Friday, November 30, 2007

Our nurturing God

I want to share with you a few verses from Genesis, chapter 49:
22 Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall.

23 With bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.

24 But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 because of your father's God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty, who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breast and womb.
Perhaps you have heard the Hebrew words "El Shaddai" before -- maybe because of the Amy Grant song by that title. The usual translation is "Almighty God" but "shaddai" also means "all sufficient" and it is from a root that means "breast". God nurtures us as a mother nurtures her newborn.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 131 which contains these words:
But I still my soul and make it quiet
Like a child on its mother's breast.
My soul is quieted within me.
Let us rest on the breast of God. Let us be nurtured by the breast of God

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Take this bread

Clyde Glandon sent me the following:

The latest installment of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has a story on Sara Miles, who runs the food bank at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco—a ministry that is more than full time. A couple of years ago she was a strident atheist and a journalist who first walked in the door because she was curious about what was going on inside. She found a community that feeds people, at the altar on Sundays and at a meal with sack of groceries on Fridays, no questions asked. She reports her first experience like this: “And then a woman put a piece of fresh bread in my hand and gave me a goblet of some rather nasty, sweet wine. And I ate the bread and was completely thunderstruck by what I felt happening to me. So I stood there crying, completely unsure of what was happening to me. Got out of the church as quickly as I could before some strange, creepy Christian would try to chat with me, and came back the next week because I was hungry, and kept coming back and kept coming back to take that bread.”

It was the lack of judgment that invited her into that community, where she continues to feed people herself. She goes on to say, “I think what I discovered in that moment when I put the bread in my mouth and was so blown away by the reality of Jesus was that the requirement for faith turned out not to be believing in a doctrine, or knowing how to behave in church, or being the right kind of person, or being raised correctly, or repeating the rituals. The requirement for faith seemed to be hunger. It was the hunger that I had always had and the willingness to be fed by something I didn’t understand.”

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Seabury Western Commencement, June 1, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Strength for the fight

This is one of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers and Mothers:

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The old man said to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.' So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, 'Lord, give me strength for the fight.'

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Love: the real thing

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning have by now discerned that I very much admire Thomas Merton. Here's something he said that I just found today:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
It's so easy to be narcissistic without knowing it. And that really is why we need each other.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A simple prayer

I found an interesting blog today authored by Brian and Emily Miller who are youth ministers at a church in Colorado. Here is a posting I liked very much:

We used this prayer for meditation during the first 30 minutes of youth group last week. Each line of the prayer was put on screen for a few minutes and students/leaders were encouraged to dwell on the words and on God, or ignore the words if needed and sit in silence. It benefitted us immensely, so we wanted to share it with anyone who might also enjoy it.

your grace
your love
your sacrifice
your faithfulness

your beauty
your mystery
your presence
your heart

my indifference
my pride
my rebellion
my infidelity
They also posted the following quote:

The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.

-- Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered

They sound like a very thoughtful and committed young couple. I'm glad I found their blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King Sunday

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A profound prayer

I well remember when I discovered the wonderful book, Markings, by Dag Hammarskjold. And it is this prayer that meant the most to me and that I've always remembered:
For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What prayer is

I was very fortunate and blessed to hear Henri Nouwen speak back in the 70s. He came across as utterly genuine, utterly authentic. Here's something he wrote that we would all do well to heed:

Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, "Prove that you are a good person." Another voice says, "You'd better be ashamed of yourself." There also is a voice that says, "Nobody really cares about you," and one that says, "Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful." But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, "You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you." That's the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That's what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us "my Beloved."

~Henri Nouwen (Bread for the Journey)

I'll fly away!

These young men are in Goshen College, Indianna. It is a Mennonite school.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You, thank You, thank You, generous God!

You have injected life with joy, thus we know laughter.

You have dabbed creation with color, thus we enjoy beauty.

You have whistled a divine tune into the rhythm of life, thus we hear music.

You have filled our minds with questions, thus we appreciate mystery.

You have entered our hearts with compassion, thus we experience faith.

Thank You, God, Thank You. Thank You!

- C. Welton Gaddy

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The ineffable

I've spent a lot of time with the works of Walt Whitman over the years - to my very great benefit. But only today did I come across these lovely lines:

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged-- keep on-- there are divine things, well envelop'd; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

~Walt Whitman, 'Song of The Open Road'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beyond the self

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it , and for a moment I lost myself - actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way.

And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Become the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see - and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning!

- from Long Days Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill

O'Neill is attempting to give words to the mystical experience which is, of course, ineffable. But still there is this painting, as it were, this struggle to offer a picture of what it is like. And, to the very great blessing of humankind, many saints and artists have tried to show us - and not only to show us but to draw us in. Deo gratias!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Paradise on earth

Every now and then I really need to return to de Caussade - a truly great spiritual director of the 18th Century. Let's take a look at something he said about faith:

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven. Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life.

Jean Pierre de Caussade

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Some wonderful words on prayer

If ever we are tempted to neglect our prayers, we might do well to read these words:

Consider how august a privilege it is, when angels are present, and archangels throng around, when cherubim and seraphim encircle with their blaze the throne, that a mortal may approach with unrestrained confidence, and converse with heaven's dread Sovereign! O, what honor was ever conferred like this?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grace and transformation

This gladdens my heart:

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

-- Anne Lamott

We Praise Thee, St Petersburg Chamber Choir

The importance of knowing oneself

The 16th Century Spanish mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, both taught the importance of knowing oneself. Here's something Teresa said:

Just as we cannot stop the movement of the heavens, revolving as they do with such speed, so we cannot restrain our thought. And then we send all the faculties of the soul after it, thinking we are lost, and have misused the time that we are spending in the presence of God. Yet the soul may perhaps be wholly united with Him in the Mansions very near His presence, while thought remains in the outskirts of the castle, suffering the assaults of a thousand wild and venomous creatures and from this suffering winning merit. So this must not upset us, and we must not abandon the struggle, as the devil tries to make us do. Most of these trials and times of unrest come from the fact that we do not understand ourselves.

-- from The Interior Castle

The mind thinks. That is what it does. In the same way, the eye sees and the ear hears. It is not necessary to suppress thoughts. It is, however, important to bring the mind back to the contemplation of Divine reality whenever we realize we have become distracted.

Friday, November 16, 2007


There's a wonderful wesite that you really should know about. It's called Spirituality and Practice and it's just full of resources for the kind of integrated devotional life that affects everything we do.

One of the practices we are urged to cultivate is reverence. Here's how the basic practice is described:

Reverence is the way of radical respect. It recognizes and honors the presence of the sacred in everything — our bodies, other people, animals, plants, rocks, the earth, and the waters. It is even an appropriate attitude to bring to our things, since they are the co-creations of humans and the Creator.

Nothing is too trivial or second class for reverence. But it has to be demonstrated with concrete actions. Don't abuse your body — eat right, exercise, get enough rest. Don't abuse the earth by being wasteful of its gifts. Protect the environment for your neighbors and future generations.

Reverence is also a kind of radical amazement, a deep feeling tinged with both mystery and wonder. Approaching the world with reverence, we are likely to experience its sister — awe. Allow yourself to be moved beyond words.
I like the words "radical amazement". Such an amazement is a powerful antidote to the pernicious ennui that has infected so many in our day. It is a way of being fully alive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Something refreshing

I got this from my monk friend, Prior Aelred:
The voice of an African bishop on Biblical interpretation:

"In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it."

This shocking innovation brought to you by Augustine of Hippo!
We often forget that fundamentalism is quite a recent development in the history of Christian thought and that the ancients did not necessarily interpret Scripture literally. Rather they tended to use the allegorical or metaphorical approach.

A prayer for us all

Thomas Merton

Quite a number of years ago, someone gave me a prayer on a little card that seemed just right for me. I was deeply moved by it and taped it to a bookcase in my office so that I could see it often. Then on Monday, while I was preparing the first post of this blog, I came across it on line. Here's the prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
It is, of course, by Thomas Merton from his wonderful book, Thoughts in Solitude.

An editorial review on Amazon says this about the book:
What has made this book such an enduring and popular work is that it recognizes how important solitude is to our morality, integrity, and ability to love. One does not have to be a monk to find solitude, notes Merton; solitude can be found in the act of contemplation and silent reflection in everyday life. Also, this is not a pious book that assumes that a relationship with the divine can be obtained only by denying our humanity and striving for saintliness. Instead, Merton asserts that connection with God can most easily be made through "respect for temperament, character, and emotion and for everything that makes us human."
Sadly, a lot of common approaches to Christian formation do suggest that we need to deny our humanity in order to please God. Of course, paradoxically, that has the effect of making us more self-conscious rather than less. Making friends with ourselves is an important first step on the spiritual path. Think about it. Why would we give a self that we hate as an offering to God? I actually like that old T-shirt that says, "God doesn't make junk". So do remember this wonderful saying of Irenaeus: "The glory of God is the human being fully alive!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

Very moving. Just listen:

Why forgiveness is essential

Today I want to share with you an article called "Desmond Tutu Part Of Connecticut Celebration". The event took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts:

During the forum, Tutu discussed how his nation was able to heal and forgive after years of apartheid.

“To forgive is not being altruistic. It's the best form of self-interest,” he said. “When I dehumanize you, I am, in the process, dehumanized.”

Tutu discussed the healing process in South Africa after apartheid and how things could have gone better, but how they could have been much worse. With an overwhelming sense of reason, he talked about the work of fellow South African and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, and how Mandela's time in jail was necessary in South Africa's healing process.

“In 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela evolved from an angry young man to (gain) an understanding of the point of view of the other,” he said, calling those 27 years “crucial.”
But what many were taking away from the day's celebration and were discussing once the day's events concluded were Tutu's words before the service.

“In our African culture, there is ... the essence of being human: a person is a person through other persons,” he said. “I need you to be all you can be, so I can be all I can be.”

Because of my years in South Africa, I know the African word for what Archbishop Tutu is saying here. It is ubuntu. I love this word. It basically says that we're all in it together.

And we are.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Welcome all spouses of clergy!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Hello, everyone.

This new blog is specifically for the spouses of clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma but all others are welcome as well.

Mostly I will be bringing you quotations and excerpts from books on spiritual practice that are intended to be springboards for your own meditation and reflection.

Feel free to comment or ask a question about anything you see or read.

Let's get started:

The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.

-- Thomas Merton

Of course, it was also Thomas Merton who said, "The only thing to remember about prayer is to begin where you are." So, wherever you are, begin right now. Remembering to begin anew every day is the key to the kind of spiritual practice that will sustain us throughout our lives - no matter what happens.

Peace be with you.