A quote from Walter Brueggemann's: A Way Other Than Our Own: readings for Lent:
Caught by God
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long." Psalm 23:6
"'Goodness and mercy pursue me'. God's friendliness and kindness will run after me and chase me down, grab me and hold me. The verb 'follow' is an active verb. We are being chased by God's powerful love. We run from it. We try to escape. We fear that goodness, because then we are no longer in control. We do not trust such generosity, and we think our own best efforts are better than God's mercy."
I enjoyed the surprise of the words "friendliness and kindness". How lovely to imagine a friendly, kind God running after me! I'm very happy to be caught. I suspect walking slowly and enjoying the sunrise (as I did yesterday) is a way to be 'caught' by a friendly Creator who shares my delight as good friends do.
In a recent post I named various books I was currently reading. Today I finished the one I thought I would "just skim" because it covered ground fairly familiar to me.
It's true that much of it covered very familiar territory. But the final chapters reminded me that it is easy for me to get a bit blase about the relevance of Biblical literature to current events. In a post just a couple of days ago (here) this was my theme. Today the following excerpt from Alexander's book had me soberly reflecting on whether we too easily ignore "the signs of the times".
Speaking very positively of the 'New Jerusalem' and the ultimate restoration of earth as it was intended to be, Alexander also points out that currently our world is more like 'Babylon'.
"In Revelation, the city of Babylon symbolizes humanity's obsession with wealth and power, which become a substitute for knowing God. History witnesses to the ongoing existence of Babylon as one nation after another has used its power to grow rich at the expense of others. We live in a world where economic power dominates national and international politics. ...
There is something deceptive about the acquisition of wealth, and those who draw attention to this are never popular. Politicians know they get votes by promising more and more, not less and less. This, in part at least, explains why Jimmy Carter failed to get re-elected as President of the US in 1979.
After a two-week retreat at Camp David, where he had spent time reflecting on the state of the nation, Carter gave a major televised speech on 18 July 1979. In a sermon-like address he drew attention to what he saw as the moral crisis facing the USA. He summarized the problem in these words:
"In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families and our faith in God, too many of us now worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does but by what one owns."
To underline the seriousness of this he added, "This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning."
Unsurprisingly, many Americans did not take well to this message... Although Carter's analysis was correct, when election time came, Ronald Reagan won by a landslide."
While 'New Jerusalem' and 'Babylon' might not be metaphors that we relate to in our current speech, the reality they speak of is certainly current. This final quote uses two more metaphors that we may resist: 'bride' and 'prostitute', but if what we all long for is 'genuine passionate love' read on:
"With good reason, the New Jerusalem is portrayed as a bride, whereas Babylon is a prostitute. Genuine passionate love will be found only in God's presence; what the prostitute offers is but a fleeting, deceitful shadow of the real thing."
All this has implications for each of us personally, politically and spiritually. As Jesus points out in my favourite Bible story, the God who is Love is only too eager to welcome home any prodigal son or daughter who has tried out 'Babylon' and its 'prostitutes' and not found 'genuine passionate love'.
Rembrandt's well known painting of the father welcoming the prodigal son.
(If any reader of this post doesn't know the story click here for a You Tube version which depicts Jesus telling the story recorded in Luke 15:11-32. It's a pity it uses rather old fashioned English but otherwise well done.)
Meditation and a walk - these are the staple diet of my morning routine. But the last few days here in Auckland have been like the tropics in monsoon season!
...so some adaptation is in order...
No problem with the meditation of course. My trusty Insight Timer app gives me a gentle gong to start the 20 minutes and another to end. If you don't know this app I recommend it. It has hundreds of guided relaxation/meditation options as well as the timer which you can set to whatever times and sounds you wish. The guided options are from various religious and secular perspectives. If you are wanting guidance with Centering Prayer there is a very good 30 minute track with an introduction, then 20 minutes silence and ends with a beautiful contemporary version of the Lord's Prayer. (Search 'centering prayer').
To get my body going on a 'no walk' morning I'm using a 20 minute Qi Gong routine on You Tube. (There is also a 10 minute version of the same routine.) Qi Gong is a very integrated mind/body practice so for me this is more than just 'exercises'.
(I don't quite look like this yet .... but with enough wet days - who knows!!)
I seem to be waking up early these days. Maybe what they say about older people needing less sleep is true! This morning at 5.30 I decided to listen to the Lectionary readings for the day using the excellent Bible app I have on my phone. I was struck by the contemporary relevance of the following:
Psalm 72 where Solomon is praying for the King: "May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. ... For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight."
Then Ecclesiates 9 "I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved that city. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said 'Wisdom is better than strength'. ...The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools."
I am in good company when I pray
for justice and compassion in those who "rule" our nations.
I am encouraged to remember
that the quiet words of the wise do have an impact.
I realise how much I live my life in a white middle class culture even though NZ is a very multi-cultural country.
I'm choosing to change that. I've just completed three days of excellent training to become an English Language Partner to a migrant or refugee. Click here to learn more about this organisation.
In our group of trainees half of us did not have English as our first language!
There were two people from China:
two from India (different language groups):
one from Swaziland:
and one from Syria who had lived in Kuwait more recently but still has family in Syria:
These people were a great asset to our training. They know first hand the challenges of learning a new language and culture. I admired their willingness to sign up to help other new migrants even when they themselves had not been in New Zealand very long. I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with them over the days of our training.
One of the training sessions involved 45 minutes with a Japanese teacher who did not speak a single word of English throughout the lesson. She aimed to teach us how to say: "Hello my name is ..." and "What is your name?" The written script on the whiteboard didn't help us at all (of course). It was a very salutary experience. Most of us didn't figure out what the sentences meant until well into the lesson and then could not remember and repeat the sounds without writing them phonetically in our alphabetical script. I was sitting next to the trainee from Syria/Kuwait who wrote her phonetic script in Arabic! She speaks excellent English but of course her native language is the one she used when under pressure. At the end of 45 minutes we all felt very tired and rather stressed. It is so good to know how hard our learners will be working at what we might think are very simple sentences.
I am now matched with a learner from Korea who has lived in NZ for 15 years but seems to be quite isolated and has limited English. Being confident to use the phone to call 111 in an emergency and knowing how to respond to the questions she will be asked is one of her first goals.
I am full of admiration for these new migrants and refugees. I highly recommend English Language Partners if you think you would like to give a couple of hours a week in this way.
I'm sure I'm not the only person who has several books on the go at once. It is said you can tell a lot about a person from the books they read. So here's what I'm in the process of reading (or re-reading) at the moment. These are in no special order but the last one is the one I'd take on a desert island if I had to choose from just this list!)
Ground breaking science about ways to look after the cells in our bodies.
A great integration of science and practical strategies including mindfulness, meditation etc. I'm a great proponent of mind-body-spirit connection and the emerging science around it.
A novel by one of my favourite authors. I've read almost all of the ten in this series and I'm just catching up on one or two I've missed previously.
A memoir by a renowned British brain surgeon. I really enjoy memoirs. I did wonder if, having had brain surgery myself, I might not like reading this! But it was sensitively written and very engaging.
I've read two previous books by this author. (The Grace in Aging and the the Grace in Dying). This one is really about reflecting on one's life and writing a memoir based on the grace you have experienced in key moments. Excellent. Maybe I'll do it!
A well written sweep through themes I'm pretty familiar with from past study.
Lots of very good footnotes for those who want detail.
I've just started this book. I'll probably skim read!
I'm re-reading this because it is of particular importance to someone I'm talking with. It made a big impact on me when I first read it and it is just as thought-provoking and hope-filled as it was on the first reading. (I've also re-read the sequel Map of Heaven). I thought I'd written about these two books in a previous post but if I did I can't find it!
I think I've read all of Cynthia's previous books and been on several retreats when she has come to NZ. This one is superb for anyone who is a serious practitioner of Centering Prayer. I so appreciate how Cynthia keeps writing about complex issues in a clear, contemporary way. If you've read her first book on Centering Prayer don't think you won't need this one! While it does review the basics it goes a long way further in and deeper down.
On my morning walk along the beach this seat and tree attracted my attention. Of course since it is on someone's front lawn I didn't "come sit awhile" though it seemed to invite me to do just that. Instead I took a closer look from various angles.
Shelter from the building storm
Protection from prevailing winds
A place of reflection - in more ways than one!
Many years ago I remember a series of films (not DVD's back then!) called Parables in Nature. Maybe that's what sparked in me the life-long habit of seeing parables everywhere I look. I won't spoil this morning's parable by spelling it out. Parables are meant to intrigue you to see for yourself!
Most of us do not like change - unless of course it is one we have chosen and planned.
This poem came my way today as part of a Spirituality and Practice series.
Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two XII, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
Where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.
Pour yourself like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne,
becoming a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.
"Live like a river flows" (on the road to Milford Sound)
Many of the lines stay with me to be mulled over in a Lectio Divinakind of way. Here is the beginning of my mulling...
Want the change...
It's hard for me to want the changes I see happening to friends and family members as they age. I can't avoid the fact that some of them are beginning to happen to me too.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
I certainly don't want to be like that! So I guess this requires adapting to change with openness and flexibility. I'm certainly very open and flexible about the things I read, explore and think about. Interesting! I realise I am happy with internal (mind/spirit) change - I really do want that. To me that's growth. The changes I resist are the physical/energy changes. They feel like diminishment.
What turns hard becomes rigid and is easily shattered
Yes I get that. I don't think I'm hard or rigid. I hope not.
Pour yourself out like a fountain
This line reminds me of a line from another poem (called 'Unfinished Poem'!) by John O'Donahue: "I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding". Both of these images suggest letting life flow freely wherever and however it goes. To me that speaks of allowing change without resisting it, rather than wanting it.
What you are seeking....with ending begins
Yes - every ending is the threshold to a new beginning. The 'end' of this life will be the beginning of true 'fulness of life' - which is what all our ultimate 'seeking' is about.
Dare to become the wind
In Greek mythology Daphne was a nymph who transformed herself into a laurel tree. So to be as free and flexible as a tree in the wind a previous identity might need to be left behind.
Shaped by the wind (Cornwall Park)
Plenty more mulling to do! Maybe different lines are the ones for you to chew over.