Morning

elijah-hail-28932-unsplash

Morning Poem (by Mary Oliver)

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

” . . . Whether or not you have ever dared to pray.” 

I love Mary’s poetry. She has a way of painting a picture with the reader square in the middle of the scene. Here, it is morning. We see the rising sun, the trees, the pond, the lilies. There is the happy person swimming through the lilies or the one who is burdened with life’s circumstance, trudging along carrying the heavy “thorn.”

And, even if one is focused on the drudgery of existence and cannot see it, there is that voice within–that beast–that knows that this morning brings exactly what it needs, “Whether or not.”

Even if we don’t notice it around us, even if we have never thought we were worthy, even if we have never dared to pray, the morning arrives in all its glorious splendour.

As the writer of the Book of Lamentations penned:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; [God’s] mercies never come to an end–they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”

The new day lies open before us.

Whether or not we have ever dared to pray.

All of Life is a Prayer

magpie

The magpies chortle in the gigantic gumtree behind the fence,
calling in sheer joy and enthusiasm to each other,
greeting the new day.
Dogs in the distance greet one another,
and the neighbour’s dull Labrador-cross-who-knows-what
with the crooked tail howls. Each one making
the sounds of play and boredom respectively.

And we, in our early morning mindless banter,
speak blessings to one another,
affirmations, petitions, thanksgiving and praise and,
at the same time, whilst hiding our own irritability over lukewarm coffee, utter curses:
decrying the banality of someone’s existence in a dead-end relationship, or
the apparent lack of resilience in another, or
the poor taste of yet another in their choice of job, car, house, attire, food.

Are not all these prayers to some
ever-present yet invisible deity
(one who is beyond ourselves, perhaps
even as expansive as the universe)
who listens intently to the groanings of creation,
each one singing, speaking, sobbing, blaspheming
their own private prayers that, although perchance unintended,
always find an answer?

A Prayer for Autumn

Autumn foliage at Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia. Source: Jon Shriver

God of the seasons:
There is a time for everything.
There is a time for dying and rising.
We need courage to enter into the transformation process.

God of autumn:
The trees are saying ‘Goodbye’ to their green,
Letting go of what has been.
We too have our moments of surrender with all their insecurity and risk.
Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves lying in coloured patterns on the ground:
Our lives have their patterns.
As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights:
There is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives.
We always need to recognise your power-filled presence.
May we gain strength from this.

God of geese leaving for warmer climates:
Your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future.
We yearn for insight and vision.

God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs:
May your love keep our hearts from growing cold in empty seasons.

God of life:
You believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life.
For all this, we are grateful.

Amen.

(Source: Unknown)

Post #300: Doing Nothing

If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. – Pablo Neruda

2012-12-14 18.30.33I thought this may be a good quote to kick off this momentous (at least to me!) post: number 300! I’ve been blogging now for nearly 4 years and it has been great for me to say some of those things which have been churning inside of me and things that have been uplifting and challenging in my life.

Thank you for being a part of it and reading the random strings of words I call a blog.

As Pablo Neruda (quote above) insinuates, we need times of space in our lives consumed by absolutely nothing. This silence helps us to disentangle the threads of our life and gain some perspective and idea of where we are and where we need to be.

I was struck by this when I was sitting on the beach last Friday, by myself. Vicki had gone for a walk to find us some fish and chips. I had enjoyed a swim in the growing swell of high tide and was now “chilling.” With nothing but the sounds of the beach–waves, seagulls, children playing, people walking dogs, the odd jet ski–I sat in stillness with nothing but this deep down sensation that all is well.

Without such moments (and they can be simply moments, or extend to hours and even weeks), I don’t believe we can ever understand ourselves. And this lack of understanding (or, perhaps, a mis-understanding) of ourselves and our place in life can overcome us and suffocate us.

So, for those of you who call the southern hemisphere your home, take some time out in the sun: sit on a beach, walk along a river, relax in a park, stroll through a garden, position yourselves on a mat in a back yard and be still. Be silent.

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”
― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

“The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence.”
― Marianne Moore

“If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the spoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in the darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the center of the silent Word.

Oh my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where shall the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence”
― T.S. Eliot

“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
― Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear. ”
― Baba Ram Das

Meanderings . . .

From StillSpeaking:

Can reading be a form of prayer? I think so.

Not all reading. The books that are marketed as “page turners,” or with words like, “you won’t be able to put it down,” aren’t in my experience all that conducive to something like prayer (though they may get you through a long plane ride).

But many books – not only the Bible – but all those books that cause us to listen, to wonder, to pause and to ponder, can lead us to reading that is a form of prayer. A listening for God, a being seized by something deep and holy and true.

“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” asked Annie Dillard.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we feel again their majesty and power?”

For most of my life, I’ve begun my days early and by reading. For me it is a form and time of prayer, a time to listen for and to God. It is a time that leads to other prayers, including this one:

“Loquacious, still-speaking God, thank you, thank you, thank you – for books and for writers, for words and for reading, and for those who taught me to read and to learn to love it.”

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

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From Bruce Reyes-Chow:

Every once in a while during some online interaction, I find myself pounding my head on my keyboard in frustration and asking myself, “Why bother?” The frustration is usually born out of a conversation about a political or theological tweet or update, when it becomes clear to me that some folks are more interested in winning battles than building community. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for vigorous and passionate debate, and I am often complicit in exacerbating unhealthy dialogue, but too often it seems that we slip into modes of communication that seem to say that the only way I can be built up is for you to be torn down.
Honestly, sometimes building community just gets too damn hard and I want to quit. It’s not worth my time, my energy or my effort. After all, I could be doing so many other things that would be so much more worthwhile. And then I remember this great exchange from the movie, “A League of Their Own,” when star player Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis),wants to quit the team and she is challenged by manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) to ask herself, “Why?”

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up, you can’t deny that.

Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.

Jimmy Dugan: It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great. (Read the rest of this post here)

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From Emergent Village:

What you give leadership to will always grow. That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape … If I give my time to creating a great teaching ministry on Sunday morning, then we’ll provide a service to people who really like that kind of ministry. Since we know most Sojourners don’t wake up Sunday mornings looking  for a good sermon, we’ve decided to put our energy, efforts, and focus into the  incarnational aspects of our church instead of the presentational aspects. – Hugh Halter

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From Diana Butler-Bass on the Future of Faith:

In many cases, I’ve learned from “enemies” how NOT to behave in the world. Indeed, a dear friend, who once watched as I was struggling with an institutional crisis, said to me, “Diana, the point of this is to teach you how to be a leader. You now know how to listen because no one has listened to you; you now know how to respect others because you haven’t been respected; you now know the importance of the outsider because you have been cast out.” I hadn’t thought of that until he underscored this for me–I realized how often we take negative experiences and return evil for evil. That’s a primary problem in our political life and global relations–not to mention the life of denominations and congregations. But Christians should be able to break that cycle—and turn even the most painful experiences and worst criticism into a life of learning how to do better, how to forgive, how to love more. Understanding, listening, discernment are the basic practices in living a life of forgiveness—and when one is hurt, those practices are often blocked by fear.  But the more you do them, the more habitual they become. And it becomes easier to learn from everything from mere differences of opinion to verbally violent attacks.

That’s what I’ve learned personally. As a church, I hope we can learn defensive-less-ness. Jesus was not one who was much interested in protecting or defending. Jesus was about loving and laying aside. Movements that are about “protect and defend” are far outside the Gospel narrative, outside the witness of Jesus.  They aren’t Christian. We need to understand the fears that motivate such movements and the people attracted to them. But we must be equally clear that there is another way–and we must always, always, always stand as communities of conviction based in love. (Read the full interview here)

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“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.” – Paul Tillich

“What the Gospel forever takes away from Christians is the right to judge between the poor and the unworthy poor.” – Dorothy Day

“Be wise not to use or abuse people to pursue vision and projects. Vision and projects may perish. People don’t. Value people.” – Eugene Cho

‘”Good morning, God,” I said to start the day. “Good God, morning,” I said after sighting headlines “Police slam Catholic Church”.’ – Father Bob

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From Eagle Brook Church:

Clearly, the most creative Church promotional video I’ve seen in a while. But then what would you expect from a church with nearly 15,000 members?

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And now for something weird and wacky: For the Bible Tells Me So? And our ‘worm’ on ‘Can of Worms’ tonight is: “Should parents be allowed to execute their own children?”

For Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

Bless those who mourn, eternal God,
with the comfort of your love
that they may face each new day with hope
and the certainty that nothing can destroy
the good that has been given.

May their memories become joyful,
their days enriched with friendship,
and their lives encircled by your love.
Amen.

– Vienna Cobb Anderson, adapted from “Prayers of Our Hearts”

Meanderings . . . (Worth Retweeting)

Worth ReTweeting

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” – Mark Twain

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” What books are you reading? Need some ideas? Check out The Discerning Reader or  Englewood Review of Books.

Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”C.S. Lewis

Here’s a video from Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church called ‘We Dream of a Church.’ Well worth a look. It may just inspire you!

And this may not:

Prayer

“Contemplation,” or meditation as it is called by some, became more popular in contemporary times through the writings of Thomas Merton. The word most Christians were more familiar with was simply “prayer.”

Unfortunately, in the West prayer became something functional; something you did to achieve a desired effect—which puts you back in charge. As soon as you make prayer a way to get something, you’re not moving into a new state of consciousness. It’s the same old consciousness. “How can I get God to do what I want God to do?” It’s the egocentric self still deciding what it needs, but now often trying to manipulate God too.

This is one reason religion is in such desperate straits today. It really isn’t transforming people, but leaving them in their separated and egocentric state. It pulls God inside of my agenda instead of letting God pull me inside of his. This is still the small old self at work. What the Gospel is talking about is the emergence of “a whole new creation” and a “new mind,” as Paul variously calls it. – Richard Rohr

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A ‘Magic’ Faith vs a Biblical Faith

A person engages in “magic” insofar as they believe there are special behaviors that empower them to gain favor with, or to otherwise influence, the spiritual realm to work to their advantage. Depending on the culture or religious system, the “spiritual realm” a magical practitioner seeks to influence may be anything from an impersonal force (e.g. the “Tao”), to particular angels, to the God who created and sustains all things. Also depending on the culture or religious system, the relevant magical behaviors the practitioner engages in may be chants, spells, sacrifices or other sorts of rituals. Or the practitioner may simply court the favor of God or angels to gain their favor by obediently embracing revealed truths or by obediently engaging in specific acts that align the practitioner with the will of God or angels.

Among the many differences between “magic” and biblical faith is the fact that magic is about engaging in behaviors that ultimately benefit the practitioner while biblical faith is about cultivating a relationship with God that is built on mutual trust. And while the God-human relationship, like all trusting human-to-human relationships, benefits both God and the person of faith, it is not entered into as a means to some other end. While magical faith is utilitarian, biblical faith is simply faithful. (Read the full post at ReKnew here.)

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The ‘God’ Drug

A University of Washington study posits that worship services at megachurches can trigger feelings of transcendence and changes in brain chemistry – a spiritual “high” that keeps congregants coming back for more.

“We see this experience of unalloyed joy over and over again in megachurches. That’s why we say it’s like a drug,” said James Wellman, an associate professor of American religion who co-authored the study.

The study, “‘God is like a drug’: Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches” was presented on Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver.

,,,“The upbeat modern music, cameras that scan the audience and project smiling, dancing, singing, or crying worshippers on large screens, and an extremely charismatic leader whose sermons touch individuals on an emotional level … serve to create these strong positive emotional experiences,” [Kate] Corcoran [co-author of the study] said.

The pastor functions as an “energy star” who engages the congregation through an accessible, informal and emotional sermon. Rather than being analytical or theological, the message “just feels right” or “just makes sense” for congregants, Wellman said. (Read more on this study on the God’s Politics blog here.) Source: http://t.co/GQfNjbc2

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Genuinely, Welcome!

Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like book and blog) writes about a most welcoming Welcome given in a church and muses, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every Church extended this kind of welcome every week?’

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!

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Room for Doubt

We opened the windows
of the sanctuary on Sunday
and a gentle questioning
breeze blew through,
changing the atmosphere
in the room.

The dust of accumulated ideas
and layered tradition that
laid undisturbed on the
windowsill of our collective
consciousness was carried
on currents of fresh air.

These are the
questions that
were lifted on
the Breath’s inviting
currents:

“Who has doubts about
Jesus’ virgin birth?”
About half the
gathered flock
sheepishly confessed
with hands halfway raised.

“Who, without doubt,
believes the virgin birth?”
The other half raised their
hands swiftly and confidently
as if to salute a
sacred truth.

When in the Sabbath Pause
the dust settles like snow in
a snow-globe it shall be seen clearly
that we are all rooted and grounded
in the love of the One in whom we
live and move and have being.

And we, doubters and believers
alike, shall once
again say what we
believe:  “. . . born of
the virgin Mary. . .”

Only this time as if
for the first time.

Terry Chapman