I went out in the rain and snow yesterday to see my spiritual director. Because I badly needed a spiritual attitude adjustment. I confessed/complained to her that I have neglected most of my spiritual practices of late. Then we talked about the sermon for this Sunday and how I sometimes feel like letting loose like John the Baptist and calling people a bunch of snakes and other unhelpful things. And then we talked about the spiritual struggles of living in upper middle class, materialistic, consumer oriented, image conscious suburbia. When we were done, she said to me (or at least this is what I heard): here is your spiritual practice: to write a sermon without calling people names. And here is your other spiritual practice: to continue to struggle with issues of consumption and possessions and image without selling out and without the unhelpful messages that guilt conveys. And then she said: I hope you get to spend a few minutes of quietness with God.
And it was worth the messy drive, because now I remember that the spiritual practices are not only those special moments set aside, but the spiritual practices are also the ways that we live our faith in every moment of our lives.
I’m reading a book about communication in the church, Less Clutter, Less Noise by Kem Meyer. She tells a story about a grandfather who was teaching his four year old grandson how to read. The boy pointed to a picture in a zoo book and said, “look, Grandpa, it’s a frickin’ elephant.” The grandfather took a deep breath and asked, “What did you call it?” “It’s a frickin’ elephant, Grandpa – it says so in the picture.” And so it did. When the grandpa looked down at the picture, it read: “A F R I C A N Elephant.” Meyer concludes: It’s not what you say: it’s what people hear. What are we saying in the church? What are we saying about God and following Jesus? What are saying about our community and our congregation? What are we saying about the things we do here? And even more importantly: what are people hearing? It’s not enough to talk about what’s meaningful to us – we have to talk about what’s meaningful for the people we are to whom we are speaking.
Psalm 129 is one of those psalms that I usually don’t care much for – asking God to smite those who oppose us. But somehow this morning the imagery in that psalm caught my imagination: “Those who plough ploughed on my back; they made their furrows long.” It sometimes does feel like people are ploughing on my back – irritating, aggravating, spiteful, unnecessarily difficult or recalcitrant. But maybe, after they have ploughed their long furrows, something good or fruitful can grow from those furrows. Maybe their oppositional or acrimonious actions can, in some way, bear some fruit. That will have to be God’s doing. “Let them be like the grass on housetops that withers before it grows up” Well, if you don’t clean out your gutters, pretty soon grass (and plants and trees) are thriving there – but I don’t suppose gutters were an issue for the psalmist. May evil wither before it grows up. May our lives be inhospitable to evil and injustice. May we create a world of rooftops, where evil can establish no roots.
My thoughts bounce around these days without landing longing enough to focus, it seems. Some random thoughts: I’m praying for the 13 provisional members who will be coming to the Board of Ordained Ministry this week to be examined for full membership. I pray that they will speak as the Spirit leads them. And I pray for us on the Board, for ears of discernment to hear the murmuring of the Spirit. I’m also praying for the leadership at Church Hill. There is so much to celebrate here, and so much more that we could be doing in ministry and mission. May we embrace the possibilities. I am so thankful for our three daughters. Georgia was home for part of Columbus Day weekend – we had lovely walk in Arnold Arboretum. Emily made the drive from Worcester on Saturday afternoon to have supper with us. This past weekend, Helen was home from Bennington, VT. We cooked and shopped at the Salvation Army and, between rainstorms, hiked at Thayer Woods. I think it’s hilarious to have a kitten! Tony is sleeping, and she is sniffing his head. When he makes a little move, she jumps straight up in the air!
As I look at my calendar for the next few weeks, I can feel my chest get a little tight and shoulders a little higher and forehead a bit more wrinkled. How will I ever have time to do all the things I’ve written in those little daily squares? How will I be able to do them well? I feel the beginnings of panic. This is the opposite of mindfulness. I am so worried about whether I’ll be able to accomplish the next task that I can’t focus on the present task. I become less attentive, less creative, it starts to feel like the places within me where the Spirit resides are crowded with anxiety. Breathe. Let me take time to breathe in the Spirit and breathe out the anxiety. Here’s the prayer:
God, may I be at peace. May my heart always be open. May I awaken to your light deep within. May I be healed. May I become a source of healing to others. Amen.
It's a lot of fun having a kitten. Pearl and Tony the Wonderdog have become great friends - sometimes with disastrous results. They had some sort of chase through the dining room, resulting in smashed plants, a pumpkin and tablecloth on the floor, and dirt tracked into the living room. Sigh. But Pearl does all the goofy kitten things that make us laugh - going ballistic with a piece of wire, jumping out from under the sofa, sideways, like a ninja. She cuddles and purrs, and is very social. I'm sure we'll clean up some more messes, but it's great to have her here.
The spiritual discipline of mindfulness: being truly present in each moment. Letting God's spirit speak in each moment, each event, each person, each activity. For me, it's such a hard practice. While washing the dishes, to be focused on washing the dishes, the warm water, the bubbles, the feel of the plates - rather than thinking about what I'm going to do next. I'm pretty good at multi-tasking, which is the opposite of mindfulness, I think. So I am trying to cultivate this practice. For instance, when I am working in my office, and there is a knock on the door, to truly set aside whatever I am doing and to see the interruption as a God moment. And to treat each moment, however small, each activity, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as worthy of attention. "I stand at the door and knock." In whatever way God knocks at the door, I hope that I can be mindful - pay attention - and be present in the moment.
Holy One, go with us, wherever you may lead us. Guide us through the wilderness, protect us through the storm. Bring us home, rejoicing at the wonders you have shown us. Bring us home, rejoicing, once again, unto our door.
A perfect rainy fall day. Yellow leaves covering the grass. All the colors seem more intense in the wetness. A few birds come to the thistle feeder. It seems quieter in the rain. The fall is a beautiful season, and yet I often don’t appreciate the beauty because of what it represents – the ebbing of sunlight, shorter days, colder weather. I remember years when the seasonal depression has set in like a thick, heavy almost choking fog. So a season of beauty turns into a time of dread. So, this year, I make plans to greet the long winter as a time of possibility and challenge. Stay in better physical shape. Get outside as much as possible while the sun is shining Schedule some time away. A place for painting and plans to rework a couple of pieces of furniture. I’ve already begun, a few weeks ago, to use the light box every morning. Working on my DMin project proposal, which I’m excited about. Cook and eat healthy meals. Enjoy playing with the animals who live in my house. Above all, enter this season with mindfulness. Focus on what is, and expect the Spirit of God to be present in life giving ways.
A few days ago I listed a few of the things that renewal my spirit. I asked my congregation what renews their spirits. One person replied with this delightful list:
I renew my spirit by making a difference in someone's life while remaining anonymous.
1) Leaving a Dunkin Donuts gift card in a neighbor's mailbox (don't know if they enjoy DD but it's the delight in making someone know they've been thought of that counts). 2) Tipping the guy that pumps my gas (in the rain) a buck. 3) Sending funny birthday cards to people having a tough go of it even though it's not their b-day. Taking a big black marker to the "happy birthday" line. Works every time. 4) Sincerely saying "good job" to the co-worker WHO DRIVES ME BONKERS. 5) Sleeping until 8 on Saturday mornings....I spend from 7-8 laying in bed thanking God for every single blessing of the week. (Yes, I doze in & out of it, but I feel great at 8!)
I can cannellini beans, drained 1 bunch broccoli ¼ c. olive oil Broth 1 clove garlic, chopped finely 2 Tbsp parsley Salt and pepper
Cut ends off broccoli. Pare skin, split stalks. Bring large saucepan of water to boil. Add 1 tsp. salt and broccoli. Cook 15 mins till very soft. Drain and cut into 1 inch pcs. Cook garlic in oil till golden. Add parsley and broccoli. Cook 10 mins. Put 1 ½ cup beans in pan and cook 2 mins. mash remaining beans and add Add broth to make soup. Heat thoroughly but do not boil. Makes 4 servings
"Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments...you are good and do good: teach me your statutes." (Psalm 119:66,68) O God, give me an open heart, an open spirit, patience and persistence.
All that matters is to be at one with the living God to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair at peace, in peace and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress, at home, at home in the house of the living, sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world yawning at home before the fire of life feeling the presence of the living God like a great reassurance a deep calm in the heart a presence as of the master sitting at the board in his own and greater being, in the house of life.
The garden tomatoes are about at an end. A few days ago, I cooked the last of them, mostly Romas. Cooked them down and put them through the food mill, to make a thin-ish puree. Last night I used that puree to make soup. I began with a recipe from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and improvised from there.
2 cups of small potatoes, cut in half and thinly sliced. 3/4 cup diced onion 1 cup diced celery saute these in 1 Tbsp. butter on low heat for about 20 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown. Add: 4 cups tomato puree 1 tsp. honey 1 tsp. dried basil 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed 1/4 tsp. dried thyme 1 tsp. salt Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until potatoes are soft. Add: 2 cups milk. Heat, but do not boil.
What are the things that renew my spirit? Some days, when I'm tired or stressed or unhappy, I have trouble even thinking of what might open some space for the Spirit. I need to be reminded. And I need to expand the possibilities for renewal. Here's a start: Taking a mindful walk: paying attention to life and beauty as I go. Not going over a thousand items on the to do list or mentally replaying some conversation or planning dinner. Playing ball with the dog. Digging in the garden. Creating something. Meditation. Laughing. Sitting by the ocean. The key to all of these is mindfulness. Being in the moment. For that, I need the help of the Spirit.
The last time I saw her, my spiritual director gave me a new practice: to do something each day that renews me. When she said that, I thought: where's the discipline in that? I had no idea how challenging it would be, especially now that the busy fall season is here. Some days, I put off planning for it and assume the opportunity will arise naturally during the day (and of course, it doesn't). Sometimes, as I reflect at the end of the day, I see that opportunity has arisen and I was too busy or distracted to take advantage of it. Sometimes, I set out with a good intention that quickly disappears. Sometimes, I forget entirely. This will take more thoughtfulness, discipline, intentionality and mindfulness than I anticipated.
The equinox has come and summer is gone. Yesterday I moved the potted pink geraniums from their spot in the garden, to be repotted for their eventual move to their wintertime spot in my office. I replaced them with the pots of now leggy annuals that I collected from various places around the yard. The flowers that remain in those pots are mostly dark purples - they seem better suited for the darker days of autumn. The air is crisp and clear, and fall is beautiful. Still, the daylight hours grow shorter and shorter and I dread the return of the dark and cold days of winter. I wish for two graces: to enjoy the beauty of this season as it unfolds and to look for the beauty and possibilities of the coming cold season.
I have been holding this blog in abeyance. Having created it last week, I have been waiting to make the first post, hesitating to actually begin. Waiting for what? For the right words, the well formed thought, the insightful remark, the unpressured block of time. And this morning, the thought came: just begin. There is no perfect time, there may be no profound thought, no poetic words. Just begin. It's tempting to put things off until the conditions are perfect, until success seems likely, until the stars are aligned. And yet God is with us in all our beginnings. God does not demand perfection, either in preparation or execution. Just do - go ahead, trusting God. So here it goes....