Category Archives: Daily Insights

Life from Death

It was so uplifting Saturday to be at a regional meeting of church folk (a.k.a. a Presbytery meeting).  I know!  If you’ve ever been to one, then it may not seem a credible statement.  But it was for me.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reflection lately on the church, contemporary culture, and change.  In many ways, it’s been my passion for the past decade.  Inevitably, it leaves me wondering often about what of the church needs to die.  I dream too about what might be able to grow if in fact those within the church (like me) let go of what we’ve always known.  It’s scary.  It calls me to dig deeper into that vow to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

I used to care about needed changes in the church for reasons like job security, and to ease my frustration over things that drive me bonkers about the church, and to create ways that might be easier on all.  The deeper I go in it, the more I see that I care because my own life is full of all sorts of people who I love immensely and who want nothing to do with communities of faith in which I have lived my whole life.  Many of the folks in my life used to want to be a part; but for whatever reason, they no longer can be.  Some have been burned badly, or been raised with terrible theology that still haunts them, or find themselves totally bored in worship by things that seem absolutely irrelevant to daily life.  I even find active church folks who desperately want something different, something more; but don’t have the foggiest idea what that looks like or how to get there.  Of course, I know there always will be people who aren’t at all interested.  They never have been and they likely never will be.

My heart breaks for us all.

Just to be clear:  I think it’s wise to turn away from a people who label themselves with Jesus’ name but act like the antithesis.  I think it’s tragic to feel isolated or lonely or unloved or unlovable and have no community to turn t0 — especially because some expressions of church today are at their best and do offer the needed healing balm.  I think it’s deplorable to be seeking — or worse yet:  to already have connected deeply to the Life Force — only to be told that such things are NOT of God (which, in fact, they are!  The Divine is about the journey of awe and wonder; not certainty and fact).   I think it’s sense-less that the hearts of a people who claim the name Jesus aren’t breaking for the eclectic array of people Jesus went out of his way to welcome home.  It’s not ok to me for people to be unaware that they are beautiful, cherished treasures.  And it’s even worse to me for any to be deemed unacceptable by others who believe they know.

Recently I saw an amazing clip on The Work of the People in which Rachel Held Evans made a matter of fact statement that rocked me to the core:  “Empires worry about death.  Gardeners do not worry about death”  (To watch the clip go to http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/creating-something-new).  A few day later I watched a clip by John Philip Newell on “Dreaming Forward” (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/dream-forward).  Newell quoted the Dalai Lama regarding hope for the future.  He said:  “‘Of course I believe there is hope for the future.  The future hasn’t happened yet.'”  My mind once again blown, I went off to the Presbytery meeting Saturday where we heard from three different young adult women (interestingly all were women) who spoke passionately about the meaning they have been finding for life through their involvement in Presbyterian Campus Ministries.  They have connected with others and that which is beyond, they have built relationships and learned from those much different from themselves, they have helped the hurting and shown love to those battered by life.  I left that meeting so excited that these young women are the church today:  the future hope in our midst.  The people who passionately and honestly seek to follow the Way of Love.  Ones who want to make a difference in others lives, not just seek to have their own needs met.

Maybe it’s just a handful and maybe as they get older the flame will fade.

Or maybe . . . just maybe, their lives (and the fruit of who they are) are the new growth.  And maybe, just maybe, all can learn a thing or two from them as we seek to breakdown in ourselves the walls of cynicism, self-focus, and indifference.

Then . . . maybe, just maybe, our own fresh growth will unfurl under the blazing sunshine in the grand garden of this world.

Here’s hoping . . . here’s to hoping!

 

Peace & Love prevail,

RevJule

 

Alternatives

“Having studied . . . theologians who could not bend, his faith was shattered when the storms of life overwhelmed his doctrine. . . . He never saw an alternative to the God of the inflexible doctrines he learned.”

(A summary of Pastor Wilmot in John Updike’s book In the Beauty of the Lilies.)

I am loving this quote today! I hope that you have encountered the God that is far beyond all of our inflexible doctrines! It’s a hard way to have to learn to be open, but it is a beautiful, joyous journey into the Great Mystery!

RevJule

Step One

This morning I was reminded how important step one is.

I started running again. It’s been a few years since this was my daily obsession, but I have been determined to re-start. I was doing pretty well all summer, until my time and energy got consumed by a recent move. Today wasn’t my first run in the new neighborhood. I’ve been out there a few mornings in the past couple weeks. But it was the first one this week – the first one in several days due to an overflowing September schedule. It also was my first Monday morning run from the new house – which is significant because Sundays tend to tire out this preacher.

I’ve finally figured out what the new running route will be. It took a few attempts because this new neighborhood is (an understatement) hilly. No matter which way I go, there either will be an immediate incline or a slow and steady rise. I’ve settled on the immediate incline that I walk up as my warm-up. Of course most running mornings, I’ve already been up the hill and back once on a walk with my little dog, as was the case this morning. When I went back out without him, I got to the top of the immediate incline and found myself not quite ready to start. Agh. It was mind over matter. I had to force my right foot to take the first stride, then left, then right, then left, literally willing myself on for quite some time. I could feel the weariness everywhere. And I noticed for the first time on this route that the immediate incline turns into a slow and steady ascent all the way to the end of the street. Agh. Agh!

Step one. For lots of reasons this morning, it was particularly difficult. As was step two and three that followed – a reminder that sometimes it just is.

I reflected upon a poem recently that was called Start Close In (by David Whyte). The wisdom it imparted was to just begin. There is no need to fret first over step two and three and fifty-six if we never take step one.

How often is life like that?

What step one do I need to take . . . not on a running route but in my work? In my relationships? In chasing my dreams?

What ones do you?

Only begin. Even if it takes mind over matter, even if you don’t know where the road will lead, even if you worry that way won’t unfold beneath your feet. (BTW: it will!)

Take your first step. The adventure of your lifetime will not begin without it!

Step one. Only begin.

@ Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

Breathe

This has been my morning reminder:

Breathe

BREATHE deeply for best results!

Every time I see this, I’m reminded that the shower isn’t the only place where this is true.  In many ways, it is THE truth of life.  For best results, breathe deeply.  Often.  Daily.  Especially when you think you have no time for it.

I am spending eight days with 30 clergy persons of the PCUSA.  We are at a beautiful retreat center and are being treated way better than some of us are treated back home in our ministry contexts each day.  It is a unique time to breathe.  We who seek to teach others to do so for life in abundance seldom seem to take time to do so ourselves. We are at risk!

We have gathered mid-way into careers of ministry in order to reflect upon who we are, where we are, and what God is calling us to be in the world in the future.  It has been an amazing chance to breathe.  To be reminded by our faculty that we are more than pastors to those in endless need.  We are companions of partners on this journey.  We are fathers and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and children to our own moms and dads too.  We are friends and lovers; creators and contemplators; dreamers and dancers throughout every aspect of life.  We are more than Reverends.  We are those seeking to be significant more than successful.  We have commitments that transcend that which we are to give to the church.  We are baptized disciples too who put God first as we tread upon this earth.

We must breathe deeply for best results!

Breathing clears a space.  Breathing re-connects us to self, and the Holy, and others.  Deep breathing allows me to hear.  To listen to my heart instead of the old, unhelpful tapes in my head.  To hear the calm, peace, and joy deep within.  To know all is, and shall be, well.

A few of us here are hearing GRAND DREAMS that will bring new life to this world.  A few of us are being reminded of our names.  A few of us are being healed from the wearying pace and precarious predicaments of professional ministry.  One even is gathering the strength to return home to her dying husband and demanding congregation.  . . .  Breathe.  Deeply.  Often.  For best results, open a space for the Breath of Life to get in.  It’s not just for clergy.  It’s for us all!
Praises Be!!!

RevJule

Some views as I breathe . . .

IMG_3951                    IMG_3965

IMG_3952          And even a reminder:       IMG_3964

© Copyright JMN — 2015  (All rights reserved.)

Serenity among the Sisters

On a recent trip back to the monastery, I tried to be extra holy.

The group of wonderful women I was with left a bit before me. In the remaining hour before our stated departure, I walked to the cemetery on the monastery grounds. I still remember the time I came upon it on my first visit to the monastery. I was in awe! Even in death, these sisters hold each other. I was moved by the deep commitment of stability – a commitment unique to the orders of Saint Benedict. This latest visit was my first experience of taking a church group with me to this sacred spot. I was so impressed – not to mentioned amazingly enlightened – when one sister of the monastery spent about two hours with us explaining everything from why it’s called a monastery when it’s a group of sisters (monastery comes from the word monk, which means one who single-heartedly seeks after God), to how decisions are made among them, to what their connection to Rome is. (BTW: A monastery is a group of those who vow to single-heartedly seek after God. And a convent (think convention) is the living quarters for those who have taken monastic vows to live together in a single-hearted search for God.) I loved how the sister talked about the vow to stay with the other monastics of her community. If one of them is getting on her nerves, she remembers how aspects of her personality certainly must get on the nerves of the others; and yet they practice patience, forgiveness, and forbearance with her. Perhaps she can practice a little of the same with those who irritate her most. I loved how she talked of consultations. Though they elect a prioress to be their leader (after all, they’re like a family living together but without a stated mom or dad to be in charge – someone has to be empowered to decide who will take out the garbage and who needs one of the few private bathrooms of their recently renovated living quarters). Still, for certain matters, it’s a regular practice to consult all the sisters of their community in order to hear what they have discerned. In the end, the prioress they have chosen due to the gifts and abilities they see in her makes final decisions. But she doesn’t do so without the mutual input of all the sisters. Mutual respect and responsibility are norms among them. In fact, Saint Benedict (in his 5th Century Rule) charges the community to listen for the youngest voice among them as the voice that often bears the wisdom of God. . . . I was reminded (on this trip among incredibly wise church women who have lived through the ultimate highs and lows of life) that sometimes the youngest voice might have discerned well. And sometimes we need to be quiet to listen to the strength and perseverance and deep, deep wisdom of the sisters who have gone before us. It wasn’t just the monastic sisters who had lived long and discerned well the presence of God in their lives. It was the women of the church who traveled there with me who were bunking right down the hall from me in the retreat center. They are the bearers of immense wisdom, the overcomers of unbelievable circumstances, the champions of a grace that somehow carries us through. I was honored to be in their presence – even if only for 24ish hours.

And so, when they departed, I thought I’d take a walk to the sisters’ cemetery. Just to be reminded of the way the sisters of the monastery hold each other – even in death. It was a time of solitude. Quiet to connect with God. My heart and mind were so open from such a wonderful overnight with such amazing women in such an incredible place. And so, I found myself at the foot of the crucified Christ in the cemetery. I was raised Protestant with very few statues, icons, or visual representations of Christ. In theory we’re much more about the resurrection than the crucifixion so the crosses I’ve known are empty – not occupied by a bloodied body. Still, there I was at the foot of the crucified Christ. It was obvious to me that the sisters of the monastery found the depiction meaningful enough to have such a statue perpetually overlooking them – even in death. So, in my last few minutes at the monastery, I thought it might do me well to look full into the face of the crucified Christ to see what wisdom he too might have to share. I closed my eyes. I concentrated on my breathing. I did everything I always teach and practice in order to enter that quiet place where Spirit often speaks. I looked up into his face to gaze upon him while I waited for whatever word he might have for me.

And then I felt it.

OUCH! A sharp, violent pain at my ankle. And then another. My eyes darted down from the face of the crucified Christ to the spot on which I stood.

A hill of angry ants.

Agh. My shoes were filled with them as a few began their ascent up my shins.

I’m still not sure what to make of it. My final attempts at serenity in such an amazing place. I spent those last moments swatting ants – squashing any that clung too tight. A violent defense. Not one of my finer moments. I pray to God none of the sisters saw me.

What does it mean? Be sure to look before you launch into a sacred sign that’s new to you? Know that the crucified Christ is a reminder that we too might suffer? Don’t go traipsing off-trail in Alabama with your eyes shut because you never do know when you’ll come upon an ant hill – or something worse? Remember that serene centeredness easily can be interrupted by self-protection? All of the above or something else?

I’m still not sure of the final lesson. All I know was that I was hoping for some great insight at the foot of that crucified Christ who was there overlooking the eons of sisters who have given their lives for his sake. After every last ant was gone from me, I was left with the amusing mystery of this place in which we live, move, and try to connect with the Great Being. Perhaps the best lesson is to watch where you’re going. And when you get pulled off-center by a hill of angry ants, try not to take it all so seriously. I never did look back into the face of that crucified Christ. But if I did, I have a feeling the torment on his face would have turned to a radiant, giggling smile.

Enjoy the journey! After all, he did!

RevJule

An Anniversary

1 June 2015

Eighteen year ago today, I knelt at the foot of the chancel in a Christian sanctuary (not too far from where I live today). I felt the weight of it all upon me. The elders of the church, at long last, laying hands upon me and praying over me to confer on me all the responsibilities (and a few rights, I guess) of the ordained Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. It had been a lifetime in the making – literally from childhood on trying to make sense of this odd God who was ever-so-present to me since the beaches of my childhood, through the turmoil of being a teen, to the challenges of being a young adult who was trying to find her way. It was seven official years since the call to professional ministry to the moment I was commissioned with the laying on of hands and prayers and charges to tend the spirits of God’s people well even as I tended my own. How can it be that it was just yesterday and yet a lifetime ago? I already had been working professionally in the church for three years prior to that day. Which makes it nearly two decades of day after day: praying for the people of God, listening to them, doing my best to remind them of God’s peace and hope and plans for a world re-created in pure love and joy and forgiveness. It has been a long time since I first said yes to all those vows. To seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in love of neighbors and work that reconciles the world. To serve with energy and intelligence and imagination and love. To proclaim good news in Word and Sacred Sign – teaching all to trust a little deeper and live a little bit more according to Christ’s love and justice. . . . Eighteen years ago today and I want to believe I have done all I could to be faithful to these vows. In sickness and sorrow, in times of depletion and distress, when I was riding high on the waves of joy and crashing to the bottom where God’s grace more fully could be found; I have known days of deep darkness and moments of amazing awe – and been alongside God’s people in the same. I can’t remember the wide-eyed, passion-filled youngster who enthusiastically said: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I can’t remember the pastor heavy-laden with toil and tears and fatigue. What I do know is that I am wiser now. I am more open and ever-so-much more in love. I am not overwhelmed by the challenges we face in being the body of Christ for this day. I am excited about the journey – not just for the destination, but for the wonder and reliance it brings each day! For the ways we must show up today in body, mind, and spirit for the sake of all in this world. Thanks be to God for eighteen amazing years! Eighteen years of amazing people and experiences and growth. After all this time, I still answer: Yes!

Alllelu!

And Amen — RevJule

Overloaded

mount_nacheesmo (2)I’m thinking plates. Electrical outlets. Suitcases. You know: anything we have the tendency to overload. Keep putting more on/in and before you know it: boom! A seam splits. The current is cut. The airline charges you an extra $100 overweight fee.

A few months ago I was meeting a nun for a spiritual direction session that was to be followed by body work. I told her all about the painting I started. The book I began writing. The blog to which I tried to post each week. Not to mention, in those very moments, I was preparing to attend the first of six spiritual direction training intensives followed by three months of beginning to work dreams in a clergy dream group. I was like a kid in a candy shop who finally found her professional life manageable enough that personal pursuits were once again possible. I had taken up yoga. I got back to working out each day. I even started juicing fruits and vegetables for breakfast every morning. The sister and I had a wonderful conversation about all the amazing ways life was opening up before me. Then, I got on the massage table to have my energy read as the first part of a healing touch exercise. After our conversation, she was more than a bit puzzled that my creative energy was closed.

I wasn’t. It was a gentle wake up call. A reminder to re-prioritize. You see, I finally am in professional work that allows enough energy and time to put towards personal, creative endeavors. And little by little, it all had become a chore. Not something to look forward to each week when my regular day of Sabbath rest rolled around; but tasks on a list that I have to accomplish by certain, set deadlines. I was starting to dread Sabbath instead of welcoming it as the blessed gift of renewal it is meant to be.

We might be able to pull a fast-one on a nun who really doesn’t know us well, but the instrument in which we live our daily lives – our bodies, minds, and spirits – cannot be fooled. My personal life, with all the possible creative pursuits, has become overloaded.

I admit: I’ve felt guilty about it. There are so many wonderful things I want to do these days. So much I want to undertake in hopes of putting something beautiful and inspiring and helpful out into the world. And then I remember all the over-stuffed suit cases with which I’ve tried to travel the world. The mounded plates from buffet tables I’ve done my best to consume. Balance remains my life-long struggle.

I’ve put down the paint brush, at least for now. I think words are more my gift than acrylics. The dream work commitment soon will come to an end and I am re-thinking how I might use that time instead. Perhaps for more journaling and blogging or getting on with chapter ten of the book. Finally I’ve decided that if I have to do as much reading as I must for spiritual direction training, I will NOT choose to read the 500 page Jungian analysis book just because I already own it. I ordered Thomas Merton instead today. And Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Keating. Only one of the three is required, but how can one resist the beautiful insights of such iconic, spiritual gurus?!

The balancing act continues.

How about you: how are you doing on NOT overloading?

Keep in mind the wisdom from one of my favorite refrigerator magnets: Only a field that lies fallow will produce great fruit!

In other words, pick one or two favorites and remember to rest really well too!

-RevJule