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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Violence and our American Culture

In the wake of the Newtown shooting there have been biblical connections to the passages of Jesus, when he spoke to his disciples who were trying to keep the children from bothering him, Suffer not the children from coming to me. More recently there have been connections to the massacre of the innocents, whose feast day is right after Christmas, remembering when Herod had the children slaughtered in an attempt to rid him from the new messiah/king. The trouble with this connection is that it is the established government fearful of a new ruler that perpetrated the violence. The violence in Newtown was from a lone child himself attacking the most vulnerable. There is a connection that can be seen, but there is more. Personally, I am drawn to William Butler Yeats poem, the Second Coming, and how this monster is being born upon us and our world that we have unleashed by the The best lacking in all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats TURNING and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of i{Spiritus Mundi} Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

dec 24 devotional

December 24: Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. The Christmas story is often acted out by people in the church in pageants and dramas. It is a story begging to be staged. The Church service, or what we call our ‘liturgy’, is a weekly drama in which we participate. We are the actors and God the audience. And just as in any play, when the actors and the audience connect, it can be magic. The acting or “play” is important, as any play is important. It is a way in which we can practice in a safe environment, those things we will need later on. It is a way to establish good habits and healthy patterns, and for everyone to have experience. Just as firefighters drill with their equipment, so that when fighting a fire emergency, they know what to do and how to work together. We enter the drama of God, and we have our lines to speak; it is play, it is drama, it is practice, it opens and prepares us for the intimate encounter with God. And we all say, “Come”, knowing as the story goes, that it will not be what we expect, but what we have always been.

dec 23 devotional

December 23: Music is like a great mother who holds our memories and traditions together, and making sure our most important events are experienced with great dignity, and showing we are each extraordinarily gifted to be present. Music is used by young people to help define their collective generation, and to bind them in a common experience. Music is used by the military to instill both fear and courage. Markets use it to enhance experience and motivate people when shopping. It is used by some hospitals to facilitate healing. We speak of the essentials of life as being in terms of things like food, clothing and shelter. But throughout human history we also have found that the sounds of our music are an essential component to our common life. Birds, too, and other species, have ways of using sound to express their life together. Can there be a Christmas without music? God came into our world and we have been singing about it ever since.

dec 22 devotional

December 22: Isaiah 10:21 A remnant will return. It has been said, and I have come to experience, that one cannot go home again. Once we have grown up, we cannot go back to childhood. Returning to a place in our past only shows us that life has gone on without us. I once heard someone say that we are only remembered as long as it takes for water to fill the area left after we pull out our arm from the water. That may be so, but the scripture today reminds us that there is also a remnant that will return. Our arm was made wet; there may be germs we left in the water, or flakes of dead skin. Our childhood may be over, but it continues to influence and shade all of our present moments. God does not forget deep memories. There are some we might wish to forget, but God will bring them into the arms of loving healing and bring that which was never allowed to grow to become the great oaks that will shade the next Abraham as he greets angels. We can never relive past gatherings and holidays, but we know that they are and will always be part of our soul’s DNA, and part of God’s heart.

dec 21 devotional

December 21: The Feast Day of St. Thomas - Thomas always seems to me to be a great example of mistaken accusation. He is accused of being a doubter, thus “doubting Thomas”. When, in fact, he really was one who did not experience what everyone else experienced, and could not assent to something to which he himself had not been witness. He seems, to me, to be more like the person at a meeting where the momentum to take a certain action carries everyone along, except one brave soul who asks, “why?” or says “I don’t feel the same way”. Lasting faith does not come from simply accepting what others have told us, but must also be experienced and understood for ourselves. Thomas is the beacon in the gospel, the voice that demands that we do not agree because others tell us to, but because we deeply agree, or have come to know that which we profess. Thomas always went his own way. While the other apostles stayed in the near east, or went toward Rome, he went to India. The season leading up to Christmas is filled with traditions and familial expectations. The feast of St. Thomas reminds us to not just go along, but to insist that we belong.

dec 20 devotional

December 20: As one who feels overwhelmed and under-impressed with the ever earlier onslaught of Christmas marketing, I would like to take a moment to stand up for the commercial Christmas and all the hype and hoopla. During the days of December leading up to Christmas, I find that the added haste, busyness and elevated expectation to be exciting. I like to think about people I love and what I gift I may give them. Gathering with friends for a party is nice. Driving down a familiar road and seeing that some people have put more energy than necessary into their house decorations and it makes me smile. It is easy to be critical of the commercialized hype and to view a more meditative alternative style holiday as a better and more “spiritual” experience. But for a moment I would like to propose that perhaps even in the commercialized and frenzied activity we create, God’s grace helps guide us, and helps us to feel important and a part of something larger and more connected to life.

dec 19 devotional

December 19: The Feast Day of Lillian Trasher - The feast days of the Church introduce me to people I would never have known about. Lillian Trasher is one of these people. She was born in 1887, and at 23 she felt called to go to Africa to serve God. Against the will of her family and with only $100, she settled in Egypt, and led by circumstances seen to be God’s guidance, she founded an orphanage, and ran it until the late 1950’s. It is still in operation today, and is funded almost entirely by the churches in Egypt . A story like this reminds me that sometimes we need to go far away to find ourselves; to break away from our culture and traditions to find them. And sometimes what others think is best for us is not always what is best for us. Her journey also is a great reminder that we do not always know what we are getting into when we begin our journey; sometimes we just need to make the first step.

dec 18 devotional

December 18: Change isn’t the ship on which we sail, nor the destination to which we head; but rather the compromises and course corrections that have to be made due to climate, resources and geography causing us to view our journey differently. To go out simply seeking change will lead us nowhere, endlessly wandering without purpose. And yet, to make any pilgrimage, of which all of our lives are one, means we need to travel with the companion of change. It will show us the impossible when we feel there is no way out. It will tempt us to find another way when we are faced with the challenges that are ours to bear and which will be the defining vista of our lives. We seem to be living in a time of phenomenal change, in so many different aspects of our lives. This doesn’t detract us from the goal of being faithful to our God, rather it is what reminds us that this faithfulness is what is more important than the path we feel so sure about traveling.

dec 17 devotional

December 17: The Feast Day of William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart - These two very vocal prophets and anti-slavery advocates of the 18th century were voices that helped change our nation. I cannot imagine any way in which one can justify slavery and Christianity, and this is in large part to their work. The Episcopal Church did not make a stand, but tried to hold everyone together during the civil war. A southern bishop also served as a general in the Confederacy. Today, when people make strong prophetic stands and speak out on social issues, I usually try to look at all sides and if possible avoid conflict. If I do not need to make a stand then I will do everything I can to avoid it, whatever the issue of the day. But I am reminded by the witness of William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart that the voices which I might want to avoid might be the voices that are speaking a new and more clear understanding of God’s will. I agree with their work, but would I have done so if I were living in their era? Possibly not. With this in mind, I listen to the prophets and social reformers of today.

dec 16 devotional

December 16: John 3:27 ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. There are many ways we seek to be fulfilled or find peace and/or meaning and yet we so often choose another way. We try to use a tool for the wrong purpose, make clothes that are too tight fit, work at jobs that we shouldn’t be doing, assume responsibility for things which we have no responsibility over, and in so doing, we find ourselves frustrated. When we shop and buy things to make us feel better, it only lasts for a short while. When we use various drugs or substances to find peace or happiness, we eventually find isolation and sorrow. When we see relationships as the answer for who we are, then we often find ourselves frustrated with others as we become frustrated with ourselves. But when we are open to circumstances, people, and opportunities that are from heaven, all seems to fit into place. I might see it differently by seeing it as when I am with someone who helps me be more of who I am, or find a job that reveals what I love, or a place that strengthens my heart, or an opportunity that might be hard, but drives me to stand in my courage; then I know what has been from God, what is needed, and what sates the inner hunger of my soul.

dec 15 devotional

December 15: Isaiah 8:1-15 The passages of scripture for today includes this one from Isaiah, in which he describes an impending exile. Things are going to get very difficult. We want God to rescue and keep us from illness and suffering, yet, time and time again, scripture relates how God does not do that. In fact, the stories and writings, like today’s, reflects not a God who keeps us safe, but rather one that is with us through great challenges, pain and ordeals. God promises to strengthen us, if we are willing, to go into the hard dimensions of mortal life and travel to deeper places of truth in the process. God has never promised to save us from our mortality, rather, He assures us that through the depths of our journey we will find the gate and path to that which is life surpassing all barriers, even death.

dec 14 devotional

December 14: The Feast Day of St. John of the Cross - The mystic poet and spiritual leader of the 16th century Spain, St. John of the Cross, wrote a classic of Spanish poetry and spiritual mysticism in his great work “The Dark Night of the Soul”. In it he uses language that one might mistake for two lovers describing their union. In this poetic work, he uses language that one might mistake for two lovers describing their union. The passionate life and love weaves closely together in cautious ways between the prudishness of traditional religion and the sensual expressions of the mystical journeys. Even in our Scripture we feel an awkward sense when graphic portions of the Song of Songs are read in church. Our faith and religion is not just a compartment for certain aspects of our life, but an expression and framework for all the aspects of our life. And through all the experiences of living in our mortal bodies, we can see and express an image or entrance into the mystery of unity with God. It is not neat, it is not always proper, it is sometimes passionate, it is intimate, and it is always very personal.

dec 13 devotional

December 13: The Feast Day of St. Lucy - It has always seemed a bit morbid to me that the feast day for a saint is on the day of their martyrdom or death, and they often become patron saints of things related to that which had been their torture. St. Lucy was a young woman who had her eyes gouged out, and she was made the patron saint of eyes and light in the dark season of winter. St. Lawrence was burnt to death and is the patron saint of grilling. It all gives me a bit of the chills. And, yet, it also makes a point. The things that wound us can become the thing that heals us or perhaps eventually ends up being the thing that defines us. Homeopathy is a system of healing that sees the cure as possibly coming from the cause. There are things that I have tried to master and be good at, and offer to others so that they might see how great I am. This does not often impress as much as when I am able to express my vulnerability and weaknesses. There is an old song verse: “I am weak, but He is strong”. St. Lucy lost her sight while she held onto her oneness with God, and in doing so reminded us that losing anything apart from God is endurable, but losing our sight of God is unendurable.

dec 12 devotional

December 12: John 7:53-8:11 ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. There is an old joke about the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. After making this comment, a stone is thrown, Jesus turns around, see who threw it, and says, “Mother!”. It is no surprise it was a sexual sin that caused all the commotion. Such is true even to this day. It is my opinion, or experience, that so many of the sins we view as terrible are not seen so by God. In fact, most of the things I confess to God, and feel so badly about, are probably not even a concern to God. They are really just things that make me look bad, or not as good as I want others to see me. Rarely are my first regrets that I have not spent enough time in prayer, or that I haven’t been seeking longingly enough to deepen my relationship with God. In fact, forgetting to return a phone call will cause me to grieve more, than my drifting from my connection to God. So, not only should we be careful what sins we are crusading against, and where we are hurling our stones, but we should be mindful and concerned about that which is truly more important

dec 11 devotional

December 11: Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. As an artist I am always moved and fascinated by light, what it does, how it reflects, and how we are affected by it. We experience light, as it strikes an object and reflects towards our eyes and everywhere else with some of the rays absorbed and others reflected. And by what light is reflected we are able to determine the objects around us. So we see light, but we interpret and understand it through the objects it strikes and the pathways it journeys upon. Without light we will cease to be. When the sun shuts down its manufacturing capabilities we, too, will move on. The experience of God as the fountain of life and the source of light, from which all we see is derived, is crucial. As an artist I may paint a portrait, but also I paint the experience of God as revealed by the light of God’s life reflected off of the sitter, and onto me, with some absorbed, and some reflected. And how I experience it, and then reflect it in my art, again is all about the attempt to see God; and it is interpreted by the people whom God has touched.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

dec 10 advent devotional

December 10: The Feast Day of Thomas Merton - The American monk, Thomas Merton has had a lasting influence on 20th century Christianity. He also had a profound effect upon my own personal journey of faith. I remember reading his book about his life, The Seven Story Mountain, when I was a young man. It was a profound encounter with someone who was able to talk personally about his life and coming to faith in a way in which I could relate. His poetry opened me up to the idea of Christian poetry. His openness of faith that brought him into relationship with the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, challenged me to open up my own faith to a broader horizon of understanding. Thomas Merton never knew me, but he had a profound effect upon my life. How many people have been touched or will be touched by our life that we will never know, nor have any idea about? We cannot travel through the water without leaving a wake, nor love without leaving a mark.

dec 9 advent devotional

December 9: 1 Peter 3:14 …regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. My aunt once gave various family members a card with our name, the meaning of our name, and a biblical verse on it, entitled “your life verse”. Mine was Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. It was not a verse that I would have chosen, and in fact I remember groaning when I saw it and immediately looked to compare mine with other members of the family. Since that time I have discovered that an extremely large portion of my life has been spent waiting. I would like to say that I have developed great patience from this experience. But, in fact, I have found that too often the opposite is true. So when the understanding of the patience of the Lord as salvation appears in the reading for the day, I once again groan and look for other verses. And yet waiting and patience is not something that is passive. By definition it means waiting will be lengthy, and one will need patience for a long time. It is the ability to be still and wait until the right time. Like a skilled musician who knows exactly when to join along in the music, the patience of the Lord will wait and listen while I go on for hours with my concerns. And when God knows I have said all that I can, God simply responds with a word or two (all I might be able to handle), and no more. And then God is still again, in patience, while I find my life upended.

dec 8 advent devotional

December 8: Psalm117:2 For great is his steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Praise the Lord! Some memories etch themselves deeply into our mind. While rock climbing in college up a steep cliff, I remember getting nearly ten feet from the top and my fingers began feeling like soggy carrots and my muscles just couldn’t hold any more. It was scary, even knowing I had a rope around me and that there was someone on the other end. I had come to the end of all I could do. It was a complete feeling of exhaustion. It was hard to know even what to say, as I had never had this experience before. Finally the person holding the rope realized that nothing was happening and cried out to me. In a weak voice I tried to shout that I needed help and could not go any further. I remember that there was some sort of challenge for me to try some more, but also sudden realization from the sound of my voice that it was time to help. Several people had to pull me up to the top. I was so very thankful, a bit embarrassed, but happy to be alive. It is also very reassuring that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends. It is stronger than the rope holding me that day, and knows when my cry is too weak to be heard.

dec 7 advent devotional

December 7: Psalm 22:1-2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. This Psalm was written years before Jesus, at a time of deep depression and feeling of abandonment. Jesus knew these words and quoted them on the cross. He, too, dove deep into the well of an interior place of loneliness and isolation. Mental health issues are the least funded area of our health care system. The stigmas of mental health problems can haunt us in our careers and relationships. Our health care solution these days is to find the medication to stabilize one from such incidents, often with severe long term consequences. Focusing one’s faith on a Lord, who, in embracing his mortality and human nature, made sure that such feelings and experiences were a part of his vocabulary. I do not know of any other faith that has God entering into the human form and in so doing, does not just exhibit magic healing, but also opens himself up to the depths of our fears and anxiety. The hand of Christ does not just come from above to lift us up, but also from below to let us know that it is all right and will be all right.

dec 6 advent devotional

December 6: The Feast of St. Nicholas - We have come to know this 4th century bishop as the great bearded fellow of Santa Claus. But he was a bishop in the early church, reportedly one of the bishops at the council at Nicaea when they formulated the Nicene Creed we say to this day. He is not only the patron saint of children, but also of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, pawnbrokers, and students in various countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia), as well as in parts of Western Europe (Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal). He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Fribourg, Huguenots, and Liverpool. The Christian Church certainly has some odd bedfellows. Ain’t it grand?

dec 5 advent devotional

December 5: Colossians 1:16 …for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible,… I know that God is not an old man in a beard up in the sky, and yet it is hard not to put human attributes or characteristics to my understanding of God. I am human and all I know is from that perspective. It is important to allow our imagination to soar into new realms. C.S. Lewis wrote a poem about a similar problem with science fiction writing. An Expostulation Against too many writers of science fiction Why did you lure us on like this, Light-year on light-year, through the abyss, Building (as though we cared for size!) Empires that cover galaxies If at the journey's end we find The same old stuff we left behind, Well-worn Tellurian stories of Crooks, spies, conspirators, or love, Whose setting might as well have been The Bronx, Montmartre, or Bedinal Green? Why should I leave this green-floored cell, Roofed with blue air, in which we dwell, Unless, outside its guarded gates, Long, long desired, the Unearthly waits Strangeness that moves us more than fear, Beauty that stabs with tingling spear, Or Wonder, laying on one's heart That finger-tip at which we start As if some thought too swift and shy For reason's grasp had just gone by?

Monday, December 3, 2012

tuesday advent devotional dec 4

December 4: Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. Over the years I have watched a number of Presidents become very conscious of their legacy at the end of their term. When I was in college I was always aware of people who gave money to the school and had their name given to a building as a memorial. A few years ago, when they tore down the old RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., I was reminded of folly of holding on. I did not think this stadium was that old, but it was. All our buildings will go, our nations, our lives, all we hold dear. Eventually, we may simply be the fossils for some future fuel, like the dinosaurs became. And then there is the action of God, which endures forever. It may be a simple moment of epiphany down at the water while we sit alone. But the moment that is touched by God is forever emblazoned upon eternity.

Monday advent devotional thought dec. 3

December 3: Luke 20:1-2 One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, ‘Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?’ I cannot imagine that I would not question someone’s authority, who does not have what I consider the proper credentials and who speaks out with great authority and whom people listen and follow. The religious leaders did not know Jesus as the one who was raised from the dead, the Lord of Lords, and they were not raised in a Christian Sunday School. What Jesus said challenged their upbringing and beliefs and most of all their power. Does the Jesus I know and worship challenge my power and beliefs or do I expect what I have always thought to always be true? Traditions are important, but the living word and love of God is the ground of my being. Is what I question only questionable because I did not think of it? I believe in a living God, and with that belief I must question where and through whom such a power is challenging me, and the community in which I live?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent devotional thought Dec. 2

December 2: When I hear people prophesy about a date that the world will end I am reminded of the many, many people who have done this over the centuries and how Jesus said that we will not know the day or time of such an event. Likewise when I hear people put down the prophesies and possibility of end times and such catastrophes I am reminded of the scripture, like 1 Peter 3:3 First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ I do not know what is worse, scoffing at scripture or using it to incite fear and bolstering one’s own ego. Everything we have will pass from us, our homes, our lives, even the world as we know it. The Word of God, or the ignited passion of creation, or the light of all being; that which we try to describe, with our very limited words of the limitless and eternal existence that is God, continues.
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