Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Finding our Rest

Tonight as I put my daughter to bed, I realized again how wonderfully peaceful and holy it is to hold her while she sleeps. No matter how difficult a day we might have; no matter how frustrating it might be when she resists falling asleep, once she is at full rest, slumbering in my arms, there is an overwhelming sense of serenity. I find myself wishing she would hurry up and fall asleep but then being in no hurry to lay her down once she is asleep.

Tonight as I experienced this phenomenon, I recalled St. Augustine's reflection, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you, O God". I have always thought of this image as a general reference to our need for God--the creature in need of union with its Creator. I have not considered the image in terms of sanctification or holiness. But tonight as I watched my daughter sleep in my arms, she was not only at peace, but she was also, if only temporarily, completely holy. She was not being selfish, she was not testing rules or her parents authority. She was deeply resting in the arms of one whom she trusted.

So often I have considered Christian growth in terms of increasing participation in justice ministries, turning from past sins, and going deeper in prayer and bible study. All of these things are clearly part of Christian growth, but they are all action based ways of thinking. I wonder if we are at times called simply to "sleep" in the arms of God--to "find our rest" in the one who created us.

A couple of years ago, I presided at a funeral of a parishioner. As I met with the family, one of the stories they told me was how his daughter always liked falling asleep in her father's arms. I retold the story at the beginning of the funeral, noting that there are few better places to be than resting in the arms of a loving father. At the end of the service, I referenced the story commenting that the deceased is "now resting in the arms of a Loving Father--and there is no better place to be."

As I reflect now on the holiness of my daughter sleeping in my arms, I wonder if resting in God's loving arms is a sanctifying moment. A moment where all of our sins melt away and God's love wells up for us as we lay limp and docile, fully trusting that the one who holds us will keep us from falling.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Giving In

I am preaching at my church this memorial day weekend--a challenge, which I readily accept. It is a challenge, because, while I very much enjoy patriotic music, I do not think the church is the best place for it. Patriotic music is written very much in praise of our country or the people who have served it so sacrificially and it is very powerful music. So powerful, in fact, that it can override our praise of Christ.

I plan to reference memorial day in a very positive fashion this Sunday, but I decided against patriotic hymns. I received a note from the choir director this morning reminding me that it was Memorial day and I might want to include patriotic music; though the choice was mine to make. I looked at the bulletin and noticed that each of the prelude pieces were patriotic, as was the introit, the anthem, and the recessional. I figured we were covered and sent a note back that we would keep the hymns as I had originally chosen. This evening at choir practice, this became a big issue. So this evening, I received a call from my Senior Pastor pleading with me, "after you leave, I still need to have a relationship with my choir." After some conversation, I decided to honor his request--"America the Beautiful" it is. For the sake of the flow of worship, it will be the first hymn--that's right, for fellow liturgy followers, that is the place we typically sing a hymn in praise of Christ. I began looking at the words for America the Beautiful to review what exactly we will be singing. The first half of each verse is a praise of something American, the people who serve America, etc. The second half is a brief prayer to God on behalf of America. I can appreciate the second half of each verse, but I remain troubled that in the place where we typically sing praise to Christ, we instead sing praise to America. Nothing against America--I love this place in many many ways--It just isn't Christ.

In a sense, I feel like I am giving in--compromising. But I hope I am doing so without compromising my integrity.


I have known for about a week now, that I will be changing churches this coming July. I haven't written anything about it, because I haven't really known what I wanted to say. So tonight, I am forcing myself do work something out.

Moving is always bitter-sweet--saying goodbye to one place and anticipating new relationships in a new place. This move is particularly that way. I have only been in my current appointment for one year. But back in February, I began talking with my superintendent about the possibility of changing appointments. The reason for this is a long story, bits of which can be gleaned by reading some of my wife's blogs. But that is not the point. Leaving so soon feels awkward, and on some level not right, though I remain convinced that it is ultimately best for all parties.

In the midst of this awkward good-bye, I cannot hide that I am very much excited about my new church. The people I have met so far are absolutely wonderful. As I continue to learn about the ministry environment and the challenges and opportunities ahead, I am energized to see what God will do in this new setting.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Contemplative Life (Part 2) and Prince Caspian

The second piece of learning from the "Finding the Inner Hermit" presentation happens to go along with one of my reflections on the most recent film from the Narnia stories, so I will deal with them in tandem.

One of the points about reflections on the contemplative life that really struck a cord with me was the idea that just because contemplation and meditation (finding times of silence in which to be more fully aware of God's presence) may be difficult for some of us (me as much as anyone) doesn't mean we don't need it, and even desire it on a deep and perhaps unknown level.

The suggestion was that as we intentionally allow for time to be intensely present to God, we also grow in our ability to do so as we experience it feeding us in ways we previous did not know was possible. In particular this can be difficult for those of us who have grown up in a highly stimulative environment. One example given was how the experience of going to a baseball game has changed. Baseball has a methodical pace. There is time between each pitch. A good at bat might take several minutes before a ball is hit into fair territory, and long periods of time can go by between runs scored. Not too many years ago, this pace meant that there were times of silence when watching a game--If you were at the stadium, you might have opportunities to appreciate a beautiful sky, the bright green grass, etc. But now any lull is filled with loud music and sound effects. There is constant noise which only subsides for action in the game. Our presenter said the experience can feel as if the game is an interruption in the otherwise constant noise. As we become accustom to this level of noise, we are increasingly distracted from being able to appreciate times of solitude and silence as opportunities to become aware of God's presence. Such times of silence and solitude come to feel like uncomfortable interruptions in a busy noisy life.


I went to see Prince Caspian with our youth last night. Okay, another stimulative noisy event, but it is C.S Lewis, and, by Aslan, that has to be worth something!

The movie has many redeeming features and has many wonderful things that can be said about it--but I won't share any of those! I was bothered by a decision in how to portray the way in which Lucy is the first to recognize Aslan's presence while the others believe he is not around to help. In the book, there is a great scene where Lucy insists on following Aslan down an incredibly dangerous and unlikely trail. The others think she has gone mad but finally follow Lucy who claims to be following Aslan who the others are unable to see. As the unlikely trail begins to show promise, some of the others begin to see Aslan's shadow, and eventually are able to see him just as plainly as Lucy. It is by following Lucy who is better in tune with Aslan's presence that they come to be aware of Aslan's presence as well. (A great image for what it might mean to grow in our ability to become more aware of God through the practice of contemplation).

The movie does not have this gradual scene. Lucy sees Aslan, but does not follow because the others will not go with her. This happens once in the book and the second time she follows. It happens twice in the movie, and she never has the opportunity to stand up and insist that the others follow her. Instead, she is alone with Aslan for several scenes, then at the end, Aslan appears to everyone in an instant. The sense of a journey that depends, at least in part, on the assurance of a sister daughter of eve is lost in the movie, and I find that unfortunate.

But still, if you get a chance to see the movie do (but don't expect any moments for silent contemplation during it).

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Contemplative life (Part 1)

I recently attended a clergy event at the Christian Healthcare Center. The subject was Contemplation: finding the inner hermit. The presenter was excellent to reflect on several points in upcoming entries.

The first truly provocative thing he shared was that the development of intimacy within relationship requires time be spent in the presence of the one with whom you are in relationship. Okay--not so profound, but it is something I find easy to forget when it comes to a relationship with God.

I remember my first "real" date with my wife. Okay--we were seminary nerds, so the evening began normal with dinner, then we were going to go see NC State's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." But we never arrived. I guess you might say a funny thing happened on the way to "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"--Our directions took us to the wrong theater and we never found the correct one. So we returned to Durham talking all the while about theology, how we experienced God, and ultimately the role of the church in ministries of social justice (like I said, "nerds"). As we talked, we purposefully drove through some of the more dangerous parts of Durham. Once we settled the issue, we went for ice cream. We had been talking nonstop, and were having a great time. By the time we sat down with our ice cream, it seemed as though there was nothing left to be said. And so each of us sat there with nothing left to say--our first silence. So we just ate ice cream. Later we reflected on the moment and agreed that being okay with silence in the presence of one another was a good thing.

How often are our times with God as rushed as the rest of our lives. Most of us feel as though we do well if we can sit down and breeze through a couple of scriptures, quickly confess a few imperfections then offer a laundry list of things we would like from God. It occurs to me that no other relationship works this way. Imagine a typical prayer time--can you imagine what kind of relationship you would have with someone if that was how you communicated with them?

Heres hoping to getting lost with God--just meandering without a destination for a while--looking to be in the presence of my creator--not so that something will be accomplished, but so that through intimacy with the holy I might come to better reflect the image of the one who formed me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Poor People Drink Wine Too--Don't They?

Our confirmation class collected food at the grocery store for a food pantry in Patterson, NJ. Late in the day, a man came out with a 12 pack of Heineken and a 12 pack of another fine looking beer. He also had one bag of food, which he dropped off in our cart. I was impressed, that he had come out on a beer run but took the time to pick up some non-perishables for us. Without thinking, I joked that the people at the food pantry like beer, pointing to the only two items left in his cart. He proceeded to join in the fun by mimicking a drunk coming to the pantry and asking for beer instead of food (ooh, that hit me wrong). I was kicking myself inside for accidentally playing into the stereotype that people in poverty are drunks.

Not ten minutes later, another guy came out of the store and handed us a bag of groceries. We noticed a nice bottle of wine included in a bag full of canned and boxed food. The lady with me at the time grabbed the bottle and said to the man--oh, did your wine end up in the wrong bag; he looked at us astonished and said, "What? Poor people drink wine too, don't they?"

Well, I guess some do!