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Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday Poem: Expecting a Blizzard? Here's a poem...


The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain — not a single
answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

~Mary Oliver~
excerpted from American Primitive

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Prayer for Epiphany 4A


We come to you humbled by your greatness, your wonderful love, your holy wisdom.

We bring our praise of you, praise of your creation, praise of you tender mercies you bestow on us.

We come singing our love for you.

Lord , we pray for those who are poor in spirit that the may be made rich in you.

Lord we pray for comfort for those who mourn

We pray for those whose lives have been humbled by hardships that may be strengthened.

We pray for those who are hungry that their bellies be filled. But we also pray for those who hunger spiritually, may their souls be filled.

We pray for those who need mercy in their lives, may we show them your mercy in the way we treat them.

We pray for those who can’t see God that one day they may.

We pray for peace in our world especially for those places where there is great unrest and tension.

We pray for those all around the world who are martyred and persecuted that you will keep them safe and from harm.

We pray for those who are bullied, pushed around, made fun of and rejected; that others will stop the bullying, stand up for them, love them and accept them.

Lord we thank you for hearing our prayers. We thank you for being with us always.

We thank you for your son Jesus, Amen

cross posted at revgalsprayerblog and rev abi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher Party: On the Mount to Stay

Hello, Preacher Gals and Pals!

This week I looked back at the other times I've preached Year A (2005 and 2008) and realized that this is the first time it will spread out over so many weeks. That's a lot of Sermon on the Mount. Instead of turning the corner toward Lent right now, we have five more Sundays to build toward the Transfiguration.

So what are you up to on this last Saturday in January? Will we wrestle with the Beatitudes or Micah or foolishness well into the night? Can we surpass last week's comment count?

Join the party today and share your thoughts. I'm brewing Fair Trade coffee and baking chocolate chip muffins, just because. Keep me company?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fave Verses Friday Five

Twenty years ago, I was on a Pastoral Search Committee, and one of the questions we asked the ten candidates we interviewed in the first round was to tell us their three favorite passages of scripture. I loved hearing the variety of verses quoted and even learned some that I didn't know, such as the last line of one of this week's lectionary passages:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

For today's Friday Five, list your five favorite passages/verses from the Bible and tell us something about why you love them.
If you play the Friday Five at your blog and would like visitors, be sure to share a link here, using the following formulation:

<a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - Changes Edition

Providing opportunities through which congregational members can grow in knowledge and strengthen relationships is the to-do list for many pastors. But times change, members' involvement changes, and programs usually to change too. How do we keep ministries like these fresh when we have a lot of ourselves invested in them...that is this week's question.

When I was called to this congregation, one of the things they asked for was for their new Associate (me) to start a midweek program combining music, fellowship, and education. It took me almost a whole year, but I did, and that program began my second autumn.

That's 4 years ago now, and while the program is still running, it's obviously in need of some rethinking. For instance, the dinner and adult education portions of the evening are significantly less well-attended than they were at the beginning, and the program is no longer financially self-sustainable (we are paying more for dinner than we are taking in in dinner donations).

Obviously, things have changed since we implemented this program (the economy tanked, the Head of Staff left, the interim was...not a good experience...and now we have a new Head of Staff) and it's also just time to reevaluate and possibly make some changes.

The trouble I'm having, interestingly, is that I feel too close to the program to even have a constructive conversation about changing it. It's like I've become one of those people who insists that the mission project they've always headed up must continue to run in exactly the same way because it's their pet project...and I don't want to be that person. But I also don't know how to put aside the feeling that something I worked so hard on and am so invested in is somehow a failure if we have to re-invent it or make major changes to it.

So I guess I'm looking for stories and experience to help me frame this in a different way and to take the burnout factor out so I can empower people to make this the best program it can be, or to see how others have approached similar problems of changing things they are close to and invested in (or that they started)...thoughts?

~in need of a brainstorm~

From Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart

What a great, honest question! Who doesn’t feel close to, and less objective about, something in which we have a great emotional investment?Self awareness is a beautiful thing.

Is there any chance that a group of people you trust and respect can help you with evaluating and re-tooling for a new day? I think you could stay involved, as long as the folks you bring to the table to work with have your permission to be honest and just as transparent as you are to breathe some new life into a good midweek program.

You’ve acknowledged that the program needs some rethinking, and much has happened in four years’ time. Look to the future with that in mind and enjoy what the Spirit might bring to something new and exciting. I know you’re designing a midweek program, but Marcia McFee’s book The Worship Workshop might have some ideas to help you, and others with you, think in new ways. I think there might be some portions of that which could be adapted to help you think about the midweek program.

And from Muthah+ who blogs at Stone of Witness

Dear Deadhead,

I am so impressed with your own self-knowledge that you know when you need to step out. Can you talk to your Head of Staff about this and see if there is someone else who can take over this part of the ministry of the church? It definitely needs fresh eyes.

However, if it is part of your job to make this change, try to find some folk in the church who can provide some really different views of that component of your church's ministry. Get some folk who have started new small businesses, or have begun new careers lately--folks who can think outside of the box.

I have been seeing quite a few "Emerging Church" seminars out there. Perhaps if you could attend one of those with a lay person who is also intrigued by the idea. It might provide some new ideas or connect you with others who can. Get in touch with all the technology, the various things that folks in your area struggling with, or some prayer practices that might prime the spiritual pumps as alternatives to what you have been doing.

In the meantime, cut back your present program, continue the community gatherings and the intellectual stimulation. If your content is flagging find a published program and use it while letting it be known that a wholly NEW program is in the making. Keep your faithful ones while whetting their appetite for the new program you and others are planning.

But most of all: Do not think of your past program as something that failed. It is of the nature of education to need change. And no matter how invested we are in the previous program, just know that the previous program has just been outgrown. And isn't that what we are all working for---to grow Christians?

Add your own insights and suggestions; use the Post a Comment function to join the conversation.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


photo courtesy of

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday Festival: Incarnation

I don't know if you are familiar with Kirsten from Barefoot and Laughing. She used to be a contributor to the Wednesday Festival, back when we did it a different way.

She's been living with Stage IV melanoma for a while now, and I continue to be blessed by her writing as she journeys. She was first diagnosed in seminary and is preparing for a very special ministry. This piece is her Christmas reflection, on Incarnation. As we continue through Epiphany, I present it to you, the gift it is.

I hope that you will add her to your prayer list and perhaps your RSS feeds. (Sometimes these are the same thing, for me.)


I haven’t taken time to write; I’ve been doing other things. I’ve missed this, though, and need to get back to it.

I’ve been thinking about incarnation. I can talk about resurrection until I turn blue; I was diagnosed the first time in Easter season 2008, and every time I’ve gotten good health news, or felt better, I’ve been full of energy. “Alive. Again. Yeah.” But I’m realizing, incarnation is really where I need to be.

Not just because today is Christmas, although I think Advent helped me see it. I wrestle with resurrection because I want my faith to be deeper than my body’s experience. But I can’t put it in a headlock and force it to be what it doesn’t know how to be yet. You get there by prayer and practice, not by being frustrated at yourself.

My body has been through so much hell. I have no assurance that I’m done. I need to be gentle with my body; not force it to understand what it doesn’t. I need to hold with reverence, where I have been. I need to honor where I am right now.

Incarnation. Word made flesh. Emmanuel, God is with us. The holy contained in an infant’s body... in mine? Love. A mother, a baby, a stable.

I’m exhausted, because A and I went to midnight Mass in Sacramento and got home at 2 this morning. I got up and drove to Pleasanton to hear a friend and mentor preach; ended up getting to serve with her. And I have images from both of these sermons in my head.

I wanted to sit quietly with Brian’s last line; it just felt wrong to get up and read the Creed on autopilot immediately after that. “There is no place in you where God is not being born.” No place. In your own dividing cells, and in the cells dividing too quickly, there is God. In your breath, in the very fact that you are alive, there is God. In your uterus, which hasn’t bled for five months because of what chemo did to you, there is God. In your hair, already grown in, there is God. In your hope. In your zest for life. In your strength; your knowledge that you will be well even if you die, there is God. In your love for humankind’s forgotten, God lives in you.

Carol’s image of baby God this morning, wriggling down into your heart. God had tried everything to be in relationship with us. Nothing worked. Finally, a baby. This is how God gets into us. These toes. This cry. That giggle. Here we are. This child needs us. We love, and we are opened. This is how God makes a home in us. We don’t need to clean house before God gets here; we don’t need to worry about our dusty corners. God will do that. We just love, and let ourselves be loved.

(She said it way more expressively; I’m exhausted, and pulling at shreds.)

I wove that around in the car on the way home, with the Velveteen Rabbit. Love makes real. You don’t have to look perfect; it’s fine if your fur is rubbed off. I know that in my own life; the fearfulness that used to be, that kept me from being honest with myself or anyone else. I know what happened when I was diagnosed, living in the seminary fishbowl. People responded to terror with kindness. I began to heal. Talking bred connection, trust, more healing. Honesty created love.

I still get wound tightly around things that matter so much they scare me. I’m thinking of the process specifically. Am I good enough, together enough, eloquent enough for the people asking me these questions? Can I stand with the people I serve, in their scared places? Can I face the things that still hurt me? Can I answer these questions in the spirit that they’re asked, not being more unnerved by the all-eyes-on-me interview feel of it all?

I want that so much. I know that time is a question, with my body, with this illness. Can I speak truthfully and freely when it matters?

I listened to Carol preach this morning, and I kept wanting to take my shoes off. I was barefoot through most of last night’s liturgy. I find I do that when I’m looking to touch what’s real. Faith, life, God within me. Feeling through the soles of my feet helps me get there. I say it’s a holy ground thing, when people ask aren’t my bare feet cold in church. It is. And sometimes the truth is closer to, “God, where are you?”

I left my shoes on, because I’d been drafted to LEM and didn’t want to lose track of my shoes. (In her own church, she asked me to carry a chalice almost whenever she saw me. I'd come up from the congregation and do it. Today was a different set-up; I was vested and processing. I didn’t know anybody but her and the rector. I couldn’t quite be that casual.) I noticed how tight my laces felt, and then I noticed when. Whenever she said something that made me think of my own anxiety, there I was in tightly tied shoes. I knew where she was going; God meets all of that with love. But I still kept wanting to play with my shoelaces.

I was watching someone preach, who is close to me as a friend and in my formation. I was listening to her, and I was reflecting on our relationship. We talk about things that are hard for me, fairly routinely. Health. The process. Time. Family. She meets me where I am, with love. We do it over and over. This is not a one-time conversation. But it really does loosen the strings that bind me too tightly. (A does the same thing, and did it hugely when I needed her to, before I ever got sick. Having people—plural—who let me explore my edges of trust and safety and love is incredibly powerful. After awhile, the edges aren’t edges.)

She asked me last time I saw her, what would I be doing if I didn’t have to worry about ordination, finances, or anything else. I took it as a vocational question, and answered accordingly. That wasn’t what she meant. What did I really want to do, right now in this moment? If I didn’t have to think about what anything meant or mattered.

I think what I said was make stuff, bake bread, and hang out in Friendship Park listening to homeless people tell me stories. I’ve found knitting again, because I’m so tactile and the fibers feel soft and strong and good. I love making things that I or other people can wear. (I wish I liked sewing, but I’m awful at it and it gives me headaches.) I’m into baking bread again; I love getting my hands in something that’s alive, and that feeds us and that tastes good. And I’m totally committed to homeless ministry. That community knows me and trusts me; trusts my church partly because of me. They know I love them. But right now I want to take my work hat off; back up and just listen without thinking of resources and skills, get to know people.

I was thinking about all of this, while I was listening to her preach. And I think I know what the next step is. Incarnation is all about love. Love of self, love of community, noticing the sparks of life that give you joy and thanking God for them. Being alive and at home in your mind, body, and heart. Noticing your body when it feels well and strong and alive. Loving the people you love. Really, it’s about paying attention. About responding to the needs and loves and wants around you as you would respond to a baby in your arms. About really, profoundly being here.

Days off, at home, or up to my elbows in bread dough are good. But I’ve been spending too much time on my own. I need to reconnect the face-time relationships I had before I got sick, whether I jump back into projects or let those be for a time. I need to go back to the park. The 9:00 service at church. Thursday night dinners and lectio. Community Night sometimes, next semester. I need to find the people whom I love, or whom God wants me to love, however you want to put that. And I need to love them.

I’ll be gone most of January, but it’ll be all about reconnecting. I’ll be at the Ranch for the week leading up to Epiphany. Home for several days, then down south on a road trip to Riverside. I have seminary classmates who met each other there, who are having their relationship blessed. I’ll spend some time with them and other SoCal friends. A side trip to Arizona to see a high-school friend who visited me last summer. Then home, and back into the thick of things here.

It sounds so self-centered to write it, but I think the questions for right now are, “Where is your body? Where is your heart? Does what you’re doing right now give you life?”

Then find that life again, and live it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: Making Foolish the Wisdom of the World Edition

At a sweet little interfaith gathering earlier this week, a couple dozen people talked about the different mission projects we are involved in, with the goal of working together better. I confess that I spent more time than was probably intended comparing my little church's efforts with some others - sometimes finding our congregation to be doing "more" or "better" work, and sometimes finding another one on top.

This week's scriptures remind me that God has no patience at all with this kind of scorekeeping and oneupmanship - or onewomanship for that matter. God doesnt keep score the ways we do, if God keeps score at all. The Christian life is not about more and better at all, in fact. Instead, the scriptures (Each one richer than the last! How will you choose?) remind us that God measures in justice, compassion or even foolishness.

Well, which direction are you heading? Micah? Corinthians? Gospel? Or the Psalm? Or are you going somewhere else all together? Comments are open and ready.

Texts here. Photo found here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Book Pals: Hope Will Find You

Naomi Levy's Hope Will Find You: My Search for the Wisdom to Stop Waiting and Start Living jumped out at me from the library shelf.

Of course, the first four words of the title were all I saw, on the book's spine, prompting me to pull it out for a look. When I saw the subtitle, it was going in my bag.

Levy had been in the first class of women admitted to a Conservative seminary. She was a rising star in the rabbinical world, and had a happy marriage and two children. Then, the terrible news came: a doctor told her that her five-year-old daughter had a degenerative and ultimately fatal disease. Levy was familiar with the disease and its end effects, and immediately her life became about second opinions (and third, fourth, etc.), doctor visits, therapies, and treatments. As she walked through fear and despair, she wondered where her career had gone.

The book chronicles her life with her family, with her study partner, with her faith. It is hopeful, beautiful, and inspiring in very many ways, and it is most highly recommended.

What caught my attention about it as a book for a RevGal audience, though, is this: After a long time away from a formal clergy role, Levy is talking with some friends about what she misses about it. She says,
"I guess what I miss most is leading people in prayer on Friday as the sun is setting and the Sabbath comes. It's magic. I miss spreading that magic."

(Friend Norma asks) "If you could lead a service today, what would it look like?"

...I thought about all the Jews I knew who were turned off by Judaism. Jews who walked away from prayer life because they found Judaism spiritually unfulfilling. Jews who walked away from prayer because they were raised on God-as-Superman and not on The God Who Sees Me. I said, "It would be a place for those who are searching for spiritual nourishment, who want to be transformed. I would write a whole new English translation of the Hebrew services. There would be a band, lots of uplifting music."
There follows a series of amazing coincidences, or God-moments. A church is found to welcome the new congregation for its meetings; a group forms to vision the new movement.

"We talked about a new approach to Jewish life. 'A Soulful Community of Prayer in Action' became our motto. We wanted to revive deep spirituality, and we wanted to link it with social justice, with actions that can heal our world. Every prayer service would be linked to a day of action."

What emerged was Nashuva, which means "We Shall Return." It has become an immensely successful synagogue in Los Angeles. One Friday a month, the community gathers for Sabbath service; one Saturday a month, for community service.

I'm one of those who is still (!) working on grasping what "Emergent Church" means. I think I have a better understanding of it now, from having read of this Jewish version of our shared cultural groundswell. We are not (necessarily) emerging from something bad...but we are definitely emerging into something new. What will it be?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prayer for Epiphany 3A

We come to you in a time of coldness and darkness,
Looking for warmth and light.
There are those whose homes are physically freezing,
And there are those whose lives are spiritually chilly
We know that we can help warm people’s homes.
We also know you can warm people’s lives.

We pray that there will be no more gloom for those who were in anguish
We pray that you lift away people’s burdens.
We pray you remove the things that oppress from people’s lives.
We pray you give courage to those who fear.

Lord your light calls us forth to follow and serve you.
Your light still shines for all to see in this world.
May we continue to reflect your light in our lives,
in our service, in our words and in our deeds.

cross posted at revgalprayerblog and rev abi's long and winding road

11th Hour Preacher's Party: Seeing the Great Light edition

(photo of the sun through a dust storm, The Sonora Desert south of Tucson, taken by Terri)

"The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light."

If I were preaching tomorrow I would reflect on this phrase found in both the reading from Isaiah and Matthew. One thing I might ponder is the power of words and the ways in which our words matter. Take for example someone I met at a conference last summer who spoke about being blind. She talked about her struggle with the lack of physical eye sight being a spiritually negative metaphor,as in "Being spiritually blind, being in darkness.."She said, "Being blind is my most precious gift, it is how I am made in God's image. When will being blind be the cool thing?"

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

We are a people who are walking in darkness. Perhaps this darkness is like the deep rich earth, where roots take shape and form, establishing the foundation for stems and stalks, trees and branches, flowers and leaves, fruit and vegetables, to come forth.

It all begins in the darkness. Not a negative thing at all. Spiritually rich.

Anyway. I have no idea where you all heading with your reflection this week. What part of the text speaks to you? Or, are you off lectionary?

Share with us your thoughts, your worries, your struggles. Join us for a cup of coffee or tea. Soon there will be eggs (soft boiled? over easy? scrambled? perhaps an omelet? how about with broccoli and cheese?) We're here for the day and well into the night. Please, settle in, get warm, what can I get you, coffee, tea, or a hot chocolate?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Five: Books!

I hope some of you received books for Christmas presents; I did and have been reading ever since. Then I discovered a new author from those recommendations that pop up on Instead of buying those books, I've been checking them out at the library, which will not help Amazon's future recommendations for me at all.

So tell us what you're reading, what you would and would not recommend--five books or authors! And if you don't want to do that freestyle, here are some questions:

1. What books have you recently read? Tell us your opinion of them.

2. What books are awaiting your available time to be read?

3. Have any books been recently recommended?

4. What genre of books are your favorite, along with some titles and/or authors you like best?

5. What have you read lately that you have a strong urge to recommend? (or to condemn?)

As always, let us know in comments if you play. Post a direct link to your blog entry in your comment with the formula I can never print out--click here for the info about it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - It's Only Words Edition

As your editor read the missive printed below, she knew there would be at least one matriarch who would truly understand the experience of words, words, and more words about worship, but a loss of connection with the act of worship itself...

Hi Matriarchs,
With Christmas just over, and Easter approaching, I notice that in my desire to make Advent/Christmas/ Epiphany and Lent/Easter meaningful for the congregation, I miss out on these seasons in my own spiritual life. It isn't just the busyness of the church program, but also trying to come up with new ways of expressing these seasons and their themes to the congregation. In my attempt to make these time special and meaningful for the congregation, they slip by in my life.

And I think it is getting worse, rather then better, each year. I have tried daily seasonal e-mails, bought books with daily reflections, etc, and rarely get past the first week - or sometimes the first day; Sometimes I feel like there are so many words in my life - preaching, worship, conversations, e-mails, reports etc; that more words just get caught up in the jumble in my head.

PS - I am the kind of person who reads for information, rather then fun.

From Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness,

Sistah, You don’t tell us how long you have been in the ministry, but I am guessing you are about 7-15 years in and have hit a spiritual wall. You don’t say that you are finding your own spiritual life lagging, but it I wouldn’t be surprised. It is not uncommon for our spiritual lives to go stale at points in our career. Preaching gets stale, prayer gets dry and it becomes hard to stay focused even if we are being ‘successful’.

For me, this can be the foretaste of depression, OR it can also mean that I am not paying attention to my spiritual life, OR it can mean that I am being called by God to trust and persevere in my vocation. If you have no history of depression in your life, ignore the first one.

If you have not been attentive to providing quiet time with the Source of your faith, taking time for prayer or renewal time, it is time to figure out how to provide for such experiences in your everyday life. It is part of your WORK. Your personal relationship with those things that support your faith life is part of what you owe to your congregation. And your congregation needs to know that you need time to do that.

BUT, there have been times in my spiritual life when the things that usually enrich my relationship with God don’t, and no matter what I do, I was just plain dry. God felt far away. I found that God was teaching me how to really depend on faith. It was a lonely time. It was a scary time because I usually depended upon all those wonderful feelings of God’s nearness to feed all the work I did in the congregation. But after these times were over, I have found that my faith is stronger and fuller than it was. I must admit those times were hard until I realized that what helped me through were my colleagues, friends and family who held me up with their prayer. I learned that it was truly a ‘cloud of witnesses’ that kept me faithful and therefore serviceable to the God who loved me. I learned to trust.I don’t know if this is your issue. I just know that it was for me and I offer it as one way of dealing with those times when my spiritual life was not what I wanted it to be. You are in my prayers.

From Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart,

I have found that wordless practices often help me most in the midst of busy liturgical seasons. I often read and study what we suggest for the congregation, but, like you, dear question poser, more is not always more, and I, too, find myself deluged with words.

Do you have access to a labyrinth for walking meditation? Even a walk in one’s neighborhood, a pleasant park, or a track at a gym can be meditative and helpful, I’ve found. I’ve practiced yoga and Tai Chi in Lent, engaged in some sort of craft in Advent, listen to music, and even have found e-votions on my iPod to be enriching.

Think outside the word box, and perhaps you’ll find something transforming or renewing in an upcoming season! Best to you.

From Ruth, who blogs at ‘Sunday’s coming!’ .

My first reaction to this was simply to delete the question whilst muttering ‘mea culpa’ - I too struggle with actually celebrating Christian festivals, rather than just arranging celebrations for others.

But since July last year I’ve started a ‘new thing’ and although it’s early days, I think it’s worth sharing. I have started a prayer journal. It’s really just a space where I can jot down my thoughts, feelings, reflections. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in it every day – but I do look back over the weeks and reflect on where my journey has brought me – and I do place on check on whether I do the things that I say I’m going to do. Just the existence of the journal makes me find time to sit and pause and pray... Which is a good thing for me.

This might just help to unjumble some of the thoughts and words on your head – worth a try?

And from Terri, blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice

I understand the experience of having “too many words in my life.” For this reason I have made it a personal discipline and practice to take a silent retreat in Lent. Occasionally I have also been able to manage one just before Advent. The retreats are usually just two days and two nights, or even one night – usually from a Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning. Of course I always yearn for more time, but as you say it is hard to carve out this time.

I make arrangements to go to a retreat center so that I get away from all the temptations of everyday life. I prefer retreat centers that are contemplative by nature which offer opportunities for contemplative prayer and worship – which I may or may not participate in, again because sometimes I am already too full of words and worship – but I appreciate the offering and the choice.

If taking a retreat in the season of Lent and or Advent is not possible perhaps you can arrange one or two in the weeks just before Lent/Advent and use that time to prepare yourself?

One of my favorite prayer resources for a silent retreat is a Mandala coloring book. Coloring mandalas invites me into an entirely different form of prayer, no words, but still engaging and creative. I also color mandala’s when I am home and in need of a prayer resource that does not use words. Other resources I use to guide silent/wordless time include knitting and cross-stitch. Daily walking is another useful discipline for silent prayer and a kind of mini retreat, even a twenty walk is useful. And music, without words - such as cello, piano, or violin - can be helpful. I am also a daily meditator/silent prayer practitioner – but this is not a prayer form that all people can engage in.

My point is I am more successful with making and taking (personal) Advent/Lenten time if I make a plan and schedule time away from my usual routine, even if that time away cannot fall in the midst of the busy season. Clearly childcare concerns can make this option more complicated. If so then perhaps even a day/few hours away could be useful, planned and scheduled ahead of time. Blessings as you seek the path that will afford you time for silence, solitude, and renewal.

Thanks to Muthah+, Jennifer, Ruth, and Terri for their thoughtful responses and prayers pledged. We welcome your insights too...please use the "Post a Comment" function to share them.

And remember that we always welcome questions...there are only a couple in the queue right now. Send them to us at

May we all live in God's amazing grace+


Wednesday Festival: Physical Space

Here's a post from one of our newer ring members, Derek Maul, asking us to look at the relationship between our physical space and our spiritual lives. Derek blogs at Derek Maul: A Life Examined.

LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:5-8)

Physical space has become an important element of the way that I work. It's not that I can't write anywhere, any time - it's more that my writing so often pours out of my spirit... and my spirit is profoundly affected by my surroundings.

This fact raises some interesting questions as to where we live. By "we" I mean the sense of self that is identified as "Derek" or "Rebekah" or "Andrew" or "Naomi"....  We often tend to spiritualize - or intellectualize - the idea of self to the point that it becomes regarded as "other". We make such a marked distinction between "self" and "body" as if the physical realm were a throw-away concept unrelated to who we actually are.

Stay with me. I'm thinking out loud! I don't edit these blog entries to make sense; I don't go back to purge posts of non-sequiters or controversy or confused and garbled thinking. This is like my end of a conversation. Conversations evolve. I'm not really sure where I'm going with this at this point!

I do more than simply live in this body and on this planet - the physical realm is a real part of who I am. My spirit does not live independently from flesh and blood, my spirit lives interdependently. I'm not sure what life beyond death is going to look like, but I am convinced that it will be more than a disembodied, ethereal consciousness.

But I digress. Back to the beginnings of today's post. When I was a schoolteacher I worked hard to design a physical environment in my classroom that was conducive to learning. Physical space is a key element of education. I also noted that behavior (my specialty) can be impacted by and interactive with environment.

Likewise, I've discovered that my study (not my office, it's a study) influences my work. Books on the shelves, clear surfaces to work on, a Bible where I can see it, my leather chair to think in, family pictures, my guitar on a stand, a great Bose sound system...

When I need to I can play my guitar, or settle into my reading nook. It's a conducive environment for prayer, for contemplation, for Bible-study - all the elements that need to be in place before I can even begin to write.

I guess where I'm going with this today is how important it is that each one of us learn to cultivate a proactive awareness when it comes to our environment. Why place ourselves in the middle of constant television noise or video games or unsavory venues, and then complain that we're not growing, spiritually? Why have the car radio blaring on the way to work when we could be spending time in meditation? Why keep a huge television in the bedroom and wonder why we never have meaningful conversations with our spouse?

What might happen if we redesigned our homes, and our workspaces, and our preferences to reflect our need to satisfy spiritual hunger, and to address the importance of relating more openly with our family?

Good questions to think about - DEREK

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - God Is Still Calling Edition

How you doing, everybody? An extremely informal Facebook poll of my friend's status updates tells me that maybe you are a little tired. Not quite rested up from Christmas, and looking ahead a couple of long winter months ahead? I know that, for whatever reason, I come to this week's scriptures feeling a little more worn out than I'd like.

Alas, these are not words for the weary reader, friends. The gospel plunges us into a context of danger and political intrigue before calling us out of our everyday routines and into a new life. In Corinthians, we are chastened to get along with everyone better (no small job, either, in my experience). What is rising to the surface for you this week?

Maybe you are preaching on Isaiah? The Psalm? Or going off lectionary all together? Let us know in the comments.

Texts for this week found here. Art found here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

RevGalBookPals: Sources of Inspiration

After the discussion about devotions before meetings in last week's Ask the Matriarch posting, I got to thinking about writers and poets who are my "go to" resources both for opening readings and for my own dry periods. For today's RevGalBookPals, I invite you to share your favorites. 

I frequently turn to poetry. My new favorite book is Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver. Our own Mary Beth gave me this book! What riches!! I can't say I've finished it, because you never finish with a book of poetry, but I have given all the poems a once-over, and some more than a once. I love the way Mary Oliver brought nature into the hearts and minds of so many preachers only to discover sacramental Christianity herself late in life. Here's a poem, "How Many Days" that describes the tension between the two:

How many days I loved and had never used
the holy words.
Tenderly I began them when it came to me
to want to, oh mystery irrefutable!
Then I went out of that place
and into a field and lay down
among the weeds and the grasses,
whispering to them, fast, in order to keep
that world also.

Marvelous, isn't it? 

Please use the comments to share a favorite with us. And if you would like to review a book in the coming months, let me know.

The books in our Amazon widget to the right were written by ring members or BE presenters. Be sure to take a look at them! If you purchase a book by clicking through from our blog, RevGalBlogPals receives a small percentage. It's one of the ways you help make the BE possible. Thank you for your support!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

prayer for Epiphany 2A

Lord we praise your name and thank you for your never ending love.
Lord, we wait on you believing that you will hear us and answer.

It is horrifying when we call to mind the shooting rampage this week in Tucson, Arizona.
We pray for those who were killed; six people -- including a federal judge, three senior citizens, a Giffords staff member, and a third grader.
We pray for the healing of the wounded; Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head, a number of others injured.
We pray for both justice and healing for the shooter Jared Loughner.
We pray a prayer of thanks for those who intervened and for the first responders.
We pray for healing for those who were there that day and traumatized by the shooting.
We pray for our elected leaders, politicians and media that there would be attitude of civility.

We pray for the people of Brazil, Sri Lanka and Australia where there have already been many people that have died in the floods..
We pray for safety for all others.
We pray hopefully for long term recovery for the people of Haiti who are still recovering a year later from an earthquake and also from a lifetime of problems.
We pray for restoration of order where there has been a breakdown of law and order in Somalia, where women are being forced into marriage or being beheaded; and in Tunisia, where riots, killings and curfews are a part of everyday life.
We pray for strengthening of the hope, faith and love of so many Christians under persecution whether in Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, India, or Afghanistan.

We want to thank you for Martin Luther King who served you faithfully in a difficult time.
We thank you for his example in our own ministries to keep serving you faithfully.
We thank you for his work to bring justice, rights and peace to your people.
May we continue the work for justice, rights and peace for your people.

Lord, we pray that you will lift us up out of the ditches of our lives.
We pray you will pull us up out of the quagmire of our lives.
We pray you will set us down on the firm rock and keep us safe.
We thank you God for hearing our prayers and responding from your great faithfulness.

cross posted at rev abi's long and winding road and revgalsprayerblog

Saturday, January 15, 2011

11th Hour Preacher Party: What are You Looking For Edition

Good morning, gals and pals!  I'm here to welcome you, feed you, ply you with coffee for the preacher party today.  I'll admit that the way things have shaken out this week, it turned out that I am not preaching, but I retain a fascination for the texts, and I'm looking forward to our conversation today.

So, what are you looking for?  I love this question from the gospel of John.  The two disciples are following Jesus (I wonder how far behind him they were) and he turns around and asks them, "What are you looking for?"

It didn't give me an idea for a sermon, but it gave me an idea for this post:  what are you looking for today?  Are you looking for a direction for your sermon still?  Are you looking for a story, an illustration?  Are you looking for a children's message?  Are you looking for the right words for a particular situation in your congregation or your own life?  What are you looking for?

There a a lot of possible themes in our lessons this weekend.  I loved the discussion on Tuesday, and the reminder of God's claim on our lives, no matter who we are.  And there was lots of food for thought on Monday as well, as we pondered faithful responses in times of tragedy.

The texts for this week are here.

I have blueberry pancakes, fair trade coffee (how about toffee caramel?) and cinnamon tea.

What are you looking for?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Time to Get Up and Play the Friday Five

Where I am it is dark, and it is cold, and it is snowing. I really wanted to stay in bed with the electric blanket cranked this morning. Share five things that made getting out of bed worthwhile for you today!

We appreciate links to your post in the comment. Here's how to do it: <a href="the url of your blog post goes here">what you want the link to say goes here</a> For a complete how-to, click here.

(Ironically, I put 5 p.m. on the posting time instead of five a.m. Apologies to those of you across the pond.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - A Matter of Devotion Edition

A new year in the congregation where I serve brings with it the choice
of a new devotional emphasis. The same is true for the RevGal whose
question we address this week:
Hi RevGals!

My question has to do with devotions for monthly meetings. While of course I've tried many things, I'm very interested in input from the Matriarchs about what they do. I like to ground us in scripture, but finding the right questions that will trigger a good discussion can be challenging, as is the balance between spending enough time to have devotions be meaningful, without making the meeting last far into the evening.

I blog at the preacher and the partystore

Jennifer, who blogs at An Orientation of Heart, has a text to recommend:

Of late, I’ve found the book, Growing Together, Spiritual Exercises for Church Committees by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley to contain a wealth of helpful questions and devotions, all grounded in scripture. The members of my Session have seemed to glean much from it and the questions set a great tone for the rest of the meeting.

And Muthah+ who blogs at Stone of Witness offers a devotional means of reading scripture together:

I found that an abbreviated form of the African Bible Study worked fairly well. Rather than ask prepared questions, have two different persons read the passage—usually fairly short. Then ask what words jumped out at them and why. There is no right or wrong and often brings out some interesting theology or concerns from the group. It also helps ease the ‘agenda-driven’ nature of most boards and refocuses them in the spirit-led tasks they have to perform.

What about your congregation? Are you responsible for determining the devotional focus for the year? Is there a text you would recommend or a means of sharing the faith journey that significantly impacted the governing body's work?

We hope you will share your successes and failures - since we learn from those too!

May you live in God's amazing grace+

photo courtesy of

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday Festival: To Bertha

New ring members the Reverend Laurie Brock and the Reverend Mary Koppel are the fine minds behind Dirty Sexy Ministry, where Mary posted this beautiful reflection on people who inspire us to lavish generosity.

To Bertha

The day before Christmas Eve the adoption worker came to the house for a visit with my soon to be daughter.  She brought with her papers for me to sign.  She explained that by signing these papers I was saying that I wanted to adopt my little girl.  She continued to explain what else had to be done as part of the adoption process. 

Before the adoption worker left she presented me with a beautifully wrapped gift.  She told me that the gift was from a woman at her church.  At her church, parishioners bought presents for all the children in foster care.  This gift was for my daughter.

I thanked her.  She left.  I looked more carefully at the present.  There was a card that read: “To my angel (my daughter’s name), from Bertha.”  Now, I know the present was for my daughter, but it is really hard for a baby to unwrap presents, so I ripped the package open.  Inside the package was expensive baby clothing.

It was the kind of baby clothing that you give to someone at a baby shower- extravagant and adorable.  It was the kind of baby clothing that you give your good friend or your sister for a child that you will know and love. Bertha took time, and went to great expense to buy and wrap these outfits for my daughter.  I filled with wonder.

I wondered: who is this woman buying expensive gifts for a child she may never meet and does not know?  I felt strange receiving such a wonderful and expensive gift from someone I did not know.  I felt strange receiving such a wonderful and expensive gift when I certainly could well afford to purchase these items for my child.  I wondered: how do I receive this gift?  I also wondered: am I this generous?

In the past, I have gotten presents for children from an angel tree, but were the gifts as lavish?  Sheepishly, I must answer no.  Certainly, I gave nice things, but frankly, I did not put as much thought nor expense in the items I bought.  It brings to mind the question: do I give thoughtfully and lavishly? 

Sometimes I do give thoughtfully and lavishly when I buy a present for a friend.  I also try to give generously to charities and the church.  I try to give, but I sometimes find myself wanting to know who is getting this and what are they using it for.  Does that person, charity, church deserve my gift?  Will my gift be used wisely?  I want to control the receiving of the gift, so I guess that is not really a gift anymore.

I think about Bertha, whoever she is.  She has given lavishly and thoughtfully with no expectation of return.  Can I be generous?  Can I give lavishly and thoughtfully with no expectation of return?  Will I be willing to give my very best even to a stranger?  I certainly hope so.

So Bertha, whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you!  Thank you for the beautiful baby clothing.  My daughter is all ready wearing them.  She looks adorable in them because of you.  Thank you.

Thank you, Bertha, for reminding me to give generously, thoughtfully, and lavishly.  Thank you for reminding me that what you give to the least of these, you give to Jesus.  Thank you for reminding me that what you give to the stranger, you give to Jesus.  Thank you, Bertha, whoever you are, wherever you are.

Mary Koppel

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings - Christ Calling Edition

I talked to my dad, who is also a preacher, on the phone last night, and he mentioned that coming up he is doing a 7 week series on Corinthians. As a week-by-week, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-alb kind of preacher, I admit I sort of panicked. "Wait! Maybe _I_ should be trying to pull together a series for this winter!!"

Luckily, the scriptures today remind me that I am called to be my most authentic self, because (as my friends in recovery say), Jesus loves us just as we are, and loves us way too much to let us stay that way. In this week's scriptures, Christ's loving grace falls equally on that wild and wooly group in Corinth, on The Disciple Formerly Known As Simon, on the most annoying person in your congregation, and on you. It's the kind of grace that says both "I see you and love you just as you are! " and "Come on, you know you are better than that!"

You might also want to check out yesterday's fascinating discussion on preaching and the news, happening here.

So, where you are you headed this week? The comments are open for business. Graphic from here. Texts found here.