Saturday, July 30, 2011

Some small weak tender part...

Artist: Van Gogh

Here is a poem I recently found. I'm using it for reflective reading. It presents an ideal, of course. An ideal undoubtedly impossible to live up to - although some of the great saints have come pretty close, I'd say. I think this kind of wondering is an antidote for cynicism as well as a remedy for discouragement and that's no small thing:

I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

-- Derek Tasker


Thursday, July 28, 2011

A river of grace

Artist: Claude Monet

It's possible that I have posted this before. Nevertheless, it bears repeating. I have long admired this writer. She is obviously intimately acquainted with silence as the great context for embracing the holy and the good:

Silence is like a river of grace inviting us to leap unafraid into its beckoning depths. It is dark and mysterious in the waters of grace. Yet in the silent darkness we are given new eyes. In the heart of the divine we can see more clearly who we are. We are renewed and cleansed in this river of silence. There are those among you who fear the Great Silence. It is a foreign land to you. Sometimes it is good to leap into the unknown. Practice leaping.

-- Macrina Wiederkehr

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Loving ourselves

Artist: Alexander Pushnin

It grieves me enormously - truly it does - that so many Christians are caught up in self-loathing and believe that, in fact, they should not love themselves:

God's love for us is not the reason for which we should love him. God's love for us is the reason for us to love ourselves.

-- Simone Weil

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Julian's wisdom

For some reason, I happen to have Julian of Norwich on my mind this morning. Here are two quotations for your reflection:

Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good, though you feel nothing. Yes, even though you think you are doing nothing.
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

Both of these obseverations call attention to two of the most pernicious mistakes in the spiritual life. The first is giving too much validity to feelings. Many people will say, "Well, if I don't feel what I'm praying, what's the point?" Fortunately, I had a classically trained spiritual director in my formative years who made it clear to me that feelings were largely irrelevant.

The second mistake actually gives rise to very great suffering and that is the idea that if we believe the correct things and behave in the correct way that our lives will turn out all right --- that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Technically, that is known as the "just world theory" and it is not the gospel.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I give my heart

Artist: Giovanni di Paolo

I remember many years ago when I first learned the true meaning of the word credo. It is tragic, really, that we seem to have forgotten this:

Credo is the word with which the great creeds of early Chistendom begin. “I believe. . .” we say. The Latin credo means literally, “I give my heart.” The word believe is a problematic one today in part because it has gradually changed its meaning from being the language of certainty so deep that I could give my heart to it, to the language of uncertainty so shallow that only the “credulous” would rely on it. Faith, as we have seen, is not about propositions, but about commitment. It does not mean that I intellectually subscribe to the following list of statements, but that I give my heart to this reality. Believe, indeed, comes to us from the Old English belove, making clear that this too is meant to be heart language. To say “I believe in Jesus Christ” is not to subscribe to an uncertain proposition. It is a confession of commitment, of love.

-- Diana L. Eck

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The shattering love of God

Artist: Anthony van Dyck

You already know how very much I value the writings of Frederick Buechner. Here's another sample and I like this passage very much:

We try so hard as Christians. We think such long thoughts, manipulate such long words, and both listen to and preach such long sermons. Each one of us somewhere, somehow, has known, if only for a moment or so, something of what it is to feel the shattering love of God, and once that has happened, we can never rest easy again for trying somehow to set that love forth not only in words, myriads of words, but in our lives themselves.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Something about prayer

Artist: Lev Russov

Does anyone remember that radical little book of prayers entitled Are You Running With Me Jesus? by Malcolm Boyd? It came out back in the 60s and had a considerable influence on me. Here's something Fr. Boyd said:

I believe that God prays in us and through us, whether we are praying or not (and whether we believe in God or not). So, any prayer on my part is a conscious response to what God is already doing in my life.

I like this because it reminds us that prayer is not so much something we do as it is something to which we give our assent.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Something about forgiveness

Hmm. Not exactly classical or high art this time but the message is spot on, I'd say:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Going back to God

Artist: Paul Klee
Image from Wikimedia Commons

You know, there's something about this that gives me both consolation and great hope. I don't think I have words for why that is right this minute. Please just do take my word for it!

Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God. Really.

-- Lenny Bruce


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cost, risk, and harvest

Artist: Matthias Stom

First of all, dear people, I want to give you a link:

It is rich with material for reflecting on today's scripture readings (which you can read right there by scrolling down).

First we have a sermon by Karen Georgia Thompson on the very troublesome first reading. That's the one about Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for "a mess of pottage" (as the older translations put it).

And, on that subject, I just have to share this little quip by Lord Byron:

Thou sold'st thy birthright, Esau! for a mess
Thou shouldst have gotten more, or eaten less.

Then my favorite preacher these days, Kathryn Matthews Huey, offers some reflections on the gospel reading: the parable of the sower. Here's something I particularly like:

The sower is remarkably free in throwing the seed on all sorts of potential "growth areas." There's no calculation or careful husbandry of the seeds in his pocket. In the face of all sorts of obstacles and dangers, the sower counts on the bountiful return of a few seeds; he imagines the plentiful harvest reaped when even a few of the seeds find fertile soil.

And this:

Thomas Long writes: "Therefore, the church is called to 'waste itself,' to throw grace around like there is no tomorrow, precisely because there is a tomorrow, and it belongs to God" (Matthew, The Westminster Bible Companion). To whom does your "tomorrow" belong?

I think I like those two brief passages because I see the Church so compulsively caught up in self-protection of late. And I refer specifically to protection of the institution. What would happen if we let God take care of the increase instead of engaging in the kind of calculation that often goes on today in the name of "church growth"? Now, I'm not saying at all that we don't need to exercise appropriate stewardship of the institution. I'm just saying that there's a vast difference between a commitment to all due responsibility and a fearful refusal to take the risks clearly demanded of us by the gospel.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A constant process

Artist: FĂ©lix Vallotton

I first enountered the writings of Joyce Rupp back when I was in the convent and I'm so very glad I did. I identified with her early on because she also sees spiritual direction as a kind of midwifery. I particularly like the feeling of rhythm that the following passage conveys:
...I have found the cup to be a powerful teacher for my inner life. The ordinariness of the cup reminds me that my personal transformation occurs in the common crevices of each day. The cup is an apt image for the inner process of growth. The cup has been a reminder of my spiritual thirst. As I've held it, filled it, drunk from it, emptied it and washed it, I've learned that it is through my ordinary human experineces that my thirst for God is quenched. In the cup I see life, with its emptiness, fullness, brokenness, flaws, and blessings.

A cup is a container for holding something. Whatever it holds has to eventually be emptied out so that something more can be put into it. I have learned that I cannot always expect my life to by full. There has to be some emptying, some pouring out, if I am to make room for the new. The spiritual journey is like that--a constant process of emptying and filling, of giving and receiving, of accepting and letting go.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A particular form of joy

Artist: Jerry Weiss

Have you ever had the experience of spontaneously feeling envious when someone has shared good news? It can be a really horrible feeling and, in some cases, can also lead to ongoing resentment. Rabbi Nilton Bonder speaks to this:
Yiddish has a very special verb, unknown to most other languages: farginen. It means to open space, to share pleasure; it is the exact opposite of the verb to envy. While envy means disliking or resenting the happiness of others, farginen means making a pact with another individual's pleasure or happiness. This unique word represents the space in which we allow others to express their happiness, feeling of success, or gladness.
Discipline is needed for farginen, because this feeling is rarely natural to human beings in their animal dimension. There is nothing wrong or false about seeking such learning. Like any other kind of social ability, such as not stealing, farginen comes through discipline. . . . When we are able to farginen someone spontaneously, it means we have done the required groundwork of dealing with our self-esteem, at least to some extent. But we will always have to work at reacting to opportunities for farginen, so as not to miss them.
It's much easier to suffer with a friend, to help someone who is less fortunate, than to farginen. It's much harder to sincerely share others' happiness. And the consequences are proportional: those whose suffering we share are eternally grateful, while those whose happiness we share will eternally care for us, as true friends.
Actually, there's a Sanskrit word that is very similar. The word is mudita and is usually translated into English as "sympathetic joy". It is that ability to be "in sympathy" with another in that person's joy as well as in his or her sorrow. Both mudita and farginen remind me of the biblical injunction to "rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep."

Monday, July 4, 2011

In honor of the day:

An amazing performance:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What people really need

Artist: George Frederic Watts

Yes, yes, and yes again:

Sure, people need Jesus, but most of the time, what they really need is for someone to be Jesus to them.

Reuben Welch quoted in The Body Broken by Robert Benson