September 26, 2010

God in our Routine Images

Our lives are filled with images. TV, billboards, magazines, internet, books, and street signage are just a few of the things we see every day. Many times we don’t even think about them. You know the hexagonal sign means stop so you don’t really LOOK at it. That billboard on that corner advertises a law office and has for years, so we don’t see it, really. We pass the same house day after day, but when we suddenly notice it’s a different color, we wonder “How long has it been like that?” It’s easy to get so lost in the same routine that we don’t really pay attention to what we see.

The third verse of Keble’s hymn suggests that if we pay attention, we may find God present everywhere:
If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.

When our mind is willing to “hallow all we find,” each and every thing we see can become an icon showing us God.

Madeline L’Engle explains, “an icon is a symbol, rather than a sign…[it] contains within it some quality of what it represents…an icon of the Annunciation…contains, for us, some of Mary’s acceptance and obedience, and so affects our own ability to accept, to obey.” An icon is a representation of a piece of the Holy, something that opens our hearts and souls to see a bit more of God.

A traditional icon is a piece of wood painted with a holy image, but there are icons of God all around us, if we are just open to them. Stories, music, ‘secular’ art, a sunset can each be an icon. “There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred,” says L’Engle, “and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”

Both L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor infer that the Incarnation is in fact the most holy of all icons. God in flesh is a very real symbol of the Divine, who loves our human-ness. Brown remarks, “I came late to the understanding that God loved all of me—not just my spirit but also my flesh…[and] God loved all bodies everywhere.”

Brown suggests taking on a “daily practice of incarnation—of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh.” Jesus was God become Man, so he does know our fleshly needs. In the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen named humanity as an icon—a symbol of divine work and love. She wrote, “God be praised in his handiwork: humankind. And so, humankind full of all creative possibilities, is God’s work. Humankind alone, is called to assist God, humankind is called to co-create.”

L’Engle notes that we are co-creators with God and with one another. Authors, artists, and musicians create, but as she notes, “The reader, viewer, listener, usually grossly underestimates his importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life.”

Are there icons around you—symbols of the Holy One—that you haven’t paused long enough recently to notice? What if, for just one day, we tried to be aware of each thing we pass on our daily journey? We might just encounter God with “new treasures still, of countless price” as Keble says.

Next week, we will explore further what it means to be awake and aware of God in our routines.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

September 19, 2010

God Walking in our Routine

Where is God to be found in our walking and working each day? The very repetition of our lives deadens us to seeing the Holy all around us. Barbara Brown Taylor says, Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are.”

L’Engle notes that as adults we forget to enjoy all the things that fill our days. She warns, “When we lose waking up in the morning as though each day was going to be full of adventure, joys, and dangerswe lose the newborn quality of belief which is so lovely in the child.” Life becomes just one task after another, instead of an adventure filled with glimpses of God.

The Creator of all things says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my eyes…and I love you...” (Isaiah 43:1-5) Surely the One who calls us beloved wants to meet us in our daily work. It is you and me who get too busy to notice God waiting on the sidelines to play with us. What if we were as open to playing as a boy and his dog?

Sometimes, it is helpful to stop and examine something as routine and simple as walking to help us discover how close God is. As Keble’s hymn says,
New mercies, each returning day,
hover around us while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.

Brown suggests that one way to find (or be found by) God is to feel the earth under your feet, as if the ground on which you are standing really is holy ground.” Moses was amazed to see the bush that burned, but was not consumed, so he turned aside from his daily routine of sheep herding. Because he stopped, he met God.(Exodus 3:3)

As Brown points out, walking a labyrinth is one way of being intentional about our walking. You have to pay attention to the twists and turns of the path rather than just marching straight from the edge to center, as our ‘get it done’ enculturation urges. Spiritual practices (like labyrinths) teach us “about being human, about being human with other people, about being human in creation, about being human before God.” (Brown). This is exactly what we are looking for when we try to find God in our routine.

You don’t have to necessarily seek out a labyrinth, although it is a good spiritual exercise if you have one nearby. Simply taking the time to be quiet and focus on walking can help us find God nearby. Brown suggests going barefoot to “feel how the world really feels when you do not strap little tanks on your feet.” Or you can just concentrate on the foot hitting the pavement or grass. Notice the amazing way your muscles work to lift the arch and ankle and how the toes react as you walk.

You don't even have to take a walk. Find a comfortable place to sit outside (on a chair or even better on the ground itself) and just become aware of each amazing thing in the circle around you. Use all your senses to see the wonders of God in that small area. There is a texture to the grass or sand--each blade or grain is different. See how the light makes everything visible and clear. Listen to the sounds you may be too busy to normally hear. Feel the air on your skin. You may want to touch the ground or grass. How long has it been since you played in the dirt? Inhale the fragrance of the grass and flowers. Even dirt has a distinct smell. The inhabitants of the place you are sitting may come out if you are quiet. If you are really adventurous, you might taste the grass. What did you discover in your time of quiet with God and nature?

I try to walk a circuit of a local park a couple of times a week, because it’s the only exercise routine I can ever stick with. I wish I could say that I am conscious of my walking every time, but usually I’m thinking about the last song on the radio or what tasks await at work or home.

This week, on my walks, I will try to be conscious of my feet touching the ground and of my surroundings as I make the circuit. Maybe I will discover, with Madeline L’Engle “We are meant to be real and to see and recognize the real.”

Next week, we’ll explore finding the holy in all we encounter.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

September 12, 2010

God Incarnate in Routine

How do we find God in the day-to-day routines of life? Life falls into a series of routines that put us on auto pilot. It doesn’t take long for a new school experience, a new job, a new life experience to become commonplace and routine. We forget what Jeremiah says: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Like the clouds, routines can block out the newness of God's love and mercy.

Madeline L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor suggest that God can be found “in the work” and “under our feet.”* God is present, incarnate in everything around us and everything we do. The Creator of All is ‘new every morning’ but we can forget that as we go about our daily tasks. We often think that what we do can’t be important or part of the ‘big picture’ of God’s plan, because it isn’t ‘religious’. Taylor says that it doesn’t “matter whether or not our work is considered secular or sacred.” L’Engle teaches us that “qualifications don’t matter”. As long as we are obedient and serve our work with humility, we become co-creators with God.

Jesus tells us to become as children in order to enter the Kingdom. “And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). Children naturally are incarnational. A child doesn’t like to fit into a routine. Try to get a toddler to quite playing just to accomodate your schedule and you will hear a wail of distress. He doesn’t care if you are ready to leave; he is in the middle of bringing the imaginary to life. Without knowing it, the toddler is serving the work and making it an incarnational experience.

The little ones are closer to their true nature and less constrained by ‘getting it right’ or ‘being on time’. L’Engle points out that we are “either creators, or as participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten.” She insists children haven’t forgotten what it is like to walk on water.

L’Engle says, “If Jesus of Nazareth was God become truly man for us, as I believe he was, then we should be able to walk on water, heal the sick…” St. Iranaeus of Lyons (c. 125-210) agrees. He reminds us, “The tender flesh itself will be found one day…to be capable of receiving…capable of embracing-the searing energies of God…for even at the beginning its humble clay received God’s art…” (Capable Flesh as translated by Scott Cairns in An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor)

How can you and I become more aware of God and less bound by routine. As I start, list everything you do in a day. How many of them are the same every day? The same route to work, the same way of starting the day, the same place for lunch…?

What difference would it make if you actively lived as if these words of the hymn by John Keble were true?
New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

Would it make a difference in how I live if I remember that God’s love is really ‘new every morning’ and that I have been ‘restored to life and power and thought’?

Maybe for the next week I will try to remember that verse each day and see if it makes a difference.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how to be intentional about how we ‘walk on the earth’ as a way to make our lives more aware and less full of blind routine.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

September 5, 2010

Labor Day

We started the summer on Memorial Day, remembering the fallen soldiers of our nation’s history. We end the summer with Labor Day, a tribute to the workers of America.

Labor Day was an outgrowth of labor organizations at the end of the 19th century. On Tuesday, September 5, 1882 a local event was sponsored by the Central Labor Union of New York City. The picture is of the parade in NYC in 1882. Two years later, the first Monday of September was set as the holiday when more unions started celebrating a “workingman’s holiday.” Gradually cities and then states accepted the practice. Twelve years later, on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday of September a legal holiday.

Now, the long weekend is more of a ‘last hurrah’ of summer festivities, with trips to the lake or camping. Some places still have parades or other recognition events to celebrate the important role ‘blue collar’ workers play in the life and livelihood of our nation. For most of us though, it’s the last long weekend before all the busy fall activities move into full swing. Most schools are already in session and the after school sports or other extra curricular activities are also starting. Places like the Cathedral, where I work, start fall programs and the busy rush up to the season of Advent.

It is easy to get caught up in getting everything done. Sometimes, maybe even often, we end up falling into a daily routine to get everything completed. The routine becomes numbing and we act on autopilot and don’t really experience each day.

Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says. “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:29-30) When we are working in our own strength, life can be heavy and discouraging. However, when we are yoked with our Lord, the load is more than halved. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he says. Finding God in the routines of our day-to-day life is not always easy, but it is essential to our physical and spiritual health.

For the next three months, until the beginning of Advent,  I'll be exploring ways of finding God in the routine(s) of my/our day-to-day existence--as much for my benefit as anyone who stops by. I will be drawing inspiration from Madeline L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor, as well as others. Stop by and share your observations, we can all learn from each other as yoke-mates with one another and with Christ.