Archive for September, 2010

Lectio THEN (June 3, 2009)

“countless… countless… countless” and “thousands upon thousands”

These two phrases jumped right out at me this morning as I read, recalling to mind images of crows swarming and dive-bombing me, pecking me apart, and of ticks falling out of trees, latching on and sucking me dry, leaving me anemic and lifeless.

The image of the crows has been with me for a couple of months.  I feel like I have to be emotionally prepared to leave the house, lest the criticism and constant pecking of the crows pull me completely apart.

The ticks are a new image.  I was out in our community garden and found a tick on my shirt, then another one on my pant leg.  I was so upset because I’d been wanting a garden so badly.  All snowy winter long I daydreamed of having my fingers in the dirt.  And now, to find out there are ticks that fall out of the trees ruined everything.  I haven’t been back to the garden in weeks.

But then, as I took those images to God in prayer, the Spirit guided me toward “Yahweh sustains me.”  And there was that boysenberry pie again, sitting at God’s kitchen table in a rustic cabin in the woods.  And as I ate, God sat next to me with one arm gently rubbing my back – the way you would soothe and comfort a child who’s had a bad dream.

I know that I always feel better after a visit with God in the kitchen, but why is it so hard to come here?  I feel so like Paul who says, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7.19, New Living Translation)  I want to read my Bible and pray every day, but as soon as I try to set a routine, I fail miserably.  My husband teases me that I only want enough structure so I have something to push against.  I talked with Sister Marcy at the Francis House of Prayer about this and her solution was to pray for the desire to pray and be steeped in Scripture.  Wow.  That seems so simple, so simple that it would have never occurred to me.  As of this writing, it was two weeks ago that she gave me that advice.  Pray for the desire to pray.

As I sat with God at the kitchen table, she didn’t say anything and I was okay with that, even though there are answers I want right now.  I am comforted and sustained.  The nourishment fed to me by God restores me and gives me life.  Maybe the crows and ticks need some boysenberry pie, too.


Lectio NOW (September 29, 2010)

“countless… countless… countless”

This past Sunday, my church worshipped with the Open Door Community, and they’ve been on my mind and in my heart ever since.  I’ve also been meaning to call to sign up to help in their soup kitchen this week.  I don’t know what has kept me from doing it.

It’s not surprising to me then that as I read this psalm, I’m reading from the perspective of the homeless.  And as I’m reading about issues of hunger and homelessness and unemployment, the words “countless… countless… countless” are echoing those very things.  Countless are the obstacles to housing, countless are the obstacle to employment, countless are the obstacles to finding the next meal.

As I continue reading from this perspective, I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of faith it would take to pray as in verse 5 “if I lie down and sleep, I shall awake, for Yahweh sustains me.”  If I find a place to lay my cardboard down on the concrete, I trust you God, that no harm will come to me, and that you will sustain me.

I read again, and again.  And I am doubtful that my faith could be sustained lying on that piece of cardboard.  Some days I can hardly keep my faith from my cozy apartment with more food than we can eat in a month.

Turning in prayer, verse four emerges “I cry out to Yahweh; he answers from his holy mountain”.  And I wait, to hear what that answer is.  What answer could there possibly be?  And then it comes, “you”.

In Harold Kushner’s book “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough”, he says there is no “Answer” with a capital “A”, but there are “answers” with lower case “a’s”.  Yes, the enemies are countless, there’s too many of them.  They’re political, social, economic, religious, medical… and the list goes on.  I can’t fix all of that – heck, I can’t fix any of it!  But I can be an answer, and I can answer when I feel God nudging me, rather than hesitating, as I’ve been doing all week.

I almost didn’t go to Open Door Sunday night.  I don’t know why.  I just didn’t feel like going somewhere new.  But I went and I’m glad I did.  During the time of the service when people voice aloud prayer requests, I asked for prayer for the family of a dear friend of mine who recently committed suicide.  And then a man stood up and shared his struggle with depression, and how close he feels at time to being overcome.  I was deeply moved to remember him and to pray for him regularly.  And then afterward, I was moved again to tell him that I would be praying for him.  He said he knew that I understood because of my friend and we hugged and cried together for a moment.  I have his name written down and posted so that I see it several times a day.  He cries out to Yahweh, and God answers by prompting me to action and to prayer.

Is God nudging you someone, or toward someone?  Will you answer, and be an answer?  I know I’ve put it off too long.  And now, I’m going to go make a phone call.


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Lectio THEN (June 2, 2009)

“impotent muttering” and “ask of me”

At first “impotent muttering” spoke to me as I thought about negative talk that has no power, especially as I’m still licking my wounds over a recent experience of what feels like unfair criticism.  As I extend my meditation to include “ask of me”, and put the two phrases together, they take on new meaning.  Unless I ask of God, my plans are like impotent muttering.  Of course, I know this in some way – that I need to be in conversation with God about what I want and what I’m thinking and dreaming about, but it hasn’t taken root completely in my heart.  There are seeds, though.  The seeds of so much are in my head, but haven’t yet found fertile ground in my heart.

As I told God that my desire is to bring everything to her so that I would not make futile plans, all she said to me was “goooood”, long and slow.  Then, with a twinkle in her eye, she handed me a piece of boysenberry pie.

I’m fascinated by the images of seeds and berries, and bearing fruit, that fruit that remains and sticks to your ribs.  It feels like that pie is an image of eating, nay feasting on Scripture.  And how interesting that it’s not a salad or something super healthy, but something rich, to be deliciously savored.

And then she said “eat up!”  Is she trying to fatten me up?


Lectio NOW (September 28, 2010)

“lest he be angry and your way come to nothing” (NJB)

After thinking yesterday about the “ways” we choose in life, I was drawn to this phrase in Psalm 2 today.  What would cause my “way to come to nothing”?

As usual, at least for me, when I began reading in this Psalm about the kings and princes of the earth plotting together, I thought about “them”.  You know, anyone but me and “us”.  The old “us” versus “them” routine.  And “we” like to believe that God is on “our” side and not on “theirs”.  “We” are righteous simply by virtue of asking God to bless our endeavors, never mind that “they” are asking God to do the same.  The proof of whose side God is on is in the result; whoever wins the showdown obviously has the favor of God.

But a while back I began reading myself into the “them” in the Psalms, and they became much more poignant, much harder to read, and much more life-giving when I allowed myself to really enter into them.  So what happens when I see myself as conspiring against, or merely without God?  I make my big plans for my life, and then I ask God to bless them, etc, and then I’m shocked and disappointed when things don’t work out the way I’d planned.  What gives?  I did everything by the book, didn’t I?

It seems, for me and my tendencies, the key is in verse 11: “In fear be submissive to Yahweh”.  Boy, we sure don’t like that word, “submissive” do we?  At least I don’t.  Not just because I want to be free and independent, and not just because I want to do things my way (those things are all perfectly true, by the way), but also because I don’t want to hide behind “submission”.  It’s easy to not take responsibility for oneself, one’s actions, thoughts, feelings, etc, when they have to be submitted to another for approval or decision.  We’re really good at scapegoating and pointing the finger of blame elsewhere – or maybe that’s just me.

But then I think again about that tree in Psalm 1, allowing the word of God to wash over its roots, and basking in the presence of God through prayer.  And when I come to God for God’s sake, to be fed and nourished and just to be with God — and not just to go over my own agenda and have my plans sanctioned – that’s submission.  And when I am moved and prompted into action or into a new way of being through Scripture and through prayer, those are the “ways” that will not come to nothing.

“Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest… my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11.28,30).  When I think about the enormity of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that seems like an incredibly ridiculous thing to say.  His burden is light?  “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (verse 29).

Jesus himself was submissive to God.  Yes, we could stand to learn a thing or two from him.  Maybe then we would experience the last line of the psalm “how blessed are all who take refuge in him!”

How’s your prayer life?  Does it consist of more than a “to-do” list for God?  Does God have opportunity to get a word in?

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Lectio THEN (June 1, 2009)

“like a tree planted near streams” (New Jerusalem Bible)

I feel like I’ve been more like a tree planted in the flood plains of the Kalahari Desert of Africa.  I tend to have times of intense growth, and then once I’m full (for the moment) lapse into dry seasons, seasons of drought and near starvation.  I wish I had healthier “eating” habits, with more frequent meals where eating less help keep me more satisfied so that I don’t overeat at one meal, then skip the next meal, then overeat again, and so on to the deterioration of my health.

As I imagined being transplanted from the desert to God’s backyard, I could hear God telling me that I needed to be pruned.  I asked if this is what has been happening to be for the past year.  She said yes.  Being far away from the context and climate that has shaped my identity has provided the opportunity for God to prune all the wild growth – the spindly branches and twigs, all the attempts to make myself look or be a certain way in response to my environment.  As a result, my “self” as tree is wild and unruly, without shape or definition.  By being pruned, sunlight is allowed to reach the places that have been hidden and the fruit that lies dormant there will have room to grow.  The fruit is for the health and nourishment of others, which is what I really want.

For a while now I’ve been wondering if it is possible to be in a great deal of emotional pain, and yet be spiritually healthy.  I feel I may have stumbled upon an answer here.  It’s like Rilke says, in his Letters to a Young Poet: “Try to love the questions themselves… do not now look for the answers.  They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them… At present you need to live the question.  Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

I know that I can trust the Holy Spirit as she goes about her work, pruning me in the garden.  After watching her take such loving and gentle care of my dry bones yesterday, I know that while the pruning may be painful, it is done with the utmost love, care and gentleness.

I pray that I would be able to submit to that pruning with joy, knowing that it is God’s active love and care for me.  I pray that my desire to be steeped in God’s word and in prayer would continue to increase, that it would go down deeply and take root, transforming me at the very core of my being.


Lectio NOW (September 27, 2010)

“its leaves never wither” (New Jerusalem Bible)

I love this Psalm.  It’s a great one for the designation of “number one”.  What an image: “like a tree planted near streams; it bears fruit in season and its leaves never wither, and every project succeeds.”  Most of the time when I read this Psalm or hear it being read, my mind dwells on that image of the tree, with roots that grow deep and are continually watered.  It is a big tree, healthy and strong.

Verse two of the psalm says that one “who delights in the law of Yahweh” is like this tree.  One way of delighting in the law is to immerse oneself in Scripture.  And I think to myself, if only I could be like that tree, and discipline myself to have those streams of life constantly flowing over my roots!  What a good person I could be then!

This time around, however, I was attracted to something else: “its leaves never wither”.  And I was still thinking about those roots being bathed in the stream, and how the leaves would indeed wither without being watered and how they fall before their time during dry spells.

But the leaves!  What about the leaves themselves?  Are they only the byproduct of a healthy tree where the roots do all the work?  Of course not – the leaves have their own job and part to play in the health and wellbeing of the tree.  They gather the rays of the sun and produce energy for the tree.  The roots would die themselves if there were never any leaves.  A tree needs both roots and leaves.

While it is good and necessary to be rooted in Scripture, alone, it is not enough.  We must also be people of prayer.  People who sit still and gather the energizing, life-giving rays from God.  The ancients knew this of course.  The twin practices of Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer go hand in hand.

I have at times been better at practicing one or the other regularly.  But not both.  And in this reading I feel drawn to accept the invitation to find a way to integrate both into my regular daily practice.  It’s hard.  I’m not really a creature of habit.  I struggle to maintain routine, and at the same time I crave it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the image in the first psalm, of a tree whose roots are watered and whose leaves do not wither.  This is “the way” that the psalmist points those who would be “blessed”.  And so for me the way is clear: Lectio AND centering prayer.

God, I feel you drawing me closer to you through this practices, but you know I can’t do it without you.  And so I pray for the desire to pray, and I pray for the desire to be immersed in Scripture.  I pray that the words of this psalm would go down deep into my heart and transform me, so that I might be like the tree that comes from the mustard seed in the Gospel of Matthew: “it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (13.32)

What do you hear in this psalm today?

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First Experiment

One of the things I love most about Scripture is that it is ‘living’.  That sounds a little funny if you think about it.  But when I imagine that something is living, it means that it is organic and dynamic.  I am the same person I was ten years ago, but there are new aspects about my personality and my self that have developed simply by experiencing life.  And as I read and reread the same stories from Scripture at different points throughout my life, they take on new meaning and significance.  And so there is a relational quality as well, a give and take, as I enter into the story and it enters into me.

Over a year ago, I began reading and listening to the Psalms through the practice of Lectio Divina.  (I have described Lectio elsewhere, and perhaps I’ll post it here as well.)  I want to revisit those Psalms again now, over a year later, to see how they’ve continued to unfold and where they touch me now.

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First Post

Thanks, Jim.

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