Sunday, January 31, 2010

The mundane and prayer

Scanned from a card given to me some time ago
Original source unknown

It is said that the Christian mystic Teresa of Avila found difficulty at first in reconciling the vastness of the life of the spirit with the mundane tasks of her Carmelite convent: the washing of pots, the sweeping of floors, the folding of laundry. At some point of grace, the mundane became for her a sort of prayer, a way she could experience her ever-present connection to the divine pattern which is the source of life. She began then to see the face of God in the folded sheets.

- Rachel Naomi Remen

Feeling caught in the difference between the mystical and the mundane is characteristic of beginners, really. Give your deep permission to experience no difference. Because, in reality, that's the way it really is: there is no difference at all.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The value of mystery

Artist: William Turner

Here's one wonderful sentence from a preacher I've long admired:

I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.

-- Harry Emerson Fosdick

This is something I've never really understood about the religious fundamentalists. Why would they prefer that the world, the universe, be small enough (that is, simplistic enough) to be comprehended by the human mind?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The primacy of ethics

"Thomas of Villanova giving alms to the poor"
Image from Wikimedia Commons

This morning I happened to find, quite by accident, an article in the Alternet archives entitled "Atheism and Diversity: Is It Wrong For Atheists To Convert Believers?" and it was really the comments section that got my attention. Take a look at this:
...Edward Schillebeeckx (one of the greatest catholic scholars of the 20th century) expressed the conviction that God is simply too great for human understanding to grasp completely - which means that no human tradition will ever have the final say about who or what He/She is. This same Schillebeeckx states that the primacy within christian tradition belongs to ethics - the question whether purely human good is brought about or not. The question whether God exists or not is, within this context, actually an irrelevant one. The question is whether God happens, i.e. whether liberation, justice, compassion and love is brought about.

What I basically want to say is this: religion is much richer and more complex than the writer of this piece apparently assumes. As far as christian tradition is concerned, it is not about the existence of God but about the event of God, who is revealed in the liberation, justice, compassion and love that happen to concrete human beings.
I so agree with this. My own faith is not that God is "a" being alongside other beings but that God is Being itself. Love itself. Compassion itself. As the writer above observes, that makes all the fuss about the "existence" of God quite irrelevant.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Living and interacting with people

Artist: Margret Hofheinz-Döring
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Here's a quotation that Sojourners sent out today:
The message of salvation is more than our verbal proclamation of the gospel. We must redefine evangelism to include how we live and interact with people -- what it means for us to call them into God's family to become members of God's household. This is as important as our ability to accurately quote scriptures.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Here's the cure for perfectionism

Saint Paul

I'm afraid I ran out of time yesterday and didn't end up offering you a post for the Conversion of St. Paul. But the following quotation gives us a teaching by the great reformer Martin Luther that seems really appropriate for yesterday and today as well:

This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.
It is not our job to make ourselves perfect. We do need to cultivate, however, a willingness to allow ourselves to be made perfect in God's good time.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A thought about miracles

"Miracle of the Spring"

The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much on faces or voices or healing power suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.

-- Willa Cather

Suppose we made it an objective to cultivate our perceptions so that they become more fine tuned. What might we see that we've been missing?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The uses of adversity

Artist: Carel P. Brest van Kempen

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venemous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt in public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it.

-- William Shakespeare

This is very wise advice because, I think, most of us would wish to change it. It takes both courage and a certain trust not to.

Friday, January 22, 2010



I have long valued the teachings of that greatest of stoic philosophers, Epictetus. He was born a slave and was physically disabled, having been lame from childhood. Here's something very beautiful that he said:
What else can I do, a lame old man, but sing hymns to God? If I were a nightingale, I would do the nightingale's part; if I were a swan, I would do as a swan. But now I am a rational creature, and I ought to praise God. This is my work. I do it, nor will I desert my post, so long as I am allowed to keep it. And I ask you to join me in this same song.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Something about prayer

Lord's Prayer in Persian (Farsi)

Prayer is neither black magic nor is it a form of a demand note. Prayer is a relationship. The act of praying is more analogous to clearing away the underbrush which shuts out a view than it is to begging on the street. There are many different kinds of prayer. Yet all prayer has one basic purpose. We pray not to get something, but to open up a two-way street between us and God, so that we and others may inwardly become something.

-- John Heuss

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day

These, I think, are as important as any words he said or wrote:

We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happiness for a lifetime

I may well have posted this before but, if so, it's been a long time. I think it is hugely appropriate for this time of such enormous suffering in Haiti:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.

-- Chinese Proverb

Friday, January 15, 2010

Option for the poor

"The Poor and Money"

As many of you know, I spent several years in South Africa working for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and so I've paid attention to what he's said during his ministry. I had never come across the following, however, before today:

The heart of the Christian Gospel is precisely that God is the all holy One; the all powerful One is also the One full of mercy and compassion. He is not a neutral God inhabiting some inaccessible Mount Olympus. He is a God who cares about His children and cares enormously for the weak, the poor, the naked, the downtrodden, the despised. He takes their side not because they are good, since many of them are demonstrably not so. He takes their side because He is that kind of God, and they have no one else to champion them.

-- Desmond Tutu

The last sentence is quite stunning, really. It simply flies in the face of the so-called "just world theory" that has so infected the United States. Perhaps we can remember these remarks of the Archbishop as we ponder our continued response to the disaster in Haiti.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Where is God in all this?

I'm so, so glad that Jim Wallis made this statement. I want to post it right away:

I also want to say a word about God and evil. Pat Robertson said that Haiti’s earthquake was caused because of the country’s “pact with the devil.” I don’t even know what he means, nor do I care. But I want to say this: My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful and retributive being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it’s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering.

- Jim Wallis

Donate for the people of Haiti

Dear readers:
I am posting the following appeal on all three blogs (for obvious reasons).

If you would like to make a donation to help the people of Haiti right now and you want to be sure that it is used appropriately, may I recommend Episcopal Relief and Development. Don't worry; they don't proselytize. This organization (which used to be called The Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief) has a long track record of excellent and focused work during disasters and other situations of great need. It is very easy to donate on their website and you can earmark your contribution specifically to help the people of Haiti.

Unlike organizations (such as the Red Cross) who are specifically focused on the emergency itself, ERD sticks around after the immediate disaster needs and helps the people rebuild.

Even if you can spare only $5 or $10, please do. As executive director of a non-profit organization myself, I am very aware of how small amounts add up. Your contribution will help!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A faith that deepens

As I think I've shared with you before, I get a couple of emails from Sojourners most days. Here's a quotation that arrived today that I like very much:

Throughout the gospels we are repeatedly told that after some word or deed of Jesus "his disciples believed in him." The point of this statement is not that up to that point they had no faith, but rather that their faith deepened with the passage of time. To believe in God is more than simply to profess God's existence; it is to enter into communion with God and -- the two being inseparable -- with our fellow human beings as well. All this adds up to a process.

- Gustavo Gutierrez

It's from his book entitled We Drink From Our Own Wells.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Passionate participation

"Fiery Furnace"
Artist: Toros Roslin

We do, indeed, need to let go of any desire we may have to be spoon fed:

If you want a television, you go out and work for it and you buy it. If you want to learn about Aztec pottery, you take a course. But the relationship with God requires the active and passionate participation of you, yourself. You have to risk it. You have to abandon yourself to it. You have to leap into the fire. Nobody will do it for you; nobody can do it for you.

-- Andrew Harvey

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Baptism of Our Lord

Artist: James Tissot

Here's one of the most arresting statements on baptism I've ever come across:

Baptism is not a bath, but a funeral bier. If it was a bath, you would need it again and again. But since it is a death and new life, it is a once for all picture of the transformation that has taken place in our lives. Baptism is not about your goodness; it's about God's Grace.

-- Dr. Mickey Anders

But here's another one that is equally powerful:

One evening the New Testament professor from Princeton Seminary visited a high school youth group. After the professor finished speaking about the significance of Christ's baptism as a revelation of God's presence in Jesus, the high schooler said without looking up, "That ain't what it means."

Glad that the student had been listening enough to disagree, the professor asked, "What do you think it means?"

"The story says that the heavens were opened, right?"


"The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?"

"That's right."

The boy finally looked up and leaned forward, saying, "It means that God is on the loose in the world. And it is dangerous."

After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness, and it was dangerous. Jesus taught in the temples, and it was dangerous. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and it was dangerous. Jesus confronted the authorities and turned over the tables, and it was dangerous.

-- Daniel D. Chambers

My goodness. God is on the loose in the world. Let's think about that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


The performance is utterly sublime. I think that's all I can say right now.

UPDATE: I have just listened to this again and also to another video of the same ensemble. What amazing performances. Back in the day (when I was still performing), I would love to have worked for this conductor (Philippe Herreweghe). Impeccable. Truly.

By the way, if you have any interest in learning more about the solo instrument above, do watch this delightful video: Baroque Oboe Little Known Facts.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Artist: Joseph Dalton Hooker

Let us not forget that Epiphany means manifestation:

It’s really quite simple. When we look at a tree, God is there. When we look at a flower, God is there. When we look at the sky, God is there. When we look at the earth, God is there. We can see God in the faces of people on the street, in the faces of our children, our friends, our partners, our colleagues, and our bosses. When we see God shining through the faces of all those around us—those like us and those unlike us—every moment becomes a prayer and the world becomes a different place to live in.

-- Anne Wilson Schaef

Every moment becomes a prayer. This is possible. It truly is.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Formation of conscience

Have you ever given any thought to what has formed your conscience?

Today I had occasion to remember a 78 record I had as a small child. It was a reading of Oscar Wilde's painful and beautiful short story entitled The Happy Prince. Above is a picture of that old record's cover.

I cried every time I listened to it but I played it over and over because it was so very beautiful. And I learned a lot about social injustice, about empathy, about compassion, about generosity, and about sacrifice.

If you don't know this story, please click through on the title and read it. Not much time will be required; it's very short. Even if you do know it but haven't read or heard it for some time, please read it again. I have. And, yes, this story has once more brought me to tears.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Feast of the Epiphany

Photo by Nina Aldin Thune (with permission)

Yesterday, for Twelfth Night, I mentioned something about reversals. Now take a look at this excerpt from an Epiphany sermon by Katerina K Whitley:
[The magi] see the child with his mother. She is holding him on her lap as they kneel and bend to touch their foreheads to the ground. What is Mary thinking when she sees the gifts they offer? Does she feel a premonition when she smells the myrrh, an herb used for burial? Later in her life, will she stand at the foot of the terrible cross remembering that beautiful visit and the premonition of his death?

We can only guess. We only know that something remarkable happened on that day when the far east and the near east came together. But the gift to us is that the visit of the magi reveals something else that has as much meaning for our lives today as it did in that first year of the first century. The rich and the poor mingle in harmony in this story. The rich don’t withhold from the poor; they offer not only necessities, but luxury and beauty. For a few minutes, there is a strong hint of the kingdom of God the grown Jesus would proclaim—peace on earth, good will toward all people, mercy to the poor—the acknowledgment of the full humanity of the poor, of women, and of children (which was an alien concept in the ancient world). The rich, the educated, the respected are kneeling before a child and a mother, in a poor hamlet in Bethlehem.
So, once more we see how the Kingdom is about the valleys being exalted and the mountains and hills made low.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Twelfth Night

Back in the old days, Twelfth Night reveling included having a King and/or Queen for the festivites - chosen, of course, by baking a coin or bean or small image of Jesus in the cake. The person whose portion included the prize became royalty for the occasion.

I've read that this custom has its origins in pagan practices but, really, it is so fitting for the Epiphany - manifestation - of Our Lord. The Kingdom that Christ brings is, in fact, one of reversals. The valleys are exalted and the mountains and hills made low:

Twelfth Night: Or King and Queen

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool:
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing:
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

-- Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Second Sunday after Christmas

The lectionary gives us a choice of three gospel readings for today. One of them is about the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. I want to offer these two simple sentences for your reflection:

The story of the flight to Egypt, of a poor couple and an infant escaping to another land, has given hope to millions of refugees the world over. It is possible that thousands of refugees have been given asylum and been resettled by churches because of the memory of the One who started his life as a refugee.

-- Katerina Whitley

Yes, the infant Jesus and his parents were immigrant refugees. They fled to another country in order to survive. Perhaps we could think about that in pondering our personal positions on immigration.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Feast of the Holy Name

This is the day on which Our Lord was circumcised and given his wonderful name:

The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections... Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart. This name is the cure for all diseases of the soul. Are you troubled? Think but of Jesus, speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse, and peace descends anew from heaven. Have you fallen into sin? so that you fear death? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning. No obduracy of the soul, no weakness, no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name; there is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy name. Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.

... To think of Jesus is to think of the great, infinite God Who, having given us His life as an example, has also bestowed the necessary understanding, energy and assistance to enable us to follow and imitate Him, in our thoughts, inclinations, words and actions. If the Name of Jesus reaches the depths of our heart, it leaves heavenly virtue there.

-- St. Bernard of Clairvaux

I grew up during a time when we were taught always to incline the head in a simple and subtle bow whenever we uttered or heard the Holy Name - especially during the Creed. It is a very meaningful practice.

Happy New Year!!