Monday, November 30, 2009

St. Andrew the Apostle

Rublev icon of St. Andrew

A few bits of information you may not already know:

Just as Andrew was the first of the Apostles, so his feast is taken in the West to be the beginning of the Church Year. (Eastern Christians begin their Church Year on 1 September.) The First Sunday of Advent is defined to be the Sunday on or nearest his feast (although it could equivalently be defined as the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day).

Several centuries after the death of Andrew, some of his relics were brought by a missionary named Rule to Scotland, to a place then known as Fife, but now known as St. Andrew's, and best known as the site of a world-famous golf course and club. For this reason, Andrew is the patron of Scotland.

-- James Kiefer

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

-- from Luke 21

Here's something I found about the above passage:

Barbara Brown Taylor gets to the heart of the matter, when she concentrates on that fig tree. Perhaps the people "have not done that for awhile. They may have been focused on abstract things, like judgment or salvation, or on dramatic things, like earthquakes and plagues. By directing their attention to a sprouting tree, Jesus let them know that they did not have to work so hard, that God was speaking to them in the most ordinary events of their lives." Taylor wonders about the way we use the time we have (it's really all we have, she says) while we're waiting for Jesus to return. Be alert, yes, she writes, but "[n]ot so you will know when to grab your crash helmet and head for the basement, but so you will know when the kingdom is near. So you will not miss God when God comes"
It's from a reflection called Sign of Things to Come by Kate Huey.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In anticipation of tomorrow

What a lovely instrument here. Nice tempo. PERFECT ornamentation!

Oh, and now I just really must give you this one too:

It's the opening movement to Bach's Cantata BWV 140: Sleepers Wake! And what a magnificent performance this is, too.

Friday, November 27, 2009

About those troubles

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Sometimes it's very difficult to counteract the false message of the "prosperity gospel" that is being so widely preached today. As a result, many people "lose their faith" when they are beset by difficulties. I really like the following:

God has not promised to take away our trials, but to help us to change our attitudes toward them. That is what holiness really is. In this life, happiness is rooted in our basic attitude toward reality.

-- Thomas Keating

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Artist: Charles Collins

Here's something about gratitude that is pr0found - not sentimental:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

-- Melody Beattie

Making "sense of the past" is the best of these, in my mind. And yes, for that, I am truly grateful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eve of Thanksgiving Day

Artist: Albert Anker
Image from Wikimedia Commons

So true, dear people. So true:

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.

-- Author Unknown

May we never forget this. May we, therefore, never lose heart.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The arms of the Beloved

Today I found a reflection by Edward J. van Merrienboer on prayer as it relates to social justice. Here is just a little snippet from that piece:
Closely linked with the attitude of thanks is the prayer of adoration. This prayer is found in the story of the transfiguration of Jesus (Lk 9:28-35). It is rooted in experiences of seeing more fully the face of God during our faith journey. This method of prayer requires an effort on our part to see beyond the surface of human experience. Dorothy Day once put it this way, "reach out to eternity." Often in private. and passionate ways people reach out to their beloved God. A small child living in a shelter in Denver told me that once when she was on a swing she let herself swing into Jesus' arms. She said that they were so strong and warm that she just liked to think about those arms.

A few weeks after she told me this, I found a holy card of Jesus as a carpenter with his arms bare and strong. I gave the card to the little girl and her response was, "Oh, now I can just look at those arms." Adoration is like looking; adoration is its own goal. Her experience of Jesus has encouraged me to just take time to "look" at Jesus.
I actually understand that. Years ago when I was earning my living as a musician, my orchestra conductor helped me wonderfully with a passage that I was very nervious about. While conducting (with his arms lifted and outstretched, of course) he made eye contact with me and his face had a wonderfully encouraging and confidence-inspiring expression on it. My experience of performing that previously scary passage was like falling into the arms of God. I've never forgotten it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Reign of Christ

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I have long admired the Jesuit priest, Fr. John Kavanaugh. Here's something he said in a reflection about today's observance:
In answering Pilate, Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world. It is a kingdom not fought for with old means of warfare. Rather, it testifies to truth. It will not kill for the truth, it will die for it. If Jesus is king, he will be a suffering king. He will not demand ransom. He will be ransom. He will win, not by spilling the blood of others, but by offering up his own.

Over the centuries Christians have had trouble with this new kind of king, so much have we hungered for the earthly assurances of conquest and control. But it is equally true that the centuries have seen men and women who recognized in Jesus a kingliness that summoned nothing less than the loyalty of a free human heart. Something was unlocked in them when they discovered a "lord of life" whose ambition was not to dominate humanity but to save and serve it.
Those words, "the loyalty of a free human heart", are very powerful. If this is what Christ wants from us, how can we possibly justify the oppression of others or even stand by passively when we see that oppression?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Love the whole of it

Artist: Peter Paul Rubens

I may well have shared this quotation with you before but, if so, I think it bears repeating. I also think it's essential that we not just wait to be inspired to this kind of love but, rather, to cultivate it intentionally:

Love all of God's creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will soon perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

-- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Friday, November 20, 2009

Transcendent solitude

Artist: Odilon Redon

The silence that Benson refers to here is not at all about isoloation or withdrawal. It is, rather, the stillness that is cultivated by giving ourselves over to the present moment and into which we can tap at any time and in any place - no matter what is going on outwardly:
The silence that I seek cannot merely be the absence of the numbing noise and debilitating detail of life in our society. It must be something more. It must be a solitude that is transcendent, a stillness that can be found in the midst of the noise, a silence that is portable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An observation to ponder

Artist: Tora Huitfeldt

Here's a little wry humor for you today:

Someone has said, "If we could get religion like a Baptist, experience it like a Methodist, be positive about it like a Disciple, be proud of it like an Episcopalian, pay for it like a Presbyterian, propagate it like an Adventist, and enjoy it like an Afro-American -- that would be some religion!"

-- Harry Emerson Fosdick

I must say that I cringe here at the observation that the identifying characteristic of Episcopalians is pride. But, certainly, when Fosdick was preaching and writing, it was to one's social and political advantage to be an Episcopalian. (Not so much now.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The prayer of gazing

I decided to look up the word "gaze" and found this definition: "to look steadily and intently, as with great curiosity, interest, pleasure, or wonder." I also found that the word "gaze is often indicative of wonder, fascination, awe, or admiration."

Gazing at icons and the created world, seeing others and being seen through the eyes of Christ are all forms of prayer. Praying by gaze can be practiced in community as in the Eastern Orthodox tradition where icons fill churches and are part of the liturgy. We can also pray alone in front of a painting or by gazing at the created world in the midst of our busy lives. Gazing helps us attend to the holy that surrounds us in art, nature, and other people. Like other methods of prayer, gazing brings us into a deeper and more intimate relationship with God and opens the possibility of union with our Maker, the ultimate goal of the Christian spiritual life.

I do urge you to click through on the writer's name here. Not only does the link take you to a brief biogarphy but also to an interview with Jane Vennard that is quite marvelous.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

About that quest

The Damsel of the Holy Grail by Rossetti

Oh, my. This is so good. And I had not come across that assertion by Robert Bly before:

In the spiritual life, nothing goes away. There is no heavenly garbage dump. It's all here, wherever we are. Everything belongs. Even forgiveness does not mean it goes away. It means we forgive it for being there, nothing more. Even our demons do not go away. As Robert Bly wisely said: You don't get rid of demons, you just educate them.

Richard Rohr from Quest for The Grail

Well, folks, let's get serious about educating those demons! :-)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The saint and the rebel

Joan of Arc (kneeling)

This consoles me, actually! (Not that I want to be burned at the stake, mind you.)

In religion, it is not the sycophants or those who cling most faithfully to the status quo who are ultimately praised. It is the insurgents. Recall how often in human history the saint and the rebel have been the same person. Socrates was a rebel, and he was sentenced to drink hemlock. Jesus was a rebel, and he was crucified for it. Joan of Arc was a rebel, and she was burned at the stake.

Rollo May from The Courage To Create

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Religion as memory

Canterbury Pilgrims

Deep in the archives of Psychology Today, I found an excerpt from Thomas Moore's well known book, Care of the Soul. Here's a brief passage that really stood out to me:

There are two ways of thinking about church and religion. One is that we go to church in order to be in the presence of the holy, to learn and to have our lives influenced by that presence. The other is that church teaches us directly and symbolically to see the sacred dimension of everyday life. In this latter sense, religion is an "art of memory," a way of sustaining mindfulness about the religion that is inherent in everything we do. For some, religion is a Sunday affair, and they risk dividing life into the holy Sabbath and the secular week. For others, religion is a week-long observance that is inspired and sustained on the Sabbath.
Which one is it for you? Is it, perhaps, sometimes one, sometimes the other?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dona nobis pacem

This is by the wonderful choral composer, Paul Gibson.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A relationship in the present

The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to God who is already here.

-- Marcus Borg

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day, 2009

Demetrius, patron saint of warriors

This prayer was in an email sent out by Sojourners today:
On this day, we remember the peace accord that brought the First World War to a close. And as we honor and thank military veterans around the world for their service, we also remember those who have suffered great physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage as a result of such service, and we pray for their restoration. Moreover, we yearn for that day when swords will be beaten into plowshares, and we will make war no more. May it come to pass, Lord, and soon.
And I will say, "Amen," to that. And, "Amen," again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Increasing the world's happiness

You know, Dale Carnegie is not someone I would generally think of quoting on this blog but here's something he said that I really, really believe:
You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world's happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Artist: Albert Anker

As I've shared with you before, I think, Buechner is one of my favorite writers:

Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.

--Frederick Buechner

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Renaissance choral music: Willaert and Mundy

The first track, the Willaert, is an "Ave Maria". The second is entitled "O Lord, the Maker of all things".

Someone in the comments over at YouTube said the following:

Beautiful, haunting, uplifting, mysterious.

I certainly agree.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Feast of St. Willibrord of Utrecht

Saint Willibrord

From this page I learned the following:

Willibrord is a symbol of ties between the Christians of England and those of Holland. Today the historic See of Utrecht is in full communion with the Church of England.

He also strongly campaigned against idolatry. And so I offer you the following:

Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we prohibit and abolish women? The sun, moon, and stars have been worshipped. Shall we pluck them out of the sky?
Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.

--Martin Luther

Friday, November 6, 2009

Archbishop William Temple

William Temple was the 98th Archbishop of Canterbury. Here's something that was said about him:

In response to being accused of holding certain beliefs about God because of the way he was raised, he responded, "That is as it may be. But the fact remains that you believe I believe what I believe because of the way I was brought up, because of the way you were brought up."
It's amusing and clever but it's also something to reflect about with some seriousness.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Subversive spirituality

Artist: Renoir

Oh, my. This is so true in our achievement-obsessed society:

Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all.

Anne Lamott

I developed a real appreciation for the notion of subversive spirituality when I lived in South Africa. Desmond Tutu used to say, "If governments knew how subversive contemplative prayers is, they would ban it."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Leaping greenly spirits

Artist: Paul C├ęzanne

I think this is a keeper of a prayer:
I thank God for this most
amazing day;
for the leaping greenly
spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural, which is
infinite, which is yes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Feast of Richard Hooker, theologian

Some quotations by the great Richard Hooker for us to ponder:

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.

To live by one man's will becomes the cause of all misery.

Whatsoever is good; the same is also approved of God.

Words must be taken according to the matter whereof they are uttered.

We had rather follow the perfections of them whom we like not, than in defects resemble them whom we love.
And here's the one that moves and touches me the most:
Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of his name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know him not as indeed he is, neither can know him; and our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence, when we confess without confession that his glory is inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach.
Our safest eloquence concerning the Most High is our silence. Oh, yes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Today is All Souls' Day. And I want especially to remember those who made the great transition into eternity having been oppressed all their lives. To this end, I offer the following amazing video. Mind you, the video itself is technically very poor and annoying (obviously done by some parent in the audience). But the performance itself will just knock your socks off. And these are middle school children.

Here you go. Enjoy!

And from Psalm 116 which is appointed for today:

O LORD, I am your servant;*
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day

"Worshop before the throne of God"

Here's one of the best quotations about saints I have ever, ever, ever come across:
Christ bears with the saints' imperfections; well may the saints one with another.
Let us each this All Saints Day commit ourselves to bearing with one another's imperfections. If we all did this one thing, earth would be a paradise again.

Ha! And before I move on for today, let me leave you with this one for your reflection:
Many people genuinely do not want to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.
(By the way, the image above was found in The Bamberg Apocalypse, an 11th Century manuscript. The illuminations in it are simply stunning and you can see more of them right here.)