marking the sacred places so that they could later return and remember the story. In Genesis, we find Abraham returning back to  the trees of Mamre. They were a sacred place for Abraham.

We too, can have sacred places to return to time and time again. It could be a favorite tree, a painting, a grassy meadow, imagining a psalm or a favorite chair. All of these can become open doorways into the presence of God:

The Chair

it is funny to me
that a chair
has become
a sacred place
a temple
of momentous grace
and love
where the holy one
pierced my deepest parts
with love breath
purging darkness
caked clutter
from the intimate places
that for so long
were
uninhabited

one glance now
unleashes the memory
and ferries me
into Love’s breath
and I breathe
once again
deeply

Practicing the Sabbath… yielding for God’s provision

Practicing the Sabbath continues to be a life-giving practice for Harry and I. Admittedly, we have had to make some adjustments along the way. For several weeks now, we needed to change the day of the week due to previously scheduled events on Saturdays. So, we decided to make our Sabbath during this time from Thursday evening at sundown until Friday evening at sundown.

This week was especially difficult for me as I had tasks, sermons, rehearsals and extra services pile up and leave me feeling breathless. Read more

The spirituality of words…

The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.

It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect  as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.

Writing has become a form of prayer for me:

words
a mere human
invention
clumsily strung together
describing
the mystery
God
unfolding
around me
in me
yet
unleashing the power
of memory
stories
of the Holy One
and
me

“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”

Psalm 71:17-18

Should blogging be added to the list of classic spiritual disciplines?

Recently, I have heard the comment that  perhaps blogging takes away from the pastoral role… that maybe if the pastor spent less time typing away at the computer, they would have more time to… You can imagine all the things one could say to finish the sentence.

For me, as a pastor, blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It is one of the ways that I practice the Presence. Because I don’t have time to do it during the day, I choose to wake up earlier. So, in the wee hours of the morning with coffee in hand, I begin to search my soul for what has inspired me during the week or month. You could even go as far to say that it is a form of an Examen.

Because Harry and I have chosen to blog about our practicing the presence, I do not blog until I have spent time in centering prayer and meditating on scripture. I begin my time with God each morning by naming the persons in my life and in my congregation that are needing healing or guidance from God, then I move to thanksgiving for the persons in my life and congregation who have inspired me or co-labored with me recently.

During this time, I practice noticing in prayer and in reading what inspires me to blog. I find great inspiration and creativity in blogging each day. I also find it personally inspiring to read again and again the things that stirred my soul and drew me into deeper understanding of who I am as a child of God .

One of the practices that I value as a pastor is beginning any meeting or rehearsal with a time of centering ourselves in God’s presence. Before I began my adventures in blogging, I would read from various books and devotionals but now, I use my blog as my own resource for devotionals and prayer times with members of the congregation. I find that it fosters transparency and intimacy between myself and the persons I am working with or leading.

I am convinced that blogging keeps me accountable, keeps me focused on the spirit’s movement and helps me to stay refreshed spiritually. All of these are qualities that foster a healthy spiritual life for persons in ministry or anyone for that matter.

Journaling has long been accepted as a spiritual discipline… perhaps we need to add blogging to the list.

What does it mean to be playful?

As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.

“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.

“We are playing…”

“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more