land of rest

Land of Rest is a blog of Peter Jenks. Poems, quotes and photos are by Peter Jenks (unless otherwise noted or I miss noting an older post's photo) and are copyrighted, you are free to use these if you acknowledge their source.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In A Special Time

Over the last few weeks I have been blessed greatly by the preaching of some local pastors. It is not always the case in small rural areas to have top quality preachers in small congregations, but that is not the case now in Rockland. Having recently attended the Rockland Congregational Church with the Rev. Seth Jones preaching, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church with the Rev. Glenn Mehaffey preaching and then the Rockland Unitarian Church with the Rev. Mark Glovin preaching; I was suddenly struck by how amazing it is to have such talent in our small area. These preachers are quite good. In an age of packaged and recorded listening it is a rare and precious gift to hear high quality live oration. These pastors are very blessed and as such are deeply enriching our local community. My only concern is that the local congregations might miss the blessing that is before them. I felt this way with the Rev. Amita Jarmen, the rabbi we had for awhile. She was an amazing addition to our community, yet alas found it difficult to stay here. I was encouraged to see that Mark Glovin is just starting a sabbatical, such time away can only enhance his gifts and strengthen the community of the Unitarian Church, it does mean we will lose his voice for a few months. But for a few months away might mean a much longer time here in our midst.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Very Thankful

There are a number of people who have stepped up and are doing great work at St. John’s during this time of sabbatical. People who have opened doors for change and made sure that the constant dedication to being faithful to our Lord remains. I am most thankful and appreciative.
From Susan Watkins and the vestry to Deborah McKean and the liturgy committee to Maureen in the office to Lysbeth in the kitchen to Kathy and the Altar Guild to Sandor and the facilities to Mariedenise and the fair and all her new ideas to the faithful bookstudy to the diehard 8 a.m. crowd to those who are supplying on Sunday mornings and whose sermons I get rave reviews about as I meet people in stores and many, many more; there are some great work of the Holy Spirit at foot. It is so amazing, and I am so thankful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday worship - December 5th

This morning it snowed, only a sprinkle, and I went to the Penobscot Bay Family Church. They meet on the top floor of the Thomaston Academy building. It was a small gathering, but a good time of worship. The pastor has a wonderful music ministry, he plays the keyboard and sings many songs he has written. The music was contemporary and very worshipful. His message was very thoughtful and full of examples and mostly about the right use of money and how we are to serve God, not money. I have found that the size of the congregation has nothing to do with the opportunity for God to touch my heart. In fact it is in the smaller gatherings that oftentimes open me up more to the intimate need of grace in my life.
The pastor, Steve Young, is very devout and forceful in his faith. There is a refreshing air and a challenge to go deeper into one’s commitment to faith in his message.
As an aside, I found it interesting and reassuring as I walked to the church I saw all the cars at the Roman Catholic Church for their service, and as I left there were cars at the Missionary Baptist Church across the street. To be part of a town and people gathering for prayer, taking time to praise God for our blessings and face our challenges and to be part of what is going on at this time in life was very good. Staying home on a Sunday morning is like staying home during the big high school football or soccer game, or town meeting or Fourth of July parade. It is an option, but one does miss what is going on in the life of one’s community. In a world that is so divided and isolated I think it is even more important to make an effort to be alive and a part of the common good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dirty Bowl

A child made some soup last night for a late dinner. It is nice when they are self sufficient. After the dinner this child brought the bowl of soup and various utensils into the kitchen and left them on the counter. This is so much better than leaving them around the house or on the table. In fact I am sure this child thought they were doing a very helpful thing to bring the dishes into the kitchen. The only problem was that by the next morning the bowl had dried up and I needed to clean it out some before putting it in the dishwasher. And the little bit of soup with a burned bottom needed to be put into something else.
It got me to thinking, how many things do I do that I feel are very helpful or good deeds that in fact are only about eighty percent done. Deeds that in fact leave more for others in the long run. There are probably many areas of my life that are not carried out all the way, and I feel like I have done good things, and yet not all the way. How much of my efforts of love are good efforts but cause others to pick up the pieces or meet me part way just to receive my good intentions? How much of my prayers and acts of devotion with God are really only part efforts, causing or expecting God to finish off what I started?
It was a dirty bowl that was left for me to finish cleaning, yet it was also a wonderful gift that helped me see myself more clearly. How many of my actions that I feel are shortsighted end up also being additional unforeseen gifts to others as well?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A visit to the mosque

I went to a mosque for the first time. It is very interesting and helpful in all the discussion of different religions and world events to meet people and get to know what is going on firsthand and not just spout opinions.
The first thing that I noticed that caused me to laugh was their address. It is a bit more difficult to find them, and I can understand this, as we live in a country that either feels threatened by Islam or wishes to threaten Muslims. When they emailed me their location and address it looked familiar. It was pointed out to me that it was next door to where my son lives in Orono, and that was why the address was familiar. We live in a small world.
I was impressed by their service. They were a remarkably welcoming and friendly group of people, more than willing to greet me and to have me join them. I was made to feel at home and I stood and sat as they prayed, but did not join in as I am not a Muslim, nor a member of their congregation. There were many similarities that were shared between us as we talked about maintaining a religious community and the issues that arise in doing such. They were planning for a big congregational dinner that night, with all that comes with such an event.
For the worship I felt that they were very similar to the Russian Orthodox in that there were very, very few seats. I was also struck by the much larger ratio of men to women than in most churches. The service was very simple with prayers and a sermon. It was very Protestant in its starkness in space, or perhaps more of a Buddhist simplicity. They would not see it as such, rather an adherence to the teaching of the prophet in the Koran. There was a fair bit of Arabic spoken, which I did not understand. But it was a nice time to be still, listen and offer my own prayers. Many of the people were from different countries or perhaps not mostly white, like most of Maine. I found that very refreshing and a very good thing reminding me of the time I lived in New York City.
Theologically I thought that they had much in common with more evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Both groups look to their sacred book, the Bible or Koran, as the final say that cannot be challenged or reinterpreted. Both feel very certain of the truth and rightness of their holy word and relationship with it. Though both would not want to be associated with the other theologically in any way.
A young woman helped explain much of the practical aspects of the faith and the role of women, which our western society has stereotyped and misunderstood in many ways. There are issues to address and yet so is there everywhere.
The meeting of these good people was a great blessing. I pray that their new facilities and growing community does well. Knowing the people, not just the ideas is very important. I feel blessed for having gone. I also hope to go back with a group of young people in a few months.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Invitation of Change

There is much talk and awareness of the need for change in the church. In fact there is an awareness of great changes going on all around us in our society, in education, healthcare, politics, economics, and our general way of life.

I have time now to look at what is going on in my life and the world around me. Several thoughts have struck me recently. There is great energy being spent on the new directions in the church, where we should go, what does this new way look like and how will it effect us. There is also a goodly amount of energy being spent holding onto what we have been doing, what we have come to know and how we have been doing things.

On a very personal level I am seeing that when change has happened in my life that I would understand to be wonderful, life-giving or of the Holy Spirit, it seems to always reveal more of really who I am to myself. I may come to differing opinions or attitudes but I somehow become more of who I am and enter more deeply into what I know of love. If mercy and forgiveness and understanding are not factors in my change than it seems that nothing really has changed.

My life is defined by an experience of love found in God who has become manifest in our world in who I have come to know as Jesus. This person, this God made flesh is the source of my love and hope. So I am finding that in all the discussions of change within the church and world about me, perhaps this is only an invitation, written upon the events of the world, for me to enter more deeply into this forgiveness and mercy and come to know more deeply my Lord Jesus.

Maybe the words of my prayers might part enough that I might see more clearly the eyes of God looking upon me and giving me strength to look back with a more clear understanding of who I am.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Need to Meet

There is a part of me that delights and wallows in times of quiet and solitude. But I again and again hear in my quiet times with my Lord that it is essential to be a part of the larger body of Christ, to meet with others, hear others, share with others and be there.

The Sabbatical Journey

It is a bit daunting to begin a sabbatical, especially one which is done in relationship with a larger community. At the base of a sabbatical is the need to return and renew, to rediscover the love and passion for Jesus. After years of ministry there have developed patterns of work and ways of getting things done. The simple act of preaching every week is one that develops a pattern of research and a library of thoughts that might be effective but they can become a hindrance to new ways, thoughts, and engagement with God. The comparison to a long time marriage is very helpful to me. Over time a couple develop a style of living with each other, it is easy to simply take the other for granted. After years of such living a retreat or time together to meet each other apart from these established patterns might bring up new aspects and changes that have emerged unnoticed by perhaps both people. How do they fall in love again, will they fall in love again and what changes will that bring? Do I want to face the changes that might emerge from a new look at my life with my God, the love of all that I am. Am I willing to open up again all that I am? It is what will bring me to new depths of love and of myself, I know, but do I really want to go there or do I want to stay in the familiar?

My familiar stresses, concerns, worry and prayers that I have befriended are old companions. I long for God to answer prayers I have held before Him for years, yet do I want to re-think and re-structure my habits and communicate more openly with others about this very private work?
I find myself a bit nervous as well as excited. It is one thing to long to be in love, but then to be in the moment when one needs to act upon it is unnerving.

I am also finding that the letting go of all the details of my work is a hard thing and something that is taking time.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


salt without rice sticks
and won't come out when needed,
love without talking.

Anger and Guilt

It seems to me that both anger and guilt can be good things in very small doses but generally they serve as a banner or flag as to where inner work needs to be done in our lives.

When there is a true injustice, anger can be a good thing to motivate us to respond and speak up for what we know to be true and just. Likewise a guilt that gets us to get out of bed and do something or that motivates us to apologize for something we did or said is a good thing.
But most often guilt and anger just gets our minds and emotions spinning around. I have noticed during this last election season that things would be done or said that just ignited an anger in me. Sometimes it was a blatant lie or just a plan stupid statement that was being taken seriously and unquestioned. I would rant for a bit and find myself spinning around and caught up in the seasonal rancor. What was it that was happening, what was in my soul, life or heart that somehow reverberated by the outer circumstances. My experience is that anger in politics or in sports is a great way to get motivated to play and participate, but it can be too easily manipulated and turn on one in the midst of the game or election. Anger is also the great emotion that gets in the way of the true emotion that needs to be heard.

Guilt, likewise, can keep me from doing the things I need to do. It will just fester making me feel more and more inadequate. And when guilt and anger mix it is a very toxic cocktail for our health, as we add stress and frustration to a situation in which we just keep fermenting.

Music and humor are the best antidotes for me. To listen to soothing music or to simply start whistling or humming a song as I walk helps greatly. And most of all to see where and how God is going to twist things is important to me, no matter how badly or frustrated I get in the midst of elections. God’s sense of humor is far greater and more cunning than any crisis or catastrophe we can create. Much of the universe I think is propelled by the laughter of God. It is why the universe is constantly expanding.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some thoughts poems and idle writing posted while I feel overwhelmed in preparing for my sabbatical

The hardest person for me to see
Is the person standing in front of me.

Do fish dream of walking and taking a constitutional stroll,
Like I dream of swimming like a fish?

When my distractions blink
I am stunned by the sight of you
When my opinions pause
the flash of love’s flesh stuns me
When I stop avoiding doing the things I fear to do
you are still there beside me

Way beyond my longings
Before the boundary of avoidance
Lies the remarkable
of you

We are defined by our relationships:
The people we love,
And the people we hate;
The people we forgive,
And the people we ignore.
We are defined by our relationships:
Those things we eat,
And those things which revolt us
Those things we cherish,
And our trash.
We are defined by our relationships:
The animals we tame,
And the creatures we fear;
The life that leaves us in awe,
And that which we cause to be extinct without our concern.
We are defined by our relationships:
How we let go
And how we hold on;
How we become one
And how we keep separate.
We are defined by our relationships:
Who we serve
And who we expect to serve us;
Who is our God
And who is our neighbor.

I aint got nothing to do baby,
and I'd like to do that nothing with you.
I aint got nothing to say baby,
and I'd like to say that nothing with you.
I aint got noplace to go baby,
and I'd like to go that nowhere with you.
I aint got nothing to wear baby,
And I'd like to wear that nothing with you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In the security of God

When I was starting as a young priest, often I would look at those who had been in the ministry for many years and feel so inadequate, with so much to learn. They knew what to do in all sorts of situations that I was just experiencing for the first time. They had answers and insights for conflicts which often left me baffled. Their wisdom and faith was an inspiration to me. Every new situation was such that my own resources led me to rely solely upon a leading of God and those whom God had placed as examples to me.
As I got older and more involved in the life of the church and community I found that more and more I could cope and have something to offer. Experience does help in facing challenges. I had fewer models and mentors, and more confidence and assurance. I had things to offer the people of the church, sometimes it was seen by others and sometimes I simply felt the assurance of my abilities and value in my own understanding.
Recently I found myself moving into a new dimension of my journey in the priesthood, one that is probably not unique to me. There are very few mentors and elders for me to look to for guidance. The confidence I felt has passed with some age, and any list of accomplishments I might post on a resume does not impress me or give me any sense of identity anymore. The words of Scripture were the source and inspiration for what I once wrote and preached. Now they are all I want hold onto, and what I might write or say seems only an interlude or a pause before the need to dive back into the depth found in the stories and life of Scripture. It seems I have so little to say again, compared with the new wisdom of those entering the ministry and those with a drive to engage the engine of corporate ministry.
I find that a simple verse, such as Psalm 5:3 “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation”, will be what I need or which speaks to where I find my confidence.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward

Some people do not want to know things, such as a woman I worked with did not want to know how to make coffee. If she knew how, she feared, it would be expected of her to make it at the office.
Some people just cannot know something, no matter how hard they try; I am this way with advanced mathematical formulas. Some people know more than there is to know; when I read art reviews I sometimes wonder if all the deep insights were truly meant by the artist or if they were just accidents that were overly interpreted. And sometimes we do not know something now, but hope to know more about it later.
Jesus' parable about the unjust steward (Luke 16) is one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. I have wondered sometime whether this parable was simply a good try by Jesus that just didn't work very well. It ends with several different endings, like scribes wanting to add their understanding to it, because they felt it was too difficult or obtuse to grasp. But it is in the Bible and attributed to Jesus, and as such needs to be taken seriously.
The parable is the story of a rich man who has a steward running his affairs, the steward is charged with being dishonest. The rich man decides to fire him. The steward, who is too proud to beg and too old to dig for a living goes out and makes deals with the rich man's debtors. To one he cuts the debt in half and to another by twenty percent. In doing so he is creating a network of friends and support. The rich man commends him for his shrewdness. Then one of the most puzzling passages of scripture ensues: “For the people of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (verses 8,9). After this there is a couple of verses which are by Luke or someone puzzled by this parable adding that those who are faithful with a little are faithful with much and likewise by being
unfaithful with a little. And then another response is added to try again to understand this by saying that we cannot serve two masters, God and wealth.
If it were not for the lectionary, which schedules different passages of scripture to be read throughout the year, this passage would probably never be chosen by any preacher to be the centerpiece of a sermon.
Few commentaries have had much to say to help with this passage. And after much wrestling with this text I finally have two pieces of wisdom or insights where I feel God speaking to me.
One way is that we as Christians should not be naïve. I have a friend who is a Franciscan brother who won a lying contest; his lie was to the hypothetical situation of a Nazi officer at the door asking if there were any Jewish people in the house. My friend argued that in such cases a lie would be the best answer. Recently I heard a Christian being interviewed and asked the same question and she replied that she would tell the truth, knowing that God would work things out for the best. Being naïve to the ways of the world and evil in our midst is not always a good thing. Elsewhere Jesus encourages us to be wise as serpents, but innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). We do not offer evil back, but we do not blindly go forward tempting God with our naïveté.
Secondly, we need to have the perspective of the heavenly in order to be able to have the distance to see things in such a way that they can be appreciated and not engross us with emotion or personal hurt, and thus cloud our vision. When in an election an opponent wins, can we have the ability to appreciate what they did well or are we so caught up in the hurt that we miss such a lesson? When a family member who always seems to upend an event does it again in a new way, can we have the objective perspective to appreciate the new creative tact that this person has devised? I have people coming to me for assistance, sometimes I have had people with very good stories lead me to assist them, only to find out that they have been making the rounds and I was duped. I have become hurt and angry at such moments, but really it is because I was duped and might look bad. To be able to have a heavenly distance in my perspective that allows me to see the con when it is given and even appreciate it when it is done well, but not to be caught up in it or let it envelope me and my time.
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Collect of the Day for Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Quietness and Confidence

There is a line in an old prayer that says, "in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength". The time I take for quietness is certainly one of the pillars of ongoing strength for me, but the experience of confidence is sometimes more illusive. As I talk to God and ponder my days in quietness, doubts and uncertainties surface readily while the confidence I seek needs to be actively pursued.
When we get into a taxi we do not want to hear the driver tell us that he thinks he knows where he is going; or in a hospital, we don't want to hear a surgeon say that perhaps she knows what she is doing; in a vulnerable moment, we don't want to hear someone we love tell us that she thinks she loves us. These people may not be able to promise ultimate outcomes (there may be traffic detours, or complications in surgery or disagreements in relationships) but past experience and a measure of confidence can provide much assurance.
As we expect others to have the confidence to carry out their tasks we too need to claim our own confidence. Half way through a dive into a pool is not the time to wonder whether one should make a dive, the diver's boldness and confidence is what will make it happen and not belly flop. In our experience of God a level of confidence is critical. Once we venture forth in faith, once we feel a longing to know more of God, or a need to hold onto that which is greater than all, we need to do so with a core of confidence. Even in our sin there is a need of confidence, letting God know exactly what and who we are is the only way that God can truly reach deep within our innermost self. If we hide and wait until we have made things right it will never happen. Confidence must be gained through practice and it must be claimed through determination and courage.
The confidence of a taxi driver comes from driving around the city many times, the confidence of a surgeon comes from many surgeries, the confidence of a lover is the experience of many trials together and knowing that the love has endured. The confidence of faith ultimately only comes from the ongoing relationship and experience of God's love again and again. Knowledge is good and needs to be sought, but the experience of grace, answers to our prayers, and the constant presence of our Lord only comes from receiving it again and again.

Some Thoughts

If the Christians who want this to be a Christian nation, established by its majority of the population; then wouldn’t they be setting up a stronger precedent for another religion, say Islam, to claim their laws to be the law of the land should they become the majority?

The separation of church and state has protected Christians, Jews, Muslims and others from one dominant rule which would expect people to follow one specific religion. State religions do not convert from the heart, rather from the law. Allowing religions to speak directly to people and for them to respond from their hearts will always bring deeper change.

Targeting one religion as one to oppress, such as the recent efforts to make the Muslims victims will only increase their numbers and strengthen their voice. The blood of the martyrs was the fire which spread the Christian faith throughout Europe. We need to be careful.

There are differences between the faiths. All religions are not the same, simply stating that all religions are about loving others is just smoothing over conflicts that eventually will need to be faced.

As a Christian, I believe that the power of God as understood and experienced in Christ Jesus has the power to transform all people. That Christ lifted upon the cross will draw all people to him, and as such it is for me to trust his power and might and not my limited biases, fears and political manipulations.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Food and Faith (from 2000)

It is hard to imagine a church gathering without food. Likewise, when friends and family gather together it would be very odd to simply sit or stand around for hours talking and playing games but not to have some food to share. Whether it is the comfort of having a mug of tea or coffee in one’s hand or the warmth of the liquid that makes one feel more secure and open, I do not know. But there is a connection between eating, drinking and good companionship. Perhaps it is the food and drink that helps to make our meetings sacred. In all religions throughout time, food has always been a factor. That which sustains and nourishes us is by nature a symbol and essential element of our well being. The Christian service of Holy Communion could be interpreted as a sacrament that commends us to view all our meals as sacred and opportunities for communion with God, through the fellowship with each other.
To think about the process of eating and the thought of someone watching me chew and swallow is not very pleasant. It seems very personal and I feel embarrassed at the thought of it. And yet when I join with someone else in this very personal action I do not feel so insecure. The memory of entering the school cafeteria in college and looking at everyone eating with their friends, while I stood there with my tray of food in hand, but seeing no one that I knew filled me with an isolation that was greater than if I was the only one in the building.
How and what we eat reflects directly upon our spiritual and physical well-being. When we eat very fast it is harder to digest and it is harder to communicate as compared to a leisurely and thoughtful time to not only chew one’s food but also to reflect upon what each other is saying. When we do not eat with those in our community, family or friends we distance ourselves from them, even if it is because we are busy trying to get to so many different events in which we participate in together.
Throughout his life Jesus uses food, both as a means of teaching and as a vehicle with which he unites his life with his friends. In doing this Jesus is clear that religion and faith that is only interested in ideas or supernatural experiences is severely lacking. Jesus joined us in the very basic experience of living to show us just how sacred it is. We want to get away from it all or to seclude ourselves sometimes, and with good reasons, but it is in the basic acts of living together that we are to expect to experience God.
If we cannot touch the mystery and beauty of life in ordinary times such as eating with each other, than the moments of awe on the mountaintop will not make much lasting sense either.

God gave us bodies

The church is called the “body of Christ”, yet the church has not always been known for its positive relationship with the body of human flesh. And yet, it was human flesh that Jesus, the Son of God, chose to embrace in the drama of redemption. There are Jewish dietary laws, Hindu dietary laws but not so with Christianity. In fact Christianity sometimes prides itself on not being bound to laws and restrictions. The celebration of Easter with a ham somehow seems like a boast or reaction to the Jewish celebration of Passover and their concern over pork. After so many wonderful times of worship there is what Christians often call “coffee hours” of fellowship. A friend once jokingly called this drink the “Christian speed”.

And for all the receptions I have attended, after worshiping the God of the incarnation, it seems that sugar and salt are the predominant foods that adorn the table. And the covered dish suppers are not always known for their healthy demonstrations of nutrition, but rather inexpensive and easy cook pastas and sauces and desserts. During the penitential season of lent when so many churches offer church suppers, I am always amazed at the number of exotic and diverse sweets that emerge upon the food table. These are the foods that people are more likely to eat. A plate of vegetables is not often fought over at a reception, unless of course there is a very rich dip alongside.

In sharing with other clergy ideas for sermons we sometimes have noticed that sexual images or experiences oftentimes can be the clearest or expressive ways of speaking about or describing worship with God. The Song of Songs is a great example of this understanding. But whenever a comparison is made amongst us clergy, someone will state the obvious that there is no way one could, nor should, ever us that in the pulpit. The Christian faith is not always known for its delight, openness, and creativity in regards to sexuality. In fact a more prudish, non communicative, guilt ridden experience of sex is more often the norm. Celebrating the body has not been a Christian strength, as the misuse and abuse of sex and diet so often cause us to drift from our relationship with God. Why then do we encourage bad diets and do not offer positive discussion of our bodies and relationships? As a faith that is the body of Christ, I think we should be much more expert on our understanding and living in our own bodies, as temples of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Taking Time

Some times it takes time. For 25 years I have served as a parish priest. Part of being a priest is the constant reminder or visual symbol I offer to demonstrate the great importance we always have of forgiveness and to forgive others. Every Sunday I offer the absolution, a verbalization of God’s forgiveness to God’s people; not only to help people know that they are forgiven but also to demonstrate that we all need to be forgiving others all the time.

With this in mind, I find myself recovering from stubbornness of my soul or hardheadedness of my desires. Throughout my tenure in the ordained ministry I always wanted or sought out affirmation from my peers or the larger church. I wanted to fit in or be seen as someone who might have something to offer. There was some sort of emotional need I felt, that such an affirmation by the diocese or larger church would fill. For years, I would volunteer to serve on committees or run for an office or participate in one way or another in the larger church and it almost always seemed to end in disappointment. From these frustrations I felt hurt and unheard and sometimes became angry or upset. It was not from any one person or even diocese that this frustration occurred, and towards whom I could focus my hurt. Only after nearly 25 years have I finally begun to see that this is simply my desire to find something in a place where it will never be found or trying to do something that is not going to happen, like boiling water in the freezer.

Why did I keep trying? I think that part of the answer can be found in me seeking meaning or purpose in some other place than where I happen to be. If these other people or the larger church thought I was someone special, maybe that would make me someone special. I am coming to the realization, somewhat sheepishly as I probably should have learned this sooner, that longing for something else to give me meaning is not going to work. In fact it is a form of coveting. I wanted something “out there”, that I didn’t have. In discovering, or finally becoming content, that my place or ministry is not in the larger church, but simply in the small parish where I serve has helped me to let go of much of the backed up feelings of frustration towards the larger church and relax in the comfort of forgiveness. It is still easy to get distracted by activities in the larger church, but it is becoming clear to me that the distractions are simply distractions, keeping me from myself and the activity of grace in the present set of circumstances.

The greatest effect I have had in my ministry is being present with individuals, not in activities or accomplishments I might list on a resume’. And still, there lurks the shadow that somehow, something will happen and things will be different. Different is not really what I want, it is to be more alive and accept myself and my limitations. I am standing in the heart of the kingdom of God, eternity itself, and somehow being tempted by the tedium and monotony of illusion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For the Love of Prayer

There are written prayers we read, over and over again, like the Lord’s Prayer. I have prayed this prayer so often that the words are almost secondary, the very prayer is simply a part of me or perhaps I am becoming a part of it.

There are prayers I say which are requests, for healing and health and the well being of people I love. It is my way of holding onto them, reaffirming my love and in a way letting it go in order not to control as much as simply appreciate these people.

There are prayers I offer that comes from my longings and desires; concerns, frustrations and needs I feel pressuring my life. These can wake me up in the middle of the night. I offer them repeatedly to God, sometimes with great ardor. Yet, I find that the beauty of prayer comes when after repeated offerings of these prayers I slowly let go of what I once believed, thought, or felt urgently important in order to discover the larger perspective of God and God’s will. It is the wrestling with God and God's unwavering patient silence, and my wrestling with my illusions, in order to honestly look at myself, my life and my longings.

And the prayer of love comes as most dear of all. Just as the silence we share with one we love, just as the savoring of a dear friend, just as the delight in seeing someone excited to see us, so too, is the place where I can experience the reality of God loving me. And in this place I find I let go in even deeper ways to love back and discover the meaning of worship. This is not a place where I ask "why" or petition for some need, this is a place of rest, of letting go, a time of awe.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As We Love Our Selves

In painting portraits, one of the greatest joys for me is the process of letting go of the preconceived ideas about the person sitting before me; and discovering, or experiencing deep love for this person.

The experience of loving others is a powerful and defining force in my life. The love I feel for my children leads me to work, sacrifice and change my plans in order to benefit their lives and needs. This love I have for them brings me wonderful pleasure and profound memories. I find great fulfillment in loving others. The love of a place or country, of beauty or for a cause, are other ways in which I find energy to live, and the essence of meaning.

On the other side of this experience and force in my life is the experience of receiving love. I find it very difficult to love someone - as opposed to receiving love from someone. In fact, I think there are times when I love or give to others in order to avoid receiving love from them. If I can give first, or most, then I will be protected from actually having to receive love myself. Or, if I do receive from them, then it is felt justified or earned because I have given them at least as much. And yet I harbor a deep longing to be loved, just loved (not an earned love) all the while fearing the actual experience of such fulfillment.

It is great to take someone’s picture or paint them; but, to have my picture painted or taken is much harder. I am a great critic of my own looks, the way I sound on tape, or the way I appear on film. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that someone could truly love me. I can more easily accept criticism than praise, and this, I feel, comes from the fear of having to receive. I have more power when I can be the giver. But can I really give when underneath I am longing to receive myself?

I am coming to believe that this struggle to be loved, this difficulty in probably even being able to love myself, is why I have trouble changing my diet and losing weight, or exercising as I should or caring for the way I look. So often I struggle for more will power to gain control of my life, and then fail again and again. It is dawning on me that perhaps it is the openness to be loved and loving my self, and experiencing the undying love of God that is the root of finding the power to change myself.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More than coming about - new course altogether

The demise, or fall, of the giant retailer Barnes and Nobles has caused me to reflect upon the vast changes in our society. The business of newspapers, magazines and now books are being completely re-understood within our lifetime. It is a change as monumental as the transformations that occurred when the printing press was developed. Entire industries come and go in a generation. Even when I was sailing out in the sea, I was aware when we had internet and cell phone connection. There once was a time when one could go for a sail or drive in a car and not be connected to everyone and everything through the technology we have developed.

During the last five or so years we have seen our world make revolutionary changes. Many of them are only noted for awhile, but then passed over. The print media, as I mentioned, is nothing like it ever was before. Photographs are all digitalized and rarely printed, only passed on the internet and through cds. Music is no longer even on cds. The age of vinyl, then cassettes then cds is long over. Healthcare and Education are both undergoing radical transformations. On top of this we are seeing a shift in religion as great as anything in 2000 years. This is why we see the reaction of fundamentalism and a return to the old ways in all religions, and other various aspects of our society.

There are wonderful advantages to the technology and changes we have witnessed, indoor plumbing and the telephone, being able to call for help from where one breaks down, having access to information, and more people being able to get their voice heard is wonderful. But when the computer goes down at a business, so does business. We are followed and tracked and marketed with our every keystroke. We have the priesthood of the computer technology to intercede between us and our family and loved ones. It is dangerous as well as helpful. I would speculate that the computer is becoming an intermediary between us and our own thoughts and creativity. We need to be careful of those who benefit from our being divided and thus remain conquered. Where is the faith that reunites us with ourselves and our lives?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Sea is Very Seductive

The sea is very seductive. Watching the tides, looking at boats, feeling the swaying of the waves and the pull of the wind is all very seductive. The siren upon the rocks that lures sailors onto the rocks is perhaps the sea itself. Steering a boat, as her hull and oneself are seemingly one, pulling in the sails and feeling one with the wind and water is deeply sacred. The honest admiration of other boats as they pass, especially the very beautiful ones, only deepens the addiction to the sea. It is a world unto itself, apart from the land, away from others. It is profoundly personal and also completely universal. The power of the depths moving the boat up and down with gentle swells lulls our souls like a mother holding a child. And the awareness that it could turn dangerous at any time adds the adrenaline of excitement and fear to the chemistry of connection.
It is wonderful, it is dangerous, it is a holy communion, it is refreshment, it is communication, it is terrifying, it is the provider and the destroyer, it is the home and link between worlds, it is limited, it is ever present and endless seeming, it is essential.
Some people, like me, feel that they need to live near the water. I do not necessarily have to see it every day, but I do need to know it is there. Some people like the big sky, which is a sea in another form, but the element of water somehow draws me like a magnet. Simply watching it calms and stills restlessness. Everyday as I drive by the little river by my house I greet the tide with a "HIGH Tide" or a "HelLOW Tide". It is a companion which asks very little and is very constant.

returning from rest

Emily and I just returned from an extended trip on a most wonderful sailing excursion around Penobscot Bay with Jacob Gerritsen. There are times when I have gone or done something and years later look back on it as a great time in my life. Then there are times, like this trip, when it is just so perfect and beautiful that even someone as obtuse as me can see that it is one of the great blessings in one's life while you are in the midst of it. I have felt for some time now that sailing around the islands of the Penobscot Bay in the summertime is as close to Eden or the most beautiful place on earth as one can get. It is not so overwhelming a beauty as the Grand Canyon, it is a sufficient beauty that slowly soaks into one's soul and waters it with wonder.
It is also interesting to me how while at sea we are very careful with our use of water, electricity, food, waste, etc. But now that I am home I find that I am running the water longer than perhaps I need, and leaving lights on when perhaps they are not needed. A boat is a small island with obviously limited resources, one is always aware of it. Being on this limited island of a planet just doesn't give me the same awareness, or I am just not wanting to see it and pay attention.
It is also interesting to me that hours after getting off the boat I find that my world is still gently swaying beneath my feet. I know, or at least assume, my house isn't swaying like a boat. How much of the experience is programed into my brain, how much of the swaying on the boat was just my own memory program?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If the fig tree does not blossom

We need art in our lives. We need beauty in order to understand the sacred awe of our existence. We need stories to be told in order to make sense of our journey. We need fashion and style to help us claim our independence and uniqueness within each generation. We need the visual image which holds still the variations and subtleties of light in order to help us to see the depth of our relationships. We need food in order to live, we need sex in order to procreate and intimate our lives. We need water in order to be flexible and stretch. We need to safely move and inhabit safe places in order to nurture or souls and love.

We have people, and now an entire society, built around selling to our need in order to make money, not necessarily to meet the need. In fact if the need is not met we will buy again and again with the delusion of perhaps getting our need met. The desire is what drives us to continue, the delusion which keeps us from what we need. The desire that can never be met yet keeps pulsing within ourselves is what keeps us buying, unsatisfied; keeps watching, unfulfilled; keeps seeking and yet never finding what it is we are even needing anymore.

Our spiral from abundance into scarcity is a great blessing. The interruption of wealth and things might help us to touch each other again, to stop and breathe and hear a story or share what little we truly have. Until we receive, we cannot give. Until we know we need to receive, that we have fallen short and cannot make it anymore on our own, then we might find ourselves again, with each other.

I look back at the 1930’s as a great time for the visual arts in the United States, a time of depression. The 1940’s and 50’s created some great film and plays alongside of some strict censorship. Perhaps our artistic soul might be freer to emerge now that things are not as abundant and blessed. Our hunger for that which is a truly deep need will drive us to create that which will satisfy, not delude, and not just seek fame, notoriety and money.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting in the Way

My dog has a way of getting in the way. Wherever I want to go she has a keen sense of getting there first. Sometimes this is very frustrating, other times I take it that she is just being insistent about getting some attention. Whatever the case this happens time and time again. Sometimes I am prepared and other times I almost trip over her and hurt her and myself, with both of us trying to regain ourselves along with our yelps at the other.

There are some issues, some people and some circumstances that act like this in my life. They are the things or people that can trigger me away from my best self. A news story about an injustice that I feel strongly about, or a comment made by someone that rubs me the wrong way; and suddenly my day is sent into a tailspin of emotional banter within my mind.

Animals I find are extraordinarily interconnected with our souls. It is why they know when we are sick, sad or when someone is dying. We somehow find our soulful wiring interconnected with the animals in our lives and in some cases even begin to look like them. So this annoyance from someone so close is probably a reflection of not only a need by the pet, but of something within us.

Just as the dog, wanting attention or food, gets in my way; there are issues that I avoid and yet they keep popping up to get my attention. Some people who have similar shortcomings as I do send me into a fit of judgment towards them when their words or actions are only a reflection on the frustration I feel within myself.

In my quest for peace of mind, I savor quiet and a restful place. I want to avoid the conflicts and turmoil of everyday issues. But it is these everyday issues, people and pets that keep tripping me up which are also spiritual attention getters. It is here that I need to begin my meditation. So as I prepare to go home and prepare dinner, I bring with me all my frustrations of the day and will probably find my dog slipping in front of my chins. Where can I go from your presence Lord? You call me home, to the place where I am unraveled and can let go. Today I consciously remember that the interruption to my quest for your answer is most often where I find your response.

Monday, August 9, 2010

That We Might Have Life

A sister church had a sign up recently asking people about their status in regards to heaven or hell. It got me thinking, why is it that we in the church sometimes focus more on what is going to happen after we die, than what we are doing now? The more I, or others, in the church seem to focus on issues of life after death there seems to be a direct decrease in participation in the local community here and now.
My recent thought is that life after death does not start after death. We either engage now in heaven or we are living in a hell. We chose how we live, graciously, with thanksgiving, engaged in God’s forgiveness and grace; or we can slide into self service, simply getting by and through things, become overwhelmed with stress and frustrations. If I do not enter into a relationship today with God, if the forgiveness of Jesus doesn’t transform me now, dying isn’t going to help any help me any – even with the right way of thinking or memberships. For me I find that the more I engage in reaching out, helping others, trying to make a difference in my world and the lives around me the more I am open or experience the presence of God.
The question about heaven and hell really should be more present minded. Are we finding life, are we feeling alive, do we have the strength to engage or am I simply atrophied into an mindless apathy? What is going to happen has already started.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Swimming in Air

Every so often I find myself writing a poem. I do not know why.
On a hot day, in Maine standards, this emerged.

This life upon the bottom of the sea,
Of atmosphere, can be so cluttered
With creatures clammering to be free
Of pain and debt and anything
That causes us to cry.
We try so hard to fly beyond
the ocean of air and breath.
And yet we still return again and again
And crawl about
Darting and hiding
From the threat whose claws might bring death,
Or worse,
humiliation or pain;
And keep us from getting wet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What is "it"?

Having recently seen several different art shows and heard various art talks I have been struck by the question, “what is it that makes something speak to me artistically?” Some of the work I saw was rather boring; some very beautiful, but the flash of wow left me feeling like something was missing; and some of the works moved my heart and soul into a place that is both wounded and divine with great poignancy.

I have heard people talk about different performances by musicians, some are very good at playing the notes well and others might miss a few notes but carries the soul of the piece out into the hearer’s heart. What makes for the difference in such performances? It is not always the case that the well played piece does not have the same soul to it, there are moments when this magic and the well played piece are one in the same. And there are times when people try for the soul and are just plan sloppy.

It is a hard thing to describe, but there are some works of art that have elevated my life or connected with my understanding and experience in such a way that I will never be the same. Once I had a surgery in which I almost died, after I had recovered and began going about my life again I came upon a painting that somehow portrayed the experience my inner awareness felt or knew in my near death experience. Simply seeing it portrayed, seeing that someone else knew what was held secret in my soul, brought great comfort and a healing awareness to me.

Much of the art I saw recently was displayed in ways that would lead people to buy it, which is important for the well being of the artist and gallery. But beauty alone or innovation alone, or craftsmanship alone can lead the piece of artwork into that place where we are changed. What is it? I think that sometimes the marketing of art inhibits such creativity. Public work that is displayed without aim of sales might help. The need to be touched and to see such transforming art is like the desire for water or companionship.

We see this “it” this transcendent power most often in nature, when we take the time to look. This need for transcendence is a great reason we need to protect our environment. But the ways in which someone else has experienced nature, life and this journey we are on and can express it with such depth on canvas or in verse or through sound is crucial for us to truly know that we, too, are somehow connected and seen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Need to Support our Local Churches

Generally speaking, our local churches are the last remaining place we sing together, often all verses of a song, not just the first verse of the national anthem heard at a ball game. And the last place to hear people read ancient stories aloud, and poems, and to hear oral oration for wisdom. It is a place where we can gather to study and discuss a book, join in common meals that are made together, to be still, a place to meet other people, and a place to bring those things most sacred in our hearts for care and keeping in the arms of our God.

We are not funded by the government, we survive primarily by the strength and generosity of the local community. It is proportionate to the commitment of all of us as to what will be the health and well being of the soul, or spiritual health, of our community. Our participation, our time, our financial support, and most of all, our prayers will determine how high our spires truly rise above our town greens, not just our symbolic structures. We open our doors not only for those who qualify or agree with us, but for all who dare enter the silences of one’s soul, or wish to seek some sort of solace in their life. We are also a place open for the daily activity and the betterment of our society with scout meetings, public forums, AA, and other activities that strengthen us for our common good.

Our society spends millions of dollars in an effort to isolate us into addictions with electronics which seemingly connect our lives, but cannot compete with a handshake, or an embrace, or a conversation face to face. Highways, designed to speed commerce, have driven our families further apart. Technology and transportation offer ways to worship perceived perfection on television and in person with celebrities. This does not offer, however, the live exchange and personality of our own families, friends, and neighbors. The local church offers the place where friends and neighbors, oftentimes far from loved ones, can gather and claim that space between our loved ones which is sacred and held together with prayer. Gathering together to pray and worship is the great affirmation to live and love; and the revolutionary declaration against the twin tyrannies of apathy and avoidance. It is truly important that we support our churches in every way possible; that we keep these institutions, which represent the soul of our community, alive, vibrant and healthy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

More reflection on my trip to the island

Moving out to an island seems to me to almost live out a metaphor. To move apart from the mainland is an act of separation. With this thought in mind, I began wondering about the metaphor in which I live. My town, Thomaston, is a place of crossroads, between the peninsulas which stretch down the river and route one which bisects it. It is also a town that sits in the shadow of other bigger towns nearby, the towns of Rockland and Camden.

In reflecting on the metaphor of the town in which I live, I see that my life reflects the geography of my habitation. So often I have sensed that I am always in the midst of a crossroads in my life and always under the shadow of others.

There is a spirituality and psychology of geography which deeply affects us. On my first sabbatical I discovered the outer connection of the land to my soul. Whatever I was dealing with inside my head, heart and soul would become manifest in what I would do left to my own devises in the woods. When I was charting new paths in my thoughts I would go out and do the same in the woods, and this would continue with all sorts of other ways of thinking and then acting. When I realized this I would consciously try not to do things that I was working on within my soul, but when I would reflect later it became evident that I still was doing outwardly what was going on inwardly.

We become part of our land, and our land is a part of us, whether we know it or not.

Monday, August 2, 2010

a day in Matinicus

Going to the island of Matinicus today for a funeral. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people.

It seems to me that living on an island really takes a commitment, living becomes very intentional. Simple things need to be considered that people on the mainland take for granted, like trips to the store, or ferry times. There are very clear limitations set out by the limits of the island itself. I wonder what kind of commitment I make to where I live? If not having to be so deliberate about such little things as transportation, stores and getting into and out of my town causes me to take more for granted and exposes me to miss important things in life.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

And Still

As I pass the jeweler I love to look at things
and maybe I might buy, with great savor,
something for my wife, whom I love so much.

When birthdays come around it is a joy to think of what I might give to my children, and even more to see their excitement, when they open a gift.

When I share a breakfast with a good friend, it feels good to be able to take the check and pay for us both,
because this is something important to me.

These are not things done because I have to,
or just because it is a good thing.
It is simply a piece of my heart’s response.

O Lord, you are deeper than any love in my heart, the One I cry to in my distress and in whom I find my rest. You are the one who holds my heart together with these dear ones in my life. You have been giving to me surprises, blessings and these very ones I love, simply out of your deep pleasure.

Why do I look at my giving to you. O Lord,
like a bill to be paid, or a burden to bear?

And still, your forgiveness and mercy wake me
every morning fresh and new again.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Winning and Losing

While walking the dog I often stop at the local convenience store and get a dog biscuit for the dog, find out what's in the headlines in the newspapers, hear whats going on in town and buy a lottery ticket. I will often joke whether it is a winning one or not. The pleasure I have found is in the idle dreaming on the way home about what I would do with the money if I were to win. These idle fantasies give me something to dream about and a way to pay attention to what is in my heart at the time.

I remember once being handed a ticket and the cashier commented that she hoped it was a winning one. I had a shiver, the thought of it actually winning scared me. What would I do if it actually happened. I had heard horror stories of winner's having their lives fall apart. It struck me that all of my relationships would change instantly with such money. It was a strange feeling to dream and hope to win and to fear such a thing at the same time.

The chances of winning with my occasional tickets is rarer than perhaps being struck by the space station keeps me grounded. Yet it was interesting to think that on one level I would risk having everything in my life change, and yet I would really not want it to change at all.

Are all my prayers so pulled and pushed as I offer them to God? I want my life to change, to come to know the Lord more closely and to surrender more fully to God's will; yet I also am comfortable with what I am doing. The simple awareness of such a tension helps me to accept myself and see more fully God's sense of humor and great mercy in loving me.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In and Out of Prayer

As an extrovert I find that I need and savor a time to be still, it is an important aspect of my life which helps balance the excited outward flow of my energy. Because of this, I treasure my times of prayer and stillness. One of my favorite prayers is:

“O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. “

Yet this prayer of inward movement and celebration of the quiet peace with God is not the end of prayer, but rather the entryway into the place where I can be still with God. Eventually I need to listen, to pay attention and hear again the noise and activity of the world around me. Hearing these again after entering the still place helps me to hear these sounds not as bothersome but rather as the sounds of our life’s blessing.

The sound of an ambulance and police siren going by might have been a grating headache at one time, but from the stillness it becomes a pausing point when I can stop my thoughts and offer a prayer for those in need, to be more connected with the larger world of which I am a member.

When I am trying to go to sleep and rest at night I want it to be quiet and still, and from that comes my time of rest. But the rest is to lead me into the next day, a day in which I can start over, refreshed and thankful. Without the rest I become dazed and delirious with the chaos of the world. With the rest I become functional and supportive to the efforts of life’s loves and healing. Sleep is a great metaphor or example of the stages of prayer. We do not remain sleeping, as we do not remain in our stillness of prayer. This prayer ends, “that I might know that thou art God”; I find that experience of God in the sounds, sights, and relationships that I originally fled from when I entered my time of prayer.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Not Now, Then When

Certain holidays, such as Christmas or the Summer months, tend to offer great excuses from the work that needs to be done at hand. It is easy to put off a meeting or project “until after Christmas” or “after the Summer break”. And then when the holiday is over it is a panic to do all that needs to get done, and often there are things that are missed. The things that are easy to miss or avoid are often places where I need to take time and prayer to explore, and to come to know myself better.

So often I find myself getting caught up in debating issues that are political in nature regarding religion, or having people question me as to where I stand on a particular hot topic. Usually these issues are being played out on a global or far away place. People will leave the church because of something that happened across the country, yet the personal issue that is most needed to be faced is rarely the thing which we want to confront.

When I find myself worked up or caught up in the whirlwind of controversy, I find that it can suck the energy out of my day. It is also a great diversion from addressing the ongoing discipline of being faithful and tending to the concerns that are before me and such issues serve well in becoming an excuse to procrastinate from paying the attention due to the challenging and perhaps mundane activities which are my issues to face.

I was amused to hear that a local denomination had a statement which people, who were called to serve as ordained ministers, had to sign a statement which stated that they were not homosexual. This denomination has rarely if ever dealt with a situation where one of their clergy made public their sexual preference in such a way. The denomination did not have any statement regarding adultery, and yet there were countless cases of clergy being tangled up in such compromising relationships. This particular denomination is no different than any other in acting in such ways of judgment and not directly addressing the concern most pressing. It is easier to look at problems elsewhere, to judge others and institutions for their shortcomings, but each time is also an opportunity to see where we are falling short and grow in our own need of mercy. Or we can expend our energy and divide the church even more in efforts to prove that we are not to blame.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dancing Cheek to Cheek

In the living room of the house in which I grew up there was a big hi-fi system. It was a major piece of furniture. It has since disappeared, like the vinyl records. Now people use “iPods” with headphones or little speakers. iPods are digital music devices that are so small that they fit in your pocket. People also use their laptop computers to play their music, television and movies. Televisions may one day be replaced by personal systems on which individuals each watch their own shows. The new technology is fascinating, remarkable and from afar looks like it adds much to one’s life, but there is a cost that is not always counted nor named.
In the past many homes had big radios before the hi-fidelity systems and before that there were pianos. With each form of technological advancement it is my historical observation that our relationships have moved further away, dancing is a good example. It used to be line dances and partners dancing, then swinging throws and now today there are no partners often, just people bouncing up and down by themselves or actually into each other. Occasionally there are revivals of swing dancing or salsa that emerges or contra dances that act as a counter cultural throw back to another age.
In the same way we have lost the local Granges, meeting halls and pubs that served as meeting places where people regularly gathered. Televisions, telephones, computers and automobiles have all caused our lives to adapt in more and more individualistic and isolated ways. The last remnant in our culture ia the place of worship. It is the last place where people gather and sing together. It is the last place where public oration is regularly heard, and where people on a regular basis hear someone read aloud. And as the communal act of eating has become more isolated with television and busy schedules, the church covered dish supper is a great gathering place to leisurely share food with others.
All of the sacraments of the church revolve around touch. Whether eating, loving, forgiving, relating or being challenged in our outreach it is in touching each other and being touched that we are sustained and are known. It could be a simple handshake or the emotional touch of singing the same notes with someone next to us. There is a need we have that no amount of electronics can replace. As our culture and technology pulls ever so hard to separate, the church reminds us of the importance in our lives of dancing cheek to cheek, of eating across from someone, of laughing with the sound of someone beside us.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Place of Grace

It is always striking to me, when I drive into a different state or country, how the geography seems to change. The trees, the horizon line, the foliage, and the geography as a whole, are unique to each different place. I cannot see the boundaries between the various states, but the difference becomes clear as I travel from one to another. Likewise, I feel a sense of home when the trees of Maine appear around me on the highway when I return. These places where I have traveled, the ordinary and the spectacular, have become the background for my memories. The differences in places often mark differences in legs of my journey in life.
Many people travel to the holy land to see the places where Jesus, and the events of the Bible stories took place. They say it is very moving to be in the same place where these people once stood. Because the events in the Bible are recorded as having happened in a particular place and time, we have a place to go to and experience such a feeling. We also then add our memories to the place as we, too, stand there. The holy land is then not just about the figures in scripture but also about our own journeys as well. And as we return to our homes we are reminded that the holy land is not just in the middle-east, but beneath our feet.
Experiencing nature is one of the principle ways we discover and restore our souls. Simply by observation and reflection we can find our whole self connected to all life.
Did Jesus feel a welcome in his soul when he saw the streets of his hometown? He certainly used his observations of nature as the palate for his parables. The love of God in Christ happened in a unique place and with particular people. These events were not imagined, but rather experienced by people who were affected enough to write it down and share how the events in these places changed their lives. In doing so God, opened the door for all particular and peculiar places to be the place where God can be present, where descendants can come, and stand where we now stand, and join their story with ours.

An Enquiring and Discerning Mind

To believe, to be faithful, and to be truly alive does not mean blind acceptance of what has been given, thought, or taught to us. It is important that we listen, learn, and reflect upon what has been passed on to us. Unless we question, engage and wrestle with these things, they will only become an ornament of the past with their purpose a curiosity and our churches will become simply museums.
Christianity has its doctrines, its beliefs, its dogmas and its traditions. They can be found in its scripture, creeds, and liturgy. We listen to them, recite them and then often move on to the next event in the service. To question them sometimes seems, or can be interpreted, as a sign of doubt or disrespect. When, in fact, faith and respect can only be enhanced by our deep questions of its foundations.
Whether it be the Trinity, the virgin birth, the titles and nature of Jesus, the source and authority of the Bible, the understanding and experience of the resurrection, or other important dimensions of the church, all that is sacred and defining to the faith is not above our questions and our need to probe deeply their authenticity. For unless we, in our generation, do our work of engagement with the great teachings and heritage passed down to us, we risk losing them by our neglect.
It is interesting to think that we teach our children to ask questions when they do not know something, to be open to learn in school; but somehow pass on to them a feeling that in church we simply recite and accept what is said without question. I do not know where this feeling comes from as it is not found in our scripture or history. In fact every great understanding we have has come from our great debates and from people who risked their reputations and sometimes lives by standing alone in their questions about why things were the way they were. The church is not, and should not be, a gathering of people who simply recite the same thing, but rather is and needs to be the coming together of people longing to know the depths of life, the meanings of our beings and the experience of God. We cannot truly engage ourselves with this gathering without the important dimension of our willingness to question why.
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