Saturday, May 2, 2020

Adventures in Spiritual Practices by Lavera Wade

Last Sunday during the Mission Center Sunday Service a guided centering prayer was offered. We were asked to close our eyes, and direct our attention to our breath, silently saying the word open as we breathed in and heart as we breathed out.   My busy little brain wanted to sing a favorite hymn that begins with “Open My Heart Lord”.  I am still growing in this process of spiritual practice.

For the last few years, I have been participating in the Spiritual Growth and Companioning program.  A great deal of time in this program has been devoted to the study and practice of spiritual practices.  At the first retreat for this class I was asked to select a spiritual practice that I would like to use daily.  I love God’s creation and have over the years found peace in gardening and fishing.  So I chose Holy Attention and devoted my time in spiritual practice each morning looking deeply at a toothpick holder that my husband a woodworker had made from a burl.

Or I would sit quietly on the patio bench watching finches, hummingbirds, and quail stop by for a snack. I found it easy to be still in this attention to God’s creation.  Well sometimes I found it easy, other times my busy brain would like to take off like a gerbil on a wheel with all kinds of conversations that were not happening, or concerns about issues out of my control.  In time I learned to gently quiet my busy mind and return to the silence.

Concentrating on the breath is an often suggested means of bringing the mind back to the meditation.  My problem is when I am concentrating on my breath I struggle to breathe normally.  I was grateful recently to read that this was not uncommon in learning spiritual practices.  One would think this would all be much simpler, but then there was a time when I did not know how to tie my shoes.  It is all part of learning and growing spiritually.

At the next retreat I was instructed by my leader to pick a new spiritual practice.  I liked the practice of Holy Attention and complained to my Spiritual Director that as I was learning so much from the practice of Holy Attention that I saw no reason to change to another practice.  A wise man, he suggested I try including the prayer of examen in my evening prayers for others, and continue the practice of Holy Attention as I wished. I said I would try it for a month.  The prayer of examen changed my life and I cannot image ever ending my day without this spiritual practice.  (See November 2019 Blog article)

Yesterday I received a book, Lectio Divina (required reading for the class) transforming words and images into heart centered prayer (by Christine Painter).  I will share an abbreviated portion of the of the initial steps of this spiritual practice suggested in this book.  After reading a short text or scripture,   settle into your prayer space (maybe spending some quiet time with your breath.)  Listen for a word or phrase in the reading that calls to you.  Repeat the word or phrase in silence.

Quietly listen for what images feelings or memories are stirring and welcome into your heart whatever comes.  Listen for how the stirring in your heart connects to your everyday life. In time prayer may arise spontaneously, when you allow your heart to be touched by this entering of God into your experience.  (Sometimes for me the prayer is a deep feeling of peace.)  Other times answers about the questions of my day will come to me later as I go about my daily activities. 

So, returning to the centering prayer last Sunday.  Amazing, I found that silently saying the word open as I breathed in and heart as I breathed out resulted in my breathing remaining fairly normal. I love it when at last I just get it.  We were asked to continue this breathing for one minute, and after a bell at the end of the minute, we were asked to open our eyes and rest in the silence for a minute and a half.  A minute and a half can seem like a very long time sometimes, and other times 20 minutes fly by. I use an egg timer or my phone to track time.

During this virus situation I have depended on spiritual practices to keep centered and find some peace in the midst of all this lack of normal as we knew it.  I find it easy to spend a couple minutes during the day, and other times for much longer, in silently opening my heart to God’s love. As I continue to learn the art of these different spiritual practices, I have found it easier to gently settle into the process.  Just enjoy the art of spiritual living.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

When You Can’t Pray by John VanDerWalker

There has been a growing impatience with the response “Our thoughts and prayers are with you/them.”   People of faith and folks of social conscience are beginning to say, let’s quit praying and do something about _________.  This is a valid criticism and one that we should, as disciples of Jesus consider as a criticism on Christian discipleship.  If all Jesus had done is pray and not extended healing touch and liberation the blind would have remained so, the guilty would have been condemned and the world would be in darkness.

But what about when you can’t pray?  Some would have you believe that prayer can be stopped by laws, I know better, I have prayed in the midst of some very hostile environments, and have offered vocal public prayers calling those in power to account.  There is nowhere in the world that you cannot pray, if you are able.

Sound like a contradiction?  Well maybe, but let me explain.  There has been a time in my life that I couldn’t pray.  The habit was still there, the desire or maybe the motivation was there, but the thoughts and words would not come.  I have sat, stood, laid in silence with my tongue and mind in neutral, no thoughts, no words, no prayers.  Recently this has gone on for years. 

Now, before you start pitying me, hang on. 

I have never once felt alone or abandoned by God in these times.  As I think back on those dry spells I am reminded of the witness of nature, the witness of my friends, my family, spiritual leaders, and authors.  Not once did God discontinue to show me God’s presence, whether it be in the antics of chickadees, the grace of soaring eagles, the rambunctious joy of a fawn, or the meditative murmur of a trout stream, God was constantly present and speaking.  I have had folks reach out to me out of the blue, like my high school friend David, who upon hearing of the passing of a loved one has called every couple of weeks just to make sure I was ok.  Or the dedication of colleagues who make sure the job gets done well and with a sense of joy to boot.  There is always the witness of faithfulness from my life companion who has not had an easy time with me. 

God’s genius expressed in the genius of men and women who are able to use words on paper to generate ideas, confirm feelings and foster inspiration, is witness to me in early morning and late evening reading sessions that at times last hours.  I sense God there on the pages flowing from the minds of those who write.  Wendell Berry, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, and on and on.

I know that some have felt abandoned by God, luckily I have not really been there, but I have been and am somewhat still mute when it comes to prayer, or at least what I was taught was prayer.  My mind swirls with the condition of the planet, the pain of my friends and the struggle of family and while that tornado is spinning in my head, still the words do not come, and so I sit, stand, lie, quietly, paying attention to the presence of God around me.  I listen.  And maybe that is appropriate for me, maybe I have said enough for a lifetime and now it is time to listen, to watch, to feel, to act.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Finding God among the produce by Mark Olson

I have always enjoyed food and cooking.  Twelve years ago my relationship to both changed when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  I spent many months journaling about and examining my relationship to food. I tracked what I ate, when I ate, how much I ate and, most importantly, why I ate.  I read books and articles. I talked to doctors and dieticians.  Slowly, I began to see food with new eyes.

I adopted a very basic guiding principle that 70-80% of what I ate needed to cut up by me. I had my knives sharpened. I started spending time carefully picking out fresh produce, washing it and chopping it.  This small act has become a cornerstone of my spiritual life. 

Chopping garlic, onions, peppers, and mushrooms and peeling grapefruit, avocados and oranges has become a meditation practice.  I spend time with my cutting boards and my knives preparing wholesome food to nourish body and soul. 

I grew up saying grace before dinner.  Now, I give thanks to all the hands that help provide the food I cut up.  I give thanks for the fresh produce.  I give thanks for the opportunity to prepare food that will nourish the body and soul of all those who partake of it.  I give thanks and enjoy my time cutting and chopping.  The rhythm of chopping produce has a meditative-spiritual affect when done with intention and attention.  This is what the Buddhist call “joyful effort”.  Every pear cut, every cucumber peeled, every tomato sliced becomes an opportunity to give thanks. It can be an opportunity to live in the moment and connect with the life-giving bounty of God’s creation.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Blessings of Community - Tiona Reunion by Carol Ann Reiff

Terry and I had a bucket list dream of attending the Tiona reunion in Australia.  This year it became a reality.  December 12 we landed in Sydney, cruised the east coast, snorkeled on the Gold Coast, saw a performance at the Sydney Opera house, hand fed kangaroos and pet a Koala.  All of that was amazing but none of that compared with the beauty and warm hospitality of the Tiona reunion.
When I told one of the Saints at the reunion how lovely the people were to us he laughed, “Of course, we are at reunion!”  I stopped counting the number of times someone told me, “My grandparents came to Tiona every year and my parents didn’t miss a reunion and I wanted my children to be able to have this Tiona experience too.”  Tiona has Lake Wallis on one side and the Ocean on the other.  The beaches on each are treasures.  The long lake beach is only one half to a foot deep for over a hundred meters – lovely for the children to play freely.  The ocean beach carnival is a favorite each year.  I began to wonder if people worshiped Tiona instead of God!  By the week’s end I saw it was both.
Creative fun, lots of laughter, rich fellowship, reverent worship, many good classes taught by gifted mid lifers and the sacraments of baptism, communion and laying on of hands. Our favorite time of each day was sitting together in the outdoor “Green Cathedral” next to the lake, worshiping as we watched the sunset.  It was magnificent and unique each evening.
It was hard to leave Tiona and those lovely, hospitable people.  Like all of our reunions, the Love of God bound us together in a rich peace beyond our understanding.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Temple Story by Brittany Mangelson

The story I have for you, is actually three short stories that connect my distant past, my present understanding and my future with this sacred building. The first time I saw the Temple was 2002. I was a young teenager on a church history tour. I was not a member of Community Christ, but my heritage and history with faith shares roots in the sacred story of the restoration. Unfortunately, our itinerary for the tour did not include Community of Christ’s Temple. We did, however, eat lunch on the lawn of the LDS visitor’s center just across the street. I have a distinct memory of looking up at this building and being so curious about its soft , yet bold design. I was not seeking a new spiritual home at that point, but the architecture of this building stuck with me and I carried that curious image with me throughout the next decade.

The first time I was able to visit this sacred space was in 2016. By that point, I was a member of Community of Christ, an ordained priest, and was set to interview President Emeritus Wallace B Smith for Project Zion Podcast. My 5 year-old twin daughters and 2 year-old son were anxious after being in the car for the two day drive from Utah. My family pulled into the parking lot to set up for our important interview, and we weren’t even in the building before we were stopped and shown Christian love and hospitality by someone who has since become a friend. Nita Harder was a stranger at the time who took a moment to pause and see a family struggling with three young kids. She stopped to welcome us, to tell a few jokes, and help my kids get in a much better mood. She gifted us peace before we even walked in the door.

The next few hours were a whirlwind experience. I had heard so much about this building and I was afraid my enthusiasm was setting myself up for disappointment. Could it really be a place where all were welcome? Was it going to be as open, transparent, loving, and filled with grace as everyone said? As a young mother, I worried that my family would be seen as a burden, or that I would be pigeonholed into one identity and role because of my gender. Could I actually find empowerment and a voice of my own in this holy place?

The answer was YES!

From the moment we arrived, I was treated like family. We happen upon Apostle Linda Booth in the lobby who was thrilled to see us and paused her very busy morning to give us a tour of the Temple complex. My kids were able to meet a significant amount World Church leadership and I quickly realized that not only was I considered worthy and good enough to be in this space, but they were too. We left with chocolates from the UK, wishes and blessings that were given to us in Spanish and whichever language Bunda happened to be speaking at the time, and pens straight out of Scott Murphy’s personal collection.

Christ’s Mission and the ministries of the Temple came alive for me that morning. I was affirmed in a way I didn’t think was possible. I was given a deepened understanding that the soft, bold architecture of this building is reflected in the Spirit of Joy, Hope, Love, and Peace that we experience here.

Since that first visit in 2016, I have had the privilege of coming back four additional times as part of Community of Christ’s Seminary program. Each time, I have tried to carve out space to be alone and sit in the quiet peace I find here. I’ve never told this story before and to be honest, I wasn’t planning on ever sharing it, but during one particularly chilly and gloomy day in the middle of deep study, I found myself looking out a window onto the lawn across the street that I had once picnicked on. I went into deep reflection on what has happened to me since I sat on that lawn. My journey into Community of Christ was difficult, but in that moment the feelings of grace and gratitude was overwhelming. This journey had been worth it. Here I was, again just a young mom, who was being not only welcomed in this Temple, but empowered and educated here, too. I was being educated in the ways and teachings of Jesus. Those teachings of radical hospitality, of reconciliation and healing, and the reality that ALL are worthy and welcome to surrender to God’s divine grace. As I sat staring out the window, I knew I could not keep quiet about this. That’s the beauty of this Temple! We have a message to share! We come into the Worshipper’s Path and into this Sanctuary and we are changed and equipped for mission. We are charged to bring Christ’s message of peace to the entire world. My place in this puzzle of mission was made clear to me on that gloomy winter day. Because I am worthy enough to be here, I must invite others. The message is too important, too critical to remain within these walls.

This space has changed me. It has brought me a deeper connection to God, clarity, community, friendship, and most of all; peace. And that is the message I hope to carry out into the world.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

“If He Had Not Come” by David R. Brock, Redmond, Oregon

One of the stories my mom read to us at Christmas time when I was a child was, “If He Had not Come”. Many decades later, though I don’t recall the details, I do remember the strong feeling I had when hearing it.  My concern, mostly anxiety,(though I doubt it had much if anything to do with the story itself) was that if Jesus had not come there would be no days off from school, no presents to buy and wrap, no secrets to keep from other family members about gifts to come, no new pajamas on Christmas eve (every year, without fail!), no stockings to hang by the chimney with care, no parties at school, no annual children’s Christmas pageant, no tree to decorate, no visit from Santa—maybe no Santa at all, no north pole, no elves, no Rudolph, no two front teeth so I could whistle Merry Christmas (as the popular carol went).

Almost 60 years later, my response to “If he had not come” has changed. Hopefully I’m wiser and a little more mature, a little less self-centered.  Don’t get me wrong, though, I still get a warm feeling when I hear, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  I would be sad if I didn’t hear “Joy to the World” or “Little Town of Bethlehem,” or “Good King Wenceslas” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or even  “Snoopy versus the Red Baron”. Even though I’ve spent wonderful summer Christmases south of the equator, I’d prefer a little snow for the holidays and a few Currier and Ives winter wonderland paintings displayed around town—preferably a town decorated with thousands of holiday lights. And, dare I confess it, and please don’t tell anyone, I do take an occasional stolen glance at a Hallmark Christmas movie! 

However! Beyond all of that, I wonder, If he had not come  . . .

  • Would we proclaim and promote the worth of persons, ALL people, as clearly as we do . . . at least when we are at our best?
  • Would we expect to find God among the poor and the outcast and the widows and orphans and in places where there is no room in the inn?  Would we provide for and honor those people as we are taught to do—in unforgettable parables, in acts of forgiveness for prostitutes and persecutors?
  • Would we have the courage, would we take the risks, to confront, to ‘turn over tables’ and drive out the corrupt and unjust as some among us do in the halls of power, the boardrooms of the strong and well-connected?
  • Would we hold on as strongly to the hope that God is with us yet; that somehow in spite of all that is happening in our troubled world, goodness and right will eventually prevail?
  • Would we strive as valiantly to create communities of joy, hope, love and peace—even in fits and starts and ‘failing’ and starting over?
  • Would God seem as close, as present, as concerned, as gracious, as generous, as active in our lives, as much of an advocate for our wellbeing?
  • Would we understand that we too can be and are called to be the birthplace of God in the world?

Could God, has God, does God reveal many of those truths through other faith traditions? Is God made incarnate in our midst even from the dawn of creation, not only in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 years ago? Yes, but, as Marcus Borg wrote, “Jesus enfleshes, embodies, incarnates, God’s Word, God’s revelation, God’s character and passion in a human life. Christmas means that, for Christians, Jesus is and should be decisive. What we see in him, the Word made flesh, is our revelation, our light in the darkness.”

I don’t think we are asked to say ‘no’ to a lot of the accoutrements of Christmas. Go ahead and watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol”. Decorate a tree in a thousand lights. Stuff someone’s stocking with silly little gifts. It’s OK. What we are invited to do, however, is to say yes to the fact that God DID come to us in a unique way in Jesus. What we are invited to do is to understand that because God came to us and comes to us, we see differently, we live differently.  We give life. We nurture life. We choose life at Christmas and every other day.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Gratitude and Blessings by Lavera Wade

Early this morning as I ventured out to gather wood for the fire, I stopped for a few moments to listen to the tiny birds chattering about the frosty breath of a crisp fall morning.  The wonder and beauty of God’s creation opens my heart to the mystery and joy that is God.

I file the chatter of the tiny birds away as in prayer for tonight when I will thank God for the blessing of the joy, the sounds of the tiny birds and all of God’s creation gives me.  The list will often include the sound of the wind in the pines, time with a friend, my husband’s laughter, a kind clerk who helped me, the events of my day.

I have spent the last year in study with the Spiritual Companioning program.  This program has included devoting much time to various spiritual practices.  I have for the last forty odd years spent time each day in morning meditation, so was surprised at how much my life would be changed by going deeper into time with God. I read recently that Spiritual Practices are a bridge to God, that has certainly proven to be true for me this year.

And this is how I came to the Prayer of Examen, this prayer penned by St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) founder of the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits) is the one thing that Ignatius advised his priests they must do every day without fail.  This prayer has changed me, has changed my life.  I spend my days consciously, or without thought, preparing my list of blessings that I might thank God for each evening.  Some days I can hardly wait to begin my time in prayer so that I can express my gratitude for the life God has given me.

As I have spent my day collecting the blessings God has given me when I approach my King in prayer, my heart opens, and I can feel God’s presence in my gratitude.  The prayer continues by asking God to send his Spirit to guide me, and then I share the joy of where I have seen God’s face that day.  This prayer has brought peace to my soul, I find I have so much more compassion and patience with life events that in my past would have led to frustration and judgement.  As I continue with the prayer asking God to forgive me if I have left him out of my day, or if I have sinned. And to close, I ask God to grant me the grace to always be available to him.

November the month when Americans celebrate being thankful, of all the people in the world even at our worst we are greatly blessed.   May God richly bless each of you with His peace and love.