Heading Home – What Does It Mean?

Mt Rainier from the air

Mt Rainier from the air

Tom and I only have a couple more days in Sydney before we head back to Seattle. I am so looking forward to heading home. I know I am home when Mt Rainier appears in the plane window. Seeing our dog, the garden, our new community members. Hearing about all that has happened while we were gone and getting ready for a very full summer. These too make me feel I have come home.

Heading home I think and my heart swells, but there is an ache too because Sydney is also home. I will miss my family, the birdsong, the smell of eucalyptus in the air. I will miss the memories of what I grew up with, the familiarity of a culture that is still ingrained in my being.

In our highly mobile global world my situation is not unusual. Many of us have several places we call home. Some collect passports like souvenirs. But a sense of home, of belonging, of knowing who we are is important. And if that belonging is not connected to a physical location, then the spiritual roots, the longings that keep us headed towards God’s home, the eternal shalom world, become even more important. Knowing who we are in God and the destination towards which God calls us is an essential foundation for our faith. 

Richard Foster calls prayer finding the heart’s true home and as I sit here getting ready to head back to Seattle I find myself looking toward that home rather than a physical destination. In the next couple of weeks Tom and I will go away for one of our quarterly spiritual retreats. This is part of the rhythm of our life that keeps us rooted in the purposes of God. It is a particularly important practice after a busy trip like this one has been because it helps us to view all that happens through the lens of our faith rather than through the lens of our busy activity. 

What are the spiritual practices that make you feel at home with God? What is the “home” the destination toward which you are moving?

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Journey to the Common Good by Walter Brueggemann

Journey to the Common Good

I have long been a fan of Walter Brueggemann and Journey to the Common Good has not disappointed me. This book constitutes his Laing Lectures at Regent College from a couple of years ago.

Brueggemann talks about the Exodus story as a journey from a culture of anxiety to a practice of neighbourliness drawing parallels with our own cultures and the challenges we face.

The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny – haves and have nots, the rich and the poor. We face a croisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Mature people, at their best, are people who are committed to the common good that reaches beyond private interest, transcends sectarian commitments and offers human solidarity. (p1)

Brueggemann presents a very different view of the Joseph story than the one we usually hold to. He points out that Joseph solidified Pharaoh’s power and enslaved the people, manipulating the economy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. The situation deteriorates and God intervenes.

The practice of  exploitation, fear and suffering produces a decisive moment in human history. This dramatic turn away from aggressive centralized power and a food monopoly features a fresh divine resolve for an alternative possibility.

This divine alternative comes into being through Moses’ dream of a people no longer exploited or suffering but living in the abundance of shared generosity which is the centre of YHWH’s dream. Brueggeman very helpfully contrasts this to Pharaoh’s dream, a nightmarish dream of scarcity which precipitated the crisis encouraging Abraham and others like him to seek the security of food in Egypt even if it meant slavery.

The bread of the wilderness, the bread that God gives us to eat, is a very different sort of bread. It is the bread of YHWH’s generosity,

a gift of abundance that breaks the deathly pattern of anxiety, fear, greed and anger, a miracle that always surprises because it is beyond our capacity of expectation.

Brueggemann points out that is this bread that fills the Israelites as they stand at Mt Sinai to receive God’s commands, commands that voice God’s dream of a neighbourhood and God’s intention for a society grounded in the common good.

The exploitative system of Pharaoh believed that it always needed more and was always entitled to more – more bricks, more control, more territory, more oil – until it had everything. But of course one cannot order a neighbourhood that way, because such practices and such assumptions generate only fear and competition that make the common good impossible Such greed is prohibited by YHWh’s kingdom of generosity. (25)

This is a challenging and thought provoking book that reminded me of how easily I seek my own good over the common good and how frequently I need to be challenged afresh with the values and principles of God’s new society. Our God is a generous God – not to me as an individual for the accumulation of personal wealth, but to us as a society of God’s people. This type of generosity must be shared, it must seek the common good and it must work for the welfare of all.

Journey to the Common Good, is a must read for all of us who seek to ground our lives in the shared values of God’s abundance and generosity rather than in the acquisitive values of our culture.

Why Being Spiritual may be More Important Than Being Religious by Rob Rynders

Grace cathedral San Francisco

Yesterday my friend Steve night posted a link to this video. It seemed so appropriate in our discussion of creating sacred space that I thought many of you would appreciate it too. Sacred space as someone comment yesterday is where the soul goes and that is very much reflected in this video. We need to get our souls (and our bodies) outside churches and into the streets to discover the sacredness already present in our neighbours and our neighbourhoods. We need to rediscover the sacredness of those third places where people gather.

Ascension Day is Coming – Celebrate the New Creation.

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia

This ivory depiction of the Ascension was produced in Rome or Milan around 4th Century. vi Wikimedia Commons

Ascension Day is coming May 9th. In my last year’s post: Ascension Day is Coming – Do You Know What it Means?, I listed a number of resources for Ascension Day. This is not a celebration I grew up with and until recently I did not know that this is not just a celebration of the ascension of Christ, it is also a celebration of the new creation that God brought into being through the ascension of Jesus.  So this year I thought I would focus on Jesus as gardener of the new creation in my reflection.

This imagery is very special to me. As a keen gardener  I am intrigued by the concept of Jesus as the gardener of the new creation a concept which grows more powerful for me each year as I continue to garden and reflect on the God who is revealed as I do so. I wrote about this on Good Friday this year but as we approach Ascension Day thought that it was good to reflect on this imagery again,

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

From The Drogo Sacramentary a Carolingian illuminated manuscript on vellum of c.850, vis wikimedia Commons

Some theologians think that the whole theme of the Gospel of John is that of new creation. Most of the book of  John (chapters 12-20) takes place during one week in the life of Christ. John concentrates on themes. One theme is that Christ will redeem all of Creation (not just souls) through Re-Creation. In many ways Jesus death was like the planting of a seed (Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone, but its death will produce many new seeds, a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24).  And then in John 20:15 we read: “she thought he was the gardener”  Why did it matter that Mary Magdalene thought that Jesus was the gardener?

The gospel of John begins with the words “In the beginning”. This immediately harkens us to the book of Genesis which opens with the same words. John then lays out a series of events in the life of Christ that mirror the Seven Days of Creation.  Read more

In the beginning God planted a garden – the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:8).  In the beginning of the new creation brought into being by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, God now in the form of the risen Christ, is once more seen as a gardener.  The hope and promise of these words which we so often skim over is incredible.  As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

The new has come – On Good Friday Christ was planted in a garden – his mortal remains were placed in a garden tomb just as we plant seeds in the ground. On Ascension day we celebrate the hope that planting foreshadowed. All around me seeds have sprung into life. New creation has indeed begun and we in its birth the promise of many lives renewed, restored and bearing fruit.

A couple of years ago Good Friday and Earth Day coincided and I wrote the following liturgy which seems to me to be very appropriate as we celebrate this new creation

God all of created life is groaning waiting for the future God has prepared for us,
We hope for the day on which all you have made will be rescued from death and decay,
We wait for the redemption of our bodies and the restoration of our world.

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited – yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!

It is plain to anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension, while we wait for that redemption of our bodies which will mean that at last we have realised our full sonship in him. We were saved by this hope, but in our moments of impatience let us remember that hope always means waiting for something that we haven’t yet got. But if we hope for something we cannot see, then we must settle down to wait for it in patience. (Romans 8:18 – 25 (Phillips Translation)

God in this season of hope and promise bless the earth rich and fertile with life
God in this season of planting and growth, bless the seed we plant and nurture
As it falls into the ground to grow may we remember your body broken for us

Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies it remains alone
But its death will produce many new seeds,
a plentiful harvest of new lives (Jn 12:24 NLT)

God as we sprinkle our gardens with the water that gives life,
May we remember lands that are parched and those that are flooded,
May we remember Christ that your life blood was poured out for us,
You were hung upon a tree and crucified,
So that together with all your creation we might be liberated into freedom.

Open up O heavens and pour out your righteousness
Let the earth open wide
So salvation and righteousness can sprout up together (Is 45:8 NLT)

As we watch for the first sprouts of new creation
We remember your resurrection promise,
A new world is breaking into ours with abundance and wholeness

Look I am making all things new…
On each side of the river grew a tree of life
Bearing twelve crops of fruit with a fresh crop each month
The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations (Rev 21:5; 22:2 NLT)

Jesus our hope lies not in your death but in your resurrection,
Not in your dying but in your rising again,
We wait in hope for your promise to be fulfilled,
Death is conquered, resurrection has begun,
May your healing be revealed in our bodies,
May your healing power be seen throughout the earth,
May we all participate together in the coming of a new heaven and a new earth.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.  “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”  She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”   She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”  “Mary!” Jesus said.  She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).  “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.  (John 20: 11 – 18 NLT)

Hallelujah, Christ is risen
You who are the gardener of the new creation,
Cultivate the new seeds that have sprung into life,
Bring growth, bring blossom, bring fruit,
May your new creation flourish in us, through us around us,
So that all the world may say together,
Christ is risen he is indeed Hallelujah.

Amen

A Garden of Inspiration – A Story of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy via wikimedia

A young boy once lived in a house in a forest. He and his brothers played in the woods, ponds and fields that surrounded their home. One day an older brother told the child about a green stick that was buried near a ravine in the deepest part of the forest. If you find the stick, the brother said,  you will enjoy great happiness, and by the power of love bring happiness to all mankind.  At once the boy began hunting for the fabled stick. His search continued throughout the rest of his life.

The boy in this story is Leo Tolstoy, the home, Yasnaya Polyana and the green stick represented the inspiration he received in nature. In Tolstoy’s literature, landscapes and ornamental gardens signify the emotional state of the characters he created. Yasnaya Polyana was his realm of inspiration. He described it as his cathedral, his sanctuary, his muse. Today its more than 1,000 acres are still cloaked with inspiring forests of oak, ash, maple and birch. It has become a place of pilgrimage for all who love Tolstoy.

Tolstoy’s favourite resting spot – a birch log bench in a small clearing – has its back to a large open field of bright yellow mustard weed and faces directly into a thick grove of fir trees. Here Tolstoy would sit and meditate. From here he watched the subtle changes of nature like the thawing of the earth and the sounds of grass growing, two images that appear in Anna Karenina. 

Tolstoy’s garden of inspiration features a forest landscape, but a garden of inspiration can be composed of any elements that inspire us because of their special meanings. They are private sanctuaries created from a storehouse of happy associations where childhood memories, creative imagination and natural beauty are brought together in a way that can often feel like paradise on earth.

And to finish off a short video on Yasnaya Polyana. It is fairly amateurish but still worth a watch.

Practicing Resurrection – Planting Trees Helps Girl Survival In India

Photo by Matt Freer - used with permission

Photo by Matt Freer – used with permission

Last week I received a link to an article from my friend Steve Goode reminding me:

In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.

Girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members.

This is an issue that I have always been passionate about and I am always frustrated by how complex it is and how difficult to eradicate. The needs so overwhelming and our ability to make a difference seems so limited. I was delighted when I came across this article by Lindsay Tanne:

In Bihar, India—where the bride’s family traditionally pays a dowry—residents are planting the seeds for women’s progress.

Families in Dharhara village have started a new tradition: planting 10 trees whenever a girl is born.

But the gesture is not just symbolic—when it comes to marriage, the benefits are as sweet as the lychees and mangos that will grow.

Subhas Singh, the father of a 19-year-old daughter who is set to marry this month, describes the trees he planted as “our fixed deposits.” He explains that he sold off the fruit three years in advance to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Read the entire article

The planting of trees is not just life giving to those women whose families sell the fruit to provide for their weddings. It is also life giving for the environment.

This story reminds me of one of my heroes of the environmental movement- Wangari Maathai  who started teaching women to plant trees around their villages in Africa. Her actions started a movement that spread around the world. May the planting of these trees too start a movement that spreads and changes lives.

 

Christ’s Resurrection Light

 

I posted this prayer on Facebook this morning. It was so popular that I decided to add a photo and post it again here. enjoy!

Christ's resurrection light.001