Daily Delights

20150208 130423Giving ourselves small delights can keep us in touch with our spiritual self.

While Christmas shopping last year, I happened upon this rubber duck tea strainer and bought it for my own Christmas stocking .  I can’t tell you what a kick I get out of floating a mini-rubber duck in my morning tea!  After a 4-minute swim in my boiled water, I set my duck in her pond holder and my cup of Naughty Vicar is just right! (The London Tea Room has this and other great blends!). 

The sense of delight and joy from such a small (and you might say silly!) thing sets my day on a positive path priming me to notice and appreciate the good things--both large and small--yet to unfold. Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, Professor Emeritus at Aquinas Institute of Theology identifies the first stage of conscious development in babies as wonder--how they follow a mobile or a toy with open fascination. In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus instructs us to "become like a child" (Matthew 18:3). Sr. Carla Mae offers that we need to regain our sense of wonder at the beauty of the created order and the living presence of Christ among us.

If we're not quite ready for wonder and awe, we can start with delight. What gives you a sense of delight, a smile, a moment of joy?  It could be a favorite song, watching birds outside your window, a sleepy hug from your child, a picture on your desk.  I know someone who watches her diet very closely, and she allows herself one piece of Dove dark chocolate in the late afternoon and enjoys every tasty second of it.

For my husband, Dan, it’s a great cup of coffee in the morning made with freshly ground beans.  When he sets up the coffee maker the night before, he often says, “Oooh, I can’t wait to wake up and drink this coffee!” 

That’s delight! And it’s contagious, priming us for a wonder-ful day.

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The Spirituality of Space

blogpic NYCdeliFor Christmas Dan bought us a 3-night stay in NYC to hear jazz singer, Stacey Kent perform at the Birdland Jazz Club, and to see a Broadway Show of my choice (we saw The Book of Mormon- very crude, but hilarious!). We were there for “snowzilla,” the second biggest blizzard in the history of the city, missing the record by only 1/10th of an inch. So we also got in an extra Broadway show, The School of Rock, which was superb and so much fun.

If you’ve been to Manhattan, you know the fascinating diversity of people and languages, and the heightened anticipation of never knowing what sort of image of God is going to walk around the corner. But on this trip, I was more often struck by the economy of space. I’m a person who likes space around me. In fact, it’s become a bit of a family joke. I like space around me when I sleep, when I sit on the couch, above my head and around me when I drive (which is difficult when one wants to drive an environmentally friendly car). I get uncomfortable when if feel cramped, crowded or pinned down. But when you’re on an island that's not even 23 square miles with 1.6 million of your closest friends, space is at a premium.

The corner grocery store we went to had items packed from floor to ceiling with an entire deli, salad and dessert bar packed in behind the counter. I loved walking through these stores and marveling at how many things I could buy from such a tiny space. We went to a few restaurants that were only about 12 feet wide. This didn’t stop an Ecuadorian, Indian or Chinese family from putting up six tables that could squeeze in 15 customers to delight with their homemade recipes.

The Broadway theaters we attended are small compared to our St. Louis-style events. The theaters seated 1100 or 1500 people compared to the 4500 that fill the Fox Theater or the 11,000 who can watch a Muny production in the summer. The bathrooms were tiny, our hotel room was cramped, and the counter space for our stuff was limited. We packed for three days and stayed for five, so I used my products more sparingly to make sure they lasted.

Rather than being cramped, I found in these small spaces a surprising sense of relief, even comfort. They invited me into a simplicity that evoked an expansiveness of spirit and energy which were no longer consumed by stuff and space management. I am left wondering how much valuable energy is eaten up by dealing with stuff rather than engaging in life-affirming, spirit-led relationships and engagements. An economy of space leads to an economy of energy expended.

For a Lenten practice, one of my former spiritual directors and a Benedictine nun would give away one item a day for the forty days. She always worried that she would not have enough to give away because she had already taken a vow of poverty and didn’t really have that much stuff. But she was always surprised at Easter that she did have forty items she had accumulated over the year that were not really essential to daily life. She found the release of these items freeing and spiritually renewing. I could probably give away ten things or more a day for Lent and still have more than I need, but at least I can begin.

Photo Credit: Shanna Ravindra http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/tehuitzingo-deli/

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God with Skin On

blogpic GodintheHelpersA Reflection on John 1:1-18 for the New Year

Pernicious Amnesia- that’s what my favorite seminary professor called it – we have a case of pernicious amnesia. Verse 10 of John 1 says, He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

The world did not know the Word. Pernicious amnesia - how can we forget where we came from? How do we forget we came from God, forget who we are and whose we are?

We love the story of the self-made man or woman, the rugged individualism of our culture, the pull yourself up from your boostraps, mentality as if any person came into being of their own free will and grew up without the intimate participation of dozens, if not hundreds of other people.

The new year is a time of special amnesia—we put on our Nike trainers, we have our Starbucks in hand, and we’ve got our apps to track our fitness, our to do lists, our sleep, our job, our schedules, our kids and commitments - we’ve got the world by the tail and we’re going to whip 2016 into shape.

Well, we may work hard, and that can be a wonderful thing and result in great outcomes, but none of us came into the world and got to today by the sheer force our will.
• We do not exist of our own will or merit—none of us willed our life into being;
• We do not create the air we breathe, our body’s ability to live, move, act and think'
• We did not participate in the creation of the environment in which we will live—the oxygen that keeps us alive, the soil beneath our feet, the trees that shade us or the miracle of how a tiny seed becomes the wheat or the fruit we eat.

It’s so easy to forget these basic truths about our very existence. I can pray in the morning and by lunch I’ve forgotten that my life is created and rooted in a power much, much greater than myself. Instead I’m trying to hold the earth on it’s axis while managing, mothering, manipulating everyone else’s life and work, believing it’s all up to me (no wonder I have migraines!).

That’s why it’s pernicious amnesia—because even after I remember that I came from God and will return to God and God’s in the midst everything and every moment, I forget again, many times a day, no less, and believe all of life is up to me.

Evelyn Underwood, an early 20th century mystic said it this way:
Just plain self-forgetfulness is the greatest of graces. The true relationship between the soul and God is the perfectly simple one of a childlike dependence. Well then, be simple and dependent: acknowledge once for all the plain fact that you have nothing of your own.
It’s so easy for me to forget that I have nothing of my own.

But God sees our amnesia and decided to enter our world to help us remember who we are and where we came from. So God came like a child—God came in childlike dependence to demonstrate the fundamental truth that God our Source, our Sustainer and End. God sent Godself to us to cure us of our pernicious amnesia- to help us re-member. To remember literally means “to put back together." God sent Godself to put back together our primary relationship with God who exists since the beginning of time.

John says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. We just celebrated this truth at Christmas and in all the busy-ness, the parties, the shopping, the traveling the gatherings and the gifts, we may have missed this radical thing that God is up to:

This cosmic God who is the Source and Sustainer of the universe - where there are – 200 billion stars in our solar system! Our solar system lives in a universe of galaxies; there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe! This God of 100 billion galaxies pressed Godself into human DNA, into the size of a tiny embryo and into a female uterus, which is size of a man’s fist! (I first learned this phrase from Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, a theology professor emeritus at Aquinas Institute). God clothed himself in flesh and blood and limitation and emotion and finiteness. God put on the limits of flesh and bone. The light that was God’s first creation - this light comes to us, dressed in human skin.

What do we make of this kind of God? God will go to any length to make sure that you and I know that we are born of God, loved by God and that nothing delights God more than being with us, living in us, dwelling in our humanity and daily life. God will spare no expense and no effort to communicate love to us. God will stop at nothing so that we know God’s love us and gives power to become children of God, born of the will of God (not of will of flesh or world) and we receive grace upon grace.

God came in human form so as to say “don’t’ forget!” Remember who you came from, remember who you are as my child, remember who loves you into being. The One who was In the Beginning created your beginning.

This is why we have worship every 7 days- because we forget who are. So in the beginning of the week, we remember and put back together who we are. It’s why daily prayer matters because it helps cure us of our amnesia: so that in the beginning of the day,in the beginning of a meal, in the beginning of our nights' rest, we acknowledge the Source of our life and pull ourselves back from forgetfulness. Short Daily prayers ground us in God’s love and presence - that because Jesus took on our humanity, Jesus is clothed in your humanity, in your life and work, in your relationships and actions and daily breath. The Creator of the universe has given birth to you and wraps you in love and power, in light and truth.

When we remember who we are, when we remember how we came into being, when we remember the Creator dwells with us and in us, then the world is a completely new place. Since the Word and Light and Presence of God took on the double helix of our make-up and embraced the whole human experience, we are given the gift of seeing the sacred presence of God in our daily life, our daily world—in the creation and in the people God has created and called into being.

I like to call them, “God-sightings” – places where now we can see God’s presence and work in the everyday life we share. God-sightings are where we see light, grace and truth hidden in the ordinary. Perhaps you have heard the story of the young child who's afraid of the dark. Their mom tucks them into bed and the child says, "Don't leave me because I'm scared of the dark." And the mom says, "You don't need to be afraid because Jesus is with you!" And the child says, "Yeah, but, I need Jesus with some skin on.”

That’s what God-sightings are about – seeing Jesus with some skin on. PrThe psence of God, or what the bible calls the “glory” of God is hidden inside each person. Since God arrives in a stable with the beasts, then surely God is in the flooded houses, and with the people who lost their business in our recent flooding. We see Jesus with some skin on in those who are filling sandbags and donating blood and new furnishings, those who help the re-building and donate money. Those who bring hope and light and a way to start again. A colleague shared with me that the way she tells children to see God in the midst of a crisis is to, "look for the helpers." The helpers are the ones who are Jesus with some skin on—where divine energy and light are breaking through in the world.

When we remember who we are and where we come from and see God at work in the world, then we can join John the Baptist in this Gospel reading and testify to the light. When others forget, when they suffer from amnesia, when all they can see is loss and hurt and heartache, we can say, "see the light here and the light there:  God is in the unexpected smile, the shoulder to cry on, the meal prepared and brought to your door, the friend who takes you to the doctor, the neighbors who leave their tasks and help you clean up and rebuild, the prayers offered, the love and encouragement shared." God is here and wrapped in the ordinary stuff of our daily life.

When I was in chemotherapy for breast cancer, I was just plastered to the bed with exhaustion. After one treatment, a friend came over sat on the bed with me while I rested. She would knit, and I would doze off. I would wake up and there she would be knitting. We would chat for a minute, and then I'd doze off again. I'd wake up and she would be there, knitting. I had forgotten that God was in this terrible, desolate pit with me. But this friend became for me, Jesus with skin on and knitting, helping me to re-member that I was not alone. Several years later, when I have a amnesia now, I remember how it felt to wake up and see her next to me, knitting, and it helps me remember.

In her poem, Earth’s Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Barrette Browning said,
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Earth is crammed with heaven, the very presence of God in every cell, every plant, every person. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

So, re-member, remember you are born of the will of God so you can see this ordinary life crammed full of the light and presence of the Word made flesh—that’s a new year goal worth embracing.

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The Church in Fluxx

blogpic fluxxOver Christmas break Dan and I played a card game with our kids called, Fluxx. It’s not like anything we’ve ever played before because with each play, the rules of the game shift. One is dealt five cards and when played, some of the cards change how many cards you have in your hand, how many you can play, whose hand is yours, and even changing what wins the game. The goal is not to have a flawless strategy, but to have a flexible mind that can keep adapting strategy as the game changes with each card played.

We played Fluxx two times in a row, and in both instances the winner almost accidentally won—they kind of backed into it and winning came more as a realization rather than a well-planned and executed victory. We laughed hysterically trying to keep track of the play and Dan and I both noticed that the point of the game is not the winning, but the experience of being together when everything was in flux.

Afterward, Dan and I talked about how much this game is a mirror of being church in our current culture—everything is in flux. As soon as we think we have a handle on the norms, the technology, the way to do ministry or what we expect to be doing in the next six months, it changes and we find ourselves scrambling to catch up to the latest cultural shifts.

The church that I grew up in was based on established rules, patterns and expectations; when one followed the norms, one would usually get measurable results—good worship attendance, a balanced budget, growing numbers of children in Sunday School, Confirmation and Youth programs, adults engaged as programmatic volunteers. Pastors (myself included) and church members operated with the unspoken rule that as a member of the church, you would receive competent, attentive ministry from the hired staff (pastoral care, preaching, education classes, funerals, weddings, baptisms and so one, done all to your general liking). “Good” pastors would get the measurable results named above in this almost fee-for-service model.

But now in the “postmodern” era, all of this is in flux. We have thankfully shifted our understanding of the Christian church in that ministry is not “done” by the hired pastor and staff, but takes place in the lives of the people who the staff empowers and equips. The church members are the missionaries, rather than the recipients of ministry. The community, the city, the nation and the world make up the location of the mission carried out by the laity in the local congregation. Such mission is often harder to measure than the “butts and bucks” we so love to count, share, compare, and publish in our national church directories.

I think if the young Millennial generation experienced church more like a game of Fluxx, they would be more inclined to participate in doing good in the world through it. How flexible and adaptable is our leadership? Are we willing to ditch what no longer helps people deepen their relationship with God, even though we’ve always done it that way? Do we really incorporate new ideas from younger leadership or just want them to run a committee the way the last person did it and do we even need that Committee? Can we begin to experience the power of the Spirit in ministry experimentation in our neighborhood and let go of needing measurable results that can beef up our annual report?

Jesus did this very thing when he sent out the seventy in Luke 10. They were sent into the community in pairs to experiment with sharing God’s peace, love, and healing, and to experience the power of the Spirit who responds in the moment—in the flux of daily life and changing culture.

Play a game or two of Fluxx at your next church retreat or at the beginning of your meetings throughout the New Year as a way to practice adaptive, ever-changing, frustrating, hilarious community (there is even a Christian Fluxx!). It’s the way of the 21st century and it’s already 2016. Oh, and people like being a part of communities, even churches that have fun while sharing God's love.

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Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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