Lenten Discipline: Life

I know that “life” is odd for a Lenten discipline but isn’t that what all of this is about anyway?  Our focus on spiritual disciplines during this season is not merely intended to instill us with a set of rules;  rather, spiritual disciplines provide structure and support for our growing spiritual life.  But, as I said, they are not just rules (and are certainly not just rules to get us through these 40 days leading up to Easter!).  Spiritual disciplines, like Lent, provide the structure through which we can grow, much like those stakes that you are putting on your growing tomato plants or rose bushes.  Hopefully, this Lenten journey is not merely one that gets us on the path on which our spiritual life is meant to be only to be allowed to be forgotten and grown over once the season ends.  The whole idea is to instill a rule for our life, a pathway of sorts that best leads us to oneness with God.

We probably get hung up, though, when we limit our understanding of the “rule for life” to mere rules.  Rules probably get a bad rap in our society, as if someone has laid down some arbitrary boundary to our already-structured life.  Don’t think of it like that, though.  I mean, rules are good when they don’t exist as their own end.  They bring order to chaos.  They bring cycles to confusion.  They bring pathways to wilderness journeys.  (And if a rule doesn’t do something along those lines, then, you’re right, it probably SHOULD be broken!)

Yesterday I was walking my dog.  It was a lovely early evening, with a cool breeze that refreshed without chilling and both of us were enjoying ourselves.  We were walking around our neighborhood enjoying all the new flowers and budding old ones, as if life had somehow just woken up.  Because it was so nice, we took an extra long enjoyable walk.  When we were about 4 1/2 blocks from my house, Maynard had to “do his thing”, if you know what I mean.  We stopped so that he could relieve himself in peace and then (as we always do) we switched places so that his dutiful and well-trained owner could pick it up.  While I was leaning over, I felt something weird on the end of the leash, as if all of a sudden I was holding emptiness.  Now, let me tell you, this is NOT what a dog owner wants to feel when they are 4 1/2 blocks from home!  I glanced over at Maynard just in time to see him do some sort of very intentional acrobatic movement as, with head down, he watched himself take his right leg and pull it through the harness and then underneath it and then repeat it with his left leg.  I don’t know if he had been practicing this and thinking about this for awhile, but all I know is that the harness (with the leash still attached) was laying on the sidewalk with no dog attached to it.  I panicked and reached for him, thinking that he would bolt into some game of canine hide and seek (which he’s done before).  But he just stood there.  It was as if the harness was still attached.  Maybe he just wanted to show me how good he could be by himself.  I don’t know.

Maybe that’s what Lent is supposed to do.  It puts a very gentle harness on us as we go on our walk.  And then, when it is time to break free, when our choice could be to bolt, joining in a sort of human-divine game of hide-n-seek, we stand still on the path, breathing in the breath of God and knowing, intuitively, where to go.  A rule of life just gets us ready for that moment, that point of pure freedom when we intentionally choose God.

Yes, I put the harness back on the dog and we finished our walk.  He didn’t seem to mind being put back in it; in fact, it was obvious he expected it.  I don’t know what he was thinking.  Maybe he just wanted to prove he could get out of it.  Or maybe he just wanted to show me he could do it without it.  I have to admit it, though, I will not give him the chance to try to show me again.  God is much more trusting of us than I am.  That is why God is God and I am not!  But the point is that this journey of faith should not be taken lightly.  It should be done as if our very life depended on it because it is, after all, our life.

So, for this Lenten season, commit yourself to a rule for life  Where do you feel God calling you to stretch and grow?  What kind of balance do you need in your life?  What gives you life?

Grace and Peace,

Just a word of explanation for the week to come…I struggled with how to proceed this week without “jumping ahead” to the Passion or even to Palm Sunday before I’m really ready to do that.  So, rather than, writing on the Lectionary passages for next Sunday, I’m going to step back a little in this walk.  Tomorrow I will begin with the Anunciation, the announcement of the coming of God into the world and walk from there.  I’ll take a quick walk through the steps of Jesus once again so that I can arrive in Jerusalem as the glorious Palm Sunday processional begins.

And ANOTHER word of explanation…I’ve had some of you who are in the “Google Group” that get emails every day mention that you have had comments but couldn’t comment “back” to me.  That is correct!  But I would LOVE to have your comments.  Click on the “Dancing to God” link at the bottom of the email and that will get you into the blog.  You can make a comment there and all of the blog readers can see it.  I would LOVE for you to do that!  

Lenten Discipline: Bowing and Becoming

“Then Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane…” (Matt. 26: 36)

During the Sundays of this season of Lent, I am posting some thoughts on different spiritual disciplines.  Today I have chosen prayer.  Who am I to talk about prayer?  After all, it is probably “THE” spiritual discipline, the one that we all do (or think we should do more often!), that we all know (or think we should know better!), that we all feel like we should be doing better.  So, what is prayer to you?  At its simplest it is a conversation with God, a connection with the holy and the sacred.  So why is it that most of us claim that we need a deeper prayer life.  Are we not satisfied with the conversation?  Are we not getting the answers we want?  Or do we think that God wants more from us?  My guess is that it would be a little of all of the above.

In my “previous life” before ordained ministry, I sang in the choir as a layperson.  We almost always did a choral response following The Lord’s Prayer.  So, to this day, I cannot say that prayer in worship without looking up when I get to the last line, as if I’m still watching for the cue from the director.  (Of course, if you who go to St. Paul’s and you already know that, I guess it means you don’t have your eyes closed either!)  But, the point is that I cannot NOT do it and when I catch myself looking up while everyone’s heads are still bowed in prayer, I’m always a little embarrassed.  But, when you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Prayer is a way of  “attuning ourselves to a conversation that is already going on deep in our hearts”, as Marjorie Thompson says (in Soul Feast, p. 31.). It does not end with “Amen.”  It, like most good spiritual disciplines and all good faith stories, ends with a beginning.  It ends with our becoming engaged with God and joining what began long before we came along to the story.

There is a story from the Sufi mystical tradition of a disciple that comes to an elder for direction.  “Where shall I find God?” the disciple asked the elder.  “God is with you,” the Holy One replied.  “But if that is true,” the disciple asked, “why can I not see this Presence?” “Because you are like the fish who, when in the ocean, never notices the water.”  It is not that God is not with us; it is that we are unaware of that incredible Presence. (From There is a Season, by Joan Chittister, p. 14.)

And yet, most of us tend to pray prayers as if we’re throwing something out to a God that is “out there” somewhere, hoping against hope that God will pick them up and answer them (hopefully with the answer that we desire!).  We are told to “turn everything over to God.” I don’t think, though, that God meant to be in this alone.  Our prayers should not resemble our Christmas list of desires or even our grocery list of needs.  Rather, our prayers are our way of connecting to and entering the heart of that incredible Presence that is everywhere that we can imagine and everywhere that we will never know, the Presence of God.  Think of prayer as reaching and grasping, connecting and attuning, enfolding and becoming a part of the holy and the sacred God that is everywhere in our lives.  Prayers are indeed answered.  We just have to attune ourselves to the answer that is already present in our lives.  God’s desire is to fulfill our heartfelt prayers by filling our open heart with God.

Prayer is indeed “THE” spiritual discipline.  In fact, prayer is everything we are and everything we do, our whole life, every breath, every person we meet, every word we say, every thought we think that brings us closer to knowing this God who is already there.  Think of your “amen” as the beginning of that journey of holiness and wholeness that fills your life.  Maria Boudling says of prayer:  “All your love, your stretching out, your hope, your thirst, God is creating in you so that God may fill you…God is on the inside of the longing.”  And needing to pray, or wanting to pray, or just knowing that you “should” be praying means that you have already entered the conversation.  Amen.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, 
the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speek that infant lips can try;
prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the contrite sinners’ voice, returning from their way,
while angels in their songs rejoice and cry, “Behold, they pray!”
Prayer is the Christians’ vital breath, the Christian’s native air;
their watchword at the gates of death; they enter heaven with prayer.
O Thou, by whom we come to God, the Life, the Truth, the Way:
the path of prayer thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray!
                                           (James Montgomery, 1818, in The United Methodist Hymnal, # 492) 

So, in this Lenten season, become your prayer and let your prayer become part of all that is God.

Sometimes You Just Have to Wait…(See “A Season for Pruning”, 03/31/2011)

 Grace and Peace,


Lenten Discipline: Picking and Choosing

I remember when I got my first Bible.  I was determined to start at Genesis 1:1 and read the whole thing through.  I was sure that was what I was supposed to do.  After all, that’s the way you read a book, right?  Well, I have to confess that that never happened.  In fact, it’s now more than forty years later and it STILL hasn’t happened.  I’ve taught Bible studies and got an M.Div. from seminary and it STILL didn’t happen.  In fact, I’ve never sat down and read the whole Bible at all.  (Shhh!)  (It’s sort of like the way you accidentally hit the wrong button and publish a blog before you’re ready, right?  So, for those who only got half an email, just call it a spiritual teaser.  I know you couldn’t wait for me to finish my thought and write the whole thing through!)
Maynard, the Bible Eater
One day a couple of months ago, I came out into the living room and was greeted with Maynard (my dog) eating a Bible.  Yes, he ate a Bible!  I’m not sure what to think about that.  When I told people what had happened, they just looked at me in amazement.  He ATE a Bible?  The question was always the same: Did he eat the whole thing?  No, I responded, he’s just like the rest of us–just picking and choosing what he wants to digest.  Actually, I’m not so sure that’s NOT the way that we’re supposed to read the Scriptures.  After all, it’s not meant to be a historical narrative.  We don’t plow through it trying to memorize each and every detail.  (Note:  This is not going to be on the test!) 

Spiritual reading is more about entering the text than it is memorizing it (or, for that matter, even fully understanding it!  Remember Nicodemus?).  And the place through which we enter is different for each one of us and is different from day to day or hour to hour for each of us.  We are reading to be formed and transformed.  We must enter in the place where God reveals Godself to us through the Scriptures.  And I suppose that involves a bit of picking and choosing.  Read the words and then let God’s Spirit wash over you.  Do not worry so much about becoming a Biblical scholar.  (After all, remember that this is not the whole story!)  Just read so that your heart, rather than your head, becomes full.

Plumbing the Depths

In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson says that “scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed.  On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books.  But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom.  It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp…God has chosen to be bound to the words of Scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near…Scripture is both God’s Word and human words.  It is part of God’schosen self-revelation, simultaneously familiar and strange…It is not that the words magically or mechanically contain God’s presence, but that as we allow the same Spirit through which the Scriptures were written to inform our listening, the presence of God in and beyond those words becomes alive for us once more.” (In Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie Thompson, p. 19-20)

So pick and choose the words where you can this day enter the Word.  Dive in and let God’s Presence come alive for you.  This is your story.  It is not complete.  Which chapter is yours to add?

Grace and Peace,


Lenten Discipline: Seeking and Tuning

Today we lost an hour to the dreaded Daylight Savings Time adjustment.  I hate this day.  What is that about?  The claim is that we get “more daylight”.  Really? Have these people not had math or astronomy?  It is very bizarre.  So, I woke up at 5:00 (which was really, as my body clock pointed out to me, 4:00).  And while I went around and did all of my Sunday morning things for what was already an early day, Maynard (the dog) slept in.  He knew better and just didn’t want to be bothered with anything that might get in the way of his schedule.  Maynard is a rescue lab that I got in August and as this was our first “spring forward” day together, I think it confirmed to him that I really am nuts. 

I drove to the church at the time that I was usually privileged to view the sunrise on Sunday mornings.  There was no sunrise but rather a sky that held varying degrees of light as the sunrise began to stretch and get ready for the day, not really wanting to be bothered with anything that might get in the way of its schedule.  It really was rather beautiful, though (sans light, of course).  I stopped at the same red light at the same intersection that I do twice each year. It seems that I always change my car clock at the same place.  And I always have to once again figure out how to do it.  You punch “Clock” and then the radio screen lights up with the directions:  “H-Seek…M-Tune”.  (It’s telling you to use the “seek” and “tune” buttons to recalibrate your time and adjust its setting so that it makes more sense.)

The meaning was not lost on me even in my somewhat blurry state.  What a great metaphor for this Lenten season–seeking and tuning.  Usually when we see the word “seek”, our finely-trained minds go immediately to “finding”.  But on this spiritual path, that doesn’t work as well.  This is not a path of seeking and finding God.  God is not lost.  God is not hiding out waiting for some grand hide and seek game to end.  God is right here waiting for us, waiting for us to hear, waiting for us to listen.  And so this time of Lent is a time of our seeking and tuning, a time of recalibrating our lives so that we will be in line with the time of God, a time of adjusting our setting, so to speak, so that it will make more sense.  God is never out of the bounds of our life; sometimes we just have to stop and tune ourselves to the music that was there all along.  And once a year, the church year gives us a chance to do just that.  My memory is a little rusty.  I usually have to figure out how to do it all over again.  But God is patiently waiting for me to spiritually tune myself.  And if I don’t get it completely right, God, in infinite grace and mercy, always moves a little closer to me anyway.

So in this Season of Lent, tune yourself to the place where you best connect with God!

Grace and Peace,