Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Look of Holiness

What does holiness look like? Many writers on the general topic of spirituality talk about "thin spaces" where eternal realities and temporal limitations almost touch one another. Those places where silence and attentiveness bring us face to face with what is sacred in our existence tease us into contemplation about what else may be there "on the other side."

My friend Carl posted this week on Facebook these photos of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. In May of this year he made life promises there as a lay Cistercian.  (read about it here) With him were Father Luke (100 years old!) and Father Anthony, whose promises long ago have led them into a life of simplicity, prayer and community.  The photo of the MOHS sanctuary strikes me as a place that is "thin" for many, not only the monks who reside there but the thousands of other seekers who come to be welcomed by a community of hospitality that ushers them lovingly into such thin spaces.

Many also find thin spaces in the world, outside of the walls of sanctuaries and temples. Talk to my friends who have spent time on Crystal Lake in Michigan and you will hear sacred stories of community, connection and Christ.  In both places, the sacred experience is tied to more than just physical beauty or the way the world is hushed by chanting or the lapping of waves on the shore.  Holiness may look like the loving eyes of Father Luke who has prayed with countless pilgrims or it may look like the genuine grin of a young camp counselor who finally makes a 3rd grader laugh out loud on the last day of his first experience of sleep-away camp.  What does holiness look like for you today?

For the beauty of the earth, for the wonder of each hour ... we approach this summer in search of thin spaces and rejoicing in the love we find there.

Children's Choir Singing For the Beauty of the Earth

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I Pray Shalom for You

Six months ago when I was just starting as the new pastor here at UniPlace Christian Church in Champaign one of our elders read a beautiful prayer to me from this book.  I asked for a copy of the prayer, and not long after received the book itself as a gift from her.  Today as I was reading through I came across the prayer again.  It remains my favorite in this book:

I Pray Shalom for You

I pray shalom for you --
That you wake each day eager to meet whatever comes,
That you look in the mirror and are pleased with what you see,
That you accept with courage any limitations on your abilities,
That you accept with humility, but develop creatively, your special talents,
That you know which things take priority,
That you are not stressed by having to set some things aside,
That what you do illuminates who you are,
      and that you find joy in all you do.
I pray shalom for you --
That your face is turned towards God,
That you are secure in the forgiveness of Christ,
That your life is infused with the presence of the Holy Spirit,
That your whole being is daily transformed and integrated into oneness with Christ,
     and hence wholeness and wellness,
That in having died to self you are alive to your true self,
That love is your prime motivation.
I pray shalom for you --
That you have a soul-friend to walk life's journey with you,
That you are surrounded by a community of support,
That you are a builder of community,
That you are able to transform difficult or destructive relationships through love,
That you may live in a society of justice, peace and harmony,
But if not, that you may be able to absorb whatever suffering comes your way
     And transform it, for yourself and for society.
I pray shalom for you --
That the beauty of God's creation entrhalls you,
That your love and way of life enhance that beauty and do not deplete
     the resources of the earth,
That the rhythm of your life may be in harmony
     with the rhythm of others' lives and of all creation,
     to be part of God's plan of restoration and renewal
I pray shalom for you --
That your faith may grow,
That you be filled with love,
And that hope never dies.

-- Isobel de Gruchy, South Africa

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress

This week during sermon prep time I came across this YouTube clip of an old Flip Wilson sketch.  I was wrestling through a passage of Paul's letter to the Romans and reflecting on the contrast Paul makes between living "according to the flesh" and living with the indwelling of the Spirit.  I had forgotten how funny Flip Wilson was, and how accurately he could sum up our human struggles in 3 minutes.

Everyone's favorite character (from Flip's many personas), Geraldine, describes why she ends up in the predicament Paul describes, saying, "15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate," and " 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand."  [from Romans 7]

While Geraldine draws a vivid picture of a personified force of evil (the De-vil!), Paul has a more nuanced and complicated understanding of this human struggle to will and DO what we know is right.  To live according to the indwelling of God's Spirit is a life-long process of re-orienting our thinking from an individualistic concern for what is pleasing to "our own flesh"to what is driven by God's desire for us to live in community with regard for all. Materialism, greed, selfishness ... they are all symptoms of a deeper problem, what Paul called living according to the flesh. The antidote Paul prescribes is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  A week ago we filled the sanctuary with red and welcomed the Spirit's presence on Pentecost.  Now to remember that the Spirit came to dwell in our hearts, not just decorate our sanctuaries!