Meditations

A Prayer of Shelter and Shadow

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.
It is in the shadow of each other that people live.
We know that sometimes we are alone,
and sometimes we are in community.

Sometimes we are in shadow,
and sometimes surrounded by shelter.
Sometimes we feel like exiles —
in our land, our languages, and in our bodies.
And sometimes we feel surrounded by welcome.

As we seek to be human together,
may we share the things that do not fade:
generosity, truth-telling, silence, respect, and love.
And may the power we share
be for the good of all.

We honor God, the source of this rich life.
And we honor each other, story-full and lovely.
Whether in our shadow or in our shelter,
may we live well
and fully
with each other. Amen.”

From Padraig O Tuala’s “Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Commmunity”, Canterbury Press, 2017

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: With whom will you share “the things that do not fade” today?

Being Trees in Autumn

These trees in Buddhist saffron robes,
renouncing everything,
becoming naked without fear,
in wind that is a part of them,
disclose a beauty in this death,
become new shapes, interior.
To live they cannot hoard;
this losing, too, is growth.
New shapes emerge, new vision clears.
Surrender strengthens in the soul
another song.
This emptying is confidence
in spring, but more – a faithing
in the growth that’s come before,
a counting of the gifts
and then releasing one by one,
so as to give again,
knowing growth is not a season,
but is at the root of things.
This is no losing,
but a becoming.
Covering such openness
of limb and heart and hand,
such bareness in the singing,
I only now discover that I want
this wind, blowing where it will,
within.

(By Stephen Garnaas-Holmes, published in Weavings, 2010. Many thanks to Cathedral parishioner Adele Wakefield who brought this poem to my attention! Image by Lin Shun).

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: As you are led, experiment with drawing, painting (or any other favorite creative approach) to the images the poet presents in this work. You might want to look outside your window for inspiration! Pay attention to the details to which you are attracted — are the branches firm and sturdy, or light and flexible? How deep are the roots? Is there any place in your drawing (or painting or other creative work) for the unseen wind, or the spring-time promise? How does the poet’s extended metaphor resonate with your life and prayer right now? If you prefer writing or journaling to drawing and painting, take a look at the trees described in Psalm 1. How are the psalmist’s trees similar to the poet’s? How are they different?

Discernment and Chocolate

I have often been asked what will turn the tide of stewardship in our country. I guess because I write books and blogs on the subject, people turn to me when they want more money from their people for their budgets. It makes sense, I guess. I generally tell them that the best way to raise money in a congregation is to buy them each a candle and teach them how to pray. I get annoyed looks. It happens a lot.

Churches want better pledge cards, more parties, more creative kickoff events, and nicer signage so that people will give more. They want to be impressive and attract confidence and thereby money. And sometimes it works…The deeper question for a church is, do you really deserve the money you seek to raise? Would Jesus make the stewardship speech at your campaign dinner, or would he flip the tables over and use naughty words?

Sitting silently with a candle in the darkness of a morning is harder than one would think. To do so, one is faces with one’s self and with one’s God. If you believe in an angry God, then it is even harder. Alone with a candle, one is faced with one’s accomplishments and failures of the previous day…Alone with a candle, one is faced with a savior whose radical life-choices make us uncomfortable. What do we do with a Jesus who chose poverty and gave himself away?

Alone with a candle, God can whisper that we are loved. We don’t want to hear that. We want to hear that we will be rich enough to never be vulnerable. Alone with a candle we are not rushing around self-anesthetizing against our fears and griefs. If we fill our days, our lives, even our worship with enough stuff to do, then we won’t actually have to sit and listen — to our hearts, to our conscience, to our God. We won’t be able to hear the hard questions about how our lives square with the kind of God we say we worship. Do we follow Jesus or are we simply members of a church? I could go to a weekly meeting about Willie Wonka without having the meetings much change my life — though the chocolate after the meetings would be a draw…”

(Meditation by The Rev. Canon Charles LaFond, Canon Steward, Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver Colorado, included in “One-Minute Stewardship: Creative Ways to Talk About Money in Church” edited by The Rev. Charles Cloughen, Jr.)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Sunday, November 4 is commitment Sunday, the culmination of the Cathedral’s stewardship season. In the light of The Rev. LaFond’s meditation, how have you experienced stewardship season this year? As you prepare to make your pledge for the coming year, consider spending some time alone with a candle!

Autumn Poem (Rainer Marie Rilke)

“The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.”

For reflection in silence or in the company of others: What feelings come to you as you consider the wealth of images — explicit and implicit — Rilke calls to mind with his use of the word “falling”? If it feels right to you, try using paint, colored pencils, or other creative materials to craft your responses. As you ponder the last two lines, pray any prayer you feel rising in your heart.

Let God In

“Most of us are pretty complicated. We are bundles of fear, insecurity, and damaged egos. We try to sort ourselves out. We read self-help books, go to the gym, and have a therapist. And those resources can be helpful and useful. The truth, however, is that we can still find ourself hurting others and not coping well when life gets hard. So this rule is simple: God wants to help. But we need to give God space to help. God needs time with us. God needs to allow the triggers to be exposed so they can be healed. One popular biblical metaphor is the potter and the clay (see Jeremiah 18, Isaiah 64:8, and Romans 9:12). God is the potter and we are the clay. And God wants to take out lives and make something beautiful out of them. Our goal is to give God space to do that.”

(From “Faith Rules”, Ian Markham and Samantha Gottlich, Morehouse Publishing, 2016)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How are you making time for God in your life right now? What thoughts and feelings are stirred up in you as you consider the metaphor of the broken pot? Are you willing to believe that a mended pot can be more beautiful than the unbroken original?

Biblical Inspiration?

“Inspiration is better than magic, for as any artist will tell you, true inspiration comes not to the lucky or the charmed but to the faithful — to the writer who shows up at her keyboard each morning, even when she’s far too tired, to the guitarist whose fingers bleed after hours of practice, to the dancer who must learn the traditional steps before she can freestyle with integrity. Inspiration is not about some ethereal voice dictating words or notes to a catatonic host. It’s a collaborative process, a partnership between Creator and creator.

While Christians believe the Bible to be uniquely revelatory and authoritative to the faith, we have no reason to think its many authors were exempt from the mistakes, edits, rewrites, and dry spells of everyday creative work. Nor should we, as readers, expect every encounter with the text to leave us happily awestruck and enlightened. Inspiration, on both the giving and receiving end, takes practice and patience. It means showing up even when you don’t feel like it, even when it seems as if no one else is there. It means waiting for wind to stir…”

(From “Inspired:Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again”, Rachel Held Evans, Nelson Books, 2018)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How has your relationship with the Bible changed over time? The author suggests that both crafting Biblical texts and engaging these texts as readers are collaborative efforts between humans and God. What reactions do you have to her suggestions? What faithful practices might God be calling you to as a reader (or listener)?

Antiphons for Autumn

“O season full of remembering,
Come! Come with your golden shawl.
Come scattering the beauty of well-aged leaves.
Strengthen us for changing our old patterns.
Give us memories that sustain our dreams.
O Come!…

O seeds sprung loose from dying plants,
Come! Teach us to be generative.
Carry us to places where we can take root.
Encourage the seed of our love to fall freely.
Gift us with the grace to surrender.
O come!…

O rustling leaves falling from trees,
Come! Come live inside our aching goodbyes.
Teach us the truth of life’s impermanence.
Empty us of all that does not bless others.
Draw us into the waiting soil of wintertime…”

(From “The Circle of Life”, Joyce Rupp and Maria Wiederkehr, Sorin Books 2005)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Which old patterns in your life might need to change? Are you well rooted, or on the way to a new place to take root? What feelings does the arrival of autumn stir up in you?

Trust

Trust that ultimately God promises that everything will be OK. Remember God works on a very large canvas. God created this universe (perhaps along with many other universes) 13.7 billion years ago. Our sun will not die for another 5 million years. God has the big picture. We, on the other hand, are very local and immediate. Our canvas is days, weeks, months. We certainly do not see beyond a lifetime — or at least do not do so easily.

The good news is that there is nothing that can happen to us on earth that God will not ultimately make sure is OK. Often things get better after weeks, months, or years. And eventually we are a cancer survivor or a new relationship forms that is healing or we find more satisfying employment. But sometimes the OK moment comes with the release from this life and a passing into the loving cosmic embrace of God.

It is important to give God all the options. Sometimes we just have to trust that God knows best for us in hard situations.”

(From “Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual” by Ian Markham and Samantha R. E. Gottlich; the image is Jack Whitten’s “Atopolis”, recently on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: What feelings do the reminders in this passage about the scope of God’s vision and the scale of God’s action stir up in you? What do you imagine the part of God’s canvas that is your life looks like? Have you found God to be trustworthy?

“I Worried”: A Poem by Mary Oliver

I Worried
by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: The poet says that her worrying “has come to nothing”. Does your experience of worrying agree with hers? What worries might you need to let go of before your soul can sing?

Thanks for Revelation!

From Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks, Wow!”:

“Revelation is not for the faint of heart… But if you gently help yourself back to the present moment, you see how life keeps stumbling along and you see how you may actually find your way through another ordinary or impossible day. Details are being revealed, and they will take you out of yourself, which is heaven, and you will have a story to tell, which is salvation that again and again saves us, the way Jesus saves some people, or the way sobriety does. Stories to tell and hear — either way it’s medicine. The Word.

So I say “Thanks,” because revelation has shown me things that are miserable that somehow I may get to sidestep; or that are miserable but that prayer and friends help me find a way through; or that are painful and beautiful in ways that make your heart ache, that draw you closer to the comrades who have walked with you.

Without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, “O my God. Thanks.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How is Anne Lamott defining revelation here? How does her definition compare with yours? When have you experienced revelatory moments that connected your story to God’s story about Jesus and salvation?