Civility begins within and then manifests in speech and action. This is true of everything, good and bad, better and worse. Out of our hearts we incubate ideas and expressions that take form in our words and responses. For this reason our God is not just standing around waiting to slap our wrist and cluck at us, but God is working to rehabilitate our heart and inmost being!
Are we open to this? It’s one thing to capitulate and obey a greater power or a higher influence, but are we ready to allow ourselves to be fundamentally changed from the inside out? This is the difference between obeying the great sermon points in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 out of legal and religious obligation or allowing the Beatitude Statements in Matthew 5 to frame a change of our hearts and minds as we navigate the reorienting of life that Jesus presents for us to follow.
This is not Christianity 2.0 or any new innovation or deeper level… this is actually the beginning of religion and faith. Jesus often gave this invitation to people, “Follow me.” This is the invitation of a teacher, mentor and life-changer. This is an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we are, with Jesus’ help. And it’s an invitation to change.
Want to change the urges and reflexes of destructive negativity in your life? Begin by reflecting on your heart and cultivating a change there… work with energy and consistency to remove the negative things and plant beautiful things in their place. Where their is hurt and injury, sow some forgiveness. Where there is anger, sow some quiet and prayer. Where there is hatred, sow some empathy and hope. Christian saints and mystics often rooted this in their prayers: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis of Assisi.
Even as I begin a new year no longer serving a congregation as pastor and shepherd, I want to renew my commitment to being a spiritual friend and brother to you. And I have to remind you that I need you. Jesus didn’t invite one person or single individuals to follow this path of change, he called us into community, together. Let’s do this together. Let’s chat.
I’ve been making a weekly prayer intention for several years for our congregation at Church in Bethesda and for myself, but I’ve been wondering about continuing the practice now that I have left my pastoral duties with the congregation. After some thought and prayer I’ve decided to continue.
First, I do hope it blesses someone to have some weekly help with prayers. We all have time and even seasons when prayer is drier and more difficult to start. Second, it does help me to have it in mind and carry it as a daily reminder. Third, it’s a practice of intention, study and creativity that I don’t want to lose. Instead, I’m thinking of ways to expand on the weekly grace and what it’s intended to be.
This is a Presidential election year… oh my. In honor of the coming strife and internal warfare that we are about to incite, I thought we’d begin the year with another reminder of civility. For people of faith civility is actually at the core of who and how we are to be interacting with our communities, nation and world. Civility is scriptural. Civility is Christian. Civility is a core element of a life of faith.
I’m personally so tried of the arguing around the phrase “politically correct.” It gets used too often, sometimes to minimize our responsibility to one another, the exact opposite of its intention. Some people proudly say that they don’t care about being politically correct as an excuse or a prelude to their incivility, rudeness and meanness. Being non-politically correct has become a badge of honor to many, as they see the need for sensitivity toward others as a type of censorship. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Being sensitive of others is a foundation of civil discourse and a very deep, important spiritual practice. We must work hard to remove racial slurs and demonizing language from our daily and shared conversation. We need to speak and act in ways that welcome the other and invite the other to participate in life with us, even in disagreement and dissimilarity. Christian Dominion, our elevation and dominance in religious, political and social affairs where all others are supposed to be made to conform to speak and act and think as we do, is not a scriptural idea. Truly, our scriptures teach the opposite. We are the world’s servants, broken and spent for the world’s good.
God blesses all. God’s blessings are for all. This is a teaching of our Christ, and maybe one that we by and largely ignore as we deeply fear its implications. (Matthew 5:43-48) The faithful are not the sole object of God’s love and peace… we are invited to share God’s burden of being used to bring more love and peace to the human family and all of creation.
So, as we begin the new year and look forward to electing a new President to lead our country, let’s renew our intention of civility in speech and action. Let us refuse to follow voices of indignity, disrespect and disharmony. Seek the voices that speak to bind us in love and peace. Be a voice that builds others up.
Let’s chat about intention for a few minutes. Yes, there are days that drive us, and days that we need to leave open and easy for some sabbath rest… but I’m a believer that we need to be shaping our days with reflection and intention.
There’s nothing new in that opening statement. And there’s probably nothing terribly new in the following words, as we all know that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Still, as I start today with some reflection and intention I find myself with the blogging itch, so I’d like to share with you one of the ways I begin many of my days.
A couple of years ago I preached a message series at Church in Bethesda on seven practices that help facilitate transformation in our lives. The idea sounds terribly deep, but it’s actually a simple idea that there are things upon which we can focus thought and action that will affect the kind of positive change in life we desire. If you’re completely content and never want a single thing to change, then I don’t recommend this exercise.
The seven practices are repentance, prayer, stillness, study, sharing, service and ritual. Within the seven practices I tried to imagine the corresponding values or virtues they cultivate in life, things like integrity, vision, strength, wisdom, maturity, love and action.
In any given morning I take some time to pray and then think about the last few days and the coming day. How’s it been going? What have I not liked about my days? What has not gone as right as I would have liked? What can be better? What has been good? What do I want to keep going? I will often use my list of practices as well as the list of values to see if I am led to choose one or two of them to make some micro goals for the day.
As an example, I might be feeling a distinct lack of vision one day or come to realize that I am not really sharing with others as I ought. Maybe I’ve been frustrated and allowed myself to ignore some important needs in my life or my family, or I’m acting defensively over a hurt or a perceived hurt. Maybe I’ve slipped into being overly critical of others and not as supportive as I should be? Once I have a couple things I have identified for my focus, then I pray a little more and think of concrete action to take that day to address the needs in life I have identified.
So, below is the way that I list the practices, their corresponding values and under each a brief list of things I associate with each of them. Any given day I will reflect and choose one or two of the practices or the values, and make a goal or two for the day…
What do my micro goals look like? Let’s say I choose to zero in on ritual and wisdom. Upon reflection I have identified that I’m feeling but disconnected from daily prayer exercises; prayer has become a bit hit or miss for me. And I have thought that I’m needing to brush up on some deeper study on an issue that is giving me trouble. I’ll need to set some goals for the day so I don’t let another bunch of daylight hours slip away. I’ll make the following goals: 1) I want to be involved in the ritual of prayer more, so I’m going to set reminders on my phone to stop me at noon, 5pm and at 10pm to pray with Psalm 116, and 2) I’m going to cruise Amazon for a good book on the passage or theme I’m struggling with and borrow it with my Prime membership, before dinner. Your goals might be simpler or more involved, but should reflect your way of doing life.
One concrete goal I have made several times as I prepped for work at my Apple Store is to focus on sharing by really emphasizing a clear and sincere welcome/greeting for every person I meet that day, whether at work or out of work, whether another employee or a customer at the store. Good greetings involve things like a smile, eye contact and sincerely expressing “I’m glad you’re here.” One important thing to convey, though in presence and spirit and less in exact words would be “you’re safe with me.” =) You know when you’re nailing that one because you’re interactions suddenly get deeper and more transformational.
Now, I’m no guru, professor or Saint. This list is simply a way I organize some thoughts on my daily life and the change I want to experience and become in this world. I invite you to improve the list. Make it your own. Pray and play with it, and leave it better for having been sifted though the matrix of your own life and faith. Make some goals today and be the change, be changed!
I need to wake up. It’s Monday. It’s a Monday of Mondays… I mean, it feels like a Monday’ing, Monday’er, Monday’ifferic Monday kinda Monday… but it’s our Monday. Let’s drop a boom on it. Let’s make it OUR Monday, YOUR Monday, MY Monday. Let’s make it GOD’S Monday. Let’s make it a Monday to love, to learn and to serve.
Let’s make it a Monday to shape the rest of the week. Let’s make it a template for prayer, life and struggle. Let’s awaken to what is happening all around us and our value as participants, not victims. Let’s begin now to create something of this Monday and this week that we can be glad of, happy in and remember fondly.
Harness some God juice (not talking about coffee) and roll into the day with a song between your ears and a burning in your heart. We are called to make this week not to be rolled by it. We are called to sanctify this day, not to hide and cringe from the light. Need a hand up? Grab a friend or a beloved. Need a touch of wisdom in your cup? Ask God to awaken it and enliven it in you.
Begin this day and this week with a prayer that becomes a chant that becomes an education that becomes a fire that becomes a lifestyle that becomes a strength that becomes a peace that overcomes. Begin this day with a mantra of intention and a dream of action. Begin this day and this week with a hope of awakening.
We’re trying. God is helping. Bring it.
When did you last have a day when you just didn’t wanna?
This is one of those days for me. Everything tastes wrong, even at Starbucks. Everyone looks a bit threatening, if not needy. I don’t feel good, or feel good about myself. Coffee is not getting me fired up and I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds (probably from the comfort of several recently enjoyed dipped cones at Dairy Queen).
So, I’m gonna take a deep breath, own my humanity with all it’s fragility, fatigue and needs… and I’ll get the day started, even if I’m getting started a little late. It’s what we do. It’s what we need to do. Thank God I don’t do it all on my own.
Days like this are the days I feel least compelled to pray. Weird. It’s sort of like the times I don’t take any pain reliever as I wait to see if my headache will go away on it’s own. Most days I’m not sure if I’m just lazy, stubborn or stupid. What I do know is that I have a God who listens when I’m not praying, and a Spirit that fills in the gaps, even when I’m not paying attention.
And now, before I must go punch the clock, sitting here with my less flavorful coffee, I’m going to pray. I pulled my trusty Book of Common Prayer from my bag for a little inspiration, and God provided…
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory
and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the
earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service
of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in
truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of
him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the Collects, Contemporary BCP pg. 261
This will be my prayer, today. “Beauty for the common good” will be my mantra. I’m going to turn my energies from an inward self-absorbed pity fest and big bottle of whine, outward to those around me who will be blessed by my struggling to live such a prayer of beauty, gratitude, service and deliverance.
If I meet you along the path somewhere today, I hope I’m still praying.
If you’ve ever been involved with Ignatian Spirituality then the concept of First Principle and Foundation will be familiar, but if not… Ignatius presents this early in The Exercises as a sort of purpose statement for being. I won’t bore you with the long form of the principle, but it is often abbreviated to something like, “We were created to receive God’s love and give love back to God.” I find two main elements of the principle to be: 1) the foundation of God’s love as what animates us, and 2) our relationship to everything around us is based on experiencing God’s love.
When you are engaged in the Exercises in almost any form, whether a true retreat or one of the annotations, you will be asked to think about and design a first principle and foundation statement of your own. I’ve been asked to do this many times, but have to admit that I can’t remember how I ordered my thoughts in the past. I could go and dig up my journals from those times, but it remains the case that what I thought and wrote did not become a part of my spiritual journey to any meaningful extent. I simply don’t remember what I have written.
So, as I came to the part of the Exercises as I am following them now, and I was again asked to pray about my own first principle and foundation, I decided to really think and pray and bend my energies toward something that will be lasting for me. I want to make some words and meaning which will stick. I’ve worked in the words during this past week, and I’d like to share them here…
I am a student of LOVE
in all its complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
If I can’t recall anything else in the days and years to come, I want to remember that I am a student of love. As I get older and continue to sift and weight the many scriptural themes and ideas I have come to understand, I rely more and more on the ascendancy of love. Love is not just an idea, or a feeling, but a basic understanding of life and a way to relate to all things in life. I also believe that God is best understood as and thru love, and so I could also relate my first principle this way…
I am a student of God
in all her complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
I hope that this kind of foundation helps me to be both fully human and fully connected to the divine. From this position, with a Christ-centred and valuing and understanding of both our shared humanity and divinity, then love is better able to manifest in me to the betterment of the kingdom of God and all the world God has caused to be.
I took some time this morning to make a much needed walking prayer tour down in DC. I used to do this a little more often, and I miss the city. I walked near the White House, past the Capital Building and around past the Supreme Court building. We have a lot going on right now in government, and it felt good to move among their buildings and lift them all up, Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
It was stealth prayer as far as everyone else knew. I just walked and prayed. No signs, no banners and no yelling. There was some of that going on around in different spots, and I prayed for them, too. It felt good to move outside of the issues for a bit and just express some love and appreciation for the people in our government, and to ask God to give them wisdom, courage and opportunity to help make this a better world.
I was thrice blessed to catch noon Mass at the Downtown Catholic Bookstore. Please allow me a moment to explain…
1) I had no idea that today is the feast day of Catherine of Siena, whom I love. She famously wrote, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” That was the first blessing.
2) We prayed together, especially for Baltimore and Nepal. They have been on my heart and mind for the last few days, and it was good to beg together for God’s blessings with all the souls gathered there for Mass. That was the second blessing.
3) And when I stepped back into the sunlit street I stopped to admire the flowers by the curb and discovered a duck all nestled down amongst them. This was the third blessing.
There may have been a fourth blessing, but I’m still wrestling with it. After Mass I was cruising the bookstore and looking through the prayer books, as I always do… but today as I looked through the books and thought of my desire to be going deeper with God right now, I was a bit overwhelmed for a moment… my heart beat fast and my breath caught in my throat. I felt hot and rooted to the spot for a moment of frozen time.
I recently bought a new journal, not because I have already filled my 2015 journal, but because I was moved to make some room for a freshness in my prayers and journaling. I just began using it a few days ago. Did God’s Spirit touch my heart? Did I feel a tangible touch of nearness with our God about whom Catherine of Siena says, “You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea. The more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you.” I don’t know. But I had not had lunch yet, so it wasn’t indigestion.
For now I’m just going to thank God, to express my deep appreciation that I was able to walk a few miles and lift some prayers and at the end of it, be touched in so many ways for the time spent. I have read that my Father Ignatius also saw visions which he didn’t understand, mystical moments that he treasured even without understanding them or ever interpreting them to a specific meaning. If it’s good enough for Ignatius, it’s good enough for me.