John Bell is one of my favorite composers and lyricists. He writes music that reaches deep inside of me and calls to me. Most of his hymns are short chant type pieces that I am able to sing all day. On Sunday we sang one of my favorites “Take, O Take Me As I Am” and in the place I currently reside I needed to hear those words. You see I often wonder if I am worthy of the tasks God asks of me. Sometimes doubts just creep into the corners of my mind and mock me with all of the mistakes I’ve ever made.
The words of John Bell speak to those doubts, telling me God isn’t looking for perfection. God is looking for real beings that try, fail, get up and try again. Well that fits me to a tee. How do I know this well? If you look at all the people God has ever called: Moses, Abraham, Noah, Jonah, Paul, all of them were less than perfect but they had something God needed, faithfulness, determination, grit. They didn’t give up when they started something that was what God was looking for, not perfection.
So this morning I offer these words of John Bells for you to chant during the week, to remind you that love, caring, compassion, justice, mercy don’t come with perfection they come in the packages they are in, you and I. We may be less than perfect, but we are who God Seeks.
Take, O Take Me As I Am John Bell
Take, O take me as I am;
summon out what I shall be;
set your seal upon my heart
and live in me.
Vocal Ensemble Eljakim uit Bolsward olv Erwin de Ruijter tijdens
4 colour concert in Bolsward
May we remember today that we are part of an unfolding story
That calls us to listen to God’s words with intent to action
May we live in the reality of God’s kingdom entering into our lives
May we rejoice in the wonder of God’s eternal presence
May all that we do deepen our awareness of God
May we see in every moment the spark of holiness
And recognize Christ in every encounter
May God’s word burst from the pages of our lives and …
become the life we live
Truly in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest (Quran 13.28)
In the last week I have begun reading the book Out of Darkness Into Light by Jamal Rahman, Kathleen Schmitt Elias and Ann Holmes Redding. The book gives a wonderful introduction to spiritual guidance found in the Quran with reflections from the Jewish and Christian Faith provided by MS Elias and MS Redding respectfully. The three faiths Islam, Jewish, Christian are siblings and we share more than just a connection with Abraham, we share hearts.
As a Christian I am well versed in my own tradition, practices and beliefs but reading Jamal’s writings and MS Elias’ writings has opened up interesting doors into the shared space of our three faiths. One of those doors is called Spiritual Practice. I have always known many of our “Christian” spiritual practices have their roots in other faiths, yet as I read I am finding a second and third dimension in them. The practice I would like to highlight is a specific type of journaling Jamal calls “sacred writing.
I have practiced journaling for many years and have done something similar to the practice of sacred writing called “free writing or journaling where you write what comes to mind, letting my hand freely put on paper whatever comes from my heart. Sometimes there is an intention question sometimes not but always there is no planning of what I will write. Sacred writing is very similar but Jamal has beautifully paired it with the intention of going deeper into the heart of self when you’re sad, angry or in crisis, however, this is a good practice to use at anytime. Here is Jamal’s description:
“Start with the phrase, “Right now I am feeling” … and allow yourself to express your feelings and fears as fully as possible. After you finish, invoke the mercy of God and Make an intention to connect with your higher self. Start by writing. “I have heard your sighs, beloved one, and I want to tell you …” and continue writing, allowing your higher self to express itself fully.” (pg 55)
I have found that writing in this manner can produce insights to my own behavior and helps me find meaning in events or trials I could never have seen. One benefit to this method is by putting feelings onto paper gets them out of my body and I see clearer and become filled with an inner peace.
May the Great Spirit enter your heart as you pour out your fears and doubts onto a simple piece of paper. Amen
 Rahman, Jamal, Kathleen Schmitt Elias, Ann Homes Redding; Out of Darkness Into Light, Spritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Christian and Jewish Sources, Morehouse Publishing, New York, NY, 2009
When you were born, everyone was laughing but you were crying. Live your life so that when you die, everyone is crying, but you are laughing (Islamic hadith)
Today March 11, 2014 is my birthday and let me get this right out front; birthdays are not my favorite days in the year! I do have a reason, and to most people it seems weird. You see my family of origin just didn’t put an emphasis on birthdays. If we were lucky my mother might bake a cake, or in my case a pie, but other than that we just didn’t mention our natal day. As an adult I chose to use my day as a day for reflection, taking the time to think about the past year, what I’ve done or could have done and what I would like to do in next year. It has become for me my time to remember family events, the good and the bad. But most people think there should be a party or some kind of celebration.
I am wary of people inviting me to their homes on my birthday because inevitably there will be a surprise party with all the trimmings. When the word “surprise” is shouted out I, being the introvert that I am, want to crawl under a bed and stay there until all the hoopla is over with. I actually hate opening presents because the giver is waiting with such expectations of my joy over their gift. Unfortunately, there have been way too many gifts where I smile and say “oh how lovely, thank you”, and I’m thinking “what the heck is this and what is it used for.”
But my mother taught me, and I do believe this, each gift is a given in love and love must always be received with joy. I’m not the best thank you card writer, but will send them to people I can’t thank personally, but coming up with the right words for a gift I can’t recognize is always difficult. My mother’s lessons on receiving gifts is the reason I have stuff in closets of my house I have been caring around for 60 or so years from state to state, house to house, and I still don’t know what they are or what to do with them. I can’t remember who gave them to me but they were given in love and therefore I keep them.
So while I prefer to have a quiet reflective day I am married to someone who thinks all birthdays should be grand celebrations. His family made a big deal of birthdays and they had parties with all the trimmings, just the opposite of mine so I too must join in the fun. So I try to live up to his and his family’s expectations of joy and surprise. I try, I really do. For him and his family’s birthdays I bake a cake and make the day special, because I love them and they get great joy out of the celebration. And, bless their hearts they just can’t understand my reluctance to celebrate my day in the same way they do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the Happy Birthdays I receive. It is nice to have someone stop me and say “Happy Birthday, I hope you have a great day,” it’s just that my idea of a great day is different from everyone else’s ideas. So please tell me Happy Birthday, but, don’t expect me to tell you I’m doing something exciting because my idea of an “exciting Birthday” is sitting curled up on the couch, wrapped in a warm blanket, my dog asleep on my lap, a cup of green tea beside me, and reading a good book. That is the perfect gift for me.
So I have to go now because my husband wants to take me to lunch to a restaurant of my choice, probably Wendy’s or IHOP (I told you I was weird). But I am going to steer him to Home Depot where I can pick up the lumber and compost I need for a new raised garden bed. I am hoping the weather will hold today so that I can put it together and set it up. If I get that done, that will make this a very good birthday.
So, thank you for all of your birthday wishes, they are appreciated. And may all of you have a wonderful day in your own way.
“. . . too often we resist the urge to turn our hearts to God, for this might entail some serious and inconvenient changes in our lives.” Jamal Rahman, Out of Darkness into Light
This past week has been interesting. You see I am coming to a place where I have to let go of some goals and turn my resulting life, that will be, over to God. Now I am a stubborn person, and I LIKE being in control of my journey, but, I am discovering I control nothing. Nothing in my life is predictable, except when I surrender my will to God.
The above words of Jamal Rahman really hit home for me, because surrendering to God does mean my life changes dramatically. The number one in my life can no longer be me, but God. It means everything I do take’s on a sacred attribute because I’m not doing it for myself; I am doing nothing, because you see everything is for and through God.
When I give up and let go of the reins I am clutching in my white knuckled hand my life focus changes from “it’s all about me” to it is all about what God wants of me; doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). While Micah’s words sound simple they are not easy and I am consciously, continually, moving into them bit by painful bit.
One of my first steps in surrendering to God began with (or I should say begins with) a practice of examining the unease I have with my life and then holding it to as I find the root cause. I allow myself to kind to me as I acknowledge and hold the energy the cause has over me, offering it up in prayer for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
So I offer Surrender as our spiritual practice of the week. When you feel something is wrong in your life do not ignore or deny it. Instead sit quietly and hold the feeling in your heart, listen to it and search from where it comes. Then as you hold the feelings in your heart pray to God for strength and mercy, asking for God to walk with you as you go deeper into the feeling and surrender the cause to God in prayer. Over time as you repeat this practice you may discover your connection and relationship with God growing ever stronger.
Surrender may be difficult but not impossible when you remember the words of Jesus who said “do not be afraid, for I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:10).