Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Solitude of Heart

Here is a thought by Henri Nouwen for today:

Without the solitude of the heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of the heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.

The mystery of love is that it protects and respects the aloneness of the other and creates the free space where he can convert his loneliness into a solitude that can be shared. In this solitude we can strengthen each other by mutual respect, by careful consideration of eath other's individuality, by an obedient distance from each other's privacy and by a reverent understanding of the sacredness of the human heart. In this solitude we encourage each other to enter into the silence of our inner-most being and discover there the voice that calls us beyond the limits of human togetherness to a new communmion. In this solitude we can slowly become aware of a presence of him who embraces friends and lovers and offers us the freedom to love each other, because he loved us first (see 1 Jn 4:19).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mother Eagle

Deuteronomy 32 describes God in the beautiful feminine image of a mother eagle who nurtures her young. The Lord is "like an eagle that stirs up her nest and hovers over her young, that spreads her wings to catch them and carries them on her pinions." (vs. 11)

Years ago, I wrote a song reflecting on this image. As it is a song of hope in God's care, I later sang it at my mother's funeral. I share the words with you in hopes that it blesses you for the journey.

She will cover you with her feathers,
she will hold your head in her wings.
She will keep you safe in her comfort

while she rides the wind and the rain.
Her faith will guide you by day,

her presence keep you by night.
Oh Lord, keep me under your wings.

She will stir your nest, she will flutter,

she will make you want to fly.
She will catch you safe on her spreading wings

lest you fall from flying up high.
Her faith will guide you by day,

her presence keep you by night.
Oh Lord, keep me under your wings.

Our Lord has called you by name,

“fear not, for you are mine.
When you pass through the waters or walk through the fire,

I’ll be with you all the time.”

She will cover you with her feathers,

she will hold your head in her wings.
She will keep you safe in her comfort

while she rides the wind and the rain.
Her faith will guide you by day,

her presence keep you by night.
Oh Lord, keep me under your wings.
Ride me through the wind.

Copyright 1994 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prayer With the People of Haiti

This last week, we have grieved and prayed for the people of Haiti. Here is a beautiful prayer by Taylor Burton-Edwards found on the GBOD website :

Again the ground shakes,
Earth heaves, buildings rumble
and more fall.

How long, O Lord?

The dead unnamed, uncounted,
some yet living; still not rescued,
and now more traps are sprung.

How long, O Lord? How long?
Help scrambles in,
soldiers, doctors, food, water, dogs, money,
supplies of every kind from every nation,
and more will surely come.

Your mercy is on all your creatures, O God.

Let this be but beginning,
not of rescue only, but deliverance,
not simply to restore, nor to rebuild,
but build anew.

Lord, have mercy.

These are our sisters, brothers,
not projects for a time,
but family for our lifetimes.
When others leave, call us to stay.

Christ, have mercy.

And keep our hearts stirred,
not satisfied until these
and all our family, in every place,
can live with joy and dwell in peace.

Lord, have mercy.

With all who live and die in Port-au-Prince,
in the name of Jesus, Prince de la Paix,
we continually pray.

Amen, and amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Being Handed Over to Suffering

Here is a great quote by Henri Nouwen:

"People who live close together can be sources of great sorrow for one another. When Jesus chose his twelve apostles, Judas was one of them. Judas is called a traitor. A traitor, according to the literal meaning of the Greek word for 'betraying,' is someone who hands the other over to suffering.

"The truth is that we all have something of the traitor in us because each of us hands our fellow human beings over to suffering somehow, somewhere, mostly without intending or even knowing it. Many children, even grown-up children, can experience deep anger toward their parents for having protected them too much or too little. When we are willing to confess that we often hand those we love over to suffering, even against our best intentions, we will be more ready to forgive those who, mostly against their will, are the causes of our pain."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mystery Breaking Into Our Reality

The farther along I get in ministry, the more I see the mystery. Most of the time, I feel like a beginner at the art of seeing with new eyes. But the more I navigate myself and others through denominational anxiety over decline, congregational anxiety over finances, and relational anxiety over what it means to be in community, the more I trust that there is a vast mystery in our midst.

What is this mystery? It is the kingdom of God and it is real, though it is a different kind of reality than what is seen on the surface. We can not create it with our own hands or stop it with our own failures. The prayer so easily rolls off our tongues saying "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," but we live as if we do not believe this happens by grace and as if it's up to us to fix the world.

In the end, we can only pray that God sheds the scales covering our eyes so that we can begin to see it, then begin to trust it. Henri Nouwen wrote of this truth in Finding My Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit by saying:

"The seeds of national and international peace are already mysteriously sown in the soil of our own pain and in the suffering of the poor. We can trust these seeds, like the mustard seeds of the gospel that grow and produce large shrubs.

"As long as we imagine and dlive as if there is no peace in sight, and that it all depends on us to make it come about, we are on the road to self-destruction. But when we trst that the God of love has already given the peace we are searching for, wee will see this peace breaking through the broken soil of our human condition andd we will be able to let it grow fast and even heal the maladies of our time. With this trust in our hearts, we will be able to hear the words: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God' (Mt 5:9)."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Gift of Relationship

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of relationship. I am crafted to be in three-fold relationship ... with you, with the earth and the accompanying universe you created, and with those who walk and talk upon it. In the mystery of your own trinitarian communion, you created me in relationship in order to be in relationship.

You even redeemed us through relationship. You did not send more correct information or more precise doctrine to save us. Instead, you came, you walked, you talked, you healed. You gave your own heart in love in order to draw us close to your heart again.

Now in my present reality, relationships are both my greatest joy and my greatest struggle. Sometimes I am seduced by the illusion that everyone else is supposed to please me and do everything right, or even moreso, that I am able to do the same for them. Where does this come from? Not from you, oh God. Not from scripture.

But we buy into this grand illusion, then wear our feelings on our sleeves as if waiting to pounce on the first person that pushes our pain button. We choose this path out of our desperate need for control, security, and people pleasing, rather than choosing the way of healing.

Lord, the problem in relationships is not difficult people but the fact that I fret so over difficult people. People are going to screw up, be ridiculous, be illogical, be unfair, say the wrong thing, oppose the good, hurt each other, lash out, and make assumptions they shouldn't make. You call me to love them anyway, and to claim my belovedness anyway. And somehow in the loving, I am made more whole.

"Our illusion of independence has sometimes come from the traumas and betrayals in community. We want to distance ourselves from repeating the possibility of any such pain. Heal our wounds, we pray. Stop our flinchin and fleeing when possibilities for intimacy arise." - Luther Smith, "God's Gift of Relationship" in Alive Now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Scriptures for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany

Tomorrow is the day of Epiphany, January 6. For the western church, this is the close of the twelve days of Christmas and the beginning of the Epiphany season of light and enlightening. In the eastern church, this date is celebrated as Christmas itself.

During Christmastide, I have personally compiled a list of scriptures for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. It is by no means complete but I hope to use it in future years during these holy days. I share it with you here in hopes that it deepens your spirit during the season Epiphany.

The Savior Foretold
Jeremiah 23:5-6 - Righteous Branch
Isaiah 9:2-7 - A Child is Born to Us
Isaiah 11:1-5 - Righteous Judge
Isaiah 42:1-4 - Behold My Chosen One
Zechariah 9:9-10 - Your King is Coming
Isaiah 7:10-14 - Virgin With Child
Micah 4:1-7, 5:1-5 - Peaceful Ruler from Bethlehem

His Birth Anticipated
Luke 1:5-25 - Announcement to Zechariah
Luke 1:26-38 - Announcement to Mary
Luke 1:39-56 - Songs of Mary and Elizabeth
Luke 1:57-80 - Zechariah's Song

A Savior is Born
Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-7 - Birth
Luke 2:8-20 - Shepherds and Angels
Luke 2:21-38 - Presentation in the Temple
Matthew 2:1-12 - Visit of the Magi

Salvation Unfolds
Isaiah 60:1-6 - Arise and shine, light has come
John 1:1-14 - Spirituality of Incarnation
Colossians 1:15-23 - Preeminence and Redemption of Christ
Mark 1:1-11, John 1:15-37 - John the Baptist and Jesus
Revelation 5:1-14 - Worthy is the Lamb
Revelation 21-1-7 - New Heaven and New Earth

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions or New Year's Renewal?

I have been thinking about New Year's resolutions. I usually set goals related to things like losing weight. Sometimes I set goals I am indeed able to accomplish. At other times, a few weeks pass and I slip back into old habits.

This year, I hope to learn from John Wesley, who taught not in terms of resolutions but in terms of renewal.

A resolution is an act of firm resolve to accomplish a particular goal, such as losing ten pounds or paying off a credit card. The problem with resolutions is that once a goal is met, I am done. My responsibility is finished and I go back to "normal." I've lost the ten pounds, so I go back to eating habits and could gain it back. The credit card is paid off, so I relax and use it freely, which could lead to the same lifestyle that got me there. Resolutions can be short-sighted and cyclical but not really change the behaviors or deeper issues.

What if the new year was about renewal instead? Renewal is not an experience of implementing new goals, but of making the old new ... again. It's not about new ideas but about the "RE" newed, the restored.

This year, I'm not making any resolutions. I'm entering a time in my annual rhythm when I plan to renew my commitment to the things already important to me ... wholeness and health, financial responsibility, and passionate creativity. Yes, goals can emerge from these commitments. But the renewal is a matter of the heart, and actions follow the heart.

John Wesley's Covenant Renewal Services are traditionally held around the beginning of the new year. Here is a Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan tradition used in these services. I hope to make it my prayer this year.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.