Category Archives: Reflection

A Meditation for Advent

The cry of the Prophet echoes through the ages:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and
every mountain and hill be made low.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 40:3-5)

As we enter the season of Advent, we are reminded again of this call. We work to clear every obstacle that may prevent God from entering our hearts, our church, our world. We know we do not prepare in vain. Even as we prepare we watch and wait for the coming of the Prince of Peace. So we remain vigilant, breathing the words of the Psalmist:

Advent

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
(Psalm 130:5-8)

The hour of our redemption draws near. Let us turn again to the One who created us, the One who unconditionally loves us, the One who promises to set us free of sin and free to love.

Take heart, be vigilant. Prepare the way of the Lord. Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart!

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To God Alone be the Glory

At the end of each of his compositions the great Johann Sebastian Bach would write Soli Deo Gloria – Latin for “to God alone be the glory.” Playing with this notion in my sermon last Sunday I charged the congregation to work toward giving glory to God and to God alone in everything we do this week. Whether it’s reflecting on the deadlock in Washington, navigating the routines of the day, considering our giving to the church (it is our Season of Generosity after all), or spending time with family and friends, all we do should be underwritten by the postscript Soli Deo Gloria.

Now I can’t claim to be successful to any great measure, but I certainly can testify that my week has been so much richer with this in mind. My focus on blessing others has been more acute and my willingness to celebrate God’s presence more intentionally has held many blessings for me. My prayers seem richer.

It is with this in mind that I offer this beautiful reminder of Christ’s transforming presence found at theworkofthepeople.com

Soli Deo Gloria!

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On Being Green

It was Kermit the Frog who once sang, “It’s not that easy being green.” I quite agree. The bright red stoles of Pentecost have been neatly folded away. The white and gold of the 50 days of Eastertide deserve good rest after adorning the sanctuary since replacing the dark shadows of the Paschal Triduum. The purples that guided our imaginations in Lent won’t be seen again until the first Sunday of Advent.

Liturgically we’re on the cusp of the long season after Pentecost known as Ordinary Time. It’s the second and longest period of Ordinary Time in the church year. The stoles on the lectern or draped over the preacher’s shoulders will be green for the 24 weeks that follow the white of this week’s Trinity Sunday service. It’s a long season that encompasses the bright greens of June, the lush dog days of summer, the first cool nights, and the glorious tapestry of fall. It can seem like a long, unexciting season for those of us who don’t celebrate minor feasts for saints or other commemorations. Ordinary Time can come to seem a little, well, ordinary. Yet it is in the ordinary where the extraordinary can come to light.

Kermit reminds us that while it’s not that easy being green, “Green’s the color of spring, and green can be cool and friendly-like, and green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree. When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why. But why wonder? I’m green. And it will do fine. It’s beautiful.”

Joan Chittister frames the essence of Ordinary Time this way: “Like an echo off a mountain that ripples and repeats itself down the valleys of life, the Sundays of Ordinary Time stand as a stark and repeating reminder of the center of the faith. Each Sunday, remember, is a feast, a little Easter, in its own right. Unencumbered by the overlay of any other feast, they carry within themselves, stark and unadorned, the essence of the Lord’s Day. Each of them is Easter, a return to the core of the faith, the center of the church, the call of the Christian community that ‘Jesus is risen.'” (The Liturgical Year, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p 185.)

Imagine what the church will become if we used Ordinary Time as an opportunity to return to the core of the faith, to get back to the basics of what we have come to believe. Imagine how much more meaningful Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany will be. Imagine what Lent, Easter, and Pentecost will come to mean. Imagine, if you dare, how your life will be transformed when you more fully live the commitment that Christ is risen.

So let’s heed the wisdom of Kermit and Chittister and live into what’s special about being green. Let’s celebrate Ordinary Time in a way that opens our hearts and minds to the extraordinary presence of God in the world. What a tremendous gift Ordinary Time promises to be!

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Thoughts on Sabbath

At our weekly Commune service last night I offered reflections on keeping the Sabbath. Using a beautiful translation by Everett Fox of the Torah we remembered how, after God looked over the world and declared it “exceedingly good,” God rested on the seventh day. God blessed it and hallowed it, and ceased from all work on it. We then read the commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to hallow it. For six days you are to serve, and to make all your work, but the seventh day is Sabbath for YHWH your God.”

I then asked the community to reflect on how well they’re honoring the Sabbath. I invite you to do the same. Do you take time to simply enjoy the company of your family and friends and take time to rest? Or do you find yourself working, worrying, shopping, or in a vegetative state in front of the TV cursing the Sox (Red or White) for another loss?

One of the loveliest descriptions I’ve read about keeping the Sabbath comes from Abraham Joshua Heschel. He writes in The Sabbath (a truly marvelous work): “The art of keeping the seventh day is the art of painting on the canvas of time the mysterious grandeur of the climax of creation: as He sanctified the seventh day, so shall we. The love of the Sabbath is the love of man for what he and God have in common. Our keeping the Sabbath day is a paraphrase of His sanctification of the seventh day.”

The Sabbath is not something we honor simply to give ourselves an excuse not to do work or to do things we otherwise would not do. The Sabbath is a gift from our Creator – a gift of love whereby we get to take time to intentionally reflect on and enjoy and participate in God’s beautiful creation. Sabbath rest should be blessed rest that leaves us renewed and ready to face the opportunities and challenges presented on every other day of the week. By honoring the Sabbath we honor God. By honoring the Sabbath we participate in the Holy in a way that our regular work does not often afford. So let’s make every effort in the weeks to come to try to develop Sabbath practices that enrich and enliven us.

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The Daily Office … Online!

I’m back and apologize for not posting another round of spiritual practices last week. Much of my time was occupied with grief and crisis counseling, planning and conducting two funeral services, along with tending to my flock and usual duties. I find it is especially at times like this that it’s important to have spiritual practices and resources on which to draw.

So today (and for the rest of the week) I thought I’d offer some online resources that I turn to for inspiration.

The most logical place to start is wit the daily office. My two favorite sites for this are Mission St. Clare and Oremus. I especially love the focus on the Psalms, on which I like to prayerfully dwell (meditate) each day. In both the morning and evening offices one meanders through prayers, scriptures, hymns, and moments of acclamation. I especially enjoy the scripted prayers, many of which have been prayed over thousands of years.

Perhaps the most mysterious aspect about praying the daily office is that thousands of people from around the globe are participating in one way or another, albeit at different places and times. My heart sings with the monks at Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham and Weston Priory in Weston, Vermont, each time I read the office. In their communities I’ve found peace and quiet on retreat, a feeling I carry with me even sitting in front of my computer or iPad. Mission St. Clare has an awesome app!

I’ll end there for today. Check back later in the week for some lectionary resources as well as other awesome sites for contemplation.

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Lectio Divina: Part 2

We met in a small room off the sanctuary before worship one Sunday afternoon. I was facilitating group lectio divina for the first time and of my six companions five had only recently returned to church after many years away. One of the beautiful things about the aptly named Hope Church, a church start in Boston, was that it attracted seekers from a broad spectrum of society, including many who had been rejected and alienated by churches because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

I did not know it at the time, but of the six present four did not even own a Bible. That was about to change. Over the course of the next 45 minutes of praying the text together the rich tapestry of the scriptures came into focus. The insights each participant brought transformed our perception of the Bible from a single dimension (dominated by a few who claimed the authority to rightly interpret it) into a multidimensional reality where God is still speaking. The experience enriched not only our study that day, but our relationships with each other to this day.

The method I used I first encountered at First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, UCC. I was told the method originated in South Africa, which I found intriguing for obvious reasons.

Here’s the process:

Select a text. Then find three different versions (translations) of the text, which is easy to do at BibleGateway. Have a copy of each available.

Gather a group. From my experience in Bible studies and committee settings, I’d limit the group to 8. Any larger and it would be wise to split into two or more groups.

Ask for three volunteers to the scripture and hand them each the version they will read. (At this point it’s wise to summarize the process for the participants so that they know what to expect. Assure the group you’ll guide it every step of the way.)

Open in prayer:
You can ask for openness, reverence, a listening heart, the kind of silence into which another voice may speak. Then leave space for silence.

First reading of the text:
Before the first reader begins, ask the participants to listen for a word or phrase that stands out to them.
After the reading, encourage them to share, as they’re comfortable, the word or phrase that stood oout. Ask them just to mention the word or phrase (we’re not looking for explanations). When the sharing has ended, leave space for silence.

Second reading of the text:
Before the reader begins, ask the participants to listen for the way this text intersects with their lives. After the reading, encourage the participants to share, as they’re comfortable, this insight. Once again, we’re not looking for explanations. When the sharing has ended, leave space for silence.

Third reading of the text:
Before the reader begins, ask the participants to listen for what they believe, through this scripture, God is calling them to do. After the reading, again encourage participants to share this insight.

Close in Prayer:
After a few moments of silence close in prayer. At First Church we each prayed for the person sitting to our left and concluded with the Lord’s Prayer.

Debrief:
You can ask participants what surprised them, what they learned from the process, and how they might practice it in their lives going forward.

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Lectio Divina: Part I

In my personal prayer life, I find lectio divina an effective practice for quieting down, focusing, and reaching a more contemplative place in my prayers.  It’s often difficult for many of us to carve out the time to intentionally pray, let alone pray deeply to the point where we can rest in the arms of the Divine. Yet these days of Lent provide us a great opportunity to begin making time to pray.

From personal experience lectio divina is one of the most accessible of the spiritual disciplines. All you need is a block of private quiet time, a Bible, and the desire to engage the Word of God in a slow, purposeful, and ultimately contemplative way. One of the most ancient Christian practices, once widely used, lectio divina empowers one to cultivate deep listening, or “listening with the ear of our hearts,” as St. Benedict said in his Rule.

Lectio can also be a communal prayer activity that can greatly enrich those burdensome church committee meetings or even one’s time together as a family, but I’ll get there tomorrow. For today I’ll offer a brief description of individual lectio divina:

Find a passage of scripture that resonates with you or perhaps one of the texts prescribed for the week in the Revised Common Lectionary. Take notice of the parameters of the text, where it begins and where it ends.

Then take a few moments to prayerfully quiet yourself and to open yourself to the word God has in store for you. It’s useful to breathe deeply and ensure that you’re sitting comfortably yet attentively.

Then begin reading. This is not speed reading, the kind we’re used to in practically ever other setting of our lives. Rather it is slow, reverential, deliberate reading. One might even call it meditative reading.

As you’re reading notice what word or phrase starts to resonate with you.

Read through the text a second or third time, keeping your pace slow and deliberate and being attentive to that word or phrase. Memorize it. Hold on to it and then begin to prayerfully ponder it in your heart.

When your thoughts begin to wander, come back to that word and simply rest with it. Let it become a focal point for you, drawing you more deeply into your prayer, into communion with God. Think of this communion with the Divine, this contemplative place, in the words of the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
Be still
Be

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On The Eve of Lent

In worship last Sunday, when I asked in the children’s message what we do in Lent, someone said, “You give up your favorite things.” I, however, heard “You give up your favorite sins,” much to the delight of many in the congregation if the laughter was any indication. There’s certainly a measure of truth in both, yet the child’s actual definition was by far the more useful. After all, we should be giving up our sins all the time, including our favorite ones!

The more orthodox notion of giving something up in Lent is not so much related to one’s favorite things, but rather to fasting. This means eating only one full meal a day and, in many cases, abstaining from eating meat. One can also abstain from certain activities or behaviors, like giving up chocolate or those expensive coffees from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Some choose to take the money they save by not buying luxury items and give it to the church at Easter to distribute to those in need.

Abstaining can be an extremely valuable practice. Adding something can be too, depending on whether or not it feeds one’s soul. Adopting a new spiritual practice can be a rich experience. It could be as simple as reading the Bible daily for ten minutes or spending five minutes at night writing in a gratitude journal. There are many spiritual practices (ways of communing with the Divine) and in the next few weeks I’ll explain some of them here, starting tomorrow with Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading).

I invite you on this journey and encourage you to earnestly consider the Lenten practice or practices that will be most meaningful for you. Remember that grace abounds and it’s OK to build up to a discipline rather than attempting too much all at once and feeling you’re failing when lapses occur, as they inevitably do. I’m not in favor of cookie-cutter approaches and feel it’s important for each of us to create space to learn about and adopt practices that work uniquely for us and our individual quests to draw closer to the Divine.

As Ash Wednesday approaches, I offer you this Lenten blessing from the Roman Catholic tradition:

Merciful God, you called us forth from the dust of the earth;
you claimed us for Christ in the waters of baptism.
Look upon us as we enter these Forty Days bearing the mark of ashes, and bless our journey through the desert of Lent to the font of rebirth.
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.
All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus.
For in his cross you proclaim your love for ever and ever.
Amen.

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