November 30, 2015

Advent 1-Monday-Armor of Light

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

The prayer (collect) for the first Sunday in Advent calls us to put on the armor of light. One scripture that refers to that armor is Romans 13: 11-12. “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

Consider the image of the light breaking through the forest greenery. 
Is there a forest in your life? Are the daily concerns keeping the light from getting through to you?

What does the Armor of Light mean to you?

November 29, 2015

Advent 1-Turn to the Light

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
During Advent, I invite you to join in a daily reflection on the words of the collect (from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer) for each Sunday in Advent. Every day, I’ll provide a short, daily meditation from a phrase in the prayer. Each Sunday, you’ll be able to download a page containing 7 pictures and verses to focus on. You can use the strips to make an Advent chain, or cut out the images to make an Advent collage. I’m going to add the daily pics to die cut Christmas tree shapes and create an Advent calendar.

This prayer (above) for the First Sunday in Advent calls us to a form of repentance. It calls us to turn around and look toward the coming Light. 

We light one candle on the Advent wreath this Sunday. Each week as we light more and more candles, there will be more light until the Christ Child is born to bring the True Light into the world. (John 1). 

You can download week one for your chain or your collage or calendar. Then check back every day for meditations to go with the chain (or collage) you create. 

November 22, 2015

Christ is Compassion

Today we conclude our study of Hildegard of Bingen’s words and spirituality. Hildegard was a woman ahead of her time in her vision of health and science. Her theology, like that of her medieval contemporaries, saw God at the center of the universe. She taught that humanity, in cooperation with God’s love and creativity, could become fully alive and whole in union with God. This expressed itself most fully in a life of compassion.
In a letter to some monks, she wrote, “Love streams down with the outpouring water of the Holy Spirit, and in this love is the peace of God’s goodness…compassion…drips balsam for all the needs that adhere to the human condition. This sound of love rings in harmony with every hymn…this love calls out in compassion with a pleading yet lovely voice.”*
The word ‘compassion’ means ‘to suffer with’. When we truly have compassion for someone’s need, we are more than sympathetic, more than sorry for them. We enter into their grief or homelessness or hunger or other need. This makes us very vulnerable and often we don’t want to be that open to one another.
Stop. When was the last time you last truly ‘suffered with’ or had compassion for someone’s problem?
For Hildegard, the act of entering into another’s suffering was a way of becoming closer to God. In the acts of justice, virtue, and compassion we are God’s hands and feet. Teresa of Avila, writing 400 years after Hildegard agreed:
Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices. Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people
Stop. Look at your hands. What does it mean to see them as the hands of Christ? Look at your feet. What does it mean to be Christ’s feet?
Hildegard noted

We are dressed in the scaffold of creation:
in seeing—to recognize all the world,
in hearing—to understand,
in smelling—to discern,
in tasting—to nurture,
in touching—to govern.
In this way humankind comes to know God,
for God is the author of all creation.
And so, humankind
full of creative possibilities,
is God’s work.
Humankind alone,
is called to assist God.
Humankind is called to co-create
Hildegard herself believed that in creating as the hands and feet of God in the world she was in partnership with God to bring beauty into the world. By creating justice and compassion, whether through her art, music, cooking, gardening, or writing, she felt that she was in union with God. By living as the hands and feet of God we too are bringing God’s beauty, love, and healing into the world.
Ephesians 2:7-10 tells us, “God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (the Message translation)
Stop. Ask yourself if you are willing to be a co-creator for good and compassion and beauty in the world.
Next week is Advent I. During Advent, I’ll have daily posts with an image and brief meditation, which can be used to create an Advent chain or collage.
*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

November 15, 2015

God is in All

We are continuing to meditate on some of the works and words of Hildegard of Bingen. This mystic, abbess, writer, healer, and counselor of the 12th Century had a worldview similar to that of the Celtic monks and nuns. For her and for them, all of creation is filled with God’s creative Spirit, from the rocks to humanity. In Celtic spirituality, you will find prayers for every aspect of the day. There are Celtic prayers for rising, for lighting the fire, for doing each task, for new life and for death.
In our busy, modern world we often can forget the basic rhythms of life, much less remember to pray for each action. In the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer C reminds us that God is in charge of everything. “At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home….From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the rulers of creation.” This would be a familiar sort of prayer for Hildegard who stated, “no creature, whether visible or invisible, lacks a spiritual life…all creatures have something visible and invisible.”*
Interestingly, in her thoughts about creation, like in her dietary practices, Hildegard was ahead of the science of her time. She understood that there were parts of creation too small to be seen and included them in having a spiritual life. Scientists now know that there is much matter that is to minute even for the most powerful microscopes and galaxies so far away that we cannot see them. All of that is imbued with God, just as Hildegard stated. She saw all of creation as glowing with God’s presence and wrote down a vision in which God told her “I am the supreme and fiery force who kindled every living spark…the air is alive in the verdure and the flowers, the waters flow as if they lived; the sun too lives in its light..”*
Her mandala shows all of life flowing from and surrounded by God. 
Stop. Do you see God as alive in all creation-even the rocks and water?
Psalm 24 is a hymn to all of creation, beginning with “The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers…” There is no doubt that we have, and continue to, damage the earth. Even if you doubt global warming, there are islands of trash in our oceans, pollutants ruining our rivers, hazy skies from smog in many places. This impacts us whether we realize it or not. Our relationships with one another are stressful and strained, perhaps because we are less connected to the cycles of the living earth than we used to be. Eucharistic Prayer C continues, “We turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another.”
The technology that is supposed to make our lives easier sometimes seems instead to be taking over our lives and all our time. We can laugh at videos of texting people walking into fountains or even running into bears (!), but the truth is most of us do, at least from time to time, use our phones while walking somewhere-or worse yet, driving. If we are so immersed in the next posting on Facebook that we miss the splendid sunrise or the blooming of a rose, we are separating ourselves from the source of life. If we think we have to be ‘on call’ every second so that we cannot even put our phones down to eat, are we are alienating ourselves from our families, friends, nature, and God? 
Stop and think about how the stresses of modern life are different than a generation or 2 ago. How can you become more literally grounded in the cycles of the earth?
Ephesians 1: 22-23 reminds us that “[God] put all things in subjection under Christ’s feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Hildegard would not have doubted the truth of this citation. The God she knew intimately was intimately entwined with all of life, both natural and human and in relationships.
Eucharistic Prayer C concludes by affirming, “Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace…And so, Father, we who have been redeemed by him, and made a new people by water and the Spirit, now bring before you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Hildegard believed, like Isaiah, “[God] will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law. Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, ‘I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations’…” (Isaiah 42:5-6) For her, the greening power of God’s Spirit was filling and renewing all life. The “supreme and fiery force” Hildegard spoke of is the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him…” (John 1:9-10)
Stop to ask if your appreciation of God’s work in salvation would change if you fully believed God was working in and through all creation all the time?
Next week we’ll conclude this series with a look at Hildegard’s words about compassion and beauty.

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

November 8, 2015

God is Creating

For Hildegard of Bingen, creation was not secondary to spirituality. In fact, for her, all creation works together and glorifies God. “All creatures should see that God has neither beginning nor end, and for this reason they will never have enough of looking at God…there is no creature without some kind of radiance-whether it be greenness, seeds, buds, or another kind of beauty. Otherwise, it would not be a creature at all. But if God did not have the power to make all things, where would God’s creative power be?”* Everything has some of the Light of God  in it. It is that very Light that makes the creature what it is. This is true of animate and inanimate creation.
Hildegard saw humans as somewhat superior to other creations, because the human mind has intellect and in that intelligence we are linked to the Creator. Madeline L’Engle, in her book Walking on Water, notes “unless we are creators we are not fully alive…Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.” For L’Engle, like Hildegard, it is our ability to create that sets us apart from the other creatures.
Recently I stumbled across a blog by Mark Altrogge that noted, we sometimes think creating isn’t what Christians should be doing. Aren’t we supposed to be praying and preaching, instead of ‘wasting our time’ on creative things? This blog author says “Christians should play banjo and decorate cakes, knit sweaters and make movies, do photography and write poems” Just like Hildegard and Madeline L’Engle, Mark Altrogge says “when we create we act as those the Creator made in his own image…God didn’t make a strictly utilitarian world. He decorated it with weeping willows and tiger lilies….arts are a way to bless others…[and] bring joy to us.” Altrogge notes that “when we see a cool painting or hear a moving symphony it points us to the author of all beauty. When I hear the theme from Jurassic Park I don’t simply think of John Williams’ talent, I think of God.” In using our gifts and talents as unto the Lord it “reminds us of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. 
Stop to think about whether you think that what you do on a day-to-day basis is creative. Why or why not?
Even if humanity had a special relationship with God because we are co-creators, Hildegard still saw that all of “Creation is allowed in intimate love, to speak to the Creator as if to a lover. Creation is allowed to ask for a pasture, a homeland. Out of the Creator’s fullness, this request is granted to creation.” (From Hildegard of Bingen by Gabriele Uhlein)
If all creation is alive with the Spirit and Light of God, and if we are co-creators with God in and through creation—then we must have a unique responsibility to honor creation as a part of God. This might mean that we begin to live more intentionally conscious of what our actions can do to the world around us. Does my buying pre-packaged dinners create extra trash? Do I really need another pair of shoes? What about global warming?
Stop and ask yourself if you see all creation as filled with God. What could you do to care for creation?
Even though Hildegard’s times were very different from ours, people had the same needs and wants and feelings. For her, it is our creative actions that link us to God. “From [God] human beings have the ability to be active in the world…human beings love the things they make because from their recognition they see that they gain reality.”* Madeline L’Engle notes that we should remember “the root word of humble and human is the same: humus: earth. We are dust. We are created; it is God who made us and not we ourselves. But we were made to be co-creators with our maker.” (Walking on Water)
Even though we are ‘dust and to dust shall return’ as the Ash Wednesday prayer reminds us, we are gifted to be, in fact we are required to be, co-creators in making the world and in re-making the world. Like little painted stones, we are unique in how that happens and it is an amazing responsibility that God has given to us. Wouldn't it be a fun activity to take a rock and paint on it what your creative image is?
Stop and think about how you create and co-create. Is it in art, music, writing, games, or something else entirely? 

Next time we’ll take a look at what Hildegard says about the Earth itself.

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka

November 1, 2015

God is in Eating Holistically

Hildegard was known as a healer throughout Europe. In fact, her monastery at Rupertsberg had a huge herb garden and was well known as a place to get healing herbs. As abbess, she encouraged nuns who were ill to rest well and care for themselves. Despite having health problems of her own, Hildegard ministered to those who came to the monastery for healing. It is said she accepted her own physical sufferings and ailments as a sharing in the passion of Jesus. In this she was like many other mystics such as Teresa of Avila.
Hildegard wrote about diet and healing. Like many today and through the ages, Hildegard preached moderation as “the mother of all the virtues for everything heavenly and earthly…through moderation…the body is nourished with the proper discipline…[like a field that] has not been plowed, you do not find good grain springing up; instead there are only useless weeds. It’s the same with a person who lays on herself more strain than her body can endure.”*
It is interesting that Hildegard identified stress (‘more strain than her body can endure’) as something that is bad for health. Discipline in life, on the other hand, is how to be fruitful like a plowed and planted field.
Stop to think about your life. Do you think you are like a plowed or unplowed field in your habits?

In 1 Corinthians we are reminded “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought with a price. So use your body for the glory of God.” Hildegard emphasized balance in life and diet as a way to physical and spiritual health.
This mandala by Hildegard could make you think of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, although she lived 2 centuries before da Vinci. For her, the mandala is more about humanity’s balance in God than the proportions of a perfect human being. The figure is surrounded by God. In God is found all creation, and all seasons. At the center of that is humanity-or perhaps Christ, the perfection of humanity. 
Hildegard suggested 4 rules for healthy living so that you are in balance:
  1. Strengthening the soul through prayer and meditation, by encouraging talents, and working against evil. 
  2. Detoxification by bloodletting(!), fasting, and other therapies.
  3. Keeping the soul, body, and mind equally strong so that you are balanced.
  4. Sharpening the senses by having purpose, optimism, and personal responsibility.

Stop, are there parts of Hildegard’s 4 rules you might add to your routine?

Hildegard, as we saw at the beginning of October, wrote recipes. We often do not think of the diet of 12th century Germany as being varied. Hildegard, however, used numerous healthy foods including meats like poultry, lamb, beef, venison, and goat; fish, fruits (apples, cooked pears, blackberries, raspberries, red currants, cornels, cherries, mulberries, medlar, quinces, sloe berries, grapes, citrus, dates), and even spices in her recipes. She believed these foods were good for you. Other foods she called ‘kitchen poison’: “eel, duck, peas, strawberries, fatty meat, cucumbers, domestic goose, blueberries, elderberries, cabbage, crabs, leeks, lentils, nightshades (like potatoes), olive oil, mushrooms, peaches, plums, refined sugar, millet, raw food, tench (a fish), plaice (a fish), pork, white wheat flour, sausage.”
The drinks she suggested may seem odd to us as they include spelt coffee (spelt is a grain), beer, fruit juice thinned with mountain spring water, wine, goat milk, and teas from fennel, rose hip or sage. Spelt, in fact, was one of her favorite ingredients. She used it in porridge, coffee, and baking. “Spelt creates healthy body, good blood and a happy outlook on life,” she noted. You can read more about her food ideas here.
Many of the foods she considered healthy have been proven to have benefit, like beans, almonds, honey, beets, berries, lavender, clove, cinnamon, and garlic. It is interesting to note that things like refined sugar and fatty meat are now considered to be less healthy by modern dieticians, too.
Stop to consider what you eat. Is it in line with what Hildegard, and modern nutritionists consider healthy?

Next time we will look at God in creation, and our part in that, as seen by Hildegard

*Praying with Hildegard of Bingen by Gloria Durka