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Thursday, July 21, 2011, 9:09 PM
Yours is the day, o God, yours also the night; you established the moon and the sun. You fixed all the boundaries of earth; you made both summer and winter. -- Psalm 75: 15, 16
This was the opening sentence of Evening Prayer tonight. And it was a reminder to me that, both in creating the world and calling it good and in incarnating as a human being on this earth God has sanctified both time and the seasons. A spirituality that ignores these rhythms of life is a spirituality that is inauthentic to our human experience.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 5:41 PM
If you've been reading these first few journal posts and have followed the links to online resources for daily prayer, you may be thinking, "This looks really interesting...but it seems really -- long for my personal devotions, especially if I pray more than one prayer per day."
Well -- yeah. Not many of us are monastics or other religious pros who have large swaths of time for prayer and contemplation built into our days.
But this is nothing new. And that's why different Christian traditions have, over the centuries, developed devotionals that are easier for families -- and, these days, busy working folks -- to follow.
Here are some short-form daily devotions for individuals and families -- prayers you can tuck into coffee breaks and other quiet spaces in your day.
Still too much, some days? From my own Lutheran tradition, here are Martin Luther's own morning and evening prayers. Luther suggested prefacing these with making the sign of the cross -- a reminder to ourselves, at the beginning and end of each day, that we are baptized, marked with the cross of Christ, and belong to God no matter what.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011, 11:42 AM
Yesterday my daily Bible reading plan led me into some interesting Scriptural territory. Our Old Testament readings have been from I Samuel, and in yesterday's installment we found David sparing the life of his enemy Saul, whom his men had caught in, shall we say, an unguarded moment in a cave. (Gotta love that scatalogical detail in the text.) We had a couple of Psalms. Next we continued our ongoing journey through the Book of Acts, where Paul and Barnabas, after an initially positive trip to Antioch, wound up being run out of town by the offended citizenry. And finally we wound up with Jesus in Mark's Gospel, hearing Mark's version of the Parable of the Sower.
Wow! What sort of new, turbocharged, three-dimensional biblical-literacy program am I following?
The daily lectionary. Old-skool. (Really old-skool.)
The daily lectionary is a whole different cat than the Sunday cycle of lessons used by liturgical Christians.
The Sunday lectionary is thematic and preaching-focused; the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel texts have been chosen with an eye toward creating unifying ideas that can preach. This past Sunday, for instance, the lessons conveyed a message that God is God of history, and that God's people neither need to despair nor to force God's hand in making God's good purposes come about in this world.
The daily lectionary, by contrast, is much more wide-ranging and freewheeling. The texts are usually in larger chunks than what Sunday-morning worshippers are used to. And unlike the Sunday lectionary, the daily lectionary runs on a faster, two-year cycle.
The daily lectionary's purpose is less about teaching Scripture in a thematic way and more about simply acquainting us with it; getting it into our minds and, over time, into our spiritual DNA.
And unlike the Sunday lectionary, the daily lectionary will periodically engage the reader in the types of texts that generally don't make it to the lectern and pulpit on Sunday mornings -- not because there's some nefarious Librul conspiracy to sanitize Scripture, but because historically Christians have recognized that some texts are better for reading aloud and expounding upon to the faithful in community, while others are best dealt with in the context of small mentored groups or private devotions. It's in the daily lectionary where biblical oddities like the story of Moses catching a glimpse of God's backside turn up, as well as the stories where God doesn't come off very well -- for instance, suddenly going all homicidal on his heretofore human BFF Moses because his son hasn't been circumcised, until his wife Zipporah...erm... takes matters into her own hands; or sending a maneating she-bear to violently dispatch some youth who've been teasing the prophet Elisha. (If making fun of goofy religious folk is a capital offense, then I should have been Bear Chow long, long ago.)
And the daily lectionary is also where we hear those imprecatory, "cursing" Psalms, where the Psalmist calls down various calamities upon his enemies and hopes for their children's death. Seriously, these don't make very good responsive readings/chantings on Sunday mornings; but in the privacy of our devotions, or the safe space of a small group with a wise leader, these very honest human feelings of anger and frustration can and should be explored.
This daily exposure to what will in two years be almost the entirety of Scripture keeps us on our spiritual toes; it shoves us out of our biblical comfort zone and forces us to engage with the builk of the Bible, not just our favorite verses and authors and themes.
At a time when biblical literacy seems to be taking a nosedive not only among the general public but among even Christians -- when readers are losing the ability to recognize allusions to Scripture in literature, popular music and common turns of phrase -- maybe it's not such a bad idea to sign on to a time-tested way of internalizing The Story that is also our story as 21st-century people of God.
Ken Collins, a Disciples of Christ pastor, runs a website that helps non-liturgical Christians understand and experience how liturgical worship works. If the idea of a daily lectionary is new to you, visit this webpage .
You can also get going by reading the Morning Prayer every day at The Mission of St. Clare , a website designed to give busy working adults a "God break" during their day, or The Daily Office website -- click on the menu to the left to find today's prayers and readings.
Monday, July 18, 2011, 9:43 PM
The other day, on a Christian forum where the conversation had gotten around to prayer, one individual opined, "God only deserves spontaneous prayers."
That got up my small-c catholic hackles. I almost responded that, considering my own often inchoate blathering or self-serving "gimme" prayers, and the "Jeezus weejus" prayers I've had to sit through in various groups, our spontaneous prayer is less something that God "deserves" and more something that God is forced to endure.
But -- of course there's a time and place for spontaneous prayer, in our private moments and in corporate settings. I do the latter quite frequently as a commissioned lay minister called upon to lead prayer at my church and elsewhere.
Fixed prayers -- crafted, written prayers, of which the Psalms are just one example -- are also a valuable tool in our spiritual practice. Fixed prayers give us words when we have none. They often remind us to think outward -- outward to the glory of God, outward to the needs of our neighbors -- when our inclination is to pray only for our own needs and those of our immediate circle of family and friends. Fixed prayers can connect us across centuries and cultures with the Communion of Saints; imagine these prayers "rising like incense" from age to age, society to society. And they're often beautiful; the original Book of Common Prayer, Anglican churchman Thomas Cranmer's gift to the Church, is considered by many to be one of the greatest works of English literature as well as of Christian devotion.
The Phos hilaron -- also known as "The Lamp-Lighting Hymn" or "O Gladsome Light" -- is a hymn that dates back to the late 3rd or early 4th century. It's considered the oldest extant Christian hymn outside Scripture that still enjoys widespread usage. In both Eastern and Western churches the Phos hilaron is used as an early evening prayer. Does God deserve a prayer like this, as we bring our attention Godward at the end of a busy day? You can decide that for yourself:
O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.
You can also hear a sung version of the Phos hilaron www.missionstclare.com/english/July/even..."> here .
Sunday, July 17, 2011, 10:05 PM
Today's Gospel Lesson,Revised Common Lectionary: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Today in church many of us heard Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares, or weeds: A landowner plants a field of wheat. Sometime in the night an "enemy" seeds the planted field with weeds; Jesus was probably referring to darnel, a common Middle Eastern weed that looks very much like a wheat plant as it's developing. But at some point the alien plants' weediness becomes evident to the landowner's servants, who report this distressing state of affairs to the landowner. "Do you want us to pull out all those weeds?" The landowner wisely points out that trying to destroy the weeds at this point may also harm the good crop; he advises the overly eager weeders to wait until harvest-time, when the weeds can be safely destroyed.
On one hand, Jesus' parable is a cautionary tale about the urge to purify the world of evil on a human rather than divine timetable, and indeed to presume to share God's insight into who's wheat and who's a weed. Jesus, here and elsewhere, seems to suggest that in the end we, especially we spiritually-minded folk, will all be surprised at who's "in" and who's "out." But sitting in church today, hearing these words, I thought of something else. I thought of something else because, just a few minutes earlier in the worship service, I had joined the rest of the congregation in the Brief Order of Confession -- our acknowledgement before God and before one another that we don't, that we can't, always get it right; that every day, in various active and passive ways, we disappoint God and hurt one another.
Am I wheat, or am I a weed?
In my Lutheran tradition, the answer is: Yes. We followers of Christ, no matter how advanced we are in our Christian walk, no matter how "born-again" or "Spirit-filled" we presume ourselves to be, are simul iustus et peccator: sinner-saints.
Which is all the more reason to resist the urge to purge our faith communities of people we don't deem good enough or holy enough. ( As my pastor likes to note, "We're all bozos on this bus.") It's all the more reason to walk away from demagogic politicians and pundits who want to "purify" society in one way or another. History is replete with sad and often bloody examples of both religious and secular "cleansing" operations that ultimately fail. Because people are people, and people -- even the presumed "good" people -- are sinners who can't always get it right. In the end, as mystic Julian of Norwich observed, all will be well and all manner of thing will be well; but that end is in God's good time, not ours. And that's what Jesus says in today's parable.
And this is also why we all need the regular reality check of confession, in the context of our faith communities and in our own private devotions. Confession is not about beating ourselves up; it's about manning up or womaning up to who we are -- acknowledging our "weediness" and dependence on God's grace and mercy, and asking for God's help, every day, in being grown into God's good wheat, producing good seed in this world.
Saturday, July 16, 2011, 7:56 PM
Traditional Christian spirituality not only follows an annual cycle of seasons, but also a daily cycle of prayers, sometimes called the Liturgy of the Hours or the Daily Office. These prayers developed early in Church history as part of the monastic movement; they were opportunities for religious sisters and brothers to intersperse their other daily duties with prayer and worship. But over the centuries they've become important devotional tools for persons in all "stations and vocatons."
One of my favorite elements of this daily cycle of prayer is Compline, the nighttime prayer. Especially if you've had a busy or stressful day, praying through this liturgy can help you prepare for sleep on a peaceful, prayerful note. And the more you pray it, the more it will absorb into your consciousness and become a regular part of your bedtime ritual, even if you don't have immediate access to a written or audio version.
Here is an online Order of Compline. And now may the Lord almighty grant you a peaceful night and a perfect end.
Friday, July 15, 2011, 9:58 PM
Here in rural mid-Michigan we're in the middle of our green and growing season. Farmers are making hay and harvesting wheat. Vegetables are starting to show up on our Amish neighbors' farmstands and in my own garden. Our church garden (pictured) is also in full swing.
In Christendom, at least the part of it that follows the Church calendar, we're also solidly in the green and growing season of the Church year: The season of Pentecost, which in the Western Church stretches from Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter, to Christ the King Sunday, around the end of November.
For those of us who've been following the circle of the Church year, we've heard in our Sunday Gospel lessons the narrative of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and the story of the empowerment of the early Church on Pentecost. We've learned, or have reminded ourselves of, the "who' and why" of Jesus; now, during the season of Pentecost, we focus on the "how" of following Jesus. Our Gospel lessons these Sundays are filled with Jesus' parables and sermons; this Sunday many of us will be hearing about the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, that perpetually relevant cautionary tale for all overly zealous "weeders" in the Christian community.
The Pentecost season is often referred to as "Ordinary Time"; and indeed its emphasis is on ordinary, nitty-gritty living into our Christianity.
Not that "ordinary" means "easy."
The same growth that means harvesttime in my part of the world also means a garden that, if neglected for even a couple of days (which has happened during a month filled with travel and family visits), can be quickly overrun by weeds, beset by pests large and small or stunted and shriveled from lack of water and cultivation. Previewing Sunday's Gospel lesson, I couldn't help but think of my own ongoing battle with sprouting acorns and crabgrass in my garden, trying to remove these unwanted invaders without disturbing my newly planted rows of vegetables.
Sometimes to me the Christian life feels like the daily struggle to wrest order from chaos in my garden: "If it isn't one thing it's another." The Pentecost season's focus on Christian life, individually and in Christian community, is a needed reminder to me that cultivating a Godward-turning life is ongoing work, not something that simply "happens" or that is completed in this life.
Now, at this point, some of you may be nodding in recognition; this is also your experience traveling through the Church year. Others among you may not even know what the Church year is, or how I can know in advance what Sunday's Scripture lessons will be or even what "lesson" means.
In the days to come I hope to give you an idea of how my own Christian spirituality is informed by both the traditional seasons of the Church year and by the seasons of the natural world; how I find this a meaningful way to order my spiritual life. I'll be sharing some online tools that will help you, if this is a new way of understanding Christian discipleship and devotional practice, tap into this way of walking the Christian path. And I also hope to simply share with you some snapshots of my own life -- a good life, in a good place. I'm not always this pedantic; I'm certainly not this serious. (Having just entered Beliefnet's blogging contest, I feel a little like sitting in a first job interview, trying desperately to make a good impression.) But I hope you'll keep wanting to read more; and I look forward to this online adventure with you.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 7:38 AM
Matthew 17:22-27 (NRSV)
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised." And they were greatly distressed. When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes, he does." And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?" When Peter said, "From others," Jesus said to him, "Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me."
This is one of those texts that, inserted where it is in the gospel, makes me, at least, scratch my head and go, Huh? One moment Jesus is attempting to prepare his disciples for the inevitability of his suffering and death; the next moment we find ourselves reading an almost droll account of Jesus' unique method of paying the temple tax.
But in thinking about the lesson this morning it occurred to me that these two oddly juxtaposed themes represent our relationship, as believers, to temporal power.
Living as we do between the "now" and "not yet," we have a kind of dual citizenship in this world and in the inbreaking Reign of God. Sometimes our citizenship in the former is benign; we pay our taxes, we try to make responsible decisions as voters, we support our communities and institutions, we strive to be good citizens. Sometimes, though, as Jesus points out, our existence in this world of "powers and principalities" is perilous; we don't fit in; our primary allegiance to the Reign of God puts us at odds with the secular culture.
What Christian triumphalists -- and this is as true of the left side of the political continuum as the right wing -- need to understand is that this tension between the "now" and "not yet" will be with us always. Whenever we try to storm the citadel of secular power and plant the Christian flag, bad things happen -- bad things happen to the government, and to our souls.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007, 7:40 AM
Matthew 17:14-21 (NRSV)
When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me." And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."
My pastor notes that most of us, himself included, live our daily lives in a state of practical atheism; that, as G.K. Chesterton once noted, it's not that we've tried Christianity and found it wanting, but rather have found Christianity difficult, and so not really tried it.
How would our lives, and the lives of those around it, be different, if we took to heart the proposition that God loves us, means us well, has saved and continues to save us and, more than that, has called us into relationship as daughters and sons, members and heirs in God's household?
Monday, November 19, 2007, 7:03 AM
Matthew 17:1-17 (NRSV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." And the disciples asked him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
Today's lesson describes a theophany -- an experience of divine presence; a dramatic "God moment." Here, Peter, James and John are granted just a glimpse of who their rabbi really is.
For me, the operative phrase in this text has always been, "As they were coming down the mountain..." Because no matter how dramatic a conversion experience may be, no matter how God may at times break through into our everyday lives in a vivid, memorable way...as long as we live on this side of the Eternal, we have to come down from the mountain. There are strains of Christianity that suggest we should be living on the mountain of numinous experience and "Christian victory" all the time, and that if we aren't there must be something wrong with our faith -- but that's not what this text says; witness Peter unsuccessfully trying to capture the moment, as it were. No; we're called to leave the mountain and return to our calling of living Christ into the world around us -- a world of pain and brokenness and failure that will also by necessity include our own. The "God moments" in our lives provide us with hope, with "a foretaste of the feast to come" -- but like Jesus and his friends, our work continues.