Friday, January 13, 2017

Reflections on Entering Into the Silence


It's almost here. The silent retreat, The Big Silence, that I signed up for several months ago is finally here.

I'm excited.  I really am.

For those of you who know me, you know I'm an extrovert.  Yet, I'm an introverted extrovert.  I've learned over the years that I need my silence and solitude in order to be who I'm created to be.  I live, love, and lead more effectively when I take/make time for silence and solitude.

The Academy for Spiritual Formation and SOULfeast, among other offerings from The Upper Room, have been life savers for me in learning that rhythm of inward and outward flow.

The Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders (FUMSDRL), also known as Hearts on Fire, has also spoken into my life through retreats and board meetings.

I have done a Centering Prayer day retreat up at St. Mary's Sewanee a couple of years back (and another 1/2 day one during lent or advent one year).

Last year I did a clergy group in which we took a retreat at the end (after studying Ruth Haley Barton's book on Silence and Solitude) and spent quite a bit of time in silence up at St. Mary's in Sewanee, TN.  That was super.

Recently, I found the SoulCare Project here in Chattanooga and have participated in a couple of day retreats with silence and time for my soul to catch up with my body.

I don't make it as often as I'd like, but I try to make it to a Centering Prayer group here in town.  When I do make it, my soul is refreshed.

However, taking a 4 day silent (mostly all silent) retreat has not been something I've been able to do yet.  It has been on my bucket list.  Yep.  Not as something to simply do and cross off, but rather as something to live into and continue as I can.

As Rafiki from the Lion King would say, "It is time."

How do I know?  The timing has been affirmed over and over.  I was hesitant to sign up at first, but after prayer and discernment, I took the plunge.  It has become evident that this is the right timing in my journey to do this, because of many different things going on.  I am grateful for the nudgings so many months ago.

As I prepare to enter the silence, I realize I honestly don't know what to expect.  I chuckle to myself as I recall reading Ruth Haley Barton's comments about going to a silent retreat once and how it took time to settle down into it.

I've done all the work stuff I can ahead of time for next week.  I set my work phone message to let folks know I'd be away.  I still need to set emails to show "out of office" if I can figure that out. We'll see.

I have my hammock ready to go with me (it's supposed to be warm weather, in the 50s).

I have a regular camera in case my phone camera won't work.  Contemplative photography is a big part of my silent time, so I imagine I will spend time in reflection through nature and that pictures will be part of that process.

I have my journals ready.  Yes, that was plural.  I'm going to use this opportunity to go back and read the journals from my time in the 2 Year Academy.

Hmmm.... my flute?  It's not silent, but it is a way for me to connect.  We'll see.  I haven't prayed my native american flute in a long time.

I have the Henri Nouwen book we were asked to read, The Way of the Heart.  I haven't quite finished it yet.  I have a few other Nouwen books and a McClaren book ready to jump in with me too.

What do I expect?  I expect to meet with the One who created me.  I expect to "be still and know".  I look forward to the time to listen.  To simply be.

Honestly, my body is so tired right now, I will probably sleep some too.  But as I learned in the Academy from numerous presenters, 'sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do during this hour is nap'.  That was often said (in different ways) as we finished our teaching time and headed into our hour of silence and reflection.

After about 3:30pm or 4pm on Sunday afternoon, January 15th, I won't be present in the virtual world.  I won't be checking emails.  I won't be making or taking phone calls.  A technology fast.

That means one of my spiritual disciplines, blogging, will need to wait as well.  I suppose.  We'll see.  Writing is a spiritual discipline for me and I've not had lots of time to write and reflect lately.  But, maybe at this retreat it will all be hand-written.  That'll be different for me.

As I enter into this experience, I enter with palms opened up to my Creator with no agenda other than to accept the gift of receiving whatever it may be that God has for me in this adventure.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Way of the Heart--thoughts on solitiude

I mentioned this book, The Way of the Heart, in my last blogpost about sacred spaces.  I've been reading this book by Henri Nouwen in preparation for the upcoming retreat in January.

I'm about 2/3 of the way through with the book, having finished the sections on solitude and silence.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned one of the sacred spaces (without elaborating) was my rolling sanctuary. I've talked about that before.  When I'm in my car, travelling about, I often drive in silence in order to listen.  It depends on my day and my needs.  Lately, I have needed to create more space than normal of silence and solitude in order to be able to live, love, and lead well.

I say "well", but that isn't always the case.  I do the best I can with where I am, thankful that God is full of mercy and grace.

Thus, the need for space, for quiet, for solitude, for silence.

I have been on the journey to the true self for several years now, intentionally focusing on this because of SoulFeast,  the 5 day Academy, and the 2 Year Academy. The quote I shared yesterday from Nouwen spoke about the false self and how solitude is the furnace of transformation.

In the chapter on solitude, Nouwen goes into detail on this, sharing the example of Christ in solitude in the desert for 40 days and how Christ affirmed God as his only source of identity (16).

What strength, what power, what affirmation-- to affirm God as one's only source of identity.  Whew.  If it took Christ 40 days in the desert to arrive there, how can my 12-15-20-30 minutes of silence and solitude get me there?!?!  Am I willing to go through the furnace of transformation (solitude) to remember whose and who I am?  I need that.  I need that in order to simply be.  More importantly, I need that in order to live, love, and lead.  But, am I willing to make it a priority?  I've gotten better at creating this space over the years, but it's an area that can continue to grow.

If my identity isn't rooted in whose I am, then I have nothing to offer of any signficance to others.  This takes focus and intentionality.

That is why I have continued to attempt to grow in my silence and solitude journey, in my overall faith journey.

Nouwen reminds that "ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord." (21)

"Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation, the place of the great struggle and the great encounter." (22)

"... it is the place where we want to lead all who are seeking the light in this dark world." (22)

Nouwen's writings on compassion align with those of Frank Rogers from this summer's retreat.  Nouwen writes: "Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of all ministry." (24)''

Food for thought: "When we are filled with God's merciful presence, we can do nothing other than minister because our whole being witnesses to the light in the darkness." (28)

Though I've also read the chapter on silence, that's enough for tonight.  It's been a long day.

Peace and blessings on your journey,

Debra

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sacred Spaces for quiet and listening

I looked back to see when was the last blog post I wrote and it was November 2nd.  That says something to me about how busy I've been these past two months.

Yes, it has been the Advent season and things get busy in the ministry during that time.

But it has been more than that.  There have been unexpected things that have caused me to need to take on extra duties.  Though that has been a huge learning curve, time consuming, and difficult, God has blessed in the midst of it.

What I have needed to do during this time is to be much more intentional than normal to carve out time for quiet and listening. It hasn't been easy.

There have been three spaces in the past couple of weeks that have helped me. (In addition to all the time in my "rolling sanctuary".)

Once a month I see my spiritual director.  She always has wonderful Christmas decorations set up.  This year the manger scene wasn't quite all put together yet, but there was a camel from another set in the back of it.  The candle she lit for our time together had a representation of the magi coming to see the child.  Though I can't remember everything and I didn't take the time later to jot down notes in my journal, I know that God met me there that day and assured me that all is well and God is in control.  God also reminded me that a sense of humor throughout it all is a good thing.

I attended a Longest Night Service on December 21st.  There were several in the area that night and during the week.  At first I wasn't going to go to a service, but then I realized that I really wanted and needed to go.  I attended a church where I have provided pulpit supply in the past.  It was good to simply "be", to "be still" and hear from God through the pastor, the Scripture, the music.


On Friday, December 23rd, I attended the Centering Prayer group at Grace Episcopal Church.  I haven't been in a very long time.  It was great to be back.  Even though I've been doing Centering Prayer on my own, there is something to doing it in a group.  Plus, I rarely do a 30 minute sit on my own.  Being with group for the prayer time and then listening to Richard Rohr's "Dancing with the Divine" CD was another needed space for me.  There were several things that stood out to me in the portion we listened to during our time.


Each of these were sacred spaces for me for quiet and listening.  Much needed spaces.  I know that I cannot give from what I do not have.  I need to continue to make sure that I am receiving from the Source so that I can offer the Source.  It is a matter of being intentional, especially when things get more hectic and difficult.

Several months ago I was feeling the nudge to sign up for a silent retreat in January.  If I were to go to it, I wouldn't be able to also attend Resurrection with the youth.  I was conflicted and unsure.  After praying it through, I finally decided to sign up for the silent retreat-- 4 days of (almost all) silence.  The retreat, The Big Silence, is based on Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart and the teachings (non-silence) will be on silence, solitude, and prayer.  As I started reading the book in preparation for the retreat, it was an affirmation that this retreat is exactly what I needed for quiet and listening, for myself and for me as a leader.  I am glad that I listened to the nudge(s).  I look forward to the upcoming sacred space.

A quote from the book:

 "The story of St. Anthony, as told by St. Athanasius, shows that we must be made aware of the call to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. It also shows that solitude is the furnace in which this transformation takes place. Finally, it reveals that it is from this transformed or converted self that real ministry flows." (10) 


The retreat will be held at a new location for me, St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, in Stoneville, NC.

What sacred spaces for quiet and listening have been part of your journey in the past couple of months?

May there be spaces for quiet and listening as we journey forward.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stretching and growing

It's an ongoing learning and growing journey for me, this faith stuff.  Part of the learning and growing process has included unlearning and letting go.  Though that has been going on for a while, I saw a quote today that my cousin David had posted by Ramana Maharshi that resonated: "There will come a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned."  I'm not familiar with this person, but I have heard this stated by others and agree that there is an unlearning that becomes necessary in our lives.  We come to a point in which we need to unlearn in order to learn.  Must we forget all that we have learned?  Likely not, but I think I get the idea.  

What is one thing I've had to unlearn in my life?  Racism.  Whether it was implicit or explicit, I've had to forget what I learned and learn that it's not okay to tell jokes that demean anyone. 

Do I always get it right?  No, I mess up and say the wrong thing(s) still in a variety of situations.  Part of that is because of things I've heard and learned at deep levels.  Even when I try to do and say what is right, there is the other lurking underneath.  The bottom line is that I'm human.  I seek to learn and grow into a more holy and just human, but there are times when I'm simply not.

As I continue to learn and grow, beliefs have been another area of forgetting, unlearning, and learning anew.  There are things I learned along the way that don't add up anymore.  This is not an easy process.  When something you believe no longer fits or works and you are forced to rethink and change paradigms, it causes uneasiness.  Why?  First of all, because it is change.  Change from what you've been taught and what you've been living for a while.  Secondly, because if that is no longer functional or working, then what is?  Paradigm shifts are risky in that they shake things up.  There is no longer a status quo.  But risk pays off.  It is okay for cracks to happen in beliefs.  Some things stay and other things may go.

If we are willing to go through the process of learning, stretching, and growing, then our faith muscles will become stronger.  The foundation of our faith will not necessarily be shaken because we ask questions, doubt, or even throw off some beliefs.  I say "necessarily" because for some people, their faith has been shaken.  If I were to be honest, I imagine my faith has been shaken at times too.  But, it has remained.  

This summer, Frank Rogers stretched me in the week he spoke to us at the Fellowship of United Methodist Spiritual Directors and Retreat Leaders / Hearts on Fire retreat about compassion in the way of Jesus.  I bought his latest book (Compassion in Practice: the Way of Jesus) so that I could revisit some of that at a later time.  

My time in the 2 Year Academy was a time of stretching and growing as I read books and heard from faculty in that time period.  Some of it stretched me a little and some of it stretched me lots. 

Right now I'm reading Brian McLaren's The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.  I've only read through chapter 2 so far, but there has been some gentle stretching and growing.


In chapter 1, McLaren talks about beliefs not being the essential part of Christianity.  The essence of our faith is more than statements, lists, things observed, etc.  Beliefs are not the point of Christianity.  In chapter 2, McLaren begins to talk about what matters more: love and compassion, as lived out by Jesus.  Galatians 5:6-- "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love"  Hmm.... what does it mean to live that out?  McLaren notes that for Jesus, "In story after story and without a single exception, we see that the driving motivation in Jesus's life is love." (44)  If we are to follow that example, what would it look like?  

Another thing that caught my attention in the book from chapter 1 was that McLaren spoke about his crisis of belief by a palo verde tree one day.  He writes, "I was standing in front of a palo verde tree in the amber sunlight when suddenly my thinking cracked open and I fell through the crack into a deeper level of reflection." (23)  When I read that, it made me think of something Jerry Webber had shared at one of our 2 Year Academy sessions.  He wrote this short, yet insightful poem:

"My Life Cracks Open"

My life cracks open
I stand in it

careful not to run.


You see, when life cracks open, the first response (for me typically) over the years has been to run, to get the heck out of dodge (so to speak).  Yet, in more recent years, I am learning to stand in the crack, to stand in the chaos.  I am standing to see what I can learn and what the next visible step might be.  

It may be uncomfortable, but it's okay.  

A boiled egg eventually must be cracked open if one is going to have deviled eggs or egg salad.  

The cocoon must crack open in order for the butterfly to emerge.  When it emerges, it is no longer the same as it was when it entered the cocoon, at least on the outside.  It has gone through a transformation.  Its essence, its being is still the same on the inside.

That's how my faith is these days.  The essence of my faith isn't changing.  The foundation remains based on the One who came and lived among us and who told us about the greatest commandments to love God and love one another as ourselves.  

McLaren notes, "If we are to be truly Christian, it makes sense to turn to Jesus for the answer." (42)  It does, doesn't it?!?!  "Of the many radical things said and done by Jesus, his unflinching emphasis on love was most radical of all.  Love was the greatest commandment, his prime directive-- love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, for alien, for outsider, for outcast, and even for enemy, as he himself modeled." (42)

Like I said, I've just started the book, but I look forward to reading the rest of it and seeing what McLaren has to say.  

Have you experienced any cracking open in your life, in your beliefs?  

How are you stretching and growing?

Blessings on your journey, 

Debra

Blessings from this week

This week has been busy, but has had its share of blessings already.  My schedule has been a little packed with activities that were planned and some that came about because, well, life happens.  In the midst of these activities, I have experienced some blessings that I thought I'd share this morning.

On Monday, for Halloween, Simpson UMC in Rossville, GA had their Trunk 'r Treat. Though we didn't advertise that a magician would be there, that was going to be part of our surprise for folks, if it could work out with him.  My day got a bit hectic with an unexpected ministry opportunity, so I never got around to calling him to double check that everything was lined up.  When I pulled into the church about 15 minutes before the official start time, there were several cars set up, some kids coming in, and the magician.  That entire scene made my heart smile.  All in all there were about 8 or 9 cars there to greet the kids and give out candy.  We had one group of folks from one of the other churches there.  Some folks were out of town and we had a death in one of the churches.  Otherwise, I imagine we would have had more cars for Trunk 'r Treat.  There were maybe 300-350 folks that came through that evening in the 2 hour span of daylight that we held the event.  It blessed me to see everyone interacting with one another.  Watching the magician interacting with the kids really blessed me.  This was the first time I have gotten to see Steve perform and I enjoyed watching both him and the kids.

Steve McDaniel, local magician and member of Simpson UMC
Yesterday, November 1, was All Saints Day.  Appropriate for All Saints Day, we celebrated and remembered one of the saints from one of the churches.  She had just recently celebrated her 100th birthday.  It was a blessing to celebrate her life.  A very unexpected blessing happened as we gathered with the family to pray prior to going into the chapel.  As I had come in the door, a woman's face had caught my attention. I said hello, recognizing her, but not exactly placing her.  When we circled up to pray, she was sharing that she had come into the family by marriage later.  As soon as I heard her voice, I knew her.  Annelle.  (Apologies for interrupting.)  When I spoke her name, she said mine.  Both of us had been trying to figure out how we knew each other.  She briefly shared with the family our connection, which is like family, because I grew up in my early years a couple of doors down from her.  She graduated high school with my Dad.  Her kids were about my brothers' age, but I grew up knowing them.  We spent lots of time in her house growing up.  It was a special moment of recognition.  I wish we had more time to catch up, but she and her husband had to leave after the service to go back to Dalton.  Hopefully another day we can catch up some.  In addition to seeing Annelle after so many years, the other thing that struck me significantly was that I knew it was her when I heard her voice.  [That reminded me of the Scripture about the sheep knowing their shepherd's voice. (John 10)]

Yesterday evening was week 2 for Flintstone's community meal.  I went out with some flyers prior to the meal to get them into some of the locations we hadn't yet posted them.  At one location I ran into a woman who called me by name.  We had met at her restaurant a while back.  She took some flyers to post at the restaurant.  She also offered to assist us if we have needs.

That's the 2nd restaurant in the local area that is helping us get the word out and coming along side us.  The Chattanooga Valley/Flintstone community is wonderful in helping one another.

I went on down the road and noticed that the Red Door antique store was open.  I haven't been there before because it's usually closed when I'm in town.  I pulled in and grabbed some flyers.  As I mentioned where I was from, the gentleman said he was planning to come by there later and I had saved him a trip.  He had some produce for us.  Would we like it?  Yes!  He had a flat box of potatoes and some crackers for us.  He said that he will have produce from time to time.  I gave him the contact number of the person in charge and headed back to the church.  As I brought the potatoes in and shared the story with the lead person, wouldn't you know it?!?!  She had planned to cook beef stew for next week.  She can definitely use those potatoes.

These are just a few of the blessings I've had already this week.  There are more. I am grateful for each of these. One of the things I've come to realize is that blessings abound daily.  In order to recognize them, I need to pay attention.  In order to be able to pay attention, I need to be able to slow down a little bit, spend time with people, listen, and simply "be".

What blessings have you recognized in the past day or two?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

P.S. Here is a song about "Blessings"  by Laura Story


Friday, October 28, 2016

The theme of grace, like being still, continues in my life

At Bible Study on Wednesday evening, we talked more about grace and forgiveness, about how abundant God's grace is, and yet how we only seem to live into a thimble of it.

That made me think about an image I had seen of an attempt to get water from a waterfall with a cup.  Ridiculous, right?  There is so much flowing that a cup cannot contain what is pouring over.  That's the comparison to God's grace.  That imagery has led me to think of God's grace as a 'waterfall of grace' in the past.  It came to mind Wednesday night.

Here is the waterfall I am listening to and observing this morning as I reflect and write:

                                
 
Though I can't find the quote and picture that I remember about the attempting to get water from a waterfall with with a cup, I have found new pictures and Scriptures to reflect upon this morning.

A quote by Annie Dillard-- “Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch the grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.”

This isn't the quote I remember exactly, but this reminds me to empty myself, to be the empty vessel and allow God to fill me, recognizing that grace is abundant if I am open to it.

Lamentations 2:19--"...Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!..."

Ephesians 2:8--"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—"

Jeremiah 31:25--"I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish."

As I reflect on these verses this morning, I am reminded of three things:

1. to pour out my heart to God
2. grace is a gift of God
3. God will satisfy the weary and replenish the faint

These are good reminders.

Several years ago (2013) in one of my preaching classes, I preached on Psalm 42 and entitled the sermon, "Waterfall of Grace".  I blogged about it.  You can read it here.

Chris Tomlin sings a song about God's love being like a waterfall.


Grace, like being still, is an ongoing theme in my life.  As I've stated, without God's grace, I wouldn't still be here today.  That statement likely could be true for everyone.  Think about the various circumstances and situations in your life.  How has grace carried you?

I continue to ride the waves of grace through life.  Sometimes it is as if I am on top and grace is carrying me.  At other times it feels as though the waves have crashed around me and grace has me covered.  Regardless, grace is present.  I may not always be ready to accept that grace in situations and circumstances nor always recognize it (such as the prevenient grace), but it is there.

Because grace is such a prevalent theme in my life, it comes up in conversation, just as silence and solitude do.

I am grateful for grace.

What about you?

Blessings on your journey,

Debra

Other blog posts about waterfalls (with pictures):
Waterfall, the song by Chris Tomlin-- 2014
The Deep Calls: How Thirsty Are You? (June 23, 2013 sermon on Psalm 42)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Breathe, just breathe

Today I am working on lesson plans for tomorrow night's class on fasting for the Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition and reading/studying/writing on this week's sermon.  I am also thinking ahead to next Sunday, all Saint's Day because I need to get things in earlier in the week. 

It was just last Thursday that I attended that one day retreat with SoulCare Project at St. Paul's Episcopal and heard Judy Brown's poem "Fire" for the first time.  I wrote about it last week (Sabbath Retreat--Taking Time Apart).  It has come to mind quite a bit in this past week.  What logs do I need to take off the fire in order to have breathing space?

As I live into arthritic pain and have added physical therapy back into my life schedule these days because of hip issues, I am once again reminded to listen carefully to my body, to not over-extend, etc. 

What that meant for me yesterday was that I took a log off the fire.  It was a log I enjoy--coffee with colleagues in the morning at a coffee shop.  But due to needing extra time to get the body going in the morning, I knew I needed to take that off my plate yesterday.  I needed breathing space in the day.  Though I didn't get anything accomplished, I did rest a little longer.  And rest was what my body needed.  Accomplishing things isn't always the best thing, anyway.  There will always be something on the 'to-do' list(s). 

In preparing this morning for tomorrow's class, I am reminded that fasting is a way of making space for grace.  Making space brought back to mind Judy Brown's poem again, so I re-read it and found this blog post from November 2013, Breathing Space.  I decided to put one of my many fire pit pictures with the poem to hand out tomorrow night in class.





In addition to this poem by Judy Brown, I heard a song yesterday on the radio that I've heard a couple of times, "Breathe".  It's by Jonny Diaz. (At least I think this is the version I heard yesterday.  If not, this has great lyrics and fits/resonates.)

Lyrics:

Alarm clock screaming bare feet hit the floor
It’s off to the races everybody out the door
I’m feeling like I’m falling behind, it’s a crazy life
Ninety miles an hour going fast as I can
Trying to push a little harder trying to get the upper hand
So much to do in so little time, it’s a crazy life
It’s ready, set, go it’s another wild day
When the stress is on the rise in my heart I feel you say just

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe

Third cup of joe just to get me through the day
Want to make the most of time but I feel it slip away
I wonder if there’s something more to this crazy life
I’m busy, busy, busy, and it’s no surprise to see
That I only have time for me, me, me
There’s gotta be something more to this crazy life
I’m hanging on tight to another wild day
When it starts to fall apart in my heart I hear you say just

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need

Is to take it in fill your lungs
The peace of God that overcomes
Just breathe
So let your weary spirit rest
Lay down what’s good and find what’s best
Just breathe

Just breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe
Just breathe




I need to remember each day (sometimes multiply times a day) to take moments to breathe and rest.  "Be still and know that I am God."  I cannot seem to escape Psalm 46:10, but that's okay.  I don't want to.  I really want to and need to come and be and rest at the feet of the One who created me.

There was another breathing space yesterday that I wasn't expecting.  A little time outdoors in the fresh air to share about faith, God, calling, and vision. 

Making space to breathe.  What needs to come off the schedule?  What needs to go on?  The same thing that might need to come off one day may be the very thing that needs to go on another one.  How do you know?  Listen.  Listen closely to the Spirit. 

May there be plenty of breathing space in your life today.

Blessings on your journey,

Debra