Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Why I Love the Lectionary

I thrive on order and structure. My husband knows that to spring something on me on short notice is to create stress for me. Years ago, I heard a speaker describe a “time fence.” A time fence is a boundary around your time. For those who are spontaneous, their time fence is small or nonexistent. Time for them is like the open prairie. You cannot trespass on their time because they freely give whatever you need.

For others, like myself, time is bounded by a large fenced enclosure. I sit in the middle, but I want a large space between my fence and myself. I want to see what has come into my fence from a long distance away. I like time to plan and prepare. I am one who looks at restaurant menus online if I know I am going to an unfamiliar establishment. I want to know my options ahead of arrival.

My preference for structure may be why I like the lectionary. The lectionary is a listing of scripture readings appointed for given days. The Revised Common Lectionary used by many Protestant churches includes readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Epistles and the Gospel, with some variation depending on the seasons of the Church. Many pastors preach from lectionary texts. The beauty of the lectionary to me is that I can read and pray over the texts prior to attending corporate worship and hearing a message preached on one or more of them. This is a particular advantage if you are traveling and attend an unfamiliar church. If the pastor of the church you are visiting preaches from the lectionary, you can still prepare for worship by praying over the texts ahead of time.

Since my dad died, we’ve been traveling often to his house in Tennessee. We attend worship at his church on Sundays when we are there. It is such a joy to arrive and to hear the texts preached that I have already spent time with in prayer. This preparation makes corporate worship more meaningful for me.

On a larger scale, I know that others all over the world are hearing messages preached on the same set of texts. It connects me to the wider Church in a deeply spiritual way. Across differing denominations and worship styles, the lectionary is a thread that binds us all together. It keeps us from falling into ruts of only hearing “favorite” passages. It challenges us to read scripture more broadly than we might otherwise. It calls us to structure and discipline, to growth and order, by giving us a framework for scripture study. And because the Revised Common Lectionary is on a three-year cycle, it calls us to revisit the same passages time and again, so that the texts meet us in different stages of our lives.

The discipline of praying the lectionary texts has become a transformational spiritual practice for me. The more I do it, the more I appreciate the beauty of the lectionary.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Lighted Path of Righteousness

Light is planted like seed for the righteous person
                                                                                Psalm 97:11a

It is enlightening (bad pun) to think about light as seed. It’s easier to think of seed needing light to grow. Imagine the ground looking like the sky on a dark but clear night, light beaming out all around your feet. It is like a scene from a Disney movie, a path so illuminated that it is nearly impossible to stray from the right path.

Ah, you say, if only the path were so clear! But is it really that hard to see the right path, the path that God has for you? I believe that righteousness, while a gift from God, grows within us as we practice living rightly day in and day out. It’s not about “being good” but about such an overwhelming love for God that you want what God wants. This deep love compels you to faithfully walk in the way of Christ, and as you do, it becomes easier to see and follow the path.

Like exercise, the regular practice of walking in the way of Christ strengthens our faith muscles, and what was once unnatural for us simply becomes who we are. Several years ago my New Year’s resolution was to eat more fruits and vegetables. It was quite hard at first to change my eating patterns. I had to crowd out the other foods to make room for more fruits and vegetables. But consistent practice has changed the foods I crave. It is the same with living righteously. It begins with falling in love with God and grows to be who I am, instead of something I have to consciously do.

That doesn’t mean I never fail. Righteousness does not equate to perfection. Righteousness is a way of living in obedience to Jesus, an obedience that bubbles out of you because the center of who you are is overflowing love for God. We daily learn to follow more closely and we discover that our failures are caught in the net of grace! We can acknowledge our failures, repent of them, but not be defined by them or held hostage by them. They don’t rob us of our joy. They don’t turn our vision from the light on our path.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Wonder and Oneness

I pray they will be one . . .
                                 John 17:21a

I’ve been thinking about reverence this week, because I am part of a small group studying An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. As I read the gospel lesson for this past Sunday, from which the above verse is taken, it dawned on me that reverence means the ability to recognize that we are all one, that we are all in Christ—not only people but all created things. Paying attention—being reverent—is to see the thread of Light and Love that binds us all one to another: apple to fish to person to tree to ant to star to water to bird to God.

I wonder how my seeing ever got so bad that I was no longer able to see that thread. My husband tells the story of getting his first pair of glasses as a child and being surprised that the mass of green on the side of the road was comprised of individual blades of grass! It seems that for a time I lost my “glasses” of grace and wonder, glasses I had as a child. When I do put those glasses on, I can see God in everything. When I see with grace and wonder, the thread that connects us all is obvious.

It takes conscious effort on my part to put on the glasses of grace and wonder. Our culture, with its cynicism and frenetic pace of life, is not going to encourage me to view the world through lenses of grace and wonder. While our culture loves to idolize created things—money, possessions and status—it does not encourage us to be reverent, to hold the mystery of what we cannot explain, nor to even attempt to explain that which is greater than us.

Glasses of grace and wonder differ from regular glasses by training my eyes to see reverently all the time. I want to be where I always see the oneness of all creation with its Creator. I want to be able to see all creation as holy so that all of life becomes sacrament (visible image of the invisible God) for me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Lines are part of our lives. We are encouraged as children to stay in lines—whether it is walking in a line to the school cafeteria or coloring a picture or arranging our desks in the classroom. Lines are good. Lines give us order, boundaries, certainty.

As an accounting student, I learned that lines had meaning—a single underline meant a subtotal while a double underline signaled balance and a final total. Numbers were in columns, vertical lines providing order and readability.

In geometry, I learned that the shortest distance between two points was a straight line. Our culture of productivity seems to thrive on straight line thinking and the efficiency it represents. But life cannot always be lived in a straight line. On a recent flight, I noticed the curves of one particularly curvy river. Back and forth it curved, almost meeting itself, carving out land that looked like light bulbs. Hills and valleys, contours of uneven land create the curves and bends in a river, just as they change the direction and perspective of our lives.

Hills, valleys, curves—all lend a sense of expectancy, surprise, and mystery to our lives. When we can’t see what’s around the bend, over the mountain, or in the valley, we have to move forward without a clear vision of the future, even if that future is only a few moments ahead of us. While that can make us anxious or uncertain, it can also fill us with anticipation and excitement in a way that a straight road on flat land cannot.

I wonder if our Creating God created curves and hills, bends and valleys so we would learn to walk by faith and so we would not always be so darn efficient that we miss the joy of surprise and anticipation and expectancy. If you’ve ever driven a curvy mountain road, you know that you can’t drive it as fast as a flat, straight stretch of interstate highway. Maybe that’s the point. By navigating the curved lines of our lives, we learn to slow down and appreciate the unpredictability of our path. With faith, we can move to and through the unknown curves because we know who has drawn the curved lines of our lives.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Grace of Self-Forgetfulness

And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.               Matthew 22:39                                                      

Likely you are familiar with this verse, for it appears in some form in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is not original with Jesus, though, for it first appears in Leviticus 19:18. As easy as the verse is to remember, it is not easy to practice. We have as hard a time loving our neighbor as we do loving self.

I have been reading Abandonment to Divine Providence
 by Rev. Jean-Pierre de Caussade S.J., which is a treatise on the sacrament of the present moment and a collection of letters to different people encouraging them to self-abandonment. Over and over again, de Caussade encourages the recipients of his letters to be gentle with themselves. He says that just as they treat others with gentleness and patience, they should extend the same treatment to themselves. 

We may balk at such instruction, but I believe that is because we equate self-love with self-indulgence. On the contrary, while de Caussade encourages gentleness toward self, he also urges the recipients of his letters to not be self-absorbed but instead to be self-forgetful. If we are beating ourselves up over our failures and inadequacies, we are exhibiting self-absorption. Being gentle and patient with ourselves, letting our failures drop like a stone in water, is actually self-forgetfulness. Far from self-indulgence, such patience recognizes that we are going to fail. That acknowledgement and acceptance of our limitations increases our dependence on God, de Caussade observes.

Gentleness with ourselves translates into gentleness with others. And when we accept that others will also fail, we can love them for who they are, failures and all. Such acknowledgment allows us to forgive others as we are also forgiven. In this gentleness and patience with ourselves and others, we can find rest for our souls.