October 29, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In Self-Denial

Last week, we tackled the difficult idea of finding Holy Ground in one another, esp. those we don’t really like or agree with, or perhaps even hate or fear. Did you have any luck in looking for Christ in someone you typically have trouble dealing with? It calls for a bit of dying to self to do that, doesn’t it?

With All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) just around the corner, it is a good time to ponder how exactly we can find Holy Ground in death and loss. Whether that is physical death of a loved one, death of a dream or hope, or just ‘dying to self’ it can be a holy time.

The ancient Celts, whose practices gave birth to the celebration of Halloween, believed that this season of the year was a ‘thin time’. It is a time when the veil between the living and dead is pulled aside and the dead can return to their homes. Other cultures have similar practices. The Mexican Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations are based on the idea that the dead need fed and nurtured at this time of year. Chinese families also leave food offerings for their dead relatives. All these practices recognize that the past, and esp. our ancestors, have an impact on our lives now.

In the Disney movie Mulan, the Ancestors awaken when Mulan takes her father’s place as a warrior. She is willing to put herself at risk to save her father’s life. It is only in letting go of the cultural restrictions that Mulan becomes who she really is. It is not as a woman dressed as a man, but as a woman, that she ultimately saves China and the Emperor from the invading Huns.

Perhaps our forbearers, both familial and in the faith, can help us find the way to Holy Ground, when the veil is thin. Recognition of the thin space between preserving our life as status quo and denying ourselves for the greater good is Holy Ground.

In Luke 9: 23-25, Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

It is not easy to follow this teaching. There is so much in the world that encourages us to put ourselves first. This product or that one will make you beautiful or popular or rich or even famous. Jesus’ followers are told to live in exactly the opposite way. To ‘deny themselves’ and love one another. That will almost certainly lead to being counter-cultural. Denying our desires and wants in order to honor the Holy Ground in someone else is not easy. Maybe it’s simply letting someone merge in traffic when you are in a hurry, or allowing another person to get the closer parking space at Walmart. Or it could be standing up for the rights of the homeless, the poor, the sick, the abused and thereby becoming one of ‘those’ radical activists.
Take a few minutes to think about the impact of the faith, or lack of faith, in your family tree. How has Holy Ground been nurtured in your by family or friends throughout your life? Can you recognize times when your family or friends did ‘deny themselves’ so that you could prosper? What one thing can you do this week to ‘deny yourself’?

October 22, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In Others

Last week we paused to consider the idea that we are God’s Holy Ground, and God’s co-workers. We each bear fruit in and for the Kingdom. The hypothesis would be: If I am God’s Holy Ground: then every other person on the planet is also God’s Holy Ground.

That can be difficult to believe when there is so much hatred and violence. There are wars and shootings, there is pain and suffering, there is loss and death. How can the person or people who cause the death and suffering be God’s Holy Ground? It’s easy to see that someone like Mother Teresa is Holy Ground. It is harder to identify Holy Ground in a drug addict or terrorist.

However, isn’t that exactly what we are called to do? Called to see God’s flame in each and everyone we meet? Called to notice the Holy Ground in the lost and frightened? Called to recognize that God is present in those we’d prefer to categorize as ‘other’ or ‘different’ or ‘bad’ or…all the other titles we can give one another?

On Oct. 15 in her Episcopal Café Speaking to the Soul post, Linda McMillan quoted Anne Lamott, “You can safely assume you‘ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” McMillan goes on to note, “A lot of times our actions and our talking have an edge, an undercurrent of hostility, to borrow a phrase.” She is talking mainly about social media interactions that are mean-spirited. However, it has become the norm in many face-to-face conversations to have just the slightest edge when talking about some topics, or to be snide or sharp about this or that person. Perhaps it’s a co-worker, or a politician, or another public figure, we do what my mother used to call ‘damn with a word’. We don’t necessarily even say anything, but the sigh, the rolled eyes, the slight sneer all say volumes.

McMillan reminds us, “another danger is to become so angry that we forget the real answer to that question my friend posed. Who do they think they are? I know who they are. They are beloved children of God; complicated, and reviled, but also loved. I don’t like it, but there’s no getting around it. It is neither just nor wise to judge a person’s life based on the worst things they’ve ever done. I want to be judged on the best, kindest, noblest things I’ve ever done, after all, how about you?”

In the Epistle from last Sunday, Paul says, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:2-9)

Paul urges the community at Philippi to be like-minded, not mean-spirited. He encourages them to think about GOOD things-honorable, just, pure things, rather than focusing on the negatives of circumstances or of one another.

How can we see God’s face in everyone? How do we respond to the question of ‘Who do they think they are?’ Can we possibly look for the good in those we would rather categorize?

Linda McMillan concludes her meditation, “When you feel the hostility rise, and the blanket of being right enfolds you, ask yourself this? What kind of person am I becoming? Who will I be when this is all over? Then go out and actually be the kind of change you want to see in the world: Do a kindness for someone who needs it, or for yourself! You probably need it! Let some joy enter the world by letting it enter your own life. Laugh, and dance, and sing as if the kingdom of God had already come, because it has!”

Perhaps this week you can find something uplifting to post on Facebook instead of responding to a negative comment. Perhaps, instead of entering into conversations demeaning another of God’s beloved ones, you can find something positive to say. Look for the Holy Ground in each and every person you meet, talk about, or see on TV. It won’t be easy, but it might take just a touch of the anger out of the cosmos and replace it with something beautiful. It might replace hatred with Holy Ground

McMillan adds a PS to her meditation. She says, “And I will keep looking for [the image of God] in you, in my students, in my boss in whom it is also fairly dim… You get the idea. Our sacred pledge in baptism is to seek and serve Christ in every person. If you don’t even seek Christ, you can’t serve Christ. So, keep looking. Even if you never find any image of God in another person, don’t let it be because you weren’t looking.”

October 15, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: In You

Since the beginning of September, we’ve been looking for God-for Holy Ground in our 5 senses. To really find the Holy Ground of God, we’ve had to slow down and pause. We’ve tried to really look, smell, taste, hear, and touch things that we often take for granted. As we pause to experience the things around us, we can come closer to finding Holy Ground in ourselves.

Br. Curtis Almquist of the Society of St. John Evangelist notes, “For us to take in the promise of Jesus’ presence, we need to be really present to life. Now. If you’ve been living your life at such a pace that you’ve forgotten what now even looks like, try doing one thing at a time. Start small; start now. Try just drinking a cup of coffee. Don’t be on the phone; no newspaper; no conversation. Just drink coffee.”

We can be so busy that we lose sight of who we are and, more importantly, Whose we are. We cannot be aware of the Holy Ground around and in us when we are multi-tasking. There are lots of things that distract us from taking time for ourselves. There’s the text to answer, the Facebook to update, the phone call to make, the meeting to attend… Sometimes it seems like we are running from ourselves-or from God.

Tim Yee writes meditations for the site Life for Leaders . On October 1, he referred to God’s response to Samuel about the choice of David as the next king for Israel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7b). He goes on to say, “We can fall into the trap of defining our value based on external criteria demanded by others and even ourselves…we each must know that the Lord is looking at our hearts—our inner-lives of being God’s children called to join God in his kingdom expansion on this earth.”

God looks at the heart and God loves each of us. God wants to work through and with us in all that we do. We are God’s Holy Ground. We are co-workers in the vineyard. “I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus says. (John 15:5) We are to remain in relationship with God in order to bear fruit and be fertile, as well as holy, ground. Jesus continues, “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.” (John 15:15-16)

Laurie Gudim in the Speaking to the Soul meditation at Episcopal Café on October 12 says, “I had a dream once in which God leaned close, smelling my hair, much as I used to bury my nose in the hair of my children when they sat on my lap, to catch and treasure that unique scent that was such a part of them…” She says, “I dare an open moment, an expectant silence. I dare to believe that I matter, that God has many things that God would say to me. I dare to believe that God yearns to say them.”

What might God desire to say to you? Can you imagine yourself in God’s arms? Do you hear God say ‘you are beloved’, ‘you are my child, my daughter, my son’, ‘you are mine, I chose you’?
Listen to God and make a list of the affirmations God is trying to say to you. Set aside the busy-ness and just listen. You may be surprised at the Holy Ground you will find!

October 8, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Touch

Were you more aware of the smells around you last week? Have you been more conscious of seeing and hearing God in all things? There is Holy Ground all around if we can just let ourselves experience it. As Barbara Brown Taylor notes, “Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”  (Altar in the World)

And so, we come to the fifth of our senses: the sense of touch. Have you ever stopped to think about how many things you touch each day? We touch the alarm clock when it goes off. We touch the sheets and toothbrush. We touch the coffee pot and cup. We touch the keyboard and the cell phone. We touch the hand of a friend or spouse. We touch the fruit in our lunch. The list is endless. How many times are you really aware of what you are touching? Do you take time to feel the texture of the skin of the orange, or wrap your hands around the warmth of the cup of tea? Do you pause to caress the cheek of your child or feel the smooth fur of your pet?
In times of crisis, the touch of a hand can be just as important, or even more important than words. Reaching out to touch and hold someone who is ill, or grieving, or sad is a powerful way to give comfort, and to be the hand of God. Touch brings Holy Ground to that moment

For me, I’m afraid that usually it’s more a cursory touch and much more often it’s really absent-minded. I don’t necessarily feel the steering wheel in my hands or the warm water when I’m washing dishes. My mind is somewhere else entirely. Brother Lawrence (1614-91) is famous for his words recorded in Practicing the Presence of God. Despite being assigned to washing dishes in the kitchen, he took time to really find God in the work. He touched God in the dishes and noted, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

There is a well-known song (Holy Ground) that reminds us

This is holy ground

We're standing on holy ground
For the Lord is present
And where He is is holy
This is holy ground
We're standing on holy ground
For the Lord is present
And where He is is holy

These are holy hands
He's given us holy hands
He works through these hands

And so these hands are holy
These are holy hands
He's given us holy hands
He works through these hands
And so these hands are holy

These are holy lips
He's given us holy lips
He speaks through these lips
And so these lips are holy
These are holy lips
He's given us holy lips
He speaks through these lips
And so these lips are holy

(1982 Universal Music - Brentwood Benson Publishing (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.), Birdwing Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

We may think that we don’t have the time, or the concentration necessary to realize that we touch God every time we use our hands. I wonder if we did pause to really touch a few things, if we’d find ourselves touching the hand of God. The well known image from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel can be a reminder that God touched Adam and touches us. It is that touch that gives life! Why don’t you try this week holding and really touching something, or someone? Feel the smoothness or roughness. 

We find the Holy Ground of God in all our senses, as we’ve been discovering over the past few weeks. Next time, we’ll move on into finding the Holy Ground in ourselves and others.

October 1, 2017

Finding Holy Ground: Smell

In our exploration of finding Holy Ground through our 5 senses, we’ve come to the sense of smell. We started this series the beginning of September and have looked at finding Holy Ground in sight, hearing, and tasting.
There are a lot of odors in the world. Some are lovely, like a rose. Others make us grimace, like the smell of a skunk or garbage. Sometimes when you walk or drive past a restaurant you can smell the burgers or spicy food or cakes that are being prepared. The smell invites you to come in and try something. Smell can also repel us if we get too close to someone who hasn’t had a bath in a long time or who has bad breath.

Depending on where you live, sitting outside and inhaling the scents in the air can be refreshing or not. If you have fragrant flowers in your yard, you’ll experience their lovely smell. There is a cereal factory in my city and we always hope they are baking when we drive past because it’s such a yummy and delicious smell. Living near a chemical factory or freeway will bring you different odors when you breathe deeply. When we have forest fires nearby, you can smell the acrid odor that even leaves a taste in your mouth.

We all know what it means when someone says, ‘he’s a stinker’. It’s not that the person physically smells. Rather it’s his actions that are unsavory. Or someone can ‘come out smelling like a rose’. Again, it’s not the physical, but the moral aroma that is referred to.

The Old Testament has many references to the sweet smell of sacrifice, and how that pleases God. In the New Testament, we are encouraged to “and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.” (Ephesians 5:2) In Second Corinthians the people of God are compared to that beautiful scent. Paul says, “thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

Saint Paul tells us we are supposed to be a ‘fragrant sacrificial offering to God’ in all that we do. We are called to be the ‘fragrance from life to life’. We are to live so that our lives provide good ‘smells’ to one another. Perhaps Paul was thinking about the difference between walking past an oven baking bread, and walking past the local refuse pile. The bread is good for food and life. The dump is full of decaying things. How can our lives be like the sweet smell of something delicious? In what way are you and I the ‘aroma of God’? We do this by ‘knowing him’ and letting our lives point to God instead of ourselves. Matt Redman’s song Heart of Worship is an offering of self to God’s service.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come

Longin' just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required

You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm comin' back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
It's all about You, Jesu
As Redman says, “It’s all about You…Jesus”. That is where we find Holy Ground in being a fragrant offering to one another.