Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pause in the Movie "Brooklyn: and during Lent

Pause - a temporary stop or rest, especially in speech or action; a cessation of activity because of doubt or uncertainty; a momentary hesitation.

The Saturday before Christmas I tunneled through frenzied shoppers at the mall to reach a place of quiet in a second floor movie theater. My youngest daughter, Anna, saw the movie "Brooklyn" in mid-November and thought I would enjoy it. Since I was spending a few days with Anna at the end of the week, I wanted to make sure I saw the movie before our reunion.

My special friend, Emily, who is almost twenty, joined me. After the movie, I appreciated her observations that gave me a youthful perspective on the plot.

"Brooklyn" is a story about a young, Irish woman, Eilis, who ventures to New York City to start a new life. She lives in a boarding house, finds a job in a department store, and quickly meets a charming young man. Although her early months go smoothly, she misses her mother and sister.

Throughout the movie, I was captured by pauses that occurred. "Brooklyn" isn't a fast-paced movie; the plot evolves slowly and deliberately.

The pauses occurred in many spots more than I can remember in most movies. When her boyfriend tells Eilis he loves her, she pauses, looks at him, puts her face down and walks away. The audience was held in suspense wondering what she would say to an expression of love early in their relationship. Her pause and non-verbal reply seemed appropriate.

Whenever Eilis receives letters from home, she holds them in her hand before opening. Her pause reflects her anticipation and excitement for the greetings from her mother and sister.

One day Eilis sees the priest of the church she attends in the doorway of the department store where she works. She pauses in the middle of a sale and watches him move slowly toward the counter. She reacts but needed to complete the sale. He moves slowly to the counter as her customer leaves. The priest pauses, trying to find words to deliver the news of her sister's unexpected death.

Pauses in the movie, "Brooklyn," illustrate the value of taking time to reflect before responding or experiencing the gift of a letter communicating the unknown, but treasured contents, and wondering about the visit of a priest conveying sad news.

How Did Jesus Pause?

In John, chapter 8 verses 1-11, Jesus was confronted by the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees when they brought a woman to him who had committed adultery.

"Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what can you say?" They said this to trap Jesus, so that they could accuse him.

Now this question carried great meaning and importance, as Jesus was being "put to the test" so to speak by the well-respected people in authority. Jesus, however, took a moment to pause before answering. He bent over and wrote in the ground - or as some described the dust that covered the land. His pause caused the Pharisees to pause too, which might have increased their distress over not receiving an immediate answer.

Jesus finally replies, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."

After Jesus answered the questions, he paused again, bent over a second time to write on the ground.

The Pharisees and teachers did not receive the answer they expected, so they went away.

Jesus demonstrated that pausing to reflect before answering questions is an important part of communication.

Can We Pause Today?

Pauses in our age seem few and far between. We push the pause button when we watch a movie to get more food or use the bathroom, then resume our feature. Often our answers to questions are "rapid-fire" so we can move on to other topics. The art of pausing to reflect on an answer before speaking can give us time to collect our thoughts, to organize our words so we can say what we want to convey.

Pauses in conversation are often seen as "awkward silences," but this awkwardness can give those engaging in conversation valuable time to reflect on what has been said, plan words and put together sentences that are most helpful.

A Way to Pause During Lent

I recently found a book that I plan to use during Lent called Pauses for Lent - 40 Words for 40 Days. The author, Trevor Hudson, invites the reader "to make a commitment to pause during each day of Lent, to read each brief meditation, and reflect on the word for the day. This art of pausing carves out space in your hectic life to listen to God."

I am looking forward to reading this small book and developing the habit of pausing more frequently with each word offered.

Emily and I left the movie theater chatting animatedly about our impressions. We were touched by the poignant scenes when Eilis says good-bye to her mother and sister before leaving Ireland. Emily focused on Eilis' character development throughout the movie, while I mentioned the pauses. The pauses framed tender moments in the movie making each one stand out in importance.

Later that evening I remembered how Jesus paused twice before responding to the Pharisees. I look forward to practicing pausing during Lent. I pray this act will open my heart to a deeper way to receive God's Word.

Prayer: Pausing seems counter-cultural, God, in our busy world where we are so connected with others, but must be intentional to stay connected with you. Guide our moments to include pauses where we can stop and reflect, for in these pauses we can seek you for words or insight or as a way to dwell deeper in you. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Simple Prayer of Gratitude in Response to God's Presence

The entrance to the limestone Benedictine Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, where I studied to become a spiritual director, has two words engraved in the stone above the door: "Seek God." I've kept these two words close in mind through the years when I've needed guidance as well as when I had reason to celebrate.

Not too long ago, I was faced with several days of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. I awakened each morning with fatigue wondering how I would make it through the day. I sought God in the early hours, asking for an opening so I could enter God's presence in a way that would give me grounding and strength.

Leaning against the dresser in my room, yearning with desired to enter fully the adventures of the day ahead, God responded, filing my heart with energy to sustain and keep me alert to encounters and interactions that would happen as the day evolved.

My response to God in those moments, still leaning against the dresser, was a prayer reflecting my gratitude for the assurance of God's participation in my life - even when my awareness wanders.

                                                Thank you, God, for hearing my prayer.
                                                Thank you, God, for knowing my heart.

                                                Thank you, God, for your love.


Prayer: Generous God, these are simple words you gave me, a letter of gratitude, defining how you are with us always. In our seeking, whatever our circumstances, joyful or challenging, we have reminders of your presence and you know our hearts even before we come to you. In your goodness, you sustain and celebrate our path each day. Amen.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ordinary Time

Ordinary - commonplace, unexceptional, usual, normal

The church year has several seasons, the two most familiar being Advent, the four Sundays preceding Christmas, and Lent the forty days before Easter.

Ordinary Time this year is from January 10 to February 7, and continues from May 15 to November 27.

There are practices noted to observe Advent and Lent, but there are no guidelines to honor Ordinary Time other than to recognize God at work in everyday life.

Jesus ministry occurred in the ordinary time of going from towns and villages, teaching and meeting people as they traveled and completed their normal tasks of daily living - shopping for food in the marketplace, tending sheep, planting crops and baking bread.

Encounters with Jesus long ago gave extraordinary meaning to ordinary days. The woman who found herself close enough in a crowed to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak experienced relief from twelve years of bleeding. The people who came to hear Jesus teach by the lake witnessed  five loaves of barley bread and two fish changed to feed five thousand people. When the disciples were in the middle of the lake rowing against the wind, Jesus appeared walking on water offering comfort.

Walking in a crowd, sitting by a lake, rowing a boat -all ordinary occurrences made extraordinary by seeing Jesus.

How can our ordinary, commonplace days become extraordinary as we encounter Jesus "in between" major holidays? I am suggesting three ways - reflection, service, prayer.

Reflection: Take few minutes at the end of your day. Imagine you and God are sitting side by side watching a video of everything that happened and every encounter you experienced. Consider these questions:

          When did I feel closest to God?
          Where did God bless me?
          How was I challenged?
         What word can I take from my day that speaks of God's presence?

Service: Simple acts of kindness wherever you go can bless others and honor Jesus' life of service and care of others. Here are a few suggestions:

          -- Look behind you when exiting a building. If someone is coming, hold the door open as they pass through.

          --Ask the cashier when you pay for purchases how he/she is doing or how the day is going.

          --Buy a card or write a note of encouragement to someone who is sick, lives alone, is lonely or struggling in some way.

Prayer: Praying for others brings you to God. New ways to pray may include the following"
          --Take your church directory and pray for those families under a different letter of the alphabet each day.

          --If you are stopped at a light, pray for the person beside, behind and in front of you.

          --When you walk or drive through your neighborhood, pray for those who surround you. Even if you do not know the person, you can make a general prayer to God for "those who live in this house."

          --Before you throw out your Christmas cards, pray for each individual or family. Taking this practice one step further: mail the sender a note that they were remembered in prayer.

These simple tasks of everyday living - reflection, acts of service, and prayer - can bring us to God, making each day holy and extraordinary.

What else can you think of to make Ordinary Time extraordinary? Let me know by sending an email to jreed46038 [@] hotmail [dot] com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Prayer: God, in whose presence we live and move, guide us to make "ordinary days" with you extraordinary by increasing our awareness of your presence through reflection, acts of service and prayer. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hope in the Locker Room at the YMCA

Many religious traditions suggest meditation, sitting for moments in silence, using steady breathing as a way to center and focus on a divine presence, named differently based on the faith. The benefits of meditation include:

         - stress relief
         - reduced anxiety
         - increased ability to appreciate life more fully
         - improved brain function
         - increased attention
         - increased immunity to fight disease

For years I've tried to sit on the floor and meditate without success. Guided meditation, timed meditation, focused attention on the breath, mindful meditation - I've tried them all and nothing works. Although I have the desire to meditate, the basic problem is I have difficulty sitting still for even short periods.

Brain Waves and Swimming

One day last summer I got out of the outdoor pool of the Jordan YMCA on the far north side of Indianapolis. An elderly gentleman next to me who finished at the same time turned to me and said, "You know brain waves change when you swim."

This new thought, awakened my curiosity as he quickly wrapped himself in a towel and headed for the locker room on that chilly 65 degree day in mid-June.

Driving home, I realized how swimming laps over the past forty-one years has been a time of prayer, silence and reflection as I move through the water. I imagine a scripture in John 5 where an angel stirred the water at the pool of Bethesda. The first person to enter the pool after the water was stirred was healed from whatever disease he or she had.

God comes to me consistently when I swim and immediately afterwards. I consider swimming meditation. Maybe I am not sitting still, nor am I physically still as I complete laps, but God is revealed in some new way every time I get in the water.

When I returned home I went to the computer and Googled, "brain waves when swimming." According to my source, our brains produce six different types of waves. Beta waves occur when an individual is awake, alert, and concentrating. Alpha waves happen when you are falling asleep, just waking up or during moments of relaxation. Alpha waves are always produced during a meditative state or when swimming.

Unconventional Meditation Works

I realized I can officially count my time in the water as meditation! I don't need to worry about trying to sit still for ten minutes or more again. I can swim for forty or more minutes and get the same benefit, even more!

On Saturday, November 7, I completed 3/4 of a mile at the Fishers YMCA where I live, north of Indianapolis. I got out of the pool and went to shower. Finishing, I reached for my towel and felt my heart fill with hope. I stopped for a moment, experiencing such fullness it seemed like hope was stretching the inside of my chest.

Like Mary, who replied to the angel announcing her pregnancy, I wondered, "How can this be? I was washing my hair, rinsing the chlorine off my body, and my heart fills with hope!"

I wasn't in a church or talking to a pastor or sitting on a cushion for thirty minutes, but doing something completely ordinary, and God filled my heart!

After drying my hair, and heading to my car, I carried my full-heart home. Although I went to check my email, I decided to stop, sit in the fullness of hope, and absorb every moment until it went away. So I did. I sat on the floor of my office and rested in hope that filled my heart, not for a particular desire or circumstance or event - just pure hope, stretching my heart.

No longer discouraged, I see now the way God comes to me in every day life and in unexpected places. I no longer needed to "beat myself" for not being able to sit still and focus on God.

Prayer: God, you know each of your children so well as you created us in many ways. You bring holiness to me in the simplest places where I go every day. Come to all of us like you did to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, in ordinary places, with extraordinary holiness. Amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Eight Questions to Consider As You Take Down The Ornaments

Before you put away the ornaments from the Christmas tree, file the recipes for food you only prepare for the holidays, and organize presents, get a sheet of paper and a pen to record a few thoughts.

Reflect on experiences during the month of December and write your answers. Consider these questions -

1. Where did I see God?
2. How did I experience God?
3. When did I offer God's love?

Keep a copy of your reflections in a place where you can reference throughout 2016, perhaps in the spring after Easter, during the summer or next October as preparations for next Christmas may begin. The answers that come from these questions can reveal the fullness of God's presence as well as give form to changes you might want to implement in future holiday planning.

Additional questions for the new year are an examination of your life and priorities. Responding to each can offer cleansing and direction in the new year.

1. For what am I longing?
2. What themes keep recurring in my life?
3. Where am I struggling?
4. What is most life-giving to me?
5. What is least life-giving?

Jesus spent time going away for prayer. Although we do not know the content of his reflections, he gave us a model of the importance of being still with God.

Prayer: God, at the beginning of a new year help us collect our experiences with you and others from 2015. Guide us as we use these eight questions to realize your presence with us, give us new energy and focus within and guide us in service to you. Amen.