Jan 31 2011

Hiding Light

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“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. (Matthew 5:14-15)

Grace is often a warm and happy word.  A word said with a sigh of thankfulness.

As I’ve been reflecting on worship, I’ve run into a different experience of grace.

When this grace-light shines, I want to shut the door and reach for a basket. Thank you, God, but I’ll keep this to myself.

It’s the grace that God shows me in weakness, through weakness.

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I admit, I’m not really a fan.

“God, couldn’t you just change that part of my personality? No need for grace. Just take out an eraser and do some editing. Here, I can show you where.”

I close in and close down around my weaknesses: my self-consciousness; my awkwardness when I don’t know what to say, or how to say it, or say the horribly wrong thing; when I let friends down; when I don’t trust God to take care of me so I try to do it on my own; when I fear failure and regret, even more than death. I’m embarrassed by it, certain others will walk away disappointed or disgusted. I find the nearest strength to cover it, thick black-out curtains or fig leaves I’ve gone seeking to earn.

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But when I hide this inner-most poverty, I hide where God faithfully meets me over and over.

Even more, God’s grace touches each of us uniquely and shines in our weaknesses in a way just so, a way that could speak grace to another person.

And so I write, trusting that at least one person other than me needs to read this:

“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

It’s time to take off the basket, let the grace-light shine through it and see what God will do.

“Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16)

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****

Counting gratitudes today:

371. The hard grace-light

372. Thomas Howard, Christ the Tiger.

373. Annie Dillard, A Writing Life.

374. Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz.

375. Ann Voscamp, One Thousand Gifts.

376. Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

377. The glorious musty dusty inky smell of old books, and the sweet smell of new well-published ones.

378. A prayer for forgiveness.

379. A clean kitchen

380. The smell of eggs and cinnamon toast

381. Ideas for the joy retreat

382. Ensemble singing

383. Singing “O God Beyond All Praising”

384. Playing hide and seek with Jack and Jane in the church. (And what a great place they found to hide!)




Jan 28 2011

Friday Florilegium

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As the birds build nests, as the furry catkins bud on the willow, new bright green leaves open in the sunniest places, and cherry blossoms begin to pink-tinge the trees, I begin this Florilegium with my most favorite quote, from the book Christ the Tiger by Thomas Howard:

“Here from this stable, here, from this Nazareth, this stony beach, this Jerusalem, this market place, this garden, this Praetorium, this Cross, this mountain, I announce it to you. I announce to you what is guessed at in all the phenomena of your world. You see the corn of wheat shrivel and break open and die, but you expect a crop.

I tell you of the Springtime of which all springtimes speak.

I tell you of the world for which this world groans and toward which it strains. I tell you that beyond the awful borders imposed by time and space and contingency, there lies what you seek. I announce to you life instead of mere existence, freedom instead of frustration, justice instead of compensation.

For I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done.

I restore the years that the locusts and worms have eaten. I restore the years you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheel-chair. I restore the symphonies and operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massif your blind eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder and the identity lost to you because of calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your own foolish mistakes have cheated you of.

And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.

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If you would like to contribute to the Friday Florilegium, please share a quote or scripture verse that has been meaningful for you in the comments or in a blog post.

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Jan 28 2011

Florilegium, Latin, “a gathering of flowers”

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I just finished rereading a fascinating book by a monastic historian and classically-trained scholar, Jean LeClerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.  He details the educational system and literary culture of 9th-12th century monasticism, which deeply influenced Christian life and education during that time.

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Back in the day, as in 10 centuries ago and earlier, monks wrote on sanded-smooth animal vellum, painstakingly copying and illuminating manuscripts.  This page will give you an idea of the process. For a modern example, the breath-taking St John’s Bible is being crafted using the techniques of the medieval scriptoriums.  Below is an illustration of St Mark from the Lindesfarne Gospels (7th-8th C).

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Writing was a mentally and physically demanding process, and that was in addition to the actual composition of the prose.  The monks didn’t just copy religious or specifically Christian texts either. To the monasteries we owe the continuity of historical records, as well as the preservation of Greek and Latin literature and philosophical texts. Why? The monks were educated through these texts, they found them beautifully written and believed many were inspiring for living life well–a truly classical education, enjoyed and used in the love of God.

While copying manuscripts required time and expense, there were often left over scraps of vellum available for the monks to copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather).

A bouquet of literary flowers. The monks were such romantics.

Florilegium--Rothschild Canticles 14th C

We have examples of these quote collections which helps historians know what people were reading and who were the well-loved authors of that day. Above is a 14th century florilegium called the Rothschild Canticles.

Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a few quotes from books I’m reading.  These texts could be from scripture, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, or just some random yummy-quote-goodness!

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Jan 27 2011

When You’re Weary

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I woke to fog horns sounding deep in the dark distance and the eerie comforting glow of a world held in fog.

The whole city is whispering. Even the birds.

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After a string of days full of good work and conversations, lots of bus rides and many miles of walking city streets, I find the fog cocoon inviting and create for a moment my own little nest. Tea. Bread pudding. Journal. Candle glow. And let my thoughts turn down the volume and my body sigh and my heart whisper how its feeling.

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Guilt hovers. High-pitched whining in my ear like a hungry mosquito, I swat it away and miss, swat and miss…

…I’m single without children, I have no reason to be tired.

…this is unproductive.

…I haven’t worked hard enough to deserve a rest.

…a billion people don’t get this luxury, why should I?

…there are a list of tasks I need to do.

…there are so many projects I want to do.

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But then I remember.

Jesus says,

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.  (Matt 11:28-30 MSG)

It all comes down to trust.

Trust that God knows how to do the work in me and in the world. That he is already working, and is completely aware of my limits.

And still loves me.

Trust that while outer silence can often be in short supply, inner silence, an inner resting in God, is possible anywhere.

Anywhere.

It only takes God’s grace blending with my intentional desire and a little practice.

There are many ways to worship. Being a human-at-rest is one of them.

The Old Testament called this Sabbath, to cease from labor.

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An experiment for you: For ten minutes (set an stove or egg timer), turn off the TV, the radio, any background noise you can control. Ask worry and guilt, task lists and projects, for a time-out.

Sit and close you eyes.

Or lay on the floor.

Or stare out the window.

Or hold your loved one.

Or pet your four-legged companion.

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Let the moist, quieting fog of  Holy Spirit breath surround and still.

Listen.

A fog horn blows and God says,

“I’m here. Be with me. In this moment. Exactly as you are, where you are. Come. Rest.”


Jan 24 2011

Defining Moments

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They came through the doors, two or three at a time. Wrote name tags and found a place in the circle.

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Thirty eight middle and high school students from three Seattle churches gathered for a Saturday of defining words, learning history,  and wrestling with issues.

Laughter from icebreaker games filled the fellowship hall–like guessing the names of famous people stuck to our backs and “shuffle your buns” (a new one that left me quite thankful to be photographing, rather than playing)…..

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…turned  into serious discussion as students tackled writing definitions for five words:

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prejudice

discrimination

racism

stereotype

institutional racism

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Afterwards, we went to the Northwest African American Museum and then heard Rev Dr Samuel McKinney speak about his life and experiences–a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the person who invited King to visit Seattle in 1961. We learned how King had to speak in a different location after the reserved venue cancelled at the last minute without reason. Students learned that much has changed, but so much remains to be done.

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And at the end of the day I listened to the students share thoughts and questions and frustrations as they reflected on hard history that began before their birth, that continues to today. I marveled at their energy and  conviction, and hope filled me…these are the next generation. Bless their efforts, Lord.

Grateful for…

361. Museum Without Walls, which gives students and adults opportunities to hear from living witnesses to times such as the US civil rights movement, Japanese-American internment after WWII, and the Holocaust.  

362. Suzzanne, MWW Founder and Executive Director.

363. Rev McKinney and his willingness to share his story and memories with us.

364. The wonderful team who facilitated the day.

365. The students and youth leaders and churches.

366. Laughter

367. Sunshine

368. Glimpses of a community being formed on this, the first of three Saturday Multicultural Scholars’ events.

369. The happy-good tired at the end of a long, but amazing day.

370. That God, who so loves this world, is already working.

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Jan 19 2011

Catching Fire

A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying, “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer. And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?” Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame. He answered, “Why not be totally changed into fire?”

–from Prayer by Richard Foster.

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I write and read daily with waves of plainchant playing in the background. For hours, the single lines of melody, each carefully crafted in set constellations of tones, flow around the room and order my distraction. The soaring and dipping, softer, then louder, offers a gentle rhythm for my thoughts and feelings to gather. A sonic anchor…an audio lighthouse in the storm of words and ideas.

As I listen, a familiar melody begins. The words are in Latin, so I’m not certain how I know it. Closing my eyes and letting the tune bring memory, I find myself in a dark church, before dawn, with only one candle illuminating the singer:

Hæc nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.
Nihil enim nobis nasci prófuit,
nisi rédimi profuísset.
O mira circa nos tuæ pietátis dignátio!
O inæstimábilis diléctio caritátis:
ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

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And I remember…all the Easter vigils through the years where the Exsultet, the proclamation of Easter, was sung, ancient words to an ancient melody. Across centuries and languages, the music connects me to the great cloud of witnesses.

The composers of the texts and music of plainchant believed that what you hear, over and over, affects your spirit. Music could inspire prayer and worship. Music could help nurture virtue or inspire goodness. Or when poorly composed,  it could cause spiritual dissonance.  The music and the texts were paired, with words emphasized by tone, giving them multi-layered meaning.

To be in tune was more than a simple delight to the senses, but was bodily participation in the throne room of glory, where the praise is sung with unending beauty to unending Beauty– always surprising in the best way, always welcoming, always joyous at one more joining the song. Worship inviting worship.

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As I’ve pondered the word theme for this year and the habits rising as un-resolutions in the past three months, a quiet, deep river flows under what the Lord has been teaching me in writing, reading, prayer, ministry:

Worship.

And I ask. What is worship, Lord?

One day I hiked up a hill near my home, and if you know the hills in Seattle, there are a few brutally tall ones worthy of the term “hike” rather than simply “walk.” Feeling like I was on a draw bridge opening steeper and steeper, all I could see was pavement, the crest of the hill above me and the sky.

And then, the last painful steps, and I reached the top and the world opened to the Sound and the Olympics in snow-covered glory, wringing quick tears and an audible “Thank you, God” whispered in gasping awe.

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It was the mountains and the sun that day, but it was more. Through them, beyond them, and completely beyond me.

And the Lord said, “Susan, that, that, what you just felt, what escaped in tears and praise, is worship.”

Even more, the pleasure I sensed from God in that moment was not because worship is his due (which it is), but because he delights in sharing joy and beauty and love, and longs for us to join with him in that delight.

And the worship of God is life and health for us.

When we whisper worship to God, we are not lost in worship of what or who cannot be, is not, Life.

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On a dusty road, two disciples learned about worship. Their fears and questions and doubts and frustrations were little gods clamoring for attention, blinding them to their traveling companion. Their hearts longed to worship as Jesus dusted off their hope and quenched their thirst, preaching the Word to them even as they didn’t recognize him. And then their eyes opened when he took, blessed and broke the bread for them, offering once again his life and presence to them.

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“Did not our hearts catch fire, did they not burn while he spoke to us on the way?”

Worship can well up in our hearts at the most unexpected moments.  On a dusty road to Emmaus, or after a trudge up a steep hill in life or spirit.

This year I’m praying to worship. To seek God and offer God worship in all my activities.  To be open and ready to worship at any moment.

To gradually catch fire.

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Four ways of cultivating worship  which have gently seeped into my life:

1. Paying attention to what I see and what I listen to. I’ve written about how screen media can be a challenge for me, robbing me of attentiveness, time, and energy. It is now 3 months since I’ve watched TV and I’ve seen only a few movies in that time. I don’t share this as a judgment against watching media. For me, the perennial question has been why I watched it and whether it was truly giving me rest.  I decided I’d try giving the time to other pursuits. Now I would never go back.

Music is the same.  I’m consciously choosing music that feeds my spirit–not simply “praise music,” though I listen to that at times–but chant, classical, Celtic, and music with content that helps me focus on God and life. A wonderful help for this is Pandora Radio and my two favorite channels Gregorian Chant and John Dowland, a 16th century composer. For praise music, I enjoy this channel. Some days, I turn off the soundtrack and just listen to the birds. (And the sparrows are particularly noisy now, even with nesting material in their beaks!)

2. Paying attention to how I speak. The past two years I’ve spilled a lot of words  on the challenges of writing and academic study.  Good words. Healing words. (Sometimes melodramatic words.) But now, I’m approaching the reading and writing as an act of worship–simply offering it to God and see what he does. The words I use to describe writing the dissertation matter. It is not the end of bouts of writer’s block or the challenges, but I simply no longer wish to live or speak in opposition to this life and task God has set before me.

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3. The Liturgy of the Hours. This has been part of my practice for over 10 years, but I now find myself (with more time, energy, and ability to focus) consistently praying the Office of Readings and Compline as bookends of my day.  One day a week, I’m stopping at regular times and praying the smaller Hours.

Practices of prayer and worship require intentional attention, but not so much by gritting teeth and setting goals. Me-focused plans for discipline often get in the way.

The practice simply scooted into my routine without any jostling or fanfare.

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Each Hour is a collection of psalms, prayers, and a scripture reading, taking 5-15 minutes to pray through.  The Office of Readings also includes a selection from Christian writers, preachers, and theologians, from the past 20 centuries.  These are not dry theology, but fiery and prayerful snippets from the lives of people whose faith and love for Jesus still influence the church today.

4. The Rhythm of the Church Year. Following the Liturgy of the Hours and being a part of a liturgical church that has services during the week brings me into awareness of God’s time and the cloud of witnesses who have lived before me, who loved Jesus before me, who worship now at the Throne, and whose lives give the church a legacy of love in Christ.

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The first time I felt shifted from calendar time to liturgical time happened when I lived at St John’s University in Minnesota, a Benedictine monastery, where the monks gather for prayer 5 times a day to the ringing of bells. (The bells are a little bit of heaven on earth–you can hear them here.  I often stood under the tower to feel them ring.)  One day, after a few months, I found myself thinking in liturgical time: Today is Wednesday of the 2nd week of Ordinary Time, rather than January 19th.

Once I graduated and left St John’s, I found that gathering for Sunday worship alone was not enough to maintain that sense of God’s time.  The Liturgy of the Hours at home and gathering at church once or twice during the week for prayer or communion is an important thread for me connecting Sunday to Sunday, season to season, that I keep coming back to.  (I don’t have bells calling me to prayer, but I do have a bell alarm on my cell phone!)

I would love to hear what helps you nurture the habit of worship.

Together at His throne,

Susan

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