Let us Ramble: An Easter Examen

It was Easter afternoon and the ham was cooling in the oven when it happened. I was offered a ride from one room to the next in a wheelchair. I could barely walk after falling down the stairs during church (while carrying and then wearing communion juice) and suffering (what was later discovered to only be) a severe contusion on my left foot. I was invited to ride as I could barely stand. The nurse said “You don’t get offered a free ride often. You should take it pastor.”

It was Easter evening and my wife was sitting on the couch after a very long day. She looked exhausted. She said to herself “I wish he had emptied the trash or changed the litter box before hurting himself.” It was Easter evening when I slid down the stairs on my bottom cradling a garbage bag full of kitty litter before limping it to the garbage. My wife chided me but I kept listening to the rock and roll in my ear buds as I fought my way through the task.

In hindsight, I am glad that both things occurred. A big portion of that relief comes from the fact that it is two days later and I’m doing significantly better after resting and icing my bruise. A bigger portion of the relief comes from what I see when I look at these actions.

The Examen is a spiritual discipline connected to many different sources but especially to the practices of the Roman Catholic leader St. Ignatius Loyola. I know, I’m United Methodist. Why am I pointing towards the practices of a Roman Catholic? Well, to over simplify, God is bigger than the denominational divides and wisdom sees wisdom wherever it lies… Anyway…

The Examen is a prayer practice that helps me to personally see what is good in my life by revealing the presence of God in ordinary moments through reflection. IgnatianSpirituality.com (a ministry of Loyola Press) identifies the following as a simplified approach to the Examen:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

Let me be honest, I obviously ignored the fourth point when I picked two moments out of my day in my reflections on Easter Sunday for prayer. The two moments I focused upon were the moment of accepting the ride and the moment of carrying the kitty litter to the trash to help my wife.

I saw God’s presence in the moment when I was proffered a ride in several ways. First, the nurse was a relative of a church member and I saw the compassion that her parent shows in her life at the church. I saw God’s love expressed through her kindness. I also felt God’s presence in an invitation to practice humility by accepting a ride instead of fighting my way down the hall with my considerable and obvious stubbornness. As I prayed through that moment I found a connection between these actions and God. It did lead to gratitude and to a sense of blessing.

I saw God’s presence in the moment when I was carrying to kitty litter in several ways. First and foremost, I recognized that there was compassion in my heart towards my wife’s plight and exhaustion. The same considerable and obvious stubbornness which had been a hindrance earlier was properly applied to assist someone else in need. In the right context, that stubbornness was a blessing which came out of God’s own arsenal. Was it a bit silly? Probably. Was it unnecessary? Yes. Was it an act of compassion and gratitude for all my wife had done for me that afternoon? Absolutely. I could see God at work in my motivation. I did not do it because I was simply stubborn. I was not upset with my wife for her forlorn statement either. It came out of my own sense of God’s call.

I write all of this down for the internet at large in order to express how taking time to go through the act of the Examen did help me to grow deeper in my faith through a very painful moment. In honesty, I was a bit annoyed with myself and with that staircase before I stopped to engage in this old practice. My prayer changed my day. When It was over I had found my center, found my hope for the next day, and was prepared to move past the pain into healing.

There have been many times in my life when I have been deeply blessed by engaging in the Examen or even in the daily act of journaling the best moments of my day along with my hopes for the next day. I would invite you to take a look at this spiritual discipline if you are struggling to find ways to go deeper or even struggling to find ways to look at your own life with different eyes.

Here are my three suggestions on how to engage in this practice:

  1. Set aside time in the same place each night. Maybe you travel and it cannot be the exact same place, but even engaging in that old (yet useful) tradition of kneeling at the side of your bed might be a place to start. Starting off with the intention of creating a consistent pattern helps. If you’re married or have a roommate, you may wish to warn them before starting this practice. It is strange to stumble upon someone kneeling in silence–they may think something is wrong. Yes, I speak from experience…
  2. Set aside a set number of days when you’ll intentionally engage in this practice. I suggest you do this even if you decide to begin with just two weeks of attempting the Examen. Make a plan to attempt this practice and then follow through to the end. I do not recommend just saying “I’ll do this the rest of my life starting tonight.” If you can make it through a week, make it through a week before going for two weeks. Celebrate your successes and a pattern will establish itself in your life in a more natural fashion.
  3. Ask a religious friend to journey in this practice with you. Get together after a week or two in order to talk about your experience. If you do not have a friend, look into finding a spiritual director who can assist you in this practice. You may even be able to find a spiritual director who can meet with you mainly over the phone and only a couple of times face to face throughout the year. I recommend a group like Spiritual Directors, International to help find a reliable and vetted director.

So, that’s my introduction on this Blog to the Examen. By the way, I grabbed the kitchen trash on the way to the garbage can with the litter. If you’re going to be stubborn, you have to be tough.

Let us Seek: Holy Saturday Reflection

When I was a younger pastor I served in a town with a Wesleyan Church. One year on Good Friday they hosted the ecumenical service for the town. As we gathered they showed a video clip of a preacher speaking over the image of the cross, the tomb, and finally a light glowing behind the rock. The words the preacher was saying (to an epic rock background) were “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”

It was powerful imagery, but it kind of threw me off a little bit. What about Saturday? What about Holy Saturday? As a child I thought about it as a day of waiting and silence. As i learned more about my Polish heritage I learned there were places (especially in Poland) where special baskets of food for the celebration were brought to the church for a blessing. I’ve learned there are a lot of traditions that surround this most holy day.

For me, the fact of the matter remains that it is a day of rest in my heart. Partially this is a part of my celebration from my reading of the texts. The story places this day as the Sabbath during that most holy of stories and I don’t mind entering into the silence.

The other side of my experiencing this day as a day of silence comes out of an understanding of music. There are so many notes throughout the week and there are many events. This day is a good day for a bit of silence before the music resumes. Music rhythmically that does not have rests ends up being rote and repetitive (in my mind). This is a beautiful day for that moment of rest before the crescendo.

However you celebrate Holy Saturday, I hope that you’re blessed today. Remember, the sun rises on Easter!

Let us Seek: Holy Thursday Reflection

As we progress through Holy Week, we reach Maundy Thursday. In some Christian traditions, today marks the begin of a remembrance that begins after the Maundy Thursday and lasts until Easter. The three-day remembrance is seen as a special season of the year known as the Holy, Easter, or Paschal Triduum.

For me the Paschal Triduum has always had a strange place in my own devotional life. At various points in my ministry I have celebrated Good Friday with a Cross Walk (think stations of the cross marked by readings and often shared by various churches in an ecumenical fashion), celebrated a special service on Good Friday, and have opened the church for prayer and reflection. Holy Saturday has often been a time when I’ve spent the day in silence or doing acts of kindness for others.

Even in the midst of the celebration of the Triduum, Maundy Thursday has always had a special place in my heart. John Wesley taught that the act of communion is a gift of grace that extends a real and powerful benefit to the people of Christ. I have always found the act of communion to be a deep and meaningful expression of God’s love and grace. As such, I find the celebration of the remembrance of that first communion to be incredibly meaningful.

Today’s lectionary reading covers a great deal of that celebration, but beautifully it tells the story through the eyes of the Gospel of John. I usually default to Luke’s Gospel in a lot of my own theology, but the beauty of John’s remembrance of that night is powerful and life altering.

In John’s lectionary reading (13:1-17, 31-35) the story told does not revolve around communion but instead around the washing of feet. Jesus knows that the end of His journey towards Calvary is near, so John tells us that Jesus takes on the role of a servant. Removing his outer garment, Jesus wraps himself in a towel and washes the feet of His disciples.

The Lord of the Universe, the One we crown with many crowns, the Lamb upon the throne spends some of the last moments of His time alone with His disciples washing their feet like a servant. The King who was, and is, and is to come wraps Himself in a towel and washes feet with humility before inviting His disciples to remember what He has done and to do likewise in their own lives.

I truly believe this passage is one of the most challenging passages of Jesus’ ministry because it reminds us of the true order of things. No servant is greater than their master. Our Master humbled Himself. Our Master did not assume the place He deserved, but He took the place that He knew that He must. This is the revealed Image of the Invisible God.

Verily, the place of a disciple is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The next day will be challenging. Let us continue this journey and understand that we go further on the journey towards resurrection having first had a lesson in humility. Easter may be triumphant but triumph comes through first submitting to God’s will and doing so with humility mixed with grace. May God’s grace guide us down the challenging paths as the Triduum begins…

Let us Ramble: Moving Children

Today’s post is a bit personal. This post comes from a place deep in my heart and is for my colleagues who live with young children.

It happened on a Friday afternoon. My eldest daughter came home, dropped her bag on the floor, slumped on the bench in our kitchen, and put her head in her arms. I want to be clear about this–my daughter always hangs up her bag. She is a creature of habit. There was no conversation about a snack, no prattling (yes, if you read this someday, you prattled every day after school) on about what happened at recess, and there was no comment about her sister. I walked over and she had tears in her eyes.

It happened on a weekday morning. A colleague reached out and started sharing about a child who was intentionally isolating from friendships because a district superintendent might call and the new friends that could be made would be stripped away. I didn’t know you could see tears through Facebook messenger.

It happened on a Friday evening. A bunch of us clergy families were hanging out and letting our hair down (or leaving off shiny scalp-wax in my case (that was a joke)). We were enjoying a good time together when I noticed one of the youngest kids was struggling to hang out with the others. It was obvious the kid wanted to take part, but was just hanging back. The child wasn’t used to being around other families after a few moves.

What was the cause of all of this struggle? I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I can speak for my daughter. She was crying because her classmates were going to have a sleepover, but since she was new to town she wasn’t invited. She was left out and didn’t know what to do next. Tears were flowing down her face from the sheer pain of it all. How could she make friends? These kids had known each other in some cases since before birth. How could she make a new set of friends when all of her classmates were happy with the friends they had?

I have been talking with colleagues around these issues for years as the parent of a kid who has lived in five different cities in the nine years of her life. I have an affinity for this subject, and I just want to lay a couple of things out there for my colleagues as someone who can definitively say that he has experience in this area.

  1. It is okay to hurt on behalf of your child. Yes, you may have been called into ministry, but it is okay to understand and acknowledge that your call has had an effect on your loved ones. There is nothing sinful about noticing the pain it has caused, acknowledging that pain, and grieving that pain. I have had moments where my daughter and I have had to grieve together. Having compassion for your child is neither a sin nor is it a case of having doubts about your call.
  2. It is okay and a good thing to talk with colleagues who have gone through similar struggles. Often it helps to know you are not alone. If nothing else, I hope this blog post tells you that you are not alone. Keep in mind, if you make friends with colleagues with children in similar life circumstances, they may be there when your kids start dating later in life. You’ll probably need all the help you can get then…
  3. Most communities have resources you can tap into if you have no place else to turn. Talk to the counselor at your child’s school. Call your local association, district, conference, or episcopal office and see if they have resources for you. If you’re the pastor of a non-denominational church, speak with one of your denominationally-based colleagues and ask for an introduction to resources they may have in their church. If a local church pastor called me and said they needed help, it wouldn’t matter what church they belong to as my ministry calls me to be compassionate and to love my neighbor. Reach out!
  4. My most concrete advice is this: spend time with your child and let them know they are loved. Yes, you may have just moved to a new city and have a million and one people who want to see you. Yes, you might have an annual meeting coming up and there’s so much paperwork. Spend time with your child. Love them and let them know that you love them. When you’re finished, love them some more.
  5. Believe in your child. Their confidence begins with your confidence in them. They may be the toughest most challenging kids in the world, but they still need affirmation and to know that you believe in them. A child who knows that they are believed in is a child that can face anything.

Kids are tough. We don’t need to and shouldn’t abuse them, but in my experience the average kid is smarter, wiser, and more resilient than most parents are willing to admit. I think this is a natural response from watching them try to eat crayons as small kids. Your kid may need a little extra love, care, and maybe a bit of counseling if things are getting out of hand, but most of them are tough. After all, that these kids came from us and we are called into one of the most challenging and mind-bogglingly audacious professions on the planet.

Believe in your child. Believe in yourself.

Let us Seek: Holy Wednesday Reflection

Today is Holy Wednesday and for me Holy Wednesday has always been the last deep breath before the plunge. This afternoon I’ll be headed out to do the last (planned) visits before we begin the craziness of Maundy Thursday (at least it is a bit crazy around here), the solemnity of Good Friday, the silence of Holy Saturday, and the riotous celebration of Easter. Today is that moment where it seems all clergy take that last deep breath.

With that being said, today’s lectionary reading does not leave a ton of room for that deep breath. It is emotional, deep, and troubling. To be entirely honest, I feel strange writing a blog post about it in my bright clergy shirt. It feels very dark. In choosing an image to match this feeling, I chose a painting of Jesus’ giving His Farewell Discourse to the 11 remaining disciples as painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna in the 14th century because of the person who is missing from the painting.

The lectionary reading is found in John 13:21-32 and technically took place on Thursday of Holy Week. In the reading, Jesus reveals that someone at the table will betray Him. There is a moment of confusion and John is approached by Peter to ask who will betray Christ. A piece of bread is dipped in wine and given to Judas. The scripture says that after Judas receives this bread that Satan enters into Judas. Judas is sent to do what he must do and the actions of the evening are set into motion.

I must be honest, I do not like this reading. One reason I am not a huge fan of this passage is that I know this reading has been used to disparage the act of sharing communion by intinction along with Mark 14. I honestly do not like people who use scripture to disparage a meaningful act of communion with God, especially when it is not really an airtight argument.

Another reason that I struggle with this passage is simply the wording. Judas has been traveling with Jesus. Judas has the very best teacher, the very best friend, the very best guide, and the very best leader. Judas has the ideal situation to learn about the heart of God and Judas still just falls away. Judas is taken by the tempter and that is very discouraging to me, especially as his journey ends in suicide.

I have to be entirely honest. I wish that Judas’ story ended differently. Don’t you? Judas does betray Jesus, but the scriptures seem to imply that this is simply what must be. Judas has journeyed with Christ, shared a few loaves and fish with thousands, been sent out to preach with other disciples, and been a leader. In Acts, Judas’ place is filled by another disciple because Judas’ role had been very important in their life together. I wish Judas’ story ended differently. I wish it with all of my heart.

This reading hurts me down to my soul. Perhaps it is a good thing that we remember that Judas was a person on the day before his betrayal of Jesus. Judas’ story is a tragedy that leads to one of the greatest gifts of history. Even so, it is still a tragedy.

May God bless all those folks who are tempted to head in the way of Judas. May God help lead them into the path of folks who can invite and guide them back onto the path of life.

Let us Ramble: Humility and Writing

As I’ve been composing blog posts for Holy Week I have found myself continually challenged by entering into the conversation. I realize that I preach every Sunday and that I practically live in the middle of the conversations people have around the spiritual matters in their lives. Often the words I say on Sunday morning or at a Bible study have a major impact in the lives of a few individuals, but those words are transitory and momentary. The words that I say are often sacred but they live in one sacred moment.

The words that I type are far different. These words that I am typing right now will likely be accessible for the rest of my lifetime. There is a possibility that these words may exist in some form or another for the rest of human existence in this mortal coil on either backup drives or backup clouds. As some have said, nothing on the internet is truly ever deleted.

This concept gives me pause. Who am I to enter into these conversations? What place do I have at the table? Do I really believe these words will have an effect on the future? What’s more, shouldn’t the work of a preacher by necessity be something that is transitory, personal, and passing? Where is my humility?

It gives me pause, but I am not going to stop writing and I am not going to stop sharing. I will admit that I clearly am a person that occasionally needs a dose of humble pie. Okay, occasionally I need two doses. I do not assume that I am going to say something profound and life-changing, but I do know that I will say things that are honest and true to the best of my ability. What am I bringing to the conversation? I am bringing my heart and my soul–two of the most sacred things that I possess.

It is not humility to assume that you are worthless as a person. One beautiful thing about Holy Week is that it is a story about Jesus going towards the cross, death, and resurrection because Jesus cares about people like you and me. To assume you are worthless is effectively to say that Jesus paid too much for you out of love. I do not believe Jesus thinks that for a moment. I think Jesus loves you.

Humility might be better described as having perspective. You might make mistakes and it is a humble act to admit to them in an attempt to change. You might struggle with your identity as a person and struggle with depression. Humility might mean owning your struggle and going to a doctor.

Humility might also be seeing that through all of the struggles you go through, God still has a love for you. If we hold these treasures in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7), there is something sacred about taking that treasure and offering it back to God. God desires to take you in both heart and soul (Luke 13:34), offers to wash you from being red as scarlet to being as clean and fresh as newly fallen snow (Isaiah 1:18), and has this desire for all of humanity (John 3:16-17).

In the end, that is what I am trying to do through this blog. I am trying to offer my heart and my soul. I may not be able to stand with the giants like Wesley, Luther, Calvin, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Thurman, King, Jr., Nouwen, or Rauschenbusch, but I can offer what I have been given back to God and my community. I hope that it is a blessing.

Let us Seek: Holy Tuesday Reflection

Today is Holy Tuesday. The gospel reading today reflects on conversations Jesus had around His purposes and around God’s glory. It also goes deeply into life issues. The Revised Common Lectionary reading for today is John 12:20-35. This is what verses 23-26 say in the New Revised Standard Version:

“Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.’”

We’ve followed Jesus through all of Lent. We came down that mountain into the valley where there were sick folks, hurting folks, and upset folks. We followed Jesus as He continually reminded people to turn away from their understanding of how a Messiah was meant to be and to act. We followed Jesus as He kept reaching out to the poor, kept reaching out to folks in need, and kept upsetting the religious leaders.

Now we’re invited to follow Jesus as He approaches Gethsemane. We’re invited to follow as Judas betrays with a kiss. We’re invited to follow as the world stands by as Jesus is tried and convicted. We’re invited to follow Jesus up Calvary. We’re invited to watch the sky darken.

Sometimes I don’t want to follow Jesus on this path. Let’s be honest–Holy Week grows gruesome. Holy Week would be the nastiest and worst of events if it weren’t for Easter. Some years I’d like to just say “Look at the time!” before running off to make a cup of coffee until Sunday. It is beautiful, it is deep, and sometimes I would rather have a simple broth than dig into the theological beauty of Holy Week.

Still, we must follow. We must because this is Jesus we’re following. Whenever we gather around the table to share in the Lord’s Supper it is this story that we speak to each other. Whenever we see suffering in the world around us, it is this story that reminds us that God entered into human suffering. Whenever we see people claim earthly power, authority, and greatness, it is this story that enters and can inoculate us from the disease that can easily carry us away into realms where we connect earthly power with divine right. This story is foundational–we must follow.

What’s more, we must walk the same path. This story effectively changes the way that we look at the world around us and how we relate to the world around us.

Let’s say we’re rich and we’re powerful. Perhaps we’re as powerful as the President of the United States. We have wealth, riches, and an army sworn to do what we decide. How do we act? Well, let’s be honest. If we’re going to walk like Jesus, it is going to change the way we look at the world around us and change the way we act. Jesus was arrested, tried, and convicted. Jesus was executed and his words weren’t threats or screams of anger. There was painful moans, I’m certain, but the words shared were words of forgiveness and words of grace. Jesus didn’t cajole or argue. He invited criminals to paradise despite what they did. If one is to follow Jesus it changes the way you live your life, perhaps especially if you had power, riches, and followers. To follow Jesus might mean you lose your privilege only to gain eternal life.

Let’s say we’re a public school teacher. Perhaps we’re the best teacher in the world and not one parent comes to your classroom to explain your job to you. Perhaps the parents who try leave your classroom apologizing and planning to write a nice letter. Perhaps you have offers to go and lead in the most prestigious private school in nation whenever you’d like. If you’re going to walk like Jesus, it very might well change your way of life. How? Jesus willingly cared for the very people who came to “take care” of Him in the Garden. Even in the midst of being taken to suffering, Jesus stopped to heal one of the very people who came to persecute Him. The kid screaming at you in your class might be a royal pain, but what would Jesus do with this child? Would Jesus show love and kindness? Would Jesus have grace in the midst of the suffering this kid will likely inflict upon you? To follow Jesus might mean healing that kid’s ear and that act might change your life.

I think we honestly each need to follow Jesus on this journey. It isn’t a pleasant journey, but let’s be clear. Few of us live perfectly pleasant lives. If we want to learn to live out our lives well, we might need to learn to lose in order to follow Jesus. If we want to learn to live out our lives well, we might need to learn from someone who can change us. In the way of Paul, we may need to live out our own ministries in life resolving to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

In the meantime, it is my prayer that this journey would be a blessing to you. May we all learn to follow and to let the Grain that died multiply within us.

Let us Seek: Holy Monday Reflection

Throughout Holy Week I have the goal of reflecting on one of the lectionary scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary each day. For today’s gospel reading we see Jesus at the house of Lazarus in Bethany. It is revealed in the text that Lazarus is being plotted against by the chief priests in Jerusalem as Lazarus’ resurrection was causing a stir in conjunction with the ministry of Jesus, but that isn’t what immediately catches my eye when I consider this story. Consider verses 1-8 of chapter 12 of John’s gospel.

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judea Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ’Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’ (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’”

I find this story to be interesting for several reasons. As a person who studies the nature of the scriptures and how they were transmitted through time, I often wonder if the comments for the reader were written by the author or by one of the helpful folks copying the words throughout the centuries. Judas is at least acknowledged as a disciple by this account although his discipleship is clearly cast into question by not only his betrayal but his apparent greed in the eyes of the author.

I also find it interesting because this is the story of a family that still seems to be coming to grips with a majorly traumatic event. The previous chapter (11) recounts not only the story of Lazarus’ resurrection but tells us that Jesus was forced to go to Ephraim as a result of plots to take his life. As far as we know, this is the first real opportunity after some time had passed for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to see Jesus. One of the reasons the chief priests seem frustrated with Lazarus is that Lazarus’ proximity to Jesus raises issues that now require his removal from the equation. This could be a sign that Lazarus hadn’t been near Jesus and raised these issues until this moment.

If this is the case and this is one of the first opportunities for response after the events of Lazarus’ resurrection, then this story becomes powerful. Martha is serving, Lazarus is sitting, and then Mary enters with the perfume. She anoints and uses something as precious and personal as her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet. This kind of act is not something that one does for just anybody. It is deeply intimate, deeply personal, and deeply emotional.

Into this moment we find Judas Iscariot stepping in and scolding. He is concerned about the waste of money. He sees the price of the perfume as the issue, but he’s missed the point. We all know that Judas has missed the point. How? Mary and Martha had lost their brother Lazarus. He was gone and he was restored. History is filled with people who would give anything for a few more moments with the person they have loved and lost. I am a pastor who believes in the resurrection and even I have people in my life I would give almost anything to see again for just a few more minutes. Mary and Martha are given the opportunity to do something incredible.

In the face of such a blessing, who wouldn’t care about money to say thank you? Perfume can cost a lot, but think about the gift that they have just received. Who cares about the money? Who cares about the cost?

I think we can all take a couple of things away from this story.

  • Some things are important most of the time, but are utterly worthless when seen in the big picture. An old phrase states “You can’t take it with you.” In the long run, would you rather have more money in your bank account or more time with people you love? If you knew tomorrow was your last moment, what would you do with your time?
  • There’s a time and place for stewardship and there is also a time and place for gratitude. I cannot say enough that sometimes we place stewardship on such a high pedestal that we forget to be grateful for the non-monetary blessings we have in life. I’m not advocating for wastefulness, but Judas clearly missed the point about what was most important. Sometimes we do the same thing (but hopefully without betraying people to their deaths).
  • We don’t need to be aloof with our emotions. Mary is clearly someone who was in touch with how she felt about Jesus. There is nothing wrong with Mary for feeling deeply about Jesus’ place in her life. Sometimes we need permission to feel and Mary gives us an example of how we can fee deeply, passionately, and still clearly have the love of God in and around our lives.

As Holy Week continues, I hope you find a place of blessing in these scriptures. May you feel deeply and thoroughly connected to Jesus.

Let us Ramble: Stillness and Listening

One of the many tools in my toolbox is the book “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants” which was edited by Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck. The following quote was a part of this week’s readings and it is from “Spirituality for Ministry” by Urban T. Holmes III.

“Many persons, ordained or not, live in a fairly constant state of noise, with their unresolved past and the uncertain present breaking in on them. They lack a still center and it is only for such a quiet point that we can listen attentively. When I was in my first parish, which was located in the middle of the city, a constant stream of indigents came through. One came into my office and wanted to tell me his story. I sat as if to listen but was deeply troubled inside over some issue now long forgotten. I remember I was fiddling with a pencil. The man stopped his story, looked at me and said, ‘Young Father, the least you can do is listen.’ He was right. There was no still center in me.”

I find this quote to be inspiring. If you come by my door on any given day you might catch me at prayer. When I’m praying in my office I hang up a blue poster I had made over my office door’s window. It looks like this…

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The quotes I put on that door-hanger are there with great intention. The Henri Nouwen quote always catches me in much the way that the quote from the Guide catches me. Nouwen was right–a life without that quiet center can easily become very destructive.

I don’t know Father Holmes myself, but I would wager to bet that he would tell you that his inability to focus himself into stillness did damage that day. I know that there have been moments when my inability to find that silent and still place led to great destructiveness. Sometimes that destructiveness came out of a place of violent response without care and sometimes that destructiveness came out of a place where I was unable to respond with intentionality instead of reactivity. The fact of the matter is that a lack of stillness made me unable to be the person I needed to be in those moments.

Of course it isn’t easy to enter into that stillness. In the book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun, the following quote on silence always strikes me as true:

“In quietness we often notice things we would rather not notice or feel. Pockets of sadness or anger or loneliness or impatience begin to surface. Our own outer agenda looms larger than our desire to be with God in silence. And as the silence settles in and nothing seems to be happening, we often struggle with the feeling that we are wasting time. Everything we notice in this struggle can become an invitation to prayer. Like a can opener, the silence opens up the contents of our heart, allowing us deeper access to God than we experience at other times. As we remain in the silence, the inner noise and chaos will begin to settle. Our capacity to open up wider and wider to God grows. The Holy One has access to places we don’t even know exist in the midst of the hubbub.”

I am betting that Father Holmes found a bit of himself on that day when he was unable to find stillness, but I wonder what depths could be achieved if he had the presence of mind to enter into stillness before listening.

I often find myself in a completely different place if I slow myself before I enter into deep conversation. The stillness I find in silence can enable me to listen to others while being aware of what is in my own silence.

When talking to a pregnant mother I might easily be distracted into talking about what it would feel like to become a father again. Thankfully my own periods of stillness have revealed a desire in me to want to change that particular subject to revolve around my family. As a result I can actively resist my own temptation. The same is often true when I enter into conversations around rough childhoods, difficult relationships, and forgiveness. It is in learning to be still and silent that I have become a better person when it comes to having conversation with others about their lives.

In truth, silence is never especially easy, but it has many benefits. What challenges do you see to silence in your life? Does the inability to find that still center affect the way that you go about life?

Let us Ramble: Distractions

Martin Luther is translated as saying “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” I often laugh at this saying because there are so many distractions in life. There are entire days where the only consistent thing in my life is that there is something or someone hollering for my attention. The first three hours in prayer? I am sometimes lucky to carve out the first three minutes before the knocking and ringing begins.

With that being said, I want to make a case for allowing ourselves to be distracted. I do not mean when driving or doing something incredibly dangerous. I think we need to allow ourselves to be distracted from lives that can often be overly scheduled, overly planned, and overly busy.

Last fall I was driving to and from the Veteran’s Home in Oxford, NY. It was a quiet fall day and I had been incredibly busy running from visitation to visitation when it happened. I was driving over a hill when the light of the sunset caught the leaves as they were blowing out of the trees. There was riot of reds, yellows, and browns caught up in the golden glow of the sun. It was breathtaking. I was moved to tears.

I had been so focused on what I was doing that day. There were places to go and people to see. I had run into Wegmans and barely slowed down to talk to a church member and her husband because I was focused on getting Swiss Cake Rolls for a homebound gentleman who can’t get out. I ate lunch in the car while parked in a parking lot texting. I had started the day in prayer but had not taken a moment to breathe since the day had begun. I was rushing until God effectively painted a picture of majesty and I rushed straight into the midst of God’s glory on stage.

The exact term for the spiritual discipline of focusing on the glory of God revealed in creation is VIsio Divina. A quick Google search will reveal there are books and resources in spades on this concept. For me Visio Divina is summarized as praying with one’s eyes.

I think it is very hard to engage in that type of prayer if we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted from life. Sometimes, we plan things so tightly that we don’t have time to notice, time to see, time to perceive, or even time to pray. Holy distractions are necessary sometimes.

So how do we make ourselves available to holy distraction? I have some thoughts.

  • Start every day with three hours of prayer like Martin Luther. If you cannot find three hours to pray, then at least begin the day with a prayer that your eyes would be open to see and perceive what is around you. You might be surprised how a quick prayer to open your eyes can help you to see far more than you expect.
  • Set aside time for Sabbath rest. Do not spend all of your time working, playing, driving, and doing the things of life. Take a half-hour for a walk with a friend to see how the world around you looks. Sit with your thoughts for a bit while looking over a valley. Go to the library and find a book with pictures of the plains of the Serengeti or the Rocky Mountains. Sit with that book for a while and see God’s fingers in creation.
  • Take a moment at the next red light to look at the sky. Just don’t forget to keep an eye out to see when the light turns green.
  • Tie a string on your finger first thing in the morning and only take it off after you’ve seen something God has created to be beautiful.

There are a million and one ways to be distracted by God’s creation. May your distractions be good distractions and may they be welcome when they come.