Nov 29 2010

Practicing Resurrection

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My immersion in Eugene Peterson’s books continued this past week with Practicing Resurrection. Alongside Answering God, it is one of his finest, and a great introduction to the lovely way his theology of God meshes with his theology of prayer and church and intimacy and God-human relationship, using Ephesians as the starting text.

Reading the book was more like having a series of conversations about life and faith with Peterson in front of a fire on a winter’s evening, drinking hot chocolate, all the while attentively reflecting on Paul’s text.  Gentle, yet direct, encouraging, yet challenging, he shares his love for Jesus and writes of subjects close to his heart. His words spurred me on to pray for and love others, more and more.

In fact, by the end of the book, I was even more convinced that loving and praying, and pursuing a life that cultivates loving and praying (not as abstractions, but loving real people and allowing my heart to break in prayer for concrete situations) is the best way to live.  Over the next few posts, I will be sharing more about this.

The book also confirmed a little desire that has been growing in me for awhile: to memorize an entire book of the bible.  As I’ve been slowly recovering the sacredness of words this past year, my love of scripture has been rekindled. Encouraged by Ann Voscamp at A Holy Experience to create a memory book, and then catching Peterson’s own love for Ephesians, I started last week.

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Memorizing does not take much daily time–20 minutes of re-reading the verses each day is enough to let the verses sink in deeply. And, memorizing gives me permission (and that is key!) to spend a week on the same verses, rather than move to new ones each day.  The focus is now on the verses, not on the scripture reading plan!

Memorizing is also a natural partner to the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina (Latin for divine reading), a centuries old way of reading and praying scripture (here is an intro). The movements of lectio divina are often described as a meal: reading the verses is eating, meditating on them is chewing, praying them is digestion, and contemplating them is that lovely full feeling after a good meal–and the words (the Word) are now nourishing our very being. Memorizing fits well into the reading stage and is closer to what Christians would have done in earlier times.

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If you are interested in making your own memory book, an example is here. Here is a lovely reflection on memorization as well as lots of suggestions.

If you’ve never memorized scripture, then start with a verse or two (and see how easy it is!)  Here is a great musical version of Philippians 4:6-7. I guarantee you will have the verses memorized by the end of the video!

***

Thankful today for…

“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us (drenched us!) in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:3)

Scripture and the written witness of Christians centuries ago to the presence and power of Christ in their lives.

Eugene Peterson’s books and the privilege of this time to immerse myself in them.

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A wonderful thanksgiving feast with dear friends.

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Wind swept views.

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Friendship…over time and experiences and years of conversation, grateful for the knowing and the being known.

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My godson Ben.

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Nov 22 2010

Deeper Magic

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Worried about the future, a woman stepped out of the campus library into the cold winter darkness. Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. Hungry and tired, she waited for the bus in the street lamp’s glare, wearily wondering where God had gone.  She worried at the question as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. Familiar tears prickled at the corners of her eyes.  She clenched her teeth against the ache and shoved her hands in her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts and eyes to look for distant headlights.

That’s when she saw them, on the sidewalk, just at the edge between light and dark:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the night.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. The tiny lights of a bus appeared in the distance. She imagined supper and bed, warmth and sleep.

Yet a little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart, a little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop, questions stilled by curiosity.

She followed up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

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Today I am grateful…

That Christ is risen indeed!

For C.S. Lewis, whom I remember today, and how the Narnia stories still speak to me of The Story, and that children are still reading them.

For the paw prints of God’s guidance: I may not know where following them will take me, but I know Who waits at the end.

For the story kernel, based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of actually finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” (Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

For my young friend, Jack, who has read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on his own for the first time.

And for this morning, like going through the Wardrobe, I look out on a snowy world,

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and the feathered friends who eat breakfast with me:

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Nov 17 2010

Living Joyfully for Advent

 

 

 

 

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Please see an updated version of this post here.

For each day, from now until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love,  putting it on a calendar that draws on some older Advent and Christmas traditions.

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter.  In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also there can be more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) was the “O Antiphons.” Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches, as they have been for more than 1500 years, from December 17 to December 23.  Each of the antiphons refer to a name of Christ, most from the Book of Isaiah, and offer a jumping off point for reflection.

Finally, Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer celebration. Another lost tradition is the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means “appearance” or “manifestation” and remembers the Magi and shepherds visiting Jesus, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the public revelation that he is God’s Son.  The period from December 25 to January 6th seems an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

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Pulling these three traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully.  Here is a PDF version.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!

 



Nov 12 2010

Lentil Soup for the Body and Spirit

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Yesterday as I sniffed and sneezed and shivered from the flu, the thought came to mind: “Surely, I can watch a movie since I can’t focus on anything else right now.” But alongside that thought was another, and thankfully, louder one: The whole point behind taking a break from 2-D screen stories was to practice not using them as an escape from unpleasantness. So I didn’t. And as I turned the heat up to broil and put on three layers and shuffled aimless from room to room, a story came to mind from the desert fathers.

Abba Antony was struggling with weary boredom in his life and work (it’s odd to think of those radical monks getting bored), and prayed for wisdom about how to deal with it.  Later, when Antony got up to go out, he saw a man that looked like him, sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray (desert monks stood to pray and then did a full bow, with knees and head to the ground), then sitting down and working, then getting up again to pray. Antony realized it was an angel of the Lord sent to teach and reassure him. The angel said, ‘Do this and you will be saved.’ Anthony felt both joy and renewed courage at the angel’s words.

Now, the desert fathers are best when not taken too literally.  There was more to Antony’s life than work and prayer. This story focuses on identifying and taking simple mini-steps in moments of challenge.

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I took a good look around my apartment and knew that, one step at a time and very slowly, I could pick it up (it had that 48-hour-sickroom-no-energy-to-put-things-away look) and choose to make something sustaining and healing to eat. My spirit was willing (sort of), but my body was weak.

Ah, yes. The body.

Somehow, even as a staunch believer in Jesus’ incarnation, divinity in human skin, my reflections on contemplative living have rarely mentioned the body’s role in spirit-full practices. And the body is important, because it is where we are and partners in all our choices.  If the body is not convinced, well, it’s going to be tough going.  The body can register a complaint quite loudly.

I firmly believe that contemplative living (meaning a prayerful attentiveness to 3-D life and God in the midst of said life) is possible in any circumstance.  It looks different for me than my dear friend with two small children and twinfants.  (I’m constantly in awe of her ability to deeply pay attention and prayerfully reflect in the midst of the physical and mental joys/demands of four children.) Or my former pastor, who shared that set-apart daily times for prayer and being in the Word were the only way he could keep going.

The particular situation, the embodied life, is the only place where the choice for contemplative living can be made–not a pretend “if-only-I-lived-in-a-monastery (or fill in the blank), then-I-could-pay-attention” life.

Sometimes the body needs a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge, sometimes it has a deeper wisdom that needs to be listened to.  The Holy Spirit meets us faithfully where we are at (in our bodies) and helps us to discern when to nudge it in a different direction or when to follow its suggestion. I did pick up my apartment and cook dinner, doing a single-task shuffle while listening to big band holiday music.

I also took a long nap in the midst of it. Resting is a step just as much as work.

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***

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In honor of the body’s (and spirit’s) need for nutritious and yummy food, and my current non-dissertation reading, Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, I will leave you with the most amazing (and easy) soup recipe, slightly adapted, from her food blog, Orangette:

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

4 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional good oil for drizzling
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Pinch of cayenne or Aleppo pepper, or more to taste
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups red lentils, picked through for stones and debris
2 large carrots, peeled and diced (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for 4 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups water, the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.  (I left out the pepper, carrots, and cilantro.)

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Nov 8 2010

Doing Scales

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Every Friday was painful. Literally.

Band-aids covered my fingers and the shaking in my voice went to the tips of my toes. Hardly any of the strings rang clearly and my voice was a whisper.

The only comfort was everyone had their moment in front of Miss Samuelson’s guitar class.  I practiced on the guitar until my fingers were red and hurt so bad I cried. I practiced an hour everyday in class and then more in the evening, just to perform Leaving on a Jet Plane or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, with some shred left of my 7th grade dignity.

I practiced as I had never practiced before.

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Weeks and weeks passed. The pain gradually diminished and my fingers did not agonize over every chord change and I learned to sing alone.

I kept singing after that year, but the guitar grew dusty until I went to college and discovered God not only enjoyed organ hymns and choir music, but also guitar praise choruses.  And I finally was thankful for the band-aids and shaking, as I learned to worship and lead others in singing.

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Practicing has become an important concept for me.  Other life experiences made me think a person either has a skill or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that can be done.  But it simply isn’t true. We can practice.

And even more important.  We can fail. Put band-aids on our fingers or our hearts, and get back to practicing.

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.  If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.” (Donald Miller)

What do you want, enough to practice over and over, enough to risk failure, enough to walk through some discomfort?

God invites us to practice with the Holy Spirit.  Doing scales each day in prayer and God’s Word, playing the pieces of our lives–choices, conversations, relationships, work, griefs, hopes, pain. We can learn over time and with the Spirit to play them with less fear, with more love and trust. Maybe even with gratitude.  The goal is not a perfect grade, but a life sung in worship to the glory of God and for the sake of others.

And the best promise of God’s grace and hope:

I so often miss the notes and still God carries the tune.

In gratitude for…

Life with less screen time, growing more comfortable with silent solitude, so thankful for focus and renewed creativity.

An interview for a dream position at a dream school.

Delightful lunches and encouraging conversations with friends.

Getting caught up in the Story this week and finding a spark for evangelism growing in my heart.

Three adults and two children singing “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful” in the car to calm the twinfants’ chorus of crying.  A choir could never sound as beautiful.

Spending a delightful hour with my young friend Jack, buzzing down the aisles of Costco, talking and laughing.

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Nov 1 2010

Word Whisperer

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I worry this morning that pursuing a contemplative life is merely a mask for my own lack of stamina, my inability to exist joyfully at the full throttle pace of this society.

“You could accomplish so much more…” promises a familiar inner voice.

So I take off the mask and pray with Paul, “Lord, may your power be made perfect in weakness.”

Outside, the hummingbirds buzz among the bare branches and finches do leaf impersonations, occasionally fluttering the rain off their wings, and I know if I went fast or did more at once, I would not see them. I might miss them completely, and never know what I was missing, this sharing of a quiet dawn with the rain, birds, the grey cloudy city in the distance.

And so again I choose to do one task at a time, listen to one story at a time, write one word at a time and let the sentences come.

Words and stories are timid creatures. They often skamper away under the pressure to reveal too much, too fast.  So I whisper to them and wait.

In gratitude for slowing down…

Hearing the different rhythms of rain on the roof

A roof and warmth, things I forget to appreciate when life goes too fast

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Birds and other creatures that visit my balcony

Friends who saw me walking and slowed down, giving me a ride to church

Unrushed conversation twice around Green Lake

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Seeing a Great Heron asleep in a tree! (Opps! I woke him up!)

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Noticing rain drops on flowers that looking like ballerinas

Hours of games with adult-friends and kid-friends

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Drinking in the brilliance of autumn

Space to weep over the pain in young adult lives and to pray, “Lord, have mercy!” (Currently reading Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults)

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Celebrating a 4th birthday with my beautiful blue-eyed friend

Smiling at people while out walking, and seeing their face become as bright as the sun

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