Monday, October 29, 2012

No Group tonight 10/29 because of the storm

As the weather forecast becomes more certain, we'll cancel tonight's meeting and combine our discussion on this chapter with chapter 11 in November.

Eat mindfully today as you are home.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September Hospitality Highlights, looking to October

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
[S]he may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Found here.

This poem made us stop and think about hospitality to ourselves in a new way.

We had a good discussion about how we can be welcoming at church, with the reminder to all of us that we need to keep our eyes out for people who need to be greeted and welcomed and not get caught up in business. We also realized that we have to authentic in our greeting, true to who we are. We want to welcome everyone, but as a church we may not be the right fit for everyone--like people who want to get lost in the crowd and not be greeted!

October is chapter 10: what would Jesus eat? We've had wonderful shared meals--this will put us on our mettle!

We'll have three more months for this book. We had a brief discussion about what we want to do or read after this, so please be thinking about what you might want: another book, continuing the group in focusing on spiritual practices, ...

August and September

In August we were grateful for finding someone with a key to the room where we met because the meeting space we'd planned on was in use, for a busy church building where many good things are going on, and for our Angel who came to drive us to the tow yard where a couple of us had accidentally had our cars towed while meeting. It's easy to be thankful for the great things that happen, harder when called to look past the clouds and find what to be grateful for and name it the silver lining.

For a number of years, each morning just after I get up, after my morning stretches and prayers, I open a little notebook and make a list of five things that I am grateful for. Some mornings I can acknowledge friends or loved ones, little moments of grace, a particularly good thing that happened, or something wonderful that someone said or did. Other mornings it's things like the morning glories,tea, heat, sleep, or aspirin. Sometimes the list comes out pouring out quickly, and sometimes the kettle has boiled, the tea has brewed and the cup is half gone before I get to five. But I always get to at least five. The value of this practice is the way it sets the tone for my day. Starting the day with gratitude makes an incredible difference. It's practice, so that when things happen like getting your car towed you can be grateful that you have the church administrator's cell phone number and he has yours! It just makes all of life's "stuff" easier to handle.

I got the idea originally from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and I think Oprah even publicized it.  No matter—it's a wonderful practice, and I invited and invite everyone to see what a difference it can make to your day. Pick some regular time and commit to doing it. I'm a morning person, so that's when I do it. It can also be a great winding down practice for the end of your day. You can even just start with doing it as a part of your Sabbath practice. (See all of these practices really do have a cumulative effect!)

In September we are reading chapter 9 on Benedictine Hospitality, and hope that, since we're meeting on the last day of the month, that people have had a chance to practice hospitality sometime during the month!
 All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” — ST. BENEDICT            from Riess, Jana (2011-09-24). Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor (Kindle Locations 1917-1919). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.  
Someone asked me this week about the passage of scripture that inspired that part of the Benedictine Rule and I suspect it is  Job 22 or more likely Matthew 25

How do you really make people feel at home? We'll share highlights of our discussion.

Friday, July 27, 2012

July to August: Keeping Sabbath and Gratitude

Keeping the Sabbath is hard, we agreed. We don't want to give up our busy-ness.

Reflecting that, we started with this poem by Wendell Berry from Sabbaths (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987) on what happens when we don't really honor the Sabbath:

Sabbath Poem V, 1980
Six days of work are spent
To make a Sunday quiet
That Sabbath may return.
It comes in unconcern;
We cannot earn or buy it.
Suppose rest is not sent
Or comes and goes unknown,
The light, unseen, unshown.
Suppose the day begins
In wrath at circumstance,
Or anger at one’s friends
In vain self-innocence
False to the very light,
Breaking the sun in half,
Or anger at oneself
Whose controverting will
Would have the sun stand still.
The world is lost in loss
Of patience; the old curse
Returns, and is made worse
As newly justified.
In hopeless fret and fuss,
In rage at worldly plight
Creation is defied,
All order is unpropped,
All light and singing stopped.

Reflecting on the commandment:
Exodus 20.8-10 (NRSV)
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 

Other than the rules that Jana Reiss describes and breaks about the orthodox Sabbath, what does Sabbath mean to Jews who keep the Sabbath? We listened to "Shabbat, Shabbat Shalom" to get a sense of the joy of the sabbath and the peace of the sabbath that we seek.

We asked: what does it mean not to do work? What does it mean to make time for the holy in our lives? Why is it that naming someone a workaholic seems like a compliment? We realized that we struggle with this as Abraham Joshua Heschel captures in this quote:
Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, expect to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face.
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1951, p. 5)
 We fear time? Joan Chittister reflects on this in Songs of the Heart (New London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 2011) using this verse from Psalm 103 (p. 62): 
As for us, our days are like grass; We flower .. the wind blows ... We are gone.
She also shares this quote from Carl Sandburg that captures the way we clutch to time (p. 63):
Time is the only coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.
But in her chapter on the Sabbath, she quotes Alice Walker to put it in perspective (p. 99):
 Anybody can observe the Sabbath but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.
 We agreed that we know and feel the presence of the holy, often in worship and in community and in communion, and the challenge is to take that home or make it at home. We've found that to be most successful when we plan ahead to avoid the bustle of getting dinner on the table (the crock pot discussion at the beginning of our wonderful shared meal came up again!) and to sing or listen to music to bring the holy into our time and to read spiritual reading material rather than mysteries or the newspaper: the Bible, devotionals, poetry. Walks along the water and in nature also captured the holy.

We ending our Sabbath discussion listening to Serenity by Charles Ives, sung by Jan De Gaetani:
O, Sabbath rest of Galilee!
O, calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee,
the silence of eternity
Interpreted by love.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease:
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess,
the beauty of thy peace. 
by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) , "The Brewing of Soma", from The Pennsylvania Pilgrim, and Other Poems, published 1872
With one more Sunday in July, we still have an opportunity to seek and know the peace of the Sabbath and to find that holy time.

Looking Forward to August
In August we are reading chapter 8 on Gratitude. 

I recommended that people begin keeping a Gratitude Journal, something I heard about in several places a number of years ago: from reading Simple Abundance; from the research done on the effects of gratitude; and even from Oprah. What I know that writing the five things I'm grateful for each morning reframes my day and has made an enormous difference in my life. 

And I am especially grateful for all who are participating or have participated in this book group!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

June to July: Centering Prayer -> Keeping Sabbath

Some people had success with centering prayer and others did not.
Some long-time meditators in the group liked the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner) while that prayer didn't resonate with others. We listened to the audio of the how-to video from Thomas Keating.
Centering Prayer Guidelines
Thomas Keating

Guideline 1
Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. (Examples: Peace; Be still; Shalom; Jesus; I surrender; God is love)

Guideline 2
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within. 

Guideline 3
When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.

We did centering prayer together. We found that Centering Prayer seemed more "successful" when done in a group, than when done at home. This is consistent with what we've discovered each time: our spiritual practices are better supported in community. We decided to include a time of centering prayer in our next session.

Thinking about Sabbath
In July we are talking about ch. 7, keeping the Sabbath, so, in the next couple of weeks, can you try to keep a Sabbath--even a half day (start small and work up?). What does it mean to you in your life to give up the busyness of the world and focus on rest and restoration and the holy?

Blessings on all of you as you travel and as you stay home and as you keep the Sabbath and a holy time for God in your lives.

Monday, June 11, 2012

May: Simplicity-> June: Centering Prayer

We started our May meeting with a reading from Joan Chittister's The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer, #34 on Simplicity. 
She starts with this quote by St. Francis de Sales:
If the heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master's presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in our Lord's presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour will be very well employed.
 Then she says: "One of the most difficult dimensions of beginning to live a life of prayer [and I would add, any spiritual practice] is to begin it all. What can any of us do that will possibly bridge the gap in life between the self and God?" p.107

The question that the chapter on Nixing Shoppertainment prompted for us:
How does the stuff in your life get in the way of your relationship to God?
There is a void we're trying to fill. We were reminded of the song that started the sermon on January 29. (You can listen to the song in the audio: "There is a longing in our hearts, O God...")

After much discussion, we asked the question: "Who do you know who lives a simple life and what do they do?" The answer: "They do things for others.

Someone recalled a hymn from childhood, Others sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford. "Help me to live for others, that I may live like Thee." We discussed volunteering as a option to shopping and it for you?

Favorite lines from this chapter:
This austerity doesn’t resemble the joyfully simple life I am craving. It also doesn’t sound much like a life Jesus would prescribe; after all, the guy’s inaugural miracle occurred at a party where he turned water into wine. Jesus was hardly a killjoy.
Riess, Jana (2011-09-24). Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor (Kindle Locations 1036-1038). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.
When I ponder this, the point of this month’s practice hits me: it’s not just about curbing materialism, though that’s a good thing, or even about not coveting. It’s about taking some choices out of the mix, of letting God’s guidance dictate the basic contours of what I will and won’t do. I’m not just reducing physical clutter by not shopping; I need to reduce spiritual clutter by becoming the kind of Christian who does not covet. I’m going to get off the more, more, more treadmill and set spiritual limits in order to cultivate simplicity. Eureka!
Riess, Jana (2011-09-24). Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor (Kindle Locations 1139-1143). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.

Centering Prayer
In June, we're looking at Centering Prayer as a spiritual practice, based on the work of Thomas Keating. You can visit his website,

or watch a short video about the guidelines of centering prayer by Thomas Keating.

or see a longer video series featuring Cynthia Bourgeault: 

Part 1: Overview of the Foundations and Method of Centering Prayer
Part 2: Attention of the Heart
Part 3: Putting the Mind in the Heart

Her work is featured at this website.

The doodle to set the date for our June meeting is going out, and I look forward to how the Spirit will prompt us.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

April Lectio, May Simplicity

In April, we did some lectio divina together. Some people had success in doing it alone, but we found it helpful to do it together. I shared that I had done lectio divina on the passage that I used as a guest preacher the Sunday after Easter, that my ear and heart had been struck by Jesus' repetition of "Peace be with you," as he appeared to the disciples and later to Thomas after his resurrection.

May's chapter in Flunking Sainthood is called "Nixing Shoppertainment" and is about simplifying the "stuff" that you think you need in your life. Some people have already told me that they are thinking of skipping this chapter because other people have told them that they have the opposite problem: they are already too frugal. Since Jana Reiss talks about the "Competitive Frugality" contests that she has when she gets together with her family, I think that this may not be the direction we need to worry about. She's reading Richard Foster's book, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, and he is clear that simplicity is more complicated than just being frugal.
Perhaps no work is more foundational to the individual embodying Christian simplicity in the world than our becoming comfortable in our own skin. The less comfortable we are with ourselves, the more we will look to things around us for comfort. The more assured we are with ourselves, the less assurance we will need from things outside us. (Riess, Jana (2011-09-24). Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor (Kindle Locations 1087-1089). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.)
What other ways might we practice simplicity, if it's not just about resisting the temptation of material "things" that bring us feelings of comfort or self-worth? Can being too frugal be a "hair-shirt" that makes us proud and would our pride be something that gets in the way of our relationship with God?

So, join us for this discussion, perhaps yet another discussion of the things that get in our way of a relationship with God.