Monday, September 8, 2014

A time for contemplation and balance...

A new season of programming, mission and ministry has started: it is autumn and things are popping in New England. This coming Sunday our children and youth will process to the communion table with signs and symbols of the Earth. Our choir and band resumes sharing music in worship after a summer recess. And church council kicks into high gear as we consider both a year of sabbatical preparation and new ways to use our resources to the glory of God. As often happens, there are always a few in the body who consider the Sanctuary and our tradition to be more of a "burial society" (for themselves) than an outpost for mission, grace and compassion.

Three readings from this morning's time of prayer warrant sharing as I prepare for tonight's ministry teams.  The first comes from Fr. Richard Rohr who clarifies that the purpose of contemplation is to help us take a long, loving look at what is real in a way free from judgment and emotions.  He writes:

Paul beautifully speaks of prayer in Philippians (4:6-7): “Pray with gratitude, and the peace of Christ, which is beyond knowledge or understanding [the making of distinctions], will guard both your mind and your heart in Christ Jesus.” It is all right there in very concise form! Teachers of contemplation teach you how to stand guard with both your thoughts and your emotions, both of which tend to be self-referential. Only a deliberately chosen “gratitude,” love, or positivity can stand against this barrage of fear and negativity.

Emotions are given to us by God, so that we can fully experience our experiences. The only problem with emotions is that we get addicted or attached to them. We take them as final or substantive. Emotions do have the ability to open you to consciousness, but then they tend to become the whole show. Most human thought is just obsessive, compulsive commentary. It’s “repetitive and useless,” as Eckart Tolle says. I would say the same of emotions.

Contemplation allows you to see (contemplata means “to see”) this happening in yourself. An oft quoted aphorism describes this well: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” Contemplation and silence nip the ego and its negatives in the bud by teaching you how to watch and guard your very thoughts and feelings—but from a place of love and not judgment.

One of my deepest hopes for this year is that I can practice more contemplation and less wasting time with the "repetitive and useless commentary of obsession and compulsion." It is too easy for me to be sidetracked by soul vampires and they rob ministry of joy. The other quote comes from a bible study prepared by those organizing this year's "season of creation" liturgies. (Check them out @

In this morning's reflection on Adam/Eve and the "sin" of the garden, I read the the following. I'll be thinking about it a great deal for the next week:

The tree (Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat from) is specifically called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Hebrew expression'good and evil’ seems to mean something like ‘everything’. It does not refer to the capacity to discern between right and wrong. To ‘know good and evil’ about something means to know everything about that subject. This meaning seems to be confirmed when the snake promises that if Adam and Eve eat from this tree their eyes will be opened and they will be like God, knowing everything. 

The temptation is to equal God in wisdom and knowledge and so have the power that comes with that knowledge. The sin was not the desire for knowledge, but the act of disobeying God and lusting after total knowledge, the dream of total control and domination. By eating from the tree our first parents did learn many things about reality, but they did not gain total power over their world. Instead something else happened.

Another way to speak of this arrogance and hubris is idolatry. The third reading, from Christian Century blogger Joann Lee, helps me balance both my quest for a more contemplative spirit with the understanding that each of us is often addicted to idolatry in ways we can't even name. She writes: 

Oftentimes when we encounter two differing viewpoints, we research, debate, and discuss the merits of each. Then, either as a church or as individuals, we choose one side over the other. Paul, however, does not discuss why one side is right and the other is wrong. He doesn't weigh the merits. Instead, he instructs the church to stop judging and despising one another. And he lifts up two central tenets of the faith that should guide their life together: that in life and in death we belong to God, and that God has welcomed even those with whom we disagree.
The church should be a place where those with differing opinions are welcomed and encouraged to live out their faith. The church should be a place where dialogue and discussion lead to respect and mutual forbearance. Too often, the church instead becomes a haven for the like-minded. Paul affirms that even those who we believe are wrong can be “fully convinced in their own minds,” and that when they stand before God they will be upheld. This is similar to Anne Lamott's observation: “You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
There is room for difference and diversity in God’s church. We just have to be willing to make space for it.

Onward now to church council...


Peter said...

I like the Jacobean English word "know" used to translate the Hebrew indicating sexual relations. What I love about it is the conveyed sense of being intimate with someone. Used in the context of the knowledge of ("knowing") good and evil, I read that text as humanity being intimate with good and evil, being close to as opposed to remote from, by implication, ethical choices and responsibility.

RJ said...

thank you, my man

ddl said...

Thank you for the Creation Sunday is very helpful for some church liturgy that I am planning!

part three of waiting in advent: grief, lament and hope

In my previous posts I have shared two distinctive aspects of Advent waiting: a spirituality of simmering, fermenting, listening, percolatin...