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

Blind Bartimaeus, Questions. Answers? – Prayerful Tuesday

Mark 10:46-52 46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Jesus Healing Blind Bartimaeus El-Greco, 1578
Jesus Healing Blind Bartimaeus
El-Greco, 1578

We are rapidly approaching Holy Week and all of the exciting and heartbreaking moments the weeks brings.  In Mark the last story before the Triumphal Entry is of the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus that takes place as Jesus is traveling through Jericho to Jerusalem and his appointed fate.  I am offering the above painting by El-Greco for you to contemplate with the prayer practice of Visio Divina.  I have always found this story from the Gospel of Mark one of the most moving story of courage and faith in scripture.  Bartimaeus doesn’t know how close he is to Jesus; he simply calls out and has faith Jesus will answer him.  The questions Jesus asks of Bartimaeus also draw me into a deeper understanding of sight and I hope you will consider those questions and the responses as well.

May your sight be deepened in preparation for the coming week as your contemplate El‑Greco’s painting and the scripture lesson.

VISO DIVINA

  1. Study the picture 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.
  2. Read the Scripture lesson slowly and in meditation. Return to the painting does the scripture alter your perspective of the painting in anyway?  Do the questions and responses open new doors as you gaze at the painting?
  3. 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?
  4. 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? Place yourself in the place of Bartimaeus, and then in the place of a spectator, or one of the Disciples. Does your perspective Change?  What do you feel when you become Bartimaeus or a spectator?  Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  5. 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 Peace of God be with you as you travel the Holy Week Journey.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 24, 2015

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

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

God’s Surprise — Prayerful Tuesday

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God’s Surprise
Paraphrase of Luke 2:26-33

God sent a Messenger to a virgin engaged
to a man named Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgins name was Mary.
As he entered the Messenger greeted Mary:

Greetings!
You are beautiful with God’s beauty,
beautiful inside and out,
God be with you.

Mary was confused by these words
and wondered what this could mean,
but the Messenger said:

Mary, you have nothing to fear.
God has a surprise for you;
You will become pregnant
and give birth to a son
and you will name him Jesus

Ruth Jewell, ©December 24, 2013
(I used the NRSV, The Voice and The Message)

One Body

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1 Corinthians 12:12-13: 12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

This last week I have been giving a great deal of thought to the importance of all of the parts of the body. And, it has given me completely new insights on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. You see I had a blocked gland removed from the underside of my tongue on Thursday and I have learned just how dependent I am on every part of my body. I mean you try drinking, talking, even breathing without using your tongue for awhile and you will understand what I mean! However, given what has been happening in our nation’s capital it seems ironic that it is my tongue that is giving me a problem.

But enough of the gory details! Paul of course is writing to his wayward community in Corinth, which has a few problems getting along with each other. Does that sound familiar? Paul is telling his young Corinthian faith community they need each other because all of them are important and all are equal in the eyes of Christ. Not unlike the conflict we’ve been seeing in our nation’s capital this past week and I am afraid it will take another Apostle Paul for a resolution to this crisis to be resolved.

What might Paul tell our community today? Well one line he might repeat is “the body does not consist of one member but of many” and that each of the members is needed to perform some task that sustains the whole body. No part of the body could say “I do not belong to the body,” the tongue cannot say “I am in pain, so let the eye take my place,” trust me that isn’t going to happen. Just as the fireman cannot say to the man whose house is on fire I am to important to get my hands dirty, therefore I will not help you. That man’s house will burn down you can be pretty certain of that.

Today in Washington DC and in the rest of this country we have people who are saying just that. “I am to important to feed the hungry, or clothe the poor, or help the sick and elderly, or do anything that would make me see you as important in G-d’s eyes. I have my house with all of my barns stuffed with grain and produce that I have worked for and if you can’t take care of yourself, well that’s not my problem.” What these so called “important” people forget is that someone else prepared the ground, sowed the grain, harvested it and stacked it in his barn, they didn’t do it themselves. Just as in Jesus’ story of the rich man with all those full barns, G-d will come and say “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20) and it will be too late.

Paul told his community, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect: whereas our more respectable members do not need this.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23) Paul’s words ring with the same authority today as they did in the First Century, for those we hold in low esteem in our community are the ones who are harvesting our food, making our clothes and building our houses. Just because they don’t wear a suit and tie, or nice dresses doesn’t make them less valuable to the whole body of our communities. I would love to see the Speaker of the House in the fields of California harvesting lettuce; it would do him and the rest of our politicians good to do some really hard labor. There perspective on what is important would change dramatically, that is if they survive the 14-18 hour, 7 day a week job. Let them live for a year as an elderly person on Medicare and Social Security trying to make ends, trying to pay for food, rent and medical care on the little they have. Or, they could choose to take care of a family whose child has cancer or some other debilitating disorder. Let’s see if they could do any better with the medical bills and all the rest of the needs of a family on $50,000 a year.

Each of the “unimportant people” are part of the body of this country, and of the body of G-d. In fact according to G-d they are more important than those who sit in the “great halls of government.” For G-d tells us all “do not abuse any widow or orphan,” (Exodus 22:22) or “oppress a resident alien.” (Exodus 23:9) But those verses are conveniently forgotten.

We are all part of the body of G-d, of creation and the creator. We are all part of our country and world, whether you are a business person, a working person, a widow, a widower, orphan, or an immigrant to this country or any country. Each and every one of us is important to the wellbeing of us all and the Creator’s purpose for us as a whole people. No one is more important than the other; we all have our tasks to do in this life that will lead us into the next life. This week I learned a lesson that every part of the body is important no matter how insignificant I might think it is.

The tongue can be an instrument for good will, or a sword that hurts and divides us all. My tongue hasn’t always been a good instrument. Just like ever one else there here have been times when I have said hurtful things to others and I can’t take those words back, as much as I might wish too. Yet I have also spoken words of kindness and caring that I hope in the eyes and ears of G-d outweigh the bad.

This week has made me aware of the incredible gift of all parts of the body, the seemingly insignificant, and the ones that I erroneously hold in high honor. We all have the power to be good gifts of the body, the body of our country and world, and the body of the Spirit. No matter how insignificant each of us seems to be each is important to the functioning of this grand creation gifted to us by the creator. Paul ends his short discourse on gifts of the body with the words: “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Each of us has the potential within to do even greater things than we do. It takes each of us to encourage those gifts in each other such that we all prosper, just as the Creator wants.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 5, 2013

Prayerful Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Into the Wilderness
Into the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

An old Hebrew root for wilderness means “to speak,” {dabar – meaning “to speak” is a primitive root of midbar – meaning wilderness, a place where you can hear G-d speak}.  Those who traveled into the wilderness were outsiders, minorities, women and Judean peasants and they were the ones that heard G-d speak.  All too often we believe we have to be on the “inside” to hear G-d’s voice, we must “do it the right way” in order for G-d to notice us and accept us.  Yet that isn’t the way I’ve observed G-d work.  It is the outsider, the minority, the woman, the one who seems to be doing it all wrong that is called by G‑d.

How often do feel as if you are on the outside?  Might G-d be calling to you, inviting you into the wilderness, to hear the voice of the Creator? Today I invite to take this moment and breathe deeply.  Breathe out your burdens, worries, your cares and the responsibilities that weigh on you.  Sit in stillness and open up to G-d’s voice.  G-d will take your concerns and tend to them while you rest in G-d’s loving kindness and grade.  Breathe in G-d’s presence and love for you.  Remain still for 5 or 10 minutes in your inner silence and breathe the breath of G-d.

My prayer for you this day is that the stillness of this moment will remain within your heart all day letting you see G-d’s grace and blessings in all of the days tasks.

The Peace of G-d be upon you.

Ruth Jewell, September 10, 2013