Category Archives: Theology

A Generous Spirit

The Archbishop had uses a beautiful phrase to describe this way of being in the world: “becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.” (p. 274)

 [New York: Avery, 2016]

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 6:34-7:1, NRSV)

The usual phrasing of scripture is to put the first two sentences with a previous grouping – consider the lilies of the field. The second begins a new chapter. But for today, I’m playing with the usual divisions – a bit of midrash in light of Bishop Tutu’s comment about generosity of spirit.

Easy to be with. Comfortable in her/his own skin. Grounded. Laughs easily and often. Life-giving. All different ways of touching on the same thing: a generous spirit. Not perfect, nor expecting perfection from others. Living the day that presents itself, not wishing for the day that didn’t.  Aware of the unique gift each day is, but willing to let it go at day’s end – how else can a new day be embraced with all its beauty and holiness?

I’ve had the great good fortune to know several such people in my life. They have been my mentors, my friends, and my touchstones; they taught me to see in this life/this day/this moment a glimpse of God’s presence. In their words, actions, and presence, a transforming truth radiated:

If you can find God in the here and now, you have no reason to look elsewhere or elsewhen: if you can’t find God in the here and now, you won’t find God anywhere or anywhen else.

Thank you, Elisabeth Hewitt, Cullen Story, Horatio Chase, Grace and Albert Wood. You helped me see the life in my days.

Orienting

[ Photo by Jared Fredrickson] 

The weeds in the garden were well on their way to taking over the bed, so I spent an hour pulling them away from the tomatoes, chives, snow peas, and sunflowers. When I began, the sun was just peeking over the roof line; when I finished up, it was well on its way to the middle of the sky.

I don’t usually pay much attention to this daily arc through the sky – unless it’s to seek shade or because the sun’s heat is doing its best to turn my skin pink. But today, I began my weeding at the base of the sunflowers. In the hour I spent in the garden, the sunflowers changed their orientation: all of them began facing one direction and turned their faces to another by the time I stopped pulling weeds. The sun had moved, and they changed their orientation to continue facing it, following the life-giving light.

When I water the garden this evening, the sunflowers will be facing in the opposite direction to their morning orientation. It’s why they are called sunflowers, I suppose: though grounded in one particular place, they turn with the sun’s movement. If that isn’t an every day miracle, I don’t know what is.

It struck me that I can do the same thing. I cannot move from the particular time and circumstance that set the parameters of my life’s span, but I can choose my orientation. I can choose to be moved by something life-giving beyond myself. And within this very small, brief, and specific life span I call my own, I can choose to act accordingly.

Lord, keep my eyes and heart open. Only with your help can I look beyond myself and act with compassion for all the life you’ve created. Amen.

 

Enough?

The tradition in my house for birthdays and other special days: the honored person gets the day off from all household chores, and gets to decide what to eat. From appetizers and snacks, through entrees, sides, and dessert, it’s all selected by the honoree  and made by someone else. Something became very obvious when this tradition started, and continues to the present:

If we are grateful for our lives, enough is as good as a feast.

If we are not, no feast will ever be enough.

 

Having a Little Fun

Having worked with many spiritual leaders, I’m tempted to see a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development. 

Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy

It’s a wonderful gift, a sense of humor that lifts people up rather than cuts them down. To hold a situation lightly without making light of it requires a certain talent – and a particular way of looking at the world.  Desmond Tutu put it this way:

It’s not about the belittling humor that puts other people down and yourself up. It’s about bringing people onto common ground…the humor that doesn’t demean is an invitation to everyone to join in the laughter.  (p. 220)

I’ve looked for and found this kind of humor in those I count among the spiritually mature. Perhaps I should start looking for spiritual maturity among those with a good sense of humor. Religious affiliation may be unknown or non-existent, but prophets and mystics are bound to show up when and where I least expect them. And laugh at how long it took me to find them.

[Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy; New York: Avery, 2016]

 

 

Humility

I met one of my favorite professors several years after he retired. He’d agreed to come back and teach beginnning Greek and Hebrew grammar for a year. He’d been on the faculty with Bruce Metzger, the famous Biblical studies professor who had helped shape the Revised Standard Version of the Bible as well as the New Revised Standard Version. If asked, he would say that Metzger was the better scholar, and that he had learned a great deal from him. Even in his retirement, Metzger was quite aware of his reputation, and of his achievements. He had better things to do with his time and talent than teach grammar; someone else with lesser abilities could do that.

Metzger had a point. He continued giving lectures and working at the highest level of academia in his retirement. His list of accomplishments continued to grow almost until his death.

I am grateful for the life and work of Bruce Metzger. Every time I open my NRSV Bible, I encounter his work in its translation choices and notes. But I didn’t know him as a person, and I have no idea how his relationship to God in Christ affected his life.

The other professor, I knew. He taught Greek and Hebrew because the words of the prophets and the gospels were written in them. He didn’t think teaching grammar was beneath him: how could offering others the ability to read sacred texts be beneath him? He had humility in spades, and joy to share.

Love God, self, and neighbor in whatever you do, and joy is sure to come.

Eight Pillars of Joy

I’ve been reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World these past couple of months – it’s the written version of a week-long visit at Dharamsala. Bishop Desmond Tutu, his holiness the Dalai Lama, and writer Douglas Abrams spend days discussing what true joy is, obstacles that prevent us from experiencing lasting joy, and the eight pillars that foster a joyful life. There are some wonderful stories, a few pictures, and a lot of play and laughter – something found on the many video clips of the encounter, and somehow found in the book’s very pages. In a time of uncertainty, this is a wonderful book to discuss with others.

It’s the pillars of joy that I’m reading at the moment. Why not read and write? If you have the time and inclination, pick up The Book of Joy and read along with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Peace, Johnna

[Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams; The Book of Joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world; New York: Avery, 2016]

O God

The world wasn’t created by me, and it isn’t limited to my life span or experience. I wasn’t self-created, and I’m not self-sufficient or self-sustained. I am a beloved child, living in God’s creation – not the center of it.

As I begin my day, may I remember that this life of mine is a gift from God. I am never alone.

And the same is true of everyone and everything else.

For the full prayer, click “For Today: Phillips Brooks Prayer” above.

For Today: A Prayer by Phillips Brooks


It’s the last thing you read before you leave one Forward Day by Day for the next one. I’d call it a way to redefine the day from a given number of hours to accomplish tasks to another chance to live humbly before God and in loving relationship with self and neighbor. It was written by Phillips Brooks, the man who penned the word to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and served as rector of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. There’s an old fashioned air to this prayer, and a powerful use of words. It’s going to be the focus of these post-Easter writings, and my daily prayer. I hope you join me in praying:

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity: Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH, www.forwardmovement.org]

This is the first in a series on this prayer. For more on this prayer, click “For Today” above.

What will I do with it?

Monday, April 13th, 2020

The wind howls outside, shaking the windows and snapping the flag just over my back fence. Power lines dance and branches clap their twiggy hands. The storm will continue for hours, then move on – not the same deadly force it had in the South, but enough to offer downed lines and flooded roads.

I don’t fear the storm – my house is well built and I’ve seen many a more severe one. In a few hours, the sun will return; in a few days, the seeds I planted yesterday will be green shoots. I can enjoy the wild weather because the mild days are on the way. Life renews itself, asking little of me but recognition and participation.

But weather isn’t the only storm. Everyone is hunkered down, waiting for the pandemic to pass. Many have perished, and many more are suffering. This will end, just as the storm out my window will, but the cost is far greater and the damage far worse.

When I can return to something like my normal life, will I do so with a greater appreciation for the blessings I have? Will I do my best to make sure that the part of this world I call my home is better prepared should it happen again? Will I take action to strengthen and serve the most vulnerable among my neighbors?

What will I do with the time I am given? Will I live a resurrected life, a grateful life, a holier life? I hope so. Will I return to old habits that waste time and effort, focus on myself to the exclusion of others, take my life for granted? I hope not, but I expect I will – at least in part.

God forgive me if I live the rest of this life as if Easter never happened.

Perspective

With a pandemic redefining our daily reality, in light of the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu found in The Book of Joy, at this time of remembering Christ’s crucifixion, maybe I can be brave enough, loving enough, and wise enough to…

[Window decal bought at Macro World, Portsmouth, NH]

What am I waiting for?