John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This is one of my favorite paintings of the birth of Jesus. There is just something about the expressions on Mary and Josephs faces as they look at the new small being in their life that draws me in. I once saw the original in the Boston Museum of Art and this tiny painting on black slate captivated me as no others have.
However, I must admit that despite loving this painting, I don’t see the nativity as an actual historical event. It has been a long time since I believed in the virgin birth. I am a scientist by training and I know that while ‘virgin’ births do happen in nature, it’s called parthenogenesis, they only occur in certain species of worms and small crustaceans called daphnids. So this event was a no go for me not long after my first serious biology class. But the importance of the birth story is not in history, it is in the symbolism of new life breaking into the world in the form of God within the person of Jesus of Nazareth. New life, not of a baby’s, rather a new life lived in a world where all achieve their God given potential. Living in the world as Jesus did, with limitless love and compassion, offering justice and mercy to those who are in need, and offering a peace that fills the soul. Well then again maybe it is like the birth of a baby, for we all experience new insights as new birth within us.
So why I may not believe Jesus was born in an actual stable I do believe he was been born in the stables, and dark corners of our minds, societies, and cultures. Jesus is the one who birthed new life in those dark recesses of our hearts and minds. Who lit up the alley ways where suffering, pain, and violence reside bringing the light of love to those who were the unlovable. In prayer and action we, you and I, continue to carry that light. We take it to prisons, hospitals, hospice rooms, to the homeless, to the hungry, to anyone in need of the light provided by “The Way.” At least we are supposed to.
Today I ask you to use the above painting for your Prayerful Tuesday Meditation using Visio Divina.
Look at the painting slowly, taking a first glance and 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 moves you in this painting? Does it draw you in or call to you in any particular way?
Respond to the image with prayer. 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.
May you be blessed with the birthing of new life within you. Merry Christmas everyone.
Do you ever wonder what happens to shadows? I do, sometimes. I mean where do they go when the sun goes away? I have lots of shadows that follow me. I know they are there even though it’s dark and I can’t see them. It’s like the monsters under the bed. I know they are there even if I shine a light, I know, you see they skitter into the dark corners where the light never goes.
All Hallows Eve is the beginning of the time of year I have the most difficulty with. These last two months of the year are thin times when memories and shadows come out of the woodwork of my mind. Yes I have shadows and whether good or bad they are there, a part of me, that follows me wherever I go, whatever I do. And I see more shadows every year and they make me sad for what is gone and what I will never see again.
There is the shadow that is my father, once tall and strong He carried my on his shoulders and let me snuggle with him in church, and showed me the beauty of the stars and the light show that is the Aurora Borealis. Dad was the one who said “Ruth, you can accomplish whatever you want all you have to do is dream and then go for it.” He encouraged me, me his scarred and damaged child, to ride horses, plow a field, drive a farm truck when I was twelve, and hold puppies and kittens in arms with all the love I could give. He taught me to count by having me feed weanling calves, and gave me a bull calf as pet. In his eyes I could do anything and I could. Even when Dad became ill, and weak, I could still see his strong shadow standing beside him. At his death his shadow faded into the wind and while wisps of him cling to my memory he has become a distant shadow.
Then there is the shadow of my mother. A lion hearted woman, who fought for me with ever fiber of her being. This was the woman who fearlessly took on the school board to make sure that I, her oldest daughter, would enter school at age 6. You see I had been badly injured the previous June and was still recovering and the school didn’t want to “deal” with a “disabled” child. But I started school on time, all because my Mom had the heart of a lioness and you didn’t mess with Mama Lion.
The shadows have followed me, are following me, wherever I go as I travel this path that leads to whatever life will give me. Some are old friends, some not so friendly, but they are mine just the same. Whenever I turn around I see them jump into those corners. I see just a hint of them, small smudges of dark, and gray. For many years I was afraid of the dark, the shadows that lurk there, but, not anymore. Today I look for them as reminders of days past, friends cherished and lost, puppy hugs and kitten kisses.
Today I see them for what they are, memories, shadows that cannot hurt me unless I let them. I no longer let the shadows rule over me, rather I let them watch as I face the life I have chosen and do what I feel to be right. I am learning not to let them make me feel guilty for long ago actions that I cannot change and from which I learned much. I will let the Shadows stay in the dark and I will light a candle to chase them into the corners. Jesus said no one hides their light under a bushel and He’s right. To hide my light is to let the shadows rule and I’d rather I placed my light in the open to show me the way to go and to keep the dark, the shadows at bay.
In the last couple of weeks I have been reading a book by Jay Michaelson, Everything is God, The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism, who described a prayer practice I have been using for many years but didn’t know it was a prayer practice, Non-Distracted, Non-Meditation. This prayer practice, as Michaelson describes it, has no focus, no sense of meditation, where you simply become very aware that you are aware. This is not exactly mindfulness rather this is simply opening up and letting the world around impact your senses in sound, sight, smell, taste and touch. It is becoming aware of who you are. Sounds a bit contradictory doesn’t it?
I have been practicing this manner of prayer for many years not knowing I was opening up to the Divine and letting Her in to the deep places of my heart. Sometimes I am just plain clueless about what I am really doing and who I am! I am by nature an introvert, a strong introvert, who is often very unwilling to let anyone into my space and awareness. This practice, however, opens doors, well maybe a window, where I become aware of the beauty of what surrounds me. The beauty of my grandchildren playing, my husband fussing in the other room, the softness of Suzies fur or the way sunlight plays on the water in Puget Sound. Most times I push those things away but when I sit and relax and open up for just a moment I am amazed by how they sweep over me in gentle waves. I am astounded by what I discover that I have been hiding from my own awareness. It has allowed me to rest in this place and simply be. It is being aware that I am part of the universe, becoming aware that my DNA sings the same song the stars do. It is awakening all of my senses to what G-d has created and knowing I belong here, in this place.
So how does the practice work? Well Michaelson says it best, “ … sit with eyes open, just relax into awareness, with nothing to do and nowhere to go … just, for a moment drop what is in your mind and become aware of awareness itself; inhabiting it, and [letting it] speak” It’s like sitting in your backyard with nice cold drink in your hand, not thinking, nowhere to go, nothing to do, just being.
You can practice this at anytime, anywhere, whenever you want, just stop, take a deep breath, and for a moment become aware of your surroundings, relaxing your body and refreshing your mind. You might say it’s a 5 minute vacation for heart, mind and soul.
May you find peace where ever you are, may the Holy Spirit sit with you as you both enjoy the view.
Roman 6:1-11 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 10:24-39 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.* 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For 10 years I was an environmental consultant performing Human Health and Ecological risk assessments for the military and private concerns. One of the uses of my reports was to define what would be the cost of a cleanup of a contaminated site both as risk of exposure and monetary cost of cleanup. The EPA has a basic cleanup target of 1 in 10000 chances of illness or death from exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air. Of course all is negotiable but that is what is desired. The EPA doesn’t really care about cost but companies do and so does the military. Cleanup is not popular with those who own the property. There is a balancing act that goes on at the negotiation table between the EPA and the owners of the property. The property owners want to remove as little as possible to keep cost down and the EPA wants as much removed as possible to keep risk down. When you add in resident and ecological groups to the mix you probably get some idea of how complicated such negotiations can be. But the key word is negotiable.
Matthew writes in this passage what the cost of discipleship will be for those who follow in the path of Jesus. He tells his community what the risks are when you commit to following Jesus’ teaching and he doesn’t mince any words and the cost is not negotiable. For those who are faithful to God and Christ will face criticism, be misunderstood, run out town, and face death at the hands of the Romans just as Jesus did. How is that for a recruiting statement? I can hear the thought of a potential follower now. “Ok, my family will disown me, I will most likely be run out of town on rail, I will have my words twisted around to mean something other than what I said, and the Romans are going to kill me, tell me again why I should sign up for this.” If a follower of the WAY ever thought about the risks they wouldn’t sign up. I mean would you give up everything to go out and teach others about the WAY of Jesus. Would you give up the king-size bed, the running water, the clean clothes, or 3 meals a day? What is amazing to me is that anyone actually did and I am grateful to those who had, and have, the courage to walk that difficult path.
Matthew wanted his community to understand those risks while having the courage to choose a way of life that would be difficult but result in a life lived within God as found in the life of Jesus. Matthew’s words challenge us to stand up for injustice just as Jesus did. To use our voice to speak for those who are silenced. To live a life of compassion and peace towards everyone no matter how different they may be from us; from a different culture or socio-economic class, differently abled, or differently gendered, or (and this is the hard part) even if they have done harm to us or someone we love. Matthew says we are called to right injustice even at the expense of our own comfort, reputation, relationships, financial security, or even our lives. That is a hard decision to make and I know I (as a risk assessor and a seminary student) that discernment before that decision to be baptized and commit to that life is often very difficult. And let’s face it the reasons to proceed are not all that well laid out. So where do we find some answers.
Well before Matthew wrote his Gospel Paul wrote a letter of introduction to the Roman community and in that letter we have this short passage that summarizes reasons for following the WAY and those reasons are just as valid today as they were in the 1st century. Following the WAY was dangerous and even Paul doesn’t deny that but the benefit is a life lived into love.
Paul tells the Romans, and us, that when we commit ourselves to being baptized we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God we are to recognize our baptism as dying to sin and living into God. Notice I didn’t say Christ died FOR our sins, Paul did not believe Jesus died because God wanted a sacrifice for our sins. No, Jesus death on the cross saves us because God overcame and said No to sin through his resurrection of Christ. God’s message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to reconcile those who are separated from God back into those loving arms. Called Atonement, or better still “at-one-ment,” reconciliation is the means of re-membering those who have spent their lives lost in a wilderness far from God back into the body of God through Christ.
When Paul writes “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” he is talking about saying no to sin and moving toward God as experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book Meeting Paul open the verse 6:3-4 to a new insight
“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
We are graced with newness of life that includes a transformed way we see our world. A commitment leading to the ritual sacrament of Baptism results in a “renewing of [our] minds.” We being to see the world differently, living our lives into a richer and fuller life in love. We no longer see the world as other and different from ourselves but rather we see ourselves and the world as part of the body of God and Christ.
For Matthew, for Paul and for us these changes and commitments have political implications. It means we as followers of the WAY are to stand against the “wisdom of this world” as it is known today. We are to refuse to follow a path that results in harm, injustice, or death for anyone, whether we agree with them or not.
That is hard to do, I know it is hard for me. I too have watched the news and read the papers about mass shootings, people who demonize the poor and needy and I get angry. Sometimes I say things I might regret because I want them punished; you see I also forget they are part of God’s body. As a consultant I tried to tell the truth as I calculated it and saw it but I dealt with people who had very different agendas from mine. I grew frustrated and angry at people who only looked at the “bottom line” or a single unachievable number instead of considering how what they had done, and will do, affects those who live in the area, human and ecological. I wanted things to change and it wasn’t until I realized that the change must begin with me that I knew what I would do. I had to stop seeing the world with a “bottom line” perspective because all of creation, human and non-human are simply too important..
In Matthew Jesus says “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The life I lost is the one that holds tight to the world I see in the news reports while the life I gain is a life lived in relationship with God. While I often forget that I try to remember, what all of us need to remember are these words of Jesus’ “Do not be afraid … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
According to my old college American Heritage Dictionary “liturgy is a noun defined asa fixed set of ceremonies, words, etc., that are used during public worship in a religion; ritual.”  As followers of faith traditions we most often encounter liturgies when we attend religious services. But all rituals having a set order to the words spoken and are also liturgies. Graduation ceremonies, inaugurations, State Union Addresses, weddings any ritual using an set order of service uses a liturgy.
We may also use liturgies in our private prayer and spiritual practice’s. Some traditions have small books with liturgies for each day of the week that include morning, mid-day, and evening prayers. Each meditation includes a prayer, scripture, maybe a written meditation, and sometimes poetry or pictures to contemplate. In addition to a traditions individual prayer books there are also many other books that provide written rituals for private prayer. (You will find a short list of a few of my favorites at the end of this meditation.) Today I am going to introduce you to a liturgy from one of my all time favorite prayer books and offer how I use these resources in my prayer life. One of the advantages of having a liturgy already written out for you is you may adapt them to fit your day and your lifestyle.
I most often use prayer books when I am very stressed out and can’t find a way to sit still and listen for the still small voice of God. Using a liturgy that includes a blessing or poem, scripture and a prayer calms my heart and open a door into soul allowing me to find my still point and open up to what God is trying to tell me. If you are new to prayer, any kind of prayer, these pre-written liturgies may provide you with a stepping stone into a regular prayer life. They allow you to slow down and step across a threshold to you own sacred space. But, just as with every spiritual practice, you must set a regular time aside each day to read the liturgy. Most are short and may be read in only a few minutes. However, setting aside 10 to 15 minutes as a starting place will allow you to sit with the written prayers and scripture in silent contemplation.
Today I offer a liturgy I’ve adapted from a meditation for Tuesday from the Earth Gospel, a guide to prayer for God’s creation written by Sam Hamilton-Poore. It is an adaption I have used before in my own private prayer and one that allows me to go deeper into that sacred space of my heart. As you read may you also find a blessing within the words.
Opening Blessing: Edmund Banyard
Holy is the soil we walk on,
Holy everything that grows,
Holy all beneath the surface,
Holy every stream that flows.
A moment of silence
Scripture: Psalm 23 Common English Bible (CEB)
The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing. 2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters; 3 he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.
4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.
5 You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over! 6 Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will livein the Lord’s house
as long as I live.
Reflection: “The Avowal” by Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
As swimmers dare
to life face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace
Into your arms, loving Lord, let me “free-fall,”
upheld by your goodness and mercy.
Secure in your embrace,
show me how to love without effort,
trust without fear,
and live with abandon. Amen
Deleon, Roy ObiSB, Praying with the Body, Bringing the Psalms to Life, Paraclete Press, Bewster, MA, 2009
Hamilton-Poore, Sam, Earth Gospel, a guide to prayer for God’s creation, Upper Room Books, Nashville, TN , 2008 (my offered liturgy will be found on pages 106 and 107)
Newell, J. Philip; Celtic Prayers from Iona, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ, 1997
Yesterday seemed like a perfect day to read poetry. The rain was coming down, the wind was blowing, Suzie was snuggled in my lap so I opened up two of my favorite books of poetry, Thirst by Mary Oliver, and a book of Celtic prayers collected by Alexander Carmichael titled New Moon of the Seasons, Prayers from the Highlands and Islands. A poem of Mary Oliver’s and a prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael struck me as I read them. The first was a Celtic Prayer:
The Three who are over me,
The Three Who are below me,
The Three Who are above me here,
The Three Who are above me yonder;
The Three Who are in the earth,
The Three Who are in the air,
The Three Who are in the heaven,
The Three Who are in the great pouring sea
The Celtic people lived close to land and they cherished it as a gift from G-d. They saw the creator in every plant and animal and rock. They saw the grace of G-d in rain and snow, the roar of the sea and in the breath of spring air. This simple prayer is an acknowledgment that G-d, Christ, and the Holy Spirit surround them. G-d wasn’t “out there” looking down at them, no G-d was surrounded them in grace and blessings of many shapes and colors. As I watch the rain fall outside my window and feel Suzie’s warm breathing in my lap I understood what this prayer of gratitude meant to fisherman, a farmer, a mother tending the hearth. G-d is here, now, with me, with you, with us all. For the Celts and for us today G-d lives beside and within each of us.
Mary Oliver’s poem Praying is a lovely companion to the Celtic prayer. Praying reminds us that prayer doesn’t have to be framed with elaborate words. Prays really happen in those moments when your mind has no words so your heart speaks. Some of the greatest prayers are never written down; simple words of gratitude for the healing of a friend, or gasp of awe at the beauty of a sunrise, or joy of a laughing child are beloved prayers of the heart. Here is;
by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
I invite you to read the Celtic prayer, and Mary Oliver’s poem. Look around you; do you see the work of G-d, Christ, and Holy Spirit in the everyday living of your life? Where does your heart speak when your mind has no words? Let the simple words of gratitude, sorrow, or joy shaped in your heart form the bases for a prayer that speaks to the Divine that walks beside you. May the all surrounding presence of The Three be your comforter in times of crises and dance with them when joy rings in heart.
Last week John and I took a train ride to Vancouver, BC and while we hoped for some sun it was even cloudier there that at home. As we walked through Stanley Park I was afraid all my pictures would be gray and drab and then I saw this one. Yes, if the day had been bright and sunny I suppose this picture would have been brighter. But, the trees in their autumn finery reflecting in the pool made a light all their own. I just had to “open” my eyes to see it.
Today for Prayerful Tuesday I am inviting you to open your eyes and open your hearts and minds as we practice Visio Divina using the above picture. There is no set time frame for the guided prayer, but I do suggest at least 15 minutes and up to thirty minutes.
As your prayer begins, take a few moments to open your heart and mind to God.
When you are ready, slowly look and notice the image, taking your time to let feelings and thoughts come to you as you take in forms, colors, lines, textures, and shapes.
What does it look like, or remind you of?
What do you find yourself drawn to?
What do you like and not like?
What are your initial thoughts?
What feelings are evoked?
At this point in your prayer simply notice your responses without judgment or evaluation. If you don’t like the image, or the feelings it evokes, notice that this is your initial response and continue to stay open to the image and the prayer.
If you have an immediate idea as to what the image means, again, simply acknowledge that this is your initial response and stay open to “the more” as the prayer unfolds.
As you expand your prayer, return to the image with an open heart and mind. What new thoughts, meanings, and/or feelings arise for you; what initial impressions have expanded deepened.
Explore more fully the meanings that have risen up within you, and the feelings associated with the image and its colors and forms.
Be aware of any assumptions or expectations you bring to the image. No how you responded to the image — delight, disgust, indifference, confusion — prayerfully ponder the reason for your various responses and what they might mean for you.
As you go deeper into your prayer, open yourself to what the image might reveal to you.
What does it and the Holy Spirit want to say, evoke, make known, or express to you as you attend to it in quiet meditation?
Become aware of your feelings, thoughts, desires, and meanings brought up by the image: how they are directly connected to your life.
Does the image hold an important meaning or value for you: does it remind you of an important event or season, or suggest a new or different way of being?
What desires and longings are evoked in your prayer?
How do you find yourself wanting to respond to what you are experiencing?
Offer a prayer to G-d in ways that the image evokes: gratitude, supplication, wonder, lament, confession, dance, song, praise, etc.
As bring your prayer to close, bring to mind or jot down in a journal (whatever way is most helpful for you) the insights you want to remember, any actions you are invited to take, wisdom you hope to embody, or any feelings or thoughts you wish to express and remember.
Close your prayer by resting for a moment in God’s grace and love. May you see with newly open eyes, heart and mind many new images of G-d in the coming week.