Saturday, December 12, 2015

God's presence in a river

Today I read this devotional and it evoked a beautiful image of a gently flowing river representing the love of God.

I've always loved rivers. One of our favorite things to do is stay at the River Inn in Truckee, CA. It's great to get a room where we can hear the water flowing by, and sit on the deck to watch it. I read that flowing water -- rivers, waterfalls, the ocean -- put negative ions in the air, and that is probably why being near to water causes the positive feelings we often experience near them.

Associating a river with God's love seems wonderful. His love flowing through us like a river. Floating on the river of his love. Feeling the cool waters of his love. 

The Isaiah passages linked in this devotional are apt in this time of conspiracies and fear:
Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. -- Isaiah 8:12
And the Psalm is amazing.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. 
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging 
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day. 
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. 
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. 
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. -- Psalm 46 
The part that says, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God" make me think of "There is a balm in Gilead..." from the hymn:
There is balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole
There's power enough in heaven, To cure a sin-sick soul.
The word "balm" just feels like a balm, doesn't it?

The reference to a river also reminds me of the Jordan River often talked about in the Bible. I love "Far Side Banks of Jordan" sung by the Cox family and Allison Krauss.  The chorus makes me imagine when we'll see my brother in heaven someday. I don't think he'll be "drawing pictures in the sand," but I can just see him: "And when I see you coming I will rise up with a shout and come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand."

So much richness in thinking about God and a river.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
...
Be still, and know that I am God


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Blue Christmas

Nearly every morning I wake up with a song in my head. It seems very random -- it can be an old pop song, a hymn, a stupid commercial ditty -- I usually have no idea why that particular song comes to mind.

This morning it was "Blue Christmas." It keeps making me laugh because I know very little of the lyrics and it reminds me of a story my sister told me. She told me she was with my dad one day and she noticed that each time she came near to him he was singing, "...this masquerade...". Only those two words. He apparently didn't know any others.

Today, I keep singing in my mind, "...I'll have a blue Christmas without you, you'll be doing all right [probably not the right words] with your Christmas of white, but I'll have a blue, blue Christmas." Over and over.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A noticeably vengeful guy

I just finished the book The Arsonist by Sue Miller. I reviewed it briefly here. There's a passage in the book about the main character's (Frankie's) motivation for doing aid work in Africa. Her romantic interest, Bud, asks her about her religious background and Frankie says:
Protestant. My mother's religion. Actually my grandparents' religion. My grandfather was a preacher. Presbyterian. And we used to to go church regularly,...So I was a churchgoer. But not ever a believer, even in my memory...
...I think they would have had me believe. We did the whole thing early on. Sunday school. Confirmation class...But I was a gimlet-eyed kid. I saw hypocrisy everywhere around me among the grown-ups, who were always on about honesty and kindness, not hitting, et cetera, and yet were so much not up to the job themselves...And then there was God--such an unattractive character! Why be so jealous, so small with the whole universe your own? And why call on us to be so good--so giving, so forgiving, so open and sweet, when you hardly model that for us.
(Bud) Yeah, a noticeably vengeful guy.
Exactly.  (p. 132)
Wow.  Vengeful. Small. Unattractive. I've heard the whole thing about hypocrisy many times. But I can't remember hearing this description of God. I kind of don't know what to think, how I'd respond if someone said that to me.

What do you think?
 




Saturday, September 12, 2015

My friend

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."
FR. MARTIN: ...It's usually the most clarifying way for people to start to think about a relationship with God. The idea is that a friendship is an analog, with a relationship with God. So, for example,what makes a good friendship? What is required? Well, time, for example. You know, you would scarcely say, I'm good friends with this person and never spend any time one-on-one with him or her.
    Well, what about your relationship with God? Do you spend one-on-one time with God? Is there time? How about honesty? You know what happens if you're not honest in a friendship. Well, it starts to grow cold or formal or very distant. Same with God. If we're not honest in prayer about what we feel about our struggles, our anger, our sorrows, our relationship gets very cold and distant. How about listening? If you had a friend that all you did was talk at, that wouldn't be a very deep friendship. Can you listen to God's voice in your daily life and in your prayer?
    So, this is an insight from Father William Barry, who's a Jesuit in New England. And it's been very helpful for me. And it really helps people, because it really gets their spiritual life kind of back on track. Can you relate to God in a similar way that you relate to a friend? You know, time, honesty, openness, silence. Are you comfortable with silence? Does your friend have to call you...every day and say I like you?
A lot to think about in this part of the interview! We hear the song "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," it's common to talk about Jesus being your friend. But these paragraphs go deeper than a passing reference. It gives us a lot of questions to ponder.

"What makes a good friendship? Time, for example. Do you spend one-on-one time with God? Is there time?" I know I don't spend as much time with God as I should. I admire people who have a routine that includes time set aside for being with God. I'm finding that putting it on my calendar to blog each Saturday at 7am is working pretty well so far. I hear more and more about using your calendar to block out time for doing important things is effective. I'm a morning person so my first thought is something in the morning, but I've got a pretty full routine there already. I think I'll try 5pm. I can do something at work. Now I'll think about what exactly to do.

How do you spend time with God? What do you find is an effective method or routine for you?

"How about honesty? You know what happens if you're not honest in a friendship. Well, it starts to grow cold or formal or very distant. Same with God. If we're not honest in prayer about what we feel about our struggles, our anger, our sorrows, our relationship gets very cold and distant."

I don't have too hard a time being honest with God. I can sometimes be an "over-sharer" with people (ever notice? :)) but with God there is no such thing as over-sharing. How about you? Do you ever find yourself being dishonest with God? Maybe not telling the whole truth?

"How about listening? If you had a friend that all you did was talk at, that wouldn't be a very deep friendship. Can you listen to God's voice in your daily life and in your prayer?"

I've always found the concept of listening to God a difficult one. We don't - or at least I don't - hear God's voice speaking directly to me. We can use the Scriptures, and I think that's the main way God speaks to us. I've written before about how sometimes thoughts occur and recur to me and it seems like that may be a way God is speaking to me (in a "still, small voice").

Yesterday I received an email that hurt my feelings and now, looking back on it, I think God spoke to me as I was working through that. At first I wrote to the others this person had cc-ed and expressed how discouraged it made me feel. Then I sat and stewed about it, thinking of all the many things I wanted to say to this person but knowing they'd just sound defensive and as if I were making excuses. I forwarded the email to Randy and he was very encouraging and supportive. Then I googled "verses for discouragement" and found quite a few, That helped, and was one way God was speaking to me. Finally, as I continued to think about what the email had said and was able to be more calm about it, I admitted to myself the parts where there was truth, and moved on to deciding on an action I would take in response. That, to me, felt like God working in me -- maybe not "speaking," but as I listened to my heart, I think I was listening to God.

Now I'm listening to God telling me to forgive the person. Still working on that part.

How about you? How do you hear God?

Back to beginning of blog series.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

She's really religious

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."
Fr. Martin: I think that joy is different than happiness. Joy is happiness in God. Joy has an object. Joy is about a relationship. Happiness can be very evanescent, can come one day and leave the next. But joy is a lot deeper than that.
Fr. Martin: I was walking up Madison Avenue the other day. I live in New York. And I was — sometimes you overhear these snatches of conversation. And these two guys, these two young executives, were talking and, [laughs] the one said, yeah, I've got to meet my girlfriend's mother this weekend. She's really religious. [said slowly and in a discouraged tone]
Isn't it a shame that people are bummed out when they say, "She's really religious"? If people are talking about me, I'd like them to say that about me. But I want them to say it with an upbeat, positive, hey-isn't-this-great kind of tone.

I think part of the reason people are often unhappy to hear or know someone is religious is because some people of faith are no fun to be around. They're pessimistic and negative. Or they're like what Father Martin mentioned later in the interview, "the frozen chosen."

But another reason, I believe, is because people of faith are often judgmental, or at least perceived that way. No one wants to meet someone who will look at them and judge them as not measuring up.

Both reasons are a shame, but I think the second one is the most common reason I see this perception of religious people as a downer. I may have written about this before, and I know I've told many friends this story, but years ago (over 20 years ago), I discovered a co-worker was gay. I saw him in the grocery store with his partner. Back then, he was not "out." He even had a photo of a woman with a baby on his desk (turns out that was his sister and niece). When I saw him, I said hello but I could tell he was uncomfortable so I just went about my shopping and left it at that.

After that, at work, every time we happened to interact, I could feel his agitation and discomfort. Finally, in one phone call I said, "Pete (name changed), it's all right, I know you're gay and that is fine. Don't worry." He said, with a sigh of relief, "Oh, okay. I know you go to church and stuff..." Wow. I know you go to church, therefore I am afraid you will be mean, or do something to hurt me. How sad is that? I so wish it were, "I know you go to church and stuff, so I know you'll love me."

I fall short all the time at reflecting God's love. I pray that I get better and better at it. And I hope that someday someone will say, "That Mavis, she's really religious. Isn't that great?!"

Have you had experiences like this, where you realize people perceive you as the opposite of someone who is a follower of Jesus?

Back to beginning of blog series.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beauty

For years, we have hung an Ansel Adams calendar on our master bath wall, next to the mirror. As I curl my hair, I often look at and think about the picture for that month. This month, this picture called "Dune," taken in New Mexico's White Sands National Monument, came up. I keep looking at it and wondering, why do I think this is beautiful? It's just plants in sand and their shadows. Yet, I do. I think it's beautiful.

I looked at one of my favorite podcasts, "On Being," and the episode this week is called "The Landscape of Beauty."

Now I read a blog entry in "Brain Pickings" and it has a link to that same episode.

When this kind of thing happens, where I see connections to the same concept or thing over and over, I think of several things. First, I think of Carl Jung's collective unconscious, where we share an unconscious mind. And I think of the string theory of everything, "a single explanatory framework capable of encompassing all forces and all matter," where different events resonate, like a note of music or a vibrating string, and affect other events. And over all of that, I think maybe this is God talking to me. Like Samuel, I stop and say, "Here am I, Lord," and try to figure out what God is calling to me. 

Many times it seems easy. I think often of a person and I feel I need to connect with that person, and pray for them. In this case, it doesn't seem easy. What could God be saying to me when I see references to beauty over and over again?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Where Jesus was a good boy and did what his mother told him to do.

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."

The quote below is several parts of the interview where Fr. Martin talked about "using your imagination to place yourself within a scripture scene and to see what comes up."
Fr. Martin: Yeah, so, the kind of prayer you're talking about is often called Ignatian contemplation or Ignatius calls it “composition of place.” And it's using your imagination to place yourself within a scripture scene and to see what comes up. By way of emotions or feelings or desires. And it can be very transformative. So for example, you take a simple passage like the storm at sea. Jesus calming the storm at sea. You would ask the person, on your own or maybe in a guided meditation, imagine yourself on the boat with Jesus.What do you see, first of all? What's the boat look like? What do the disciples look like? What's Jesus look like? What do you hear? What are the waves like? What do you feel? You feel the cold water on your back? What do you smell? Is there a smell of fish? What do you experience in terms of like what you're wearing? And you basically trust that God's going to be with you, 'cause, you know, God created your imagination and it's an entrée into experiencing God. 
And you notice what happens. And, oftentimes, not always, some pretty amazing things can come up. For example, you see Jesus asleep in the boat. And, you start to realize, wow, why is he asleep? Doesn't he care? You might connect it with something in your own life. You know, why is Jesus asleep? Why does God not care about me right now? You see him do the miracle and still the storm, and you say to yourself, wow, that's really beautiful. Are there times in my life where I was worried that God was asleep and things worked out OK? Do I need to have more trust? So, those kinds of feelings can come up.
...
And for Pete's sakes, His first miracle was at a party. A wedding party.
Krista Tippett: Mm-hmm. Where he was a good boy and did what his mother told him to do.
Fr. Martin: (laughs) That's right.
Krista Tippett: ...[laughs] That's what I appreciate about that story.
Fr. Martin: Although he's pretty harsh with his mother. That's a great story.
Krista Tippett: But he did turn the water into wine.
Fr. Martin: He did eventually.
Krista Tippett: If he'd been thinking about his legacy, he might not have had that as his first miracle, but his mother asked him to do it.
Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] I never thought of that. Right? He wanted another first miracle.
Krista Tippett: ...[laughs] I'm doing an Ignatian, you know, I'm being in the story.
Fr. Martin: And you know what's great about that, what you just said? Who knows, that could have been it. I mean, that's one of the things that comes up in Ignatian contemplation. You focus on Mary, and you say...for example, in the wedding feast at Cana what is she thinking? And you can get into the story and say what's going on there? And yeah, who knows? He's a joyful person, and I think if we miss the joy in Christianity, we are missing the point.
 My favorite part of this exchange is where Krista Tippett says about Jesus, "where he was a good boy and did what his mother told him to do." How funny that she thought of that! And how typical of a mom. It really makes Jesus human. Mary, too. And it makes me laugh.



This kind of Ignatian contemplation, where we use "our imagination to place yourself within a scripture scene and to see what comes up," sounds intriguing to me. I haven't tried it yet. I love it that Fr. Martin (and Ignatius) says, "God created your imagination and it's an entrée into experiencing God." I had not thought of imagination that way. And it seems to me that often people think Christians are an unimaginative bunch.

I'm going to decide what passage to use to try this. Peter is my fave; maybe I should do a passage he's in. For some reason the fig tree thing keeps coming to my mind. That was an odd one. Anyway, I'll let you know.

Have you ever tried imagining yourself in a passage? What passage did you use? What thoughts and insights came to your mind?

Back to beginning of blog series.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Your deepest desires

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."

"The most fundamental vocation is to become the person whom God created...Your deepest desires, the things that you're drawn to, the person you're called to be, are really God's desires for you."
Krista Tippet says she loves the use of the word "desire" when she and Fr. Martin discuss vocation. That does seem like an odd word to use. I associate desire with sex -- sexual desire. It's interesting to reflect on another meaning.

Fr. Martin uses a married couple as an example when talking about desire. He talks about how a married couple started out desiring one another, they were called to one another.

Using that analogy in our relationship with God, it follows that we desire God, and we are called to him. What does that mean?

I do feel like I desire to have a relationship with God, and I believe that he is calling me to him. It is part of what grace is -- I turn to him and find he has been turning me toward him all along. It reminds me of this hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
'Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
as thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee!
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
always thou lovedst me. 

Old fashioned words: sought, thee, didst, thy, enfold, storm-vexed, 'Twas, wert, lovedst. They make me smile. They make me slow down.

Beyond my desire for God, what are my deepest desires? It seems strange to sit and think about what I want when I'm reflecting on spiritual things. It shouldn't be about me. But what they're saying is that what I desire is what God desires for me.

I feel like this has been a kind of circular reflection. What do I desire? What does God desire for me? God desires for me what I desire. What do I desire?....

Enough for now. What do you desire?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What do you want?

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."
James Martin: I turned on the TV and saw a documentary about Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, who I'd never heard of.
    And, the documentary was so compelling that it prompted me to go out and read his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, which, to coin a phrase, changed my life.
Krista Tippet and James Martin (I feel like I need to call Krista Tippet "Krista" but it feels kind of strange to call James Martin "James." Is it because he's a priest? A man? Or just because I feel like I know Krista and have heard so many people on the show call her Krista, and I don't feel that way about James Martin?) talk quite a while about Thomas Merton. Have you ever heard of Thomas Mertin? His name sounded familiar to me, but I did not know anything about him until hearing this podcast. I'm thinking I'll read No Man is an Island. They quote this from that book:
“Why do we spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be? If only we knew what we wanted. Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?”
Fr. Martin goes on to say, "And, you know, Jesus asks people that. What do you want? Kind of understanding your desires."

What is your answer to "What do you want?" Myself, I'm not sure. I should know what I want, right?

I have some thoughts on it. I want to be an image of God. I want to reflect his love in everything I do. I want to live a life so that, when I meet God, he can say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Is that enough? Is that the whole answer?

Those thoughts seem like some answers to the question, What do I want to be? How about, What do I want to DO? Then I start thinking about my job. But there's a lot more I do than my job. What things do I do in order to reflect God's love?

Fr. Martin says Jesus asks, "What do you want?" My first thought as to when Jesus asks that is when he performs miracles. He asks some version of what each person wants, and their answer is some kind of cure - to walk, to see, to be rid of this disease I've had for years, for you to bring my brother/child back to life, and so on. What if Jesus asked me, "Mavis, what do you want?" What if he asked you?

Back to beginning of blog series.


Compare and Despair

Thoughts on quotes from "Finding God in All Things," an episode on "On Being."

"Compare and despair." Isn't that pithy and wise? (I just looked up the definition of "pithy" -- I wasn't sure if "pithy and wise" would be redundant. I think it's okay.)

I often remind myself, and sometimes others, that it is not helpful to compare yourself to anyone else. If you compare yourself to someone who you think is better than you in some way, all it does is feed the negative self-talk you already struggle to repress. If you compare yourself to someone who you think is lesser than you in some way, you're just giving in to pride. When I do it, it feels like I'm sinning -- God sees inside us, and none of us is better than the other; who am I to think I am?

But of course, I compare all the time. I like the saying, though, and I'm going to try to remember it and use it. Compare and despair. What do you think?

Back to beginning of blog series.

Finding God in All Things

I decided to try blogging about the podcast I heard on "On Being" with James Martin. When I first listened to it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I saved it to my phone and have "re-listened" to it several times. Today when I listened again, I realized how much I'd forgotten, and that's when I thought I'd try writing about it.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast. (Or read the transcript - available on the page linked above.) Maybe you'll gain as much insight as I did. It's blessed my inner life.

I was barely aware of Jesuits before hearing this podcast and I still barely know anything about them. But I found James Martin not only inspiring but funny and wise and easy to listen to.

I've read a few books by James Martin as well, and highly recommend them, too. Years ago, I read My Life With the Saints. I wrote about it in my other blog. I didn't realize until later, after hearing the podcast, that the author of that book and James Martin were the same person.

After hearing the podcast, I read The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. I realize now that I didn't write about this one. I'll try to go back and do that. Actually I'll try to re-read it and then write about it. It's a wonderful book that also gives lots of insight. One thing this book inspired me to do was to reduce my possessions. I have lots more to go on that project, but I did greatly reduce my clothing and I started reducing my books.

Anyway, here goes.
  1. Compare and Despair
  2. What do you want?
  3. Your deepest desires
  4. Where Jesus was a good boy and did what his mom told him to
  5. She's really religious
  6. My friend

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Prayer Psalm

I wrote a prayer for today's service, and have written a couple others. When Brad (the pastor) won't be there, the elder "on duty" does the Prayers of the People, or the "long prayer" as it has been called.

I found I like writing this prayer. It feels like writing a Psalm. I remember in high school I took "Bible as Literature" and we had to write a Psalm when we were studying the Psalms. That was a good class. I went to a public high school and it was interesting to take a class that was all about the Bible.

Here's a link to my prayer for today and my prayer several weeks ago.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Judas, Peter by Luci Shaw


because we are all
betrayers, taking
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves
but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me?


I read this poem tonight at our Good Friday service. It was a beautiful service, and it's a beautiful poem, too. 

I heard a poet at the Faith & Writing Festival say that sometimes when a poet puts breaks in the lines, she might want you to take a breath. I practiced that when I practiced this poem and it made me notice some words that didn't rhyme, but there was a rhythm: taking, eating, asking, hearing.

And as I kept reading it aloud, it felt more and more like a song.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Whining, or Whinging, as the British might say

The whine: Every time I get a little overheated, I break out in an itchy rash. Even a fairly short walk on the bike path today, a breezy Spring afternoon, caused the rash. Here's a photo of the rash on my arm. It comes up all over - my chest, stomach, back, I think even my scalp, because that itches, too.

It goes away after about a half hour of cooling off, or when I take a shower. But in the meantime. it's misery.

So, I know this pales in comparison to many, many problems. But what a bother.

Now, on to counting my blessings. On this walk I saw many wonderful signs of spring. Green grass, blue skies, buds all over, poppies, birds, bright yellow mustard on the hills, dappled sun on the creek. There were also little boys and girls on the backs of their parents, or their parent's bikes, or riding their own bikes.

  
 
I suppose not too long from now the green will be dried up and brown, and the water will be gone, but it is lovely to enjoy for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Effectiveness

-- Parker J. Palmer
Things do not always work out so well, of course. History is full of tragically failed visions of possibility, and the more profound the vision, the more likely we are to fall short of achieving it. But even here, Merton has a word of hope for us, a paradoxical word, of course:
"…do not depend on the hope of results. …you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."
As long as we are wedded to “effectiveness” we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results. If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard is “faithfulness.” At the end of the road, I will not be asking about outcomes. I’ll be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, to the ways in which my gifts might meet those needs, to “the truth of the work itself.”

Back

It's been a while since I've written in any of my blogs. I've been demotivated lately and I'm not exactly sure why. But tonight it felt like a good idea to set things up in my bed and write. I'm planning to write about some of the books I've read recently and then I'll see what else I feel like. Or maybe go to bed. Wherever my heart leads me.