Prepare the Way – Prayerful Tuesday

A New Day is Coming
A New Day is Coming

Matthew 3:3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

Unfortunately I never had children.  However, I have been blessed to be Grammy to my husband John’s two youngest grandchildren.  I remember how excited I was to hear our Daughter-in-Law, Laura, tell us she was pregnant and I could hardly wait to see this new addition to our family.  Liam was born on John’s birthday in 2007 and he is now 7 year old, actually soon to be 8 and is becoming a wonderful young man.

I have been thinking about what it took to prepare for Liam’s arrival.  So many things go into preparing for newborn; baby clothes, blankets, crib, diapers, binkies, blankets, toys, rattles, bottles, booties, the list is endless.  And you can be sure you will forget something in all the hustle bustle of getting ready.

We are in the first week of Advent and I was thinking about what Mary would have done to get ready.  The first thing she would have to do was tell her intended husband she was pregnant and I can only imagine how the conversation went.

“Ah Joseph, I have to tell you something.”

“Yes Mary what is it.”

“Now I want you sit down and listen to what I say, I know it will be hard to understand, I don’t understand myself, but this is the truth.”

“Just tell me Mary, it will be ok.”

“ Weeell, 3 months ago I was visited by an angel of the Lord and he told me that I had been chosen above all other women, to bear the child of the Most High. He said the Holy Spirit would come upon me and, ah, it happened, I’m pregnant.”

Silence.

“ Ah, Mary , you are telling me your pregnant, and it is YHYW’s child. That’s a little hard to believe.”

“I know but, before you do anything, like report me to the temple authorities, just think about it.”

“Ok, I’ll think about it, but this I will tell you the wedding is off but I won’t have you taken before the authorities, I still love you and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“You will know what’s best to do Joseph.”

Mary was a teenager, maybe as young as 13 years, and being an unwed mother in the first century was not an acceptable practice. Stoning of the woman was the rule and Mary had every right to be afraid.  She didn’t know what Joseph would do.  She didn’t know that He would be visited by the same angel who would tell him he has nothing to fear.  Mary, like any young woman who finds herself pregnant, was fearful of what could happen to her.  Just preparing to tell those she hoped loved her would be a fearful experience. Her pregnancy would bring shame and humiliation upon her family and Joseph so simply getting the courage to tell of her predicament would take time.  Maybe that is why she went to visit her Cousin Elizabeth to gather the courage to tell her wonderful, terrifying secret.

In the next 4 weeks we too will be preparing.  No we aren’t in Mary’s sandals, but, we have those things that terrify us as we get ready for the celebration the Christ Child’s birth.  We have our own secrets that we keep buried within us. In the last couple of years the racial bias, gender bias, bias against women, poor, and elderly have come out into the open.  All of us, me included, carry some level of all those biases.  It is learning to admit that I, we all, carry fear toward someone different that raises those fears and biases from subconscious to conscious where they light of day can heal them.

Advent is about preparation, it is about hope, it is about faith, it is about love, it is about peace entering where angels fear to tread.  This advent I am taking my fears out of the shadows and finding the way to heal the wounds they cause. Letting the light of hope, faith, and love change them from fear to acceptance.  In prayer, in meditation, and with Advent prayer books I am working, trying hard, to change how I see the world.

What fears, what biases cause you to afraid of someone from a different faith, with a different color skin, is poor, or elderly keeping you from experiencing the amazing peace, hope, faith and love that the presence of the Christ child offers to you?  I invite you to ponder the above scripture this week, to pray about how to prepare your heart for the celebration of the Christ’s birth.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 2, 2014

Prepare — Prayerful Tuesday

Preparing Split Pea Soup
Preparing Split Pea Soup

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.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 25, 2014

The Spiritual Practice of Giving – Prayerful Tuesday

Being, A Light  In The Darkness
Being, A Light
In The Darkness

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.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 18, 2014

Choose . . .

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Words are many things:
hurtful, uplifting, loving, hateful,
words are either —
fertilizer for the growth of new life, … or
poison for the soul.

Actions do many things:
open or close door, feed or starve  the hungry,
actions can —
lift up the soul into the sun, … or
drive the soul into the ground.

Life versus existence
which will it be.

To live life means;
speaking for the voiceless,
encouraging the timid, guiding the young,
sharing from your abundance,  and
laughing until the dawn.

To exist means:
storing your treasures in leaking vessels,
hiding fearfully behind walls of your own making,
distrusting those closest to you,  and
being alone even in a crowd.

Life is to be lived
to share good fortune and bad,
to share laughter and tears,
to offer a helping hand,
to dance and sing together

Giving is better than hording
light of life is better than the darkness of existence.
Life for all is at its best when
all have what they need, enough
encouragement, love, compassion, justice, mercy.

I choose life

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2014

Prayer Leading to Action – Prayerful Tuesday

13.07.10 sunrise for blog

 

I have been reading a book titled Never Pray Again[1] that explores prayer leading into action.  I have always been an advocate of prayer that gets me moving in the right direction.  I want prayers that get me up out of my chair, out of my house, out into my neighborhood and community to do my small part in fighting injustice, cleaning up creation, or sitting with someone in need of a friend.  Like the authors I believe that when we say those magic words “I will pray for you” all to often we think that is all we have to do, and that isn’t quite right.  God does answer prayers, but God cannot do it alone.  God needs our arms and legs, and yes even our imagination, to get the job done. We are to not just offer prayers of intercession but also intercede on behalf of those who cannot act by themselves.  We are not to just offer prayers of healing but also enable and encourage those who are wounded so that they may become whole members of the community.  We are not to just to offer prayers of support but also get out on the street and offer ourselves in support of those in need.  We are to shower the love God has gifted us with onto everyone we meet, whether they are friend or enemy.

Just imagine what the world would look like if this became the radical new trend. I can hardly contain myself because it is such an exciting thought.  But reality will and does set in to temper my enthusiasm.  Because I know, and you know, that isn’t happening anytime soon, but we have to start somewhere.  Here are 2 possible things to do that are suggested by the authors:

  1. The next time you someone begging go and grab a couple of meals and sit down with that person and listen to them talk about their problems. When you both have finished your meal thank them and the next time you see them acknowledge them instead of passing them by.  If you can’t sit down with them then, at the very least, give them the meal and ask for their name so you might respond to them as a fellow traveler.
  2. Invite and outsider in.  Find a new person, in your apartment building, neighborhood, workplace or school and invite them to lunch or tea and coffee.  Even if they may not “fit-in” with your normal social group listen to them and get to know them as a person, someone with their own dreams and aspirations.  You might invite them to something you do regularly with others, not as a token, but as a real invitation.

Both of these activities are prayer in action, reaching out to those who we might never have met, sharing ourselves, offering respect, leading to a new wholeness in all.  This is what Jesus did.  If we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus aren’t we obligated to do what he taught us?

Ruth Jewell, ©June 3, 2014

 

[1] Clark, A; D. Hagler; N. Larson, Never Pray Again, Chalice Press, 2014

To Offend the Pharisees – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 5;20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

For some reason one of the major meanings of Matt 5: 20 keeps popping up on FaceBook, newspapers, lots of places.  I keep seeing cartoons and memes like these all over the place:

live like Jesus    Wm Wordsworth

Do you think someone is trying to tell us something.

To exceed righteousness of the Pharisees was to be the mirror for the light of God, which meant you don’t see the mirror only the light it reflects.  Living like Jesus is a spiritual practice.  Doing kind and loving acts for others is a spiritual practice.  We don’t have to be thanked for what we do, in fact it is best and most satisfying when such acts are not noticed by anyone other than the Divine.

I challenge each of you this week to do the random act of kindness for someone without letting them know it was you.  Or stop and give a sandwich to a homeless person on the street and simply walk away without thanks.  Give graciously of yourself without asking for anything in return.  Little things, such as smiling to a busy checkout clerk, can make someone’s world a better place to live in. Starting with little acts gives us the courage to do larger acts of justice and kindness. They are one step on the road to a life lived like Jesus.

I have only one request, PLEASE, let me know what you have done and how it made you feel.  I know that this sounds counterintuitive but it isn’t really.  What you are doing will be witnessing to others that they too can change the world, maybe not the whole world but someone’s world.  Think of it this way, if the Gospel writers hadn’t recorded what Jesus did we wouldn’t know how to live like Him. Pass on the gift so others can continue to move it forward.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 11, 2014-02-14

 

Intention as a Spiritual Practice – Prayerful Tuesday

 

Brokenbread

Matthew 5:13-20: (NRSV) 

 13You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
   14You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
   19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I am preaching on Matthew 5:13-20 next Sunday, February 9th, and as I have read and re-read this scripture I have discovered Jesus is talking about a spiritual practice, the spiritual practice of intention.  Everything Jesus did was intentional. He started every day knowing he was going to do the will of the Father, his Father, his Abba.  In this portion of his Sermon on the Mount he is trying to teach all of us we must be intentional about our actions in the world.  It isn’t good enough to say we believe in justice and kindness, rather we are commanded to actually get up out of our chairs and actively walk with God as God continually creates our world and DO justice and kindness. So my spiritual practice for this week is “Intention as a Spiritual Practice.”

You are probably saying right now “well duh” everyone knows that.  If we all know that we are to do justice, kindness, and mercy then why don’t we?  It is because it is easy to say we are going stand up to injustice but it is much harder to actually get out there and get your hands dirty.  So I am going to give you a few suggestion that are simple everyday things you can do just to get you started and in the habit of living an intentional life.

In his book Everyday Spiritual Practice, Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life Scott Alexander explains why a spiritual practices is different from a casual hobby, and “the answer is intentionality, regularity, and depth . . . what shapes your efforts into an everyday spiritual practice is your commitment to making the activity a regular and significant part of your life.”[1]
In addition an everyday practices doesn’t have to be complicated, take a great deal of time, or be physically or economically challenging, it just has to be done every day.

Alexander’s book offers many different activities from the very simple to the more difficult and I am going to suggest only a couple of the less difficult ones to get you started.  I also suggest you find Alexander’s book and read some of the practices if these do not appeal to you.

Everyday Spiritual Practice number 1 is probably the simplest of all to start but can be a hard one to carry out.  Every morning when you arise from sleep say the following:  “Today I will offer kindness to each person and creature I meet this day.”  Then follow through, no matter how frustrated you become during an event.  My suggestion is to repeat your intention several times during the day until the act of offering kindness becomes second nature to you.

Everyday Spiritual Practice number 2 involves caring for the world we live in.  Begin each day with the following state: “I will conserve energy by turning out the lights when I leave a room.” Or you might use recycling, bicycling and/or use city transportation instead of driving as your goal.  What you do is important but it doesn’t have to be difficult and if your way to care for the earth is to eat more foods from the lower end of the food chain instead of taking a bus to work, good for you.

Ok just one more to begin.  Everyday Spiritual Practice number 3 involves the relationships we have with others.  Repeat throughout your day: “I will treat those I live, work, and play with with the respect and kindness they deserve as family members, co-workers, friends, for all are my brothers and sisters of God.”

You might be saying these don’t feel very spiritual to me.  But, what I am saying is that to BE a spiritual being and the being God desires us to be is to approach everything we do, every moment, every day as if we were doing it for the one we call God because in reality we are.

Jesus tells us “as you do it for the least of these you do it for me.”  So when you offer a heartfelt word of thanks to the harried checkout clerk in Safeway you are behaving as Jesus would want you behave and who knows maybe, just maybe, that was Jesus and you didn’t know it.

You see the Spiritual Practice of Intention is basic to walking in the Way of Jesus. Whether you are preparing dinner for your family, taking a casserole to someone who is ill or grieving, or stopping to help a homeless person by offering them half of the sandwich you are carrying all of those are Spiritual Practices. When we place the love of the Divine in front row of the action we are doing a spiritual practice.  Jesus said “let your light shine before others” and how we do that is by gifting our light to those who are struggling in darkness.  Our light will not diminish by giving it away; it grows brighter because more people are shinning with its glow.

Ruth Jewell, © February 4, 2014


[1] Alexander, Scott W.(editor): Everyday Spiritual Practice, Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life, Skinner House  Books, Boston, MA 1999 Pg. 5