Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scott Cairns, "Advent"

Here is the poem by Scott Cairns that I mentioned in my previous post. That post was already too long even without the poem, but the poem seemed too significant and spiritual to leave out altogether.
Well, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas—everywhere, children eyeing the bright lights and colorful goods, traffic a good deal worse than usual, and most adults in view looking a little puzzled, blinking their eyes against the assault of stammering bulbs and public displays of goodwill. We were all embarrassed, frankly, the haves and the have-nots—all of us aware something had gone far wrong with an entire season, something had eluded us. And, well, it was strenuous, trying to recall what it was that had charmed us so, back when we were much smaller and more oblivious than not concerning the weather, mass marketing, the insufficiently hidden faces behind those white beards and other jolly gear. And there was something else: a general diminishment whose symptoms included the Xs in Xmas, shortened tempers, and the aggressive abandon with which most celebrants seemed to push their shiny cars about. All of this seemed to accumulate like wet snow, or like the fog which our habitual inversion tried to choke us, or to blank us out altogether, so that, of a given night, all that appeared over the mess we had made of the season was what might be described as a nearly obscured radiance, just visible through the gauze, either the moon disguised by a winter veil, or some lost star—isolated, distant, sadly dismissing of us, and all our expertly managed scene.

Holiday Malaise and the Ordinary Holiness of the Reason for the Season

John 1.14

The radio has constantly been on at our house lately, blaring holiday cheer into my ears. One song wails, over and over and over and over, quite literally like a broken record:
Have a holly jolly Christmas
And in case you didn't hear
Oh by golly have a holly jolly Christmas
This year.
Well, I did hear. I've heard about a hundred thousand times. This year alone. I've been hearing since before Thanksgiving. "Have a holly jolly Christmas." Don't tell me what kind of Christmas to have! Bah-humbug. I'm being a little silly, of course, but it's true that I've got a sense of holiday malaise, "a vague feeling of discomfort, one that cannot be pinned down but is often sensed as 'just not right'" (reference).

Clearly, as has been said ("many times in many ways"), we've lost the "reason for the season." But I don't think that the people with the Jesus-Is-the-Reason-for-the-Season Yard Signs have really got the "reason" down either. Both the signs (which seem more political than spiritual) and the "removal" of Christ from Christmas that the signs protest are, as Scott Cairns puts it, "symptoms" of a larger missing-of-the-point (see his poem "Advent").

What we've missed, I think, is not the splendor of the holiday--the Star in the East, the singing choirs of angels, and so forth--but the ordinary holiness that is, at the same time as the splendor, also part of the reason for the season. The ordinary day-to-day kind of holiness is easy to lose track of in all the bright lights. The holiness of the ordinary days is often barely visible, like the moon or a star barely visible through the clouds (in Cairns' metaphors). But, of course, the strength of the moon to pull the oceans and the awesome firepower of the stars reaching here from so many million miles away are not diminished because we do not notice them. So, God here is all around us, omnipresent--even in the air we breathe.


The version of the Christmas story that I prefer comes from the Gospel of John (verse 14):
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. (KJV)
Another version puts it this way:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood. (The Message)
Most literally, the passage could be translated from the Greek in this way:
The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.
This version of the Christmas story emphasizes the ordinariness of Christmas. John even makes quite a point of the fact that people did not even recognize that Christ was the Son of God (see verse 10) because he was so ordinary (see also, Isaiah 53.2). For many, the coming of Christ to earth as a cute little baby means that we can go to heaven. But if this is all that we get, we're missing at least half the story. The coming of Christ as a baby who cried at night, who spit up, who pooped in his diaper, who caught the cold, and on and on, as any other human baby, means something too. By becoming an ordinary person in an ordinary town, breathing ordinary air and eating ordinary food--Jesus Christ sanctified or made holy the ordinary.


The Oxford English Dictionary describes a holiday or, more specifically, a "Holy-Day" as "a day consecrated or set apart for religious observance, usually in commemoration of some sacred person or event." It also describes the term "Holy" as meaning "kept . . . from ordinary use, and appropriated or set apart for religious use or observance." Part of what has "eluded us," as Scott Carins puts it, is the understanding that a big part of the whole meaning of the Christmas story is precisely to turn these definitions on their heads. As the life of Christ shows us, all days are equally "holy." And as the subsequent "sending" of the Holy Spirit shows us, holy days are meant for the present, not meant to merely be commemorative. Religious use--or at least, true spiritual use--is not any different from "ordinary use." When, in John's Christmas story, people failed to recognize their creator, it wasn't because they were blind to seeing the Spirit in the rare-supernaturally-fantastic, it was because they were blind to seeing the Spirit in the most-of-the-time-mostly-ordinary.

Often, the way holidays are celebrated, inside and outside the church, reinforces attitudes that cause us to miss this so important part of the story. This, I believe, contributes to the  holiday malaise that some of us share. But all certainly is not lost. We still can use the very simple and precious symbols of Christmas--the manger, the shepherds, the teenage girl, even the tax season--to remind ourselves to live every day as a "holy-day," understood differently, to live every moment with an awareness of the most-often-ordinariness of the holy omnipresence of God.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mixed Bags

Many of my students, when they write, default to outrageous fundamentalist party-line thinking. One student, for instance, wrote about how evangelical marriages are astronomically more successful than the marriages of "atheists" and "agnostics." Of course, that is patently false. Ironically, the source she cited for this statistic actually points to something the opposite being the case (citation). In addition to being an example of careless research, this student's writing betrays several moral faults bequeathed to her by her wider social context: arrogance and judgmentalism. Many of us share these same faults to greater or lesser degrees (for instance, just see how much easier it is for me to see the faults in this student rather than in myself!). Apparently, as George Barna has found out, "Faith has had a limited affect on people’s behavior . . ." (same citation). These faults--and that statement by Barna--are things for us to mull over. But that's not my point here.

The point is this. My students are mixed bags. In the very same paper, this student wrote:
It is a crazy idea to think that perfect love dwells in every living soul on earth. That even atheists and agnostics have the same perfect love settled in them as any other religious individual, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, etc. Now this off the wall proposal may have your mind boggled, but its so true. Lets first look at this thesis from a Biblical standpoint. The Bible clearly defines in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love.”
This is not arrogant or judgmental but beautiful, not the party line but a spiritual insight. This shows me that my students are mixed bags, which--and this is what I'm getting at--gives me hope because I realize that I too am a mixed bag. We all are. When that part of myself manifests which is not any better than the arrogance of the party line, whatever the party, I may have the grace of knowing that that is not all of who I am. Our selves--the selves we live as day to day--are heterogeneous mixtures of good stuff and not so good stuff. We will continue to be this way until we are fully reconciled with God who is already within us, until we are no longer divided. As long as I'm not perfect, I am grateful to God that I'm not all bad.

Thomas Merton says, the person "who hates the division in himself [or herself] is already beginning to be free.” St. Paul says:
And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him. (The Message)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Spiritual Sparks

Yesterday, when it was 63 degrees and raining, our friends Stephen and Christine Hoffman came to visit Rickey’s class, Christian Mystics. (Stephen is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Palmetto, Florida.) Stephen’s opening words to the students were they shouldn’t take this course for granted. Then he and Christine each spoke about how they came to appreciate and practice deep spirituality in their lives. Stephen talked about things happening in his life that brought him to a place of needing to be personally renewed. As a pastor, he was also seeking a fresh Lenten devotion to share with his congregation. He bought a book about centering prayer, and as he read it, he discovered he was being drawn and touched in a profound way. It was at this point he began a practice of prayer that considerably outlasted the forty days before Easter; he is still at it years later.

When it was her turn to speak, Christine said the short answer as to why she began the practice was because she wanted to join with and support Stephen. But as she has continued in it, she found her own meaningful reasons for persevering. As a Biblical scholar she was able to connect the Hebrew idea of tikkun olam, healing the world, with her prayer. She explained the concept, “When we join our spirits with God’s spirit, like a spark joining a fire, we are actively extending God’s healing presence into the world.” Also, she loved discovering what it meant to be silent and let go of thoughts in prayer. She said, “I am a wordy person, and I have lived my whole life using thoughts and words as effectively as possible.” (She was a teacher and a lay preacher for decades.) In this kind of prayer she told us she was delighted to experience the value and importance of silence.

During Q&A, she said by centering she was refreshed and strengthened for all the other kinds of prayer she does, adding that if you really care about people then engaging their needs can be exhausting.

Stephen was asked how much his congregation practices this kind of prayer. He replied that in spite of his participation and support, his own church prayer group only has five members. I immediately thought of Fr. Keating’s gentle response to this same lack of participation by the larger Christian community. He said, “Well, you will have to weigh them instead of counting them.” Stephen also told how much it meant to him to attend conferences and retreats with people that share the practice. Instead of trying to explain or even defend his practice, he is able to immediately connect with folks who, as one gifted teacher put it, “speak the same language.”

Too quickly our 50 minutes was over, and Rickey had to end class. Later, I thought of Stephen’s opening remarks about not taking for granted our opportunity to explore deep spirituality. He meant the course, but it made me reflect on what it means to share spiritual connections where we can be strengthened and encouraged to continue growing in God. Yesterday was one such time, one such place; and although it was a rainy day, perhaps some sparks were fanned in other hearts as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Some thoughts on thankfulness

"Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more." --Brother David Steindl-Rast

There is, I think, an ever present tension in the human experience related to the dissonance between our ideal, and the real. When the imperfections of life snag my heart like a tiger's claw, and I hear, "In everything give thanks" my initial reaction is, "How?"

How can I be thankful for the pain that certain ongoing situations produce? Where is room for gratitude when genocide decimates a large portion of the population of a country? What thanks can there be in broken relationships? Where can I begin to be grateful for a relative who both loves and hates me, and I never know what it is on any given day? How can I find thankfulness in watching a loved one repeatedly shooting himself in the foot, or in losing a loved one? When the illusions of life abruptly and with finality disillusion me, how can I say, "Thank you"?

Perhaps for each person, some of the answers will be different. Some may be helped by studying God, and who he is, what he is about, and how he works. That does not hold all of the answers by any means, but there is a certain trust that grows with knowing him better. Job never discovered the reason for his suffering, but in the end, he learned to trust God because he is God.

Occasionally, someone may learn from a character in a fiction book. Claudia Mair Burney's book, Wounded features a young, unwed mother who suffers from fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. She prays to share in Jesus' suffering, and her prayer is answered with more suffering in the form of stigmata. In the end, she rejoices in the sharing as if she had received a precious gift. This is not entirely the solution either.

Some insight may come from places such as Rwanda. Our priest and his wife were in Rwanda for about two weeks, ministering to the people. Sitting in our warm, well-lit houses with enough food, water, clothing, high-speed internet, and more than we really need, the joy of the Rwandan believers is past belief. Less than 20 years ago, these people were embroiled in civil war and massive genocide. Their average yearly income is equal to $1000. And, yet, they reach out to give to and help others.

There probably is not a one-size-fits-all answer, but they all hold some general principles. Each individual will, perhaps, have a personal application. Often that will be heard while sitting quietly, expectantly, and confidently waiting.

Many of our life experiences may not make us immediately grateful. Br. David, however, calls gratitude the key to a happy life. The alternative is misery (and believe me, I have been there). I have found that learning to trust that God knows what he is doing even if I do not, is one of the keys to gratitude.

Susan Price

Friday, October 16, 2009

Community, Distractions, Disconnections

Recently my teaching colleague Steve Fettke spoke to a group of us on faculty about the need and the opportunity for faculty here to create a teaching and learning community and for there to be a sense of welcome into that community. I thought what he said and my reflections in response could be relevant to our community life in Living Stones.

Steve quoted Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach (10th anniv. ed.) telling us that we should be “creating a space centered on the great thing called teaching and learning around which a community of truth can gather” (166). And I felt like I heard the Spirit whisper to me that these words from John 24 apply: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Yes, I thought, my worship in spirit and truth, includes my teaching and being part of my faculty community.

But I considered how powerful are the realities that create disconnects and distances among us. Different personalities, different spiritual styles, different politics, different disciplines, different family situations, etc. Yes, these are incredibly powerful. Usually in contemporary settings—whether secular or Christian—they are dominant. Why would we try to resist them? Who really cares anyway? It’s an uphill battle. It would be easier to let these external factors keep us distracted and disconnected from one another.

But please forgive me for that cynicism because I hear God saying that he cares—and I remember, for a brief time anyway, that my calling is to be faithful—and let him deal with the success issues in his way and in his time.

In Chapter 1 Palmer says, “Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is courage to keep one's heart opened in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that the teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require” (11-12). I think all of us have experienced what Palmer is talking about here. This is part of what happens in any setting in which we seek to be truly open and vulnerable to God and other people.

But Palmer also gives us news of the freedom and joy of becoming our true selves in God. He offers us a vision of depth, truth, and connectedness that come “from the teacher’s inner life…as I reclaim my identity and integrity, remembering my selfhood and my sense of vocation. Then teaching can come from the depths of my own truth—and the truth that is within my students has a chance to respond in kind” (34).

I want this for myself—as a teacher in my classroom, certainly—but also as I seek to be a good brother in the Lord, to relate faithfully and consistently to my brothers and sisters in genuine spiritual community. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spiritual Experimentation

I'm convinced that our lives offer profound opportunities for experimentation. There is some truth in the cliche, "There are no unsuccessful experiments." The value of an experiment is not "success" or being proved right, but is instead the process itself. In the spiritual life, we're always in the process of self-discovery, which requires a willingness to question even our sense of ourselves. By God's grace, we certainly hold onto what is most important, but life nonetheless takes us places we might have never thought we would go. To grow obviously requires change. Thus, something we thought was extremely important may eventually need to be cast aside, but its value as an experiment, as a creative act or venture, nonetheless remains. This can be extremely painful, but a recognition of the experimental qualities of life can be helpful. Perhaps this is some of what the great spiritual masters have in mind when they talk about detachment.

In Western culture, we value being firmly convinced of our own truths; to be caught in a self-contradiction is considered the greatest of evils or shortcomings. Witness what happens to a politician who contradicts him- or herself. Foucault (not necessarily a spiritual role-model) had a much more interesting conception of his life's work: he only engaged in studies that would profoundly force him to re-evaluate his position about a given issue throughout. If he had finished the work without changing (i.e., contradicting himself, in some sense), he would have thought the experiment not radical enough. I think this is in general a helpful assessment. While I'm not advocating some sort of libertine freedom to do whatever we want in the name of experimentation, I think finding our true selves in God requires a willingness to change, to contradict ourselves perhaps, to make mistakes but learn from them--to experiment.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wine Instead of Syrup

We've just started looking for a church to attend. I have a feeling that it is going to be a long and painful search. I came up with an analogy that I think is helpful for seeing one of the primary problems with many churches. I know, I'm pointing fingers and offering solutions, but I think this is a meaningful dynamic to uncover. So let me put it this way, I came up with an analogy that is helpful for seeing one of the primary problems with churches that are programmatic or program orientated (this could mean focus on a literal program, such as the Wednesday night prayer meeting, or a larger program, like saving the world) and a primary problem with us when we become similarly program oriented.

We come to church to meet with God with each other. We come for communion, for wine. (Or for water if that metaphor works better for you.) But what we get instead is someone telling us what to believe and what not to believe, what to do and what not to do. Instead of the wine, instead of communal communion with God, we get syrup. All we want is just a sip or communion cup full of wine. But we get lots and lots and lots of syrup. We have poured into our tiny communion cup a gallon of syrup, an hour or so of someone talking at us and, to make it worse, often trying to be cordial or humorous while talking. We get the wrong thing--and we get way too much of it.

I have some ideas of what I would like in a church service which would help to reverse this problem, minimizing the syrup and opening opportunities for the wine or water, or wine and water. I'm not sure what use this description will be. We can't usefully dream of a "perfect" church. I also don't mean for these to be rules but useful patterns. Perhaps the list can serve as a prayer that we will be ever-increasingly drawn towards what matters.

There ought to be a time of silence.
There ought to be meditative communal reading of scripture.
There ought to be Eucharist.
There definitely ought to be a meal.
Sometimes, there ought to be music.
Often, there ought to be discussion.
Sometimes, someone should present a prepared "word" or sermon.
This should rarely, rarely exceed ten minutes.
Often, people should be allowed to speak unprepared "words."
As the spirit leads.
Almost always for less than two minutes each.
There ought hardly ever to be any announcements.
Particularly not programmatic pleas for involvement.
Everyone ought to participate in the corporate worship.
Never should one or a few people dominate the talking.
Talking itself should not dominate the meeting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Importance of Being Still, part 2

I think this is the other half of what my mom (Susan) wrote. I didn't know she would write what I was thinking, but here is my "half" of the story.

Teaching is a profession in which being still and centered is not only extremely difficult, but is truly undervalued. I have found, bit by bit, how imortant silence can be in this professon. Learning to be countercultural in this way has been a process, and I feel I've only nibbled a tiny corner of its vastness. Usually summer finds me drained to the dregs, heading to a silent retreat to let the beauty of the silence flow into the dry corners of my soul. This summer, I traded the silent retreat for the whirlwind of planning and executing a wedding, moving from the home I've lived in for the past ten years, and setting up my own house for the first time, not to mention the adventure of being married.

Well, I resisted all of the rushing and preparation involved in marriage at first -- I've never liked rollercoasters, especially not when I get to the part that I know for sure I won't be able to get off. But the experience was surprisingly grace-filled. It occurred to me that this was a silent retreat experience transplanted to life: an opportunity to plant pockets of silence, to feel God's presence "on the run." It was a challenge to be in each moment even when they piled on top of each other like water rushing over a waterfall.

I wasn't perfect. I certainly wished for boring moments to hurry by and became frustrated by little things. I missed beauty because I was not paying attention, and I let go of silence without considering the consequences. But the Spirit was there and was forgiving and present and loving even when I was not.

And surprisingly, the sacrament of marriage, with the mix of earthy and ethereal that so often characterizes sacraments, served as its own silent retreat. In the days that followed the wedding, I found myself as soft and open to the Spirit and to others as I have often been after spending a week in silence.

Even roller-coasters can be filled with grace.

--Sarah Curran (formerly Price)

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Kind Answer Turns Away Wrath

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 1.15
They get it right every once and a while, those seers, wise men and women. I was reacquainted with this principle from Proverbs, reading an apparently secular self-help book called Verbal Judo which had several strikingly insightful--and surprisingly spiritual!--points about gentle persuasion (largely meaning verbal conflict resolution) (see it at amazon). Here are the ones that seemed most central:
  1. The first significant insight: In a conflict, don't react to the words being said instead be present to (or empathize with) the meaning or feeling behind what's being said.
  2. But in able to be able to do this: Empty the self and remove the ego.
Both of these seem to be contemplative spiritual principles to me. Most often, they are easier said than done, of course.

One time, however, I remember enacting the "kind answer" principle smoothly while working as a cashier at a drive through window of a fast food restaurant. The food was in fact not usually fast, and often customers would arrive at my window angry about having waited so long between ordering and getting their food. One man in particular I remember speaking kindly to and his attitude drastically changing, and so I thought of the above Proverb. But I mention this instance now to point out how easy it was to answer kindly; it was easy because I had no bit of ego at stake. It wasn't me who took too long cooking his food! Unhappily, most instance when wrath comes our way, our egos are very much more involved.

If there is wrath aimed at us to be turned away, either we are at fault and so we're probably not going to simply stop our problem-making or we're not at fault and so we are indignant about the wrath or, and this is probably most often the case, we are "a little" at fault, but not enough (it seems in our mind at the time) to justify the wrath and so we are both indignant and not simply going to stop our problem making. Or something like that. Whether my analysis here is accurate, it seems plain enough that usually our egos are involved. But nonetheless, being kind beyond the question of our ego is what is essential. Indeed, this point seems closely related to Rickey's recent post on kindness. It seemed to me that these points were very practical ways of implementing our core spiritual values in our daily lives, which include, at least for me, plenty enough conflict.

Dear God, let us embody this. Amen.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Double Dutch--or the Importance of Being Still

I was so uncoordinated when I was younger (possibly still fit into that category) that I could barely keep up with one jump rope. Two ropes going in opposite directions baffled me completely. And I'm not even going to address "red hot pepper." Having said that, I will add here that last year when I was the oldest teacher (by twenty years at least) at the school where I was teaching, I was the ONLY teacher who helped my students learn to jump rope in the play yard. I loved it. They loved it. My body did, however, did not love it.

This past year went by in a blur. It was the double dutch of life, I think. One rope was my employment situation, the other rope was the wedding preparations including making the bride's dress. In fact, as the wedding day drew closer, both ropes definitely took on double dutch with red hot pepper. Just to make things more interesting, my older daughter decided she would like to be a wonderful matron of honor if she was great with child as she fulfilled her obligations.

All of this was extremely challenging to someone who functions best with time to sit and think, or, just sit and rest in God's presence. I had to learn to keep on the move without thinking more than it took to get through each day. It took its toll. I woke up Saturday night with a nightmare version of an oft-repeated scenario from school: the administrator confronting me with an area where I needed to grow personally, or professionally. It was well meant, I'm convinced of that. I know the administrator's heart, and she always meant well. But, the delivery was always devastating to me. And I lived in fear of the next "bringing Susan up" episode.

By the time Ellie arrived on August 5th, I was starting to unwind. After August 5th, I just let go. I worked at things, but could not seem to finish anything I started. I spent a lot of time just being still and knowing that God is God.

Now, I think, I am ready to take on whatever He has for me. He has done some healing, and some encouraging. One thing is certain: I must be doing the things that bring Him joy and pleasure, doing the things He has created me to do. And, I must be taking time to be still, and know.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Revised Living Stones Community Document and Invitation to Annual Commitments

Dear Members and Friends of Living Stones Community,

Earlier this year we agreed to revise the guiding community document for Living Stones. After discussing changes with each other and with other members of the community, Rickey Cotton and I have finally managed to finish. We did not finish before the end of spring as we had planned, but here we are now, at least before the end of the summer. This letter is an open-handed invitation for you to review the revised document and, if you would like, to make or renew a commitment to membership in Living Stones Community for the remainder of the year.

Changes to the Community Document

The primary changes that have been made to the document are those that we discussed as a community earlier in the year, on our blog and voice to voice. We have dropped the language of a "rule," emphasized commitment to "values" over practices (in terms of what we are as a community), and made the language of the annual commitment even more gracious than before. The full text of the revised community document can now be found on the community website under the sections "Who We Are," "Core Values and Practices," and "Annual Commitment."

Changes to the Website and Blog

Along with the changes in our rule, we have updated the community website at website is now intended to be the primary online portal and home for the community. For instance, the blog (at has been embedded into a "blog" page on the website, which is why, as you will notice, elements of the blog have been rearranged (the blog can still be accessed at either URL). Please do visit the website and see the changes we've made. Artwork will be re-added in the future.

Annual Commitment

Also updated on the website is the form with which we can make or renew our commitment to and membership in the community. A very simply form follows the commitment statement on the "annual commitment" page. If you would like to make or renew your commitment and membership, upon reading the revised document, including the commitment statement, you may use this form to do so.

To reiterate, this invitation is open-handed. If you do not want to join or continue as a member, please take your freedom as you feel led. You will still be welcome to browse our blog and leave comments. If you would like to make or renew your commitment, I welcome you, thank you, and look forward to journeying together with you in this small way.

On behalf of the community,
Paul Corrigan

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Reading" for Relationship, a Quotation from Sandra Schneiders

I'm reading a book by Sandra Schneiders called The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. Schneiders describes scripture as a "text of meeting" with God, rather than as a codification of propositions. Tellingly, I first came across the book in an essay on "Reading for Transformation." I'm sharing a quotation here from it contrasting two ways of understanding the purpose of scripture and the two ways of reading which follow. Of course, as Schneiders would point out, it is not just scripture but the whole world that we can "read" towards this end, that God would meet us in, that God would "self-disclose" through.
If scripture is understood as a repository of divinely revealed true propositions and moral absolutes, then [its use or its demands on us] will appear as an application of those propositions and absolutes, literally understood, to matters theological, missionary, and personal. If [on the other hand] scripture is understood as a sacrament of divine revelation, of God's historical self-disclosure, then [the way to use it or the way that it calls on us] will be understood as the ever-developing guiding influence on our thought and action of an ever-deepening familiarity with God in Jesus. For those seeking absolute norms for knowledge and behavior, the latter position will appear incoherent, unstable, and finally inadequate. For those who realize that the only God worth knowing is a personal God, and that all personal relationships are dialogical and relative, the "uncontrollability" of God's self-revelation is a source of joyful astonishment and an invitation to the unwavering confidence that only a endlessly original love can justify.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


"We spend a few years being kind to people, a few years without temptations of the flesh, and we think all our troubles are over. We have passed to angelic life and will never more experience movements of anger or sensuality. In other words, there is no original sin. But there is original sin, and it is so real that to ignore it, practically speaking, is not to be humble. Humility consists in accepting the whole of reality, and original sin is at least half of it."
-Thomas Keating Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love

It has been my prayer recently that God would guide me into a wholeness in my understanding of myself and my understanding of Him. It has not been my temptation recently to fall into the trap of thinking to lowly of myself. I have not experienced a distance from God or any kind of aridity in our relationship. He has been close and active in my life. In reading Fr. Keating's account of the way Christ calls us into an ever deepening spirituality, I am invited to look at myself in the light of how I perceive Christ's call. I am overwhelmed at the quickness of my ability to rest in the comfort of consistency and the pride I feel at the levels I have already reached. My continual prayer is that I would not long rest in the comfortable, but as Keating writes, "accept the whole of reality," with the humilty that only Christ can bring.


Monday, July 20, 2009


It seems to me that for relationships to succeed long term—at least as the New Testament describes success—kindnesss is essential. It is a partner with humility. Kindness means to be tender, gentle, sensitive, loving, compassionate. I think we should view it as a skill that we practice in regard to others. It is not merely a nice feeling or sweet intention. A skill involves what we actually do and the manner with which we do it. Kindness is an antidote to self centeredness, projection, ambition, and aggressiveness. To be kind requires self-knowledge and self-restraint. We have to be able to “see,” be aware, in order to recognize both others and ourselves, to love both others and ourselves. It then requires skill to respond first to the other person and not first to ourselves. We are able to set aside ourselves in order to focus on others and respond to them where they are, where they are coming from. Our response is based fundamentally on compassion. Of course justice plays a role, but in the Christian life love is greater than justice. I Cor 13 says that love is the greatest. My prayer for myself and our community is that we become more and more kind, more and more able to love as God wants us to love.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sarah's wedding

Yesterday Sarah and Liam were married. The Anglican marriage service overflowed with joy and beauty. Many in our faith community joined with friends and family and offered their love, gifts, and talents to create a day unlike any other. They made it an intricate dance unfolding with unexpected steps fitting smoothly into the anticipated choreography. We celebrated this long-awaited day with enthusiasm, and vowed to support and encourage the newlyweds along the way.

These are just some initial thoughts I wanted to share. Perhaps Sarah will have some of her own to add later. It was a wonderful day.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Following Christ

"... though the soul is homeless and vulnerable, in deserts and clouds, it is most importantly 'at home' in so far as God has made himself a home in human life and death, and passed before us on the way we are called to go. Christ is the root of our security and our insecurity alike... present as a sign of hope at every stage of our painful journey out of bondage and across the wilderness."
-The Wound of Knowledge Rowan Williams

As I have been praying, studying, and reflecting this summer I have been consistently drawn in by the image of Christ as the divine Logos, Word of God. God's still small voice speaking this Word in my own life in very deep and meaningful ways has cultivated trust and hope. However, as I meditate on this and as I am in dialogue with others I am often overwhelmed with the journey towards/with this Word by a sense of being "homeless and vulnerable, in deserts and clouds." I have found that the times when I am most overcome with these feelings are also the times I gain the most insight about myself and God. I am reassured that God has not promised to whisk us out of the "deserts and clouds," but to be present with us in our vulnerability, both as a historical example and a present reality. Christ is "our sign of hope" on the spiritual journey as our end, and our constant companion, closer to us than our own heartbeat.

I believe Lord, help thou my unbelief.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on Detachment

Detachment doesn’t mean not loving. It means to be free to love with God’s love. Without detachment we are not free. We are bound to our limited selves, our egos, and when we are bound we project onto others, grasp after them, and/or reject them. Without detachment we cannot be fully aware of others or fully present to them. So we love selfishly, at least partly, and in self-serving ways.

Detachment enables us to be aware of and engage reality as it really is. It enables us to welcome and embrace the unfolding of reality and be present and responsive to the Spirit at work within it. Without detachment we cannot see truth, cannot realize or actualize the truth.

Detachment requires skillful, intentional humility and vulnerability because detachment does not come naturally to us; it is a supernatural gift, a grace, though we can practice making ourselves available to it. My prayer for myself and for our community is that we continue to grow in loving others with awareness, humility, and skill. And this, I think, requires detachment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For grace to be grace....

"For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn't know we needed, and take us to places where we didn't want to go." --Kathleen Norris

I've been reading Norris's Acedia and Me for a few months in between other other things, and this quote keeps coming back to me. One of the things that God's Grace has given me in the past four years is the clear awareness of not being able to be in control of my life. Little by little, what control I thought I had has been nudged away gently, or not-so-gently at times. It hits me hardest when I see my children struggling, and I may not interfere. There is a pain in those situations, yet the grace was abundant as needed...if I would receive it. The blessing has been to see them finding their own need to lean on God's Grace for themselves.

Grace took me to an employment situation this year that, much as I had longed for the position, became a place of intense, painful personal growth. There is no way I would have chosen to go there had I better known what lay ahead. Yet, knowing what I have gained this year, I would not change a thing of this past year unless it were that I should not have been so overly adamant and immovable for as long as I was.

The next event toward which Grace is moving me is my daughter's wedding next month. I am working on finishing her wedding gown which has become a contemplative prayer in and of itself. Maternal yearnings attached to each stitch and flower remind me that she is a precious gift of Grace which I never imagined I needed until she came into our lives.

Grace will be there the day after the wedding, too.

Susan Price

Monday, June 15, 2009

The spiritual life is so simple

The spiritual life is so simple. For instance, Micah sums it like this: what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (6:8). Jesus also has a nice summery of the spiritual life (Matt. 22.40). So does St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Lately, I've felt that I have not much else to learn about the spiritual life as far as mental learning, not because I know so much but because there isn't all that much to know. It seems, though maybe I'm exaggerating and maybe I'm wrong, that you need to "know" just enough to "do" and "be" in love, which mostly is to "know" the truth about a few key lies about the false self.

The spiritual life is so simple you would think it ought to be easy.

But its not.

Below I've pasted an excerpt from Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation which details one such instance where something so simple is so difficult: Merton speaks about the spiritual value of living with people (New Directions 1961, pp. 191, 192, edited for gender neutrality).

In my life, the friction of living with my wife and my children could be invaluable to spiritual growth. I know this! I have known this from the beginning! But so many times I act or feel as if my wife and children--and in-laws!--were distractions from "spirituality," from reading, writing, prayer or silence.

Gracefully, I do not always do this: often I realize in the moment the value of the grinding and am content to be present to it. Praise God for this. But when I live in the fragmentation between what I know and how I live or feel, I demonstrate the gulf between the simplicity of the spiritual life and the easiness thereof. But here's the passage:

Very few are sanctified in isolation. Very few become perfect in absolute solitude.
. . . Living with other people and learning to lose ourselves in the understandings of their weakness and deficiencies can help us become true contemplatives. For there is no better means of getting rid of the rigidity and harshness and coarseness of our ingrained egoism, which is the one insuperable obstacle to the infused light and action of the Spirit of God.
. . . Even the courageous acceptance of interior trials in utter solitude cannot altogether compensate for the work of purification accomplished in us by patience and humility in loving other people and sympathizing with their most unreasonable needs and demands.
. . . There is always a danger that hermits will only dry up and solidify in their own eccentricity. Living out of touch with other people they tend to lose that deep sense of spiritual realities, which only pure love can give.
. . . Do you think the way to sanctity is to lock yourself up with prayers and your books and the meditations that please and interest your mind, to protect yourself with many walls, against people you consider stupid? Do you think the way to contemplation is found in the refusal of activities and works which are necessary for the good of others but which happen to bore and distract you? Do you imagine that you will discover God by winding yourself up in a cocoon of spiritual and aesthetic pleasures, instead of renouncing all your tastes and desires and ambitions and satisfactions for the love of Christ, Who will not even live within you if you cannot find Him in other people?

We pray together that God will help us to be aware of what we know and to do those simple but hard things which are required of us by love.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Frailty is a Moment of Self-Reflection"

Erica and I went to the art museum a few weeks ago. One of the exhibits was called Paint Made Flesh. It featured works of mostly contemporary artists, who deal with what it means to be a material, fleshly being, complete with emotions, memory, sexuality, etc. One of the themes that was examined again and again was that of vulnerability. This painting by Eric Fischl especially caught my eye. The painting is (to me) haunting and beautiful. The old man stands naked and alone, obviously frail and vulnerable. The artist gives it the apt title "Frailty is a Moment of Self-Reflection." The painting invites the viewer into this reflective act; even though most of us are not as visibly frail as this man, we all face frailty and vulnerability. It is essential to being human.

We are vulnerable in so many obvious ways that it seems superfluous to even mention them. Our futures are not certain, our health is not a guarantee; we could lose people we love, or goals that we've worked hard to achieve could fall apart. In spite of our culture's best attempts to hide behind money or technological advances or U.S. military strength (could we call it a collective false self?), it seems that every now and then we are jarred out of our illusion and reminded of our vulnerability, whether by the events of 9/11, a financial crisis, or swine flu. Notably, vulnerability so often leads us to lash out at others before they hurt us: so much violence is justified in this way. This violence includes not just physical manifestations, of course, but the ways we close ourselves off from the other. If we recognize that we are all frail and our lives are in God's hands, we might be less likely to resort to such defense mechanisms, making us more open for dialogue with each other.

Another obvious element of vulnerability is that it is essential for relationships, including our relationship with God. We even talk about "skillful" vulnerability in our rule. Love is always a risk, of course, and it's not possible without opening up to the other. Our relationship with God seems to continually confront us with this reality, whether it's the vulnerability of sitting in silence, taking a sabbath (when there's so much that needs done), or embarking on a new and difficult journey in life. It seems to me that engaging in the spiritual life is to continually come to terms with this reality. The process of stripping away our false self and all of its defenses confronts us with our naked vulnerability; this process is often enough painful but ultimately healing.

The painting reminded me how important it is to come to terms with my own human vulnerability. Ultimately, vulnerability is a reminder of what we've all said countless times about the spiritual life: it is a gift. Our own actions and intentions matter, but a contemplative relationship with God always requires God's initiative. I am reminded that God made us vulnerable for a reason, and that it is essential to being human; I think the spiritual life encourages us to come to terms with that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

a Centering Prayer picture

Well, as Matt and I spend time here at L'Abri, we are being incredibly blessed by the community around us. The mother of one of the couples here, Judy, came this week to see her family, and she is also a spiritual director who practices centering prayer as well as other meditative practices. This past Monday, she spoke to us on centering prayer and gave us a short period of time in which to pray as well. The following is about the time Judy spent with us and the picture God shared with me afterward.

Judy opened up the time by preparing the altar, our coffee table. She cleaned it gently and purposefully, and set a cloth, a cross, a rock, two branches, and a candle on the table. Then she said a guided meditation to lead us into our time of centering prayer. After we centered, one of the women here asked me about what goes on in my mind when I center, and I was given the neatest picture. I told her that it was like taking a walk or hanging out with my best friend Sarah. Sometimes we can just be silent together. We don't try to conjure up conversation if it is not already taking place, and sometimes we may not even mention something that pops into our heads if we recognize the silence. But we do notice the things around us; we see trees or people or beaches - the setting we're in. We just don't heed or engage them because we are content to just be us fully and silently together.
Now of course Sarah and I experience times when we can hardly stop speaking, or we ask each other for help, or we have fun, and that is an incredible and necessary part of our friendship. I feel that this is the same or similar with God. I can talk to Him, sing to Him, ask Him things, listen to Him, and, I can be with him.

Jen Addis

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Thoughts on Humility

Humility is essential to spiritual progress. Without humility we cannot come to God because without humility we cannot transcend ourselves.

Thomas Keating says there is no humility without humiliation. Most of us have already had a good dose of humiliation. Our life circumstances have provided it. By accepting humiliation we grow in humility.

We can do this because we believe God. We believe God loves us, and that over the long run he is working all things for good. We believe that originally—in our depths, in our essence—we were created good; we were created in God’s image. So we can abandon our surface self-created images of ourselves; we can abandon our embarrassment, shame, discouragement, and find courage and strength in God to live freely and strongly. We can do this because we have confidence in God, not in ourselves, because our lives are centered in God, not in ourselves. This kind of humility opens us to being continually aware of God's presence and to the acceptance of everyone with their limitations.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Slowing down the pace

In keeping with my recent decision to not work full time, I've been seeking ways to begin to slow down, and to listen better. I think I have rediscovered one of those ways.

My grandmother helped me plant my first garden of marigolds. We put the seeds into the ground, and watched them grow together. Her efforts turned me into a lover of the fruit of the earth. I've had gardens over the years, and have learned much from them. My biggest weakness with my gardens is becoming distracted with other good things, and forgetting to weed and cultivate.

Three years ago I had a myriad of pots around my deck boasting of parsley, sage, rosemary, and, of course, thyme. There were others as well, and I loved the container gardening. The weeding was easy, they were in my face with gentle aromas whenever I stepped out the door so I could not ignore them as easily. Additionally, I love using fresh herbs in cooking--my roasted vegetable pizza simply cannot do without the fresh basil to make the pesto sauce. Nevertheless, with working full time, and the many calls on my time outside of employment, they eventually and inevitably succumbed to drought, frost, and lack of loving care.

The empty pots have been looking at me sadly all winter. About a month ago I noticed life in the mint container. Brave mint--you simply cannot kill it! Then the Greek oregano (a member of the same family as mint) began to recover. On an impulse, I cleaned out their containers, and they began to thrive. The other pots looked more hopeful, and I remembered how peaceful and satisfying it is to pull weeds.

Last week my daughter-in-love's family were here from New England, and brought me a gardenia bush. Yesterday I planted it. Today, on the way home from the 7:30 a.m. service, I stopped at Lowe's, and liberated some herbs, tomatoes, and pepper plants. I rejoiced in the garden's sermon that had begun at church with the proclaiming of the Easter message of faith, hope, and love. My garden reminds me of the new beginning that the resurrection gives us; a picture of God's mercy poured out in one small corner of my world.

Susan Price

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sara Grace

[T]o know our true selves is to know we are loved by God beyond all measure.
--Thelma Hall, Too Deep for Words

Our second daughter, Sara Grace, was born yesterday (April 7) at 8:55 AM. At birth, she weighed 7 lb. 9 oz. and was 20 and 1/2 in. long. Labor was mercifully only six hours. Through delivery, Christine held a calm and focus which, on reflection, seems to me to come from a spiritual depth, and, of course, grace.

Some people say that "Only people who have never had children believe that we aren't born with sin." And I used to agree. The idea of being born "into sin" has had a number of acceptable meanings: that people are born with the "propensity" to sin, that they find themselves in a "fallen" world, that they are born into a culture from which they inherit the language of the false self. These similar but differing understandings have in common that they are trying to make sense of some passages in the New Testament and of the fact that this world we live in is indeed "fallen" as we humans never stop hurting each other. I think that such ideas can be helpful at times.

However, the idea of "original sin" put in one particular way--that people are born as actual sinners, that is, as having already done something wrong or having some spiritual wrongness about them or having already "merited" some kind of punishment--is dangerous because it can lead us away from realizing the central goodness of people.

Now that I have seen two children into the world, I would reverse the saying I used to adhere to and would now say, "Anyone who thinks people that are born as sinners has never held an infant!" This too is hyperbole, but useful, I think.

Infants are not mature, of course, and they do have some big spiritual problems in front of them. So I am not saying that I would want to be an infant or to be infantile. But infants can remind us of our own central holiness; they can remind us of the fact that the center of who we are is the spirit of God. To say this is to say that, ultimately, neither sin nor the propensity to sin can tarnish, on the eternal level, the absolute loving holiness and omnipresence of God. The truth-fact of grace is greater than the need for grace. That Sara Grace has no false self can remind us that our false selves are false in that they are not who we really are and, gracefully, they too will fall away in eternity.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Desert Experience

In the desert we must face ourselves, every aspect of our selves, our fears, temptations. We confront our own heart and our heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoats, nothing hidden. In it we wrestle with the rebellious forces of our nature.

Yet in the desert one also encounters the call to divine encounter. In the desert we encounter our true state and must face it without blaming others or our past. We are invited to shape off all forms of idolatry and distraction and fully engage the divine reality. You enter into a deeper, more complete relationship with the transcendent realm, the presence of the boundless God whose grace is without limits. The desert is the call to go beyond oneself and be transfigured in the presence of the Holy One. The desert mothers and fathers did not go to the desert to prove a point but to prove themselves.

For us the desert signifies not a place but a way. We do not have to literally go to a desert—though we may chose to for a time. But on the spiritual level we do have to go through the desert. The desert is a necessary part of the spiritual journey. To try to avoid it would be to refuse the fullness of God’s call.

As most of us know, we usually do not have to seek the desert—the desert will seek us. Everyone goes through the desert in one way or another, really multiple times. The forms of desert experience may include failure, illness, breakdown, divorce, loss of loved ones—any or several of the traumas that life brings. We all suffer.

We will be tempted at times to try to escape or to distract ourselves with activity, food, addictive behaviors, work.

But accepting the utter loneliness and inner fearfulness of the desert experience is vital to deep and genuine spiritual growth. If we go through desert experiences involuntarily, they can crush us. But if we welcome them and seek God in them, we can be transformed. God desires not to deliver us from desert experiences, but to join us in them.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life passing by in a blur

"It is so easy to come to believe that what we do is so much more important that what we are. It is so easy to simply get too busy to grow." Joan Chittister OSB

I began reading Chittister's Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today last week. Friday morning this quote hit me hard. This school year has felt so very much like the life that this describes. I understand that 50-60 hour weeks are in the nature of teaching, but it also seems to be the way that so many people live in general. I can no longer live at this pace, and am stepping down from full time teaching at the end of the school year.

So many things that God has given me delight in doing for Him had to be set aside this year. Even worse, so much that I wanted to learn from God has been also put off for the last four years in the busy-ness of my life, and that saddens me. I expect to find something to do to help pay the bills, but am hoping, praying that the Lord will help me to keep focused on Him, and what He is interested in making me to be.

Susan Price

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Poem, Mary Oliver

Of course I have always known you
are present in the clouds, and the
black oaks I especially adore, and the
wings of birds. But you are present
too in the body, listening to the body,
teaching it to live, instead of all
that touching, with disembodied joy.
We do not do this easily. We have
lived so long in the heaven of touch,
and we maintain our mutability, our
physicality, even as we begin to
apprehend the other world. Slowly we
make our appreciative response.
Slowly appreciation swells to
astonishment. And we enter the dialogue
Of our lives that is beyond all under-
standing or conclusion. It is mystery.
It is the love of God. It is obedience.

--Mary Oliver, "Six Recognitions of the Lord"

Erica posted some poetry of Oliver's a while back, and so I thought it would be alright if I post some more. The tension that Oliver seems to be exploring in this section of one of her longer poems is that tension between the apophatic and the kataphatic--or between, as Oliver puts it elsewhere, God's "body" and God's "mind" (all metaphors of course). For a poet like Oliver who has explored the "touching" side of spirituality through a mysticism of nature for forty years, this discussion seems like a deep realization. We "listen" for "the other world" and aim for a "dismebodied joy" even as we maintain our "physicality."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Sweet Returning

Today, of course, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We have just returned from church with its softly-lit and quiet nave, solemn recitations, and liturgy for the day we are bid to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. I still have the ash cross on my forehead and the words of our Old Testament reading ringing in my ears: return to the Lord. These are actually the same words that I have been consciously and unconsciously saying to myself for days now: return to the Lord.

It started a few nights ago as I was saying my rosary: this sense of returning just came over me. A sweet returning. A re-focusing of my attention, a drawing inward and towards. A return to myself and to God, both of whom I have been terribly distant from without even fully realizing it.

So Lent. This is my second time observing it, and my first time doing it with any real intentionality or expectation. This time I really want to prepare myself for the miracle of Easter and what it means for us. Lent is solemn, a time to take stock of one's life, to pare down, to pray and repent--but it is rooted in joy, the joy of the Christ's resurrection, the joy of our own resurrection.

This is a prayer I say a lot and the one that is foremost in my heart during this season of prayer, fasting, and preparation: Come, Lord Jesus. Draw us to yourself. Come, Lord Jesus. Draw all things to yourself.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Czaslaw Milosz "On Prayer"

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That Bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word is
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.
--Czeslaw Milosz, "On Prayer"
I'm sharing this poem "On Prayer" by Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel-winning, Polish, Christian poet, because it seems particularly mystical to me. Milosz invokes God in the tradition of the via negativa ("who is not"), speaks of the negation of all our constructs ("the shore of Reversal"), and emphasizes "the word is" with the suggestion that "being" means something we "hardly envisioned."

I don't think that the whole bit about prayer being a "velvet bridge" springing us "above landscapes" by "magic" is so useful for explaining the practical practice of prayer on a daily basis, which I find much less exhilarating. But perhaps the metaphor is getting at the mystical (rather than practical) aspects of prayer, which are important to discuss though impossible to find fully suitable metaphors for. The mystical aspects of prayer: spirit permeating matter, the intersection of eternity with here and now, "the stopping of the sun" (timelessness) on the landscape (in which we live in time).

The most mystical and most important part of the poem, though, is the emphasis on we which Milosz uses four of these twelve lines to explain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Henri Nouwen Excerpt

This exerpt from Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart really spoke to me, so I wanted to share it with our community:

“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone….Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature….[W]e come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self….Precisely because our secular [and religious] milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others….[We] need to…set apart a time and a place to be with God and him alone….[L]ike all great disciples of Jesus, Mother Teresa affirmed…the truth that ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord” (20-21).

My prayer for all of us is for a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lectio on an unusual verse which may be useful to us in our community-making

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 25:9-11)
Lectio. Seventy. They saw God, and they ate and drank.

Meditatio. I came across this passage earlier this week while reading The Cure of Cain by Ragina Shwartz, and I had to grab a bible to make sure she wasn’t making it up (though I’m sure I’ve read it before because I’ve read Exodus). The Cure of Cain is a book on the violence inherent in “monotheistic” identity formation; in it Shwartz offers this passage from Exodus as an alternative to exclusivist versions of collective identity formation in which “the cutting covenant has cut people off, from one another and from their God.” Though I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Schwartz’s definition of “monotheism” (the book is challenging), I am grateful that she has highlighted this passage and grateful for her commentary on it: “‘[T]hey gazed on God, they ate, and they drank’—three words that offer no hint of the violence of the covenant curses, but are prefaced instead by the explicit rejection of violence. Exodus tells us that just looking on God should be fatal—‘no man can see the face of God and live’—but the story says ‘He laid no hand on these notables of the sons on Israel: they gazed on God.’” I am grateful, moreover, for God’s gracious fellowship with us.

Oratio. God, to see you, not alone, but in a community of earth’s people: We want to eat and drink—on mountain tops and in our daily walks—in peace and communion with you and with each other.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Children's Children are the crown of the aged....

On Thursday I had the wonderful privilege of helping my daughter-in-love as she delivered her first child, our first grandson. It was love at first sight, and one of the most moving moments of my life. As I reflected later on Samuel James' birth, my mind inevitably traveled to Bethlehem. I felt such gratitude for God who, in order to communicate with and redeem humankind, voluntarily took on human flesh. He intentionally chose to make Himself vulnerable, and to go through the wholly undignified birth process to demonstrate His love. And that was only the beginning....

Susan Price

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Community Commitment

Since it is January, we are due to renew our annual commitment to the community. But we are presently rethinking and rewording who it is that we are (see "Revise Our Rule, etc?"). I don't think we really can sign on to the community when we don't yet know what the community will be. I think it would strengthen our community and the process of reworking our community document, though, if at this time we could make not one-year commitments but, say, two-month commitments to the process of rethinking our "rule."

The commitment would be to participate in the discussion about the rule in good faith--to continue (or join) as a member for that time. Once we have decided what the community document will say, perhaps in March, we can then sign on or not ("open hand" policy) for a year.

I've posted a page on our community wiki for these short-term commitments to the process of discussing the community. Please go there, read the "pledge" statement (comment if you think it needs to be revised), and, if you would like, add your name to the list.

Paul Corrigan

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