Guadalupe

Gentle Mother who treads upon the heads of serpents,
we look to you when serpents abound.
You, who welcomed the One into your womb,
who brought Salvation in to the world,
who embraced the unknown and terrifying God–

We look to you when serpents abound,
when governments fail,
when terror strikes.

We look to you to remind us
of the One who saves us,
of the One who doesn’t care
about origins or back stories,
who calls us all.

We see your banner waving,
we watch, as the worshippers bow,
doing what the ancestors have done,
honoring the past,
looking to the future.

We seek your consolation,
we ask for your guidance,
we need your snake-trampling foot
to come among us once again.

As we await the coming of Him,
your Son and Holy God,
we look to you,
because you are accessible,
and we can relate

until,
standing before Him some day,
we are made whole.

O, John! (A Meditation on Mark 1:1-8)

O, John!

Harbinger of God,
wild voice of Jordan,
singing a new and strange song,
which lyrics,
yet being written,
speak of strange (terrible!)
and wonderful things.

O, John!

Refresh us,
with your bath of righteousness,
water flowing,
entering into the cracks
and crevices
of our lives.

O, John!

You never tire
of your relentless call–
“Repent! Be made new!”
Something we’ve not heard
before,
nor since,
in any real way.

O, John!

O, baptizer!

O, voice in the wilderness!

Wild man,
who serves a wild God,
among a people untamed,
and unashamed–

show us the One.

When Righteousness and Justice Kiss (A Meditation on Psalm 85:10-11)

when Righteousness
and Justice
kiss,

how sweet the embrace.

how gentle the caress.

how lovely the moment
when we,
who call ourselves “righteous”
realize that we need justice,
and those who seek justice
realize that we need to be made right.

when Righteousness
and Justice
kiss,

Faithfulness will spring forth,
fresh from new-watered ground,
and will stand tall,

proud,

alive,

and we will know,
in that kiss,
the sum total of Love

and the awe-inspiring effects
of Grace.

“A Voice Cries Out…” (A Meditation on Isaiah 40:3-7)

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness, prepare a way…”

Or, read this way–

A voice cries out in the wilderness,
“Prepare a way…”

One calls from the center,
that we might go to the margins

The other, from the margins,
that we might prepare the center

One voice reminds us to move,
the other moves us to be reminded,
the way must be prepared,
the valleys lifted up,
the stones removed from pathways
where the King will tread.

One voice,
joined by many,
marginalized, or centralized,
calling,
always calling,
always seeking,
always reminding
“The King is coming!”
“The King is here!”
“Behold, the King!”
“The King has arisen!”

Now, it is for us
to follow that King,
to travel our own valleys,
pathways winding and turning,
narrowly avoiding destruction,
until we come to the place
where we find The Way
has been prepared.

“So That You are Not Lacking…” (A Meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9)

These gifts we receive
are not “gifts” in the traditional sense
of the word.

A gift should be anticipated,
circled in the catalog months ago,
waiting every day
for the mailman to show up
Up, and up, and up…
transcendent and transformed
by a long-awaited surprise.

But these gifts–
these gifts mean business!

Prophets, speak a word,
but in speaking, you may lose our support.
Teachers, give us knowledge,
but not so much that we begin to change.
Preachers, tell out the Good News,
as long as it’s the “good news” we want.

These gifts from God
are not so much gifts, as they are a charge–
to change the world,
to challenge our expectations,
to choose a pathway
and to walk there,
precariously,
all the way.

God is faithful!
(Of this I am sure.)
And the faithfulness of God
will sustain.

“Give Ear, O Shepherd of Israel…” (A Meditation on Psalm 80)

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…”
So many declaratives!
Do this, God,
do that…
Shine forth,
stir up,
restore.

Our lives are lived in declarative sentences.

Life sentences that are lived declaratively,
definitively,
determinedly.

O God!
Restore us,
see us,
shine
on
us!

Your flock awaits,
your people listen,
in silence,
in longing,
in peaceful advent of surrender.

Shepherd, give ear to us!
Give life to us!
Give!
and we will receive.

Making Silence

Silence isn’t kept, it’s made.

We often speak of silence as if it is a moving object that we need to grasp onto.  We speak of “keeping” or “maintaining” silence.  I’ve said it myself, during times of spiritual direction or in group settings, “Now we’re going to keep silent for two minutes,” as if by our keeping it, we are somehow preserving silence for ourselves.  It almost becomes a passive act, in which we are merely vessels through which silence flows for a short period, and   As I have experienced silence, however, I notice that it is much more active than all that.  Silence isn’t kept, it’s made.

When we make silence, we engage in the action of building a safe and welcoming space.  In that space, all are equal–there are not interrupters, no one can shy away from sharing, no expectations that something must be said.  When silent space is made, particularly in a group setting, the Holy Spirit may flow freely, inspiring all, helping us to sense God’s presence more keenly.

In today’s world, with all our technology and various distractions, making silence can be very difficult.  In times when we do not interact with others (which is very different from making silence, which is interaction at a very deep level), we pull out our smart phones, flick through screens of information/entertainment, or put in ear buds to drown out the eerie static that exists when human interaction is stifled.  When we consciously choose to not utilize these distractions, we are making silence–it is an action, not merely the cessation of action.  It also takes active work to clear our minds of all the internal distractions that bug us in moments of quiet.  Do people like me here?  Why was my friend mad at me earlier today?  Am I being a good enough friend/parent/child/lover to those around me?  All of this is without mentioning the banal distractions that crop up when we are making silence, like concerns about irons or ovens being left on, the growling stomach, the pet fur left behind on pants and sweaters.

Usually, when I have asked students or directees how they feel following a prolonged time of making silence, I will hear responses like “refreshed,” “calm,” or “peaceful.”  Occasionally, however, those who experience such silence describe themselves as being “exhausted,” “concerned,” or “worried.”  What they are worried about is not the silence itself, but the feeling that they might not be doing it right.

As for me, sometimes the most profound experiences I have had in making silence have been the least peaceful.  Silence is often accompanied by disturbing memories, or a word from God that shocks me out of complacency.  Once, I found myself actually fleeing the room after an attempt at making silence–the weight of what was revealed to me through meditation having caused me to panic, with an understanding that I am known by God, yet loved all the same.  Silence doesn’t have to be “peaceful” in order to be effective.

So how do we make silence?  For everyone, it will be a little different, but I find that there are a few conditions that must exist at a minimum.  These are:

  1. Avoid distractions, both external and internal.  This can be achieved by turning off or leaving behind all electronic devices, taking off your watch, and saying “No!” to the chatter that goes on in your head when you quiet yourself down.
  2. Be comfortable, but not too comfortable.  Sit in a chair with a straight back, and put your feet flat on the floor or the ground.  If you are able, sit on the floor or the ground, or on a short cushion.  Make yourself comfortable enough that you will be able to withstand your posture for a long period of silence, but not so comfortable that you are tempted to fall asleep!
  3. If you are worried about time (which is a realistic concern in modern society), then set a timer.  You can use your phone (but don’t have it right next to you where you will be tempted to distraction).  All phones now have a timer function, or there are apps available that will help you meditate using traditional sounds like bells or wood blocks to help you know when your time is up.  Some people set a kitchen timer, and then go into the living room to make silence, so that they are not tempted to focus on how much time is left.
  4. Ease yourself into it, and practice, practice, practice!  No one can make silence for three hours on the very first go!  (Very few can do that after much practice, either!)  Start off with just a minute or two, and gradually build yourself up to more.  You will know you are ready to increase your time when you find yourself wanting more when your time is up.
  5. Take it easy on yourself!  You will be distracted, especially at first.  Do not take this as a sign of weakness, but as part of the process.  As one ancient practitioner once said, simply smile to yourself and go back to your work of making silence.

No human being is perfect, and no time of making silence is perfect, either.  You will find a pattern that works for you, and eventually, with practice, you may be able to make silence even in the midst of a busy train station, or on the bus, or in your office or cubicle.  Such pockets of silence are essential, especially for those who are introverted, and can become connection points with the Divine that build and sustain a healthy spirit.

Yours in Silence,

David

Surprised by God

So, I arrived at the chapel Monday morning, and this is the view that greeted me:

ImageI was quite surprised, actually, to see this tree in full bloom–even though I walked past it on the way into church on Sunday morning.  I guess that I was preoccupied at the time (not practicing mindfulness, I suppose), because it wasn’t until Monday that I noticed these beautiful blossoms!  Life is like that sometimes.  We walk past the beauty of God’s creation, and we don’t notice a thing–our minds all occupied with our own business (and busyness), so that we even walk past our fellow human beings without noticing them.  It reminds me of the line from The Color Purple, where Alice Walker wrote, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”  I once found a prayer (yes, a prayer!) that included that line, and I included it in a worship service that I was leading in England.  Let’s just say it had a shocking effect on the congregation!

Sometimes, God shocks us–surprises us–with joy and moments of wonder, especially when we least expect it.  When I looked out my window and saw those beautiful blossoms on the trees, I was surprised–so much so that I audibly gasped–and then got up and took a picture!

When was the last time that God surprised you?  When was the last time you gasped at the beauty around you?  When have you suddenly noticed something that you’re sure wasn’t there before, and it stopped you in your tracks just enough that you had to say a small “thank you” to God for the moment?

Thank you, God, for the little surprises of life.  They keep me in awestruck wonder at your grace and mercy every day.

Peace,

 

David

An Open Letter To A Non-Believer

Dear Atheist Friend,

First of all, let me begin by saying two things:

1.  I am sorry for all the horrible things that have been done in the name of the Church, Christianity, Christ, or the Cross.  I agree with you that the Crusades were horrible, genocidal events that pitted so-called “Christians” against anyone who didn’t agree with their faith.  Yes, it was Christians who enslaved Africans in this country for over 200 years, in an act so nonsensical that no one alive today thinks it was even remotely a good idea.  And yeah, there are people calling themselves Christians today who speak all manner of evil things against non-Christians, homosexuals, liberals, and anything else that moves or breathes upon this earth.

2.  I am not sorry for calling myself a Christian.  Even given the above, I am not ashamed to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  I do not shrink from stating that I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the same God who has existed throughout all eternity, who created the universe as we know it (and all that we don’t yet know about it), and who loves with a love that is unimaginable by human understanding.  I believe in God.  And I believe that God believes in me.

And see, here’s where there’s probably going to be some misunderstanding, because you may want to take my statement of faith in God as a reason for lumping me together with all the terrible, disgusting things that have been done throughout history in the name of faith.  You  might want to put me in the same category as the conquistadors, the crusaders, and freaking Fred Phelps.  And if I didn’t care about you, I’d simply let you do that, and write you off.

But I want to be your friend, so let me explain why that would be a mistake.  Because if I were to write you off in the same way that you’ve written me off, then I’d be doing us both a disservice, and I would be feeding into your preconceived notions about who I am as a Christian.  It would be easy for me to say that I don’t care.  It would be easy for me to just give up.  But that would defeat the purpose of me writing this letter, which is to show you why I’m a Christian.

I am a Christian because of relationships.  It began with my parents, who were strong Christians, leaders of the youth group at their church, who took me to church when I was a kid.  My parents have been through a lot in their lives–good times and bad times, ups and downs, but they always had two relationships at the forefront of their lives–with each other, and with God.

I was introduced to a relationship with God at an early age, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made that a personal relationship.  You have to understand, my teenage years were filled with a lot of confusion and turmoil–mostly internal.  I was struggling with my own self-image, and I felt really lonely–a lot.  It was through relationships that I had with some friends who were really strong Christians that I came to understand that my struggles were really over what my purpose in life was.  I didn’t know what I was meant to do, and I felt empty most of the time because I felt like there was no future for me, or that the future was at least going to be very bleak.  So, I began to read the Bible, and I went on retreats and met people who had this relationship with God, and who seemed to have a real sense of purpose in their lives.  And I began to have a relationship with God, and through that I began to realize that I was created by someone who loved me very deeply, who would do anything for me, who even came to earth in human form so that I could relate even better.

Now, I’m not suggesting that those who don’t believe in God don’t have a sense of purpose in life.  In fact, many of the non-believers I’ve known in my life have been purposeful, driven, caring people.  But I do know that my testimony is that I was without a purpose before I really met God, and now I wake up every day feeling like there’s a reason for me to be here that goes beyond being a success or just being a nice guy.  I know now that God wants me to build relationships with other people so that they can also come to find their purpose in life.

For me, faith in God isn’t about having all the right answers, or having a one-way ticket to heaven.  I don’t spend a lot of time condemning my non-Christian friends to eternal punishment in hell.  For me, it’s about relationships.  And I feel that there’s something bigger out there than you and me, and I choose to call that “God,” and I choose to believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus, and that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to die for my sins and the sins of all people (although that is part of it), but that he came to teach us about love, compassion, and grace in human community.  For me, faith in God is as much about faith in my fellow human beings as it is about faith in the biblical texts or the doctrines and dogmas of the Church.

There is so much more I’d like to say, and I may say it as time goes on.  But I just wanted to begin this conversation with you so that you know that my goal in trying to get to know you is not about converting you to my way of thinking, but about my desire to have a relationship with you that goes beyond “Christian” and “atheist.”  I want you to know that there are people–reasonable people–who believe in God, and who would never say the same things about you that you have sometimes said about them.  There is a community of loving, caring, Christians who just simply want to introduce you to the God who changed their lives, and to let you make your own decision.

I don’t pretend to think that this letter will change your life, but I hope it’s helped change your mind just a little bit about us crazy Christians.  And I hope you see it for what it is–an invitation to dialogue about purpose, the meaning of life, and the place of a higher power in the midst of all that.

Your Friend (I hope),

David

Mid-Week Prayer

Join us this week as we celebrate the life and teaching of St. Hildegard of Bingen, who was only named a saint in May of 2012, even though her writings go back to the 12th century!  We will explore what it means to sing through our hearts into the heart of God.

Wednesday September 19, 2012

5:00-5:30 p.m.

English Chapel, Ohio Northern University