A while back I started receiving a daily selection from the writing of Frederick Buechner and recently this came to my inbox. It immediately caused me to smile as I recognized much truth in it and I must admit also made me sad.
Tourist Preaching –
English-speaking tourists abroad are inclined to believe that if only they speak English loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, the natives will know what’s being said even though they don’t understand a single word of the language.
Preachers often make the same mistake. They believe that if only they speak the ancient verities loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, their congregations will understand them.
Unfortunately, the only language people really understand is their own language, and unless preachers are prepared to translate the ancient verities into it, they might as well save their breath. (From: “Whistling in the Dark” and later “Beyond Words.”)
How about you? Do hear a truth, or truths, in Buechner’s words?
What does it say to you about how God’s word of Grace has been “translated” so you heard (and hear) it?
What does it suggest to you that you might do to “translate” God’s word of Grace so it is heard by those you know?
The other day I came across this wonderful remark attributed to Iris Murdoch (the novelist and philosopher),
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
” … mad with joy … “
What am I missing because I am so use to seeing it? What around me has become so “ordinary” that I no longer see its wonder, its beauty, its freshness and its power to bring joy?
Can I journey through this day with my eyes and ears open as an visitor who wants, who needs, to “take it all in” and see all there is to see?
Give it a try. See what surprises you today and dont miss the flowers, whatever form they take.
In every extended discussion of spiritual practices “silence” always becomes a focus of attention at some point. Many times the importance of silence is questioned, especially as it is “heard” as a withdrawal from the world, the community and our call to be the light and voice of Christ in the world.
Below, Mother Teresa well states its importance and benefit,
“An empty heart God fills. Even Almighty God will not fill a heart that is full – full of pride, bitterness, jealousy – we must give these things up. As long as we are holding these things, God cannot fill it. Silence of the heart, not only of the mouth – that too is necessary – but more, that silence of the mind, silence of the eyes, silence of the touch. Then you can hear him everywhere: in the closing of the door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, the animals – that silence which is wonder and praise. Why? Because God is everywhere and you can see and hear him. (From: “Where There Is Love, There Is God,”)
I know truly gifted people who naturally hear God everywhere. I know others for whom silence, solitude and other disciples help them hear.
Wherever you find yourself, I invite you to listen and watch.
I have the feeling that C. S. Lewis won’t let me go. I find Lewis speaking to me again this week. What do you think? Does Lewis have something important to tell us?
” . . . substituted religion for God – as if navigation were substituted for arrival, or battle for victory, or wooing for marriage, or in general the means for the end. But even in this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion. It carries the suggestion that this is one more department of life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.
“Religion, nevertheless, appears to exist as a department, and in some ages, to thrive as such. It thrives partly because there exists in many people a ‘love of religious observances,’ which I think Simone Weil is quite right in regarding as a merely natural taste. There exists also – Vidler is rather good on this-the delight in religious (as in any other) organisation. Then all sorts of aesthetic, sentimental, historical, political interests are drawn in. Finally sales of work, the parish magazine, and bell-ringing, and Santa Claus.
“None of them bad things. But none of them is necessarily of more spiritual value than the activities we call secular. And they are infinitely dangerous when this is not understood. This department of life, labelled ‘sacred,’ can become an end in itself; an idol that hides both God and my neighbours. (‘When the means are autonomous they are deadly.’) It may even come about that a man’s most genuinely Christian actions fall entirely outside that part of his life which he calls religious. It’s easy to compartmentalize our lives and separate our work from our home life, and our social life from the worship service at church on Sunday. God doesn’t work that way, however, as He asks for all of our life to be submitted to His authority and leading. Of course, He does this for our own good, so that we can enjoy all parts of our lives to the fullest. In this way, true joy comes from living a life in which all of life is “religious,” or done in worship of the Creator.” (From – C.S. Lewis. “Letters to Malcolm on Prayer: Chiefly on Prayer” pp 29-31.)
Yes, that is a long quote and lots of words for today but it seems good advice to not compartmentalize our lives.
Have you ever noticed the problem of substituting religion (or church or spiritual practices) for God?
Or the problem of the means becoming the end?
Look at your “sacred” activities and your “secular” activities and notice how you might want to let Lewis’ words work deeply into your soul today.
These wise words dropped into my inbox a few days ago and they struck me as indispensable counsel for our approach to all spiritual practices,
“As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we are almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. (From: C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, p. 4″)
“As long as you notice … “ How do we move pass spiritual practice being a focus of our activity, to being a lens?
” … you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.” Initially our attention may be on the practice and to the details of “doing it right.” Then, at some time, grace enters and we let go of the details and “enjoy” the dance. We find our companion, our comforter, (need I say God’s Spirit) has brought us to where God waits for us, renews us, and sends us on.
“… perfect … service … would be one we are almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”
Take some time and reflect back over the last several days (or weeks) and look for places/times your attention was on God. Not on the “things of God” but on God.
You may want to ask God to help you glimpse what brings you to that place/time.
The other day while going through some older material I can across a great piece by Alister McGrath, “Encountering Biblical Spirituality”
The entire article deserves to be read and I want to put before you this morning just a small piece,
“As I wrestled with deepening my appreciation of the rich spirituality of the Bible, I found three principles to be helpful:
“1. When dealing with a biblical image, it is essential to pause and allow the passage to generate a mental picture. We have to enter into the world of that image. We need to project ourselves into the image, and become part of it, experiencing its richness and implications. Our faith stimulates our imaginations as well as our minds! One of the reasons why writers such as C S Lewis and George MacDonald enjoy such popularity is that they nourish both reason and imagination.
“2. When dealing with a gospel story, we must enter into it, standing alongside those who witnessed the saviour of the world. We need to meditate on these gospel narratives as though they were happening in the present moment.
“3. When dealing with a biblical idea or theme, it is not enough to understand it. It needs to be applied to our lives, so that it becomes a lived reality, rather than an abstract and lifeless notion. Christianity is not simply about ideas; it is about the transformation of spiritual reality. It needs to become real to us, instead of just rattling round inside our minds.”
Do you want to find time over the next days to “try out” McGrath’s suggestions?
What might we hear and see if did?
Let me encourage you to read Rachel Held Evans blog post “The Table.”
And for starters today, let me give you a small head start,
“Participation in the Lord’s Supper is an inherently moral act. In thefirst century church, and in our own time, people who would never have associated with each other in the larger society sit as equals around the Table of the Lord…The Eucharist, therefore, is not simply a symbolic expansion of the moral circle. The Lord’s Supper becomes a profoundly subversive political event in the lives of the participants. The sacrament brings real people–divided in the larger world–into a sweaty, intimate, flesh-and-blood embrace where ‘there shall be no difference between them and the rest.'”
Can any of that be true?
I recall Apostle Paul saying something about,
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
What for you speaks of and shows you this solidarity, this equality, this oneness in God’s family?
This past Sunday morning I was listening to “Interfaith Voices” on NPR and heard an interesting interview with Anne Lamott. She talks about her book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.
How does that sound to you? Does it capture the “essential” prayers?
Lamott opens her book with this statement:
“I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. Help. Thanks. Wow.”
Is that simple enough or too simple?
You can listen to the interview at –
(this link opens streaming audio of the interview)
Think about prayer in its simplicity. How would you describe it?
What words come to mind?
Where are you today?
Not just the physical space you are in or have been in or will be in today, but the mental, emotional and spiritual space.
On the way to work this morning I was getting more and more impatient with the other drivers on the road, people going through the parking lot the wrong way and trucks blocking my way. Then I got some great advice from my wife, “take a deep breath.”
I am glad I did because once I got to the office things got in a rush very quickly. Time to take another deep breath.
Let me encourage you to “take a deep breath” today. And, may I add something more. Look beyond the rush, look around today and see where God’s holy moments show up for you. Let’s all be looking for those today.
Please allow me a moment today to share a thought on prayer from Laurence Freemen,
Think of prayer as a great wheel. The wheel turns our whole life to God……. The spokes of the wheel represent different types of prayer. We pray in different ways, at different times, and according to how we feel…The spokes are the forms or expressions of prayer which fit into the hub of the wheel, which is the prayer of Jesus himself….All forms of prayer are valid. All are effective. They are informed by the prayer of the human consciousness of Jesus which is in us by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Does any of this speak to your experience of prayer?
What does it mean to you when he suggests ” … the forms or expressions of prayer which fit into the hub, which is the prayer of Jesus himself ….”?
How do you see your prayer related to the prayer of Jesus?
Or more to the point, “What is the prayer of Jesus?”