Monday, November 26, 2012

Seasons of Worship and the Seasons of Life

As American people, we emerged from this past week with what I hope is more than a couple of extra pounds! Perhaps we have emerged with a deeper sense of gratitude for all of God’s blessings. Now that we have stepped through the door of Thanksgiving, we have entered what is customarily called the holiday season. This coming Sunday, the season of Advent begins. Like you, I simply love the smells and sights, the lights and traditions of this time of year.

There is something very earthy, very primordial about worship being embedded in our annual seasons. The deepest worship experience of the heart comes from realizing that worship is not a singular event designed to give you something practical you can use. Rather, worship is a life, a rhythm, an entry into the life of God and into the sacred story. When we give ourselves to the spiritual life of worship, rather than coming to it with our own expectations about what it should “do” for us, the deepest worship begins to happen in our hearts.

For this reason, the church has given us a holy gift in observing seasons of the Christian year. Our worship moments are guideposts along the way of life, and they are designed to immerse ourselves in the whole of the gospel story from start to finish. This last week was the big finale, Christ the King Sunday, when we proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. This week, the circle of life begins again. We go back to the deep longing for a Messiah, one who is to come and redeem the broken world we live in.

We are seasonal people in so many ways. On the largest level, there is an essentially seasonal nature of our existence. We go through seasons of our life as we age and through seasons in our relationships and our spirituality. On a slightly smaller level, each year we go through seasons that relate to the revolution of the earth around the sun. Our whole world goes through these seasons. Our worship life does, too, and we connect with the gospel story from beginning to end. On an even smaller level, each week has its seasons … it begins with the Lord’s Day of worship, we plunge into our work and projects, and we rest and play. On the smallest level, even our days themselves are seasonal … there is morning, noon, and night. There is time to eat, time to work, time to relax, and time to sleep.

The seasons of life, the seasons of the year, and the seasons of the day all remind us that we are people of the seasons. And here we go again.

It saddens me when cultural observances seem to take precedence in our minds over the holy days of the Christian year. As we go from Christ the King Sunday to the first Sunday of Advent, I invite you to enter the holy rhythm of worship life that has profoundly shaped generations of Christians. The life-changing glory of worship is that we worship in context of a greater movement of grace!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Thirst

An important facet of the spiritual formation of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, began long before his heart-warming experience on Aldersgate Street. As he traveled to Georgia in mission, he fell in love with the singing of German Moravians. Their spiritual songs and poetry, venturing beyond conventional metrical psalms of the time, captivated his soul.

It would take him a while to embrace the "religion of the heart" he was beginning to taste. But he was so touched that he learned German in order to translate their songs. Long before his brother Charles began his career as the most prolific hymn writer of history, John introduced these songs to his mission. It was such a radical idea that he was accused of introducing songs that were "not inspected or authorized by any proper judicature."

I have been meditating on one of these spiritual songs I found in praying through my 1813 copy of the "Double Hymnbook," a pocket hymnal with a supplement compiled by Bishop Asbury. It contains "I Thirst, Thou Wounded Lamb of God", one of these hymns translated from German by John Wesley. It captivates me. I have included the text below, and in a future post I may add some of my commentary.

For a beautiful contemporary musical setting, listen to "I Thirst".

I thirst, thou wounded Lamb of God,
To wash me in thy cleansing blood,
To dwell within thy wounds; then pain
Is sweet, and life or death is gain.

Take my poor heart, and let it be
For ever closed to all but thee!
Seal thou my breast, and let me wear;
That pledge of love for ever there!

How blest are they who still abide
Close sheltered in thy bleeding side,
Who life and strength from thence derive,
And by thee move, and in thee live.

What are our works but sin and death,
Till thou thy quickening Spirit breathe!
Thou giv'st the power thy grace to move;
O wondrous grace! O boundless love!

How can it be, thou heavenly King,
That thou shouldst us to glory bring?
Make slaves the partners of thy throne,
Decked with a never-fading crown?

Hence our hearts melt, our eyes o'erflow,
Our words are lost; nor will we know,
Nor will we think of aught beside,
"My Lord, my Love is crucified."

Ah, Lord! enlarge our scanty thought,
To know the wonders thou hast wrought;
Unloose our stammering tongues, to tell
Thy love immense, unsearchable.

First-born of many brethren thou!
To thee, lo! all our souls we bow:
To thee our hearts and hands we give:
Thine may we die, thine may we live!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trust in the Slow Work of God

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit priest, biologist, geologist, and philosopher who lived until 1955. At times, his ideas were at odds with the church.

This quote was shared by one of the faculty at a recent Academy for Spiritual Formation, and it touched me deeply. I spent some more time with it this morning in prayer and want to share it with you.

I believe that we rush God's slow, abiding work in us so often and therefore, we pass by or gloss over the deep work God wants to do in us. Healing takes time, and grace pours out abundantly like a meandering stream we must come back to time and again for refreshing water.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
-- that is to say, grace --
and circumstances
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.

Pictured is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Only Unconditional Love

This quote from Henri Nouwen resonates with my soul:

"The spiritual life starts at the place where you can hear God's voice. Where somehow you can claim that long before your father, you mother, your brother, your sister, your school, your church touched you, loved you, and wounded you- long before that, you were held safe in an eternal embrace. You were seen with eyes of perfect love long before you entered into the dark valley of life...The spiritual life starts at the moment that you can go beyond all of the wounds and claim that there was a love that was perfect and unlimited, long before that perfect love became reflected in the imperfect and limited, conditional love of people. The spiritual life starts where you dare to claim the first love. - Love one another because I have first loved you. (I John 4:19)"

We look to others for love, and rightly so, but the only love others can give is imperfect love. People we love in our churches and families can hurt us, in part because they are at the mercy of their own brokenness, and in part because we really expect too much of them. We long for unconditional love, but others can only show us a dark mirror reflecting a greater love.

The only way to truly be grounded in Christian maturity is to be rooted in the one love beyond all human ability to love. It's the love of  Christ, who in his very person is the incarnate expression of the unconditional love of God. The more we get in touch with that first love, the more we begin to accept others in the body of Christ for their raspy personalities and rough edges.