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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Week 2 of Study: Non-Word Ways to Imprint God on the Believer

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The reading for Sunday, August 2, 2015:

Deuteronomy 11:1 - 21

As I read the passage for Sunday, I was struck by the end:

"You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth."

We are to carry the words of God not only in our hearts, our brains, but visibly too.  Last week I wrote a post which thought about words and how we would carry them.  Today I want to think about how else we might come to know God, if not by words.

I've spent most of my life dealing with words, as an English major and an English teacher.  As a Lutheran, too, I've spent much of my time with words:  saying them, singing them, listening to them, writing them.

But are there other ways to hear God's message?

We might see the voice of God in creation.  After all, we can know a lot about an artist by the work that the artist creates.  What does the world around us tell us about God?  It's a vast creation, so we are likely to get many insights from it.  Even if you think you know the message, look again.  Take a look at the harder parts of this question.  What does the cancer cell tell us about the mind of God?

It's an uncomfortable line of questioning, and I confess that I don't have an answer yet.  But I'm convinced that it's an important question to ask.  It's easy to see God in a beautiful sunset and come away with the standard idea that God loves beauty and color.  But what about the not so beautiful aspects of life?

How else can we imprint God's message on our bodies?  Lately I've begun to see that part of the verse about imprinting God's words on our bodies as suggesting that we use our bodies as part of our spiritual discipline.  I'll remember a verse in a more tangible way if I repeat it as I move around a labyrinth.  I'm more likely to calm down if I pray while practicing yoga or deep breathing than I am if I simply pray.  I know I'm not alone.  What do we learn about God by this observation?

We might also learn about God from the visual arts.  What do painters, potters, sculptors, photographers, and other artists teach us about God?  We live in a time of wonderful resources.  Most of us have access to a wide world of art via the Internet.  What might we learn by studying a non-word work of art?

There are many ways to imprint God onto our lives.  What a wonderful realization!  Most of us will have a favorite, but it's good to branch out to see what other methods might have to teach us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Week 1 of Study: Imprinting God's Word

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The reading for Sunday, July 26, 2015:

Deuteronomy 11:1 - 21

As I read the passage for Sunday, I was struck by the end:

"You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth."

We are to carry the words of God not only in our hearts, our brains, but visibly too.  How many of us do that?

I think of the jewelry that we wear.  We have plenty of symbols to choose from, but not much in the way of words.  I think of our clothes.  Would our lives change if we embroidered the words of God on our clothes?

I think of the tattoos that people get.  I wonder which words I would choose to be inked permanently on my body--so many to choose from.

I ponder the ways we could put God's words on our doorposts and gates.  In modern times, it wouldn't be enough.  We should put them on our car's door frames too.

I see this commandment as a bracketing device.  We never go far without remembering who has claimed us.  We move through this world of harsh words enveloped in the protective cushion of God's word.

I have been enjoying the Facebook posts from Lutheran youth at their gathering in Detroit.  That's been another way of talking about the word of God, a different way of raising up children.  The faith of the next generation has been strengthened, and what a gift that we get to watch that process and be strengthened in return.

I turn to Facebook for many reasons, and by now, I now which posts to avoid and which to seek out.  I love my friends who give me inspiration of all sorts.  I avoid those posts that are inflammatory, and I wonder why so many people seem so determined to be so angry.

Many of us are now living more of our lives online.  How would the ancient writer of Deuteronomy advise us to bracket this time with the words of God?  There are many resources out there to support our faith lives.  Sadly, there are even more sites that work to wear us down.

The passage makes clear that our faith is not just one aspect of our personalities.  It isn't just what we do on Sunday--but most of us already knew that.

Our faith should permeate every aspect of us.  We should be God-soaked people--and we do that by immersing ourselves in studying the word of God.

Most of us think about the word of God, and we begin in traditional ways.  We read the Bible, and most of our Bibles are composed of words.  We go to church where we hear and sing words.  We talk to our fellow believers.  We read our children stories at bedtime.  We have conversations over meals--more words.

There's nothing wrong with this approach, of course.  But researchers who study how humans learn show us that some of us learn better in ways that don't involve words.

As I go through the coming week, I plan to think about the words of God and the other ways we might discover the words of God that we are to imprint on ourselves and our dwellings and our children.  More on these ideas in next week's post!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Psalm 130:5-6

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the LORD
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Psalm 130:5-6

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Prayer as Self-Care

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, July 19, 2015:

Ephesians 1: 15-23

Luke 18:1-8

At some point, it would be interesting to go through the Gospels to see the spiritual practices that Jesus practices most often.  I suspect we see Jesus at prayer more than any other discipline.

We don’t see Jesus tithe, and we rarely see him going to weekly services. Instead, his prayers undergird his spiritual life and make it possible for him to do the works of charity and healing that he does.

The ministry of Jesus has much to teach us, and one of the most important lessons is that we can't take care of others when we're not taking care of ourselves. Jesus prays, Jesus takes retreats, Jesus shares meals with friends--these are the activities that leave him ready to care for the masses.
Notice that not even Jesus can stay busy all the time. The Gospels give us insight into our own care. Like Jesus and the disciples, many of us are living such busy lives that we don't even have time to eat.

The work of building God's Kingdom in our fallen world will wear us to a husk; it’s true of Christ, and it’s true for us. Notice how many times Jesus finds renewal in retreating and praying.

Most of us live such busy lives that we have built no time for retreats. Even on vacation, many of us are still working. We're still plugged in by way of our cell phones and laptops. And most of us don't take vacations with the aim of spiritual renewal. Instead we take vacations that leave us frazzled and exhausted--we come home needing a vacation to recover from our vacation.

Luckily, Jesus shows us a simpler way to recharge. It's one that you can do anywhere, at any time. Jesus prays. Prayer serves many purposes, but the main purpose is to give us an intimacy with God. Our friendships don't survive long silences. Likewise, our relationship with God thrives when we make time to talk to God.
One reason Jesus came to us was to model the life we're to emulate. And if Jesus prays, we should take our cue from him.

We will not be able to do the work that God calls us to do if we don't practice basic self-care.  Jesus shows us the way.   We need to take time to pray. We need to retreat. It's O.K. to eat a slow meal with friends.

Not only is it O.K., it's essential. Christ, the incarnation of God on earth, needed to take a break. So do we all.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Garden of Gethsemane Prayers

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The Gospel for Sunday, July 12 and July 19:

Mark 12: 32-42

How interesting to return to the Garden of Gethsemane, here in the middle of the heat of summer.  How fascinating to see Jesus praying some of the most fervent prayers we will see him offer.  There's a powerful lesson here.

Many of us approach God as Santa Clause in our prayer life.  We ask for what we want, and there's nothing wrong with this.

But how do we respond when we don't get what we ask for?  Do we see our prayers as unanswered?  Worse, do we see ourselves as unworthy?

In recent years, I've seen a surge of friends and colleagues who develop cancer.  I've prayed for the restored health of each.  Alas, some of them have died.

Would they still be alive if I was better at prayer?  I don't believe this.

If we believe in an all-powerful God, then why doesn't God intervene and make the world better?  It's a thorny theological question, and many writers offer many explanations.  Perhaps God has a different plan, and we only see the corner of it.  Perhaps God created a universe based on free will, and thus, God cannot intervene.  Maybe God isn't as powerful as we want to believe.  Maybe God loves cancer cells more than humans.  Maybe my friends and colleagues had done something to deserve these cancers.

One can see the potential for dangerous paths when we ponder these questions.  In my younger years, I'd have been happy to debate these theological questions for hours.

In my later years, I've gotten some comfort from this picture of Jesus at prayer.  Even Jesus, a part of the Trinity, does not have his prayers answered.

In the case of Jesus, we know how part of the story ends.  We know that greater suffering will come to Christ when he leaves the Garden.  We see this savior crucified.  But we also know that out of this ruin will come triumph.

We do not know how--or if--our prayers will be answered.  We do know that God is present in our suffering.  We do know that God can transform every type of wreckage, and often in ways we can't anticipate.

Sure, I, too, often wish that God would be more like Santa Clause.  But a person of mature faith grows out of expecting that.  It's enough to know that God is like the skillful fabric artist, weaving a whole cloth out of all of the threads of any life.