Friday, September 25, 2009

What To Do, What To Do

During the last week or two, I've been browsing through A New Zealand Prayer Book, looking for prayers and "good words" for our Christian Fellowship Service Book. This prayer book is much like the American Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, but the prayers are often in simpler language, language that reflects a vibrant connection between a people and the land, the oceans and God.

Here's a prayer that I'm pinning up on my wall:
Jesus, you knew rejection and disappointment;
help us if our work seems distasteful;
help us to decide what best to do,
what next to do,
or what to do at all.
Give us courage and cheerfulness to go the second mile, and all the miles ahead. (NZPB, pg.130)
I'm at the "what to do at all" point today. I pray you are at "what best to do".

Blessings on whatever decision you need to make!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Power of Presence

Over the last few weeks, I've been hearing a consistent message. "Just show up." "Just be there." "Be present."

It's one of the first things that a hospital chaplain learns. You don't neccessarily need to converse or do anything for the patient. Often what is most needed is simply your presence, quiet and still.

Mindfulness, presence, is the very essence of Buddhism. Focusing on the now, this minute, this time gives you perspective and helps you sense the Divine Presence in what you are doing.

In marriage and in friendships, the simple act of sitting in the same room together, each reading or sewing or thinking can strengthen the bonds of relationship.

Just showing up for your child's soccer game or dance recital or team debate can bring joy to your child and display your love.

My minister reminds us that attending service on Sunday is a spiritual discipline. We never know who will be touched and uplifted just by walking into the sanctuary and seeing familiar faces there. Our presence creates community which can comfort and support--and "all" we did was show up.

My Christian Fellowship is finding that for the last year simply our presence is yielding fruit. We meet twice a month, make sure that the Sunday bulletin announces when we're meeting and write an article for the monthly newsletter. We mention our involvement casually in conversation. We had a small table at the congregational Connections Fair. We are present in our UU community. From five regular attendees, we're growing to 10. People mention that they've visited our church and stayed partly because they noticed that Christians meet and are accepted. A few people from other UU congregations in the area have visited our meetings.

Presence. Steady. Quiet. Loving. Calming.

How did you show up today?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wait Patiently

We've been talking about stillness, and the Psalms offer this advice in several contexts. In Psalm 46, we are told to remember that God wields some awesome power; human effort is pretty small in comparison. If we just stop for a moment, "Be still", we can regain perspective about our role in the world. In Psalm 131, we learn that we need not worry about matters that are out of our control or not suited to our skills and preferences. We can still our souls, for God has things well in hand.

Another verse of stillness appears in Psalm 37, Part 1, v 1-18. Right in the middle of this dramatic description of what will happen to evildoers, the writer states:
Be still before the Lord
and wait paitently for him.
In the NRSV translation, the psalmist repeats several times "Do not fret...", God will make sure that evil will be punished.

What are we to do? The Psalm says:
  • Do not fret.
  • Put your trust in the Lord.
  • Do good.
  • Dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
  • Refrain from anger.
  • Take delight in the Lord.
And, of course, "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him." Verse 7, another great meditation verse to lean on.

I'm learning to read the Psalms as poetry, not as a debate script. These 18 verses have a structure which centers on Verse 7, wait for the Lord. The rest of the psalm describes why we should wait and what to do in the meantime. Life's little instruction book in 18 verses.

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Psalmette

I'm exploring the psalms for the encouragement to "Be Still" and in the last post I quoted Psalm 46. Verse 11 is quoted often. "Be still" in the context of this psalm asks us to see the wonders of God. Stop making "much ado", the writer says. "Be still, then, and know that I am God."

There are a couple of other places where stillness is mentioned. One is in an itty bitty psalm, Psalm 131. The psalm is only 4 verses. It is not the shortest (Psalm 134 has only 2 verses!), but it's packed and a wonderful prayer to memorize. This is another psalm where every translation is slightly different and the feeling conveyed shifts with the words. This is a great psalm to read comparatively over several translations to glean the levels of meaning. I'm going to share the translation from Gary Chamberlain:
1 Lord, I do not intend to be haughty;
I do not want to aim too high.
2 I am not concerned with impressive things,
Or with problems unsuited to me.
3 Have I not calmed and stilled my inner self?
I rest on God, as an infant rests on its mother.
4 Israel, wait for the Lord,
From now and forever.
The Psalms, pages 166-7
Two things jump out at me. First, the second line of verse 2. Some writers say "things that are difficult" or "things that are too hard". But I like Chamberlain's interpretation. "I am not concerned...with problems unsuited to me." There is a great reassurance in that line. If something is "too difficult", as in some translations, I get the feeling that I'm incompetant, not good enough (my own insecurities tapped). However, in Chamberlain's revelation, I am suited to some activites, to solving some problems; for others I am not suited and there is no shame in that. "I rest on God..." Oh, how that phrase shimmers inside and calms me. Try that line for the meditation I shared last time. Yes, indeed, that will work.

And that my friends, is one awesome Psalmette. Blessings!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Be Still Practice

There are several places in the Bible where the writers urge us to "Be still" (I'll talk about that next post). This is a favorite phrase of mine, because I have Monkey Mind at its best and I complement that with an obsession to accomplish as much as I can in the least amount of time. Whenever you need some calm, try this meditation technique that I learned years ago and has been part of my spiritual practice ever since.

1. Sit quietly and comfortably anywhere that will give you the least distraction (I know for a fact that this will work on a crowded, noisy subway, however, so don't let noise deter you). Works best with eyes closed.
2. Pick a verse from the Bible, preferably one line with several words.
3. Begin by repeating the phrase silently several times, slowly, mindful of each word.
4. Remove the last significant word from the phrase and repeat again several times.
5. Continue Step 4 until you are at the last word. Repeat several times, then continue to let you mind rest in silence or open your eyes and return to the world.

The Bible verse I always use is Psalm 46, verse 11, line 1: "Be still, then, and know that I am God."

Here's what happens in the meditation as you drop each ending word:
Be still, then, and know that I am God.
Be still, then, and know that I am.
Be still, then, and know that I.
Be still, then, and know.
Be still, then.
Be still.

Each line is being repeated several times, so with this phrase, the practice will take several minutes, enough time to quiet Monkey Mind and find your center.

Pick a Bible verse or a favorite line of poetry that calms you and try this. Let me know what you think.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Angry Jesus

I've been working through Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. It's a fascinating review of all the ways that the original text of the Bible has been changed, removed, miscopied and mistranslated. I got to his study called "Mark and an Angry Jesus" (pages 133-139) and really dug in. In this study, Ehrman tells us that surviving manuscripts preserve two forms of Mark 1:41 from the story of Jesus healing a man with a skin disease. Most of our present-day translations use one form of the verse:
Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
This is the familiar form in which Jesus acts from compassion. That image merges well with the popular "gentle Healer" image. The other form, acknowledged in my New Revised Standard Version reads:
Moved with anger, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!"
Erhman contends that the second reading is the older of the two and that the "anger" within this verse can make sense. Jesus becomes angry several times in Mark when someone doubts his willingness, ability or divine authority to heal. Ehrman further illustrates in Mark 9 when someone asks gingerly "If you are willing you are able to heal me." Jesus gets miffed. Of course he's willing just as he's able and authorized (page 139).

I've always been glad for the righteous anger that explodes when Jesus cleans out the Temple. There's the human Jesus just as disgusted and frustrated and enraged as any of us could get at the sight of desecration. But I hadn't pictured Jesus as Mark often does--with a knowledge of his own gifts and a willingness to use them for good so strong that he's nearly insulted when someone questions him. Jesus, living with an undercurrent of tension and impatience, perhaps. Puts Jesus in a different light. I'm kind of liking this.

This deserves a Bible study. I'm going to read Mark again and watch for the strength of Jesus, the irritation, the rage.

What do you think of an angry Jesus?