Can We Rest in the Midst of Storms?

Jesus Calms the storm – Rembrandt

This morning I read the story of Jesus in the storm from Mark 4:35-41

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!”Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Something struck me that I had never thought much about before – Jesus was actually deeply asleep in the midst of this storm. Now I lived on a ship for 12 years and I know that it is hard to sleep in the midst of a storm when the ship is rocking and rolling, the waves are crashing and the cargo groans against its bonds threatening to break loose at any moment. Even now when I live in a stationary home, I know how anxiety can keep awake, often creating its own storms of fretting, fear and uncertainty.

Sleeping in the midst of storms is a sign of extreme stupidity or of supreme confidence. Jesus’ response when the disciples woke him shows that his sleep was one of confidence. He trusted completely that the God who formed the waters and allowed the storms, the God who called him beloved Son, was still in control and would keep them all safe no matter how violently the waters raged. In the midst of the storm he was able to find rest and refreshment.

Sometimes I think that we forget that Jesus is in the boat with us. Sometimes I not sure that we really want to wake him. The storm itself is frightening, Jesus calming of the storm is terrifying.

We are in the midst of stormy times as the government shutdown here in the U.S. and its accompanying storms continues to rock all our boats. My neighbours are out of work for the duration and the poor are tightening their belts even more as programmes like SNAP, WIC and low income housing assistance are suspended.

How much confidence do we have that Jesus is in the boat with us? And what would it look like for him to calm this storm? It is so easy for us to pray for the solution we want to see happen – extreme conservatives for the disintegration of the government, democrats for the passing of a budget that still includes health care reform. But it is hard for us to have the faith to believe that whatever God allows to happen in this storm, Jesus is still with us. It is he, not us who is in control.

So my prayer today is that God will calm the storm and that we will be able to find rest and confidence in whatever that calming looks like.

A New Bible, A New Voice, A New Compass

A couple of weeks ago I received a new bible from the publishers Thomas Nelson. It is the Compass Study Bible which uses The Voice translation. This is a translation I was not familiar with and I am thoroughly enjoying its contemporary language and “contextual equivalence” translation – which means it seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language.

The Compass edition provides interesting In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological and devotional thoughts as well as introductions to each book and topical guides to each day of the year. However the bias of some of the comments did concern me a little.  like this note on 1 Corinthians 10 :In the midst of radical economic and technological advances, some within the church are embracing new or contemporary practices and regarding them as somehow superior to ancient and historic practices. Maybe I am a little sensitive here as I love to experiment and encourage others to try new practices, that may be more contextually appropriate for their lifestyles and for our contemporary culture. I don’t regard these as superior to ancient practices but do think this type of expression is important.

The format in The Compass is an engaging narrative approach which took me a while to get used to after so many years of reading in the usual text format but I am now thoroughly enjoying the change and plan to use this new bible for the next couple of years. I think it would provide a great introduction for young Christians or for those who find the usual bible format a little overwhelming.

I appreciate the “God’s Promises guide at the beginning of the book, and the 40 day retreat with Jesus (a little like lectio divina for 40 days) but was disappointed with the reading plan for every day of the year. All it does is go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in day sized bites. I suppose I have been spoiled by the richness of the daily lectionary readings which give Old and New Testament readings each day in keeping with the liturgical season. I have learned so much about the relationship between the Old and New Testament stories in this way, gaining fresh insights about what Jesus meant as I read the OT scriptures he was quoting.

This bible is currently only available through Walmart which also disappoints me, but I still think it is worth a look for anyone who wants to try a new contemporary translation or a new approach to bible study.

The Big Question We Never Ask

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time asking myself What would my life look like if I gave myself totally to God? This is probably the scariest question I have ever asked, because the short answer is – very different from what it looks like now.

 Perhaps I have been reading too much about monks lately. I am really challenged not just by the rhythm of life the desert Fathers and Mothers, Celtic monks and Trappist monks today live by, but by the passion and discipline with which they adhered to their commitment. And I crave the deep intimacy so many of them seem to experience.

This is in fact the question that one of the Trappist monks in August Turak’s book Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks asks. It was the question that led him to become a monk. There is something terribly wrong with spirituality today, he says:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

So this morning again I ask myself What would it look like to seek God only for Godself, to shape my life around the craving for intimacy with God? And how willing amy I to shape my life around that quest? 

So here is where I am at.

First I know that prayer and deepening my relationship to God should take priority over everything else. Sometimes I feel I do well at this and other times work and the busy distractions of my mind overtake me. I need to establish a rhythm of prayer through the day and develop the discipline to stick with it. If I truly placed God at the centre I would make sure that I am never too busy to pray and never be too tired to listen.

Second I know that relationships – to God and to others should take priority over work. Our intern Amanda grappled with this over the summer. In her blog post on her time with us she comments: after a time of checking in and working we would come together to have lunch. I loved that there wasn’t any thought to delay lunch or to work through lunch, but rather, it was a priority to take this time to come together and replenish. Her words are an important reminder to me of this priority. I work to live, not live to work.

Third I need to take time for myself, to make space for the exercises that replenish my spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep are all important priorities. Jesus’ admonish in Matthew 11: 28-30 is a constant reminder to me of the balanced and I think relaxed rhythm God intends for us.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When I get stressed out and overextended I frequently need to remind myself of this. Committing myself fully to God means recognizing my need to organize my time and my habits so that I am constantly receptive to God’s voice.

Fourth I need to take time for God’s creation. Gardening is part of the rhythm of my life. I also love to walk in the midst of God’s creation, and in the mornings I sometimes sit just soaking in the beauty of the mountains I can see out my office window.  But when I get too busy this time gets swept aside.

 

Fifth, the use of my resources would be totally in God’s control. I would give generously, joyously and enthusiastically whenever God prompted me. I would be more concerned for the needs of others than for my own wants and demands.

Most of us spend our lives striving for success rather than striving for God. Our passion for significance in the eyes of the world often far outstrips our passion for closeness to God. We consume spiritual tools in the same way we consume food, clothes and electronic gadgets.

So what would it look like for you to give yourself totally to God? I challenge you to take some time this week to reflect on this question. Let me know how God prompts you to change the rhythm of your life, the use of your resources

 

Celtic Spirituality – What Is The Attraction?

Celtic Cross Kildalton Ireland

Celtic Cross Kildalton

Part of what I teach here at the Overseas Ministry Study Center is a a session on Celtic Spirituality. It is also time to sign up for the 22nd Annual Celtic retreat if you want to take advantage of the early bird special.

The Celtic stream of Christianity has impacted many of us who look for a whole life faith that interweaves through every area of life. Their emphasis on the God who is revealed in and through creation has also influenced me and contributed in many ways to my thoughts on the sacredness of creation and its importance as a sanctuary in which we meet God.

The major heritage of Celtic spirituality is the beautiful prayers like this one which are found throughout Ireland, Scotland and Wales. May have been collected in the CARMINA GADELICA. One I love and return to often is this one:

I Weave a Silence 

I weave a silence onto my lips,
I weave a silence into my mind,
I weave a silence within my heart.
I close my ears to distractions,
I close my eyes to attractions
I close my heart to temptations.
Calm me, Lord,
As you calmed the storm,
Still me, Lord, keep me from harm,
Let all tumult within me cease,
Enfold me in your peace.

art from book of Kells

art from book of Kells

There is however more to this tradition than the prayers that attract me and so thought I would repost this list of Celtic distinctives which some of my may find of interest.

Distinctives of Celtic Christian Spirituality

  1. Central to Celtic spirituality is incarnation and an intense sense of the presence of God.  The Celt was very much a God-intoxicated person whose life was embraced on all sides by the divine Being.
    1. The presence of Christ was almost physically woven around their lives
    2. God was treated with awe, reverence and wonder but was essentially seen as a  human figure intimately involved in all creation and engaged in a dynamic relationship with it.
    3. Christ is our “walking companion”.  He is our guide, our protector, and we pray with him and can trust him always wherever we go.
    4. The Trinity is part of God’s eternal family to which we also belong.  Each family unit, clan or community was seen as an icon of the Trinity.
    5. All creation responds to God’s creative presence and sustaining love. God not only encircles and protects creation but also enlivens, activates and inspires it.
  2. A belief in the thinness of the veil between this world and the next.  Heaven and earth are interconnected and interacting.
    1. Celtic Christians believed that the “cloud of witnesses” is always with us.  They prayed consciously as members of the great company of hosts – the persons of the Trinity, angels and archangels as well as all who have gone before us were all seen as close companions on their journey.
    2. Through this same host of witnesses God protected them from evil forces and enemies.
  3. Importance of little things – no task is too trivial to be sanctified by prayer and blessing 
    1. All work is holy – Even mundane little task like washing dishes, milking the cow and sowing crops have sacred significance
    2. This is parallelled in their identification with the little people, the marginalized & the oppressed.  All persons represented God and might be heavenly visitors in disguise.
    3. Extending hospitality opened a door to the kingdom of God and welcomed Jesus into their midst.  It was an important expression of love both toward God and neighbour
  4. According to Celtic theology, the body is essentially good.  Sinful action was seen as wrong, but the body is a gift in all its capacities.
  5. A strong sense of sin and the presence of evil forces in the world resulted in a strong recognition of the need for penitence which often led to austerely ascetic lives.  Celtic spirituality holds that sin deforms the person we are called to be in Christ.  It enslaves, and the goal therefore is freedom from slavery.  Some Celtic saints became perpetual pilgrims or lived as hermits to avoid the comforts and temptations of a settled existence in which evil might flourish.
  6. All of life flows to a rhythm of ebb and flow reflected in the natural world. This is reflected in the monastic rhythm that flowed between prayer and study, work and rest, community and solitude.
  7. Celtic Christians adapted well to the culture in which they operated.  They are sometimes accused of syncretism because of their use of pre-Christian symbols which they transformed into the symbols of faith.

Today We’ve Disappeared by April Yamasaki

Today’s post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by April Yamasaki. April is a pastor and writer who blogs on spiritual practice, faith, and life at http://aprilyamasaki.com. Her new book is Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal available from Menno Media/Herald Press, Amazon, and your local bookstore.

A year ago, I was pretty much a stranger to social media. Once upon a time, I had joined Facebook to see some pictures sent by a friend, then promptly hid my profile since I hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it in or find new friends. I had several invitations to LinkedIn that I had dutifully saved instead of deleting. Every so often, one of my sisters would send me an email signed from “your Facebook Liaison,” so I wouldn’t miss out on any family news.

But last May, I finally followed up on my LinkedIn invitations–and yes, they still worked even though they were a few years old. I signed up for my own Facebook, then Google+. I started blogging. By Christmas, I had signed up for Goodreads and Twitter too.

As Lent approached, I learned that one friend was planning to give up Facebook for his Lenten practice. “That’s not for me,” I said to myself. The world of social media was all still new to me. It was something I could dip into or out of at any time. I wasn’t immersed in it every day.

Then a Twitter friend said he was going to “disappear” for just one day on Feb. 27 in honor of the 27 million men, women, and children who’ve disappeared in slavery around the world. I decided to follow suit—no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Google+, no Goodreads, no blogs. I posted this on my own blog the night before:

Today We've Disappeared

I didn’t think anyone would miss me. After all, I don’t blog every day. I don’t post something on Facebook or Google+ every day. Even my daily Twitter activity was just a few tweets. Who would notice?

As it turned out, I noticed—much more than I thought I would. I thought about the millions of people who have disappeared. I wondered about the people they were missing and that were missing them. I held them all in my prayers: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. That was the reason I had “disappeared” from social media that day. But I also discovered that I felt more focused. I felt freer from distractions. I felt less pressed for time.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as I’ve been reading chapter 9 of Return to Our Senses on “Facebook, Blogging, and Go To Prayers.” Is social media “a wonderful tool, or a terrible distraction”? I can see the potential for both.

And so even as the end of Lent is in sight, I’m making a new commitment not just for Lent but for the future: for a once-a-week, social-media-free day, Saturday 6pm – Sunday 6pm, and I’m coupling that with a commitment not to look back endlessly through everything I’ve missed.

The truth is, a person is always missing something. It’s not humanly possible to know everything about everything. And that’s okay. God knows. God is sovereign. I’m resting in that thought.

 

Are You Ready For the Spiritual Discipline of Gratitude – Tom Sine

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, is written by my husband Tom Sine.


IMG_0308

Last week we ask you: are you ready for the spiritual discipline of daily laughter? We encouraged you to join Ted and Company in learning to laugh at our own foibles every day so we could learn to live without taking ourselves too seriously.

This week we are urging you to consider adopting an attitude of gratitude.  It is all too easy for all of us to focus more on what’s going wrong than what we have to give thanks for. When I used to work for World Concern in Haiti in the early 80s I used return home to Seattle feeling very embarrassed about my petty complaints Sometimes I was able to go an entire week without complaining about the weather, driving conditions or some of my difficult friends. An amazing miracle!

As we enter the season of Lent I urge you not only to reflect on your shortcomings but to fast from verbalizing complaints for a whole week. Any time you are tempted to complain stop and give expression to something your grateful for. Research actually indicates that people who express more gratitude are significantly happier than those who are given to complaining about their situations.

I can still remember how proud I was of my dad during his repeated times in the hospital for several serious ailments during his final years. I never heard him complain once. Instead when I would ask him how he was he would say “I am always all right!”

As you can see from the picture Christine and I plus our dog Bonnie have a great deal to be grateful for. Friday we arrived at our 40 acre site on Camano Island for the Mustard Seed Village only to make a stunning discovery. As you can see our construction team has just poured the foundation and erected eight poles for the first building in the Mustard Seed Village.  As you can imagine we had little difficulty in expressing our genuine gratitude to God for all of those who contributed to this new beginning.

IMG_0314

But were also grateful for the opportunity to finish what we have started.  We are grateful for the opportunity to join with others in bringing a road and power to the site as well as constructing a sustainable septic system and putting a pump on our well. We are grateful that this new facility will enable us to start hosting gatherings on the land to help people learn to live more innovatively, sustainably and festively in these uncertain times.

Write me this week and let me know if you are able to replace words of complaint with words of gratitude for the entire first week of Lent. Also write me if you’d like to join many others who are helping us make the Mustard Seed Village a center for Christian imagination and celebration.

Prayers for the Journey

This is a summary of the prayers that I have posted on facebook and twitter in the last couple of weeks

Still my mind O God, calm my spirit,
Draw me to a place where my soul finds solitude,
May I listen to the sounds of silence,
And hear your quiet whispers.

_____________________________

God transform us

May our blindness become sight,

May our zeal become faith,

May our hate become love.

_______________________________

God we are hungry to see your face,

Jesus we are thirsty to hear your words,

Spirit we are longing to know your presence,

Feed us, quench our thirst, dwell within us today.

________________________________

May the gospels be ever new to us

May the word of God be ever fresh

May our eyes and ears be ever open

To the Christ revealed as we walk the road with him

____________________________________

When Jesus says don’t be afraid, may we listen

When Jesus says I am with you always may we believe

When Jesus says in me there is no condemnation

May we be set free.

________________________

Let us breathe in the wonder of this moment

Let us look at its beauty and savour the essence of God

Let us touch its glory and know the love of God

_________________________________________

May we seek to know the will of God

And listen to all the voices through which God speaks

May we walk forward without fear into God’s kingdom ways

___________________________________________

Let us sit in the presence of God

Confident of his goodness and mercy

May his love surround us

His Spirit fill us

His truth guide us

_________________________

God is good and loving and kind,

May we share God’s goodness,

And celebrate God’s love,

Till the whole earth shines with God’s glory

__________________________

The beauty of the snow covered landscape outside my window reminded me of this prayer I wrote last year:

Beauty beyond words, creativity beyond imagining

God bathed, son drenched, spirit infused

May we dare to believe

God is here, transforming, redeeming,

Making all things new.

____________________________

A prayer for Martin Luther King Day

 

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we shout for justice,

And as one we fight against oppression.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we seek God’s righteousness

And as one we sing God’s praise.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we climb God’s mountain,

And as one we enter the promised land.

May we dream of a world made new,

Where together we proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom,

And as one we enjoy its peace, and abundance and love.

Reading the Scriptures – Where Does Our Strength Come From?

Celebrating my mother's 88th birthday

Celebrating my mother's 88th birthday in June

I have just heard that my mother, who recently turned 88 has successfully negotiated a lengthy surgery on her back.  it is hard to be half a world away at a time like this.  In the last couple of days I have spent much time praying, reading the scriptures and reaching out to God for strength.

My personal struggles seemed so appropriate when I thought about today’s post in the series  Reading the Scriptures – How, When and Why?  .  Where does our strength come from when we are struggling or in pain?  Where do we find strength to stand when we are weak or tempted?  How do we tap into the compassion and care of God when we are confused or lack understanding?  Hopefully it is through the scriptures.

We see this most clearly when Jesus was out in the desert during the 40 days of his temptation.  He not only reached up to God but also reached into the scriptures for strength and sustenance during this challenging time.

Reading the scriptures in what I call strengthening mode is a constant necessity but I think it is only possible for us to enter into it when the words of God are firmly lodged not only in our heads but also in our hearts. The more real the stories of the bible are to us, the more we identify with the people of the bible as real flesh and blood people like us, the more we will be able to read the scriptures with this kind of an attitude.

There are certain scriptures that are the mainstay of my reading during times when I need strengthening.

  1. When I need strengthening in the purposes of God: Isaiah 65: 17-25 with its promise of wholeness, abundance and provision for all is my greatest comfort when I am struggling with the injustice and oppression in our world.  This scripture is one of the most strengthening I know for holding firmly to the promises of God for God’s yet to be fully realized eternal world.
  2. When I am confused and don’t understand the ways of God: Lamentations 3:21-33 is always the scripture that springs to mind when earthquakes, hurricanes and fires cause devastation to whole communities.  Its reminder that God “does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” is one of the most encouraging and strengthening scriptures I know.
  3. When I am tempted: Matthew 4:1-11 with its reminder of Jesus’ temptation helps me to stand firm.
  4. When I need comfort during times of physical pain or emotional turmoil I reach for the psalms: Psalm 139 is particularly strengthening for me at times like this.
  5. When I need to be reconciled with a friend or even a distant acquaintance: 1 Corinthians 13:1-11 is my mainstay.  There is nothing more assuring than the reminder that God’s love never lets go, never gives up and holds close through all circumstances.
What are the types of situations in which you need to strengthening power of God’s word?  Write down the scriptures that give you hope and nourishment during these times.  Memorize them, share them with friends.  The more we enter into the scriptures in this way the stronger our faith will become.

A Sense of Pilgrimage

Tom and I are heading off to England this morning to work with Livability.  I am particularly looking forward to a few days relaxation in London between events.  Going to Britain always has a sense of pilgrimage for me.  On our honeymoon almost 20 years ago we visited Iona, for me my first trip to this very special island, and since then it has been the destination for several pilgrimages.  We have also visited Holy Island and other pilgrimage sites,  and so while we are away I thought that I would do a series of posts about pilgrimage.

Going to Holy Island for the first time, in particular, gave me a sense of my own life as a pilgrimage with the destination being “The Holy City of God” or in more modern terms – God’s eternal shalom world of wholeness and abundance.

I loved reading about how the pilgrims stopped along the way to pray and give thanks at shrines particularly designated for this purpose.  The pathways were often marked by crosses – wayside crosses – that gave an assurance that they were on the right track.  These wayside crosses also gave a sense that no matter how often the pilgrim stopped, they were always aware that the final destination, the holy city of God or in this case Holy Island toward which they were moving, still lay ahead.

Holy Island is still a popular place for pilgrimage.  And today as in the Middle Ages people go on pilgrimage for many reasons.  For many it is a true journey towards the presence of God and a recognition that all of life is a pilgrimage.  The journey’s end often culminates with a renewal of vows to God and a renewed sense of the kingdom of God as our final destination.

Pilgrimages that renew our sense of God’s purpose for us are very important and should be taken a regular intervals.  If we cannot go on a physical pilgrimage, activities that give us a sense of pilgrimage can be a good substitute.  As prepare for the celebration of Advent and Christmas, it is a great season to think about this.

 

Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Lately?

Yesterday in the class i am teaching here at OMSC in New Haven CT I spoke about how to take a spiritual audit.  Many of us struggle with a chronic gnawing anxiety because we don’t feel our spiritual life is adequate but most of us rarely spend time evaluating how healthy our spiritual life really is.

I think this is something that all of us should do on a regular basis.  If this is something you struggle with take some time to answer the questions below.  If possible get away for half a day (or longer if you can) and combine this with a time of listening for God’s voice and direction.  I like to start with some general questions about my life and then move to more specific spiritual questions.

Look back over the last week or month

  • Consolations: what has life gaining and deepened your sense of connection to God?
  • Desolations: what has been life draining and made you lose that sense of intimacy with God?
  • How is God speaking to you through this?
  • What are the major pressures in your life?  Where do you think the pressure comes from and what are the underlying causes?
  • How do these affect your spiritual well being?
  • In what ways could they be harnessed so that your heart could be broken open to new possibilities for a better future?
  • What daily and weekly events set the rhythm for your life?  Which of these contribute to your spiritual well being and which distract from it?

How well are you maintaining your spiritual life:

  • What gives you joy in your spiritual journey at present?
  • Where do you sense God is currently at work in your transformation?  What would give God the most opportunity to continue that work?
  • What do you do on a regular basis to nurture your spiritual life?
  • What are the major distractions that interfere with regular spiritual disciplines?

How has God spoken to you in the last week:

  1. through prayer
  2. through scripture
  3. through the needs of others
  4. through the words of others
  5. through other means

What changes is God prompting  you to make in order to further your spiritual growth:

  1. In your daily or weekly commitments and rhythms?
  2. In your spiritual routines?

How will you ensure that these changes are adhered to?

  1. What is one new practice you would like to institute to help maintain your new resolutions?
  2. What is one relationship you could nurture to provide accountability and encouragement as you walk this journey?