Archives for March 2006

Carl E. Braaten – Time & Grace

from Principles of Lutheran Theology:

By God’s grace and the means of grace we can live meaningfully in time and history. We cannot realize our potentialities on our own. When the grace of God penetrates our life, we are equipped to deal with the three dimensions of time. We become free from bondage to our past through forgiveness otherwise we are incarcerated in the guilts and fears which our past throws up to haunt us. We become fully engaged in the meaning of the present moment, living life to the hilt; otherwise we wander aimlessly through life, not knowing the whence and the whither of our movements. We are made open to the future which is rushing toward us, entering into the unknown with courage and faith in the providential hand of God; otherwise we are paralyzed into inaction, frozen by the foreboding possibilities of an incalculable tomorrow. Grace lifts us beyond bondage to the passage of time and mediates to us the power of eternal life.



    “It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but. … What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and repetitive motions are conducive to devotions such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary.”  ~Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and ‘Women’s Work’

In the truest sense worship is about increasing our God-consciousness which I have found requires a decreasing awareness of myself and an opening of myself completely to the present moment of time. My ability to achieve this state varies from week to week. It is not an on/off state, but more of a continuum that I move within.

As Kathleen reminds us, it is the routine that enables this process. As we move into the familiar liturgy and hymns, we move into a familiar place, a place where we can relax. We know the rhythm of the service – it has been written in our core by repetition. This intimate awareness frees us from our self and allows us to move along the continuum away from self awareness and more fully into the present moment which plants us in the presence of the Divine (actually God is always there, it is our awareness of God’s presence that is heightened).

This process is similar to an athlete who before any game has run countless drills in order to make the required movements ‘automatic’ – so much a part of themselves that they can execute the required moves without thought, confident of the outcome, thus freeing them to focus not on the basics of their movements or execution – these will occur automatically because of the repetition – but instead freeing them to respond to the tactics and strategies of their opponent in the particular contest (i.e. the conditions of the moment).

C. S. Lewis in his Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer discusses this same phenomena with the admonition that change in the worship service forces the worshipper to move from a state of God-consciousness into a state of ‘self’-consciousness due to the unfamiliar. Once the change has been practiced, it then becomes routinized and the worshipper is able to move away from their consciousness of self once again.

I once attended a church where the choirmaster was keenly aware of this phenomena and very respectful of the congregation gathered in that place. He made it a point never to add a hymn to the service that the congregation didn’t already know without preparing them for it. For two or three weeks prior to it being sung as a hymn during worship, he played it as part of the prelude or postlude. The week before the congregation sang it for the first time, it was used as one of the choir’s anthems. During the service that the hymn was sung for the first time, he played it through completely once, prior to the singing. This meant that the congregation had heard the piece 4-5 times before they ever sang it. What a blessing he was! How incredibly caring and thoughtful! This was a marvelous place to worship.

So don’t fight the routine in worship lose yourself in it! God is waiting for you!

Weight Loss v. Spiritual Disciplines

I have struggled with my weight most of my life. I started a new program last year and am doing my best to follow the guidelines and incorporate the new practices and behaviors into my life. Some of these new behaviors are new to me and others are things that I know to do, but somehow in the rush of life just wasn’t incorporating into my lifestyle. This particular program emphasizes small, steady changes – rather than large dramatic changes.

So I have made the step — committed to participate. I am now working to incorporate certain practices around my eating and exercise into my routine – hoping for weight loss and a better balance in my life overall. I also hope to become better in tune with my body. So far the success I’ve had has been mostly invisible to the outside world. I have lost some weight, but not enough that people are really noticing. My clothes are fitting better and I am wearing some of my smaller sizes.

However, the changes on the inside are much more significant:

• First, I have hope again, this program is not onerous and is one that I am succeeding in following.

• I am feeling better and have gotten some very good results back on some of my blood tests. In addition, my blood pressure is back in the excellent range.

• I have noticed that my physical ability has improved markedly and I am able to do some things that I had not been able to do for a while.

• While my sleep is not all that it should be, I am sleeping more.

• I have more energy for my job and for other activities at the end of the day.

• My overall attitudes and outlooks are more positive.

All of these changes are significant, but not necessarily visible. For the most part they are internal to me.

All of this focus on the weight program has given me cause for reflection on the parallels to this weight loss endeavor to that of using my spiritual disciplines.

Both serve to impose structure in my life. Both require a choice on my part. I make a choice to incorporate certain practices into my life. In the case of the weight loss – a food plan and exercise plan. In the case of my spiritual life – I have chosen a Rule of Life which includes regular times of devotion, prayer, meditation, and worship.

The initial changes in both cases are more internal and less visible to others. Over time they become increasingly visible and tangible externally. Both are providing a collection of new experiences, a slight shift in my frame of reference, and the incorporation of new stories into my core life narrative. They are providing me with a more balanced way of life and serving to shore up my foundation.

The outcome in both cases is transformation.

    God I thank you for love and guidance in all areas of my life. I ask your strength and wisdom to follow both my weight loss plan and my Rule of Life, not so much for the tangible benefits, but because I know that they are good for me and that I feel better when I do. Amen.

Burnout (On Vocation, Part 4)

Burnout … results from trying to give what I do not possess…Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place.

~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

On Vocation, Part 3

[Vocation] comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what is is truly about…Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.      ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Having just returned from my synod’s annual candidacy retreat, vocation and call were pushed to the front of my mind. Also, it was Advent and I was surrounded by the example of Mary and her willingness and openness to accept without understanding the call of God. A call that meant at best a very difficult time for her in her culture or which at worst could mean her death. She gave her assent without really understanding the HOW – it’s a mystery. I, unlike Mary, am not good at this mystery stuff – I want to have the how and why clearly defined prior to taking a step in any direction.

One of the pastor’s at the retreat brought up the following conundrum: “I love words. I often read passages in books, even sermons, which state the things of God much better than I ever could. Why should I preach with my words when I could just read the eloquent words of others.” Why indeed?

I’ve always thought that my patron saint should be Jonah. (Of course, there are two problems with this line of thinking. First, Lutherans definitely don’t have patron saints. Second, Jonah was/is no saint – not even beautified come to think of it.) Jonah who received his call to the people of Nineveh, decided against said call and promptly headed off in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Now there’s a saint I can relate to – out and out defiance! Of course, there was that whole business of the storm, the fish and being unceremoniously vomited up on the shore that eventually made Jonah, grudgingly, willing to head off to Nineveh. Contrasted with Mary’s willingness to accept God’s plan for her as recorded in Luke, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38, NRSV) there is a world of difference!

Or consider Isaiah, who when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” responded, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV No argument, just a simple: I’m here – I’ll do it.

Of course, there is always Moses to look to as an example, right? Yes, here again I find a kindred spirit. God comes to Moses in the burning bush with a call. Moses, unlike Jonah, doesn’t show out and out defiance. No, he just spends most of the next chapter in Exodus arguing with God about his unsuitability for the task and asking wonderful questions like, “What if no one listens to me?”

what if… what if… what if…

Finally, Moses pulls out the big guns with God and reminds God that he has “never been eloquent” and thus is unfit for this task! Surely he’s got God now. God, of course, is not dissuaded and promises to help Moses speak.

Moses finally, literally quits beating around the bush and, says, “Oh Lord, please send someone else to do it.” You gotta love this guy, who in the face of the miraculous manifestation of God in the burning bush, argues and works every angle possible to have his call placed on someone else! God gets mad, but does relent somewhat, by saying that Moses and Aaron will team up for this task. Amazing chutzpah that Moses!

Would that there were more Mary and Isaiah in me and less Jonah and Moses!

There are calls in life that we can’t run away from nor argue our way out of. We all have been gifted and called in accord to our gifts and abilities. In fact, look at the call of Jeremiah:

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, “I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. (Jer 1: 4-9, NRSV)

Jeremiah’s vocation (call to ministry) was consecrated before his birth! Jeremiah does argue slightly with God reminding God that he is not an adult, but I think as he is a youth we can overlook this, don’t you?

Jeremiah’s call applies equally to each of us, ordained or not. We are all being called by God to fulfill a vocation that is uniquely ours to fulfill and one that we can’t escape (remember Jonah!) no matter which direction we run.

Let’s pick back up with Jeremiah. He has been faithful to the call that he has received with negative results:

7 O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jer 20:7-10, NRSV)

Well, look at that! Jeremiah took up his call and delivered the Lord’s message as instructed and, low and behold, people did not listen nor change. In fact, they made fun of Jeremiah! What’s wrong with this picture!?

So Jeremiah, makes a very logical decision, “I don’t like how the message is being received. I believe I will just keep my mouth shut!”

Sensible man.

But much to his dismay, Jeremiah finds it exhausting to not speak the message, and in fact, finds that he must continue to speak the words of the Lord irregardless of the negative personal consequences.

You see your call and vocation is most likely tied to that thing which you can’t not do. It is such a core part of who you are that to inhibit its expression would do you physical and emotional harm.

So back to the question posed by the pastor at the retreat. Yes, others may articulate the things of God in the most beautiful of ways, but our job is to find our voice and speak the message we have received from God trusting God with the results.

Amen and amen.

Writing – Rilke and Smith (On Vocation, Part 2)

Rilke and Smith provide wonderful descriptions of their individual calls to vocation, both writing.

    Therefore, my dear friend, I know of no other advice that this: Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth. At its source you will find the answer to the questions, whether you must write. Accept it, however it sounds to you, without analyzing. Perhaps it will become apparent to you that you are indeed called to be a writer. Then accept that fate; bear its burden, and its grandeur, without asking for the reward, which might possibly come from without. For the creative artist must be a world of his own and must find everything within himself and in nature, to which he has betrothed himself. — Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
    I can report that though I always enjoy writing, writing about religion gives me the greatest pleasure, because at religion’s best (the part I dwell on), it inspires me. This makes writing about it enjoyable, and more. It brings the kind of fulfillment Aristotle called flourishing and makes my mornings a holy time — by extension, a time of prayer. –Huston Smith, The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition

Buechner On Vocation

    There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, of Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding this out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. — Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

(emphasis mine)

Time and Space

    “Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time.” –The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel
    Large numbers of people today feel they are leading what could be called disynchronous lives; that is, they feel that the various parts of their lives are not moving in time with each other. People find themselves torn between the fast-paced rhythm of their outer world and those other, slower rhythms that seem very much a part of human nature but that no one seems to be able to help us connect with. Is it possible to synchronize all the wild and varied rhythms of our being and to achieve once more a state of once more a state of harmony, calm, and peace that seems lacking in our modern world? – Sacred Time and the Search for Meaning, Gary Eberle

Time and space are inextricably linked especially when it comes to our physical and mental worlds. For example, when we travel too far too fast – we experience jet lag. Jet lag is caused by the changing one physical location to the next so quickly that our body rhythms are thrown out of sync with those physical rhythms of the new location.

This same type of condition occurs without travel when our daily lives get completely out of sync with the natural rhythms of the world around us and the Divine rhythm that we were created to live within. We experience “time” lag. Our natural physical, mental, and spiritual rhythms are out of sync with their natural norms. We become disassociated with both our location and our time. Our culture pushes us in this direction.

How can we work to reconnect and stay connected to natural rhythms of both the time and space of our surroundings?