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Posts Tagged ‘Lectio Experiment’

 

Lectio THEN (June 15, 2009): Psalm 12 New Jerusalem Bible

 

Yahweh’s promises are promises unalloyed

I think it was the word unalloyed that first caught my attention.  First I thought about what happens when we alloy metals and why we do it – to make them stronger, to reinforce it maybe.  Or maybe the main metal is valuable ad we don’t want to use so much of it, so we pump up the volume with another metal.  Either way, it’s not pure anymore.

 

God’s promises are not alloyed – they don’t need to be strengthened with anything, and they contain to hidden agendas.  And what are God’s promises?  A perfect life, fancy car, big house, no unemployment?  While God cares about my life and necessities, these aren’t God’s promises.

 

What God does promise is to love me unconditionally, to never leave me, and that God’s grace and mercy can never be depleted.  It’s one thing to say, but another thing to take down deeply and really believe – that God’s love for me is not based on my performance, on what kind of wife, daughter, sister, friend or employee I am.  I confess: I don’t wholly believe it, though I really want to.

 

Returning to the word alloy, I think of “ally” and “allegiance.”  I think of the compromises that are sometimes made for the sake of one’s ally, again rendering a motive a bit less pure.  But God doesn’t have to ally herself with anyone or anything to gain or maintain power.

 

Because God’s love for me is not based on my performance, I have a difficult time understanding it, and as I prayed and waited to hear God’s response, I found it hard to hear anything.  Stuck in my own murk again.  As I tried to quiet my mind and let things settle, I found myself in God’s kitchen again.  God was standing in front of me, and with a smile that was both intentional and light said “What?  I just love you.  That’s all.”  And then, in the style of God from Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, she leaned in and said “in fact, I am especially fond of you.”

 

That’s all.  Unalloyed love.

 

*******

 

Lectio NOW (November 8, 2010): Psalm 12 NJB

salvation to those who sigh for it

 

My breath is a powerful indicator.  I breathe deeply when I am at peace and full of well-being.  I hold my breath when I’m waiting in anticipation.  And I sigh heavily when distressed, anxious, and leaning into despair.  These are all things I’ve been aware of for a long time.  So when I read this psalm, I was immediately caught by this phrase, salvation to those who sigh for it.  Do I ever sigh for salvation?  What does that even mean?

 

As I prayed over this psalm, and turned over this phrase, I told God about all the ways I experience my breath.  And I had to confess that when I sigh, it’s generally the heavy kind of sigh.  And generally in that moment, I’m not mindful of God’s presence.  Rather, I’m full of dreads and worries.  I get caught there a lot, and one worry quickly leads to another, bigger one.  It’s not pretty.  And then I get jumpy.

 

The other times that I’m mindful of my breath is during centering prayer.  Centering prayer is a receptive form of prayer, rather than an active form of prayer.  When praying this way, one is resting in God, beyond words.  Whenever the mind begins to wander (and it frequently does), the breath acts as the sacred symbol to return to rest in God.  Focusing on the breath helps to quiet the mind, and regenerate the soul.

 

I should say that centering prayer is often confused with Eastern meditation.  But as I understand it, emptiness is the focus of Eastern meditation, whereas in centering prayer, the focus is on resting and union with God.

 

As I leave this psalm, I feel nudged to think about bringing that awareness of my breath during centering prayer into the rest of my life.  Perhaps when I am aware of my heavy sighing, I can use my breath in that instant to turn my thoughts toward God, and the hope and trust I have in God’s steadfast love, never-ending kindness, and enduring loyalty.  Perhaps instead I can rest in God’s embrace.

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Lectio THEN Psalm 11 (June 11, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

the honest will ever see his face

I almost missed it – I thought at first that my phrase for this lectio would be “In Yahweh I have found refuge,” because that’s been such a prominent image for the past few days.  When I am most honest with myself, I can see God’s face, unobscured by the clouds of deceit.  But then I start swirling around in a whirlpool of self-deceit, and I find myself in that place where I allow myself no grace, and no excuses.

I think about areas of my life where I feel like I’ve been a failure, like I could have and should have tried harder.  And then I tell myself that there’s been an awful lot going on, several huge life changes, and it’s just been really hard.  And I come back with “don’t be such a wimp.  You’re supposed to sacrifice for God”, and stuff like that.  And I know I shouldn’t do that but I can’t stop, and everything gets so cloudy and murky and I get so dizzy I can’t see or think straight.

And then I remembered something about false humility, and how it is really another form of pride – and I wonder how what I do is like that.  I think I start with the premise that I’m supposed to do everything and do it perfectly – like God.  But I don’t allow for what my gifts are and aren’t, who I am as a unique creation.  I tell myself I have to get out of my “comfort zone.”  Maybe.  But maybe comfort zone is different than area of giftedness.

Along with that premise is also that I have to do it alone.  Which leaves no room for God, and that’s clearly not okay.  And so I have to relinquish that fatally independent attitude.  And I have to be still and accept grace.  And when I am still, those murky, scary dark waters settle down, and there’s God’s face – she’s always there, but I guess I can’t see her when I’ve got everything all churned up.

Be still – and steep deeply in God’s grace.

*******

Lectio NOW Psalm 11 (November 7, 2010) NJB

the honest will ever see his face

What does it mean for me to be honest?  I suspect it’s more than just not telling lies.  I have a hunch that for me the answer lies more in the order of living authentically.  And I wonder about ways in which I am not doing that very well, ways that I’m living as a false version of myself.

A lot of writing on contemplative spirituality talks about the “true self”.  Thomas Keating, in Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer defines the true self as: “The image of God in which every human being is created; our participation in the divine life manifested in our uniqueness.”  (196)

By contrast, Keating defines the false self thusly: “The self developed in our own likeness rather than the likeness of God; the self-image developed to cope with the emotional trauma of early childhood.  It seeks happiness in satisfying the instinctual needs of survival/security, affection/esteem, and power/control, and bases its self-worth on cultural or group identification.” (192)

In the writings of Thomas Keating, the false self is an attempt to create an image of myself in order to avoid or deal with pain.  This false self tells lies about what I must do or be to be accepted and loved.  Before long, I have created me in the image of myself, and my true self lies imprisoned.

As a sensitive child, the image I created was that of a tomboy, a tough girl who was a force to be reckoned with.  If someone hurt my feelings, I would get angry.  Because I was sensitive and compassionate, I didn’t really want to physically hurt someone, so I would make a good show of threatening them so I didn’t have to.

Over time, this image of me solidified itself not only in my own sense of self, but in others’ impressions and understandings of me, and especially in the way they interacted with me.  This dynamic continued to escalate until the sense of dissonance between how I truly felt inside and how I was forced (by my own doing) act became too much to bear.  And so began the “dismantling of the false self.”  This is just one example of how one emotion affected one facet of my being.  Of course, there is an array of emotions within each of us, leading to very complex versions of our false selves.

When I think about what it means to be honest, it means that I need to look carefully at how the affective emotions (i.e., anger, fear, and discouragement) are at work within me, and what they’re trying to protect.  By looking carefully at these motivations, and finding ways to act against these emotional programs for happiness, I recover and uncover more and more of my true self.  That true self, without all the muck clouding my vision, is most clearly able to see God.

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Lectio THEN: Psalm 10 (June 10, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“His speech is full of lies and browbeating, under his tongue lurk spite and wickedness”

What lurks in me?  The anxiety and dread: “He keeps watch crouching down low, the poor wretch falls into his clutches.”  This is what happens when I go into that cave from yesterday’s lectio, and I think I need to solve all my problems on my own.  But I can’t; the temptation to succumb to the lies and browbeating is too great.

“You give them courage”.  I need courage to trust you.  You tell me when I ask “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant” that there is no distance between us.  I only need to remember you, to call my awareness to the present where you are and where you say “I AM” – I AM is a present tense verb.

I spend most of my time in the future, consumed with anxiety and dread.  When I see that cave, Lord, give me the courage to not go in and fall into its clutches.  Give me courage to call on you so that I may turn away, trusting you with the dark and scary things that lurk in that cave beneath the water.  Help me to develop and cultivate the habit of calling on you, and constantly remembering you.

*******

Lectio NOW: Psalm 10 (November 5, 2010) New Jerusalem Bible

Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant?

If I know someone is hiding, it makes me really nervous.  Even if I know who it is, and even if they’re a loved-one, and even if it is all in good fun, I’m still nervous.  It’s some deep, subterranean terror that takes over and all my rational faculties are powerless against it.  From there, it’s one tiny step from fear to anger.  When it is God that I sense to be hiding from me, it’s one tiny step from anger to apathy.

This psalm is full of contrasts between God and the wicked, distance and proximity, looking and hiding/turning away.  The opening question is so human, and so easy to identify with: Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant, stay hidden in times of trouble? Who has seen God come to immediate aid in times of trouble?  Maybe some of us, but most often we’re left asking why?

A bit further on, I’m stung by verse four.  The wicked in his arrogance does not look very far; “There is no God,” is his only thought. What is so striking to me is the contrast between the question in verse one about the ‘distance’ of God, and the wicked one who ‘does not look very far’.

Every contemplative (and wannabe-contemplative like me) will say that being aware is key to living a life in the presence of God.  Because God is always right here, but stuff (and other “s” words) gets in the way.  Seeing is a major human problem.

This psalm reminds me that my perception that God is hiding, isn’t the same as someone hiding who’s out to get me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that God won’t try to trick us by giving us a snake when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7.10).  God does not aim to harm me.  But that’s what I accuse him of when I can’t see him.  Like the person whose eyes are only on his steps in verse five, I don’t see the judgment hanging right over my head.

And what is the judgment for me?  Am I a wicked one?  Sometimes, maybe.  I can certainly be arrogant, trying to do everything on my own.  And then God lets me try, and I bring judgment down on my own head, in sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.  If I act as though I am alone, then I will most certainly experience it to be true.

This psalm doesn’t give us any real closure by showing God finally coming to the aid of the oppressed.  It ends with a cry for justice, and maybe with an opportunity to choose a new way to see.

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Grace Cathedral, San Francisco

Lectio THEN: Psalm 9 (June 9, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“My enemies are in retreat, they stumble and perish at your presence.”

My enemies being, in my case, my own thoughts – the thoughts that plague me with worry, anxiety and dread.  I had a glimpse of that yesterday, of God’s presence.  Not answers, just presence, and that was so restful and reassuring.  I’ve been wanting answers now and because I haven’t heard what I’m wanting to hear, I’ve had a hard time being aware of God’s presence.

And how true this passage is – that my thoughts which are deathly to my spirit are driven back by the presence of God!  “Pull me back from the gates of death.”

I imagine the scene from The Little Mermaid (the Disney movie version) when Ariel goes to Ursula the sea witch to be made into a human.  She swims into a cave and the souls enslaved by Ursula appear like worms that, at least as I am remembering them now, try to drag Ariel down and imprison her there, too.  Geez!  In her desperate attempt to get the answers she wants she’s willing to go in there are risk losing her soul!

Pull me back from the gates of death, O Lord!  Lead me back to open water where I may swim freely, trusting in you.  Somehow I think by going into the cave of worry and dread that I can take those things head on and figure everything out for myself when I’m not hearing what I want from you.  But that is only death for me.  Help me to remember your presence, to recall your presence to my awareness, which will force my anxiety and dread to retreat, stumble and perish.  Your presence is sufficient.  In your presence, all is well.

 

*******

 

Lectio: Psalm 9 (October 18, 2010) NJB

“I recount all your wonders”

Today I am struggling to remember the definition of gratitude.  And that makes me feel like such a jerk.  How fleeting utter convictions of faith can be!  Do I really believe all that stuff I profess when I’m in a better mood — if we can even say that it is a ‘mood’?  Or am I just carried away by a sense of moral uprightness and emotional (chemical?) well-being?

Ugh.  The grit of life.  I suppose if I were an artist (or a contemplative) I would relish stuff like this, and be convinced that I’m supposed to really feel down to the depth of it and it’s part of the glory of being human, or something like that.  But I don’t.  I want to be happy.  All the time.  I know I say nice things about really being present in each moment of life, accepting both the good and the bad as a gift from God, etc, etc…  But it doesn’t feel so good to feel so bad.  I’ve been praying for a job for months.  I’m doing all the “right” things.  And it’s not like I’m being picky.  I’ve applied for everything.  But nothing.

“I recount all your wonders” I read, and then give a little snort.  “That won’t take too long”, I think to myself.  “Ungrateful, little punk!” the other part of my self says.  And that part of me knows with utter certainty that God has always provided, always at the right moment, and many times in ways I could have never seen coming, and it’s always been great.  And I wish that I would have kept better track of those times and those moments, for times and moments like this.  I could pull out my little list, read through it, and feel better.

But I don’t have said list.  And maybe that’s for the best because I suspect that the desired effect could not be achieved by reading over a prepared list.  I have to do it now, while I feel crappy.  And I’m a little inspired by the acrostic of this psalm, in a campy kind of way, to write my own acrostic version, to count my blessings and “name them one by one” as the hymn goes.

I don’t know how to conjure up this feeling of gratitude, but I suppose if it came in a pill that would have been done already.  And something inside of me says that I’m not supposed to ‘conjure’ it out of thin air, but that it is a thing to be worked at and developed, like anything else worth having or being.

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During the sermon, the pastor quotes a child from the congregation

 

Lectio THEN: Psalm 8 (June 8, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“Whoever keeps singing of your majesty… you make a fortress”

The praise song “Sanctuary” comes to mind:  “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary.”  The fortress image was at first a military image, which really doesn’t work for me.  But it quickly transformed into that tree from Psalm 1, planted by the streams, as I thought of a bird sanctuary or sanctuary for any small, vulnerable creature in need of refuge and safety.  I do want to be that kind of sanctuary for others – a place to be, grow in faith, heal and become whole.

Today I feel open.  I can breathe deeply and have peace that I know can only come from you, God.  Lead me to the place or places you would have me go.  Help me to listen for your voice and to be prompt to respond to your call.

 

*******

 

Lectio NOW: Psalm 8 (October 17, 2010) NJB

“through the mouths of children”

I cheated a little bit on this psalm.  Traditionally while practicing Lectio one would not get up and grab a few more Bible translations and pause to look up the Hebrew.  But I was flummoxed.  Confounded.

Verse one took me back to the church of my middle school and high school years.  There was a “praise” book (in addition to the hymnal) that we frequently used.  I wish I could remember what it was called, but I’m pretty sure it was purple.  And I hear the pianist (my dad) playing one of the songs we very frequently sang, “Oh, Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  He could really get that song rocking, as much as a song like that can rock.  It’s a simple song with only a few lines that get repeated.

As I continued reading this psalm, I had that song playing in the background of my mind.  This is one of those passages from Scripture that I know well and it’s popular.  And I’m prepared to not really be surprised, and honestly, to not really even get anything out of it.  (Ugh! What a consumer I am!)  And I should know better.  I should know that when I think I really know something, that’s when I need to be the most attentive, and most alert.  But instead, I’m bored, like I always get when I think there’s nothing for me to learn, and when I think I know it all.

But verse two didn’t make sense at all: “even through the mouth of children, or of babes in arms, you make him a fortress, firm against your foes, to subdue the enemy and the rebel.”  I read it over and over and over again.  The more I read it, the less sense it made.  That’s when I had to get out another Bible version, to see if a different translation could offer some clarity.  Here’s a sampling:

 

“From the mouths of infants and sucklings you have founded strength on account of Your foes, to put an end to enemy and avenger.” (Jewish Publication Society)

“You have taught children and nursing infants to give you praise.  They silence your enemies who were seeking revenge.” (New Living Translation)

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.” (New Revised Standard Version)

“Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”  (English Standard Version)

 

Can you see my difficulty?  Oh, and almost every translation had a footnote on this verse saying “meaning of Hebrew uncertain”.  No kidding.  This, by the way, is the very sort of dilemma that got me interested in learning Greek and Hebrew in the first place.  I couldn’t understand how translations could be so similar, and then suddenly be so different, and I wanted to figure out for myself what was going on.

I continued to read and I began to pray through the psalm, and I told God I didn’t get it.  I know that children were often just thought of as another mouth to feed in the ancient world, and that when Jesus says that we should be like little children, it would have been a shocking thing for that time.  And I see that the psalmist is naming things in creation that by their very existence declares the glory of God and that includes ‘babes and infants’.  All these simple things in the world around us teach can teach us something about God, but we have to pay attention, we have to be aware.

And that is when I realize that I didn’t really expect to see anything in this psalm today, just as no one would have expected a babe to declare the glory of God.  And I’m reminded of what I already know: that no matter how hard or where I look, I will never ‘find’ God if I can’t see that God is already right here.

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Lectio THEN: Psalm 7 (June 7, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“Yahweh, my God, I take refuge in you”

Except that I don’t.  I’ve been like a turtle taking refuge deeper and deeper inside myself.  But it’s dark and scary in here because the only things I have taken with me are the things that I’m worried, anxious and stressed about.

I remember bringing the bones with me into the garden and laying them on the picnic table.  I remember the Holy Spirit breathing on them and that I trusted her and left them there.

I pray that I would take these stones – that I carry around, fretting over and caressing – and no longer take them down inside myself.  Even turtles don’t have gizzards to process stones!  Maybe I could take the stones and leave them with the bones.

A while back, a friend told me about an icebreaker they did at work – “which sea animal would you be and why?”  I would be an otter.  But instead of being the otter who frets and worries over the little trinkets I collect, I pray that I would be like the otter who plays joyfully and swims freely.  And rather than being the fearful turtle stuck in its shell, help me, God, to remember that “God is a shield that protects me.”

I feel so scared and so vulnerable.  God, I know that you protect me.  But only my head knows.  Help my heart to know.  Help my head to connect all the things it knows, and teach them to my heart.  Thanks for who you are and all that you do.  You’re amazing.

*******

Lectio NOW: Psalm 7 (October 10, 2010) NJB

“Judge me, Yahweh, as my uprightness and my integrity deserve.”

Sometimes it can be very difficult for a Mennonite to read the psalms, let alone to pray the psalms.  How can a person from an historic peace church in the Anabaptist tradition pray for a justice that consists of not sparing “one who attacked me unprovoked” (v. 4)? On the contrary our ethics, based on the Sermon on the Mount of chapters 5 – 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, call for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Sometimes I really wonder how the psalms can be ‘sacred’ readings.

But we take the Bible seriously, and however difficult and problematic this psalm and others like it are, Scripture they remain.  And so I try to pray through this psalm.

I am first struck, in a terrifying way, by verse eight: “Judge me, Yahweh, as my uprightness and my integrity deserve.”  Eek!  If I were to truly and honestly pray that, I would expect to be immediately struck by lightening.  I’m too much of a mess, too petty, too insecure.  No way.

I’m surprised too (but really, should I be?) that David, to whom this psalm is attributed, has the guts to pray it either.  I realize that David is a much beloved biblical figure, but really, if one reads the entire account closely, that may be a difficult sentiment to maintain.  David is a man with much blood on his hands.  Unfortunately, we don’t know the details of the particular story referenced by this psalm, as the account mentioned in the superscription doesn’t appear in the stories of David in the Bible.

As I continue to read, thinking of David and all his purported righteousness, this psalm begins to feel a bit like a juridical parable, in which a story is told to evoke the listener to pronounce judgment on themselves.  No one is telling the psalmist a story, but as God is being invoked to pass judgment, I have the nagging sense that when we pray for our enemies to fall into their own traps, that is the moment we set our own.

God, sometimes I don’t understand this sacred text, and I don’t share the perspectives of the writer, and I don’t want to even deal with it.  I take hope, though, in that when David was confronted, as in the story of his sin against Bathsheba, he did repent.  And after all that he did, if he can still be called ‘a man after God’s own heart’, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us, too.  I can only pray, please don’t judge me “as my uprightness and my integrity deserve”, because you are merciful and your love is unfailing.  Only then can I pray with the psalmist “I thank Yahweh for his saving justice” (v. 17), because God’s justice is characterized not by revenge and retribution, but by unending steadfast love.

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Lectio THEN: Psalm 6 (June 6, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“I am fading away”

This is truly how I have been feeling.  I feel listless at times with grief from everything that has changed, and full of anxiety over the future.  And in this state, I have nothing to give to anyone, and am fading away.

There are several paradoxes as I mull over this image.  First, as the psalm goes, I am fading away through my bones, down to my spirit.  As my body weakens and withers, my spirit becomes the more prominent part of my being.  The irony is that they weakening of my body has not been the withering of my flesh, but the gaining of weight – so in different ways my health and strength are fading away.

Just as I need to pray for the desire to pray and be close to God, I need to pray for the desire to be healthy, to eat well and exercise, and to have life-giving social interactions.

I am carrying away in my pocket the phrase “because of your faithful love.”  God, I really believe that now.  I don’t feel totally solid and unshakeable, but as I think about climbing and being tired and having “sewing machine leg”, help me to shift my weight over to that leg and stand up on it.  I know — or am learning — that you hear me and answer me not because I have earned it, but because you love me.  That’s all.  And I know that it’s hard for you to watch me in this state, too

Help me to remain in your love – to hold on to you with my right hand so that when I stumble, you will not let me fall.  Open the path before me, God, to lead me to health and wholeness.  Open my eyes to see where the next step is.  Open my ears to hear your voice calling.  Open my heart to respond in eagerness and joy.  Because of your faithful love, let these things be.

*******

Lectio NOW: Psalm 6 (October 8, 2010) NJB

“how long?”

It’s been nearly four months.  Four months of unemployment, the longest period of unemployment since I started working when I was fifteen.  To say this experience has been disheartening would be an understatement.  To say that it has been stressful, disillusioning, and humiliating, likewise doesn’t quite get at how incredibly difficult this time has been.  I have, indeed been “worn out with groaning”, as the psalmist says in verse six.

The problem with asking questions like this of God, is that we often don’t get the answer we want to hear.  At least for myself, I want a number, something quantifiable in days or weeks.  I ask the question, and don’t hear the answer I want to hear.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a response.  If I have already determined the answer I want to hear, I am unable to hear the response and to recognize it when it comes.

This morning, verses eight and nine were able to break through my stubborn resistance and in response to my question “how long”, I heard “Yahweh has heard the sound of my weeping, Yahweh has heard my pleading.  Yahweh will accept my prayer.”

In these long in-between times, it really can feel as though our prayers are falling on deaf ears, as though they don’t go any further than the ceiling and walls.  I still have to wait, but if I can accept and believe that God has indeed heard me, then I know God will act.  But I need to be reminded.

God, I doubt you so often, even as time after time you have acted and stepped in just at the right moment.  Help me to remember, help me to trust.  My life’s prayer seems to always be “Lord, I believe.  Help me in my unbelief!” (paraphrased from Mark 9.24).

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