Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dedication for its own sake

You know, I really like this:

I will try not to panic, to keep my standard of living modest and to work steadily, even shyly, in the spirit of those medieval carvers who so fondly sculpted the undersides of choir seats.

John Updike quoted in Life magazine

Even though it may not seem so at first glance, I think this is a profoundly religious statement. Let me know what you think.
* Misericords were set on the underside of the hinged seats in the choirs of churches. They had no religious function but gave some support to the monks and clergy in the long parts of the services when standing was required. This explains the name 'misericord', which comes from the Latin for mercy. The decoration was often amusing and sometimes moral.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Being fully present

When you walk into the church or up to the altar, bow or kneel or cross yourself, light a candle, offer peace to another, put money in the plate, kiss an icon, receive bread and wine — don't pull away inside. Don't separate and see yourself doing something. Just be fully present 'in the middle' of the gesture, with nothing left over.

-- Tilden Edwards

Tilden Edwards founded the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation and served as its executive director for about twenty years. He continues to lecture and offer workshops. I had the wonderful privilege of studying with him some years ago as part of my training and formation as a spiritual director.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I lie down in peace...

Artist: Antonio Cortina Farinós

It's been a long day for me and so this consoles me tonight:

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.

-- Victor Hugo

Friday, August 27, 2010

Virgin of the Rosary

Artist: Cristóbal de Augusta

Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating; it grows along with Knowledge.

- Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Important components of spiritual health

Artist: Judith Leyster

I seem to be particularly appreciative of the following today:

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

Anne Lamott

This is certainly true in a society beset by workaholism and that tends to take itself way too seriously.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An urgent prayer request

Hello, dear internet friends.

I want to ask your earnest prayers for my niece, Jane, her husband, Chris, and their newborn little boy. The baby was born last night and is now in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Virginia Medical School hospital. He will need heart surgery.

My brother says that it is possible that the baby can go home to build his strength up for a while before the surgery but they're not sure yet.

My deep gratitude to you all for your caring and concern.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Empathy is the life of the soul...

...everywhere I look I see myself. There I go: that bald man, this angry child, that fearful cat, that cool stone, that bubbling brook, that worm struggling for its life, that bird desperate to feed her hungry babies, that one trapped in his rage, this one anxious but fearful of finding out why. Hardly strangers! Empathy is the life of the soul, I think, because the soul that allows us to see the one in the other is the soul that finds joy.

-- Claudia Michele

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just being who we actually are

Artist: Abbott H. Thayer
I really like this:

In Heaven an angel is nobody in particular.

-- George Bernard Shaw

If we let it, reflection on Shaw's observation here can help us let go of the seductive pull toward grandiosity.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The difficulty with images of God

Artist: Cima da Conegliano

Sometimes I don't think we take the ancient prohibitions against making images of God seriously enough. Oh, I don't mean to suggest that there is anything intrinsically wrong with visual images truly understood in a symbolic sense - "fingers pointing to the moon", as it were. I refer mainly to the images we create in our minds - in other words, God created in our own image. Here's something Madeleine L'Engle said about just that:
It isn't always the middle-aged who refuse to listen, who will not even try to understand another point of view. One boy would not get it through his head that for all adults God is not an old man in a white beard sitting on a cloud. As far as this boy was concerned, this old gentleman was the adult's god, and therefore he did not believe in God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Here I am

Icon of Abraham

This amazing poem by the great Rumi moves me to tears:
All night, a man called “Allah”
Until his lips were bleeding.
Then the Devil said, “Hey! Mr Gullible!
How comes you’ve been calling all night
And never once heard Allah say, “Here, I am”?
You call out so earnestly and, in reply, what?
I’ll tell you what. Nothing!”

The man suddenly felt empty and abandoned.
Depressed, he threw himself on the ground
And fell into a deep sleep.
In a dream, he met Abraham, who asked,
“Why are you regretting praising Allah?”

The man said, “I called and called
But Allah never replied, 'Here I am.'”
Abraham explained, “Allah has said,
'Your calling my name is My reply.
Your longing for Me is My message to you.
All your attempts to reach Me
Are in reality My attempts to reach you.
Your fear and love are a noose to catch Me.
In the silence surrounding every call of “Allah”
Waits a thousand replies of “Here I am.”'
It has been said that our love for God and God's love for us is the same love. This Rumi poem reminds me of that understanding.

(Oh, and just in case anyone reading this is not aware of it, "Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God. Arabic speaking Christians refer to God as Allah.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God's curriculum

Artist: Paul Rubens

Truly, there seems to be no end to the wise and insightful things the Baal Shem Tov said throughout his ministry:
Everybody is unique. Compare not yourself with anybody else lest you spoil God's curriculum.
It will do us all good to remember that really old saying: Comparisons are odious.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saint Mary the Virgin

As you all know, Blessed Mary's Day is really August 15. But since that date fell on a Sunday this year, the day was tranferred on the church calendar to the 16th - yesterday. As you notice from my note below, I had rather a busy day and didn't get any posting done so today will have to do!

Isn't this an interesting 15th Century image? The three Christ-appearing figures actually represent the Holy Trinity.

Now here's a quotation for you. I hope nobody is offended by this because I actually think it's rather delightful:

I'm one of those cliff-hanging Catholics. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother.

-- Martin Sheen

Monday, August 16, 2010


So sorry for the lack of posting, folks. It's been a very full day. I'll be back tomorrow!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

God's word is like fire

Artist: Eugène Delacroix
(Original in The Louvre)

Ah, I wish I were preaching this morning; the lessons are so rich and powerful. Here's something from Jeremiah (one of the O.T. choices):
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
And here's a passage from the Epistle for today:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us...
And the gospel passage will really knock you for a loop if you let it have the impact on you that (I'm sure of this!) it is meant to have:
Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided...
And here's one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotations ever (and it seems to fit...):

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

-- (From The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)

Friday, August 13, 2010


Eye of Providence icon

As you all know, I really like to bring you quotations that prompt me to stop and think when I come upon them myself. This is one:

The longer I live, the more faith I have in Providence, and the less faith in my interpretation of Providence.

-- Jeremiah Day

We tend to be very attached to our interpretations of all that happens, don't we? Professor Day here is suggesting here that we learn to let go of that attachment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Friendship and faith

Artist: Alfred Stevens

Here is an observation that is both thought-full and thought provoking. It reminds us that a sycophant is never a friend or even a loyal servant:

A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.

-- William Arthur Ward

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A glory to celebrate

Artist: William Blake

In the muddled mess of this world, in the confusion and boredom and amazement, we ought to be able to spot something — an event, a person, a memory, an act, a turning of the soul, the flash of bright wings, the surprise of sweet compassion — somewhere we ought to pick out a glory to celebrate.

Samuel H. Miller in The Dilemma of Modern Belief

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On having a pure and wise spirit

Artist: Orazio Gentileschi

Most people have a very natural and understandable desire to be understood and often suffer greatly when such understanding is not forthcoming. The following is quite consoling, actually:

Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagorus was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.

To be great is to be misunderstood.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, August 9, 2010

Projection and spirituality

Artist: Emil Orlik

I would suggest that we all really need to ponder this one:

God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it sees something different.

- Rabbi Harold Kushner

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The "next to the last truth"

"Faith" by Andrea di Niccolo

The Epistle reading this morning is that amazing essay on faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Here is a brief commentary on that passage:

By faith we understand, if we are to understand it at all, that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth….Faith is the eye of the heart, and by faith we see deep down beneath the face of things – by faith we struggle against all odds to be able to see – that the world is God's creation even so. It is he who made us and not we ourselves, made us out of his peace to live in peace, out of his light to dwell in light, out of his love to be above all things loved and loving. That is the last truth about the world.

-- Frederick Buechner

It is very consoling to consider that the madness and lostness we experience are not, in fact, the last truth after all.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Widening the heart

Artist: Charles Filiger

It's so easy to narrow your heart when you have had great sorrow or great disappointments. It takes a deep and courageous willingness to let it keep widening:

And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that's Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that's the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love - but to persist in love.

- Sue Monk Kidd, from The Secret Life of Bees

Friday, August 6, 2010


Artist: Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

This is from an article by Phyllis Kersten published in The Christian Century:
We have choices about how to respond to the mountaintop transfiguration events in our lives. We can ruin them with "if onlys" (if only I could stay here longer; if only things would never change; if only I could relive that experience). We can reminisce about our experiences, caressing and massaging them as an excuse to disengage from the world. Or we can allow them to prepare us for what God calls us to do next.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Standing the presence of the abyss

Artist: Thomas Cole

Faith is a coat against ... nakedness. For most of us, most of the time, faith functions so as to screen off the abyss of mystery that surrounds us. But we all at certain times call upon faith to provide nerve to stand in the presence of the abyss -- naked, stripped of life supports, trusting only in the being, the mercy and the power of the Other in the darkness. Faith helps us form a dependable "life space," an ultimate environment. At a deeper level, faith undergirds us when our life space is punctured and collapses, when the felt reality of our ultimate environment proves to be less than ultimate.

-- James W. Fowler, introduction, Stages of Faith

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A servant's heart

Oh, my goodness. This gives me quite a jolt:

How do we know if we have a servant’s heart? By how we act when we are treated like one!

-- Unknown

I would say that the above quotation offers amazingly rich material for reflection.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who and what we really are

Artist: Jan Matejko

How beautiful. How unutterably beautiful:

The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.

- Hildegard of Bingen

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Better to pardon too much"

I have always been thinking of the different ways in which Christianity is taught, and whenever I find one way that makes it a wider blessing than any other, I cling to that as the truest--I mean that which takes in the most good of all kinds, and brings in the most people as sharers in it. It is surely better to pardon too much, than to condemn too much.

-- George Eliot

Sadly, the "religious right" folks don't see it that way at all. They seem to prefer to err on the side of condemnation and I see that as genuinely tragic.