Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Biting Scriptural Sound Bites

Too often Christians throw Bible verses around like they are pieces of candy tossed from a parade float. We can probably name many that have been lobbed our way, as well as ones we’ve been guilty of flinging toward another.

It’s easier to shoot a scripture toward another than it is to come close enough to a person to hear the need of their heart. We are busy people, and quite frankly, often too busy to listen to one another. Our need for speed means that the verses or phrases we toss toward another often hit the person with such force that they feel more like an arrow inflicting a wound than a treat to encourage.

A person who suffered much damage due to the jealousy of another told me of the arrow shot his way when he sought to convey the depth of his hurt to another. Already suffering significant loss, he was given this “encouraging” word: You know, God is a jealous God.

Ask anyone who’s suffered the death of a loved one and you’ll likely hear an equally hollow “encouraging” word: They are in a better place; Time will heal your wounds; God is with you.

Maybe we need to learn to be silent, and simply be with one another. Our discomfort with silence and stillness causes us to wound others with our shallow sound bites. In fact, “shallow” is a good description of a faith that depends on scriptural candy instead of digging deeply into the meaning of God’s living Word in the person of Jesus, who is body and blood of God, not some irrelevant piece of sugar.

Reading scripture using Lectio Divina strips away the shallow interpretation and use of scripture. Lectio Divina is a prayerful sitting with scripture, allowing it to seep into us, challenge us and change us. Through the regular practice of Lectio Divina, we learn a reverence for the depth of God’s word to us that weans us from using it in trivial ways.

As we learn to be still with God’s word, we also learn to be still with God’s creation, with the hurting and confused who need our presence and love, not a scriptural sound bite. Instead of offering words, we offer ourselves, a living and holy sacrifice, flesh and blood, not the empty calories of scriptural candy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Showing Up

As a participant in the Two-Year Academy for SpiritualFormation, I became acquainted with the ancient concept of praying the hours, also known as the Daily Office or fixed hour prayer. Rooted in scripture, and not unique to our Judeo-Christian tradition, the Office is the act of setting aside specific times of day for corporate prayer. Psalm 119:164 says: I praise you seven times a day for your righteous rules.

Many monastic communities set aside seven times a day for the entire community to pray, with a set order of worship for each Office. In my Academy, we gathered for morning, evening and night prayer each day. By the end of my two years, this rhythm of corporate prayer had worked its way into my spirit, so that even when I did not have a community to gather with for these times of prayer, I added my own voice to voices all around the world who pray the prayers that have been part of our history for centuries.

Sometimes I approach this time of prayer with great anticipation. I have experienced God’s presence in wondrous and affirming ways and it is a joy to say thank you by reciting the canticles, prayers, psalms, and scriptures for the day, the Office and the season. Many of the prayers and canticles I know by heart, a treasure trove of praise and prayer to God.

Other times, when life is hard, or I am tired, it seems that the best I can do is simply to show up, to keep the worldwide cycle of prayer going. On those days, when my heart is heavy, I am grateful for the familiar prayers, because I don’t have the words to pray.

In Ezra 3, when the foundations of the temple are laid, there is both weeping and joyful shouting. Those who remembered the former temple wept but others shouted with joy. Weeping and shouting mingled together. I wonder if that’s what God hears when we participate in the great river of prayer that is the Daily Office. There are the joyful, who are grateful for the privilege to offer their sacrifice of praise, and there are those whose offering is simply showing up, reciting the psalms and prayers from a heart of brokenness, but offering them nonetheless.

This is the communion of saints, weeping and praising together, unending, unbroken throughout the centuries, in times of persecution and times of plenty, in seasons of blessing and seasons of brokenness, in places of war and places of peace, in want or in plenty. We come with what we have to offer. We show up. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Belonging nowhere, I am homeless.
Doors shut, hearts closed,
I lie awake, wondering--
wandering mind
looking for shelter,
an open door,
a familiar heart--
how long this darkness?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Uncertainty as Gift

Uncertainty is not something we generally welcome. Most of us like to know what’s coming next. We want to be in control of our situations. It’s disorienting to be in the dark about the future, or to believe we are out of control.

Deep down we know that nothing is certain, that we really are not in control, but in day to day life, we often act as if we have to have certainty and control. The problem with desiring control and certainty is that they can paralyze us and close us off from spontaneity and growth.

In a daily email I receive, I recently read this contrast between joy and happiness: Happiness is the absence of discord; joy is the welcoming of discord as the basis of higher harmonies. Happiness is finding a system of rules which solves our problems; joy is taking the risk that is necessary to break new frontiers . . . Joy is the experience of possibility, the consciousness of one’s freedom as one confronts one’s destiny. In this sense despair, when it is directly faced, can lead to joy.

While this quote says nothing of control or certainty, the contrast between happiness and joy paints a picture of happiness as a sense of certainty and the ability to be in control of a situation, while joy embraces uncertainty as necessary if one is to experience freedom and growth. Joy can tolerate short-term discomfort because in the long run, hope and joy are connected.

If happiness hinges on our sense of certainty, we swing between happiness and frustration, anxiety and even anger depending on whether or not we feel certain of what is coming next in our lives. If happiness fluctuates like a wet-weather stream, joy has the constancy of an underground aquifer. A joyful person understands that life is uncertain and that control is illusory and thus does not attach his or her well-being to such transient circumstances.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

To be patient with stages of instability is not easy, but the joyful person understands that instability is part of life, part of the movement to something new and that God is in the instability, pruning us for new growth. Welcoming uncertainty and instability, with the understanding that they are necessary for the journey, enables us to see them as gifts rather than as something undesirable.