Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dancing to the Beat of my Doubts.

Have you ever lived in a house where 2 people have loud music playing at the same time? This scenario of Stereo Wars happened to me quite frequently in college. Depending on what music was playing I would be drawn to dance to one beat whilst trying to ignore the other, until the point where the other melody was more attractive and so I would switch my focus.

I remembered this dance this week when I was in a conversation about Belief and Unbelief.

In Mark 9:14-29 A boy with an evil spirit is brought to Jesus. The boy's father tells of all that the boy has suffered and asks Jesus if he is able to do anything. Jesus tells the father 'All things can be done for the one who believes.'  and the father responds 'I believe, help my unbelief!'

Some translations of this passage say 'Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief'. When I was younger that is what I wanted, for my unbelief to be eradicated, and, if that were not possible, for it to be neutralized and rendered powerless in my life.

Interestingly enough the word 'overcome' is not in the Greek text of this verse. The word for help (βοηθεω = boetheo) used here literally means to give assistance to, to come along side and give aid. Nothing about overcoming.

I'm learning to see that both my Belief and my Unbelief are necessary. My beliefs can provide strength when my unbeliefs can feel overwhelming and paralyzing, and my unbeliefs can shape, refine and mature my faith....

..and both belief and unbelief can lead me into the mystery of God.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Joan Chittister on Enlightenment

Some quotes from the book 'Illuminated Life'

'The important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas - good guides as these may be - and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the call of the divine, the fullness of the self.'

'Enlightenment is the ability to see beyond all the things we make God to find God.'

'We make religion God and so fail to see godliness where religion is not, though goodness is clear and constant in the simplest of people, the remotest of places. We make national honor God and fail to see the presence of God in other nations, particularly non-christian nations. We make personal security God and fail to see God in the bleak and barren dimensions of life. We make our own human color the color of God and fail to see God in the one who comes in different guise. We give God gender and miss the spirit of God everywhere in everyone.'

'Enlightenment sees, too, beyond the shapes and icons that intend to personalize God to the God that is too personal, too encompassing, to be any one shape or for or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.'

'To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through everything that seeps through the universe into the pores of my minuscule little life.'

Friday, June 14, 2013

Elliptical Altars

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

I've just returned from vacation. For 2 years a group of us had been planning this trip. It was the focus of a lot of my free time. It was a high point that kept me motivated when I was stuck in the mire of the mundane. I'm still living in the afterglow of the experience right now, but I can feel myself itching to plan something new.

It feels like to get through the usual I need to have something special to look forward too. I do this in my daily life too. I fixate on the moments of the day when I get to do something that nurtures me. Cooking, playing music, researching some obscure fact, a great silly conversation over lunch.

I do this with my spiritual life as well. I look to retreats, speaker series, books, worship experiences. I glance over the usual for the special, forgetting that God is as much in the mundane as the incredible. The 50th hot humid day in a row contains as much of God as that once a year fantastic sunset...and living in Houston that is a good thing.

So today I'm trying to look for God in the every day. In the mundane moments, in the filing that needs to take place and the cleaning that clamors for attention. This morning I attempted to turn the elliptical machine at the gym into an Altar - a place of encounter with God. I don't normally equate the presence of the Divine with sweating heavily while gasping for breath on a device that would not look out of place within a medieval torture chamber, but I did my best. My first thought was how good it was going to feel when my 30 minutes were up and I could dismount. I found myself wondering if God ever felt that way; that sense of a job well done. Next thing I knew I was reflecting back on the Creation narratives, thinking of when God '...saw that it was good'. From there I began to think about all the different emotions that I experience during the day, especially when doing unpleasant tasks; and how all of them can find a home within the heartbeat of God.

It takes work to be this attentive, to seek the presence of God in places where you have usually have no expectations of finding Him.....and fortunately we have a God who loves to surprise us.

5 years ago I was away on a retreat and while I was trying to pray I was distracted by a large bush on the deck. I found myself drawn to the shape and color of the leaves; the insects crawling over the stems. There was so much there that I would have missed if I had only taken a single glance. It made me think of Moses' encounter with the burning bush. It took Moses looking at the bush for a while to notice that it wasn't burning up. It took a second glance. I found myself reflecting on the every day things in my day that at first glance are common, but at a second glance reveal the presence of God to me in unexpected ways.....

...and I wrote a song about them.

A dusty path, a dreary land 
A wooden staff in weathered hand 
A holy blaze that never dies 
A miracle before the eyes 
A stumbling onto holy ground 
God revealed in sight and sound 
As it was for Moses why not me? 
If I can teach my eyes to see 

There are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days 
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze. 

 The roll of dice, the belly laugh 
The ancient tale, the photograph 
The mouse's click, the lovers' kiss 
all of Heaven speaks through this 
The taste of bread, the t.v. show 
Are signs for those who are in the know 
How I take for granted daily grace 
The voice of God is common place 

 For there are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days 
Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze. 

 It's not that God is far away 
Only whispering on special days 
Our lives are spent on holy ground 
God speaks so much we ignore the sound 

 When there are burning bushes everywhere 
Fiery flowers, blazing for hours 
Waiting for us to see them there 
The red and the green, 
dancing unseen through our days
 Lighting the path, keeping our lives ablaze.

What are the ordinary, mundane things in your life?
How can a second glance at them reveal the presence of God?