Sunday, January 29, 2017

What does God want?

When my children were little, I wanted to teach them many things. 
Some were practical things: How to feed the cats, how to do the laundry and fold clothes. 

Some of the things I wanted them to learn were more about character: Being thoughtful. Being curious and reverent. Learning to think for themselves.

This was hard, for all of us. So often I felt in such a hurry. We all seemed to be so busy. Sometimes I found it easier, and of course much faster, just to do things myself than to patiently teach. And sometimes the kids also felt it was easier for me to do their chores myself than to teach them how.

And sometimes we all got mixed up about what was practical and what was related to maturity and character. Sometimes I asked a question (Does the garbage need taking out?) because I wanted them to learn to notice what needed doing and then do it. 

And sometimes the exasperated response was: Look, Mom, if you want me to take out the garbage, just say so. 

What I wanted was for them to be aware of what it takes to live together as a family and to, on their own initiative, do their part, to share in taking responsibility for everyone’s well-being. What they wanted was a checklist that I maintained for them. 

Sometimes this was an exercise in frustration on both sides. Occasionally I might even hear one of them say to the other, Sheesh! What does she WANT?!?

This is, in a very small way, like what is happening in our reading from the prophet Micah today. God is trying to teach us what kind of people we should be, and how we are to live together, caring for one another’s well-being, but we are asking for a checklist about what to do. 

OK, we should offer God a sacrificial gift. Should it be a cow? A goat? A thousand goats? 
Tell us, God, what do you want so we can just give it to you and check it off our list and get on with our life.
Yes, there are things that are good to do to honor and follow me, says God. But those actions are to come from inside you - growing out of what kind of person you are, not from an external check list. What I want is for you to notice what it takes to live together in right relationship, as my people, and to do your part.

Integral to God’s identity (and therefore ours, since we are made in the image of God) is “righteousness,” which means being in right relationship with both God and our neighbor.
When theologian James Allison says that “the only conceivable victory is one in which no one triumphs over anyone else but all the participants are reconciled as equal,” that’s another way of describing being in right relationship.

So, says God, being my people is not about bulls. 

What I want, says God, is for you to do justice. And that means look around you and see what is not right - in your life, in your community, in the world - and then to do something about it to make things right. 

I had a friend who felt this verse was the most important in the whole Bible.  So she went to law school and eventually became a judge because she felt that this was the way she could guarantee that she was “doing justice.”

But we all are involved in justice issues.
For my children when they were young, it might mean sitting at lunch with the unpopular kid who was treated cruelly by classmates. For my judge friend, it might mean making sure people were treated fairly under the law. 

Doing justice means taking a stand against injustice - speaking up in word and deed for someone being wronged - or, as Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta said in his address to our annual convention of the Diocese on Friday, justice is revolting against anything and everything that is not love. Doing justice begins with looking at the ideal, he said, (that is, the Kingdom of God as our Scriptures describe it) and at the same time looking at the realities in our world, and noticing the gap between them.That gap is where justice is needed.

If you’ve been glued to the coverage of the executive order on immigration like I have these last three days, you’ve seen that gap yawning wide, and you’ve seen not only the official justice system but ordinary people working urgently in that gap, using whatever talents they could offer.
And what I want, says God, is for you to love kindness. To be kind. As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” So be the sort of person who is kind in your speech, in your attitudes, in your actions. Which is not necessarily the same as “being nice.” Kindness calls for acting out of my soul, the part of me that is so intimately connected to God.

And finally, God says, what I want is for you to walk humbly with me. This one, for me, is the hardest of all. Humility is not my strong suit. It means listening intentionally and intently for God to speak to me instead of relying on my own ideas. It means listening to God instead of to fear. Because God has plans for me, and for you, that are way better than our plans for God. It means forgetting myself and my opinions and pre-conceived notions so I can tune in to God - putting aside my will in order to discern God’s will - which, as we should have learned by now, is likely to be surprising. 

Just listen to Jesus say that the poor, the grieving, the persecuted, the meek, the reviled are blessed. That was not what the people around him were expecting to hear (and maybe not us, either).
But they are blessed because in God’s world they are going to receive justice. They are going to experience kindness. They, the reviled, the persecuted, the peacemakers, God is walking with them.

But in our world, many of them are still waiting, literally.

So, given that reality, as we look unflinchingly into that gap, what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Poem from John O'Donahue

Nearer to the earth's heart,
Deeper within its silence:
Animals know this world
In a way we never will.
We who are ever
Distanced and distracted
By the parade of bright
Windows thought opens:
Their seamless presence
Is not fractured thus.
Stranded between time
Gone and time emerging,
We manage seldom
To be where we are:
Whereas they are always
Looking out from
The here and now.
May we learn to return
And rest in the beauty
Of animal being,
Learn to lean low,
Leave our locked minds,
And with freed senses
Feel the earth
Breathing with us.
May we enter
Into lightness of spirit,
And slip frequently into
The feel of the wild.
Let the clear silence
Of our animal being
Cleanse our hearts
Of corrosive words.
May we learn to walk
Upon the earth
With all their confidence
And clear-eyed stillness
So that our minds
Might be baptized
In the name of the wind
And the light and the rain.
~ John O'Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Caturday Chores with the Roomba

Our son gave us an iRobot Roomba for Christmas! We love it.

As you might imagine, Sally and Bella have noticed. The first time we ran it, they were a little scared of it and a little intrigued. First they ran and hid and then when it docked itself after cleaning the first floor, they ran toward it to sniff it once it shut off. They also sniffed areas of the floor where it had cleaned.

The next time, they got closer and followed it around the house, still at a safe distance. I don't know if either of them will decide to take a ride on it, but they do seem to feel as if it is another being with which to interact. Of course, Bella interacts with her hackles raised.

Cleaning is fun! For the grownups. And it's a curiosity for the felines!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Poem: The New Colossus

This is the poem that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. It was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 
and placed on a bronze plaque on the statue's base in 1903.
Today, as we inaugurate a new President in the United States, 
seems like a good time to read it again.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-Emma Lazarus

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday's bird is taking off

This kingfisher flew from nesting box to nesting box as we got closer - stayed just far enough in front of us not to get a good view of it on its perch.

Fortunately, this other kingfisher posed quite nicely:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday's bird is weirdly fluffy

This mourning dove puffed itself up during the bitter cold of our snow day on Saturday. At first, I didn't even know what it was! He or she almost looks scaly.

So we all need to find ways to take care of ourselves, even if it makes us look fat.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Very Wordy Wednesday: Welcome

These light fixtures on one of the side doors of the church do not normally stand out to me, but on our snow day Saturday even unlit they signaled "welcome" to any who walked by.

Whenever the church is open, we place a sign on the sidewalk outside this door that says "come in, say a prayer, light a candle." And people do.

Sometimes I come into the church to get something or maybe to sit and say a prayer myself, and occasionally there's someone sitting there alone, praying. I don't always know who the person is. But it means a lot to us that we offer a quiet and beautiful space in this otherwise kind of chaotic, crazy world we live in, a place for people to come and sit and be quiet in the presence of God or beauty or stillness or whatever they are looking for.

To all we say, Welcome.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Night Prayer

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live
in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, 
who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never
forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 134)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Snow Day!

We had a great big snowfall on Saturday - maybe 8 inches of very fluffy stuff. It was beautiful. We kept the bird feeders filled and got lots of business from a variety of birds. Photos of some of those later. Meanwhile, our jazz Kokopelli was still rocking out, while St. Francis was just barely peeking out over his snow blanket.

Stay warm, my friends!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Baptism of Jesus

There are two baptistries in Ravenna, one "Orthodox" and one "Arian." The Orthodox one, called the Neonian Baptistry (after Bishop Neone) was built in the 2nd half of the 5th Century and the mosaic in its roof depicts the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. It's the oldest building in Ravenna.

A few years later, the Gothic ruler of Ravenna, who was an Arian (Arians believed that Jesus was created by the Father and thus inferior to him, a view that was condemned as heresy at the Council of Nicea in 325) built his own baptistery. A very similar mosaic is in that building.

As you can see, the portrayals of the event are very similar. Jesus stands in the water and John and the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove), along with an old man (who represents either a personification of the River Jordan or a pagan water god, who we see witnesses the true God in Jesus) are nearby.

There are some differences, though. In the Orthodox depiction, Jesus is older, with a beard, and John uses a paten to baptize Jesus (that paten is a 19th century addition by a overenthusiastic mosaic restoration artisan). The Arian baptistry depicts a young (beardless) Jesus and the Holy Spirit's shedding of light and grace upon Jesus' head is unmediated by the paten.

So in many ways, the Arian mosaic seems more appropriate to me. Don't tell anyone.


Friday, January 6, 2017

The Epiphany in 6th Century Art

And so the magi arrive, wearing interesting hosiery (leopard skin prints?), Phrygian caps, and bearing three gifts. Tradition names them Balthassar, Melchior, and Gaspar - some think that this mosaic (finished in 675 C.E.) in the Basilica de Sant'Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy, is the first to portray them with these names.

In the Bible, there are only three gifts brought by an indeterminate number of nameless magi or wise men "from the East." Many scholars believe they are Zoroastrian priests who came from the Parthian (formerly Persian) Empire (present day Iran and Iraq). The gifts, however, suggest the Arabian peninsula where the plants from which came the resins that make myrrh and frankincense. (Presumably, gold is widely available.)

After the magi encountered Jesus, they were warned in a dream not to go back to King Herod and tell him where Jesus was. Instead, they went home by another way.

Perhaps we might consider another route for ourselves, now that we have had twelve days to consider the Incarnation and what it means to us this year for God to come and live among us.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas: Mosaic Mary and Jesus

From the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, the magnificent 6th Century mosaics depict many scenes from the life of Christ. Here we have Jesus sitting in Mary's lap on a beautiful throne, attended to by a quartet of angels. The gold on these mosaics shimmers so beautifully.

Tomorrow, we'll see the Magi approach as the season of Christmas comes to an end with the Epiphany. This also means it's time to take down the tree and put away the decorations. Always a sad thing to do, even while the simplicity of a house without a tree in it is calming.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas: Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Madonna and Child

This lovely Mary and Jesus resides embedded on a side altar in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. I have no idea who the artist is.

I love Jesus' yellow outfit with all the buttons. Impractical baby-wear, for sure, but very stylish.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Visual Morning Prayer for the Tenth Day of Christmas: Nativity

I'm wearing this pin today. It was a gift from my husband many many years ago - I think it came from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Remember that great catalog they used to have? (Maybe they still do, although I'm now a member of that museum and haven't gotten one, so I think not.) Anyway, it's based on a painting, but now I don't remember what that was either.

Merry Tenth Day of Christmas!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

On the Eighth Day of Christmas: So Much Fun with the Piano Guys

This is a lot of fun. Even Darth Vader gets into the spirit with The Piano Guys playing Angels We Have Heard on High.

Free free to ignore the ad at the end. Happy New Year!


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