I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation lately.
Commute—(15 second walk to the desk). Zoom all day. Commute. Answer email until late. Sleep (hopefully). Repeat. Weekends: Crazy too—non-stop, masked-up, still over-programmed, kids/grandkids sports, drama, dance, music—all from a social distance. And church. Church? Sure, Facebook Live! Yeah, I know, right? One more thing.
It never ends.
I watched the movie Sound of Metal over the weekend. It’s a great movie. It was up for the Best Picture Oscar won by Nomadland (a worthy winner!) and it’s about a heavy metal rock drummer who loses his hearing and worries about losing his life because of it.
One of his teachers tries to get him to embrace his deafness and learn to just “sit.” He says that when you can just sit in the silence, you discover the kingdom of God. Wow!
Makes me wonder-- When was the last time you really unplugged? Like really unplugged. Turn off the phone. Radio silence. Go dark. No technology. Nothing.
It’s one of the Spiritual Disciplines in Richard Foster’s bookThe Celebration of Discipline. This book is a classic. He gives us a number of Disciplines to try—things to bring clarity to this crazy jacked-up existence. Prayer, Fasting, Meditation, Study, Simplicity, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship, Guidance, Celebration are all chapter headings and good ideas for capturing the Spirit in and around our daily lives. And Solitude is one, too.
Sit. Be. Repeat.
Imagine several days of that! Full-on hermetic, monastic, cloistral life. Even for a few hours.
Maybe it sounds boring. Maybe it sounds selfish. Maybe it sounds divine!
Maybe we can capture a moment here or there. I know a lady who can’t find space to be alone except in the coat closet at home. It’s dark, it’s quiet, it’s perfect.
If you can’t carve out a few days, maybe you can carve out a few moments. Combine a little solitude with meditation, with prayer.
Psalm 23 comes up in the Revised Common Lectionary cycle for church this Sunday. It’s a classic. They’re all classic, but #23 may be the best-known of the Psalms.
You may know this trick. Grab any Judeo-Christian Bible. Put your fingers in the middle of the pages in the book and open it. Chances are high, like almost 100%, that you will open the Bible to the Psalms. Right in the middle of the book.
Sure, it’s a cute little parlor trick, but it’s also nice to know. The Psalms are ancient songs, poems, laments, petitions, praises, amazing prayers—all ways to talk to God. And all ways to listen for God. It’s kind of like a prayer app. Open to the middle and seek God through the Psalms.
Psalm 23 is classic.
Sunday School kids for generations have been taught to memorize it and know it by heart. I used to be able to recite the King James Version, but I think my old mind has disconnected from that a little bit over the years. Life, new translations, seminary, and the work have all muddied that water.
I can muddle through it, but not like when I was 10—back in the day, I had it down.
Please forgive the patriarchal language—let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Here’s the New Revised Standard Version:
A Psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 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.
It works better as poetry if it’s centered, doesn’t it? It definitely works better as prayer. Centered.
That’s what we do when we pray. Center ourselves in God.
I’m asking you to read it again, and center yourself here:
What does it look like when “goodness and mercy follow me”?
I’m just gonna leave it all right here in the middle.
So, I chuckle as I write that title out because this probably isn’t going in the direction you’re assuming. Not even close. Heaven? Or Hell?
Presbyterians. One of the things we don’t do very well, and have never done very well, is talk about our spirituality. We always kinda cache our spirituality in really vague terms. Even when it comes to prayer—the most basic of Christian practices. It’s just not that often you’ll hear someone say, “I need to pray about that.” Or, “I have been praying about…” In practice, it happens for sure. But we don’t hear a lot about it—not that often, anyway.
All that said, when it comes to spirituality, I’m actually happy to talk about it. I do talk about it. A lot. It’s kinda my job to talk about it. Promote it. While I’m probably not the gentlest person you know about most things, I do take a gentle approach when it comes to spirituality.
I’m sensitive to “Presbyterian spirituality” which is very chill in most cases. It’s so chill that most Presbyterians can bristle at the first blush. This is one of those things you learn early as a Presbyterian minister. You don’t be shy about it, but you gotta be chill about it.
And personally, I have a pastor’s sense and care for my own spirituality, for my practices. I have shared before that I have a daily routine. Never fails. Every day. Time with God. It’s how I start my day. Quiet time. I pray for you. I pray for our church. Every. Day. I read the Daily Lectionary Bible verses. Phyllis Tickle. J. Phillip Newell. And I read Richard Rohr.
Fr. Richard Rohr is a highly progressive Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you read any progressive theological articles or books at all, Richard Rohr is often quoted and a highly sought-after conversation partner. Only within the last 4-5 years, I learned he does a daily devotional and I LOVE HIM! Turns out, a number of my colleagues across the denominational lines love him, too.
So—he pushes my buttons all the time and a few years ago, he ran a whole series on Heaven and Hell. I have, for at least a decade, theologically agreed with him on the entire concept of Heaven and Hell and it’s simply this:
Heaven and Hell aren’t places. They are states. Present current states. Heaven and Hell are here and now. In this life, on this Earth, in our lives. Always in all ways.
Here are a couple broad strokes at it:
Heaven is heartfelt and found in and among the peaks of light living life as a follower of Jesus Christ. Loving others unconditionally as Jesus loves us. Building community and taking care of our neighbors as described in the early church by actions of the Holy Spirit (in the book of Acts).
Hell, on the other hand, is also heartfelt and found in and among the valleys of darkness that surround us. Evil. Heinous acts. Tough times. Hard life events. Loss. Depression. All that is Hell, obviously.
Heaven and Hell. Sometimes they are of our own making!
Okay, that’s plenty enough to make your brain hurt.
A few years ago, RR quotes a poet David Whyte, from the collection Fire in the Earth (Many Rivers Press: 2002).
Take a moment and read this—giving yourself pause. Like, read it and sit in the Mystery for a while. Just sit and be. Wow!
“The Old Wild Place”
After the good earth where the body knows itself to be real and the mad flight where it gives itself to the world, we give ourselves to the rhythm of love leaving the breath to know its way home.
And after the first pure fall, the last letting go, and the calm breath where we go to rest, we’ll return again to find it and feel again the body welcomed, the body held, the strong arms of the world, the water, the waking at dawn and the thankful, almost forgotten, curling to sleep with the dark.
Okay Christian person. Let me ask you a question that is enough to make your brain hurt. Easter was Sunday. The resurrection of Lord Jesus Christ. Now what?
What do we do with the Post-Easter Jesus?
That’s literally the age-old question we’ve been struggling with since the women discover the empty tomb. And by “we,” I mean us—Jesus followers. What do we do with him?
You start to really feel the struggle in the early Pauline letters. 1 Thessalonians is probably the first of Paul’s letters to emerge and it likely doesn’t come along until mid-1st Century—20 years after the crucifixion. In fact, Paul’s letters emerge before the Gospels. Then Mark comes first and not until at least 60-65. The others much later, and John’s Gospel may not have emerged until as late as the 2nd Century!
Even the Didache, which is literally a manual for being a person of “The Way”—basically what they call the lifestyle of following Jesus—They aren’t even known as “Christians” yet! The Didache comes out also mid-1st Century, and even the Didache doesn’t talk about the resurrection. Not one word!
After a lot of thought and study I think I understand why no resurrection. I think it’s because they are living it. Like, if put yourself into their context, in the years immediately following Jesus they are mourning, processing, developing love and community around his teaching. They are experiencing and actually becoming the resurrection.
This is no “belief structure." This is lifestyle. This is huge!
It’s also important to know that Paul never meets Jesus of Nazareth! Paul’s experience of Jesus comes on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9) post-Easter and he has a serious life-changing confrontation with the risen Christ! He is blinded by the light of Christ!
So, what we get here in 2021 are these glimpses of the Risen Christ through the eyes of the earliest followers. And this is significant! Scholars agree that to best understand the impact of a leader, a movement, or a culture is to examine the lives of the adherents.
What do they do? How do they live? What do they teach their children? Hmmmm.
That’s enough to make your brain hurt, too! What do we do with this Post-Easter Jesus? And that is it.
Are we becoming the resurrection? Following Jesus? Loving each other as Jesus loves us? Building welcoming community and taking care of our neighbors? Yes or no?
When we look in the mirror, do we see the face of Jesus?