Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth PS 66.1

Photo from the Clergy Coaching Network, September 23, 2019

I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the details of the wedding.  We live a joyless faith.

Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that violence tips the scale.  In Christianity the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But that is not what we hear.

 Why are the happy times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who.  That is not the world I want to live in, but it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.

Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need.  Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard” resources.  There are enough resources on this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer, or go hungry.

We have that inequality because we have people who claim ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill, to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish, we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.  

But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words, visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very sad.

So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden” where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.  I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.

All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about, rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.  When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?) we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.

We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.

We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest, and we will take the rest of creation with us.  I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 23, 2019

Morning’s Lectio Divina

 

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Fire in Yosemite National Park, October 2017

It has been some time since I’ve posted something on my blog and the time away has been interesting, restful, and thoughtful. Over the last several months I have practiced three spiritual practices, Meditation, walking prayer, and Lectio Divina that have fed my soul and reawakened my imagination and inspiration, and yes, a little rebellion. Lectio Divina has been most important in raising my awareness of myself and the world around me and I have had a growing desire to share what I hear, feel, and see in scripture meditation. I claim no special expertise or knowledge only heartfelt understanding from my perspective a pericope. I pray that if you meditate on the same scriptures you will find your own insights and open doors.

Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!

Meditation:

Reading 1: beloved; judge; righteousness;
Reading 2: break down; devoured; justice; bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry;

This pericope is about God’s justice for Judah for failing to be a people who embrace mercy, justice, peace, and compassion. I sit here and somehow feel we are in the same place now as the people of Judah in 800 BCE. I wouldn’t be surprised if God does something to today’s vineyard, actually I would find God’s action a relief from the horrendous tension.

There are many levels of interpretation to this scripture but on one level we can see how God’s plea to Judah as a plea to us today. After all this country is slipping into a pattern not that different from Judah, or Israel. We have political leaders claiming a faith in God and Christ yet fail to do justice, protect the innocent, or welcome the stranger. These men, and they are mostly men but also women, claim the Bible sanctions their actions of separating children from their parents, cutting health care to the young and the elderly, making health care to expensive for even the average citizen to have, and raising taxes to a level that will keep the poor poorer, and the wealthy wealthier. None of that is sanctioned by God or Christ.

In this passage Isaiah tells the people of Judah God’s justice will result in their destruction. I know God will eventually offer forgiveness (I’ve read ahead) but here Judah doesn’t know that. All they hear, if they are listening, is their little kingdom is going to be destroyed and God tells them why. God expected justice but saw only bloodshed, righteousness but heard only cries of despair and pain and for failing to be the fruit of God’s vineyard they will face destruction and despair.

The parallel between Judah and the United States is too close. There is little justice coming out of Washington D.C., but there is a great deal of turning away from doing good and right. There is no justifiable actions coming from the White House or Congress, only unethical, and morally bankrupt rhetoric from people who enjoy causing pain and suffering on others.

This government likes to call on the scripture to justify their actions. They take a short phrase out of context and wave it around like a sword. The truth is that scripture condemns them as apostates. They embrace the exact opposite of the teachings of God and Jesus. By their own words they have renounced a faith in God in favor of a faith in only themselves. They are their own god!

I cannot call them Christian, or a follower of The God of Abraham, no, they have no faith recognized by those who believe God’s mandate of Justice, Mercy, Compassion and Peace. Isaiah warned Judah what would happen, they didn’t listen and I doubt todays version of Judah will listen either.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 21, 2018

Taking Care—Prayerful Tuesday

The Scream by Van Gogh
The Scream by Van Gogh

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.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 20, 2015

My 2015 New Years Resolution – Prayerful Tuesday

Cape Cod, Ruth Jewell 2008
Cape Cod, Ruth Jewell
2008

I have been contemplating making a resolution this year.  My track record for keeping resolutions is poorer at best as I rarely make it past Jan 2nd but, maybe this year will be different. You see I am actually thinking about a resolution that fits my life style rather than dramatically changing it. Keeping expectations low can’t hurt this process.

My 2015 resolution is to deepen my prayer life.

I am going to accomplish in two steps.  First I am going to carry a small blank book with me at all times where I can record names of people I am asked to hold in prayer.  That way I won’t forget the name of the person needing prayer even if I don’t know them well or not at all.  I already set aside a portion of my meditation time for intercessory prayers but I often forget the names of those who have asked for prayer.  When that happens the best I can do is a general prayer that holds up everyone who is ill and suffering, while this is lovely and includes the individual it has lost the personal feeling for my prayer.

The second act is to begin practicing a new spiritual practice called “Dedicated Suffering”[1] presented by Jane Marie Thibault in her book Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, co-authored by Richard L. Morgan.  The purpose is to take the energy surrounding my suffering and asking Christ to ‘transform it into loving-kindness for the chosen person or group being held in prayer.

In the last few years I have had an increasing amount of physical pain in my life and a lot of my life energy is involved with minimizing that pain.  Ms Thibault developed a way to dedicate that energy to Jesus as a gift, then asking Jesus to change that gift into love for a person being held in prayer.

Since I have been doing this only a few days I can’t say I notice major any changes in my life but like all spiritual practices you have to do for a while before you see anything new.  That is why it is called ‘practice.’

As we grow older chronic pain and suffering increases and often limits what we can accomplish each day.  The practice of Dedicated Suffering offers a way to extend our prayers to others and puts the energy of our pain and suffering to good purpose. I offer the following instructions so you may try it for yourselves.  Maybe at the end of 2015 we can compare notes and see how gifting our energy to Christ to provide loving-kindness to those in need has changed our lives.

Dedicating Your Pain and Suffering to Help Others

  1. Find yourself a quiet corner where you may sit silence for a few minutes. Focus on your pain and the energy you are expending to minimize it.
  2. Offer your suffering energy to Jesus as a gift.
  3. Select a person or group in need of your prayers then ask Jesus to accept the energy of you suffering and change it into love for that person or group.
  4. Spend a minute or two imagining Jesus sending love and help to the person or group.
  5. End by offering Jesus a word of gratitude.[2]

While I haven’t been doing this practice for a long time yet I do find that I feel less encumbered by my chronic pain and have just a bit more energy to be the person I am meant to be.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2015

 

[1] Thibault, Jane Marie and Richard L. Morgan: Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, Upper Room Books Nashville TN, 2012, Pgs 112-115.

[2] Ibid. pg. 113