Fall has finally arrived in the Northwest. The trees are shedding their leaves, my garden is clean all ready for winter, and the air has turned cold. The land is preparing to sleep until the earth shifts again and the warm sun returns. I took a walk through Yost Park with the dogs the other day and the air was rich with the scent of wet and rotting leaves. This is a time for animals to prepare for the coming winter when food is scarce and the land is cold and wet.
Fall is also a time for us to slow down, to sit with a cup of warm tea, coffee, or coco and let the seasons turn. A time to pull out the afghans and a good book. It is also a time of reflection. It is a time to remember the joys of spring and summer and the many joyful moments. A time to ask ourselves questions: what have I done this year that will leave it a better place? Have I spent time caring for others, standing up when injustice rears its ugly head? Have I taken care of my own spiritual needs? Have I remembered to stop, recharge and renew myself so that I will have the energy to be present to those in need? This is the time to look back at what I could have done better, and to look forward to how I will improve. It is also a time to reflect on how I have done my best with all I have even if I didn’t achieve all I wanted to; remembering that doing my best was enough.
This week I challenge you to sit down with a warm cup of something, or maybe a glass of wine, and spend some time on your past year. Let the joys and celebrations provide the energy to improve what didn’t go so well. Laugh, cry, and dance your memories of spring and summer. Remember the sun and wind on your face. Look back at your achievements and at what didn’t get done. It is a time to forgive yourself and others. Were you the best you could be? As the summer ended did you leave the earth a better place, did you care for the disadvantage, or do something to respond to the many, way too many, disasters of the last year? Look toward the coming year and ask yourself how can I be someone who cares about mercy, justice, and peace? How can I care for my own spiritual well being? These aren’t easy questions, and they may take many days to reflect on. But it is dark early now, and it’s cold outside so curl up in your lap robe and reflect on who you are.
May the coming days of fall and winter be a time of rest for your spirit and a time to prepare for the next spring and summer.
Genesis 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
‘Resting from our labors’, this is such a lovely phrase. Even God knew when to rest and let his new creation be. He even made it a sacred moment in time. While scripture identifies the seventh day as a time of rest for most of us there is no real strict rule as to when to take a day of rest, a time of Sabbath. Nor is there a set time limit for how long our rest should be.
Today is Tuesday and most likely you are in the midst of your busy lives. But, even when we are at our busiest we need, yes need, to take a moment out of our day to center ourselves in order for us to be the people of the Divine. So I am offering you those few moments. Take a few minutes and using the Visio Divina instructions below, let yourself rest in your quiet place. Find your center and spend a moment of rest with God.
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?
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 your thoughts as prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet center. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
Mark 4:26-29 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
This past spring John and I were on a 6½ week pilgrimage of sorts. Unfortunately 2 hours before we were to be picked up by Shuttle Express I fell in my office and tore or badly bruised the calf muscle of my left leg and also I refused to go to the emergency room because we would have missed our flight. Well, along with back issues, that fall meant I spent our holiday with a cane and walking as if I was 250 years old.
The fall and my, seemingly forever back problems, meant modifying some of our activities and learning to depend on the graciousness of people in New Zealand and on board our cruise ship.. I was helped by strangers I would never see again to walk up hills, across sand dunes, into cars, buses, and boats. All they asked for was a simple thank you and a smile. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to these angels in disguise. They made our visit to NZ and back to the states a trip of a life time.
Now many of you may also have noticed that I often have a motor mouth (in the case of blogging, motor writing) and when I offer thanks to someone I will chatter on nervously for 10 minutes. It took 6½ weeks for me to figure out that saying ‘thank you’ or ‘you are a blessing’ was all that was needed.
Learning to stop talking and listen has always been hard for me but what I have discovered this late in my life is when I stop with a smile and thank you I SEE the face of the angel who helped me. It doesn’t matter what nationality, or skin color, or language they speak, the light shines through. It isn’t just their job anymore it’s that they have been recognized for who they are. If I am not speaking or thinking of more to say, I see them for who they are.
You have also probably noticed I have just as much trouble, maybe more, in receiving gratitude. I am self-deprecating to the extreme. Probably because I was taught that nothing I did was to be done for any expectation of thanks. But on this trip I was more aware of not just offering thanks but of receiving the gift of graciousness and help. You see to offer thanks you have to have received something and that gift is hard one for me to accept. But I learned to stop explaining that I fell, or have a back giving out on me. I learned to simply take someone’s hand and lean on them for help without explaining how independent I normally am.
The scripture of Mark is one of giving and receiving. It is giving your time to sow and the harvest is the receiving of God’s blessing (didn’t think I’d work that in did you). What has finally sunk into my rather thick brain is giving and receiving God’s blessings comes in many forms and I am grateful for the giving and receiving of all the blessings from God’s hands I have received not just on our trip but in my whole lifetime. It may seem like a small thing but graciously accepting the assistance from a stranger gives me a gift of love and the giver a gift of grace. The Importance of keeping the ‘thank you’ short and sweet is that it focuses on the gift and the giver rather than my own ego. It works the other way as well. Keeping assistance I give to someone else also focuses on the gift I give and the receiver of the gift instead of me. The giver and the receiver receive the gift of grace and love. That is a beautifully thing and passing that gift on grows the grace between me and you and opens wider the door of the Kingdom of God.
To all of you, Thank you for being who you are, and many blessing on your many journeys.
Genesis 1:1-2, 2:7 1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
2:7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.
Amos 8:11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.
Have you ever been unable to breath? I mean you just couldn’t get air into your lungs. I have several friends who suffer from Asthma and they tell me it is the most frightening thing to happen to them. Without air we can’t live. It is the first requirement of life, the first thing we do upon birth is to take that first breath and the last thing we do at our passing is to let the last breath go.
Genesis tells us that air is the first gift God gave to the earth. I mean it says so right there in the second verse, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” and then in chapter 2 God brings man to life by breathing into his nostrils, breath is life. Without air we don’t live. Breath, ruach, spirit, is the palpable presence of God in our lives.
I guess that is what makes Amos’ words so scary to me. If the God I trust to be there when I am frightened tells me that She will no longer come to me, that she is separating himself from me that means no air, no breath, no spirit to enliven my life. I mean you can’t have words without breath and no words means no breath of God, no life.
With every inhalation we partake of God’s gift of life and with every exhalation we give back life. We have been doing it since our first breath at birth and will continue until we release our last breath at our dying. Breathing is a sacred act of life giving; it is the ultimate communion with God and each other. Turn to the person next to you and watch them breathe, the air they release is the air you take in and the air you release is the air they take in. Breathing is the most intimate act of our lives. Breathing connects us to all life, past, present, and future life.
Every breath we take has been blowing across this earth since God blew the wind across the waters. With ever inhalation we breathe there is a molecule of air breathed, and passed on to us, by Jesus on the cross, Moses as he spoke to the burning bush, Sarah as she delivered Isaac, Dinosaurs, Amos, even Hitler. We breathe air given to us as a life gift and how we use it depends on us.
This week I ask that you think about breathing and contemplate who is sharing your breath. Breathe deeply, take each breath into your lungs and feel the life fill you as your lungs inflate. Treat each breath as the gift from God that it is, and grace each exhalation with a gift of your own gratitude. Offer a prayer for those who struggle to breathe and remember how much their life, and yours, depends on the breath of God. Treat the air as sacred and refrain from fouling it with contaminants. With every breath you take this week let it be a prayer of thanks to God for the breath of life given at the beginning of time.
This last week I heard of the passing of Marcus Borg. I was sadden not just at his passing but because I have learned so much from his writings. I will miss reading his words and having them open up my understanding of Jesus as both human and Divine. Marcus Borg’s writings were instrumental in changing how I came to look at Jesus, the apostles, and the first century Christians. He made me think and doubt what I have always believed to be true and to take that doubt and turn it on its head by searching for answers and being comfortable with finding only more questions.
Because of Marcus Borg I began to read scripture, questioning the standard interpretations, searching for what the words printed in the Bible meant to those they were written to, the first century believers in Jesus. Borg’s books were my first window into the church of the 21st century and why, and how, it is so different from the community of believers in the 1st century. Reading Borg’s books were instrumental in giving me an interest in pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree and looking at the carefully at the path leading to ordination. Yes I will miss this Master of Theology who opened doors and, through his writings, fostered a love of scripture, sacred texts, theology, and history. Whose writing led me on a search for the divine and human Jesus that I wanted in my life.
We do not go through this life alone. There are many people, our mentors, who have walked and are walking with us. Some mentors we know, some mentors we request or go looking for, some we have not known they were mentors but were our companions for a while, showing us us how to live by living their own quiet, faithful lives. Some mentors never know they mentored us at all. Marcus Borg was one of my mentors who never knew he walked with me. I am grateful for his life and his words. I never met him, only read his books, but I felt ‘close’ to this incredible theologian who made Jesus and God accessible to me.
I will never be able to thank him, so, instead I will thank all of my other mentors while I still have time. My parents, my first grade teacher Miss Wooster, they taught me courage and determination. I am grateful for Pastors from childhood to adulthood that listened to my ravings and didn’t belittle me. I am grateful for my current pastor, and friend, Laurie, who has been the most gracious and gentle of mentors as I have grown in my faith. I am grateful for friends who let me be me, inspiring me to be the best friend I could be. I am grateful for my beloved John who has supported me through thick and thin as we have traveled this crazy new journey God has led us both on in the last 15 years.
I am grateful for the love, comfort, and companionship of dogs, cats and birds who have taught me the value of unconditional love. I am grateful for being able to live and work, and play in a world of great beauty, and sorrow. I am grateful for my life as it is and as it will be and I know that whatever life hands me I know I am not alone, there is always someone standing beside me to offer encouragement.
On this Prayerful Tuesday who are you grateful for? Who has walked with you on a difficult path or a path of exploration and great joy? Who walked with you, gave you insights, taught you a lesson of life that you didn’t recognize at the time? We all have people who have brought meaning to our lives, today offer your gratitude, your thanks for your life’s mentors.
Gracious Presence, I am grateful for all who walk, and have walked, with me on my very bumpy life’s journey. I am grateful for your presence as you have been with me always, even though I don’t recognize you. My spirit is grateful for all I have been given, and thankful for all that is yet to come. Amen.
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.
Holy Spirit as I sit at this groaning table today, looking so much like a Rockwell painting, help me to remember those in this world who are grateful for a simple bowl of rice and a cup of water. I often forget how much I really have and fail to remember those who huddle beneath a simple roof and sleep on a dirt floor.
As I sit in the safety of my home help me to remember there are people who look upon the evening sun grateful just to have survived another day. Help me to be mindful of your great blessings and learn to give more than I receive, to not waste what has been give me, and to share with those who can not help themselves.
Oh Holy Spirit, We thank you, for the feast we spread before us
thank you for the ground it was cradled in,
thank you for the sun and rain that nurtured it
thank you for the farmers who carefully harvested it
thank you for the hands that lovingly prepared it.
May this food feed our bodies
as You feed our souls. Amen
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.