Saturday, October 30, 2010

This is the Table of Welcome

On this All Saint's Weekend, I am reflecting on the communion table that binds all God's saints together across time and space. I would like to share the words to a song I wrote called "This is the Table of Welcome."

The solo anthem was published by Abingdon Press in “Church Music Workshop” to an original tune I created, with a musical arrangement by my friend and co-worker Nylea Butler-Moore.

The music can be purchased for download at the Cokesbury Website.

Here are the words. May it bless you for this day.

This is the table of welcome, this is the font of God’s grace.
This is the book of love’s beckon, this is the warmest embrace.
Come at the Lord’s invitation, join in the peace of this place.
We are God’s newest creation, gathered in this holy space.

Joseph received all his brothers, setting the stage for amends.
Abraham showered three others, welcoming strangers as friends.
Those to whom grace has been given find that their circle extends.
Love is our reason for living, people the gift that God sends.


“I was the stranger you neighbored, I was the hungry you fed,
I was the prisoner you favored.” These are the words Jesus said.
Welcoming sister and brother into the banquet he spread,
We’ll find the Christ in each other, known in the breaking of bread.


Christ is the source of all healing, he is the kiss of God’s peace.
His light and love are revealing, he brings the joy of release.
All who are hungry and thirsty find that their yearnings will cease,
Wrapped in the arms of his mercy. Come, be his guest at the feast!


“This is the Table of Welcome” by Stephen P. West, copyright 2006 by Abingdon Press

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Easter Is the Morning of Freedom

I recently wrote a new hymn text for a contest I heard about through the Hymn Society. They were searching for new Easter texts that are free of the typical triumphal or victorious language and full of new images for how Easter pours the energy of God's love into the world.

I wrote a text that I hope brings the various Easter sightings to life and helps us find our place in the story. It is set to one of my favorite new tunes.

I share it with you now in hopes that it blesses your spirit. I know it's not the Easter season but discovering the rhythms of new life is a journey for the whole year!


"Easter Is the Morning of Freedom"
Tune: YOU ARE MINE (David Haas)

In the darkness of the night we are grieving,
Tracing shadows of the soul.
At the dawning of the day, a stone is rolled away.
The cleansing of light makes us whole.

Easter is the morning of freedom,
Dayspring of new life in Christ.
Let all voices sing, let Alleluias ring!
The day is coming, we will rise!

In the garden of the tomb we are searching,
Sensing that we’ve lost our way.
By the voice of one who came and calls us by our name,
We find that our tears roll away.


On the long and dusty road we are groping,
Longing for an opened mind.
Yet our hearts will burn instead. In breaking of the bread,
We see we are no longer blind.


In a locked and private room, we are restless,
Finding that our doubts bring strife.
When his presence is made known, his side and hands are shown.
He breathes on us peace and new life.


In the waters of the world we go working,
Fishing ‘til the break of day.
Jesus comes to have a seat, invites us all to eat,
And shows us that love is the way.


“Easter is the Morning of Freedom” by Stephen P. West, copyright 2010 Stephen P. West, all rights reserved.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reflection on the Conversation of Art and Nature

My family recently took a Fall Break trip to Nashville to Cheekwood Gardens, one of my favorite places to enjoy a fascinating interplay of art and nature. It's a mansion built by a family who began the Maxwell House coffee company. It has been converted to a museum and botanical gardens.

I love the nature and art trails and the way this place brings them together in sort of a holy conversation. God has created such a beautiful world. Art is meant not to detract from the world's beauty but to enhance it, to express the beauty that already is, to call attention to it, to capture its rhythms in a moment of time.

Last week, there was a Chihuly exhibit. He is an internationally known glass artist. What astounded me is the way he blended his art into the natural surroundings. I have never seen such a careful and creative interplay. It was of course fascinating to learn how he and his team made these incredible displays of colored glass. But I was sent into some thoughtful meditation by the displays themselves on the grounds. This blog post contains a few photographs I took. I especially loved the way he incorporated art into greenery and fountain.

I am not personally gifted as a visual artist, but I am an auditory artist. I love music and enjoy giving a large portion of my creative energy to making the world more beautiful.

But this incredible display left me wondering. How do I share my gift of art in a way that dances with nature? With the rhythms of the soul and human life? How can the art of the church bring our soul's natural desire for expression to life?

I recently wrote a hymn for Easter for a hymn writer's contest. It was a joy to bring the song into being in a way that hopefully brings the story, the holy narrative, to life. I was touched that the Easter sightings in the scriptures bring holiness to the regular, mystery to the messiness of life. Writing it reminded me that finding new life in the ways and patterns of real living is what Easter is all about, and for me, this is the power of the story. I look forward to sharing the hymn in my next blog post.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Seed in the Ear is Worth Two in the Bush

When my wife and I got married, it was a church wedding of church weddings. We were in seminary and both on the part-time staff at the church where we were wed. Naturally, a large group from the church came. The experience was complete with choir and hand bells, a car decorated by the youth group, and lots of bird seed tossed.

The wedding was on Saturday, and we happily went on our honeymoon to Gulf Shores. But by Tuesday, I was feeling a strange, niggling, little itch in my left ear. I started complaining to Sandy about it. It got worse and worse every day.

By Thursday, in desperate need of relief, I was scratching inside my ear. Lo and behold, my fingernail caught on something. I pulled it out. There it was, a piece of bird seed that had lodged in my ear ... and it had sprouted! It had become a tiny little plant, and not only that, it was growing inwardly. No wonder it had been driving me absolutely crazy.

One year, I preached on the parable of the sower and proudly told the story of the seed sprouting in my ear. Though some seed falls in places where it won't grow, I made the conclusion that "seeds take root in fertile ground," referring of course to my head. The church found that a bit humorous. Yet I never will forget the man who came up to me after the service and said, "you know what fertilizer is made of don't you? Manure!" Then he just walked off. I deserved that.

At my going away party upon leaving that church, he gave me a dentist's mold of an ear with a little plant growing out of it. He wrote on the side, "Hear the Word, Plant the Word, Do the Word." What a gift. I keep it in my office to remind me that God can do great things with one little seed, no matter how unlikely the place is that it is planted.

Jesus said that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains. An entire forest begins with one seed. No matter how small it is, each act of kindness, each word of grace, and each demonstration of Christ's love is a seed. Do we trust in this mystery? God provides the growth.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Who Am I?

Bonhoeffer was a real, honest to goodness, persecuted saint. He stood for his Christian faith, which landed him in prison in Nazi Germany. I have been reflecting on one of his poetic writings entitled "Who Am I?"

He contrasts the calm exterior others in the concentration camp saw in him with what he really felt deep on the inside. Something about it reaches out and touches my spirit as I meditate and journey through mid-life.

Here is an English translation:

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell's confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Meditation in Time of Grief

Recently, someone at church asked me for some scriptures to meditate on in their time of grief. It caused me to reflect on what helped me through the storm of losing my mom years ago. Meditation on scripture and song through lectio divina was a real gift. I share with you some of what I shared with him.

I know grief is a long journey.

Here are some ideas for your meditation. They really helped me when my mom died. Psalm 23 which you mentioned certainly did, too. That psalm came to life for me as a reminder that Christ will walk with me through the dark valley. I meditated on the way each season of my life was in the psalm ... sometimes it's green pastures, sometimes it's clear waters, sometimes it's the dark valley of the shadow of death, sometimes it's

I loved parts of Isaiah 43. This is a wonderful passage about how God will see us through anything … “when you walk through the fire I’ll be with you.” Related to that, I meditated a lot on a traditional hymn that reflects the images of Isaiah 43. Here are the words:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

Something else that helped me was to mediate on various scriptures such as these:

Psalm 91 - God protects us

Psalm 139 - God knows us so deeply and personally

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 - Our consolations are as abundant as our sufferings

2 Corinthains 12:5-10 - When I am weak, God is strong

1 Kings 19:11-12 - Hearing the still small voice

2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18 - Though bodies waste away, inner nature is renewed every day

Jeremiah 29:4-7 - When you are in exile, choose to live. I wrote an article once that was published based on meditation on this scripture. I have attached it for you. (NOTE: It may be found at The Exile of Grief.)

Blessings during your time of grief. There are consolations and holy moments along the way.