Ash Wednesday Meditation – Prayerful Tuesday

“Therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job: 42:6

“You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
Psalm 51:6

God Speaks to Job out of the whirlwind William Blake, 1757-1827

God Speaks to Job out of the whirlwind
William Blake, 1757-1827

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Growing up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tradition I knew about Ash Wednesday but the community I worshiped in didn’t celebrate it.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, and living in California, that I really understood that having a smudge of ashes on my forehead meant repentance.  Repentance is not just saying sorry, it means examining my past behavior and then changing what I do in the world, turning my actions around to behave as the faithful follower of Jesus I wish to be. And unless I begin the process of change, or at least try to repent, I have not truthfully repented.  Because repentance is a spiritual practice God knows  I will stumble and have to start all over again.  Failing isn’t seen as failure, but as one more step in changing from the old me to the new me.

In today’s world people blithely say they are giving something up for Lent. Often it is some type of food, drink, or action, such as weight loss or smoking none of which really affect our lives and like New Year’s resolution never keep.  That is not what the repentance of Ash Wednesday or the time of Lent is.  No, it means looking closely at what we do every day and then vowing to the Holy Spirit to change some aspect of our life to fit more closely with the teachings of Jesus.  To do that is a truly meaningful act of fasting and repentance; also a very difficult one.  But remember failing to keep your promise is only failure if you don’t start over right where you left your fasting path.

So the spiritual practice for this week is to prayerfully look at your life and what you do every day.  Is there something in need of changing?  Is there something you could do better, or begin to do, which would bring new meaning to your life?  Then, for your Ash Wednesday statement of repentance, choose to promise God you will repent and change; then practice changing your actions for Lent.  Don’t feel discouraged if it is difficult and you have trouble getting started, just keep trying and taking your discouragement to God in your prayer practice.  After all there is a reason it’s called a “practice.”

May your Lenten meditations and fasting bring joyful changes into your life.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 9, 2016

Peace Through Allies

Putting our words into action is difficult but Dave Bell reminds us that is what we are called to do.

Ridged Valley Reflections

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January 31, 2015

Friends often make you think. Not a bad thing, but often a hard thing. Thought, while good, is not always good or risky enough without verbalization. Shayne and Sandhya, I figure, know that, which, maybe, is why last October they asked what I thought about the blog Please Stop Being a Good White Person (TM). Thinking about it wasn’t enough. I would have to risk voice. Something I seldom enjoy on edgy issues. Well, five months is enough time to stew over it.

The blogger uses a quote from Dr. Kings Letter from a Birmingham Jail,

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is…

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Imagination and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Working in a Food Bank

Working in a Food Bank

Sunset Yakima WA, 2013

Sunset Yakima WA, 2013

Students of Umpqua College  being led to safety, 2015

Students of Umpqua College
being led to safety, 2015

 

Many of us live in nice safe neighborhoods with few opportunities to interact with those who are disadvantaged except maybe on the street when we are approached by a homeless person.  And while disasters are all too common today I would guess that most of us are relatively unaffected by such actions as shooting incidents or natural disasters.  So today I would like you to put yourself, through your imagination and pictures, in places you might be uncomfortable with.  I have chosen three pictures only two are images that may disturb you or make you uncomfortable.  The third is a quiet scene and I would like you to ask compare your feelings of that scene with the others. This is not my usual spiritual practice but using our imagination to be in a place of comfort or discomfort is also a spiritual practice for it opens our hearts and minds to the possibilities of where we need to grow or what we fear. Finding God in uncomfortable places is just as important as finding God in places we are needed but don’t want to go.

Follow the directions for using the imagination combined with Visio Divina:

  • Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  • Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  • What feelings arise within you as you gaze at the images?  Do you feel fear; are you uncomfortable?  When you gaze at pictures 1 and 3 then contemplate picture 2 what changes in you as you look at this serene scene.  Do you see the sunset in a different way?
  • Respond to the images with prayer. Did the images remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  • Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in the quiet moment. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 2, 2016

Fourteen Stars

Challenger, Space Shuttle Crew,  NASA 1985

Challenger, Space Shuttle Crew,
NASA 1985

NASA, 2003

NASA, 2003

Thirty years ago I was just coming home from a class when I heard of the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on takeoff.  Like so many others I was devastated by the loss of life and never knew how to respond to it.  When the Columbia Shuttle exploded in 2003 I finally had a way to express my grief for all of the women and men in both shuttle disasters.  So I offer this poem in memory of 14 brave astronauts.

Fourteen Stars

There are fourteen new stars in the sky tonight
Fourteen new stars whose hopes shown so bright
Fourteen new stars to give us great light
Fourteen new stars to guide us this night
Fourteen new stars in Gods heart … held tight

Ruth Jewell, ©January 28, 2016

Never Alone – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 28:20b “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God does not want
us to be burdened
because of sorrows and tempests
that happen in our lives,

because
it has always been so
before miracles happen.

–Julian of Norwich, 14th century Anchoress

Microsoft Clip Art

Microsoft Clip Art

Sorrow, grief whether from unforeseen circumstances or our own doing always seems to lead us to questioning our beliefs and faith. We ask ourselves, the universe, or the Divine “why is this happening to me?”  In our woundedness we nearly always believe we will never be able to recover, to fully live life again.  I know what it feels like, I have been there way too many times and yes I felt totally adrift without friend or companion. Yet I was, we are, never really alone.  There is always someone to lay at their feet your fears and pain. Sometimes we have to look for confidants, and sometimes we only have to open our hearts. When we open up and let the pain scream out the healing process begins.

So yes with time the wounds of our heart, mind and soul do heal and we move on. We learn from our pain and discover new strength deep within that provides the fuel to live a joyful and fulfilling life helping us move into a better place in our lives.  We learn there are relationships that can’t be broken even in the darkest times.  We also learn that from loss great things will grow. The two greatest miracles of sorrow are learning we do have the strength to walk through the dark places in our lives and learning to forgive ourselves.

But when we refuse to look at our sorrows, too afraid of the memories to bring them out into the open where the light is we never learn from our struggles.  By keeping the memories of the painful times of life locked within we never allow ourselves to find the deeper meaning in our sorrows, or the strength that comes from squarely facing them. We never completely heal.

Healing doesn’t mean forgetting because if we forget than we cannot come to an understanding of who we are and are meant to be.  Life isn’t easy; it is full of ups and downs. More than likely we spend more time in the valleys than we do on the mountain tops. But just as a young tree grows stronger when strong winds blow it around we too grow stronger; strong enough to face the next valley, and the next, and the next.  With each one we gain a bit more strength.  Yes, I know all too well that it doesn’t feel like that in the moment but it is true.  Living your life without challenges, or risk of sorrows, isn’t living it is existing and there lies the difference.

Spiritual Practice:

Have your traveled a dark valley?  Did fear keep you from moving forward or from sharing your pain with a friend, pastor, spiritual director, or directly with the Spirit? If you could not let your sorrows out what would help you to find what you need?  Prayer and silence are strong tools for rebuilding our relationship with the Divine.  Offer your fears to the Spirit in your own way of prayer. Confiding in a spiritual director, a close friend, or your pastor may help guide you in your own search for answers. Each journey is different and requires different tools.  Asking for help is not a weakness but strength and a spiritual practice in itself. Let your heart be healed by finding the best tool for you.

Blessings on your journey wherever the road takes you.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 26, 2016

Ancient Journeys

Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 

Matthew 2:13a Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you;

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The winter stretches across bare trees.

And in our book we close the chapter on creation
And turn to the Exodus, to the leaving,
To our new becoming.

The Mystery reveals itself in a different guise
Out of a burning
It says “I will be that I will be, this is my name,
I am everywhere, in all things, and I call you forward.
Now take off your shoes,
The ground you are standing on is holy.”

It is hard to hear and difficult to imagine
Something with us in the pain,
In the exposed rawness,
Something with us in the brokenness of life.

But the voice is persistent, it whispers, it shouts,
“I am all that is. Everywhere you are, there I am.

I am the oneness, the unity of all being
And we are in relationship.
And I call you forward.”

The very ground we stand upon is holy.
There is nothing outside the realm of God.
We live in relationship with everything.

This is our covenant—our agreement with the continual becoming:
To know that every moment is sacred.
To act with reverence for all.
And to listen for the whispered silence
That holds us and calls us forward
To be of use
Within the fragility of all life.*

*Picture and meditation by Rabbi Yael Levy, founder of “A Way In: Jewish Mindfulness Program,” January 22, 2016, Face Book Page

It seems since the beginning of time we are called to make journeys.  Adam and Eve journeyed from The Garden, Abram and Sarai leave for a place known only to God, and Joseph takes his small family of Mary and Jesus on the dangerous roads to Egypt.  We too make journeys.  In my life time I have journeyed across this country moving from Ohio, to Texas, to Washington, to California, and back to Washington. I have hopes that I won’t have to move again but I never know when God will call me to a new place.

There is one journey I have yet to make.  My father and mother have made it, I have had friends make it and my time will come I have no doubt in that. At some point in the future God will call me to make the last voyage in this life and cross to the next life.  Now that is a BIG journey.  No one has ever returned to tell us that it is safe journey without dangerous places.  In a way we will be making a journey similar to Abram’s and Sarai’s in that only God knows our destination.  And, we have no choice but to trust that God will find us a safe route.

Every living thing and creature in this universe will make the journey; fish or plant, dog or human, all of us will cross to a new life somewhere that only God can lead us.  Like the Hebrews in the desert we will have to look for the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night in order to find the right path.

Last week my beloved Chihuahua, Suzie, passed away.  She let go of this life and followed a new caretaker.  As I held her in my arms and felt her leave, I knew she was now in good hands.  I miss her but like family, friends, and other companions I know someday we will meet and cross the bridge together. Until I too am called, I will hold the memory of Suzie, family, friends, and companions in my heart, which grows to accommodate all the memories of those I love.

Suzie

Suzie

While I miss those who have gone ahead I am comforted by the peace that comes from knowing that I will join them someday and what a party we will have.

Peace and blessings to you all.  May your memories fill you with joy and give you comfort.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 24, 2016

 

Spirit and Flesh – Prayerful Tuesday

A Meditation from the Works of Julian of Norwich

Stained Glass window of Julian of Norwich, Church of St. Julian, Norwich UK

Stained Glass window of Julian of Norwich,
Church of St. Julian, Norwich UK

For just as our bodies are clothed in garments,
our flesh enclosed by our skin,
our hearts centered in our body,
so are we, spirit and flesh,
clothed head to toe in the goodness of God.
But this metaphor hardly does justice,
for all things will decline and wear out.
God’s goodness, however, is everlasting,
and is incomparably nearer to us than our very flesh.

Julian of Norwich 14th century Anchorite

We are clothed in God, clothed in the goodness of God. These words have been especially comforting to me today as last week was an especially difficult one.  Just knowing God, Spirit, and Christ are closer to me than my own flesh has kept me going.

Spiritual Practice:

During the day be especially sensitive to when God is present.  At day’s end  remember the times when you noticed God’s blessed presence. How did you feel?

Ruth Jewell, ©January 19, 2016

God in a Box? – Prayerful Tuesday

1 Kings 8:10-13  10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

The Plan for King Solomon’s Temple (Wikimedia Commons)

The Plan for King Solomon’s Temple
(Wikimedia Commons)

King Solomon’s Temple was a wonder to behold.  It was made with the finest of materials: the best stone, lumber from the Cedars of Lebanon, gold, silver, and precious jewels.  Yet it still was a case of humans trying to control God, confine God in a place of their making.  A place where God could be forgotten like many other things people put in boxes and placed on a shelf.  Even though the temple was a marvelous box it was still a box.

History has shown that God doesn’t stay in boxes very well and you can’t put God on a shelf and walk away without God noticing.  Even though we continue to build fancy structures for God where some of us go to sit like good children. Where we listen to the pastor preach (hoping it won’t be too boring or too long because the game starts soon), sing a couple of songs and bug out as soon as possible forgetting everything we’ve heard until the following week.

I know that everyone isn’t like this, there are many who find worship to be just that worship and praise to God.  But I have been in way too many communities where this is true and I’ve been in churches that have given in to society’s demands to be entertained and make what is supposed to be the worship of God into a Los Vegas production just to keep people in the pews. What is saddest to me is that all too often works, at least for a while.

You can’t put God in a box and hope that God will stay there, no, God is going to know when you ‘walk away’ and when you ‘walk with.’  I’m sorry to disappoint you but God can never be placed in a box and brought out only at Christmas and Easter, if then.

I am reminded of the closing scene of the Indiana Jones Movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  You know the one where the U.S. Government has boxed up the Ark of the Covenant in an anonymous box and places it in a warehouse.

That scene summarizes the problems we have with putting God in a box and then forgetting where you put the box. (By the way God was never IN the Ark of the Covenant, it was only a conduit for God’s power through the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.) We always want a convenient God one that doesn’t give us too much trouble or bother our ‘well laid’ plans with details like kindness, or justice. I have discovered trying to keep God in the big stone or concrete boxes we call church doesn’t work. Those boxes don’t keep God from pressuring us to do what is right. God is always waiting for each and every one of us to realize we need God to remind us of who we are and who our neighbors are, our brothers and sisters in creation. God is good at waiting for us, and doesn’t turn us away when we come running or crawling, the way we have to God. When we return to walk with God, to collaborate with God, and to participate with God in creating the world we are meant to live in God accepts us without reservations.

 

My prayer practice for you this week is to notice when God makes the presence known to you in the small ways of daily living.  Notice the sunrise or your baby’s first smile of the morning. Notice when you see someone doing something kind for someone else, or better yet do an act of kindness for stranger.  What do you see in the persons face? God is all around us, God is never in a box, and God doesn’t visit us only on certain days of the week. No God is there in all the little joys, sorrows, disappointments, and celebrations of everyday living.  This week take  God out of the mental box and practice seeing God in life itself.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 12, 2016

The Work of Christmas Begins

A Poem by Howard Thurman

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.


Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies.  But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.

Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught.  Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year.  The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit.  A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home.  Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.

Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers.  Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world.  Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea!  If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.

To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?

So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2016

Trust in God? – Prayerful Tuesday

Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14, 21:  10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

Clip art by Microsoft

Clip art by Microsoft

I have begun a yearlong meditation discipline with the book A Year with God[1] by Richard J. Foster and Julia L Roller, which I am very excited about.  Yesterday the above Scripture from Exodus was my morning reading.  As I read it I thought about what it means to trust in God.  In Speaking Christian[2] Marcus Borg says trust and faith mean essentially the same thing.  So Moses was asking the Israelites to have faith that God would provide help.  What Moses wanted the Israelites to understand was they needed to let go of their idea of planning ahead and of knowing what will happen next. God may have a plan but we don’t know what that is and God is not going to tells us what the plan is, until the moment it happens. In this case God’s plan was to divide the waters of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.  Fundamentally to have faith/trust in God means we must let go of the control of our own lives and let God provide, for most people that is a scary thing to do. Usually we only let go when we are at a point when nothing else has worked.  All our plans have fallen through, and we are at a dead end with no place to go except call on God.  For most people God is the safety net we rely on and I for one am grateful of that net.

The meditation questions provided with the lesson brought back uncomfortable memories in my life when I had reached my own dead ends and didn’t know where to turn next.  I remember feeling lost, frightened, terrified really, at the prospects I imagined lay before me.  In the dark night of my soul I called out to God and said “I give up, I can’t do this anymore, help me.” I wanted God to be there, I needed God to be there, because I felt alone.  For me giving up and trusting in God and letting God plan the next move was scary but not as scary as the alternatives.  Letting go of the reins of my life released something inside of me and eventually things improved.  I can’t say what I experienced will happen for everyone but I can say giving to God what stresses us and beats us down improves the way we see the world.  Faith and trust are hard spiritual practices but are the foundation of all spiritual practices.  It doesn’t matter how you envision God, or what name you call the Divine letting the All Encompassing Presence be your safety net when you are troubled will give you hope in life.  The process may be slow; God works in God’s own time, but slow is better than not moving at all.

Spiritual Practice:  this week reflect on when in your life you have been able to trust God wholly when things fall apart.  If you haven’t had one of those moments do you think you could stand back and let God take over provide the solution?

As you journey on your path this week, may Christ be there to give you courage, may the Holy Spirit smooth your road, and when you are weary may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 5, 2016

[1] Foster, Richard J. and Julia L. Roller editors, A Year With God, Harper One, New York, NY, 2009.

[2] Borg, Marcus J: Speaking Christian, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1989, pg 120-123.