Monday, December 3, 2012

Rooted & Established in Love

So, I knew going into the Anglican experience I wanted some prayer beads. I mean, Rebekah had some lovely ones she just received from Amanda at Love is a Seed, and Heather has me all prayer bead inspired since she’s been researching different variations. I’ve made a rosary for my Catholic father in the past, and some strings of remembrance prayer beads for my mom and aunts recently when my grandfather passed away.

My father’s piece was made with a patron saints medal of his I’ve had since I was a child, and I used green glass beads, Celtic knot spacers and a Celtic cross. I loved that medal, but never felt appropriate wearing it, seeing as the back was inscribed with “I am Catholic, in case of emergency notify a priest.” I was very pleased with how it turned out and thought about making a similar one for myself, but never did.

For my mother and aunts, I did a simple five bead strand with an acorn charm at the end. The beads were turquoise and the acorn a copper color, both elements that remind me of my grandfather. The acorn was a symbol that had come to mean much to them as they sat vigil bedside of their father, and I wanted that to signify that these beads were for them to hold and touch and pray in memory of him.

As soon as I decided I wanted a set of prayer beads for this liturgical year, it didn’t take me long to select my beads. What was harder was choosing the drop. Yes, I know a cross is the logical and traditional choice, but I have a quirky hang up about a “cross-centered” life. Besides, anyone who’s heard me teach will tell you I like post-resurrection Jesus best, but a loaf of bread just seemed to lack the pizazz needed for a focal piece. I needed something that would be meaningful to me, meaningful to how the story of scripture speaks to me, meaningful to my life in the Spirit.

A tree.

That’s it! It’s perfect! A yin-yang symbol of my Christian walk if there ever was one. Shadow and light. Doubt and faith. Hesitation and trust.

I actually wear a tree on my finger already, and I love to tell the story of how my philosophy professor once demanded I no longer ask questions about the tree in the garden – not that he didn’t want me to ask questions, he just wanted me to move on to something else. But that damn tree plagues me to this day (that’s a post for another day, probably along with further explanation of the cross-centered hullabaloo).

But the tree is not just something that raises questions for me (like, why DID Jesus curse that poor fig tree?), but also a beautiful symbol of life in the Spirit. The tree is a symbol of a rooted, abiding life – a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit, the same fruit that has nourished us, we offer to others. I think of family trees, and the genealogy of Jesus, the women and men whose stories come together to form the body of Christ, and the stories those of us grafted in bring. The trees will clap their hands with the joyful song of creation when redemption is fulfilled (I suspect they already are).

With my design plans set on the back burner to simmer, I slid into the back of St. Michael’s sanctuary on the first Sunday of Advent, and quickly spotted friends to sit with. I settled in, and gazed forward toward the altar. My eyes were immediately drawn behind the altar, beyond the center of the room, to the looming focal piece of the space – a large picture window, opening up the sanctuary to the beauty outside.


And I realized, in that moment, that I will spend this journey not only experiencing the liturgical seasons within the sanctuary, but watching nature’s seasons change the trees just beyond. Every time I take the elements among this gathering of the body, it will be kneeling near trees that are journeying through their yearly process of renewal, of change, of death and burial and resurrection, of ordinary days before it all starts again.

The sermon (homily? I’ve got to get the terminology down…) focused on the life that exists in the transitions, the growth that occurs during those times we feel least in control of our lives. (Here’s a link to one of the stories that was shared:

It was inspired by the Gospel reading of Luke 21:25-36:
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

The kingdom that was and is and is to come, the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, is evident in the changing of the seasons: death and resurrection, suffering and reconciliation, uncertainty and wisdom.

Changing seasons can leave us feeling unsettled, like we can’t see the forest for the trees (see what I did there?). But when we can keep our focus on the big picture story, we know that changing seasons is part of nature, it’s part of the story of creation, it happens… and it happens again… and it happens again. Each time we transition through a cycle of life, we grow, we strengthen, we renew.

We experience resurrection, again and again and again – to new life, and new experiences, and new perspectives. Every time we’re convince we have God figured out, we see his plan for our lives clearly, change enters in, and the Creator asks us once again to open our hands, to open our hearts, and to release. We release our grip of control, and we raise our hands to hopeful trust.

And we wait.

We wait for new birth. We wait for new growth. We wait for the beauty of redemption.

We wait with trepidation, and the angels whisper “Do not fear.”

We wait with eager anticipation.

We wait with uncertainty.

We wait with hope.

We wait.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

~ On the Eve of Advent ~

(disclaimer: This is a long one. I ramble. You may want a cup of coffee…)

So, I think I’m going to be visiting my friends over at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

I’ve long held a curiosity for the Episcopal Church.

My early background was a mixture of Catholicism and Agnosticism, with a healthy dose of neighborhood Vacation Bible School, but in my first year of high school I voluntarily converted to Christianity under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I didn’t know the term “evangelical,” but I was a good one. I wasn’t big on the persuasive nature of “witnessing,” but I was a quick learner and I could have a good religious discussion with the best of ‘em. I even knew which practices were biblical, and which Bible was biblical, too.

I remember my senior home room/physics teacher, aptly named Mr. Picard, giving me a good natured ribbing about the Bible I kept in my backpack. Something about the translation…? I mean, come on – it was NEW King James. What did he want me to use, The Living Bible? That wasn’t even the real words. There was a junior in an upper-level math class across the hall who would come over and hang around me (we assumed a crush) during home period, while I was busy sitting on the desktop, eating breakfast and lusting after a young Anderson Cooper on Channel One. I repeatedly asked Mr. Picard if he would make the guy leave (sure I thought he was adorable, but come on – he was a JUNIOR), but his answer was always the same: “Nah, you need a good Episcopalian boy…”

I didn’t really know what that meant, except that perhaps he thought this boy would turn me on to a liberal translation of scripture, and that was somehow a good thing in his eyes. But I knew the right path, and I would not be swayed.

As a sociology and philosophy major at a Southern Baptist University (this is that “right path” I was talking about), I was subjected to a scandalous viewing of the PBS documentary adaptation of Randall Balmer’s book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. This is probably around the time I first began to pay attention to, and develop an understanding of, the term “evangelical.” It was also around the time I began to look at my own spiritual practices and beliefs through an external lense.

A lot of what Balmer examined and/or questioned resonated with me. What confused me, however, was his personal conversion. Balmer had left the evangelical subculture for the Episcopal Church. What the what? Why on earth would you want to pick a denomination with MORE rules? I mean, no one tells Baptist when to sit or stand… well, except the music minister, but that doesn’t really count… and no one makes us kneel. Raising our hands in worship is controversial enough, could you imagine if someone crossed themselves during prayer?! And they recite the same stuff – evangelicals pray their own words from the heart, as they feel led by the Spirit. Episcopalians just say stuff someone else has already written for them.

Sometime post-college, post-failed-grad-school-attempt (I never got around to writing that whole thesis thing) and while helping with a non-denominational church plant, I stumbled upon a book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble that seemed to call to me: Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. I had actually left my SBC Church and signed on the church plant after several frustrating years of experiencing “singles ministry.” Apparently, single Southern Baptists are only interested in two things: sex and marriage. Singles Sunday School classes are thus obligated to teach about two things: how to avoid sex and how to pursue marriage. I had become really interested in folks like Richard Foster and stuff like spiritual disciplines, and I voiced this repeatedly in leadership meetings, clearly not understanding what was best for me and my life. In the end, I grew weary, so when an opportunity to serve a new and growing congregation presented itself, I cautiously climbed aboard.

So I’m staring at the cover of this book, and I’m reading about a single girl and her spiritual practices and her intellectual pursuits and her love of God – it was a no-brainer purchase. I devoured Girl Meets God. I may have even had to replace my pen midway through from all the underlining and margin notes. Her journey may have had a different starting point, but I was really intrigued with where she ended up. For once the Episcopal Church took on a glimmer of beauty, awe and reverence I had not been exposed to in my other meager encounters. I began to appreciate the rhythm of the liturgy, the rootedness of the history, the sacredness of the ritual.

Slowly, as I matured, I began to recognize the increasing influence of Episcopalians in my life. I actually held an office, when I was in social work, on the third floor of a large, downtown Episcopal church. Two of the authors who both challenge and comfort me, practice the Episcopal faith, Phyllis Tickle (who has been an influence both in spiritual practices and, in more recent years, understanding my place in an emerging perspective of Christianity) and the late Madeleine L’Engle (whose writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has had such an impact on my life that I refer to her as my patron saint). I have also been blessed by Episcopalian friends and mentors, and spent more time in liturgical settings.

As I’ve found myself recently at a crossroads of congregational life, I’ve begun to take a more serious look at the Episcopal Church. Several years ago I left the church plant I had been a part of after some negative experiences with leadership there. I actually went through a period of being shell-shocked and found it difficult to attend anywhere, and was completely outside of church for about six months. I found a beautiful community, R Street Community Church (formerly Vineyard) that welcomed me, and my hesitations, and rooted myself there (though there seemed to be constant change around me as the community went through layers of transitions). It is R Street that prayed with me as I stepped into a roll of co-pastoring at Eikon Church, a community I had been connected with for some time. I knew going in that Eikon was in a stage of transition, and transition eventually led toward dissolution. As painful as walking through that process with a community was, I would not trade it for the world – there was a lot of learning, a lot of beauty, a lot of growth in that experience.

I placed no timeline on myself to plug in to another community, to make any decisions about my faith practice. Honestly, I figured it would be late March before I even began to think about what I might do. Though I love the R Street Community, I was feeling I might need to be somewhere where I can just kind of blend in for a bit… IF I ended up anywhere. But, as Advent has inched closer, I felt like I wanted to participate in the rhythm of the liturgy for the first season of the church year. And as I began to think about settling into one community for that season, I felt the pull to participate in the rhythm of the liturgy for a whole church year.

What if I let myself rest somewhere for a full cycle of the liturgical year, just listen and be for a bit, rather than lead and do?

Wouldn’t it make sense to do this somewhere steeped in the rhythm and the history? Wouldn’t it make sense to do this somewhere with familiar faces, with people who have already extended a welcome to come join them? Wouldn’t it make sense to do this with people who’ve already heard most of my questions and wacky ideas yet aren’t phased in the least by them? St. Michael’s is home to people who already speak into my life, who inspire me, who encourage me. I don’t have to make any decisions about becoming permanently rooted in this place, though the opportunity is certainly there. I could just "stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is.” I could try and walk in it. I could find rest for my soul. At least for one cycle of seasons...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seasons Change

I have been in full-blown INFJ recharge mode for the past several days. My grandpa’s death & caring for family trailed the closing ofEikon Church, and brought the full reality of end-of-life care into gritty perspective. I get to reenter routine tomorrow, and I am quite pleased to return to some degree of normality. During my days of rest, my mind has turned again to the process of life transition. Leading up to Eikon’s final Sunday, one of the discussions we had was on managing transitions, and I realized I never shared my notes here. I think the transition, the journey after the change, is more important than the change event itself – so I share these notes to remind me, to remind us all, that change is slow, change is difficult, but change is unavoidable & it can lead to beautiful things. Please insert your own life season/transition:

Opening Meditation/Prayer:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

Joshua – standing stones
Facebook timeline – milestones
Communication theory – turning points
David Bowie – ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Brandi Carlile – linesupon our faces 

                                    LIFE TRANSITIONS

We’re going to map some of these major life events, marking the standing stones of both positive and negative moments that have brought about change in our life. At the end of your map, draw a decent size circle & we will do something with that at the end.
·         What outstanding questions & concerns do you have about Eikon’s transition?
·         Do not force yourselves through this transition
                  -        some of us will need the routine of plugging immediately into another community
-        some of us will need a season of Sabbath, of rest & renewal
·         Look at some of your past transitions:
-        What has delighted you most in life? (joys)
-        What has disappointed you most in life? (pains)
-        How did each change affect you emotionally during the transition?
-        How did you experience growth through the transitions in hindsight?
·         Transition is a time to both grieve & reexamine:
-        We need to give ourselves and each other permission to grieve what we are letting go of (both what was and what might have been)
-        We need to give ourselves and each other permission to experience the sadness and anxiety that can come with leaving our comfort zones and stepping into something unknown and challenging
-        We also get an opportunity to reexamine our present way of being & even create new beginnings.
·         What are your fears, doubts & uncertainties surrounding the closing of Eikon?
·         What are you angry or frustrated about?
·         What are you hopeful for stepping into this new season?
·         What experiences from your time in the Eikon community do you hold sacred?
·         What is the legacy you want to carry with you into your new experience?
·         What are the things you need to leave behind?
·         Where do you want to go from here? What are your intentions for the next season of your journey? 

HOMEWORK: Take your lifemap home with you and think through it some. What questions or concerns do you still have outstanding about our transition from Eikon? The circle you drew at the end represents your future, particularly in terms of your church life. Inside the circle, fill it in as a sort of pie chart – think about your commitments & priorities in your life at this time. Fill in the pieces based on those commitments & what percentage of your life they demand. Then draw some spokes going out from the circle. At the end of each spoke, list a value that you would be looking for in a future community – what gifts will you bring into that community, what kind of support will you need from that community, what do you want to participate in through that community?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

(or, an open letter to the wider Church from the little congregation formerly known as Eikon)

Dear Church, 

It’s not you, it’s us. When a relationship ends, even if it’s amicable, even if we had time to prepare, even if we split with the understanding that we would see other people… it still hurts. 

There is still pain. 

There are still broken hearts. 

There is still a need for healing and space. 

I’m a pretty practical person, so I have been checking off the boxes on our list for several weeks now. But yesterday… yesterday it hit me like a ton of bricks. I can not begin to put into words what Ryan and Christen and John and everyone in the Eikon family have spoken into my life and ministry - as a community, they revived my calling. Everything is changing. I’m not sure I can do this again. How am I going to makes sure everyone else can do this? Do we really have what it takes to live resurrection in the face this death? 

A friend who knows me well, knows that change is the constant in my life, commented that I’m a pro at new beginnings. I wish that weren’t so. I wouldn’t mind a bit of stability, if I’m being quite honest. 

Anxious thoughts aside, I know that we have it in us. In fact we have so much power to try, try again that we found each other in the first place. There were no superstars in the community that was Eikon (well, we all thought Ryan was pretty super… but don’t tell him that, it’ll just go to his head) – there were a bunch of weird, misfit, wandering souls that converged on community and said: let’s do this. And we gave it our all, as much as we could, for as long as we could. Someone without the fire of resurrection burning in their souls wouldn’t have dared what we did together. There was nothing fancy about Eikon, and we liked it that way. 

We all have the strength within us to start again, to make ourselves vulnerable to a new community, to pour our wine into new wineskins so that we can pour it out to others. 

But don’t rush us. 

Breaking up is hard. When a relationship ends, even if it’s amicable, even if we had time to prepare, even if we split with the understanding that we would see other people… it still hurts. 

Even when we talk together about the other communities out there, it’s awkward. As Sarah said… or maybe it was Don… it’s kinda creepy, like your ex is trying to fix you up with someone new, and may even be interested in tagging along for the date. 

There are some great communities out there. We know this. Some of them we had a previous relationship with, and it was good, and it could be again. Some of them we have secretly harbored an attraction to for some time. But none of that matters, you see – because none of them are Eikon. 

We were very clear with one another – there is no timeline.  

Some will need to plug into a new community as soon as possible, to restore a rhythm to their life. 

Some will take time to explore various communities, to really get a feel for where their gifts best fit. 

Some will require space and time to recuperate before they can even consider visiting a new place. 

Some may feel a bit lost, and choose to wander for a while. 

We appreciate your concern, and your invitations, and your hospitality. It’s not you, it’s us. Breaking up is hard, and we will have to find our own coping mechanisms. We will probably be spending quite a bit of time together during this transition, processing the reality of the situation.  

Be patient with our tender hearts and our wandering souls.  

We’re all moving forward at our own pace. 

Well, ok, we may stand still for a while. 

But we all WILL move forward. 

And what an adventure it will be. 

Kimberly, Co-Pastor

Monday, August 13, 2012

On Community & Compost

Recently, I watched a 20/20 feature on the Bates family, the family with 19 biological children who aren’t the Duggars. They did not believe in birth control, but rather that God was going to give them as many children as he wanted. However, when the wife in late age began experiencing miscarriages, she began taking hormone treatments to help increase her chances of pregnancy. As she saw it, the embryo was a life, and she should do everything in her power to preserve that life.

If there are signs of life, even the faintest, God certainly can’t be asking us to let go.

As a culture in general, we have a hard time with end of life care. We want to do everything possible to prolong life, long after it is viable. We have not been taught how to let go, how to grieve well, how to honor the process of dying.

If there are signs of life, even the faintest, God certainly can’t be asking us to let go.

Yesterday, the community I co-pastor, Eikon Church, had a difficult conversation. We came to the honest conclusion that our community was just not sustainable at this time. It happens with smaller, community-led communities - even a few life changes can make it difficult to keep up with the responsibilities you have taken on. We recognized that as part of a natural life cycle and, though it is difficult, made the decision to allow the community to close rather than force it to keep going.

I value unity and community highly. I read a lot about it. I write a lot about. I talk a lot about it.

It seems wrong, somehow, that letting go of community would be a healthy thing.

Death shouldn’t lead to life.

But isn’t that exactly what Christians believe?

There are a lot of Biblical metaphors on gardening: seeds, and fertile soil, and vines and whatnot. We like to see ourselves as gardeners and maybe even seeds, but we don’t often associate ourselves with the soil itself. I don’t know a whole lot about gardening. When I lived in community, my roommates did most (oh, ok… ALL) of the tending to plants and plots. I learned some this year as I helped with the planting and nurturing of the Eikon Church garden. We did all that we could for the harvest, but in the end the drought got the best of us. From observation, I’ve learned a little about composting. The short of it is, you make life-giving material out of decomposed once-living things. It’s a form of recycling, a resurrection, if you will – life, allowed to die, is spread around to bring newer, richer life.

Death gives way to life.

Not an anxiousness, but a freedom.

A freedom to walk the road with strangers, listening to their questions, breaking bread at their table.

A freedom to ask important questions, like “Do you have anything here to eat?

A freedom to offer invitations, like “Come, have breakfast.

Death gives way to resurrection, to grace.

Chris Smith & John Pattison are writing a book on Slow Church. Part of slowness is honoring the seasons, the times of planting, the times of waiting, the times of growth, the times of pruning, and, yes, even the times of dying.

As hard as this process is - as hard as letting something go, letting it die so that something new can emerge (even if it's scattered seeds), it feels so much more natural, so much more honest, so much more real to honor the cycle of life than to keep breathing life into a body through artificial means. I’ve been a part of (and observed) congregations where, when things appeared not to be going the direction the people in authority wanted them to go, manipulation, coerciveness, guilt and pressure were used to make things happen, even if it felt like perhaps God was leading another direction.

I am so honored to have been a part of the journey of Eikon Church. And I am inspired by the humility and vulnerability it took to come to the place of letting go. My friend Ragan Sutterfield has taught about how humility and humanity are rooted in the word humus – the soil.

We often prefer holding tight to our illusion of control, then opening our hands to the unknown.

There are a lot of unknowns in Eikon’s transition. And it's a good thing that we were able to say upfront that we're not closing immediately, that we're going to spend time transitioning together and talking about what that's going to look like and how we carry our relationships & what we've learned together with us.

Maybe that is part of what honest congregations have to teach - not only how to live, but also how to die well. And how to live resurrection, live life after death, even when we're scattered, even when seasons change, even when we change.

Earlier in this season of discernment, we reworked our mission statement. I think this is what we carry with us into the unknown:

Practicing the way of Jesus.

Welcoming all people into community.

Participating in the story of redemption.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chicken, Meet Egg

At Eikon Church, we have been going through a series called Be Give Do: Committing to Community, looking at some of the practices that will help us to build community with one another. For each practice, we have talked both about what this is AND what this is not (as fleshed out in our community’s particular context).

follow in the way of Jesus
share common values
be a public ambassador for our community

commit to regularly contributing financially
serve others as needed
use your talents to meet the needs of the community

spend time in community – both Sundays & beyond
hold others & be held accountable in love
challenge leadership in love

The first section I had the privilege to facilitate was Being a Public Ambassador. This Sunday I will be leading the discussion of Using Your Talents and next Sunday Spending Time in Community. I’m excited about all three of these topics because I feel like they flow into one another, and I want to use this space to lay out some of what we talk about both for those in our community who could not make the discussions, as well as those who are not a part of Eikon but have valuable insight to share with us.

I’m calling this blog series Chicken, Meet Egg because I feel like it is really difficult to determine what comes first. To invite others into community, we need to be experiencing it. But community has to start somewhere, so the same relational practices that help us invite people into community also help us form community in the first place. And to build authentic relationships, we need to be authentic – which means operating from our own unique talents, personalities and passions.

So, y’all come back as we look at what it can mean to spend time in community, using our talents to meet each other’s needs, and inviting others into the community we are experiencing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the practice of forgiveness

Practice: to perform or do repeatedly in order to acquire skill or proficiency; repetition or exercise of an activity in order to achieve mastery and fluency.

"I think we need to not think of forgiveness as a kind of single, punctual act of will - I forgive, and it's over. I think we need to think of it as a practice, as living into something and walking in something, rather than simply doing it and then turning your head and going to do some other business."
~ Miroslav Volf

Thank you to Eric Guthrie for bringing this video to my attention.

Be sure to check out The Fetzer Institute funded film Forgiveness: A Time to Love & a Time to Hate to wrestle further with the practice of forgiveness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday: Invitation to Abide

For Lent this year, I am committing to a practice of abiding, of spending intentional time resting with and listening to the Lord. I will be using Macrina Wiederkehr’s wonderful new book, Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, as my guide.

I will not necessarily be sharing reflections of my time on a daily basis, as I do not want the activity of posting to become my focus. However, the times spent prayerful listening will undoubtedly spill over onto the blog. What I do want to be sure to share are some notes from the book’s introduction, to give you a taste of the meditations included therein.

Sister Macrina lays out the following path of lectio divina (sacred reading as prayer):

~ Wait in silence

~ Read contemplatively

~ Listen obediently

~ Pray as the Holy Spirit leads

~ Abide

Of this final step, we are told:

This is a beautiful moment spent in pure contemplative presence with the Beloved. This is love. “Remain in me, as I remain in you” (John 15:4). “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10, NRSV). Dwell. Remain in love. ABIDE.

We are invited to see this process as a pilgrimage of sorts, with each pause for reflection as a holy space.

Finally, we are invited to carry our vigil with us as we move about our day:

Be open to God’s Word blossoming everywhere. Walk with awareness through forests, parks, and gardens, along the seashore, or down a busy city street. The Word of God is near you. Climb a mountain and the Word will meet you. Move mindfully through your daily work tasks – the Word is at your fingertips. Celebrate the Eucharist with a community of struggling believers. You will be enfolded into God’s Creative Word.

I am looking forward to leaning into the 40 reflections and prayers in this little book as we move slowly, steadily from the solemnity of Ash Wednesday to the celebration of Easter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 3 of 3

Finally, we come to the “Be” of “Be Here Now” – our orientation toward our creator, the invitation to abide, to be still, to cease striving, the practice of resting and listening.


Breathe in slowly.

Breathe out slowly.

Let’s continue…

In John 15, we are not only invited to abide in Christ, we are informed that in order for the fruit of the spirit to grow from our lives, we must abide in Christ. The fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is germinated when our lives are rooted in God, when we slow down, allow ourselves to be still, and remember that there is a story bigger than ourselves and a power greater than our own.

When we find a rhythm of Sabbath in our lives, when we identify pockets of time (whether it be a quiet coffee break, a day set apart, or a sabbatical year) in which to release control to God and open our hearts to hear the spirit’s stirrings, we are reminded of who we are. We are a beloved creation, with unique gifts to share. We are also a limited creation, and we are not expected to do it all.

The poet Rilke writes,

I am, you anxious one.
Don’t you sense me, ready to break into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you from the beginning as fruit ripens on a branch?

In Psalm 46, God speaks into the midst of chaos with the words: Be still and know that I am God. In a few retreats I have attended, this verse is used to draw us into a time of rest and quiet.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I AM.

Be still and know.

Be still.


Our prayer exercise for the practice of being was an invitation to centering prayer. Taking your word from the lectio divina in the “Here” post, try sitting quietly in the presence of God, with nothing to share, nothing to ask, nothing to expect. If you find your mind starting to wander, simply repeat your word – silently, slowly, calmly – to draw you back to the moment. Rest in God’s presence. Be present. Abide.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 2 of 3

In the previous post, we looked at the “Now” of “Be Here Now”- our orientation to time and our choice to practice forgiveness & trust over bitterness & anxiousness. Continuing our reverse trek, we will now look at the idea of being present “Here”.

Here is an orientation to place, to the space we currently inhabit, the community we are currently planted in, the circumstances that currently surround us. I associate it with terms such as stability, rootedness and connection.

When we think of Jeremiah 29, we most often think of verse 11 – God knows the plans he has for us, and they are big ones! The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades! Let’s go get ’em! It’s all fine and dandy that our creator has plans to prosper his people, to give them hope and a future, but that doesn’t change the fact that from Adam to Abraham and beyond, God’s people have always had to endure the nitty-gritty of daily life, and the consequences of their choices. That’s why my favorite part of Jeremiah 29 is found earlier in the chapter, in verses 4-7:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Once again, the Israelites have found themselves in a foreign land, not a place they want to be, not the place God wanted them to be, yet here they were. And rather than a baby in a basket, rather than plagues and a Passover, God tells them to settle down, to make a home, to plant themselves in this place. And that prosperity? It will be dependent on how much they participate in seeking peace and prosperity for this land of their exile.

In the movie Click, the main character finds himself at the end of his life, distraught because while he was trying to fast forward through the moments he found dull or difficult, he missed out on the moments that were sacred and beautiful. In much the same way, if we keep waiting for life to happen somewhere else, under different circumstances, WE MISS LIFE! Participating in life means we are willing to be vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be known beyond our masks. Participating in life means we take the chance of being hurt, and we take the chance of being loved. Participating in life means releasing our illusion of control and embracing it all – the boredom and the grief and the beauty and the joy and the bellyaching laughter.

Being rooted in a place, does not mean that we can never go elsewhere, but it does mean we do so intentionally. When we read about the Holy Spirit going with us in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth – some of us become very eager to jump to all of those uttermost parts. However, unless you choose one of those places, root yourself into community there, allow your walls to come down so that you can truly engage the people around you, you are not doing much for the peace and prosperity of that place, or the peace and prosperity of your own heart.

Mother Theresa famously said, “I want you to go and find the poor in your homes. Above all, your love has to start there. I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know who your neighbor is?” It can be very easy to go and serve in unfamiliar places where we only land for a short while, because it does not require much vulnerability on our parts. But if we really want to impact and be impacted by a community, we have to be fully present there, allow our walls and masks to fall to the ground, and settle down into daily life with one another.

The prayer exercise we practiced in conjunction with the discussion of being “here” was a lectio divina reading of Psalm 37:1-9. Sit with the passage and ask the Lord to speak to you about what it looks like to settle down into a place. Read slowly through the passage and get an overview of the verses. Pause, and let it sink in. Read slowly through it another time, and pay attention for a word that stands out to you. Read slowly through it a third time, and listen for your word in context. Sit with that word for a time, and allow the Lord to plant it in your heart.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Preparing for Lent - 1 of 3

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of talking about the importance of being present in the reality of our lives. Last week I read the introduction to Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God, and realized the 40 reflections would make a wonderful Lenten practice. So, I thought I would rehash some of my notes on presence in the days leading up to Lent, and give a brief introduction to Sister Macrina's book on Ash Wednesday. I hope these reflections will benefit your journey, as well. The practice of presence, of abiding, is not one I have down, but rather one I have committed to developing this year.

When thinking about the importance of presence, of dwelling with God in the reality of my life, I can't help but settle on the phrase "Be Here Now". And, while I know that the beginning is a very good place to start, I chose to begin at the end: NOW.

Now is an orientation to time, to the present, wedged between what has been and what will be. Now is a place where we choose to experience life as it presents itself. When we choose to live stuck in the past, we choose to live in bitterness over things we miss, things that hurt us, things we never accomplished - we have the illusion that by holding on to these things we some how have control over them or can change what happened. Similarly, when we choose to live focused on the future, we choose to live in anxiousness over what may or may not happen - we have the illusion that by staying focused on the maybe-but-not-yet that we can control those things before they ever come to be.

Matthew 6:25-34 has been one of my favorite passages since youth group days - long before I truly understood the significance: do not worry... can anyone by worrying add an hour to their life... do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself... each day has enough trouble of its own.

Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Exodus records the story of the Israelite journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, a journey that was much longer than it had to be. The Lord was present with Israel, freeing them from Egypt, making a way through the sea, guiding them through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, yet despite God's presence and provision, it still took the Israelites 40 years of wandering around the wilderness before they reached their not-so-distant destination. Why? Bitterness and anxiousness.

The Lord promised to provide bread and meat daily for the people as they progressed on their journey: The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Yet the Israelites were bitter, fondly remembering the food they ate in captivity, lamenting the simplicity and perhaps strangeness of the food that was being provided for them daily. They were also anxious, concerned about if there truly would be enough food the next day, what the new land would really be like, what it would truly take to inhabit.

Each day has enough provision of its own.

Elijah had a bitterness/anxiousness episode of his own in the wilderness. After being miraculously provided with food by a poor widow, after having a part in bringing that woman's son back to life, after an amazing experience displaying the presence of God before the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah found out Jezebel was angry and wanted him dead, so he fled. God was continuously present and doing miracles all around him, but one angry woman and the prophet was spent. Exhausted and afraid, the weary prophet finds himself in the wilderness, with God once again providing him with food & drink. God was present with Elijah as a still, small voice. Twice the Lord asked, "What are you doing here Elijah?" Twice Elijah lamented,
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah was bitter. Bitter that he had done everything right, and yet his life was being threatened. Elijah was also anxious about what may happen should Jezebel get her way - despite how God had provided for him all along his journey.

Choosing to live in the present is a practice of choosing forgiveness & trust over bitterness & anxiousness. It is a practice of choosing to live in the only moment we truly have any control over, the here-and-now, and the control we have is that of being willing to forgive what has happened and being willing to trust God in what will come.

A prayer exercise that is helpful to keeping your spirit in the now is a daily prayer of examen. A time where you intentionally reflect on your day, offering thanksgiving and repentance where necessary, releasing bitterness and anxiousness where you find it, and preparing yourself to be fully present with Christ in the day ahead - to allow both its trouble and its provision to be enough.