October 31, 2010

All Hallows Eve

Since September we’ve been looking at Routines and how God is present in our day-to-day life. By becoming aware of our routines, we can also be more aware, as Madeline L’Engle and Barbara Brown Taylor say, of God found “in the work” and “under our feet.” We can consciously be aware of the Holy present in the ground under our feet, in the images around us, in the altars (holy places) in our lives, and even in the interaction with those we meet. The past couple of weeks we’ve looked at how interrupted routines can also heighten our awareness of the Holy in our lives. God breaks in when we let go of our routine, whether on purpose, by being aware of things around us, or in the disruption of the daily habits. Holidays are another way that our routines are disrupted and God breaks in.

Today is All Hallows Eve, more commonly known as Halloween. For most of the world it has lost its historic link to the Christian Feast of All Saints Day (Nov. 1), when the church remembers that we are all saints. The link to being the Eve (night before) the celebration of all the saints of God is largely forgotten or ignored now.

Now, these origins are so obscured that some consider the celebration of Halloween as just a secular or even pagan or diabolical holiday. However, the roots go back to the time before the Christian church came to the Celtic lands of what is now England and Ireland. Before the church adopted the practice of remembering the faithful departed saints, there was an even more ancient festival associated with the change of seasons and the end of October. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was the time when Celts honored their ancestors. It is easy to understand how the early church would find a way to relate the remembrance of the faithful saints with the existing feast remembering ancestors. Around the 9th century, the early church wisely adopted and redeemed Samhain, just as happened with other many existing feasts and celebrations.

There are records of Christianity in Britain by the 3rd century and of course the legend of Joseph of Arimathea coming to Glastonbury soon after the crucifixion. The first Church authorized evangelism was under Pope Gregory I who sent Augustine to Britain in the 6th century. (This is not Augustine of Hippo, one of the famous theologians of the church, who lived 200 years earlier.) Augustine’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude did not sit well with the people of Britain who had developed their own form of Christianity in isolation from the rest of Christendom.

One cannot but wonder (at least I cannot help wondering) if the adoption of Samhain into All Hallows Eve was not a centuries later footnote at one of the church councils to offer an olive branch to the Celtic roots of Britain’s Christians. The change of the seasons was perceived, by the Celts and other ancients, as a ‘thin space’ or a time when the boundary between our world and the ‘Otherworld’ was translucent. Spirits (good and bad) could come and go at such times. The Celtic celebrations involved masks, body painting, and bonfires. From this comes the wearing of costumes and even the jack-o-lantern. Now, of course, Halloween is mostly about wearing costumes and getting treats or going to masquerade parties. We rarely pause to remember the saints who have gone before.

The Rev. Gary Kriss notes, “There can be little doubt that our Christian observances owe much to pre-Christian customs. Witches and ghosts, unseen demons and the souls of the dead wandering in the dark were very real to ancient people, and this should not surprise us…We may need to step back for a bit of perspective before we too quickly dismiss the quaint and ill-informed customs of the ancients as pagan nonsense. Indeed, as the days grow shorter and the hours of natural light are fewer, we would do well to reflect on the importance of light, literally and figuratively, in our lives. To shed light on a problem is to move towards a solution. To come out of the darkness into the light is to overcome fear and ignorance.” (http://fullhomelydivinity.org/

Even in our modern life, we have things that frighten us. We may not pray, “From ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedie beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us” as an ancient Scottish litany puts it. However, we do have to deal with the fears of our own time. Halloween is a time when we can lightly touch scary things—and bring them into the light where they aren’t so fearsome.

The cultural routine is to celebrate Halloween with ghosts and goblins and costumes and treats. We’ve been looking at our routines and how to transform them into ways to be more aware of God within them. Maybe you can start a new routine around Halloween. One way might be to incorporate the eating of donuts on Halloween as a reminder to pray for the saints in your life. An old tradition involves the use of donuts as ‘soul cakes’ in the Middle Ages. Beggars would go from house to house offering to pray for the departed in return for food. Supposedly one cook decided to make her cakes in the shape of the circle of eternity—and the donut was born. http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/all%20hallows%20full%20page.htm

Perhaps another way to find God in the Halloween norm is to reflect on the lives of the saints we have known. Who has been influential in your faith growth? Give thanks to God for those persons.

I know I promised to talk about labels, but it is not often that Halloween falls on a Sunday, after all. Next week, we’ll get back to the routine, if you’ll pardon the pun.

October 24, 2010

God when we Get Lost

Last week we looked at interrupted routines. Routines are like predictable paths. In fact, often they ARE predictable paths. I don’t know about you, but I usually take the same route to and from work every day. I know pretty well how to time the lights along the route so I don’t have to stop. It’s the same with my daily habits. If I don’t have time to do my morning journaling or check the email before work, I feel out of kilter.

It’s amazing how early in life we fall into routines. This week we, my husband & I, babysat for our grandson while his mommy was in the hospital having his baby sister. He’s 4 and already has a set way of getting ready for bed. First he puts away toys, then gets into night clothes, then you have to read two stories, then he looks at books for a little while in his room before climbing into bed. You forget any step of that routine at your own peril. In the morning he has a series of steps that can’t be hurried, even if Grandma has to get to her own house before taking him to preschool and going to work! (He really is excited about his sister, I just caught him with an expression that says 'quit taking pictures'.)

Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that there is a spiritual discipline in getting off the regular paths and getting lost “because once you leave the cow path, the unpredictable territory is full of life.” She also says that when you get lost you have the opportunity to “take a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.”

Getting lost doesn’t necessarily have to be taking a wrong turn. It might be “getting lost looking for love…between jobs…looking for God…” Getting lost can be an opportunity to “move through my own chattering to God to that place where I can be silent and listen to what God may have to say,” according to Madeline L’Engle.

In thinking about this week when I was ‘lost’ from my routine I thought that the opposite had happened. Because I was rushing to get everything done I didn’t think I had really taken time to pray. Then I realized that I DID find some ‘out of routine’ prayer times. God woke me up in the middle of the night for some intense prayer time! Driving to work (and feeling rushed) I found myself praying the Lord’s Prayer to calm and center myself! Keble, in his closing stanza, notes that our daily goal should be to ‘live more nearly as we pray.’

Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray

Getting lost from our routines, or in the midst of the routines, might give us just the interruption needed to turn back to God. Along our routine paths, God can become routine. When we are lost, God is very near. ‘Getting lost’ on purpose—taking a different way home or stopping at a park can offer respite with God. When life sends you down a path you weren’t expecting and you feel lost or just out of kilter, you may discover new ways of talking to God.

Sometimes we end up really lost, like the Prodigal Son, even feeding pigs like in this Bartolom√© Esteban Murillo painting. We are far from the normal, comfortable home we envisioned. When we hit bottom, we are indeed at the “Ground of Being.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, coined that phrase for God as the source of all being. Like the Prodigal Son, that is often when we ‘come to ourselves’ and say “Father I am not worthy to be called your son/daughter. Make me as one of your servants.” (Luke 15:11-32) The good news is that God welcomes us back as if we had never left!

Max Lucado (Cure for the Common Life) notes that “We need regular recalibrations…But who has time…? You have carpools to run; businesses to run; sales efforts to run; machines, organizations, and budgets to run. You gotta run…Christ repeatedly escaped the noise of the crowd in order to hear the voice of God. He resisted the undertow of the people by anchoring to the rock of his purpose: employing his uniqueness (to "preach to the other cities also") to make a big deal out of God ("the kingdom of God") everywhere he could.”

Getting lost may just be the recalibration you need. Look back over your life to see where you ‘got lost’ from the path you had plotted out for your life. Taylor says, “the practice of getting lost is both valuable and undervalued…in this culture [where] the point is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible…doing at least five other things while you are in transit.” Think about where God was in the times you felt lost. If you find yourself ‘lost’ outside your routine this week—look for the Holy in the changed circumstances.

Next week we’ll look at how labeling one another is a way of keeping our norms and routines ‘secure’.

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

October 17, 2010

God in our Interrupted Routines

There are many things that interrupt our routines. Some are delightful-like a family visit, some not so much-like pain or bad news. This month has been filled with interruptions for me. There was the visit from our daughter and her family, including 3 grandchildren, another grandbaby due to be born any day (different daughter), and preparations for the consecration of a bishop. All nice things, but they have kept me from my normal routines.

John Keble says,
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us daily nearer God

It is true that the daily routine can and does lead us closer to God. It is comforting to have a nice, set routine to follow. We don’t like to have our well organized lives interrupted and do our best to cling to the ‘trivial round, the common task’. However, sometimes it is the interruptions that present us with the opportunity to find an even more intimate experience of the Holy One.

The visit from our daughter reminded me of how enthusiastic children are. They visited during Balloon Fiesta and were delighted every time a hot air balloon was sighted near our house. A trip to the zoo was also a full of eager exploration. As noted in previous posts, the routines of life can numb us to that sort of delight. Sometimes an interruption reminds us, as adults, of the need to be passionate about our relationship with God.
Sometimes it is in the uncomfortable and even painful interruptions that God finds us. As CS Lewis points out, in The Problem of Pain, “[when my house of cards tumbles down] for a day or two [I] become a creature consciously dependent on God’s grace…Let Him but sheathe that sword…and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over-I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness.”

Barbara Brown Taylor notes that many of the world’s great religions grew out of an experience of suffering. She says, “Pain makes theologians of us all. If you have spent even one night in real physical pain, then you know what that can do to your faith in God, not to mention your faith in your own ability to manage your life.”

We look for the reason for our pain when something goes wrong and often blame God. However, if we embrace the suffering, we discover something astonishing and even miraculous-God is with us in the agony. In our pain we discover common ground with others because all of us does experience some sort of sorrow or pain or grief. Like the hummingbird hovering over this flower, there is beauty even in the hurt.

Our culture often makes us believe that life is meant to be a bed of roses and that obtaining just the ‘right’ car, house, dress, etc. will make us happy. Lewis shines a different light on the reason for difficulties. He notes that trials and tribulations are a way of reminding us that our “modest prosperity and happiness…[is] not enough to make [us] blessed…all this must fall from [us] in the end, and if [we] have not learned to know Him [we] will be wretched.”

Madeline L’Engle tells of the time when her 9 year old granddaughter was hit by a truck. She says that all she could do was “say with Lady Julian of Norwich, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,’ and then to add, ‘No matter what.’ That was the important part, the ‘no matter what’…It made me affirm to myself that God is in control no matter what, that ultimately all shall be well, no matter what.”

Problems have a way of leveling the playing field, too. Think of the way communities suddenly pull together in the face of a natural disaster and families often come together around the bed of a sick member. In the commonality with each other, we find communion and ultimately healing.

Disruptions of routines can be blessings if embraced as gifts from God. They can turn into times when we encounter God. Over the next couple of weeks, I will try to look at the ‘interruptions of routine’ as opportunities to find God not distractions from God.

Next week we’ll look at how Getting Lost—an interruption of routine, too, can help us find God.

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

October 10, 2010

God Met in Routine Encounters

The anonymous author of a devotion I read recently reminded me that “we are not merely [individuals] …It is as a people gathered…that we find sustaining strength.” The writer is referring to Christianity, but the same holds true for all human interaction. We need each other.

Keble agrees. As the hymn says,
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.

Our friends help us see heaven because they share our views and love us. There are many other people, though, who aren't in our circle. We like to think we outgrow wanting to be in the 'in crowd' when we get out of Middle School, but it's not necessarily true. Barbara Brown Taylor states there are people in all of our communities who do not belong to any of the same groups we do...Some of them stand right in front of us. [The clerk] is someone who exists even when she is not ringing up your groceries, as hard as that may be for you to imagine.”

It is not easy to be aware and actively engaged with each person you meet. Many of us would rather remain safely with our carefully selected friends. Madeline L’Engle warns that we easily fall into the trap of judging those who don’t agree with our beliefs and even with our likes and dislikes, but we can move beyond that. She notes that her husband likes beets, which she does not. “We do not have to enjoy precisely the same form of a balanced meal.” Likewise, we don’t have to each like the same art or worship in exactly the same way. L’Engle admits, “But how difficult it is for us not to judge.”

Keble talks about ‘old friends’. Isn’t there a possibility that we might find heaven in new friends if we are open to seeing one another as beloved creations and children of the same Father? Taylor states, “Encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get-in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing—which is where God’s beloved has promised to show up.”

At first it sounds odd and even frightening to think of being that open and vulnerable to everyone we encounter. ‘How can I look at the drunk, homeless man in the same way I look at my child?’ we ask. ‘What if I am friendly and open, but the clerk is snippy or ignores me?’ It is easy to come up with rational excuses to not really look at the person in front of us, isn’t it?

The Christian music group Casting Crowns has a song called “There is Hope” that offers a new way to look at ‘every man’. Watch the video and see what you think.

There is Hope

As the musicians remind us, Jesus is the Hope.
There is hope for every man
A solid place where we can stand
In this dry and weary land
There is hope for every man
There is love that never dies
There is peace in troubled times
Will we help them understand?
Jesus is hope for every man

Jesus told his followers (and us), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) That is the kind of love Taylor and Casting Crowns are talking about. I like the way Taylor paraphrases Jesus: “love the God you did not make up with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and the second…to love the neighbor you also did not make up as if that person were your own strange and particular self.”

How can we offer hope to others and give them 'a solid place on which to stand'? This week, I challenge you to really look at just one person as if they were, as Taylor says, “as if that person were your own strange and particular self.” Maybe hope is as simple as a real smile to the clerk who is tired or the bus driver who has been fighting traffic all day.

Next week we’ll look at how finding God in the routines can be healing.

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

October 3, 2010

Altars in our Routine

So far, in this series, we’ve looked at several ways to find God in the day-to-day routines of life. Spiritual routines of daily prayer time and Bible reading certainly help us listen to God and follow the right path. The so called secular things in our lives can also be ways to find God nearby. Taking time to be like a child and let our imagination work, stopping to really observe the ground under our feet and the beauty around us, and even the symbols around us can be icons of God to us.

When we are aware of things around us, even the routines can become times to meet God. Psalm 98 calls us to “sing to the Lord a new song…Let the sea roar, and all the fills it; the world and all who dwell in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord.” (vs. 1, 7-8) All creation celebrates God who is everywhere. It can be easy to be conscious of God when we are in some grand Cathedral, and forget once we step outside that God is there, too.

As we become more aware of God around us we discover, with Barbara Brown Taylor, “God can come to me by a still pool on the big island of Hawaii as well as at the altar of Washington National Cathedral. The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other.” She says that there are altars everywhere. Taylor points out that Jacob encountered God at Bethel when he dreamed of the stairway to heaven. Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:16-17). His realization led him to set up an altar to commemorate the encounter. “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars,” claims Taylor.

Madeline L’Engle suggests that “Our way of looking at the place of the earth in the heavens changed irrevocable when the first astronauts went to the moon.” We can no longer look for God ‘out there’ like the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin who claimed there was no God because he couldn’t see Him while in outer space. That makes it even more important for us to see the altars around us.

Have you ever been in a place that was, for you, an altar—a holy place? Was it while reading a book, walking on a beach, sitting at your desk, hearing a piece of music? Barbara Brown Taylor says, “I can [try to] talk myself out of living in the House of God. Or I can set up a little altar, in the world, or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am…and how awesome this place is.” On a recent trip to Colorado, these mountain blue jays were a blessing to me, a reminder of the One who cares for the birds and who loves me.

Celtic spirituality is heavy with the understanding that God is in all things and everything is replete with God (and therefore an altar). Prayers for fire lighting and bread kneading and all other daily tasks abound. As Mechtild of Magdeburg wrote, “all things in God and God in all things.” It is all encapsulated in St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which says in part:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

This week, I plan to look for the gateways to heaven, the altars in our midst. They are there, you and I just need to be aware. Will you join me in looking for bushes that burn, ladders to heaven, and other assurances that God is present?

Next week, come back to see how we can find God in the routine encounters with each other.

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