Wind Chimes: 3 Nov 2012

Ruth said [to Naomi], “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

Ruth 1:16-17 NRSV

The next two Sundays offer readings from the Book of Ruth. One commentator sets us on a deeper understanding of one of the treasures found in the Book: “Near the end of the book, the Bethlehemite women will articulate to Naomi what has been evident all along, that Ruth’s love is worth more than seven sons. Grace is walking right beside Naomi, unseen, yet refusing to leave her.” Let’s explore “being present.” ~dan

Persistent, pleasant, reminding us of the graces we receive through no effort of our own, the chimes sound. What do you hear?

Being Present

Being present in the spiritual life always has a double meaning. There’s present, as in here, in attendance. And there’s present, as in now, a moment of time. What is the spiritual practice of being present? Being here now.

The world’s religions all recommend living in the moment with full awareness. Zen Buddhism especially is known for its emphasis on “nowness.” Hindu, Taoist, Jewish, Moslem, Christian, and other teachers urge us to make the most of every day as an opportunity that will not come to us again.

Also under the rubric of being present is the traditional spiritual exercise called practicing the presence of God. This means recognizing that God is here now moving through our everyday activities, no matter how trivial they might seem.

Being Present” a spiritual practice on Spirituality & Practice

Nature: ever present

“The last debate of the presidential season belongs to Mother Nature. Uninvited, unmentioned throughout the political debates on this most important of election seasons, Mother Nature, incarnated by Guabancex, Caribbean deity of weather systems, invites herself.” Read more on Indian Country Today Media Network

This understanding of Nature and the Creator is remarkably like the discovery of Job (see God’s ‘speech’ in Job 38 and Job’s response in Job 42). ~dan

ERD: Healing a hurting worldGive to the Hurricane Sandy Response Fund
administered by Episcopal Relief and Development

One great thing about growing old

One great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything. Everything is of the moment.

Joseph Campbell in A Joseph Campbell Companion edited by Diane Osbon and quoted on Spirituality & Practice (Quotations for the Spiritual Practice of Being Present)

Commentary by Patricia Tull A.B. Rhodes Professor Emerita of Old Testament Louisville Presbyterian Seminary (Jeffersonville, IN) on WorkingPreacher.org

Photo: By Jkadavoor (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons ~dan

Wind Chimes: 20 Oct 2012

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge?
Prepare yourself like a man; I will interrogate you,
and you will respond to me.

Job 38:1-3 CEB

Anticipating Sunday’s appointed reading (Job 38:1-7, 34-41) we’ll give voice to 2 commentators. Consider their words as you approach Sunday and as you go into the week with God’s words settling into your heart. ~dan

The wind in the chimes is strong today. The sounds are with you no matter where you go. What do you hear?

The God who speaks is not a ‘domesticated’ God

Finally, after a wait through eons of suffering, God speaks (38:1). But the God who speaks does not engage Job’s pain or Job’s challenge. God exhibits no empathy toward Job or any need to respond to Job’s frontal challenge against God’s unconvincing ways of working. God refuses to participate in Job’s challenge and effectively changes the subject, displaying complete indifference to Job’s bodily anguish and to Job’s moral perplexity. The God who speaks is a God of wondrous grandeur, magnificent power, sublime beauty, and remoteness from human travail. This is not a God to whom to turn in need, even though Job has indeed turned precisely to this God in need. The God whom Job expected, to whom he prayed and offered challenge, is not the God who addresses him in the whirlwind. This God comes as a completely disorienting surprise to him.

God speaks a lyrical doxology of self-congratulation, celebrating the splendor of creation, the awesomeness of specific creatures, and the wondrous reality that the mysteries of creation are well beyond human comprehension or explanation. That is, God moves quickly past Job’s litigious confrontation as if Job had not spoken, as if Job’s moral quibbles are of no interest at all to the Almighty.

Brueggemann, Walter (2010-11-05). Great Prayers of the Old Testament (p. 124). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

“Where the wild things are.” But why?

At the end of the book, the One who appears to Job is none other than the Creator of the cosmos, the LORD God Almighty! And God doesn’t come to comfort Job. Instead, God lays into Job, lecturing him from the center of a cyclone:

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements– surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? (38:2-7 NRSV)

God does not address Job’s situation or Job’s questions about justice. God does not even acknowledge Job’s suffering. Instead, God takes Job on a whirlwind tour of the cosmos, beginning with the foundation of the earth, and the birth of the Sea. God spends a lot of time “where the wild things are,” describing all kinds of fierce and untamed creatures—lions, mountain goats, deer, wild donkeys and oxen, ostriches, eagles—and two primordial chaos monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan. […]

But what does all this have to do with Job’s situation or with Job’s suffering?

Good question. I encourage you to read the entire commentary (on Job 38:1-7, 34-41) by Professor Kathryn Schifferdecker on WorkingPreacher.org ~dan

One more “Arrow Prayer”

Be still, and know that I am God! –Psalm 46:10 NRSV

“Arrow Prayer” is a term used to describe a prayer which is offered quickly in the moment. Prayers of thanksgiving often come in the form of arrow prayers. Arrow prayers are also helpful in times of distress. “Help me, God!” “Holy one, watch over me.” “Walk with me Jesus, for I am afraid.” These arrow prayers are also prayers of praise and thanksgiving for they recognize God’s on-going presence in daily life.

From a paper written by Jane E. Vennard: Exploring a Life of Prayer

Wind Chimes: 25 Sep 2012

[Jesus said], “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8 NRSV [1]

Introducing Wind Chimes.

A wind chime and sun catcher in North Carolina
Photo by jscalia (click the photo to see more)

When a wind chime catches the wind (even the whisper of a wind) it makes music, it interprets the wind in ways that are always the same and always changing. In regular posts I will share links to news (religion news), reflections and meditations (related to our Sunday readings as often as possible), prayers or prayer starters, resources to help you keep learning and growing (spiritually), and whatever else I come across.

More importantly: I want to incorporate links to items you find interesting as you read, listen, or consider doing the work God has given you to do. You may use the Comments section to leave the link or you may email the link to me for inclusion in Wind Chimes.

Here is the first sampling of the music made by the Spirit. What do you hear?

Room Enough, A Place for Everyone — a sermon based on Mark 9:30-37

“Who is the greatest?” Behind this question is a deeper issue. It is a question of space and place. Is there a place for me in this family? In this church? In this business? Is there a place for my religion, my politics, my race, my lifestyle in this society and culture? Is there a place for my people, tradition, and history in this land? Is their room for me? [Read Room Enough]

3 Quotes. Jesus. Children. Fleas.

Then ]Jesus] took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:30-37 NRSV

The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer [2] 1906-1945

You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation. —Marian Wright Edelman [3] b. 1939

A Commentary on James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a by Professor Sandra Hack Polaski

After several chapters of warnings and vivid illustrations of the consequences of living contrary to the plan of God, James moves in this passage to describe the good life and give some positive guidance for pursuing it. [Read Professor Polaski’s Commentary on WorkingPreacher.org for 9/23/12]

________________________
[1] Here is how the Common English Bible (CEB) translates John 3:8 — [Jesus said], “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The footnote in both the NRSV and the CEB indicates that the Greek word at the beginning of the verse can be translated as either wind or spirit.

[2] Widely quoted on the internet and attributed to Bonhoeffer, but I have been unable to find the original source. If you know the original source of this quote would you let me/us know using the comments section? Thank you.

[3] Widely quoted on the internet and attributed to Marian Wright Edelman, but I have been unable to find the original source. If you know the original source of this quote would you let me/us know using the comments section? Thank you.

Is it possible to forgive like this really? Today? Ever?

Ah, Joseph! His own brothers hated him, (Genesis 37:4), and kidnapped him, (Genesis 37:23). They had even planned to murder him, (Genesis 37: 18ff). They “settled” for selling him into slavery, (Genesis 37:28), a possible if not likely death sentence.  (1)

  • Instead of revenge, Joseph forgave and embraced his brothers. (Genesis 45:1-15)

As Sherry and I prepared for Sunday’s Forum (8/14) she asked a really good questions:

A spectacular example of forgiveness and generosity of spirit:  how can Joseph do that?  Is forgiveness on this scale unreasonable to expect of mere mortals?

The Forum took up the question. Some of our number felt that Joseph may have needed to ask forgiveness of his brothers, suggesting that he may have baited them into their treachery. The discussion was lively and not always what you would expect.

My answer to Sherry’s question about forgiveness: “Yes, mere mortals are capable of such forgiveness.” You and I are, with God’s grace, capable of both ordinary and extraordinary forgiveness. Some examples:

  • We’ll start out close to home: child-parent issues. Bryan McGuire offers what he learned about his dad when he himself became a father; Bryan learned and offered forgiveness: Forgiving my dad (an audio piece from This I Believe)
  • Another audio clip from This I Beiieve: The Long Road to Forgiveness by Kim Phuc who was badly burned by Napalm in 1972 in Viet Nam. She shares her story of being able to forgive. [Transcript of this piece with the photo of Kim Phuc in 1972 after her village was attacked]
  • From 9/11 – Two 9/11 mothers who found forgiveness and friendship – this video speaks to us of the forgiveness found by two women — whose family members were on opposites sides of the 9/11 tragedy — one of whose sons contributed to the death of the other’s son. Click on the image below to see this powerful video.
  • Beyond the 11th – a website detailing the effort of 2 American widows—both pregnant when their husbands were killed in the 9/11 attacks—to help widows in Afghanistan. A documentary, Beyond Belief, is available on Netflix.

The effort to forgive requires effort (and grace, I believe). We all have stories to tell. We can help each other by telling the stories. What stories inspire you? Leave a comment, start a conversation.

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(1) WorkingPreacher.org for August 14, 2011. Commentary on Genesis (Alt. 1st Reading) by Wil Gafney

Isaac and Rebekah: Just a love story?

Genesis 24 fits into the book of Genesis as a whole considering central questions such as whether God’s promise of progeny, land and protection will be realized. In the matriarchal and patriarchal narratives that make up the narrative cycles in the book of Genesis, it is evident that throughout each generation, God’s faithfulness has to be discovered anew. In Genesis 24, it is Isaac who discovers that God was not only faithful to Abraham, but that God’s faithfulness extends to a new generation as well.

The topic of Genesis 24 is the question many young men and women ask when they come of age, and that is where do I get a wife or husband? In the case of Genesis 24 this question is all the more pressing as Isaac needs a wife so that God’s promise of progeny may be fulfilled. In Genesis 25:20 it is said that Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah, in any age, and particularly in that time, quite a late stage to be a bachelor.

This drawn-out account of finding Isaac a wife in the end turns into a love story, when the narrative has a happy ending.  In verse 67 it is said that Isaac married Rebekah, taking her to his mother’s old tent, and thereby instating her as the new matriarch of the clan. Moreover, the events of Sarah’s death and Isaac’s marriage are nicely joined together when his marriage to Rebekah is said to comfort Isaac after the death of his mother. And most significantly, Isaac is said to love Rebekah — one of the few instances in the Hebrew Bible in which love language is used to describe the relationship between a man and a woman.

So on one level, the account of Isaac finding a wife has a quite secular topic and outcome, suggesting something of the ordinary cycles of life and death that form the backdrop of many of the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs. However, this ordinary story of finding a wife for a sworn bachelor, which takes human experience seriously, is given a religious flavour as the theme of God’s blessing and guidance is introduced as a central part of the narrative.

Julianna Claassens, Associate Professor of Old Testament
University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa
http://tinyurl.com/3n38h29 (click “Alt. 1st Reading” tab)

I believe you will enjoy reading Professor Claassens essay on our Sunday reading from Genesis. Among the questions that come to mind for our consideration:

  • What do you believe about God becoming involved in such human endeavors as “the challenges of finding a suitable life partner or the joy of finding one’s soul mate?”

Clearly we live in a very different time, place, and culture than Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah; in this ancient story, what do you learn:

  • • About being human? About God?
  • • About prayer? About what to expect when you pray?

How is this your story (not just the story of Isaac and Rebekah, long ago and far away)?

Please continue the conversation begun on Sunday morning by leaving a comment.

I am surrounded

I am surrounded was the suggested title of a homily for Trinity Sunday. In our Sunday worship we seldom hear a homily or sermon opening the text of the Psalm. Once again, the folks at WorkingPreacher.org are present to help, exploring this text for preacher and hearer alike.

Another sermon derives simply from the poetic structure of the psalm. A modern, Western reading of the psalm tends to focus on the question “What are humans that you are mindful of them?” as an outburst of existential anxiety from an “I” alone in the midst of overwhelming vastness. There might be something in that, but the structure of the psalm puts the singer in a different place. Psalm 8 (NRSV) has a rather clear concentric structure:

A   O Lord, our Sovereign… (verse 1a)

B   You have set your glory… (verses 1b-2)

C   When I look… (verses 3-4)

B’  Yet, you have made… (verses 5-8)

A’  O Lord, our Sovereign (verse 9)

The A/B/C/B’/A’ structure is, in part at least, grammatical or rhetorical, comprised of sections introduced by Lord/you/I/you/Lord.

The psalm begins and ends with the outburst of congregational praise of God’s majestic name (A/A’). Within those verses comes the praise of God’s particular works (overturning foes in B; blessing humans in B’), and, at the center, the wondering awe of the poet (C). Now, instead of an isolated “me,” viewing a distant universe in existential anxiety, “I” (C) stand surrounded by the gracious and protecting works of God (B/B’) and the congregation gathered to sing God’s praise (A/A’).

Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Read the entire post: WorkingPreacher.org. (select Psalm tab)

In future posts “NJPS” will be used to refer to the Jewish Publication Society 1999 Tanakh Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both the translation and the study notes for Psalm 8 can be found here: Psalm 8 NJPS. Professor Gaiser refers to NJPS in his essay. As you will encounter again, the NJPS verse designations vary slightly from the NRSV verse designations.

Faithful Doubt: Easter 2A

While WorkingPreacher.org presents material addressed to preachers the rest of us can benefit from these reflections, too. After all, in an exhortation attributed to St. Francis, we are encouraged to “Preach the Gospel with your whole life, use words if necessary.” As you consider faith and doubt (or skepticism) in the story of Thomas expand your thinking and read the post Faithful Doubt on WorkingPreacher.org. Here is a sample from the article and the link:

So I wonder, Working Preacher, how many of our hearers imagine this to be true: that doubt is not the opposite of faith but an essential ingredient? That hardboiled realism is an asset to vibrant faith? That they can bring their questions and skepticism, as well as their insights and trust, to their Christian lives? That they are among those blessed by Jesus for believing without seeing? And what difference would it make if they knew this? If they saw themselves, that is, like Thomas, as model disciples prepared and blessed for faithful mission in the world? Read the post: WorkingPreacher.org.

Hear what the Spirit is saying is a Sunday Morning Forum at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, CA. All are welcome to attend. The forum begins at 9:00 am in the Meyers Classroom on the lower level of the church. The only prerequisite for participation is a heart open to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.