“And the Lord Grieved”

“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart.”  – Genesis 6:6, NRSV)

fire rainbow b
Fire Rainbow Taken Spring 2015

This past weekend I was asked by a Facebook friend to comment on the following meme from the Celtic Christian Tradition.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” (www.facebook.com/CelticChristianTradition, April 30, 2016)

My friend is not a believer in Christianity but he and I have had many an interesting online discussion on faith and beliefs.  I have always found him to be an open minded and intelligent person and so I gladly responded to his request to comment.

“Well I don’t know if saying you believe in Jesus but don’t actually follow his teachings is a cause of atheism or not, but it certainly is the cause of so many to question the values of Christianity.  Just saying you believe in Jesus is like saying the ‘Sun rises in the East,’ it’s a statement. Being faithful to the teachings of Jesus however means you are loyal to those teachings and practice them, or at least do you your best to try, every day.  If you only use the words to carry a message of hate, domination and greed then you have become separated from God and are not longer the blessing you are meant to be.

There is Good in everything, human, animal, plant, all creation and it doesn’t matter how you see the Good.  It only matters that you do.  The Good is what keeps each of us rising up every morning, keeps us loving our neighbors regardless of who they are and keeps us part of the human family.  To deny the Good in anyone, any creature, any part of creation is to be cut off from what makes each of us human. I listen to the hatful rhetoric spouted each day in the news and I don’t see people of faith, I see lost souls, people cut off from what is good and right in our world, and that makes me very sad.

You know I call the Good God, but that is how I see the good in the world.  You see the Good in a different way, a way that gives you peace and a path to follow that is good in the world.  Others see the Good in other ways, but, no matter how we explain the Good to ourselves it is all the same Good. The name may be different but it is still what is Good and Right in the world. We all have the capacity to find and see the Good, whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist.  The Good is still there in the world, universe, all creation and as long as some of us are able to find, see, and honor the Good in each other and creation gives me hope that we will have a world to live in.

I look for the Good in those that hat that is what my tradition tells me to do. But even if that wasn’t part of my tradition I would still look because to otherwise brings me down to the level of those who hat and I don’t want to go there.  If those of us who believed in what is Good were a little more vocal we would drown out the voices of hate and all would know there are still people in this world who believe in doing good rather than speaking hate.”

After I wrote this I recognized how sad it is that there are so many who cannot, or will not see what is Good and Right in this world.  Everything in creation was created good, there was nothing evil or bad about anything brought into being.  Genesis 1:31a reads “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Every morning I see just how good creation is when I feel the warmth of the rising sun and hear the morning songs of birds.  So in my eyes the God is still active in the world I live in. Every creature in all creation is meant to be a blessing to all of creation and to be otherwise is to separate from God and all that is good.  To live outside of the love and light of God hurts God as much as it hurts those living in hate and darkness.  When God’s beloved creatures did first did evil God’s heart was broken (Genesis 6:6).  When we who are human do evil and practice hate instead of love and pretend it is what God wants, when we are not the blessing we are meant to be God calls out to us in pain in sorrow, “not in my Name.”

Every day the news media is filled with the words and images of people professing to be people of faith whose actions do not reflect a faith of any tradition.  So many people who call themselves people of faith in one breath prove they are not in the next breath when they deny the teachings of love, compassion and justice by spouting words of hate and denying justice to those in need.  Yet we who try to be followers of God, or the Good in the world, are enabling these lost souls by not speaking out against the injustice or not standing with those in need.  So we are not innocent by any means.

What do we do then?  We who stand for justice, mercy and compassion need to be the Isaiah’s, Micah’s, and Jeremiah’s of our day. Like the Apostles we need to be the ones who speak with love and compassion, letting those who speak hate that we know them for what they are, lost, wounded, souls and that we are sad for them and will stand with their victims.  None of that is easy, and we cannot expect to change everyone overnight, but, being who we are, blessings to the world, changes the world a little bit at a time.  Kindness and compassion never goes unrewarded and even in the darkest moment the single candle we light shines brighter than then darkness around it.

Ruth Jewell, ©May 2, 2016

not what you say but what you do matters – Prayerful Tuesday

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
–1 Peter 4:10

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet, 1821-1893Jesus Washing Peters Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893

My morning’s meditation topic was “service” and it started a train of thought (ok it was actually a brain worm but let’s not quibble) about how I “serve” others.  I must admit there are times when I am not very nice and I do it only because I have too or to prevent an argument.  I am quite good at rolling the old eyeballs in those instances.

But that is not what Jesus taught; the Gospel of Mark records Jesus saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35b) In fact all through scripture we are called to be God’s servants and, from my perspective, if we are all, humanity and creation, images, the manifestation of God in the world then it makes perfect sense that we are also servants of all we encounter, human or otherwise. To be a true witness of the resurrection is to serve, with joy, our fellow travelers on this planet.  That means caring for the earth and all that lives on it.  It means caring for those who cannot care for themselves, speaking up for those who have no voice and doing all with grace and with every ounce of our God given gifts. One of my favorite rituals is foot or hand washing.  To personally hold someone’s hand or foot in your hands, pouring the water over them, wrapping them in a towel and then look them in their eyes and tell them they are beloved by God gives me chills.

But rituals aside service means anything that places you in the position of servant.  Cleaning the home of an elderly friend or family member, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden when you know the owner can’t bend over anymore, creating a garden and sharing the harvest with neighbors or a shelter all are ways we may offer our service.  But there are even simpler ones that often get overlooked; such as picking someone up for an event, calling on the ill, taking out the garbage or keeping a room clean.  These are services that make life easier for others and, when done with joy, happiness in our own lives.

So this week I am challenging you to 1) notice when you do a simple act of service, and 2) if the opportunity comes up to offer your special gifts to others to give it a try.  When you do you are witnessing the resurrection in action and love blossoms.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 19, 2016

To Love is to be like God – Prayerful Tuesday

“And of His Signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves
that you might find peace of mind in them,
and He put between you love and compassion
al-Qur’an 30.21

beautiful-love-heart-on-sand-wallpaper, image Public domain
Public Domain Photo

With one silent laugh
You tilted the night
And the garden ran with stars.
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi

To love someone, especially someone who doesn’t expect you to love them, may be the most important of the spiritual practices. Love is a grace of God given freely to all and as Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Love in your heart isn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.” God put love in our hearts to be shared with all creation, not just humanity but animals, flowers, and yes, even rocks. To truly love is as close as we get to being the image of God.

This week share your love with a family member, a friend, an adversary, an enemy. Let the love in your heart out and be God’s image in the world.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2016

Trust in God? – Prayerful Tuesday

Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14, 21:  10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

Clip art by Microsoft
Clip art by Microsoft

I have begun a yearlong meditation discipline with the book A Year with God[1] by Richard J. Foster and Julia L Roller, which I am very excited about.  Yesterday the above Scripture from Exodus was my morning reading.  As I read it I thought about what it means to trust in God.  In Speaking Christian[2] Marcus Borg says trust and faith mean essentially the same thing.  So Moses was asking the Israelites to have faith that God would provide help.  What Moses wanted the Israelites to understand was they needed to let go of their idea of planning ahead and of knowing what will happen next. God may have a plan but we don’t know what that is and God is not going to tells us what the plan is, until the moment it happens. In this case God’s plan was to divide the waters of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.  Fundamentally to have faith/trust in God means we must let go of the control of our own lives and let God provide, for most people that is a scary thing to do. Usually we only let go when we are at a point when nothing else has worked.  All our plans have fallen through, and we are at a dead end with no place to go except call on God.  For most people God is the safety net we rely on and I for one am grateful of that net.

The meditation questions provided with the lesson brought back uncomfortable memories in my life when I had reached my own dead ends and didn’t know where to turn next.  I remember feeling lost, frightened, terrified really, at the prospects I imagined lay before me.  In the dark night of my soul I called out to God and said “I give up, I can’t do this anymore, help me.” I wanted God to be there, I needed God to be there, because I felt alone.  For me giving up and trusting in God and letting God plan the next move was scary but not as scary as the alternatives.  Letting go of the reins of my life released something inside of me and eventually things improved.  I can’t say what I experienced will happen for everyone but I can say giving to God what stresses us and beats us down improves the way we see the world.  Faith and trust are hard spiritual practices but are the foundation of all spiritual practices.  It doesn’t matter how you envision God, or what name you call the Divine letting the All Encompassing Presence be your safety net when you are troubled will give you hope in life.  The process may be slow; God works in God’s own time, but slow is better than not moving at all.

Spiritual Practice:  this week reflect on when in your life you have been able to trust God wholly when things fall apart.  If you haven’t had one of those moments do you think you could stand back and let God take over provide the solution?

As you journey on your path this week, may Christ be there to give you courage, may the Holy Spirit smooth your road, and when you are weary may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 5, 2016

[1] Foster, Richard J. and Julia L. Roller editors, A Year With God, Harper One, New York, NY, 2009.

[2] Borg, Marcus J: Speaking Christian, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1989, pg 120-123.

I Choose . . .

Microsoft ClipArt
Microsoft ClipArt

 

For the past two years I have been wrestling with how my ministry would be expressed in the world.  This discernment journey has taken me “around the block” and back again many times and during this past summer I had finally made my decision, I choose not to be ordained in my denomination of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I choose not to be a pastor, or a chaplain, or even a spiritual director. I choose to be something else, what that something is has only just begun to take shape.

This may seem inconsequential to most of you but for me it has been a difficult decision.  I graduated in 2013 with my Masters of Divinity (MDiv.) degree and it was with the intention of being ordained, primarily because I believed that is what one did when one received an MDiv. But you see it wasn’t my intention when I entered the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Seattle University in 2007.  At that time I just wanted to be better informed in order to conduct Labyrinth retreats with more meaning.  What happened as I progressed through my degree programs of Spiritual Transformation and MDiv I discovered I had talent and passion for learning and I wanted to share what I learned with others. And the truth of the matter is as an ordained pastor I would not be able to share all that I learned simply by the constraints of the job.  I actually would have a greater voice if I wasn’t ordained.

So I chose to be a scholar, a learner of faith with the purpose of spreading what I learn back in to the world.  This is important because we aren’t 1st century people; we live in the 21st century. That means we have a perspective on our faith that those living in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries did not have. We have a history of being, or not being, people of God, just as the Jewish people of the 1st century had a history of being, or not being, a people of God.  We have had our moments of living as God asked and we have had our moments when we have forgotten God, just as the Jewish people had and have. It is the task of the scholar to educate the people of God of their past and how can we do that if no one studies it?

In the last two years I have become interested in how our Christian faith is connected to our Jewish roots and to our younger sibling in the faith Islam and that interest has led me into the differences in how we read Holy Scripture as compared to our 1st to 3rd century faith ancestors, and the differences are striking. Those differences in perspective has shown me it is important for people to understand what the writings of Paul, Gospel Writers, Jewish Prophets, and Muslim Writers actually wanted their listeners to know, what was the message they were transmitting and how does that message resonate with us today.  All those authors wrote and spoke was revolutionary in their time and I want to recover, at least for myself, that revolutionary message.  I want to know what they wrote that was specific to their time and not relevant in the 21st century and what part of their message guides us forward into our own future. And, I want to share that news, that revolutionary news. I have no illusions that I am going to be another Marcus Borg, or a John Caputo, or anyone else who is way more learned in theology than I will ever be.  But I can read what they have learned and pass it on to those who will listen.

You see scholars are often, well nearly always, not thought of as being relevant to world.  When anyone envisions a scholar it is as a stuffy old man or woman who is a bit rumpled and surrounded by books and papers.  It is someone who is absent minded and lost in the past, with no idea about what is going on in the world today.  But that is not who learners/scholars are.

Scholars are connected to the world by stories, and threads of the past that live in the present and the future.  The old quotation “if we don’t remember the past we are doomed to repeat it,” has never had more meaning than in today’s world.  We are currently reliving a past history where the disadvantaged and those who are different from us are forgotten and made the objects of hate and fear.  It is the role of the scholar to remind the people of who they are, and whose they are.  It was the role of the prophets in Jewish History, it was the role of John the Baptist, and it was the role of Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad.  All of them called to their people to see each other, everyone, as themselves.  Today we have and had  people like President Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King who have called to us to remember and just like those who went before us too many are not listening.

I will never be an exalted a scholar like Desmond Tutu, or Elisabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague or Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza.  But in my small part maybe I can pass on their learning’s to someone who will become exalted. That is enough for me. As the saying goes I am a very small fish in a very large pond and I am happy with that. To give back what I have been blessed to receive is more than enough.

There are many others like me out there, people who read, and study waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they have discovered beyond academics or a very small circle of friends. What each has is a nugget of truth and bit wisdom that needs to be heard. This choice is not prestigious, very few scholars make it to super star status and I am grateful for that.  But the time has come for the telling of the past mistakes and success’. To help everyone remember that the eyes of the other are your eyes and to harm or denigrate the other is to harm and denigrate yourself. Scholars have a role to play in the world that is greater than writing dusty tomes that will be read by only a few.  The past is relevant to the present and the future and it is important that we remember that.  I would like to add my very small part to that story. To offer a tiny bit of knowledge that just might help someone else see the world differently.

My choice, my decision, my path not the easiest of routes to take, and it wasn’t an easy choice but I choose to be a learner, a scholar, a passer on of knowledge.

My prayer for all of you to listen with open mind and heart to what the teaching says, it just might change your life.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 15, 2015

An Opportunity for Grace in the Face of Hateful Protest

This is one of the most moving and forceful articles you will read this week.  Amy Piatt is a minister of the WORD in every way possible. Source: An Opportunity for Grace in the Face of Hateful Protest

Thinking Cool Thoughts with Lectio and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

 He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

 The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Yost Park, Edmonds WA March 1, 2007
Yost Park, Edmonds WA
March 1, 2007

You probably are thinking the heat has gotten to my brain, or maybe it’s the pain pills for my back pain. But, on one of the recent warm summer days I picked up a book of poetry and it opened up to one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost.  So in all this heat we’ve been having here in the Northwest I thought this might make for a peaceful, cool meditation using either Lectio Divina with the poem or Visio Divina with the photograph, or do both.

Lectio Divina with Poetry, using poetry to hear God in the silence

  1. Choose either a single verse or the whole poem portion you wish to focus your meditation on.
  2. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
  3. Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
  4. Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
  5. Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
  6. Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward?  Or maybe all of them are present in mediation.  Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God.  Give your insights to God.  Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
  7. Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.

Visio Divina with a Photograph

  1. 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.
  2. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the photo? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  3. 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.
  4. 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 the presence of  the Holy Spirit blow through your heart cooling your spirit and giving you new strength.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 28, 2015