First Light


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

asunriseWaking up very early (5:20am) has its benefits as I am experiencing today. I need to be in my car by 7:30, in order to be able to breathe when I arrive at the retreat venue where I will share the day with probably about 50 people. During the event we will share reflections on three questions from the gospel of Mark:

  1. Jesus, what do you want from us?
  2. Who do you say that I am?
  3. What is it you want me to do for you?

There is always a bit of trepidation on days like this, hoping that I have written – and/or will say – something relevant to the lives of those who participate in the retreat. The overarching feeling this morning, however, is gratitude and wonderment that I have been given this privilege. As I read a psalm prayer from Macrina Wiederkehr’s book, Seven Sacred Pauses, I am reminded that God is in charge of this day:

With joyful silence I receive the soft light of a new day, light born from earth’s turning. O Medicine of Dawn, healing are your morning rays. I lift my face toward the ointment of your splendor as I become a morning prayer. As Morning Blossoms, I go forth to meet the great shining, the dear unfolding of the day. With the fading night I begin a sacred dance in the arms of your shining.







It’s Just That Simple


, , , , , , ,

anaamanThere’s a great lesson in today’s first reading (2 KGS 5:1-15) about Naaman, the Syrian army commander who was “highly esteemed and respected” by his master, the king of Aram. At issue was the fact that Naaman was a leper and that his wife’s Israeli slave girl suggested that he could be cured by Elisha, the prophet in Samaria. The king of Aram was all for the idea and sent Naaman with all sorts of expensive gifts to the king of Israel with a letter containing the request that Naaman be cured.

Two assumptions were made in the story that could have derailed the process.

  1. The king of Israel assumed that the king of Aram was asking him (not the prophet Elisha) for the actual cure and that his motive was to instigate a “quarrel” (ostensibly a political challenge) so he became enraged.
  2. When told what he had to do to be cured (to wash seven times in the Jordan River), Naaman became enraged because he assumed that the task was too simple and that the water in his own country should have been just as healing as that in Israel.

Thank goodness for the servants and the prophet who talked sense to the angry ones and facilitated the cure, the lesson being a familiar one: “Never assume…or jump to conclusions because the solution might be simpler than you could ever imagine.






The Seventh Day


, , , , , , , ,

abenchNo matter what’s happening, when I wake up on Sunday morning I always feel different from other days. The Scriptures for today remind me of the reason that is true for me. The first reading (for Year B) recounts the Ten Commandments, the fourth being described as follows: Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God…no work may be done.

Sometimes these days it’s impossible for everyone in these United States to observe Sabbath in their traditional way. Just the fact that work schedules span the 7-day, 24-hour work week for certain employees makes that easy to see. Whether we have to carve out our own Sabbath time because of our life circumstances or are able to join with traditional services where we live, the observance of Sabbath is clearly an essential element of our well-being. A reminder in Psalm 95 today says it well.

So come, then, let us bow before this God of ours, and offer up our beings to the Lord. Listen deep within yourself to hear the voice of God who shepherds you and leads you forth to life. (vs. 6-7, Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.241)






The Words We Use


, , , , , , , , , , ,

amom.jpgI always marvel at the way good writers can convince readers of their stated purpose or evoke emotional response just by a turn of phrase. I am also well aware of the fact that each of us is affected differently by language, given our personality, culture and life experience. That’s why I sometimes use alternate translations from the Scriptures. Today is a good example for me because I find myself responding with joy to verses in Psalm 103 from both the lectionary translation and from Ancient Songs Sung Anew: the Psalms As Poetry. A sampling of lines from each may lean you toward a favorite or may allow each to touch you in a way that expands your appreciation – or you may find a translation that suits you better than both. Take a look and see what you think.

NAB (New American Bible): Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He pardons all your iniquities; he heals all your ills…For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness to those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.

ASSA: (Ancient Songs Sung Anew): God, I bless you with my whole heart and soul. In honor I invoke your name. Each day I bless you, God of all; never will I forget the good that you have meant to me…I wear your love and mercy like a crown…For as the heavens reach infinitely beyond all space and time, we swim in mercy as in an endless sea… For like a parent who tenderly loves a child, so deep in love are you with those who honor you.







Weather Report


, , , , , ,

asnowfallOnce again the meteorologists seem to have been correct in their predictions. No wonder all the announcements of school closings were made last evening instead of waiting to see what would really happen. It had just started raining when those decisions were made around the supper hour and was still raining when I went to bed sometime later. Now, with the dawn, we have that combination of heavy snow covering what can only be a frozen base on our roads and the eerie quiet that means no traffic thus far this morning. I pray for all the “necessary staff” folks who are on their way to work because the snow is still coming at what appears to be a faster rate than any plow can match.

Even as I send out prayers for safety and give thanks for the gifts of home and heat, I am once again awed by the natural world that is playing out what may be (we hope) the last gasp of serious winter weather for this season. As I watched the snow intensify over the past hour and the wild swaying of the trees that seems like keening for some reason today, I heard the voice of Isaiah in my head offering a goad to perseverance.

“Even as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,” says the Lord, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (And here is that purpose – the part of the message for this morning that I did not hear but was happy to read as I searched the Scriptures for Isaiah’s prophecy.) “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (IS 55:10-12)

And so we wait…







Coin Toss


, , , , ,

asnowaccidentWe’re bracing for a storm here in the Northeast. It’s no surprise. In addition to the reports coming in from all across the country to our west, the traditionalists just say, “We always have one doozy of a storm in March – usually in the middle – before the surrender to spring.” I learned early in my life that “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” It’s predicted that we will have 8 to 15 inches of snow, more than my town has had this whole winter season!

For me, as for school-age children, this prediction is like the promise of vacation even if just for a day. For some people who are “first responders” or health care workers or others whose work makes it necessary for them to be at their jobs, tomorrow might be dangerous and for homeless people, even more so. This thought reminds me that there are usually two sides to everything: coins, arguments, even world views – although that last is always much more complicated than the flip of a coin.

Today I will make it my practice to look for the other side of every argument, just to broaden my perspective on things. It will be difficult as I approach the big issues: immigration and gun control, for example. For those I will try at least to recognize the reasons others hold opposing views from mine. If all else fails, I will pray to understand the people holding those views. On second thought, maybe that’s the place to start in efforts at understanding rather than a place to end up. Wish me luck – or join me, if you dare!






Coming Together


, , , , , , , , , ,

akindnessYesterday I had two meetings back-to-back. The first was a small gathering, only four of seven who try to gather monthly for a “shot in the arm” of wisdom practices that keep us conscious in a way that nothing else seems able to do. We always miss but are very aware of our connection with our “absent brethren.” I went from there to a virtual committee meeting; just our voices were together through the miracle of a phone conference. Again we were four, together in the ethers in an effort to create a process that we hope will enable deeper sharing among members of a much larger group. I could see the faces in my mind as each of us spoke and allowed ideas to germinate in the sharing.

This morning I think how blessed I am to count these experiences as part of my life’s “work.” Extraneous, perhaps, or at least tangential to what I am being paid for, these occurrences of connection create the foundation of everything else that I am able and privileged to do. It’s all about love, you see, which is clearly illustrated for me today in a quote from Oscar Wilde that seems worthy of sharing.

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring.






God Says, “LISTEN TO ME!”


, , , , , , , , ,

agirlwithgiftsI’m always interested when the Psalm response in the lectionary consists of some verses from a long psalm that fit a specific purpose directly without any extraneous “sidebars” of intervening verses. Today my antenna was up because the stated title of Psalm 50 in the book Ancient Songs Sung Anew was “God Calls the World to Listen.” Since I had spent yesterday presenting to two different groups on the topic of “The Art of Sacred Listening” I was, you might say, “all ears” for the message. I wasn’t disappointed. Here are the salient points.

Hear me, my people, I am your God…I do not fault you for your offerings; your holocausts are clear. But I ask for no more heifers to be brought from flocks and farms. I need no more goats offered up from all your herds. Do you not realize I have all these and more? I’ve made my case; here’s what I want, a sacrifice of thankfulness in all that honors me. (vs. 8-10a, 23)

I have this vision of someone sitting on an over-stuffed recliner chair (a Lazy Boy?) surrounded by all kinds of material gifts – but all alone with the stuff – looking very sad. Perhaps we might interpret God as saying to us in our own time and place something like this: “I know you’re doing your duty – coming to church with items for the food pantry and your weekly envelope – but it seems lately that it is just that – a duty! I don’t need your duty! I want your heart!”

I’m not suggesting that we stop supporting the place where we worship, nor do I think God would want that. I do think, however, that this might be a good time to go to a deeper place to see if we are being transformed by our participation in the worship services, awakened to love of those who worship with us. If so, it seems that our only response would be one of consistent gratitude and heartfelt joy. And God would be happy too.






Last Judgment


, , , , ,

ajudgingIn case anyone was in doubt about the meaning of the directive at the beginning of today’s gospel passage where Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful,” the rest of the short text (LK 6:36-38) sounds like a “call and response” chant that a teacher might use in school to define what s/he means. Teacher: “When I say ‘Stop judging,’ you say…” Students: “And you will not be judged.” Following are prompts to stop condemning, forgive, and give, with the overarching conclusion that “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Even though that clearly sounds like “tit-for-tat” or giving to get, I never think of it that way, most likely because I continually see Jesus moving us toward more generosity. It is, however, quite clear – in a staccato sort of way – that we need to wake up to an inventory of our behaviors to see how we’re treating one another. I’m pretty good, I think, in the giving and forgiving arenas and I try never to condemn anyone because I rarely know the depth of anyone else’s heart. Judging, though, is just so easy to do! It seems to arise almost automatically sometimes. I think I’ll be working on that one until I take my last breath, but if I breathe out the last of my judgments at that moment, I guess I will have made the grade in God’s embrace.






Sacred Scripture


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

atransfigurationSometimes the strangest thoughts bubble up when I’m reading the Scriptures for the day. This year we’re reading Mark and today’s section is the familiar story of the Transfiguration (9:2-10). None of the gospels provides all the details for any story but Mark is especially brief – the first written and shortest gospel. In some cases it’s like reading shorthand. Over the years I’ve become brave enough to try filling in some of the blanks in the stories. I doubt it can hurt; it’s not dogmatic teaching but just  conjecture for my own deeper understanding. I think of it as a kind of similar activity to that of movie makers who try to give us pictures to accompany the most visual texts – not always successfully, I might add.

Just now as I was reading about the transformation of Jesus into a being of light in the presence of his associates, Peter, James and John, it was the appearance of Elijah and Moses conversing with Jesus that led to my musing. In seeing that vision, Peter blurts out to Jesus the famous lines, ” Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!” My immediate – unbidden – reaction was: How did he know who they were? It’s doubtful there were photos in their homes…Then I laughed at myself and went back to imaging the event.

A couple of reflections remain from that experience.

  1. Regardless of the vast resources of biblical scholarship available to us today, there are still things we may never be sure of but these are generally questions like mine today – details rather than central points of the stories.
  2. The importance of what we read is the truth rather than the facts that we find there. Sometimes the two coincide but not always. We need to be aware of literary forms and the purposes of their use. (Consider the stories of Adam and Eve or Jonah, for example.)
  3. Reading the Bible is an exercise of trust in divine inspiration, not only as it was present to those who first told of God’s actions but also those who heard, those who sat in community and “edited” by common consent and then those who left us the texts that have been passed down.
  4. We ourselves have the responsibility of faith that God is still speaking and that we have a part to play in our own communities by delving deeper into the words we read, the images that arise in us during the sacred times of listening together and the inspiration of the Spirit among us that can lead us to deeper truth, deeper action and deeper love in community.