Sunday, May 20, 2018

Barking to the Choir - Father Greg Boyle


During the last two weeks of April, the local public radio station conducted the semi-annual pledge drive to raise funds for programming.

One day during this period, Terry Gross' show, "Fresh Air," was re-broadcast of a November 17, 2017, interview with Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He has also written two books, Tattoo on the Heart - The Power of Boundless Compassion (2011) and Barking to the Choir - The Power of Radical Kinship (2017). Each provide interesting and inspiring reading.

Mike and I heard Father Boyle speak in July, 2016, at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year, we took four gang members for ice cream, two men and two women, who were visiting Chautauqua for a week. We learned so much from them about developing positive life skills and gaining employment after being part of Father Boyle's ministry.

What Is Prayer?

Toward the end of Terry's interview, she asked Father Boyle about prayer.

"What is the role of prayer in your life?" she asked.

He replied when he was a child, his prayers were rote and petitionary, such as "Please help me pass my math test since I didn't have time to study."

As he grew older, his prayer life changed and became more meditative using mantras such as "resting in You, resting in me." He says, "Prayer helps me find God at the center of my life."

Now that statement is a far cry from a petitionary prayer asking God for something to happen. Father Boyle has moved beyond asking to searching and seeking God in his life through prayer.

My Thoughts

I deeply connected with his words as I do not make petitionary prayer. I bring people for whom I pray each day to God, but I don't ask for specifics. I believe God is aware of their circumstances, so I pray, "God I bring you _____," and let God work.

Father Boyle also acknowledged another one of my beliefs: God cannot protect us from adversity, but as we step into the wideness of God's presence, God will sustain us through any hardship that comes our way.

Hearing Father Boyle speak again was affirming as I connected with the message he proclaimed at Chautauqua and then on "Fresh Air." I treasure the mile I walked with him on the grounds of Chautauqua as we were both returning from a meeting and heading to dinner.

Reflection:

1. How is prayer for you?
2. What does prayer mean for you?
3. Are you involved in petitionary prayer or in a style that seeks to find God at the center of your life?

Prayer: God, you give us direction on prayer in the Bible, but sometimes we come to you begging for results when we really need to be reminded and reassured of your presence to sustain and to guide. Give us encouragement to seek a new perspective on prayer and strength to try new ways of being with you. Amen. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Thank You Note - A Nice Surprise



Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 87-year-old, I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year, along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning if I live to my eighties I hope to have the energy and zest for life I see in Katie.

This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude she added, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"

I chuckled when I read her words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life..
Another Unexpected Thank You

A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.

Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for this gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to a volunteer or hospital employee. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.

My Own Experience with Thank You Notes

Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that habit from my past into adulthood. I taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as 'thank you'. I continue to write and send them myself all these years later as a habit and a joy - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift until I write a thank you note.

Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor, for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.

I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.

Jesus Says Thank You

Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people, and at the last supper.

Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.

Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."

Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.

Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me" (John 11:41-42).

Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of
bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them" (Matthew 15:35-36).

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it" (Luke 22:19).

Jesus knew the value of giving thanks to God.

More Thanks From Reader's Digest

The April, 2018 issue of Reader's Digest contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime" (pages 110-117).

Fifteen people share their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."

Final Thoughts

Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you not for bringing us a meal after we moved.

Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."

At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but I surely have written a lot of thank you notes over Mikes 37 years with churches because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.

Prayer: God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks and praise. Amen.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Life Is Hard,God Is Good - The Beatitudes Reversed


Matthew 5: 1-20 - Now when he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.  His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying,

     "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
      Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
      Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
      Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
      Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

One day, Jesus decided to go up a mountain along with the disciples and teach them by offering a series of lessons, later known as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon described the whole spectrum of life in the kingdom mentioning the poor and the meek, those who are mourning or hungry, those who are pure in heart or merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

Why Are Those Who Suffer Blessed?

I've always wondered why the word "blessed" was paired with each of these conditions. Why are those who are hungry and persecuted blessed? Why are those who mourn blessed? Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction in terms.

I spent some time studying the word, "blessed," and reading about the interpretation and meaning of these passages. "Blessed" means divinely favored and receiving from God.

Those who are grieving, hungry and persecuted are blessed because they are not alone. God is with them. Being blessed means that when suffering happens, we can be open to receive God's presence, love, hope, strength and encouragement to help get through difficult days.

My Reflection

In my reflection with this passage I focused on verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Loss was heavy on my mind and familiar to my heart. I carry loss from my past. I was also mindful of the fourteen people I have known who died since August, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others acquaintances.

I recently received a thank  you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends whose son died after an eight month battle with cancer. Anna and I made a donation to his place of employment. At the end of the note she said, "Life is hard, God is good."

She was stating a beatitude about mourning in reverse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." Her comment could be re-ordered to say, "God is good, but life is hard," to reflect the language of the beatitude.

By saying, "God is good," she is opening herself to the vast expanse of God's presence, mercy, love, compassion and comfort in the midst of heartbreak and tremendous grief, that indeed, makes life hard.

God Is With Us

When difficult times come our way, being blessed may not be our first thought. However, knowing  "blessed" means that God is with us, we do not have to go through our days alone, for all that God offers is available.  God welcomes us into his presence.

Questions For Reflection

1. What does blessed mean to you?
2. When you have experienced grief, hunger or persecution, do you feel blessed?
3. How has God helped you through rough times with the assurance you are not alone, but blessed?

Prayer: God, sometimes you speak in ways that seem confusing. When we explore your language we have new ways of understanding your nature and what life in you can offer. Keep us always anchored in you for all life brings our way. Amen.





Sunday, April 29, 2018

Creativity as Spiritual Practice


"Creativity as Spiritual Practice" was recently offered at Christian Theological Seminary for the public to attend. The program was described as a "way to explore God's creativity and our creativity in God's image by reflecting on a scriptural text, using Lectio Divina, and explore creative outlets." Participants were asked to bring a few art supplies to use for their own expression.

I signed up for the hour-long class excited to explore the favorite areas of my walk with God, creativity and spirituality.

Preparing to attend, I gathered a notebook and a few pens. When I arrived, about twenty other people of varying ages were eager to share the experience.

"But I'm Not Creative!"

Many times I've heard people say , "I'm not creative. I can't do things like that" when it comes to putting together an expression of an experience. However, I found these words for those who believe they aren't creative in a copy of "Alive Now" July/August, 2013.

            "Unless we are creators, we are not fully alive. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living." Madeleine L'Engle Walking on Water.

When the word, creativity, is mentioned, too often our minds go to famous artists, authors, composers and playwrights. However, as Jan Philips describes in "The 24-Hour Canvas" everyone is creative - it's how we respond to our lives each day.

          "It is blasphemous for any of us to say 'I am not creative.' All we do is create. We have desires, and we create experiences from our desires. We have experiences and we create stories about these experiences. We hear the stories of others and we are moved to tell our own. We wake up every day to an empty canvas of twenty-four hours and every night we go to bed having created our master-piece for the day. We can do this consciously or unconsciously, but we all do it nevertheless." Jan Philips from No Ordinary Time - The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity.

The Experience and My Response

Opening the program, the presenter noted the Genesis 1:1 reads, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and God has been creating ever since.

She reviewed the steps for Lectio Divina or holy reading of scripture:

     1. Preparing - deep breaths, praying, relaxing
     2. Listening - for a word, phrase or image that calls to us
     3. Meditating - repeating the word and acting
     4. Responding - reflecting on how the word connects with us
     5. Beholding - God's presence with a prayer of gratitude

The scripture for the day was Mark 14:3-9 where Jesus was sitting at a table in the home of Simon the leper. A woman came with an alabaster jar of a costly ointment and poured the ointment on Jesus' head.

We were asked to identify a word or phrase from the scripture that spoke to us and create a response. The question, "How does the word or phrase connect to my life" offered further reflection.

I focused on the words, "as he sat at the table." I thought how a table can be a gathering place in a home. It seemed natural for Jesus to be at a table where people could come and sit and talk for awhile.

My creative response to "at the table" was to tear a table from a piece of notebook paper (pictured above). The table held a loaf of bread. I also wrote this poem:

     At the table, where we gather,
     To talk, to eat,
     We find Jesus,
     Ready to listen or offer a thought,
     And learn about our hearts.
     Jesus gives love and compassion
     In the midst of our day.
     Bread on the table,
     For the bread of life at the table.

After a few people shared their thoughts, we concluded our time with a prayer of gratitude by J. Philip Newell:

     God of life, who chooses creation over chaos, and new beginnings over emptiness, we bring to you the disorder of our nations and world. Bless us and the nations with the grace of creativity. Amen.

Listening, watching and attentiveness are important for the creative process and for life with God. Next time you have some free time, choose a scripture, sit with the process of Lectio Divina and open your heart to God. What can you create with God's leading and direction?

Prayer: God, you have created everything that is in the world. Help us join with you as co-creators to bring new thoughts, perspectives, greetings or more tangible forms of creativity to share with others. Amen.





































   

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Candle Hour



In the March 18 edition of the New York Times, I read "Candle Hour" by Julia Scott. She explained that when she was a teenager, an ice storm came through Montreal, knocking down a giant tree limb in the front yard of her house.  For seven days and nights, the power was out, forcing the family to use candles for their light source.

The author concluded that no one in the family remembers what they talked about or ate during that week, but they all remember the use of candles enabling them to eat, read and continue with daily life.

Now that she has settled in California, she started the practice of "candle hour." An hour before she goes to bed, she turns off all of her devices, and lamps, and lights a couple of candles, "enough to read a book or stare at the flame. I have a journal ready, but don't pressure myself to write in it. "Candle Hour" doesn't even need to last a full hour. I sit until I feel an uncoupling from the chaos or until the candle burns all the way down or both."

She continues, "Candle Hour" has become a soul-level bulwark against so many kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping out just out of my day, but out of time itself. I set aside outrages and anxieties."

My Thoughts

Always looking for new ways to connect to God, I decided to sit with a candle in silence for an hour. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still, so I planned my hour at the end of the day, 6-7 p.m. I gathered some paper, a pen, a glass of water and a book I've been reading. I put away my cell phone, set the kitchen timer for an hour and began.

"My Candle Hour"

At first, I focused on the candle flame, watching it move and sway even when the air seemed still. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling God's presence. My heart filled with a deep peace. When I felt restless or my mind wandered, I looked at the candle.

I worked on a poem I wrote the night before and reflected on a passage of scripture. The first time I looked at the clock, eight minutes remained in my hour. I was amazed I sat for so long. I concluded the hour by reading a few pages from my book.

Reflections on "Candle Hour"

I can understand why Julia Scott maintains an occasional practice of "Candle Hour." Feeling refreshed at the end of the day gave me new energy for the evening. My soul was renewed a if I'd been on a weekend retreat. Clarity during the hour helped edit the poem I wrote. I received so much benefit from "Candle Hour." I am eager for another time in the days ahead, perhaps during the hour before I go to bed.

Suggestions for "Candle Hour"

1. Set aside electronic devices.
2. Decide how much time you want to devote to the practice. If an hour seems too long, try thirty minutes. You know what works best. Set a timer.
3. Have something to drink close by as well as paper, pen, a book, the Bible or needlework. You can also use this time to reflect on a passage of scripture.
4. Light the candle. God is here.
5. Take a deep breath.
6. Ask God to quiet your mind and open your heart.

Reflection Questions

1. How was your experience with "Candle Hour?" Were you able to let go and relax? How did God come to you?
2. Did you receive any new insight, perspectives or greater clarity as you sat?
3. Would you like to try "Candle Hour" again?

Prayer: God, when we light a candle we see a visible representation of your presence. We are also reminded that Jesus is the light of the world. Let us remember that as believers we carry the light of God wherever we go. Guide us as we sit with a candle to listen for your word or just rest in the peace of silence with you. Amen.



Sunday, April 15, 2018

Gather the Pieces


One of my favorite scriptures in which I have rested and walked is John's account of Jesus feeding five thousand people (John 6:1-13). When everyone finished eating, Jesus instructed the disciples, "'Gather the pieces left over; let us not waste a bit.' So they gathered them all and filled twelve baskets with the pieces left over from the five barley loaves which the people had eaten.'"

We don't know what happened to the twelve baskets of crumbs. One commentary I read suggested the disciples and Jesus ate the crumbs because they were so busy caring for the people they had no time to eat. Others say Jesus and the disciples might have taken the baskets to distribute to the poor. Whatever happened, Jesus recognized the value of pieces and did not want them wasted.

Most of us gather pieces throughout our day. We gather thoughts to put in sentences. We gather ingredients to make a meal. Quilters gather pieces of fabric to make a quilt. Carpenters gather materials to make furniture or a house.

Birds gather pieces to make nests. Recently, I took a walk in my neighborhood and found two nests in bushes. I examined each one closely, and noted these pieces the birds gathered: twigs, bright green plastic netting, yarn, paper, plastic wrap and leaves.

"Even the birds know the value of pieces," I thought.

Pieces are important parts of the whole picture we call life. Gathering pieces in many different ways throughout the day can bring us to wholeness in living.

Just like Jesus realized the value of crumbs or pieces remaining from the bread, we too, know the value of all of the pieces of our days. Each is important and can reflect the many ways God is present.

     When Jesus said,
    "Gather the pieces
     After the  meal" -
     He meant the crumbs,
     But the people
     Are pieces, too -
     Pieces of God
     Gathered together.

Reflection Question

1. Write down all of the parts or pieces of your day. How many do you have?
2. Thank God for your full life, asking God to bless all you do.

Prayer:  God, you are in the pieces as much as you are in the whole or complete parts of our lives. Knowing you are in all reminds us of the holiness of each moment. Amen.







Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Creative Study of The Prodigal Son




Second Presbyterian Church, a large congregation on the north side of Indianapolis, has always made music and the fine arts a priority, as much as missions or other outreach programs. I was invited to participate in a five week seminar - "Faith Expressions - an exploration of the Parable of the Prodigal Son through artistic expression." I was delighted.

The Seminar's Purpose

The seminar series looks at the Parable of The Prodigal from these perspectives - religion, literature, poetry, music, dance and the visual arts. Five faculty, all retired from nearby Butler University, direct the seminar - each taking the lead in one of the areas.

Rembrandt's portrait of "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (see below) was the central visual for the seminar.





What Will I Offer?

I was apprehensive sitting through the first lecture as I did not know how I could make a contribution. I listed myself as a mixed media artist which allowed me to explore different areas of art that I complete.

I asked myself a couple of questions as I listened to the introductions of the faculty and other artists.

How can I connect with this familiar story? What piece of art will come from my interaction with this text knowing that my background will influence the way I understand this incident?

Other participants were sharing ideas they had to interpret the scripture or to connect with one of the people in the story. I sat in my chair, getting restless, knowing that eventually God would give me a thought, but not right now.

The Idea

As I was driving home, God presented the idea of a monologue given by the prodigal's mother. The mother is faintly seen in Rembrandt's painting, in the upper left-hand corner. 

"A monologue, God? I've never done a monologue. That means I have to memorize my talk and I'm not good at memorizing. Oh my!"

Despite my concerns, when I arrived home, I went right to my desk and grabbed a pen and piece of paper to record the words. God poured out of my soul a monologue from the mother's perspective. A poem also followed a few days later. God provided abundantly.

Here is my monologue from the mother's perspective called, "A Mother's Heart."

I hardly knew what to think when he gave our son his inheritance - and then that wayward child went away to spend the money, who knows where - and we didn't hear from him for what seemed like forever.

Now all of a sudden, he is home. I haven't seen him yet; he's busy with his father and the servants, but I did hear him mention a famine in the country where he lived and longing for food, even food that the pigs ate, but he got nothing! And all of the inheritance is gone!

I will be glad when it's my turn to see him. I'm hesitant how he will respond after so much time. I've torn lots of cloth in my sorrow over his leaving, not knowing if I would ever see him again - so many strips of cloth, swaddling my heart with comfort while tears flowed down my cheeks. See the raw edges of torn cloth? That's how my heart felt as time went on, raw.

I prayed each day for God to keep him safe wherever he was. It seemed a useless prayer for such a long time, but now he is back! How do I greet answered prayer?

While I wait for him to come my way, I'll bake a loaf of barley bread. He used to like it when it was just baked. I bet it will taste good to him if he's as famished and starving as he says. Maybe he will look at the bread in a new way realizing that in Jesus, the Bread of Life, there is no more longing or being lost or trying to find a path through money and wild living.

Artist Reception

When the day arrived for the artist reception and program, I felt prepared to give my monologue.
To add authenticity to my presentation, I took a piece of lavender fabric to bind around my head. I gave my monologue boldly and with a full heart sharing the connection I made with this mother from long ago. The mother, a forgotten perspective, was now given a voice.

For Your Reflection

1. Take a moment to sit in quietness and openness before God.  
2. Choose a story. Listen to the story. Write down the names of the people involved.
3. Ask yourself a few questions: Which person stands out for me and why? What is the person's purpose in the story? What emotions does the story evoke?
4. What creative ways can you respond to God's word?
5. Share what you have done with  a friend.

Prayer: God, we come to your stories filled with curiosity about the participants and the message. Our hearts quiet and become open as we reflect on your words. Guide our creative expressions of what you have brought to us so we may sing, dance, write poetry and made a piece of art in response, realizing that what we make brings us into co-creating with you. Amen.