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.
3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3
The other Sunday I and a friend of mine were in charge of the coffee hour after worship. It was going to be a cold November day and I wanted to do something different and special for people I care about. Cherry and I talked it over and decided, since there was an Elders meeting after worship, a light meal of homemade soup, salad and bread would be a perfect offering. Cherry decided on making a chicken soup and bringing the rolls. I decided on a vegetarian split pea soup and also brought the salad.
I have read and heard the words of the prophet Isaiah all of my life and have loved many of the songs and chants written around this verse. But as I was preparing the soup for Sunday the words struck me a little deeper. The picture above is the ingredients for my soup. Simple wholesome ingredients; dried split peas, herbs, and garlic and onions, from my own garden, and fresh carrots and celery from the farmers market go into making this really simple soup. (Recipe Below) As I scrubbed the carrots and celery I thought about who would eat my soup and in the process of browning chopped onions and garlic in olive oil the act of making the soup became an act of prayer.
The people who would share in my offering were the people of my faith community and any visitors we might have. People I love and care about, but, more than that, it was an extended sharing from the communion table. The breaking of bread, the ladling of hot soup all became part of the feast Christ sets before us every Sunday.
As a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we prepare and offer communion every Sunday. We carefully set out bread and cup and share it with each other and as I prepared this simple meal that would be served after worship we were continuing a 2000 year old tradition of breaking bread and pouring cup then going in to share a common meal. That is what the first followers of Jesus did. They shared more than just a piece of bread and thimble full of wine. They shared a whole meal together, rich or poor, aristocrat or tent maker, all ate from the same serving bowl.
I have helped prepare and serve hot meals for the homeless, and I routinely make up food bags to give to the homeless I see on the streets and while I may not sit down with each person I offer food too it is still communion. It is a sharing of food, and drink, and recognizing that what I give doesn’t come from me, but from God, Christ, and Holy Spirit. I am only the servant who is trying to fulfill Christ’s commandment; “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25:35)
In the process of preparing to serve others I am preparing to serve Jesus, to follow, as faithfully as possible, the path Jesus leads me on. I know I will stumble, but Jesus will be there to pick me up; I will wander off the path, but the Holy Spirit will be there to lead me back; and I will grow weary, but God will be there to cradle me in her arms until I am rested.
The spiritual practice I am inviting you to share in this Advent season is to find the sacred in all that you are preparing for your own celebrations. In what ways are you preparing for the Lord in your everyday life? With whom will you celebrate the feast of God? As you await the birth of the Christ child let your preparations become an act of prayer, for those you love and those you may not know.
May the peace of Christ be with you, always
Ruth’s Pea Soup about 8 servings
1 lb. dry green or yellow peas
3 quarts of cold water (or 1 qt vegetable stock and 2 quarts cold water)
1 large carrot, sliced in to small pieces
1 small celery stick chopped
1/8 cup olive oil
1 small onion or 4 large green onions
4 large cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped fine
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (I like fresh rosemary, summer savory, and thyme)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Pepper to taste
In the bottom of a large pot sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the turmeric, stir then add the carrots and celery. Add the peas and cold water into a large saucepan; add the herbs and salt to the saucepan; add the pepper to taste. Cook over low to medium heat until the peas are very soft. Remove from the heat and run through a ricer or press through a colander to remove the hulls. Return the soup to the saucepan and heat to eating temperature. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.
Notes: Use only 1 teaspoon of dried mint or herbs when substituting for fresh. I will use whatever fresh herbs I have on hand but I prefer 1 tablespoon each of fresh thyme and summer savory. If you want a more salty taste you can add a teaspoon of spike or one of the other herbal salt substitutes when cooking. I also like to sprinkle fresh chopped chives (either onion or garlic) over the sour cream or yogurt when serving.
Source: A Ruth Thompson original recipe that I first made sometime in early 1980’s.
I am one of many people who do not look forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas. To me this time of the year represents the loss of way to many people I have cared about. So I usually don’t do much celebration and what I do is forced and tiring. Instead of celebrating the way most people do I have always used this time of year for reflection and giving to those in need.
All year round I practice the Spiritual Practice of giving, donating to those who are in need, but at this time of the year it takes on new meaning and helps with the depression I get every year. I practice this in many different ways; collecting food for the Food Bank, going through my closet and donating clothes I haven’t worn all year to Goodwill or the Salvation army, volunteer at a shelter, gather up grocery bags of food that includes dog food, blankets, caps, gloves and socks and hand them out to the homeless I encounter on the street. All of my giving is anonymous with no concern for what the gift is used for or any expectation of being repaid. And, while I know my small efforts won’t change much doing something for someone else helps me remember how good my life is and that despite feeling depressed I actually have a life worth sharing.
This week’s Spiritual Practice is the Practice of Giving, of sharing from your abundance without strings attached, just giving out of the love you have of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, and all of humanity. I would also like to recommend that this Spiritual Practice of Giving extend through the New Year. Do something each week where you give to those who need it in some way; the food bank, shelters, or someone on the street. Even if all you give is a welcome and a smile that acknowledges the humanity of all people that is more than some people will get all year.
May you find new ways to share your compassion for those in need, giving out of your abundant life to ensure others will have life.