Archives for the month of: January, 2015

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Imagine . . .
fishermen, laboring with their nets, in boats that are filthy from wear,
knee deep in crud of their trade, and reeking from the smell of fish.
When out of the blue, comes a man walking along the edge of the water,
who calls to them, saying, “Come follow me!”
And they drop their nets, get out of their boats, and go after him.

Now, I ask you, “Who does this?!!!”
They dropped their lives to follow a man they may or may not have even known.
I was talking to my husband, Andy, about this and he said,
“At least one of them had to go home and talk to their wife before quitting their job.”
Maybe so, we just don’t know.

What happened between, the guys were fishing
AND
they dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus?
There had to be some kind of conversionary PAUSE between the fishing and the following.

So, I began looking into my own life for clues.
I experienced an instantaneous infilling of love from God when I was in my late teens, at a time when I felt directionless, an empty. It was nothing that I planned or could have made happen, yet, in a PAUSE, created by a void in my life, the tenderness of God penetrated my heart for the first time in my life.

I wonder. . did something like this happen to the disciples?

It’s true that one very powerful way that PAUSES occur,
are through emptiness, a loss, an illness, or some great problem.
But most people don’t have instantaneous awakenings.
Rather, most people can relate to a smaller step approach of awakening,

Eckhart Tolley, in his book, A New Earth, speaks to this.
He says that there is a universal inner purpose for all of humanity
and that is to AWAKEN.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen!
Our inner purpose is to awaken.
And awakening occurs in the PAUSES of our lives.

It’s so important to know that:
both the INTIMACY of God and POWER of God are in the nothingness of the PAUSE.
And as we attune ourselves to this,
we come to desire this spaciousness even more then the incessant chatter in our minds. Now, this doesn’t mean we constantly sit around in a Zen position waiting for ‘the PAUSE’; it means that the freedom and communion brought about through prayer PAUSES and situational PAUSES, eventually become a part of us, and we carry this undercurrent of stillness into the everyday activity of our lives.
And this changes everything.

An Eastern spiritual teacher writes: Thinking, though useful, is not the highest human faculty. We cannot solve the problems of the mind with the mind, by analyzing them, thinking about them, ruminating over them.
It’s in the PAUSE.
It’s in the stillness of our mind, that new ways of being are developed.

The ancient Indian Sanskrit word for breath is ‘otman’,
which means the ‘indwelling of the divine spirit’ or ‘God within’.
Paying attention to our breath causes us to PAUSE. We can’t think about anything else when we concentrate on our breath. Because breathing is a formless expression, it has been used over the centuries as a way of intentionally creating a PAUSE.

A little boy once approached his Rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, why does God no longer speak to his people? He spoke so beautifully to Abraham. He spoke with such power to Moses. He spoke so clearly to Jeremiah and the prophets. Rabbi, why does God no longer speak to his people?” The Rabbi shook his head as though he were in pain. “My son,” he replied, “It is not that God no longer speaks to his people. It is that no one these days can stoop down low enough to listen. No one . . . can stoop down low enough . . . to listen.”

PAUSE.

I wrote these words as I lay in the grass on a lovely summer day.

I sat among the trees
as the wind whipped through them.
I saw and felt and heard,
staying attentive for moments at a time.

Until …
I fell back asleep.
My thoughts
lost once again,
in the future,
and the past.
Flitting like a fire fly,
here and there,
back and forth,
up and down,
down and up,
going were they will.

When . . .
a moment
an hour,
a day go by
And I awaken again.

PAUSE.

Kristie Lenzen
1/24/14
3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B

Photo by Lucas Jans on flickr.com

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When pondering the journey of the Magi this week, I recalled a history book called “What Went Wrong?” about the stagnation that hit the Muslim world in the 15th century after centuries of dominance in virtually every area of life. The author contrasts this stagnation with the tiny country of Portugal, which during this same period, evolved at a remarkable rate, with ambassadors all over the world, robust trade, and the most advanced fleet of ships in the world.

This contrast between stagnation and evolution is the core message in today’s famous gospel. Matthew contrasts the adventurous Magi with the passive and suspicious leaders in Jerusalem. Of course, both energies are present in us as well. Perhaps by shining a light on these two energies we can have a personal epiphany on this Feast of the Epiphany.

The Tale of Two Energies

The story of the Magi is so familiar that we forget how incredible it is. These guys are way out there, both in terms of geography and world view. They have no grounding in the Jewish tradition, yet they are awakened to the monotheistic God of the Jews though science, the study of the stars. Through great sacrifice and expense they travelled to Jerusalem and eventually Bethlehem. They don’t find the “royalty” they are looking for. Mary and Joseph provide no validation for their journey in the form of credentials or other evidence of authority. They recognize Jesus anyway, have a spiritual dream and head home. What a ride!

In contrast we have the energy of Herod and the religious establishment. This is comical. These strange Gentiles come from the margins with important information about THEIR religion. They convene a big bible study to answer the Magi’s questions. The whole town of Jerusalem is a buzz, but it is just an intellectual exercise. They send the Magi off to Bethlehem, which is a mere 5.5 miles away. Nobody goes with them! “Let us know if you find something” they say!

Was it disdain for the gentile Magi? Was it fear that their little lives would be disrupted? Herod, we know, was personally threatened by the possibility of a new King, but what about the others? Where is the curiosity and the passion?

The Edge

Evolution is a rich image for Magi energy, and evolution happens at the margins. To get a picture in your head about “evolving on the edge,” let’s look at an example of how evolution works. Imagine with me a colony of seals on an island in the ocean. In the large group one young seal looked different – she had more freckles than the others. Her mother was a little embarrassed and sometimes the other seals made fun of her. But as time went by it seemed our seal with more freckles escaped the sharks better than other seals. It seemed the sharks and other predators could not see her quite as well in the swirling waters. She had litter after litter of baby seals and after a while the freckled seals were everywhere. For seals escaping predators, freckles were an evolutionary edge.

What are your spiritual “freckles?” Where is your edge?

This question hit me like a ton of bricks at the ECC Synod last October. I was in the middle of giving a workshop on preaching to a diverse group from beginners to grizzled veterans. My talk had to do with a methodology for preparation, but I found myself at the end going off script and imploring them and me to find the evolutionary edge in their communities and in their own spiritual journey. If we are going to be a Communion of great preachers we have to preach from that fresh edge where there are more questions than answers, where we are growing, where we are evolving.

What is your evolutionary edge? If you are not sure, do not despair because Magi from the margins tend to show up. Nobody had Ferguson on their radar, yet the racial tensions of these months gives all of us a profound edge to explore. We can, like those stuck in Jerusalem, avoid this edge with disdain or fear, but there it is. The intersection of science and spirituality was an edge for the Magi and it remains an edge for many today. Last Sunday we celebrated the life of Dorothy Ambruster, and justice for the poor was a life-long edge on which she kept evolving for 90 years. I will hazard a guess and suggest that meditation and silence is an edge for Pastor Frank. These things may be just a few of the possible edges of spiritual evolution in your story.

So let’s be a people in 2015 who treasure the wise voices from the edge that pass our way. Let’s be a people in 2015 ever on the lookout for evolving edges in our own experience. Whether the Magi voice comes to us from the outside or within us these days, let’s follow them to the edge, to Bethlehem and beyond.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany
Saturday Evening, January 3, 2015
Focus text – Matthew 2:1-12 (The Star and the Magi)

Photo by Chuck Whitney on flickr.com

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The writer John Shea says that the Annunciation text in Luke is like a Lamaze class – it is a manual for giving birth to God in our lives and in our world. What this time of year tells us more than anything else is that God has so embraced our humanity that the spiritual journey is much more like giving birth to what is already here than worshipping a God “out there.”

Luke paints an intricate portrait for us that operates like a five step manual. The first three steps simply ask us to be aware and observant of things that arise in us. We stay with the pattern if we simply hang in there. The final two steps ask us to participate. If we exit the pattern we miss the birth of God. The choice is ours. If we stay with the pattern to the end we can change the world.

God’s Movement and Our Reaction

The pattern starts with God taking the initiative to break into Mary’s life. Mary was not praying for this to happen, she did not send to heaven a business plan on being the mother of Jesus. The Sisters of Notre Dame reference this text in their Constitution by saying “Mary is the model for our daily surrender to the ever new call of God.” The pattern can start anytime, any day, as God keeps speaking.

Some of you are discerning calls to ministry that definitely were not your idea. Doesn’t it seem that most of the time our encounters with God seem like spontaneous gifts, fleeting moments of clarity, love or connectedness? We are like Mary when stay with the pattern and do not run away, or dismiss the encounter as our imagination.

If we wake up to this initiative of God we move to Step 2: Mary was “greatly troubled” by God’s messenger. This is a universal human reaction to the divine in Scripture. Recall how many times God begins a conversation in Scripture with “Be not afraid.” This is an easy place to leave the pattern. Who likes being troubled? In fact in our weakness we like to treat God as a 911 call to rescue us from troubles. What if we look with new eyes at what is troubling us in our lives? Maybe Reality is breaking in there.

I read about a national survey about Ferguson and related events that reported 37% of people in America being “troubled” about their reaction to these stories. This population reports being conflicted and confused about their inner reactions and those of their family and friends. Although I wish the percentage was higher, “being troubled” in this context could be a great thing and it may be God at work.

If we stay with the revelation we come to Step 3, which is my favorite. Here is where our ego makes a last stand and cries out like Mary who in essence told the angel “That’s impossible!” When we hear this echo inside us we know we are close to Reality. “Start an inclusive Catholic, community of faith with 10 people? Impossible!” “Become a women Catholic priest? You have to be kidding!” “Reconcile with my father? No way!” Address unconscious racism in St. Louis? Not in my lifetime!” “Gay marriage in St. Louis? Ridiculous!” When we find ourselves reacting “that’s impossible” and do not abort, we are deep into the pattern. Reality is nearby.

Two Decisions of Faith

The angel in the story is not discouraged by Mary’s reaction thus far. He is not critical. He gets creative and throws Mary the lifeline of community by saying miracle births have happened before! It even happened to cousin Elizabeth. If we stay with the pattern we get this lifeline as well. We need the tradition, the Scripture, our faith community, our small group to reflect back to us that what we are experiencing has happened before, we are not crazy! Mary embraces the call to community and in the verses following our text today Mary travels to have church with Elizabeth (I will leave us to ponder for another day the fact that the believing church at this stage of the game is two pregnant women!). Mary then receives the most precious gift we can give one another – recognition of God’s life in us. “Blessed are you among women……” says Saint Elizabeth.

We finally arrive at the final step. We have experienced the initiative of God, we have paid attention to troubled feelings, we have observed the ego’s defense, we have looked to our past and present community of faith for verification and recognition. All that is left is to say yes or no. “Let it be done to me according to your word” says teenager Mary. Love needs a yes. Love cannot control. If Mary said no, God would have had to come up with another idea to bring Jesus into the world. The story would be different. Our “yes” is not preordained. Our “yes” makes a difference every day. Our “yes” brings Life into the world.

Is the pattern of Mary’s journey good news for you this season? Do you see yourself anywhere in the pattern? Perhaps there are some troubles that need to be reimagined. Perhaps you are walking away from something because it seems impossible. Perhaps you need to accept the invitation to seek recognition of your experience in some form of faith sharing with others. Perhaps you are on the verge of saying yes in some way. Wherever you are, no matter how many times you left the pattern behind, God is new today. Love wants to be born anew today through you.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community

Liturgy for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday evening, December 20, 2014

Focus text – Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation)

Photo by Jan H. on flickr.com