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Apr 10 2011

Visio Divina: Fifth Week of Lent

The readings for the fifth week of Lent are some of the richest of the season, from the reanimation of the valley of dry bones to the release of Lazarus from the tomb.

As I reflected this week, one aspect of the Lazarus story struck me: from where was he called back?

I try to imagine the conversation.

God: Would you be willing to go back?

Lazarus: But I love it here.

This story is a bookend to the  initial encounter story in John’s Gospel where Christ tells Nicodemus he must be “born again,”  Lazarus is asked to go through death again (once before Jesus shows up and then again at some later unrecorded date). Hidden in this is a reminder that our baptism is both a birth and a death–and that the way of the cross is a path through death to life.

The sunlit photo of the field is my imagining  of the peace and beauty from where Lazarus returned.

***

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Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

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Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

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Psalm 130

De profundis

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

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Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

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John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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As the Lenten Artist in Residence at St Paul’s Episcopal Church, I’m reflecting on the weekly lectionary scripture passages and offering a collection of photos in response.

Lectio divina, Latin for divine reading, is an ancient monastic practice of reading and praying with scripture. Visio divina, divine seeing, takes a similar approach to visual art.  The four movements of lectio or visio divina are reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. For a description of the prayer practice, a colorful handout is here.

(Delayed this week due to internet connection flakiness)


Mar 20 2011

Visio Divina: Second Sunday of Lent

As the Lenten Artist in Residence at St Paul’s Episcopal Church, I’m reflecting on the weekly lectionary scripture passages and offering a collection of photos in response. The photos are displayed during the 5pm worship service each Sunday, with time for people to meditate on them in relation to the readings.

Lectio divina, Latin for divine reading, is an ancient monastic practice of reading and praying with scripture. Visio divina, divine seeing, takes a similar approach to visual art.  The four movements of lectio or visio divina are reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating. For a description of the prayer practice, a colorful handout is here.

Second Sunday of Lent: March 20th

Some common themes presented themselves in the images I collected in response to this weeks readings.  Hands are in many of the photos–hands of embrace, of love, of healing.  A hand holds the cross, and is nailed to it.  Jesus’ hands hold onto Mary, child hands hold onto tiny infant fingers (my godson, Ben), and I contemplate along with Nicodemus the mystery of birth and love, both human and divine.

Hummingbirds have always been a symbol of the Spirit for me–much more than the dove.  Their wings by my ear is a typhoon of wind. They are so amazingly agile and unpredictable, flying in all three dimensions of space, and they aren’t timid, often hovering close to observe me as I observe them.

The Collect (prayer) of the Week

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

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John 3:1-17

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

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Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

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“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

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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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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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Oct 27 2010

Luke 6:45

(I’m joining with Ann Voscamp’s Walk with Him Wednesday  blogging community and sharing about a scripture verse I’ve memorized.)

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I’d always focused on the negative side of Luke 6:45: an unloving heart speaks hurtful words and makes people sad, or a silly heart says embarrassing things, and on and on. So at some point, I decided to hide my hurtful words and my silly words, so my unloving and silly heart wouldn’t be found out and cause problems.

Of course, it didn’t work and just made me feel worse. What I really wanted was a heart that said loving words and words that weren’t embarassing.

A while ago, during the stress of comprehensive exams, I started doodling a story about Little Me and Jesus.

Little Me

Little Me took her heart to Jesus and something happened:

Little Me and New Heart

And then Jesus sent her on an adventure:

Little Me on an adventure

A few months ago, I read Luke 6:45 and realized that there was another side to the verse–the positive side–so I memorized it and it has been my prayer: that Jesus would give me the little glowing heart from my Little Me doodles so that it could be shared with others.

“The good woman out of the good treasure of the heart produces good…For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Only Jesus can give that abundance and does so with joy! And then he sends us on adventures….

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Jan 26 2010

Screen Life

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” And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:14-17

Today this verse brought conviction.

To do something in someone’s name is to have the authority of that person for action, but also to act on their behalf–actions that they themselves would do.  “Do everything” is quite explicit–everything I do each day, how I spend my time, is to be done with both a sense of Christ’s authority and on Christ’s behalf.

The still small voice has been gently suggesting over the past year for me to consider how much time I give to screen living–internet, social networking, and Hollywood media.

As I sought God for help discerning whether I am hearing his voice or my own driven perfectionism, the phrase came to mind: Guilt is a bad motivator for change, but a feeling of conviction is a good reason for repentance and prayer. The first puts all the power of change on me, the second puts me in partnership with God. It has helped to take my feeling of conviction to God and pray, rather than embark in my own strength on “10-steps-to-a-new-and-improved-Susan.”

I do not begrudge small doses of  quality entertainment (I have enjoyed excellent series like “Cranford” and “Emma”), but I can see that in my life, it can seep in through the cracks  of loneliness and promise a false sense of connection. And then an hour or hours later, what was gained?

Instead, God whispers:  Come to me, Susan.  Write, sing, pray, call a friend, send a letter, take a walk, take some photos, have a party.

Does this mean I give up all screen life?  No.  But it does mean that I want to prayerfully consider, with God’s help, alternatives and have them at the ready.

Romans 12:1 comes to mind.  “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

God, I give you my time in front of any screen. Help me prune it so that it becomes life-giving and honors your Name.

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