Sunday, September 10, 2017

Praying with Eyes Open


After services and before an afternoon meeting, I am enjoying a little bit of outdoors time on the patio, with a book and some coffee.

I am continuing to read Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.

Because I still have ordination paperwork and Hearts on Fire board work to do before I can allow myself in-depth writing in other forms, I am not going to go in-depth on other thoughts about "church" last night with Garrison Keillor or even church today, both of which I could probably write a bit about.  I still have my 7 year blog post celebration to write too.  All of that will need to wait.

A quick word for now.

I just finished Chapter VII, "Praying with Eyes Open" and was introduced to Annie Dillard in that chapter.  She sounds like someone I would enjoy reading, so I will check into some of her writings.  Peterson mentioned her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (published in 1974), among other writings.

What caught my attention was that Peterson described her as a "mystical theologian" (70) and noted that "she is after bigger game: after meaning, after glory, after God." (71)

She is an "ally in Christian pilgrimage" (72) and "embraces spiritual disciplines in order to deal with a Creator and a creation" (72).

At the end of the chapter Peterson defines kataphatic and apophatic prayer in this way:

"Kataphatic prayer uses icons, symbols, ritual, incense; the creation is the way to the Creator.  Apophatic prayer attempts emptiness; the creature distracts from the Creator, and so the mind is systematically emptied of idea, image, sensation until there is only the simplicity of being.  Kataphatic prayer is "praying with your eyes open"' apophatic prayer is "praying with your eyes shut." (84)

For me, both prayers are fulfilling and I need both in order to live a balanced prayer life.

As I prayed with my eyes open today, looking at creation, I noticed this snail on the water spout.


Upon further inspection, I found him burrowed deep inside.  I don't know if he will make it or not, but I removed him from his perched place, where he was stuck and put him in a place of soil.

Now a wasp has decided to drink deeply of my coffee.  I will share.  In fact, I will relinquish my coffee to the guest, albeit unwanted.


Whether you pray with your eyes open or closed, make some time for prayer today.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S.  Here is a site I look forward to spending some time with later in order to get to know Annie Dillard better-- Annie Dillard Official Site


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Breezy morning reflections


It is a very chilly morning with constant breezes.  The temperature is 59 at the moment.  As I sit enjoying my coffee, the sound of the waterfall, the chimes, and feeling the breezes, I am in prayer for all those cleaning up from Hurricane Harvey and those being affected by Hurricane Irma.  I also think about those affected by the fires in Oregon, Washington, and Montana.  My thoughts also go to the immigrants in our country with the Dreamers Act. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.

There are many things I'd like to write about, but my focus these days is finishing my ordination paperwork.  I spent three hours on Monday morning working on it and am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  However, with meetings every week for Nominations for Charge Conference (I serve three churches), that takes time too. I am fasting from all college and NFL football until I get the ordination paperwork done.  That might not seem like much to some people, but I like football. I follow my college alma mater, Georgia Southern. I follow UTC (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) where I taught (and try to make a home game or two), I follow the Dawgs-- GO GA! When it comes to NFL, I'm primarily a Broncos fan, but I do enjoy the Atlanta Falcons too.  That's the one pro game I've been to, while in high school and we (our band) played the half time show for the Falcons vs the Redskins.  You can see that abstaining from college and pro football will motivate me to manage my time well.

I also want to get the paperwork done so I can focus on my anniversary blog post.  My 7 year anniversary of blogging was September 3rd.  Each year I write an anniversary blog post with statistics and reflections, but that takes time.  Time that I need to put into my ordination paperwork.

So, what am I doing writing this morning, you ask?

Devotional reflecting.

Last Thursday I felt led to share "Be still and know that I am God" with a group of ladies as a devotion because that thought got hold of me during the day and didn't let go.  Then I shared it with someone else on Friday.  Then I kept living into it, as I have been for the past 10 years now.  As I've noted over and over again, it is a life-long lesson for me.  What God put on my heart last Thursday for me and for me to share has had a ripple effect into the kingdom and a ripple effect into my life.  I continue to see pictures on my feed from past years of "be still".

That reminded me that we are to share with others what we learn.  That's part of the benefit, the purpose, the reason, the blessing, etc. of community.  We build one another up, we encourage one another, we share with one another, we hold one another accountability, we love one another, we pray with and for one another, we forgive one another, we extend grace to one another.

Last night's District Clergy/Pastor meeting was centered around remembering our baptism.  Literally.  The baptismal shell (on loan from Ginger Isom) was in the middle of us and we were seated around it.  I only took a close up of the awesome shell.  But it would have been neat to see the set up too, because truly, our identity in Christ and our calling as children of God is at the center of who we are.  We are God's children.  God had called us into relationship and whether we said yes or someone said yes on our behalf until we were old enough to say yes in confirmation, the relationship is there.

If I can get the liturgy that we used last night, I will share it. It was good.

Meanwhile, here are pictures of the shell and the altar.  The altar was beautiful.  I later realized I had blurred my picture.  I didn't do the artist, Jodie Ihfe, justice with the picture. She has created altars for us in the past for District meetings and I'm glad she used her gifts and graces in this way. I'm reminded of 2 year Academy and 5 day Academy altars and am blessed.



Peace and blessings on this day.  May you remember that you are loved, cherished, beloved, and have purpose and meaning in this world.  Make some time to "be still and know".

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Becoming "unbusy"-- the eternal challenge




On a crisp 63 degree morning, I am outside on the patio with some coffee, listening to the waterfall and enjoying some quiet "be still" time.

I had planned to sleep in today, but I guess 7:30 am is sleeping in when 5:30 am is the normal wake up time.

A hummingbird is visiting the feeders as I type.  I enjoy watching those creations.  Once and only once so far, I observed one become still while feasting on the perch.  I had never seen that before.  But because it had space on the one feeder, it could actually be on the feeder and take a moment of inactivity while it was there.

Space.  Either we find it, make it, or create it for ourselves in order to not be so busy, to stop moving, to be able to stand still, to rest.

We all need that space.  That's why we have Sabbath rest.  Rest allows us to be who we are created to be.

I know it.  I have lots of books that remind me.  I'm a better person when I live into Sabbath rest.  Yet, it is still a struggle to guard that time and space.

As I write, there are two hummingbirds fighting over the one feeder.  One comes in to eat and another comes to attack it.  There is another feeder less than 20 feet away.  I wonder if one of them will move to the other feeder? There are hummingbirds going there, but evidently not these two.  They are in either play or battle mode today.

Thankfully, when it comes to space for rest and stillness, there is plenty. We don't need to fight over it.  We just need to do it.

I am glad for some time this morning.

Time to listen.  Time to be.  Time to breathe.  Time to watch hummingbirds. Time to drink coffee unhurriedly.

Yesterday I said I would share some notes as I read Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.

The forward is an interview with Eugene Peterson and Rodney Clapp.  There were some good nuggets there for me, but today I'll share from chapter two, "The Unbusy Pastor".

"How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?" (19)
"If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things.  I can be a pastor who prays. [...]  I know I can't be busy and pray at the same time. [...] I can be a pastor who preaches. [...] This kind of preaching is a creative act that requires quietness and solitude, concentration and intensity. [...] I can be a pastor who listens. [...] I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so that when they're through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they're feeling and thinking. [...]  Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we're on the job, being busy, earning our pay. Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it's only for five minutes.  Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time." (19-21)

The more important question: "How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?" (21)

"But if I provide margins to my day, there is ample time to listen." (22) [Providing margins in the day has been a goal for me for quite a few years.  I attempt to have no more than 3 things on my calendar, allowing there to be margins.  My calendar has gotten less busy over the years, though there are seasons in life and in ministry when they are busier.  Charge conference season is a busier time of year as a pastor.  With three churches in the parish, there is a need to have each nominations / leadership development team meet.  That means 4 meetings right there.  And with that, we've only just begun.]

Peterson recognizes the difficulty in keeping margins in the calendar and speaks to that situation by scheduling appointments for himself.  That way they are in the calendar.  He notes, "I mark out the times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work-- prayer, preaching, and listening-- can issue." (23)

Good thoughts on a way to make margins in the schedule for needed things.  He also has a good phrase so he doesn't give in to too many things, "My appointment calendar will not permit it." (22)  Though I've gotten better at that, I still need wisdom and discernment on that.  Don't we all?  These lessons making space for ourselves in Peterson's book, though written for pastors, can be applied to all folks.  After all, we are the priesthood of all believers, and we all struggle with putting too much on our calendars and not having enough time for self-care, soul-care, rest, silence, solitude, leisure, and the creative work of ministry that flows from that (whatever ministry God has us involved in, again, as we are all a part of ministry).

How can you become less busy?  What are some steps you might take from having read these quotes by Eugene Peterson?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra




Friday, September 1, 2017

Slowing down, making myself take time to be still

I don't know about you, but when I don't make enough time (or take enough time) to be still, it starts to take a negative toll on my heart, mind, soul, and body.  I become tired (exhausted even), worn down, irritated, frazzled.  Yep, it happens.  Thankfully, I didn't let it go too long this time before I made time and space to "be still".  But, I had let it get away from me.  It happens all too easily.

The morning times that I set aside for silence, listening, or reading somehow got taken by something else this week.  And, on a morning when I wanted to stop and walk, I didn't.  I went on in to the office.  Yes, there have been things that needed to be done in the work and ministry, yet, I know all too well that if I'm not taking care of myself-- body, soul, heart, and mind-- then I am no good to any one.

Yesterday the message kept coming "be still and know that I am God".  I listened and obeyed.  I spent some time yesterday being still and listening.

In that time, I felt the nudge to share that lesson as the devotion at the team meeting, so I created the hourglass "be still and know" from Psalm 46:10 that I had used before and printed some copies.


In searching my computer for "be still" yesterday I found a picture I had created from a family vacation in 2015.  The beach always brings peace to my soul.  I now have at least a couple of verse pictures from different locations.


This morning I shared the "be still" verse and hourglass devotion with a friend as I had my "chair time" and decided later to post on social media with these thoughts/instructions:

"Find a place to be, to sit, to be in a hammock, or whatever works for you. Take a few deep breaths. Read slowly. Rest with God for a few moments when you are done. Repeat as needed."

I stopped at Wired Coffee Bar for some reading and writing time this morning.  Guess what I found on the white board in the back room?


This morning before I left the house I spent some time outside.  The winds were blowing, there was thunder rolling in the distance.  Hummingbirds were coming to get food.  Two hummingbirds were fighting at one point.  I didn't get as much time as I wanted due to the impending storm and my need to head out, but it was a start.




I am continuing my time today at Wired Coffee Bar, where I will also spend time reading Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction that I started yesterday.  It is about being unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic.  Being unbusy is something I strive to do and be, but it is a battle.  I will likely be sharing what I learn as I read.

What will you do today to slow down, to make yourself take time to be still?

Blessings on your journey!

Debra

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hiking the Falling Waters Falls trail

Yesterday we went up to the Falling Waters Falls State Natural Area on Signal Mountain in Walden.  I don't remember having parked in that area before, though I thought I have hiked to the top of the waterfall before.




The parking lot has spaces for about 4 cars, maybe 5, depending on size.  It would be nice to have a trash can there on site as there was quite a bit of trash around the parking area and the sign.  We got lucky yesterday.  We were the only ones when we got there and when we left.  We had the trail to ourselves.

The trail is an easy to moderate walk/hike, with the only treacherous portion(s) being when you get to the waterfall area and then continue up and around the bluff.  One needs to use common sense and not get to close to the edge.  It's a long way down.

I kept looking for the big hole in the rock that I remembered from my last time there, but I couldn't find it.  Maybe there is another waterfall/cliff spot on top of the mountain that I'm thinking of or I just couldn't see it yesterday.





What I could see yesterday was a bubbling creek to the left after we were in the woods for a little bit (no pictures of it).  Then we came out to where the water goes over the rock and down below.  There wasn't much flowing yesterday, so the waterfall was small.  After enjoying the view for a little bit, we headed up the trail along the bluff.  We followed it to the end.  It wasn't as traveled on this part.

There was a rock perfect for standing or sitting to enjoy the view.  You could see the Sequoyah stacks off to the distance on the left and the lake/river too.  Closer in you could see the "new" housing development next to highway 27.  We didn't realize how expansive it was and that they were still building.



I saw different kinds of mushrooms along the trail and took pictures of the ones that were easy to get to.  There were three mushrooms in the woods, lined up together (one in front of the other), shining in the light, but I couldn't quite get to them for a picture.





I enjoyed the tiny flowers along the way too.





There was enough trash along the trail to fill up about two grocery bags full.  I didn't carry any bags with me yesterday and regretted it.  There were some plastic bottles--water and power drinks; there were some aluminum cans--beer; there were cigarette packs-- one even thumb-tacked to a tree; there were glass bottles semi-buried in the leaves-- showing some evidence that the front portion might have been used as a dump at one time and deserves some extensive clean up time.  Though there wasn't too much trash, it was enough to consider a clean up hike to get it out and reminded me of the time I took our youth at First Dayton on a clean up hike on a trail in the Dayton area and shared a devotion "Living Waters" while we were on a rock next to the stream.  That was in the 90s.


The trail itself is short, but one can spend quite a bit of time up there because the scenery is gorgeous and it's a great place to simply "be".

I had left my hammock in the car, but there are plenty of trees for some hanging time too.

After we left the natural area, we went to Guthrie's for some fried chicken and took it to Signal Point for a picnic.  We weren't ready to go back indoors just yet.  It was too nice of a day to call it quits.  The overlook on the point allows for a great view of the river.





There are some rock formations to the left of the picnic pavilion and we enjoyed those for a few moments.


Though we looked at the hiking pavilion, we didn't do any more hiking.



If you're interesting in checking out some of these local areas, I'll include links at the bottom.

Getting outside and into the woods is an important part of my journey.  It gives life to my soul, expanding the breathing space, allowing me to listen to God, refreshing me, and strengthening my connection with the Creator.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Falling Waters Falls State Natural Area
Signal Point
Guthrie's Chicken
Cumberland Trail State Park (Signal Point trails are part of this trail)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Do We Truly Welcome All to the Table?

A few weeks ago (8/8/17) I wrote a post about the Sidewalk Prophets song, "Come to the Table" because I had first heard it and it struck me as a powerful and inviting song. It also strikes me as a challenging one as I continue to hear it on the radio.

The song invites people to come to the table, all are welcome.  Who they are, how they are.  Welcome.  That's how God accepts them.  What if someone happens to hear that song, believes it, and goes to a church?  Will they find that same grace and acceptance?

What if they aren't dressed the same as those in the church?

What if they have a disability?

What if they are of a different income or perceived standard?

What if they are of a different race, color, or culture?

What if they struggle to speak "our" language?

What if they are different in any way to what we perceive is "the way"?

According to God, all are welcome.  God's grace extends to all people.  If God is willing to be open and loving, then why are we cutting people off from the table?  Why are we putting up walls, rules, boundaries where God did not and does not put them up?

My heart breaks when I am in a room full of Jesus-loving folks who have left the church because the church has betrayed them, hurt them, and/or is no longer a place where God came first and all were welcome at the table.  This gathered body of Jesus followers was and is church, yet with no community because community wasn't living as Jesus instructed.

I understand.

I have seen it recently.  And my heart breaks.

It doesn't matter what you wear.  Come to the table.

It doesn't matter who you are or what you've been through or what you're going through now.  Come to the table.

You are welcome to the table.  God's table.  You are loved.

I hope to live into loving God and loving others (as I love myself) as Jesus taught.

Jesus invited the disciples to breakfast on the beach, he fed folks on the hillside, and in the upper room.  Jesus was about relationship with others around the table.  These were teaching moments for the disciples and others.

As we look around our tables, who is missing? Why are they missing?  Have we forgotten to invite someone to the table?  Have we excluded someone who was previously at the table?  Have we not made room at the table?

May we open ourselves up truly to God as we make our way to the table, seeking forgiveness and grace for those we've ignored, excluded, and turned away.

Then, let's make sure our tables, our churches, our lives are open to God to work in us and through us for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra


Lyrics to "Come to the Table" by Sidewalk Prophets:

We all start on the outside
The outside looking in
This is where grace begins
We were hungry, we were thirsty
With nothing left to give
Oh the shape that we were in
Just when all hope seemed lost
Love opened the door for us

He said come to the table
Come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table

Come meet this motley crew of misfits
These liars and these thiefs
There's no one unwelcome here
So that sin and shame that you brought with you
You can leave it at the door
Let mercy draw you near

Come to the table
Come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table
Come to the table

To the thief and to the doubter
To the hero and the coward
To the prisoner and the soldier
To the young and to the older
All who hunger, all who thirst
All the last and all the first
All the paupers and the princes
All who fail you've been forgiven
All who dream and all who suffer
All who loved and lost another
All the chained and all the free
All who follow, all who lead
Anyone who's been let down
All the lost you have been found
All who have been labeled right or wrong
To everyone who hears this song

Ooh
Come to the table
Come join the sinners you have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Oooh
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table
Come to the table
Just sit down and rest a while
Just sit down and rest a while
Come to the table



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hymn to the Trinity-another Jane Parker Huber hymn

Last night's sky was gorgeous!  It was a wonderful respite to sit outside and enjoy the evening sky as the red brightness shone through the trees in the backyard. The picture did not do the deep redness justice. My body, soul, and mind enjoyed the beauty of creation.


It is a cool morning with blue skies as I sit on the patio listening to the waterfall feature, share coffee with Riley, watch for hummingbirds, and start the day.  The wind chimes blow gently, dogs bark, and birds sing.


As I turned the pages in The Upper Room Worshipbook this morning, I found another Jane Parker Huber hymn written in 1980 that captured my attention, "Hymn to the Trinity" or "Creator God, Creating Still" (22A).  According to hymnary.org, this hymn is found in 7 hymnals.  Here are the lyrics:

1.
Creator God, creating still
By will and word and deed,
Create a new humanity
To meet the present need.

2.
Redeemer God, redeeming still,
With overflowing grace,
Pour out your love on us, through us,
Make this a holy place.

3.
Sustainer God, sustaining still,
With strength for every day,
Empower us now to do your will,
Correct us when we stray.

4.
Great Trinity for this new day,
We need your presence still.
Create, redeem, sustain us now
To do your work and will.

Ben Thomas sings a version of this song:


As I read these words today, I pray for  these things to be in my life-- the grace, love, strength, power, and presence of God.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra