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.

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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