Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Unusual teachers

Artist: Georg Saal

Here is a very moving story from the book entitled Uncommon Prayer by The Rev. Kenneth Swanson:
A few years ago I prepared a group of young teenagers for confirmation. Near the end of our course I met with them individually to talk about developing a life of prayer. One of the girls came from an unchurched family. When I asked her if she ever prayed, she said yes, and described how she prayed every morning when she got up and every evening before she went to bed. I was very impressed both by the scope and quality of her devotion. When I asked her who taught her to pray like that, she said she learned from watching "Little House on the Prairie" on television. She took Laura as her confirmation name.
There is so much material, as it were, in our every day lives, in the world around us, that can support us in one way or another on the spiritual journey. I'm not at all suggesting that the journey needs to take the same shape described above or any other particular shape. Rather I'm observing that our life experiences are rich with material for helping our spiritual lives take the shape that is transforming and sustaining for each one of us.

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Something about hospitality

Artist: Nikolay Ge

I still have yesterday's gospel reading on my mind - the passage in which Jesus says, "The one who welcomes you, welcomes Me," and "The one who give even a cup of cold water in my name will not go unrewarded."

And so I offer the following:
If it were not for guests all houses would be graves. (Kahlil Gibran)

Visitor's footfalls are like medicine; they heal the sick. (African Proverb)

Mighty proud I am that I am able to have a spare bed for my friends. (Samuel Pepys)
I really identify with that last one. Having a guest room is what I like the most, I should say, about my little house!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

God will provide

The first reading appointed for this morning is the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac at the hand of Abraham, his father.

It's a powerful narrative: dramatic, suspenseful, riveting and, for many, deeply disturbing and upsetting. For the moment, however, let's leave aside all the implications regarding human sacrifice in the historical period during which this story emerged. Let's also leave aside what it triggers about child abuse for many people today as well as what some insist it indicates about the nature of God from a biblical standpoint.

Instead, let's consider the radical nature of unreserved commitment.

And then contemplate the play of light and shadow against deep darkness in the stunning painting above by Caravaggio. (Click or double click on the image for a larger version.)

Then these words from the reading:
Here I am! (Notice, Abraham says this three times: to God, to Isaac, and to God's angel.)

So the two of them walked on together. (Mentioned twice, by the way.)

The Lord will provide.
You can find all of today's readings right here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A religion of wonder

Artist: William Blake

Here's something Carl Jung said that gives me pause:
If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude.
Mind you, there are different connotations to that word "salvation" and I could wish Jung had picked another word or set of words actually. I think what he meant was "avoiding hell". But I certainly do get his point about wonder. And, with that bit, I certainly agree.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The great human flaw

Artist: Francisco de Goya

This is sad. And profound. And insightful:

God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages.

-- Jacques Deval

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oh! Delight and Magnificence!

A Facebook friend of mine posted the following this morning and it gladdened my heart!

Monday, June 20, 2011


Artist: Fred Pansing

Here's a quotation I've cherished for many years now:

If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I really don't think much is accomplished by arguing people into a religious point of view - much less by scaring them. It is the longing for something beyond or deeper than oneself (one's ego) that makes all the difference.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Three in One; One in Three

I offer the following Celtic prayer in honor of the day:
I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through your own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God,
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give us your Spirit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Artist: Leon Wyczółkowski

The old saints used to refer to awareness of God as "recollection" and I've always loved that word. Probably the word in current use that comes closest to what was meant would be "mindfulness". An interest in remembering, a willingness to remember, is part of that mindfulness, I would assert:

Wherever you have seen God pass, mark that spot, and go and sit in that window again.

-- Henry Ward Beecher

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

More about Pentecost

Artist: Giotto di Bondone

This is from a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus:
Perhaps the greatest marvel of Pentecost is that the peoples gathered at Jerusalem heard the disciples at all amid the din of the city and the bustle of their own lives. But hear them they did, each of them comprehending the message of the Gospel not only in Hebrew and Greek, the common languages of that time and place, but in the language of the human heart. Now as then, all nations and peoples yearn to hear words of forgiveness and peace. But we do not live in a world that likes to listen. Too often we hear what we want to hear and simply call it the voice of God.
All language about God is only an approximation to the reality of God, for human language cannot fully comprehend the divine mystery. No one owns the truth. No one owns God. But the more we listen, the closer we come to God. And the closer we come, the more there is to hear and understand of “God’s deeds of power” and great love for us. And then, just when we think we may finally have this God business all figured out, God surprises us yet again and challenges us to delve deeper: to love those we cannot possibly love and to forgive the unforgivable.
It would be beneficial to all (and for all) if we remembered that language about God is "only an approximation". That one awareness all by itself would serve as an antidote to much of the religious conflict abounding in our world today.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

No distance

Artist: Johann Michael Rottmayr

As many of you know who are regular readers of this blog, Kathryn Matthews Huey, a United Church of Christ minister, is one of my favorite preachers gracing today's pulpits. Here's an excerpt from her 2007 Pentecost sermon:
This is the season for graduations, and last weekend I had the marvelous experience of hearing Richard Lederer speak. You may have heard him on NPR – he's an expert on language and words, and we love words, so we were excited to hear his lecture after he spoke at Case Western Reserve University's graduation. He told us that the best advice he could give these new graduates was the following: "Let there be no distance between who you are and what you do." I sat back in my chair when I heard those words. I knew they applied to this day, this Pentecost Sunday, better than anything I could come up with.
We might be tempted at times to give in to those same impulses we see around us – to build up our defenses, look out for ourselves, find security in our "stuff" and in our sure knowledge that we know best, but this wind of the Spirit – it blows through our lives and it turns things upside down. We want a faith that only consoles us, and instead, God challenges our assumptions, blows them over, and opens up our eyes to see things in a new way, opens our hearts to a new creation of possibility and hope. That's who we are as the church, you know – people of hope; and so today we pray that there will be no distance, not one single millimeter, between who we are as people of hope, and all that we do and say.
Wow. Just wow.

May all of us have our eyes so opened.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A very stirring form of chant

I will extol thee, my God, my king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.
GREAT is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The full promise of life

Saint Benedict
Artist: Fra Angelico

The following is listed as the favorite quotation of a Facebook friend of mine. I also happen to know that it really appeals to one of our regular readers here at the Does Not Wisdom Call blog!
Live this life and do what ever is done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile. Give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning. Quit the search for salvation, it is selfish. And come to comfortable rest in the certainty that those who participate in this life with an attitude of thanksgiving will receive its full promise.
--- St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543 C.E)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Prayer and one's feelings

Artist: Hans Memling

Yesterday I found myself picking up a little book I've had for decades entitled Prayer and Personal Religion by the late John B. Coburn, former Bishop of Massachusetts. Here's a bit I have underlined:
To will a prayer is to direct your will to God, irrespective of your feelings. It is the final and most essential prayer in the sense that this is "you" praying - the real you as your emotions are not "you". When you have said to God, "I will this...or thank you...or to to love you..or to have you," you have expressed the very heart of your relationship to God. This will is the core of your soul.
So do not trust your feelings as guides in your relationship with God. They come and they go. They are helpful when they make you "feel" near God. But nothing has actually changed when those feelings change. God is still there. And so are you.
I have come into contact with quite a number of people throughout my ministry who believe their prayer is a failure because they don't have "feelings" of God's presence. All the great saints and teachers of prayer have reminded us over and over that feelings are fickle. We are to appreciate "spiritual" feelings when we have them but we are not to count on them --- and we are certainly not to cling to them or try to bring them back when they change.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unceasing prayer

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about what authentic prayer is all about. Henri Nouwen expresses it very powerfully here:
To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings. ... Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts -- beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful -- can be thought in the presence of God. ... Thus, converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centred monologue to a God-centred dialogue.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rust on our souls

Artist: Ermenegildo Antonio Donadini

I discovered the works of Langston Hughes when I was quite young - early teens, I'd say. I was moved, inspired, challenged and comforted by his verse. Hughes is the one who wrote "What happens to a dream deferred?" and "My soul has grown deep like the rivers," and "Let America be America again." Stirring stuff.

But today I found something of his I had not come across before:
Every thing there is but lovin' leaves a rust on your old soul.
It reminds me of those wonderful words of John of the Cross:
In the evening of life we shall be judged on love.


Let's not forget this great truth.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Ascension

Well, I'm a day late in posting about the Ascension.

Here's something by John Henry Newman on the subject:
Christ is already in that place of peace, which is all in all. He is on the right hand of God. He is hidden in the brightness of the radiance which issues from the everlasting throne. He is in the very abyss of peace, where there is no voice of tumult or distress, but a deep stillness--stillness, that greatest and most awful of all goods which we can fancy; that most perfect of joys, the utter profound, ineffable tranquillity of the Divine Essence.
The real message of the Ascension is not that Christ has "gone" to another "place" but that he is the "All in all" - that is, he can no longer be located in a specific place. It is the great doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Blogging interruption

I'll be back soon, folks. I just have a lot going on right now and am a bit tired out. I'll be back Friday at the latest.

Blessings to all!