Spiritual Deepening: Prayer on the Move, Taize, & Podcasts

taize2_orig

My spiritual life has been morphing and changing these past months.  Some of you may have noticed the Morning Reflections are much more sporadic.  Well good news! I have settled into a new routine and want to share.

My normal routine used to be the Daily Office, silence, and reflection at home each morning culminating into a written reflection.

Now because of a variety of reasons, all that has needed to change.  Part of it is no longer having a backyard so the dog can entertain himself with squirrels in the morning.  When you add the dog walk, the 35 minute commute to work, and the demands of a very busy job, an extended time of reflection at dawn is no longer feasible.

The new routine includes a lot of podcasts in the car while driving to work.  Prayer on the move!  It is also a wonderful leaning on the community for help.  In a very ancient practice, I no longer read the scripture, but am read to.  I listen in a different way – a more profound way.

And with the help of the community from Taize, I feel connected to the one, universal Church in deeper and profound ways as well.  My morning with the Taize podcast, often Monday, is a time of being showered by different languages, accents, and sounds.  I am gently reminded our community is so far greater than that which is understood.  I learn about the mystery of God at work.  Speaking a bit of French also has helped me, but when they read in German or whatever, I am not only transported in mind and spirit, I am  reminded about their aim to simplified readings that barely need a translation for the Spirit to shine through.

While I use a variety of podcasts during the week, including the Compline Service from St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle, the sermons from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Westminster Abbey, and the Audio Daily Office from the Trinity Mission, it is my time weekly with Taize that often opens up the world in a whole new light.

One of the joys of the Taize community, and it is reflected in the podcasts, is their commitment to inclusive worship that includes a very diverse and international set of visitors on any given week at their monastery in rural France.  This means that most of the readings are in multiple languages, normatively French, English, German, and then either Portuguese, Spanish or Korean, depending on the visitors that week.

The singing is often kept simple for the congregation with us singing in Latin or Greek, with repetitive sung phrases like “Alleluia” for the congregation as the verses are offered in different languages by the brothers.  The music actually is quite complex, but that is added in layers over time, broadened by the brothers themselves, who sit at the center of the congregation at worship, and almost function like a choir leading the people deeper into the heart of Christ.

And yet the simply responses allow and encourage me to join in, and I find myself singing along with them as I hurdle down the highway from Perrysburg to Findlay.

Below (I am hoping this works) I embedded the podcast from taize.fr for June 5, 2019.  It is a good example of these worshipful elements that transport me.

If you have any podcasts that have become spiritually enriching to you, or other spiritual practices you or your church are using, I would encourage you to share that in the comment section (or my replying to this email).

May God enliven your summer mornings.  And may the scripture come alive in you in whatever way God is calling you.  Find a rhythm that works and gets you in rhythm with God, and then share it with others.

-Matt

Advertisements

More than 500 Tornadoes

tornado-1193184_960_720

Ezek. 1:28-3:3Heb. 4:14-5:6Luke 9:28-36

Some of you may have seen the coverage of the recent tornado in Celina, Ohio, part of the jurisdiction of Maumee Valley Presbytery.  We begin recovery efforts to the devastating effects of the tornado, like they have been in Shelby, and similar to the recovery from flooding at the Delphos church.

The storms are widespread.  Climate extremes are saying it lightly.  The flooding across the country is almost too much to imagine, especially in places that hold special people and a special place in my heart like Oklahoma and Arkansas.

I was recently written up in the Presbyterian News Service as they covered the recent disaster in our area.  https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/pda-is-sending-teams-and-resources-in-wake-of-severe-weather-outbreak/

One phrase jumped out: “More than 500 tornadoes have been reported in the past 30 days across the country”

Creation is crying out.  None of this extreme weather is normal.  We have failed to be good stewards of the earth that was entrusted to our care, and now the earth is moaning.  May God grace us the grace not only to respond to those caught in the recent storm chaos, but to look beyond our immediate needs to the greater challenges of climate change.

The passage today from Ezekiel paints a graphic picture – the vivid picture of someone with a wide-open mouth eating a scroll from God.  The rebellious house of Israel, refusing to hear the words from God, is now given a prophet that is having to eat God’s own words.

Upon first reading this may sound a lot like “eating one’s own words” but by story’s end we realize the words taste sweet as honey, and it turns out for Ezekiel this may be a comforting image.  He is given God’s word.  He is not alone responding to the deep failings of the people.

Even more so, God’s Word is able to spread, and he is presented with the comfort of God’s abiding presence – given words to say to this rebellious and disobedient people.

I pray that we wake up to the catastrophic effects of climate change, and we start speaking, with the boldness of Ezekiel to our rebellious and troubled times.  There is no time to be a climate denier and stick your head in the sand.  Now is the time to listen to the experts, trust facts, and listen to what the earth is telling us, a planet that in the second creation story was given and entrusted to our care.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the groanings of the earth on which we live.   We can no longer be satisfied with cursory readings of God’s Word, but need to read deeply and be profoundly moved daily to action.  We can no longer hope that others will act while we sit idly by.

Sometimes I hear people offer their “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” on social media.  And while I am not saying we shouldn’t pray, I am going to point out that all good prayer leads to action.  And if no action was taken, I am suspecting there was no real prayer to begin with.  It is “thoughts and lies”, not “thoughts and prayers” that were offered.

May each one of us eat the scroll that is offered to us today.

And may that dose of God’s Word awaken our spirits and transform our lives, activating our hands and hearts into action.

-Matt

Submission and Selflessness

rice-plantation-1822444_1280

Wisdom 4:16-5:8Col. 1:24-2:7Luke 6:27-38

For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading in Colossians.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand.  His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.

Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.”  He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.

As I travel throughout Maumee Valley Presbytery, I encounter many who are pouring their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ.  It is overwhelming some days.  To me it is a sign of the resurrection.  The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that is see gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds in South America and Africa.  It will not surprise you to hear the same has not been the case in North America.  And despite the rumors, the “mega” churches are not growing either.  They come.  They go.  The data supports they are similar to mainline churches – slowly trending downward.

But not so in South America and Africa!  The Church is experiencing growth – profound growth.  And no, it is not “contemporary worship” that gets the headlines.  Which churches are growing?  It is the Roman Catholic Church.  It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing.  Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out.  Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the prosperity gospel phenomena we see in America.  The Orthodox Church in the USA is growing.  Megachurches are in slow decline.  Those are the facts. 

I believe much of this has to do with commitment to the Holy Spirit at work.  We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication.  Many in our culture value individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk.  This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.

So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset.  Perhaps God needs to prune us a little.  Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit.  It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us.  It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.

I see that happening in Maumee Valley.

I see a number of our churches flourishing in ministry and mission.  That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members.  I am thankful – not for the daring and bold new initiatives – but for the submission and selflessness that I see.  I am most thankful when I see servanthood.  I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and they mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world.

At the presbytery meeting we will hear some of the stories of this daring dedication.  Come and see!  3pm.  Tuesday.  Waterville.

-Matt

CHOSEN and Thankful

food-4185324_1280.jpg

Wisdom 3:1-9Col 1:15-23Luke 6:12-26

Presbyterians baptize children.  In doing so we talk constantly about how God has CHOSEN us.  It is God who chooses, God who directs, God who initiates our welcome to a new life, God who claims us in baptism as his own.

God choosing to be our God is a constant theme in the Bible.

Today in Luke, Jesus chooses the twelve disciples.  Already our ears should perk up.

Jesus goes to the mountain to pray, spending the whole night in prayer.  When day breaks, he calls all the disciples together and chooses from among them twelve, and he names those twelve apostles.

What has God chosen you for?  What spiritual gifts intersect with the world’s needs, and where are you serving God’s kingdom?  How are you a disciple?

There are a couple of details that jump out at me in this story.  The first is the altering of the name from disciple to apostle.  It becomes clear that those who are “apostles” have special spiritual gifts, perhaps for leadership.  One can still be a disciple!  There is no “NO” in this selection.  Yes to some, and a double Yes to others.

Another curious element of this passage is its reliance on the sovereign judgment of God.  This passage is very Presbyterian!  In many non-Presbyterian churches the preaching these days focuses on how we have to “choose Jesus”.  Time and time again, scripture attests to God choosing us.  Being a Jew wasn’t something one chose, but something one was born with.  “These are my people…this is my story.”

Here Jesus chooses.  There is no indication of how or why, but we come to know why.  They do not possess amazing integrity or character.  They are not rich and do not particularly have deep connections in top places, able to get good underwriters for their ventures.  No, they were ordinary men.  They were much like you and me.

But God saw something special in them.  Mass appeal.  Future leadership potential.  Ordinary folk from ordinary walks of life who could reach out to others.  Whatever you want to call it.  Heck, it could have been you and me.  Oh my goodness….it is!

That is the good news in all of this: YOU TOO ARE CHOSEN BY GOD.  To what I am not sure.  But you are chosen and loved by God.  The question is what are you going to do with it?

-Matt

A New Lens

streets-2278471_1280

Wisdom 1:16-2:11,21-24Col. 1:1-14Luke 6:1-11

After an extended gap for Morning Reflections, I return.  Part of the issue has been settling into a new morning routine – living in a small apartment with a dog, extended morning walks, commute to work, etc.  It is also the demands of a new job, relationships to foster, procedures to get to know.

With normal routines out the window, it is not going to surprise you that observing a Sabbath day was getting more and more difficult.  It was moving around, sometimes not happening very well, and generally my schedule was all over the map.

I had to laugh then when I turned to our passages this morning only to discover Jesus breaking the Sabbath – and quite deliberately to make a point!

Jesus cures on the Sabbath.  He teaches on the Sabbath.  He allows his disciples to pluck heads of grain and eat the grain.  All this is considered work.

Jesus ends one of the conversations with: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus also reinterprets the entirety of the Law.  No longer is the Law meant to restrict, but to set free.  It is not that the Law is obsolete, but must always be read through the lens of love.  And so, in that respect, we are not to focus on the fact that these heads of grain are being plucked (i.e. work) and that they are most probably stolen from a field that is not theirs.  Instead we are to focus on their hunger, and God’s desire to provide for us in times of need.

It is with this spirit that Colossians begins.  “We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord.”

In our culture of instant gratification, patience is not much of a virtue.  But the Christian life demands it.  Coming to a knowledge of God’s will and cultivating wisdom are lifelong endeavors.

More than that, we are not asked to pick up our Bibles and check our minds at the door, but to wrestle with the struggles of the Law and love.  We are meant to breathe it in deeply and come to wisdom and understanding.

This is not an easy endeavor, but one that requires patience and fortitude.  It also requires a certain counter-cultural deliberateness.  Looking through a lens of love changes things!  To lead lives worthy of the Lord means turning from what the world says is important, to what God deems important.  

I wonder how this is true in your life.  From what do you need to turn to find spiritual health?  Money?  The tyranny of the clock?  An abusive relationship?

Whatever it is, I pray that God dwells in you richly, and that your hunger is satisfied by the Bread of Life.

-Matt

God’s YES Will Overcome

crown-of-thorns-2641239_1280.jpg

Jer. 17:5-10, 14-17Phil. 4:1-13John 12:27-36

Notre Dame Cathedral burns.  Damaged.  But still standing.  Many of us were deeply moved as we watched, and relieved to find out the organ is intact, much of the structure, some windows, etc.

Dan Rather put it well: “Why has the burning of Notre Dame moved so many?  Because we believe in beauty, majesty, faith, art, history, and the human expressions thereof.  We recognize in this cathedral our common humanity.  A scar now emerges in our connection to our past, our future, and each other.”

And yet I grieve that the 3 burning black churches in Louisiana recently did not get nearly the news coverage.  And why?  One struck at the beauty and majesty that we know humanity can achieve.  The other highlights the hideous hate crime of one, but the racial underbelly of our culture.  We turn from images of our own destructiveness and as we bury it, it only serves to emerge as another layer to our racist past/present.

I think coming to terms with our past and God’s new future that he intends for us remains elusive.

In John’s gospel, Jesus cries out, “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”  Then later: “Now is the judgment of this world…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  Judgment is promised.

And yet today the heart of the Good News comes.

Here we are in Holy Week, but already seeping through the cracks of the story are very powerful indicators of God’s GOOD NEWS.  Despite our shortcomings, it appears that by being washed in the blood of the lamb, we will be drawn into favor with God.  And not just us….but all people.

In today’s story we discover that hope is present.  Love will reign.  And God’s broad net of inclusive love will touch us all, and wipe away our tears.  That goes for Judas.  That goes for the white terrorist in Louisiana.  That goes for all people as we seek to move past the racial injustices of our land.

In Philippians we hear one of Paul’s famous exhortations: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice….  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

And so here we are in Holy Week.  And we turn to the heart of the story to deeply listen for God’s Word to us again.  This week is ALL ABOUT listening to the Spirit, and trying to not listen to what society is telling us.  That is why Paul insists, “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  This is a battle!  Coming to know and understand God’s “Yes’s” in a world of “No’s” is not easy.

Moving in that direction is a challenge.  But with the power of God’s YES, we too can overcome hatred, heartbreak, cynicism, and injustice everywhere.  We can witness to our common humanity, and experience the power of God drawing us together into a New Body.

-Matt

That Little Spring – Part II

IMG_4596.JPG

When I was asked to be part of a consultation team for World Mission in the PC(USA) I didn’t know what to expect.

The Synod of the Covenant sent me as part of the US Northeast Consultation.  It was a time to focus on the strategy and communication patterns we use in World Mission, how we organize mission, and how we can be more effective at connecting into the Holy Spirit’s work.

In addition to the radical hospitality of the Stony Point Center where it was held in New York (which I talked about in yesterday’s reflection), I also engaged with so many people in our denomination who love World Mission too, and see the powerful connection we can have with the Spirit if we can deeply relate to one another around the world.

It was an extraordinary time of connection.

56478649_2881119611900025_90890613314027520_n

The first connection was with those who often work behind the scenes and get little of the credit.  They are those huge hearts and hard workers for World Mission at our denominational headquarters in Louisville.  They resource and provide their expertise to the mission co-workers around the globe and to those of us in PCUSA congregations and mid-councils.  People like Jieun Han and Tamron Keith are the life-blood of our national office, particularly for World Mission, providing essential links of communication and HR support.

56732702_2881125518566101_8694528534695116800_o.jpgTake Tamron, for instance, (pictured above to the right) who as Associate Director for World Mission works in operations management and budget development.  His kind of operational leadership is essential, for instance with international properties and assisting in navigating  international law and equipping mission co-workers in various countries with the resources they need.  He also oversees the Young Adult Volunteer program, which plants and cultivates seeds in young hearts and minds, like Sarah Chancellor-Watson, who many of my readers know not as a former YAV to Peru, but as what she did after that experience – come to First Pres in Oklahoma City as our Dir of Children and Youth Activities.  Sarah is now the Associate Pastor of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans.  The Young Adult Program nurtures leaders.

Another essential piece of our Mission together is Jieun, without whom our event would not have happened.  She draws hearts and minds together.  Thank you Jieun for drawing me in! (Top picture, front, right.  Second pic, right)

56702312_2881120681899918_2146329152200900608_oOur time together was an opportunity to listen deeply to one another.  We came to understand the continued need for solidarity and mutuality as we move forward together in Mission, and what deep partnerships will look like in 2020 and beyond.

In many respects I came to understand our need to practice boldness in this fearful world of ours.  I also came to see how we often are operating from FEAR – in our churches and in our US context.  It has become our model: fear of loss of members, fear of diminished resources, whatever.

So often we have embraced and rely on our culture in the US, which has led to this fear, in a way that other Christians in other countries often have not.  We as Christians say we need to be countercultural standing against powers and principalities like Paul calls us to, but I wonder when we are going to get around to it.  Rick Ufford-Chase summed it up well when he addressed our fears in the context of last week saying “We are gonna have to move to the edge of Empire and it’s gonna hurt.”

We spent many days together in prayer, calling on the Spirit to lead us in new ways to engage our communities as they seek to become Matthew 25 churches, reaching out to the poor, the lonely, the lost, and struggling against racism, poverty, and injustice of all kinds.

56260464_2881120638566589_4106349576653373440_o

I love our church.  I see so many resources – so many possibilities – so much reason to hope for a better future.  And together with our mission partners churches around the world, I believe we can TOGETHER build a better future.

Mission is finding out where the Holy Spirit is at work, and joining in.  There are abundant opportunities to join with the Holy Spirit in the PC(USA) and in 2019.

Finally, I learned a new and better translation of 1 Cor. 3:9. “We are co-laborers with God’s synergy, building up the economy of God.”  From Greek straight to Spanish, this really does hit at the heart of what Paul was talking about, and as it relates to our mission engagement.

Only when we are co-laborers with God and with one another can we plug into the only economy we truly need: God’s.

May your Holy Week be a profound week of plugging into the love story of God for you.  And may the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in this week lead us to new ways to co-labor with God, and together build up God’s great kingdom of love and light.

-Matt

2592E15D-D171-4BCC-B9B4-18DF41A38A3E

56162421_2881101228568530_4737772050486132736_n