Friday, August 28, 2009

Heaven Underfoot


I reached down to the bottom of my t-shirt drawer this morning and came up with a shirt I haven't worn all summer. On the back is this quote from Henry David Thoreau: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." The shirt was a gift from someone who understood my conviction that the Divine is present in everything around us.
The picture is one of my favorite sections of the 42 miles of trails that wind through Dolly Sods Wilderness. Hiking there has always made me feel especially close to God. I didn't get to go there this summer and I miss it.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Confused Forsythia


I took this picture this morning of blossoms on the forsythia bush in my back yard. One of the earliest bushes to bloom in the spring, this bush had started to bloom last spring. Then came a late frost that killed the blossoms. The bush did not bloom again. I was afraid that the whole bush may have died, but it was green and hardy all summer.
A week ago I began to notice some yellow blossoms on some of its branches. I don't know what season it thinks this is. The days have been exceptionally hot for late August, not springlike.
It is often hard for me to know the right time for action or for speaking up and the the right time for silence and laying low.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Love


I finished this morning Gerald May's 1991 "The Awakened Heart." I have been using it for spiritual reading for several weeks. I don't know where it came from. I didn't buy it. It has been a blessing, a perfect opportunity to reflect again on some important things in my relationship with God. Here is a quote from early in the book:
My life of prayer has always been stumbling and fitful, but it has convinced me of some basic truths. We are in love. God is absolutely and always present, intimately active and involved with us, and endlessly good. As God's creations, we bear an essential part of God's own goodness in our hearts that can never be removed, no matter how selfish, prejudiced, and vindictive we may be, no matter what we have done or what has been done to us. And when we say yes to love, or try to say yes, or even just honestly desire to try to say yes, love is as victorious in that moment as it is in all of cosmic time.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sneaky Idolatry


This is a picture of the chapel of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City. I couldn't get a good picture that included the side walls, which are non-representative art, absolutely ethereal. It is almost impossible to be present in this small space without feeling carried into God. That is not true of all churches nor of all things religious.
It is so easy for us to let religious things become more important to us than God. I once heard a Presbyterian pastor refer to some of his parishioners' fixation on the Bible as "the idolatry of the book." Church regulations can become the most important thing in our religious lives. For many years the Catholic Church treated Latin as more important than God. It didn't seem to matter that the language was getting in the way of our relationship with God. On a more personal level it is possible for any of us to become so attached to a particular way of praying that it becomes our god rather than our way to grow in our relationship with the only God.
In chapter six of Mark's Gospel Jesus quotes Isaiah 27:13 "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." It was not just the Pharisees of his time who substituted religious practice for God. It is a failing that can sneak into the life of anyone who is religious.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Faithfulness Not Perfection


I am getting a lot out of Gerald May's 1991 book "The Awakened Heart," which I am using for spiritual reading each day. He addresses perfectionism, the compulsion that many of us have to be perfect and to do things perfectly.
Perfectionism messed up a lot of my early self image. It can still be a problem for me. I am trying to learn French for an upcoming trip. In trying to use a foreign language in the past I have found myself with something like stage fright, even though I know the words I want to use. As I reflect on this, I think it may have to do with my fear of sounding stupid, of not pronouncing it perfectly.
May says that perfectionism can distort our spiritual life, our relationship with God. At one point in the book he suggests that what God wants if not perfection but faithfulness. This is a very valuable and helpful distinction.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Days


This is what the Lake looked like yesterday morning. Very placid. No wind. Not much boat activity. Summer's here.
Last week was the first really warm week we've had this summer and since Friday we have been having perfect summer days. By that I mean days when I can wear little and pretty much live outside and lay around in the sun or in the Lake anytime I feel like it. Walking through the house in the early morning with all the windows and doors open and fresh air filling the place is like floating in air.
This feeling of freedom, of weighing nothing, of being lifted by the air, is why summer is my favorite season. I find myself often thinking of God around me and in me, lifting me, making me free.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flesh and Blood


"Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them," says Jesus in John 6:56. All of chapter 6 has Eucharistic overtones but it is only in verses 51-58 that very explicit reference is made to the Eucharistic Meal. Instead of "soma" which the other Gospels and Paul's letters use to mean "body," John uses "sarx," the Greek word for "flesh." Instead of "eat," which the others use, John uses a crude Greek word that carries notions of "gnaw" or "munch" and which Raymond Brown translates "feed on." John seems to want to make it absolutely clear that Jesus is not using metaphor here as he did in the early part of chapter 6. These are vivid words that bring home the truth that "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink."
In these verses it is not the teaching of Jesus that nourishes our life in God but his flesh and blood, his very self. When we take into ourselves his flesh and blood, we remain in Jesus and he in us. What matters here, and is the purpose of our religion, is our growing in our relationship with God. That growth happens as we let Jesus nourish us with the precious gift of his flesh and blood.
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Friday, August 7, 2009

Dawn Surrender


"Out of God's deepest mercy
a dawn will come from on high,
light for those shadowed by death,
a guide for our feet on the way to peace."
(Luke 1:78-79)
6 AM. 51 degrees. I grabbed a sweat shirt and hurried outside. This lovely dawn lasted long enough that I had time to try to capture it with the camera and to let the Splendor capture me, my heart, my mind.
I couldn't get the exact color and the expanse with my little camera. Neither can I comprehend our Great God with my little mind. But surrender anyway.
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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wisdom of God


By presenting himself as the Bread of Life in chapter 6 of John's Gospel, Jesus wants us to know that it is he who nourishes God's life in us. The whole chapter has Eucharistic overtones and in verses 51-58 Jesus explicitly talks about nourishing us with his own flesh and blood.
Just before that, however, he talks of nourishing us with his teaching. He wants to pass on to us what he knows from God his Father. At the beginning of his Gospel John presents Jesus as the very Word of God in human flesh. Here in chapter 6 Jesus presents himself as this Wisdom of God to nourish God's life in us. The response Jesus invites in this Wisdom section is not to eat, but to believe. "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." By believing in him we come to share his life in God.
Near the end of his Gospel (20:31) John tells us explicitly his purpose in writing his Gospel, "These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."
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