A moment beside the Willamette River

The posts in my series Worshipping God in the Real World have been few and far between these last couple of weeks – too many people off enjoying a break with no time to write.  However I did receive this from Lynne Baab which makes a great addition to the previous posts.

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Lynne M. Baab is the author of the recently released Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, as well as numerous other books including Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World. Visit her website  for articles she has written and information about her books. Lynne is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, currently a lecturer in pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

river place marina Portland

I’m sitting in front of a battered orange fire hydrant, incongruously placed in a bank of flowers and grasses. Riverplace Marina, on the Willamette River, lies beyond the flowers. High freeway bridges and the low, hundred year old Hawthorne Bridge span the river, while a traffic helicopter whines overhead.

We’re on vacation in Portland, Oregon, and my husband is browsing an art gallery here at the Marina. Usually when we head out to sightsee I bring along a paperback, so I can read while he takes his time in galleries. But today I forgot the novel.

So I sit here on a curved bench, wondering if this is an invitation to worship God in the real world, to draw near to God in this slice of everyday life. Perhaps I could engage with one of the everyday spiritual disciplines I habitually practice. For example, I could sit here and list the many gifts and blessings God has given me recently: successfully winding up teaching and grading for the semester; the recent release of my latest book, Friending; on-time flights to Oregon; the family members and friends we’ll be seeing on this trip. I could list them and thank God for them.

Here’s a second option. I learned a new version of the Jesus prayer a few weeks ago, and I’ve been experimenting with using it as a breath prayer, coordinating the words with my breath. “Jesus . . . Savior . . . help me know your love . . . and make it known.” As I repeat the words, sometimes I think about all the ways God has shown love to me, and I pray that this love would sink deep inside me, that I would “know” it in every sense of the world. Sometimes I pray about the ways I feel called to make God’s love known. That breath prayer would work well in these quiet moments in the light breeze.

I could also simply focus on the data coming to my brain through my senses and try to be present to everything around me. I could study and relish the white flowers with the yellow centers right beside the fire hydrant, the pale green grasses gently swaying, the silk tree giving me shade and the feathery cedar between me and the Hawthorne Bridge. God made them all. I could listen to the traffic on the freeway bridge, trying to tease out specific trucks and busses that I can see as well as hear. God gave me very acute hearing, sometimes a gift and sometimes a challenge, and I could try to be present to the distinct sounds around me in this restful moment.

I’m sure there are other ways to worship God in this real-world, real-life moment as I sit on a curved bench with a fire hydrant, white flowers, grasses, a marina and a cluster of bridges in view. But I’ve thought of enough options. The challenge for me in this moment is two-fold:

(1) to refrain from pulling out my day planner to see if there’s something “productive” I can do with this time, and

(2) to stop listing and analyzing the options.

Just do one of them, I tell myself.

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Immersed in the Love of God

last supper from jesusmafa.com

This is a very busy season for me and one in which I constantly struggle with how to maintain the balance between all my obligations and the spiritual practices that renew and refresh me.  This morning as I sat looking out at Seattle’s cold drippy day I must confess that I was feeling a little depressed.  I so wish the weather would warm up.  I function best in the 80 – 90 F range and this cold spring (one of the coldest on record) is not appealing to me at all.

However my quiet contemplation of God changed all of that.  Suddenly I felt myself immersed in the presence of God, my spirit lifted and immediately I felt I had the energy to get through the day.

How easily I could have forgone those minutes in God’s presence.  When I am busy it is easy to let go of the very things that give me life.  Praise God, the eternal and loving One who never lets go of me.  My meditation inspired this prayer which has stayed with me throughout the morning.

God may I sit in the place where you draw close,
May I find comfort in the tenderness of your embrace,
And rest content in the wonder of your love,
May I find peace in the certainty of your presence,
And never let go of the eternal and loving One who never lets go of me.

Finding the Center – How Do we Balance Our Lives?

I just received an email from a friend with whom I was supposed to meet this morning.  Unfortunately she is so stressed out trying to maintain the balancing act of work, life and faith that she has had to cancel.  And she is feeling guilty not just because she is too busy but also because she cannot stand the pressure of the balancing act.

The compulsions all of us face to get busier and busier are enormous and our culture constantly impresses on us the fact that we should never slow down or take a break.  Multitasking is the order of the day and hundreds of gadgets appear every year to help us with the ever increasing complexity of the juggling act.

But is this really the way that we are meant to live and conduct our work?  What relationship does this type of life bear to the way of life in the kingdom of God? Perhaps you think that I harp on this too much, but I am concerned that this way of life is not sustainable for any of us, and it is certainly not drawing us closer to God and God’s kingdom ways.

Many of you know that a couple of years ago here at Mustard Seed Associates we started using the Quaker discernment method as a way to conduct our staff meetings.  It is a wonderful process that focuses on listening and learning from each other rather than on the assigning of tasks and the seeking after goals.  It encourages us to develop relationships and form community rather than see life as an assigning of tasks and an accomplishment of goals.  It also affirms the fact that God speaks through all people and that every voice needs to be listened to and taken notice of.

To be honest we drifted away from this approach for a while last year, but with the encouragement of our Quaker pastor friend Stan Thornburg, we have returned to its use this year with amazing results.  If you are unfamiliar with this process you may like to read the 2 posts I wrote when we started using this approach

Quaker Discernment

More About Quaker discernment

The sense of community and mutual respect this process engenders in us is phenomenal.  Part of what I have discovered is that it slows me down and encourages me to listen to those around me – not just in the midst of our meetings but at all times.  And believe it or not I think that as a result I actually accomplish more – more of what matters from a kingdom perspective that is.

Life is about relationships but our culture has converted it into a series of tasks and goals.  To move into a different way of thinking and operating we need new tools and processes that affirm God’s new life that wants to blossom and grow within us.

Let me finish with a centering prayer that I wrote over the weekend and have been using this week to help me focus and discern in the midst of all that is happening in my life and at MSA

May the centre of all things be Christ

May the way of all things be Christ

May the truth of all things be Christ

Behind, before, within, without

May the life of all things be Christ

God Bless this Laptop.

Like many of you I spend much of my time working on my laptop.  So I thought that you would appreciate this article my friend Andy Wade passed onto me today.  It appeared in USA Today for “back to work day” on Monday.  It seemed very much in keeping with my desire to help people integrate their faith into everyday life.

A venerable British church has done what e-mail addicts and workaholics have been doing for years — invoking the Almighty’s blessing on their high-tech gadgets.

The Rev. Canon David Parrott blessed a symbolic heap of laptops and smart phones on the altar of London’s 17th-century St. Lawrence Jewry church Monday. An effort, he said, to remind the capital’s busy office workers that God’s grace can reach them in many ways.  read the entire article

Quietness and Rest – A Great Christmas Gift

Maybe it is just because of the busyness of the last few weeks, or because Tom & I have just booked accommodation for our annual Advent retreat, but I have been thinking a lot lately about the need for rest and quietness in our lives.  I think particularly as we move into what is generally the busiest and noisiest season of the year, it is important to set aside time for solitude and reflection.

This morning I was reflecting on Isaiah 30: 15

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength (TNIV)

or as it says in the New Living Translation

“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.

In the busyness of our lives trust and confidence in God often disappear, partly I suspect because our busyness focuses us away from God and onto the concerns and values of the consumer world around us.  But there is more it it than that.  It is in the place of solitude that we connect most powerfully to God – the place where we can hear the still small voice that Elijah had so much difficulty hearing.  Here is a beautiful quote from Henri Nowen that seems to say it all

When you are able to create a lonely place in the middle of your actions and concerns, your successes and failures slowly lose some of their power over you.  For then your love for this world can merge with a compassionate understanding of its illusions.  They your serious enjoyment can merge with an unmasking smile.  Then your concern for others can be motivated more by their needs than your own.  In short: you can care.

Let us therefore live our lives to the fullest, but let us not forget once in a while to get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place. (Henri Nowen – Out of Solitude)

Now is the time to plan for rest, solitude and quietness during the hectic Advent and Christmas season.  Block out some time on your calendar before it fills up with parties, concerts and shopping binges.  Go on retreat and drink in the quiet confidence of God.  It is probably the best gift you can give yourself and your family this Christmas season

A Manifesto for Slow Communication

This morning at our Tabor College class here in Adelaide we are talking about the pressures that distract our lives.  I began with a devotional juxtaposing the version of Psalm 23 (antithesis) which I know I have quoted before and the real Psalm 23.  We are more and more concerned about how the increasing rate of communication and modern life is shaping us and our faith in ways that we do not even recognize.  Above all our increasing busyness makes it very difficult for us to relax, listen and discern the voice of God.

Interestingly we also came across this article from the Wall Street Journal August 21 Not So fast, which heightens some of these concerns.  The article is adapted from John freeman’s book The Tyranny of E-Mail. It has been a great article for me to reflect on as I have been sharing more about the fact that we are far more effective as God’s people when we take the time to slow down and listen to God.

The speed at which we do something—anything—changes our experience of it. Words and communication are not immune to this fundamental truth. The faster we talk and chat and type over tools such as email and text messages, the more our com munication will resemble traveling at great speed. Bumped and jostled, queasy from the constant ocular and muscular adjust ments our body must make to keep up, we will live in a constant state of digital jet lag.

read the entire article

So read the article, read through Psalm 23 Antithesis then read through the real Psalm 23, rest, relax and spend some time listening to God.  If you don’t have time to listen I can tell you there is something wrong with your life.  Let me know what God is saying to you in the midst of this.

The clock is my dictator I shall not rest

It makes me lie down only when exhausted

It leads me to deep depression, it hounds my soul

It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity’s sake

Even though I run from task to task, I will never get it all done for my ideal is with me

Deadlines & my need for approval, they drive me

They demand performance from me beyond the limits of my schedule

They anoint my head with migraines my in-basket overflows

Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life

And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever

(Marcia Hornok)


Too Busy to Pray

Well the pace of life is ratcheting up as we get ready for our trip to Australia in 12 days as well as my trip to LA tomorrow for the West Coast Healthcare Missions Conference.  So many details and at the moment we do not have an assistant to help us.  And that all reminded me of another prayer I wrote over the summer which as I read through it again this morning reminded me to take a deep breath, slow down and pray.  I really do find that when I do take time to slow down, pray and listen, the burden lighten and the sense of urgency disappears.  Suddenly all those details I was struggling with either seem to disappear or suddenly become manageable.

God you promise us a burden that is light and a load that is easy,

You anoint us to study your word and meditate on your ways,

May we never be too busy to listen,

May we never be too tired to pray.

God you invite us into your community but also to solitude,

You call us to work but also to rest,

May we never be too busy to listen,

May we never be too tired to pray.

May we see this day as an opportunity,

To see you, to know you, to represent you,

May we never be too busy to listen,

May we never be too tired to pray.