You are His Praise!

Sing with your voices,
Sing with your hearts,
Sing with your lips,
Sing with your lives.

“Sing to the Lord a new song.”
Do you ask what you should sing about the one whom you love?
Of course you want to sing about the one you love.
Do you ask what you should sing in praise of him?
“His praise is in the assembly of the saints.”
The singer himself is the praise contained in the song.
Do you want to speak the praise of God?
Be yourself what you speak.
If you live good lives,
you are his praise.

From Augustine of Hippo (354-430), quoted in Seeking Life: The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2009).

Lenten Gardening 2010

My Backyard Garden - Dallas

One of my key activities in early spring is cleaning out my flowerbeds and the flowerpots in my deck garden. I cut back dead plants and clear out the dead leaves on my perennials. I clear out the areas that will need to be replanted removing dead plants and beginning the preparation of the soil to receive new plants and flowers. I prune rose bushes, the butterfly bush and shrubs to make room for new growth. Spring is a time of preparation and dreaming about what is to come. It is my favorite time of year in my garden!

This year it has been extra cold here in Texas. We had close to a foot of snow a week ago, so my yearly gardening rituals have been delayed. As often is the case, the delay has heightened the yearning to begin this activity. The garden is calling me! Come on spring!

I was reminded during Ash Wednesday worship this week that if you take the word ‘Lent’ back to its roots it means simply ‘spring’. I know spring! Clearing, cleaning, pruning, and hauling off debris. Hard work, yes, but work full of promise, buoyed by occasional glimpses of the first signs of emerging growth. Growth indiscernible, until you are on your knees and carefully removing last years’ dead and decaying debris.

It struck me that as much as I love the Lenten work of my garden, I have never been a big fan of Lent in my faith journey. It is just something I tend to pass through on my way to Holy Week. Truthfully, I am more of an Advent pondering and waiting person.

Lent on the other hard is work! Yes, Lent is the spring time in our lives of faith – it is a time of clearing dead and rotting parts of our lives: dreams that have withered and no longer fit, half hearted spiritual practices, angers and resentments that slowly eat away the life in us, and disappointments that have taken root and that threaten to choke out new life. Lent is a reality check on any saccharine sweet notions of the faith that we may be harboring. Lent is not for the faint of heart.

At its most effective, Lent requires us to be tough in our assessments – if it is not growing it must be cut back or removed entirely.  Even if it is something that has grown amazingly in the past, Lent is the time for pruning it back. Pruning is counterintuitive in its effect. We cut a plant’s limbs back significantly in order to bring the limbs back to closer to the central core, and while it might seem that this would mean we would end up with a smaller, less healthy plant at end of the summer, the opposite is actually true! Not pruning stunts the growth and health of the bush. Go figure! This is true in our spiritual lives as well.

The work of Lent in our gardens and in our lives is work done ahead of the growth, hoping that this work might even speed the emergence of life from its dormant state. (Dare we hope!) So this Lent the question I am asking myself is: what in my life needs to be cleared out, pruned and hauled off to make room for growth and more importantly God?


When the world tells us
we are what we do with our activity, acumen, or achievement
let us learn

When the world tells us
we are what we do with our spending power, selling power, or our
power of speech,
let us learn

When the world tells us
to drown the silent sufferings of others with indifference or noise
or to forget the art of stillness even in the storm,
let us learn

When the world tells us
to rush in where angels fear to tread,
let us learn that angels listen first
before they take a step

    (from the Iona Community) 

Worship: Eugene Peterson Quote

Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life.

  • from The Way of Jesus, by Eugene Peterson
  • Worship

      “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!

    For All the Saints

    Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before for us. (Heb 12:1, NRSV)

    I am grateful to be a member of a liturgical church, with its’ liturgical calendar that marks the seasons and feasts of the church. Today we remember the saints, those glorious giants of the faith in our lives who have gone on to their heavenly home. Individuals whose lives provided glimpses of God and God’s grace in our lives. Today I especially remember those who have been instrumental in my faith growth, and my heart fills with a special gratitude when I remember the gifts that they bestowed upon me.

    Linda who walked through the dark days of my divorce with me, who carried my hope in trust for me, who always reminded me that I was God’s beloved, who encouraged me to hang in there and trust that it would get easier, who was only as far away as a phone call and who listened, really listened and cared, really cared. Linda – God with skin and bones on. Linda who had walked my path and was willing to serve as a guide on my painful journey. Linda who chose to share her deep, beautiful faith with me. Linda who claimed to be sharing only what she had first been given and whose only request of me was that I do the same once I was able.

    Marshall who walked with me as I struggled with my sense of call. Marshall who was willing to listen as I moved from denial (surely not me, Lord, I must be getting my signals mixed up somehow here). Marshall who was willing to listen as I moved to allowing myself to be slightly open to the possibility of a call (okay, I’ll pray about it and I’ll try to be open – while secretly hoping that I was not being called). Marshall who listened as I slowly came to see that I was being called and the awesome wonder that flooded my heart at this revelation. Marshall who was able to trust the process and allow me to move at my pace (very, very slow!), thereby enabling me to begin to trust the process and to continue to stumble along the path set before me. Marshall who offered only gentle encouragement with nary an ‘I told you so’ when I veered off of the path and like Jonah headed headlong for Tarshish and the belly of the whale. Marshall who was willing to share honestly his call and his resulting journey. Marshall a gentle, giant of the faith.

    Blessings Linda, my spiritual mother! Blessings Marshall, my spiritual father! Thank you both for standing with me in the midst of the storms of my life and holding my hand. Thanks for showing me God’s love and allowing me to see myself in your eyes as the beloved of God.

    Oh, how I miss your physical presence in this world – your smiles, your hugs, your laughter. Oh, how I remember you both as we kneel at the communion rail this morning and join together in the communion of all the saints! Greetings!

    Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you, and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (BCP, pg 245)