If these were silent... the stones would shout out

 

On Sunday evening we attended a solstice cemetery tour. 

In a churchyard inhabited by ancestors and strangers we strolled and we paused.  The air was humid, but the breeze was steady.  An almost solstice evening found us hushed and reflective.  Of course, silence carries ground up in a cemetery, perhaps more so in a country graveyard.  And we, who were there, had come to walk in the evening light and think on eternity.

 

Maybe we thought we could focus on the passing of those underground and unknown to us.  We would contemplate the history they represented rather than touch in to our shared mortality.  Even as we tried to ignore the obvious, we were reminded to remember our human condition.

 

 "Behold & see now here I lye

 As you are now,

so once was I

As I am now,

 so must you be

Therefore prepare to follow me."

 

The stones were crumbling that carried this message.  Next to them, someone had cut the words into a new stone so that visitors could read the sentiment thereon.  Yet it was the starkly beautiful decaying stones painted with moss and time that ‘cried out.’  The shouts of stone are mostly inaudible to the ear, however unmistakable to the spirit. 

 

The message of stone is a word of witness.  To all that has been or moved through the land near by, they are testimony.   Jesus told the Pharisees that stones would shout if worshippers fell silent, and I receive this as a word for us right now.  Throughout the Christian world, monuments are witnessing to the faith.  Stone upon stone in cathedral and churchyard are shouting a message of anguish. 

 

Many of us have become silent about the power of God.  We move through the world afraid or discouraged.  Maybe we wonder if God is really as powerful as we once thought.  These feelings in us can become flint that will ignite our prayer and perhaps guide our own witness.

 

I am convinced that the world needs testimony.  A word of hope, a word of encouragement, a word of God delivered in person or by hand or by email.  Let us care enough about the ones God loves to risk our true testimony of faith.

the river of God is full of water...

 


 

When I find myself in a new environment, I like to explore-to wander and to wonder about the slant of light, the direction of a breeze, the flora and fauna, and most especially the rivers and waters that surround me. 

   I have always lived near a river, from the Copper River and Chena Rivers in Alaska to the Gunpowder in Baltimore County and now the Chester River here in Chestertown.  I have been drawn to stand on their banks and walk alongside them.  I have listened to rushing waters and noticed the relative silence of a still pond.  And all the while I have noticed reflections of light within, upon and coming from moving water.

     Each day’s walk brings me near the river.  Even when I don’t see it, I can feel the breeze it stirs up and smell the slight watery tang in the air.  This river is soft, languid and reflective-at least from the shore!  And it is full of water.  The river stretches from shore to shore to reach landward without a break.  

     Now when I read Psalm 65, I picture the Chester River filled almost to overflowing.  Indeed this lovely waterway is full of water.  It almost goes without saying doesn’t it?  What else would a river be full of? 

      Let’s remember for a moment where the Psalms were written and what a river full of water would mean for the first hearers of this Psalm.  In a desert land, water is the difference between life and death.  Even though many of us live in a ‘green and pleasant land’, we have our share of desert as well. 

     Today there was a shooting in Alexandria, and there were fires in London, and every day there is another incident that stuns us until we find we aren’t stunned anymore by even the most violent incidents.  Today we need the River of God, full of water, full of life, full of God.  We need that stream flowing right through and into our cities, and towns, and, perhaps, most especially our hearts.  For us, this River of God will be life, rather than death.

     Psalm 65 is a Psalm of thanksgiving for all that God has done for God’s people.  We shall not be grateful for gunmen and violence, but we can be grateful for extraordinary human response to suffering.   We can live as though that river of God was even now coursing through our veins, because it is.  We can reorient ourselves to God’s viewpoint.  We can pray, and we can work, and we can hold the ones right before us who need that river and all that it gives.

Our Daily Bread

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir
 

I have been blessed to spend some time this month with the Lord’s Prayer, praying it line by line.  Today I am swept into the infinite possibilities of ‘daily bread.’  This might seem like a contradiction.  How can the daily become infinite?  How can the finite express a truth that goes well beyond its material self?

 

Consider the flour that is used for bread making.  It has come from a seed, planted in the earth, watered by the rain, warmed and fed by the sun and harvested by human hands.  Kernels are threshed from the wheat plant and ground by a rocky millstone.  When I hold a piece of bread I am touching into earth, water, air and fire-the elements of life.

 

This is the way the Spirit works.  Understanding my daily physical needs, God feeds me also with the eternal and transcendent.  Our Eucharistic celebration is an enactment of this truth.  The bread, made of simple earthly elements, becomes the Real Presence of Christ.  As grain was transformed into bread, we are transformed into Christ-bearers when we participate in the Eucharistic feast.

 

The daily-ness of this petition, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, reminds us of the way that God interacts with us.  The present moment, right now, is enough for us because it is enough for God.  As God gave manna in the wilderness-daily-so God gives nourishment and strength for our daily moments as well.

 

The wilderness is a place to practice the reality of living in the present moment.  It is a space to wonder about why we are not satisfied with the gifts given in the present moment.  For today is where we live.  This day is the day we are breathing and sensing and communing with God.  Today I feel the sun on my skin, smell the earth as breezes move through my study, and I am at peace.

 

Why Wilderness

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“The call of the wilderness is a call to see beyond the obvious, to reach out for the invisible, and to put our trust in God.  It is not a hiding place, but a place where all is revealed.”

-Douglas Adams

Wilderness spirituality is not primarily a geography, but a metaphor.  While our geographic location can support a movement into solitude, it is not essential.  We have all experienced wildernesses within cities, groups, and personal crises.  These are all opportunities for deeper encounter with God, whether we seek them or they are imposed upon us.

We receive the wilderness tradition from the scriptures.  And we can see that salvation history begins in a garden and ends in the city of God with lots of detours into the wilderness in between.  It is in the wilderness that Moses encounters God.  Jesus was tested in the wilderness.  An entire nation was led through the wilderness to find its new identity.

Retreating into a wilder landscape may remind us of our humanity as children of the earth.  Pausing at the edges of untamed land gives a new awareness of just how wild our hearts long to be.

My early experiences of God were in the wilderness at the edge of the mountains.  Fast moving rivers broke through tundra, lifted their voices at Spring break up, and entered reverential silence during winter.  I learned earth’s rhythms of worship and still hear the echoes of river song in the liturgy of the church.

Why wilderness?  The wild places teach us some things we need to know about ourselves as Beloved of God.  We will remember who we are and Whose we are as we engage with wilderness scripture, and touch into the sacred ground upon which we live our lives.

Prayer

Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as incense, and the lifting up of my hands an evening sacrifice -Psalm 141

The image of incense smoke rising upward in a building or a night sky has informed much of my own quiet prayer. When fragrance and smoke rise through candles both the scent and the sight are illuminated. It is as if prayer can be seen as delicate and fragile wisps of hope and desire.
The fragrance of prayer is both earthy and ethereal. It is the fragrance of holiness.

My life’s work has been all about prayer. I have practiced prayer, taught prayer, prayed with others and been surprised by the very breath of prayer that supports my life and the life of the earth. I have also had moments of abandoning prayer or praying when nothing seems to happen and no connections have been made.

I have learned some things about the prayer life and expect to continue learning because prayer is not static nor does the life of the Spirit stand still.
For today, at least, I share three things that have been helpful to my deepening in prayer.

1) Pray every day

2) Pray everywhere

3) Pray for everyone

Pray Every Day

It has been said that showing up is 90% of any important work. This is true of prayer as well. When I am intentional about my daily prayer I am tuning my body, mind and spirit to a posture and a life of prayer. A deep relationship with God, or any being, requires some attention. In daily prayer we are learning about God and we are learning about ourselves. We are practicing love.

Pray Everywhere

Of course there are some places that seem to lend themselves more easily to a prayerful experience and we will want to seek those out. Our daily prayer will become our sanctuary from which all other prayer may rise.
Practicing prayer everywhere reminds us that God’s creation and God’s people are sacred. There is no place that isn’t enriched by our prayers rising up from the heart and into the atmosphere of the place we find ourselves. I have prayed in hospitals, malls, at grocery stores, and during family disputes-to name a few. Every time I have prayed in an unusual place, I have been changed into a more compassionate person.
This is the value of prayer!

Pray for Everyone

Our model for including everyone in our prayers is Jesus’ own prayer life. A template we might use is found in the Book of Common Prayer.
Known as the prayers of the people, this prayer is right in the heart of our liturgical action on Sunday morning. We pray for the people throughout the world including our enemies and those we do not know. Our consistent, loving prayer reminds us that we are all fighting a tremendous battle of some kind. We have the opportunity to love, really love, others. The kind of love that Christ showers upon us has an easier time moving through us when we cultivate the heart of prayer.

To pray, then, means to become transparent to the beauty and holiness of God.

By the rivers of Babylon—

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

On the willows* there

we hung up our harps.

How could we sing the Lord’s song

in a foreign land?

Psalm 137

 If we have known the grief of displacement, or loss, or weeping

without sound; then we will know the tune of this Psalm. A beautiful spot, willows reaching down into the river, but we are not at home and we may never go home again. This is more than a song of homesickness; this is a song of captivity and despair.

 This Psalm became my own story for a while when we moved to our first

church. The land all around me was beautiful, but my sense of community had been lost. I remembered fondly the closeness of seminary friends and daily worship. I could sing the Lord’s song all day there, but now I was far away from those melodies and I could not utter them with my solitary voice.

 As I prayed this Psalm I recognized within myself despondency so

complete that even my own voice, like the strings of the harp, was hung in the trees. There are other Psalms that speak of hopelessness but this short Psalm describes the impossibility of joy. And there are certainly times when true joy seems a distant memory.

 And yet, God’s gift of joy is not about being happy or feeling good.

God’s joy is about connection and communion. What the homesick have not yet learned is that connection with God and communion with the mystical body of Christ is at all times and everywhere present. And while I can acknowledge this truth and even believe it with my mind, my heart remains broken.

 Homeland is an important anchor for human beings.The tilt and color

of the land, the familiar smells, and the sky grown blue or grey speak to our rootedness upon the earth. It matters little if our home place corresponds with accepted images of beauty or not. Recognition and remembrance speak to us of belonging.

As I envision the world of the Psalm by the river I began to get a sense of a cool, caressing breeze because everywhere are harbingers of God’s good creation, even in a foreign land. Then, very softly, I began to hear strings plucked by the wind and making a brand new music. Swaying harps and branches singing-praying-weeping. If God can make disciples from rocks then surely God can make music from discarded and abandoned harps. For God is true home, true rootedness, and we have been given voices a little lower than angels in order to sing on the river.