Sunday, October 31, 2010

The great reformer

As it happened, I went to Fellowship Lutheran Church this morning because of the Sunday afternoon prayer course I've been teaching for them over the past six weeks. And when I got there I discovered that today is Reformation Sunday. It was on October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Here are a few things Luther said that I've always liked:
If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there.
Pray, and let God worry.
Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.
God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The inbreaking

Icon of Holy Wisdom
Into the daily cycle of our lives
When all seems well
With us and with the world
When our yoke is easy
And the burden light
You break in
And scatter our complacency

Into the daily cycle of our lives
When we are comfortable
And at our ease
When the fire is lit
But eyes are closed
You break in
And challenge our dependency

You break into
Our daily prayers
Humble hearts
Lay souls bare
You break in
You break in

You break in
When defences are down
With an Angel's shout
Or the quietest sound
You break in
You break in

And we change
And all things change
When you break in

I found the prayer on this page.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Our bounden duty

Yes, I know that Camus would be considered either an atheist or an agnostic but I'm going to quote him here anyway because I think this is really, really good:

I have no idea what's awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.

-- Albert Camus

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pain and suffering, kindness and love

A South African landscape
Artist: Rosa Hope

I think I was sixteen when I first read Cry, The Beloved Country and it had a profound and lasting effect on me. I offer you the following today:

— This world is full of trouble, umfundisi.

— Who knows it better?

— Yet you believe?

Kumalo looked at him under the light of the lamp. I believe, he said, but I have learned that it is a secret. Pain and suffering, they are a secret. Kindness and love, they are a secret. But I have learned that kindness and love can pay for pain and suffering. There is my wife, and you, my friend, and these people who welcomed me, and the child who is so eager to be with us here in Ndotsheni – so in my suffering I can believe.

— I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering, umfundisi. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.

Kumalo looked at his friend with joy. You are a preacher, he said.

-- Alan Paton

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rest and prayer

Artist: Nadezhda P. Shteinmiller

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes.

-- Etty Hillesum

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Something about dreams

Margret Hofheinz-Döring/Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen

It helps if we pay attention to our dreams by writing them down:

The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.

-- Carl Jung

Friday, October 22, 2010

How real love really works

Artist: Paula Modersohn-Becker

I've deeply appreciated the following ever since I first came across it some time ago:

Don't tell me you will love me forever. Tell me that you will love me Thursday afternoon at four o'clock.

W. H. Auden

This is what incarnational faith is all about. It's not abstract (or it's not merely abstract). Following Christ means cultivating the kind of love that manifests itself in the very real lives of very real people.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The present moment

Artist: Franz Nölken

The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at the ...moment.

-- Eugene Peterson

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Not a bad approach to life; not bad at all:

Artist: Peter Severin Krøyer

"Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world."

— French Proverb

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jacob wrestling with the angel

Artist: Maurice Denis

This morning's reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was the story of Jabob wrestling with the angel.

The painting above is rather odd, isn't it? It looks more as if they are dancing.

Isn't it like that? Sometimes we strive with God; sometimes we dance.

To be whole, to be complete, we need to do both - God invites us to both.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Something about religious ideas

Here's something I just came across:

Religious ideas have the fate of melodies, which, once set afloat in the world, are taken up by all sorts of instruments, some of them woefully coarse, feeble, or out of tune, until people are in danger of crying out that the melody itself is detestable.

-- George Eliot

Perhaps one way of thinking about spirituality is that it can be the approach by which we learn to hear the true melody rather than the out of tune version. That way we learn that it is not detestable at all but ineffably lovely.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Connectedness and prayer

Artist: Arseny Nikoforovich Semionov

I get a lot of questions about how prayer "works" or whether prayer "works". I think prayer can only not work if we are completely separate. And I believe with Lewis here that our separateness is the real illusion:

Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing--rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.

-- C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How we learn

Artist: Nikolay Dubovskoy
Image from Wikimedia Common

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close behind me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lonely worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air;
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

--Theodore Roethke

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An interior conversation

Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio

As for meditation, I would like you to be a disciple of prayer, because without prayer there is no habitual union with God. You need a type of prayer which is suited to your temperament, your situation, your inner inclination, consequently, your heart. Speak simply and candidly to our Lord as with another self, as with your sister. Be a child who is full of love and surrendered to her good maker. Let it be an interior conversation with God more than a work of the mind. Then, a scattered, distracted meditation will come together, because it will express all the thoughts and needs of your heart.

-- Peter Julian Eymard

Friday, October 8, 2010

Life together

Artist: Anatoli Nenartovich

The political climate of late makes this a particularly important question, I think:

When the Stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
What will you answer? "We all dwell together
To make money from each other"? or "This is a community"?

-- T.S Eliot

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The domestication of Jesus?

The question at the end of this passage is a good question. Truly a question worth pondering:

"At the tattoo parlor, my friend worked with needle and ink applying a design to the skin on his client's back, as the three of us sat discussing our spiritual desires and ambivalence about religion. In the midst of our conversation, the man under the needle turned and said, 'Jesus is cool, it's just that they have f***ed with Jesus. I mean, Christianity was at its best when it was secret and hidden and you could die for it.' This profound, if crass, statement recognizes that the power of the gospel lay in its ability to be a counter-cultural and revolutionary force - not only a story to believe, but a distinctive way of life. The man's comment prompted me to consider the question: Am I in some measure complicit in the domestication of Jesus?"

-- Mark Scandrette

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Making peace with silence

Artist: Viktor Vasnetsov

I'm very interested in the aversion many people have to silence. Last week in one of my Foundations in Mediative Practice classes, a woman complained when we all kept silence for five minutes. "That felt like forever," she insisted. "I thought the bell would never end."

Five minutes.

And so, it will not surprise you that I agree with the following:

Make peace with silence, and remind yourself that it is in this space that you'll come to remember your spirit. When you're able to transcend an aversion to silence, you'll also transcend many other miseries. And it is in this silence that the remembrance of God will be activated.

Wayne W. Dyer

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Help us to see

Artist: Archip Iwanowitsch Kuindshi

Oh, God of Dust and Rainbows,
Help us to see
That without the dust the rainbow
Would not be.

-- Langston Hughes

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Unfathomable love

Artist: Veniamin Ivanovich Borisov

We all know this, don't we? And yet, we forget it. Or perhaps we can't quite see our way clear to believe it:

God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I wonder how our lives might be different if all of us who claim to follow Christ managed to remember what Bonhoeffer said here more consistently.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reverence as awe

Artist: Nicholas Roerich

If we cultivated this kind of awe, I really think we would easily alleviate a lot of the suffering we carry around in our experience:

"Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world…Try walking around with a child who’s going, ‘Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!’ And the child points, and you look, and you see, and you start going, ‘Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!’ I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world – present and in awe."

-- Anne Lamott