Category Archives: worship

It’s Not Just About Me

…the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

[Psalm 19:9-10a, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]

 

English doesn’t quite get the point across. This isn’t fear in the sense of afraid-for-my-life/scared-to-death; this fear of the Lord is the quickening of the pulse, the scared-to-life sense when holiness shows up. This isn’t fear that harm will come, but keen awareness of the difference between creature and Creator.

This awareness of my own limitations, this encounter with the love that created all that is, this is what I should desire more than gold. My finitude in the presence of the loving Infinite doesn’t diminish me: it just gives me the slightest glimpse of God’s sacred love of everyone and everything else.

It’s a wonderful and humbling gift of truth: I am God’s beloved, and I walk a world full of other beloveds.

 

Other Things…

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31, NRSV

This is the end of today’s Gospel offering – the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples, of Thomas’ absence at that time, his doubt and his eventual acceptance of Jesus resurrected once he had seen Jesus for himself. The gospel reminds us that what we read in scripture is just a partial account: there was more to the story, things we will never read or have read to us. What was handed down wasn’t to relate everything that Jesus ever said or did; what was handed down was for us to make a doorway of words and images – a way for us to enter the truth, meet Jesus, and gain life. They are the words that end chapter 20.

But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25, NRSV

This is the end of John’s Gospel, similar to the ones above, but rarely ever read in church – the lectionary reading ends a couple of verses short of them. Maybe it’s because these words are so similar to the ones ending chapter 20? Did the similarities between the passages make them appear to be exactly the same, not worth a second reading? Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way, what sets them apart is remarkable.

The first words are about the disciples, and about Jesus appearing in resurrected form to them. They are written for all of us, so that we may encounter Jesus and be forever changed by him. They are our linguistic doorway into truth and life.

The second words go way beyond that. Two differences stand out to me, but there are sure to be more:

Jesus did other things beyond the presence of his disciples, his followers, and us – so many things that the world itself isn’t big enough to contain an account of them. Jesus isn’t limited to the Christian record, the church and its history, the fellowship through time and space. It’s a well phrased reminder that we cannot and should not try to set limits on how God manifests, even within the limits of our own space and time. 

Jesus manifests in ways that the world cannot contain because within each and every living thing is a world of mystery and untold depth. The cosmic scope of the universe finds its reflection in the cosmic scope of our own inner landscapes – the dwelling place of the Spirit within. It takes a lifetime to scratch the surface; perhaps part of the joy of eternity is a deep dive into these worlds, and a complete sharing of them with God and all God’s beloved children.

I think the differences make them both worth reading.

Conservation of Spiritual Matter

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

[Canticle 10: The Second Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 55:6-11, BCP pp. 86-87]

It’s one of the basics of science: the law of the conservation of energy. The gist is that energy cannot be created or destroyed – it can only change from one form to another. Of course, this is assuming that we take a really long view, taking into account the entire cosmos when we apply this principle. Nothing in God’s creation can be lost, but things can change form – energy to matter, matter back to energy.

This law has been put to the test countless times by creating an enclosed system that can be monitored and measured – biospheres, bell jar ecosystems, etc. Nothing lost, nothing gained in such a system. But what about this life we live outside such controlled experiments?

The word of God doesn’t dissipate, and it doesn’t fail. Perhaps it changes form, adapting to the realities that we create in ways that foster love and compassion. Ignored in one manifestation, perhaps it assumes another – one that we can understand and accept. Perhaps the word of God will keep manifesting in new ways, constantly seeking us out, patiently offering us a part in bringing about the transformation of all that is into the holy reality it is meant to be.

All we have to do is keep an eye out for it, and love accordingly.

Life and Growth

For as the rain and snow fall from the heavens* and return not again, but water the earth,

Bringing forth life and giving growth,* seed for sowing and bread for eating,

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that for which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Canticle 10: The Second Song of Isaiah (Is.55:6-11), BCP, pp. 86-87

The chives are emerging – green shoots finding their way through last year’s leafy mulch. Onions have been sending up shoots for weeks now, even though I haven’t planted anything this year. Hollyhocks, daffodils, and crocuses are up, too: the every day miracle of perennial and reseeded growth. In another few weeks, it will be tomato, potato, and pumpkin plants – bounty and life  begun from the composted remnants of last year’s crops. All this life, and I haven’t begun to plan or plant this year’s garden yet.

Nature doesn’t seem to waste much; she calls life from the left over, the discarded, and the sowing done decades ago. It is a joy to behold, and a privilege to have a hand in any of it. My investment of time, energy, and a negligible amount of money continue to pay handsomely in beauty and food.

Bringing forth life and giving growth – the Spirit doesn’t seem to waste much, either. Surely She can bring forth life and give growth from even my leftover, discarded, and half-hearted offerings.

Seasonal

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens* and return not again, but water the earth…

The Water Cycle is one of the first of nature’s systems that I learned. In second or third grade, it was a simple clouds draw water from the ocean and then it becomes rain, waters the trees, then returns to the ocean as river water. As I grew older, more details were added – water tables, seasonal and geographical variants, and the damage that could be done to the whole thing. Drought, acid rain, floods, soil erosion, and pollution became the dark side of the cycle, and the Clean Water Act a sign of hope and wisdom.

The importance of water is obvious: nothing can live without it. There’s a beauty to water changing form: liquid, solid, gas. It’s in the ability to transform that water provides life, and then renews itself. Such a miraculous substance, such a necessity for life to emerge. It’s a privilege to be part of the life that water sustains, and it’s a responsibility: leave it intact for the life that is to come.

Perhaps it’s the same with God’s sustaining and creative word. It is constant and constantly able to be what is necessary for life and for its own renewal. No part of its presence is unnecessary or unimportant, whether it’s in a form I can see or not. If so, then the same thing applies: recognize the privilege and respond accordingly. Leave the fruits of God’s word for the life that is to come.

And…

Let the wicked forsake their ways,* and the evil ones their thoughts;

And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,*

and to our God, for he will richly pardon.

[The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11), BCP, pp. 86-87]

I am a prodigal daughter, standing in a sty, surrounded by pigs. This is the fork in the road. Do I perish here, soul and maybe even body? Do I walk the long road home, back to a mother and father who love me?

I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of – this barren wasteland that is my soul, or the life-giving home that will rescue me from this self-chosen living death.

If I go back, one thing I know: all bets are off. I’ll never be able to turn a prodigal away. All will be welcome. All who seek it will be restored.

[For the whole canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

 Photo by Jared Fredrickson

Isaiah Sings A Lenten Song

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;*

call upon him when he draws near.

[The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11)Book of Common Prayer, p. 86-87]

Whenever I pray the first part, the first line, there’s an obvious thought that comes along with it – something that could be put in parentheses and added to every Book of Common Prayer:

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found (which is always, every minute of every day);*

That God wants to be found by us is a no-brainer: God seeks discovery, a parent hiding in plain sight, waiting for us to open our eyes. God is constant and never truly beyond our reach.

But God doesn’t force a relationship. Constancy is not the same thing as insistence. We have the right to walk away, walk past, turn and head in another direction. We can refuse to reach out. We can stay put, hanging back from God’s presence rather than taking steps toward. Perhaps feeling we aren’t worthy of God’s love, afraid to admit our imperfections, embarrassed by needing the deep love that only God offers, we might not have the wherewithal to seek.

That’s why the second part is so important. Even with God’s presence with and for us a sure thing, our presence with and for God isn’t. So we have to act, to respond. God isn’t asking for much, just the simple act of calling a name. When we don’t have the courage, strength, wisdom, or energy to get up and look, we just have to call out. When we can’t see God through the darkness, we just need to speak. Even the faintest of whispers will do – God has drawn near enough to hear.

[For the full canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

Prayer from the Hebrides: God To Enfold Me

God to enfold me

God to surround me,

God in my speaking,

God in my thinking.

[Prayer from the Hebrides, 1st stanza. David Adam, The Eye of the Eagle, London: Triangle, 1990, p. 83. For full prayer, click “Prayer of the Hebrides” above.]

David Adam offers this prayer with these instructions: Pray it regularly with the use of your imagination.

There are days when it is only with my imagination that I can speak these four words – God to enfold me. What I assume is God’s embrace isn’t always what God’s embrace is. God enfolds me in ways that I cannot grasp. Like the air that enfolds me and gives me life, God may be invisible even when I am enveloped in a divine embrace.

The imagination I need isn’t a flight of fancy; imagination is opening my eyes to see what my spiritual blindness has hidden from me. Imagination can remind me that the face of God that I cannot see and the embrace of God that I do not feel aren’t because God is absent. I cannot see and I do not feel because I have’t opened my eyes or allowed myself to be held.

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.

I will try this day

On the inside cover of Forward Day by Day, you can find a prayer called A Morning Resolve. This being the month of resolutions, broken and unbroken, I thought it a fitting time to dive in and take a closer look. It’s a longish prayer, with words that address heart, mind, and spirit. Word by word, line by line, let’s take a good look. The place to start: the first five words.

I will try this day

There are infinite possibilities in this God-given world, but there are no repeats. If I do not seek God this very day, I live a lesser version of life than what is offered. Will I choose to live into today’s unique and holy offerings? Will I try? Will you?

[For the full prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]