“I would know you, I would know myself!” This is the second week of my gift to myself to read a book a week. I’m going again with a shorter book while I reawaken my reading skills, but shorter does not mean lesser or lighter! This week I read a classic from the late Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer.
So many quotes I want to share, so many insights and amazing turns of phrase. It’s a book written primarily for those in the monastic vocation, but still accessible by all people. It is a book on prayer, really a collection of short essays on the practice and necessity of prayer: “…all Christians ought, theoretically at least, to have enough interest in prayer to be able to read and make use of what is here said for monks, adapting it to the circumstances of their own vocation. Certainly, in the pressures of modern urban life, many will face the need for a certain interior silence and discipline simply to keep themselves together, to maintain their human and Christian identity and their spiritual freedom.”
Merton reminds us that contemplative prayer will always be at its base simple. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a large measure of hope. I won’t bore you with a synopsis of all points throughout the book, I’m not the best reader or writer to do that. I would like to share however one particular desire kindled in me by the book: to learn some Latin! I so resonate with a simple prayer of the earliest monks: “Deus in adjutorium meum intende!” The opening line of Psalm 70, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me!” And the simplicity of this prayer snippet from St. Augustine of Hippo: “Noverim te noverim me” I would know you, I would know myself. Along with my weekly book reading stack I now have a fresh copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Latin. I’m already into the second chapter. *^_^*
It’s a blessing to have a book in this second week of my book-a-week gift to myself to remind me so pointedly that we are all pilgrims on a journey, no competition to arrive, just a need to keep moving. “We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all of our life!”
With a new year just around the corner many of us are thinking about the intentions we would carry forward, the regrets we’d leave behind and the treasures we would maintain. Of course the date doesn’t matter that much, but it’s always a welcome gift to be in a liminal moment, a place of change and even renewal, when our hearts and minds are bent naturally to reflect and to dream.
One year closes and another opens. What will my new year bring? What will I bring to the new year? As people of faith we believe that God goes with us, and that God knows what awaits us… but we also know all too well that our faith is not in what we see but in what we hope. As much as God might know, we do not. This is the essence of hope. This is why we take such tight hold on these times to reflect and to dream. Hope is this intersection of what is not known and what is known. We recognize that the coming year has so much we cannot yet see, but also that God walks beside us, going before us, and coming after. Days of lightness and days of darkness are the same, rain and shine both speak of God’s presence, for in Christ all matter has been sung the song of love.
Still, to stand and look across the divide from one year to the next is exciting. I look back and see that I have too often neglected prayer. I have too often neglected to study. I have too often neglected to love. I see also that God has both ministered to me through the many and various people in my life, and God has ministered to them through me. God’s will is done regardless of my prayer, but I would have eyes wide open and be awake to see as much as I can. So I look out at the coming year and I pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Perhaps the deepest blessing of a past year in which I did not see myself doing all that I should have done is seeing all that was done in spite of me, and in spite of any of my failing, and just beyond it to see God’s smile. To be reminded that almost there is sometimes exactly the place where I was going to be regardless of my effort or my intention. Almost there was the place I needed to be. Almost there was there all along. This is the root of hope for a new year, and all the intentions I may place within it. I do not hope for a better year, but for the year that is needed, for me, for those I love, for all in this hurting world of conflict and hatred.
I intend so much for this new year. No doubt in twelve months I will look back with some regrets. No worries. As long as God is there, the rain and shine, the darkness and light, the ups and downs of my year will be just fine. Deus in adjutorium meum intende.
I was inspired recently by a friend who was finishing up a year of reading a book a week in 2016, and I honestly wondered if I could do the same. After some reflection, I’ve decided to take on this challenge in 2017, and I’m starting now in 2016’s Advent Season.
I can’t begin fully describe the deep blessing it has been to choose and read The Wounded Healer by the late Father Henri J.M. Nouwen this week. I’ve read many of his books, and I’ve owned this one for a long time, but I hadn’t applied the effort to read it. It is God’s steadfast grace that Father Nouwen is spending this time with me this week. This is most definitely not just going to be a new year’s resolution, but a gift to myself in 2017.
Father Nouwen has written a guidebook that though several decades old still has these amazing bits of wisdom to instruct and inspire. He focuses on several core values like compassion, presence and hope in ministry. He leads us from an expression of frantic faith based in worry and shame to a living faith in the shadow of our human suffering and joy that affirms our human connection to each other and says to the hurting and confused, “I am here.” He writes, “For a compassionate person nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.” Amen.
This is not a book like others of his that I have read in the past; this is a wholly different experience of Father Nouwen’s wisdom and gift. I recall reading his book In The Name of Jesus over and over when Teresa and I were in seminary, but The Wounded Healer strikes a different chord, a more human chord that grounds us firmly in the life of humanity, with all its struggles, failings and beauty. It challenges us to lay aside the formulae of conversion and salvation, the easy words and ritual and habit, and to be fully present, without judgement and recognizing God’s pervading love. “It is not the task of Christian leaders to go around nervously trying to redeem people, to save them at the last minute, to put them on the right track. For we are redeemed once and for all. Christian leaders are called to help others affirm this great news, and to make visible in daily events the fact that behind the dirty curtain of our painful symptoms there is something great to be seen: the face of God in whose image we are shaped.”
I’ve made new year’s resolutions before, and failed. I’ve made new year’s resolutions and succeeded. I make this one with hope and with the joy of God’s blessing on this week’s reading. What will you give to yourself in the coming year? Choose something good, ok?
Today marks the beginning of a new Advent Season, a new year for the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Some of the passages for this special day pulse with the theme of peace and call us to a mental posture of prayer and sobriety. It feels right to stop and think on peace in such times of disagreement, civil unrest and conflict around the world.
Perhaps we can embrace a posture of seeking and desiring more peace. Perhaps getting drunk on power and lust is not going to make the world so needed by our millions of hurting neighbors. Perhaps we can begin in this new advent Season to speak more and act decisively and help create a greater peace in our homes, school, communities, nations and world. Perhaps the only question is if we will, not if we can.
Allow me to share some of today’s good stuff.
Today’s Collect… Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
From Psalm 122… Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and quietness within your towers. For my brethren and companions’ sake, I pray for your prosperity. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”
From Isaiah 2… For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
From Romans 3… You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
And from Jesus in Matthew 24… Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
And I’d like to end with a benediction we often hear at St. John’s, attributed to the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. It makes for in inspiring and challenging close to worship!
“May God give you Grace
never to sell yourself short!
Grace to risk something big
for something good!
Grace to remember
that the world is too dangerous
for anything but truth
and too small
for anything but Love!
The Blessing of God Almighty, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit be with us
now and remain with us this day and always.
You are not alone.
To every one of my Muslim friends and neighbors, you are not alone. The demonizing of your religion will not go unchallenged. Threats to discriminate against you because of your faith will not go unchallenged. You are our neighbors, friends and family. There are so many Americans, so many Christians, who will defend you.
To every immigrant, even those who came to us undocumented, you are not alone. We will still speak of your dignity and worth and celebrate our connection as human beings. You are our neighbors, our fellow humans, and you matter to us. Your children matter, and we will not leave them forsaken.
To every woman who feels that deep pain in their soul when men use and excuse demeaning language like “grab them by the pussy,” you are not alone. We will continue to hold people accountable for their words and actions. We will always speak of your value and we will defend your bodies and rights.
To every LGBTQ friend and neighbor, you are not alone. We have seen important civil liberties achieved in the last decade for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer minorities, and we will not sit idly by when those are threatened. You matter to us, and we will continue to safeguard your life and liberty.
To the millions who have healthcare for the first time, and those who finally have coverage even in the face of preexisting conditions, you are not alone. We will not sit idly by while your health is threatened by political games and rhetoric. We will fight for you and with you to keep the healthcare you so desperately need.
To our non-white friends and neighbors who have been vilified, faced condescension, and suffered demeaning, racist abuses, you are not alone. We will continue to stand with you for equality and truth. We will continue to work for a day when no one’s race or ethnicity is used as a weapon to disenfranchise, demean or discredit them.
To refugees around the world and those who have made it to US soil, you are not alone. We will not allow you to be further victimized by fear and suspicion, but will loudly proclaim your dignity, value and humanity. You are our sisters and brothers.
Those holding public offices change, but some things will never change. We will always stand together to create a better world, a safer world and a more beautiful world where our diverse gifts and shared dignity brighten every dark time. We will work harder each day to embrace love and accept our differences, and we will safeguard one another against all threats. We will stumble and we will misstep, but we will always rise and be better for our shared efforts.
You are not alone.
We are finally here… it’s crunch time. Today we’ll be wrapping up our General Election for the President of the United States. Millions have voted early, and we’ll be joined by millions more. Please take a deep breath and stand back for a moment; no matter who wins we will all be here on Wednesday, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Scripture has so much less to say about who we cast a vote for (as in none, no scripture at all) than about who we are going to be regardless of who is our President. Of course it matters who is the next President of our country, but I only control my one vote, not the election. There are many things in scripture to shape my personal values which should affect my vote, but we must admit that scripture primarily directly speaks to my submission to civil authority. Who I am, what I say and how I impact the world, is up to me. That’s the constant in my life, not the person holding our highest elected office. My own life, words and actions, are the responsibility I personally carry as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I can only guess how either candidate will make it easier or more difficult for me to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. Wait. Let me rephrase that… neither candidate will have any impact on my ability or responsibility to actively express my faith in God and my discipleship to Jesus Christ. And certainly as a Christian, I will be working as hard and as loud as I can to be sure that no one else faces any threat to their religious freedoms be they Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist, etc. For even though a person’s convictions and faith belong solely to the individual, we must safeguard everyone’s right and to openly and safely be themselves. No matter who is in that highest office we will be our brothers’ keepers, and our sisters’ keepers. We will continue to stand with sexual miniorities who may be denied their civil rights and we will work to help and welcome the globe’s most vulnerable populations in their own countries and when they are forced abroad seeking refuge. None of this changes, regardless of the election’s outcome. Stop thinking of the election as an end or a solution… it is simply one step, forward or backward, in the sojourn of a little slice of our species.
Do yourself a favor and after today’s election, take a deep breath and stop the uncivil and angry dialogue. Drop the anger and the fear. Stop believing every unfounded accusation and spin job. Neither candidate will enter office unscathed by this past year, and neither needs to enter office amid this continuing storm of uncivil mud slinging and promised reprisals. Hold them accountable fairly and unceasingly. We will each be part of the process of helping whomever is elected, and our whole country, move forward. And in four more years we’ll do it all again, a little worse or better for the journey. And in the meantime we’ll all keep working hard for the values and goals we most cherish.
We’ll pray and we will be our neighbor’s servant. This is our calling. Not power. Not domination. Not nation building. Serving, and not being served. And peace will be our legacy and our inheritance.
“O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land,
that we may be a people at peace among ourselves
and a blessing to other nations of the earth.”
Book of Common Prayer, Page 821
Oct. 31 ~ A dream: We can speak a world of bridges into existence. Every day. #civility
I have been humbled and excited to make a month’s journey thinking about civility. It’s been a great ride, intellectually and relationally, as we interacted on Twitter, Facebook and here! Thank you! Let’s live the dream! Let’s speak a world of bridges into reality where the spaces between us afford some beautiful views and vistas where only disconnect had been seen before!