Psalm 23:1-3 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul.*He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
In the last several months I have been struggling to find the calm midst the shootings in Umpqua, the deaths of those fighting wild fires, more shootings (at least one a week), floods, earthquakes, and all of the other disasters that seem to be all that is ever reported by news media. I know I will not find any meaning in any of these crises, so, I am looking for a way through the noise and pain I hear, read about, and feel within. Yesterday I found my still point when I happened upon the following poem written by grandfather:
Commentary on the 23rd Psalm
“In pastures green?” Not always: sometimes Thou
who knoweth best, in kindness leadeth me
in weary ways, where heavy shadows be.
And by “still waters?” No not always so;
oft times the heavy tempest round me blow
and o’er my soul the waves and billows go
But where the storm beats loudest,
and I cry aloud for help, The Master standeth by
and whispers to my soul “Lo, it is I.”
So where He leads me I can safely go,
and in the blest hereafter I shall know,
why, in His wisdom, He hath lead me so.
By Grandfather Rufus Miller, 1937
As I read the familiar lines I remembered I don’t have to understand the why of things. I don’t have to carry the burdens of the world on my shoulders. I don’t even have try to carry all of the world’s problems. I can’t change the way people treat others, I have no control over how one person treats another. However, I do have control over how I treat those around me. I do have control of how I respond to the many crises trumpeted in the news.
My grandfather’s poem reminds me that life is not a bed or roses where everything will always be “hot coco, and peanut butter toast by the evening fire.” No there are bad people in the world and even though I, or my loved ones, have done nothing wrong, or done anything to cause a tragedy, other people will affect my life in both good ways and bad. I can’t stop it from happening. I know I can’t stop the hate, but, I can stop the hate from residing in my heart. I can stop myself from acting out of anger and rage. I can stop and take a deep breath and let the real me come up from deep inside. That is all I can do.
For the prayer practice this week I am offering a chant that helps me when I am feeling lost. It is the refrain of a hymn written by Marty Haugen and below is the score for the chant. Above is a video of Haugen’s complete hymn. Watch the above video and when you are feeling a little lost this week sing the refrain. You don’t have to chant out loud, and you can chant anytime of the day, driving, riding public transit, cooking dinner or even working on that paper for class or the boss.
May you find your still point, and may it bring you comfort.
Heed the counsel of your own heart, and above all pray to the Most High that you may be guided in the way of truth. Ecclesiasticus 37:13, 15
Caribbean Sea December 16, 2015 Ruth Jewell
I was talking with a friend not long ago and he said his church was reevaluating its mission in the community. One of the questions he asked them was “what do they want to leave behind when they are gone”? What do they want their legacy to be? I thought that was an interesting question that all of us should consider in our lives. What do you want to leave to those who remain after you have passed on to the next world? What do I want to leave?
Contemplating our legacy is a serious question of the spiritual practice of living our lives with intention. Because of that I have been giving this question much thought during my sacred time each day. What is it about my life do I want to pass on to my family, my faith community, the world in general? How will living my life make a difference in this world? I know I don’t want to be remembered for just for doing my job or making a living, for me that is a superficial fact of surviving. I don’t want anyone to say survived the trials of living.
I think I do want to be remembered for being able to listen to a friend in need, for loving even those who I don’t agree with, taking action to right a wrong or feed and clothe the disenfranchised. I want to be remembered for standing and walking those who are growing spiritually and in their relationship with the Divine. I want to be remembered as someone who saw the Great Spirit in all I have met whether they belong to my faith or not, rich and poor, the outcast, the convicted felon, any and all who have been labeled unlovable. The short version is I want to intentionally live my life so that I will be a blessing to all around me. This is what I want, this is how I want my life to be lived and remembered.
I have to admit living into this intention is not easy for me, and I fail more often than I succeed. However, I know that the Great Spirit just says “OK, that didn’t work as you wanted it to, but pick yourself up and start over again, I am still here cheering you on.” So my prayer is for support and guidance and maybe, maybe just maybe I will do better tomorrow.
Each of our lives we are offered a choice of paths to follow. Intentionally choosing the path that leads to a life that grows your Spirit Being is never easy. Choosing an intentional life is always fraught pit falls and road-blocks. But living your life with the intention of being spirit filled and a blessing to those around you will be filled with joy amidst the tears of struggle and dark valleys we all go through. In living an intentional life you are never alone on your journey.
This week ask yourself what legacy do you want to leave? Does the life you live now match up with what you want? What will you do to live a more intentional life?
We are all Homo Sapiens sapiens but we will never be Human Beings until we stop just surviving and begin to live in harmony with each other and all creation.
I have been trying to comprehend the shootings in South Carolina at the First Emanuel AME Church. Just as the acts in other mass shootings I simply can’t get my mind around a hatred that produces such evil. I have listened to the prayers for comfort and supplication. I have listened, unwillingly, to the NRA and other public speakers who blame the church pastor and members, or minimize the acts of the shooter. I can’t, or won’t, believe that 9 innocent people were the cause nor can I believe the shooter acted without encouragement.
You see, I believe we, you and I, are to blame for what happened in South Carolina. You and I, and everyone else regardless of skin color, privilege, ethnicity, or any other cultural classification are equally responsible for pulling the trigger and this is why I believe this.
We refuse to stand against acts of injustice, violence, discrimination, or the use of degrading speech. We listen politely and shake our heads and tell ourselves that offering a prayer that people will change is enough. We are afraid of what others might say about us if we stop someone in mid speech and tell them NO, I will not listen to this. We look the other way when someone abuses another. We tolerate public servants who degrade people of color, are poor, elderly, or have a religion they don’t follow. We have tolerated public servants who have spoken as if they are the only ones who matter, who have verbally abused our President and anyone else they disagree with or disagree with them.
We have created this atmosphere of hate and violence found in country today. Yes, I admit I am right there along with the rest of us. Have I stood up and defended someone being abused, sometimes yes but not always. I do it when it is convenient for me and that is not what we are called to do. We, you and I, are called by the Divine to be better than that.
This week I am recommending a spiritual practice of standing up and defending the voiceless. I am asking each of you to speak up when you hear someone abusing or degrading someone else. I am pleading with each of you to stand and be counted when you see injustice happening. As you go through this week remember this:
“8But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 The Message (MSG)
Matthew 25: 36 “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
One of the books I read while I was on my sabbatical was Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong. As always I was impressed with her writing and level of scholarship but more than that in this book Ms Armstrong lays out the reasons for our love of violence and power.
Right at the beginning she identifies one of the factors in our continuing struggle between living in a harmonious world or living in a power driven world, the construction of our brains. We have 3 brains, the old brain or reptilian brain is responsible for our fight or flight actions. It drives us to defend our territory for food and other resources, it is the self-centered part of the brain, most concerned with keep ourselves safe; the mammalian limbic system, which formed over the core of the reptilian brain is our second brain. It is responsible for new behaviors such as care of our young and the formation of allies with others; and the new brain, the third brain, the neocortex, is responsible for our “reasoning and self awareness that enables us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions.” (pg 4-5)
Ms. Armstrong proposes that the reptilian brain and limbic system are dominant within power systems that manipulate and control others. The limbic system extended the actions of the reptilian brain to include family or a community unity but, still, this drive for power and control of others for territory and resources requires violence. It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago when the neocortex evolved did the idea of standing back and evaluating actions was there any question about the use of violence. Humanity really didn’t have a chance of becoming a reality until after the evolution of the neocortex and we have yet to learn how to use the “new brain” to begin to evolve into who we are meant to be. By this I mean most of us haven’t learned to overcome the impulses of the reptilian brain and limbic system and use our neocortex to evaluate our surroundings or our actions. In general we humans are “subject to conflicting impulses of [our] three distinct brains.” (pg. 5)
Fortunately there is hope for us all. A few of us are developing our neocortex’s and discovering what it means to be truly human. I was listening to NPR this past Sunday morning when a story about Dr. Kent Brantly was broadcast. Dr. Brantly was one of the American Doctors who contracted Ebola last year and survived. He was asked to deliver the graduating speech to the 2015 graduating class of the Indiana University School of Medicine. What he says about compassion is important for all of us to hear (italics are mine):
“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there’s a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn’t even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”
Compassion isn’t offering help, it is being with the suffering of others, it is living the suffering, walking together down a road you may or may not know where it leads. That is what Jesus did. He entered into the suffering of others, he walk the road to where ever they were headed, that is one, maybe the first, step to becoming human. Dr. Brantly has taken a step on a road most of us are afraid to even look at let along step onto. The Prophet Micah tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, sounds easy does it not? Ask Dr. Brantly how easy it was for him and he will tell you it is the hardest road you will ever walk, but if we wish to be the humans God has always wanted us to be it is a road we must walk.
This week my spiritual practice is more of a spiritual way of life. I would like to invite you on a journey with me to become the “human” God wants us all to be. To look at our actions by taking a step back and asking ourselves the following questions (I am sure there are more than these and please let me know what you would ask):
Does this action support justice or impede justice?
Is this action a loving act?
Does that action move me closer to God or does it separate me from God?
Simple questions, but, sometimes hard to answer. Our lives are filled with gray areas and we will need to determine how those gray, in between, spaces fit into our lives and either nurture or kill the life we want with God. This is not an easy practice or an easy way to live but I believe, at least for myself, a profitable one. I know I will stumble and so will you. That’s OK, just pick yourself up and start over again. Failure is a lesson in how not to do something. Loving life as God meant it to be was and is never easy. Just remember you are not alone.
Matthew 13:2b-9“Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
Every interpreter I have ever read tells us this scripture is about the ground. It’s about us being good or bad ground for the word of God. So what if, just what if, we have it upside down. I’m not saying we do, this is a “what if,” looking at the parable from the other side, from the Sower’s perspective.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Seeds of Heaven, Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (2004) asks what if this parable isn’t about us, not about our failures or success’. But rather about an extravagant sower who flings his seeds everywhere and “wastes it with holy abandon?” If this isn’t about us as ground for the word of God then this parable has a completely new meaning. Taylor says what if “the focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower, who does not obsess about the conditions of fields, who is not stingy . . . but casts his seed everywhere, on good soil and bad.” What if God, the prolific Sower, says I have a lot of seed and some will take hold right away, but who knows maybe, just maybe, some sown in not the best of places may still feed a soul. Suppose Jesus was saying we are to sow God’s word everywhere, don’t expect a harvest, or at least a big one, just speak the word, live the word, be the word, and see what happens.
So this week I challenge you to go and live the life of a prolific sower. Imitate the Great Sower, and be one of those who has ears and hears.
For the last three weeks I have been in constant pain due to a pinched nerve in my back. This fussy nerve has been bothering me for a long time but I refused to listen to it. So now it is fighting back to get the attention it thinks it deserves. I have never been in so much pain before. It hurts to lie down, stand up and sit and that my friends are pretty much every possible position there is. But, I am not asking for sympathy, prayers yes, sympathy no because I got myself here by not listening to my body.
It is always easier to give someone else advice than to take that advice ourselves about taking care of the temple God has graced us with. Whether we are doing our busy lives or praying we often forget the clay vessel we are embodied with to the detriment of our health and well being both spiritually and physically.
I understand the forgetting the body when we are making a living, I certainly forgot. After all we are only trying to make a living, feed our family, keep a shelter over our heads and clothes on our backs. We don’t feed the body with good food rather we go for the quick easy meal of junk food, which is high in fat, calories and low in what we need to be healthy. We don’t get enough sleep because a job needs to be done and “I, just don’t have the time to rest until it’s finished.” Stress takes its toll with worry about how we will survive if we lose our job, or add a new family member, or move to new community. We forget to take the time to talk to God, to listen to God, to offer prayers of gratitude and concern to the one, and only, who can relieve our pain and suffering.
The ironic thing is we remember our bodies when they break down, and we remember our spiritual life when we are running on empty to the next event in our lives. That is what has happened to me. I forgot to care for my body, I refused to listen and I am paying for it now. But more than that I forgot that caring for my body, caring for my spirit is a prayer practice.
It is important to care for what has been given us the best way we can. Even when we are given bodies that aren’t perfect, and whose is, we are called by God to care for this vessel as long as we are here enfleshed in this life. In order to care for this body given me I must repent and make changes to how I view my body. It isn’t an object to worship, but it is a house of prayer. Good food, exercise, rest and listening are my four healthy habits that will make my house stronger. My physical house and my spiritual house.
My prayer for all of you this week is take a moment out of your day to sit in silence and offer God your gratitude, take a brisk walk and feel the breath of God on your face, rest in God, letting the healing touch of the Holy Spirit renew your soul and eat with gusto food rich in love and low in Cholesterol.
In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good. Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society. Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be. It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.
Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good. So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.
1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people. 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 about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now. All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain. Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.