Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
The magnificat is beautiful and celebratory song. It is known as the magnificat, because that is the opening word of Mary’s famous song in Latin. In Greek it is Megalunei, which means to magnify, grow, enlarge! It is thought to be one of the earliest Christian hymns ever recorded and it is one of four found in the Gospel of Luke. It is the subject of much art throughout history and composers have loved to set music to the words: most notably Vivaldi and Johann Sebastian Bach.
For most of us, our experience of the announcement of a Child’s birth is cause for excitement. Even mores with Mary – the birth of Jesus, foretold by Gabriel is shocking news that causes the Singer song-writer in Mary to break out into a powerful number.
This is the message I gave today at Camas Friends during meeting for worship. It is based on Luke 3:1-6.
The Parking Lots
When I was in high school I did what many people my age have done for generations and that was work as a grocery store carry-out: a bag-boy as we called it back then. I have many fond memories from that first job, not least of which was my promotion to working in the dairy department where my colleagues and I would eat ice-cream from damaged cartons, and have the bakery bake us up frozen pizza’s that we’d “accidentally” sliced through while stocking them in the freezers.
As a bag-boy there were two main areas that I conducted my job: the end of the register where I bagged groceries, and the parking lot where I traversed the sea of cars next to the customer I was serving on many blistery Ohio nights in the rain, sleet and slushy snow.
Of these two locations, the parking lot was where I had some of the most profound experiences of my life as a bag-boy. As a young and very earnest Christian, I took every opportunity to talk to people about my faith, the worship band I was playing on, and even offer to pray with my customers. I remember many times in that 2-5 min. walk to a customer’s car having the opportunity to catch-up with my regulars, listen to someone who had just learned bad news, or hear of family troubles at home. More than once did I offer to pray for them whether right there standing by their car, or later on my own. I never had anyone turn me down. I used what little space was given carefully, I was never pushy, I didn’t always talk about faith, but you’d be surprised how many times in that parking in Alliance Ohio, I had an opportunity to be a listening and compassionate presence.
O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Gratitude … goes beyond the “mine” and “thine” and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint…The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Henry Nouwen in Memories, Hopes and Conversations by Mark Lau Branson.
This past week I began a four-week “writing sabbatical,” and the whole thing went really well. The church was generous to release me from my responsibilities so that I could commit focused-time to working on my dissertation. The goal is to work my typical 40+ hours a week but spend that time writing – so that by the end of the month I might have a rough draft – we’ll use rough draft here liberally – completed or at least close. That means that I have a goal of adding three or four more chapters to the four I already have written. The push is in order that I might hand this thing in by the cut-off next February. Last week was successful in moving me toward that in that I not only was able to finish a new chapter, but was able to make some connections and learn some things that have alluded me in the short bursts of time I’ve been working on the project thus far. Continue reading Writing-Sabbatical Update #1
I had the privilege of going to the ordination of the new priest at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Washougal a few weeks back. You may remember meeting Jessie Vedanti when she visited us for meeting for worship last month. She and her husband moved in (just next door to our meeting house in fact!) to Camas in June and as a part of her becoming the new Episcopal priest in Washougal she had to be ordained. Not only was I invited, I got to walk in the processional with about 10-15 other clergy members all wearing fancy robes and collars. Here I am, a Quaker minister, in my finest sport jacket and tie (yes, I even wore a tie for the occasion) marching down the aisle with Episcopals and other clergy. I could just see early Quaker and critic of the 17th century church of England, George Fox, rolling around in his grave. Times have indeed changed, not to mention that I not only enjoyed myself but some of the priests/pastors there are my closest friends in ministry. <--more-->
I wanted to tell you about one experience that stood out to me from that service. Their bishop, Greg Rickel, stood up and gave the message during the ordination. In the message he made a point about what pastoral care is and isn’t that has stuck with me. He said something to this effect:
“Jessie, I have to tell you something that is hard to say. Now that you are becoming a priest, you get a very secret gift from us and that is a crystal ball that we hand down to all our new pastors. This crystal ball is very special in that it will tell you every time someone is sick, hurting, angry, hungry, or in need of a pastoral visit of any kind. It will tell you who to pray for without them telling you, it will point you in the direction of people in dire distress, and will update you on all of the most important news going on in each member’s lives. But there is one problem. We dropped yours out in the parking lot and it shattered everywhere. We are sorry that we don’t have a crystal ball to give you now.”
This is a simple parable about pastoral care. The real truth is that there is no crystal ball. No pastor, however newly minted or aged and weathered can read minds. When we are hurt, angry, in need of a visit, or a pastoral prayer, an encouraging word, or direction we must tell one another. This isn’t just a pastor’s issue, it is an issue for the whole community to consider. The point is that community cannot exist for one another as it should if we are not able to, or choose to not, speak openly and directly about our personal and spiritual condition. There is nothing magic about Christian community, or pastoral ministry – we need trust and openness with one another.
As I sat back in the pew, Greg’s words struck me powerfully. They felt reassuring and hopeful. It makes a difficult situation feel more doable. As a minister I can’t magically know how everyone is doing. It is the responsibility of each of us to do our part and open up when we need it. But beyond this, we as Friends know that we are all ministers and we are all capable of caring for one another in this way — but we have to trust. Sometimes this sharing requires that we swallow our pride, sometimes it means that we have an uncomfortable conversation, sometimes it just means that we have to have a little courage.
In writing this it is my intention to invite you to find one another, make time for each other and to listen deeply. Let’s continue to build trust not just with those we know well, but those we have yet to welcome fully into our lives. I also invite you to find me, schedule some office time with me, get a cup of coffee or lunch, but come and share with me. I am interested to hear what is on your heart, what you are wrestling with, where you need prayer, who is God to you, and what are your big questions. In both of these acts our shared community will continue to and deepen, my practice of pastoral care will also grow. Our role is not to try and fix one another but to aid in listening for where Jesus may be leading and teaching you.
Quakers (and for that matter Episcopals!) don’t have any crystal balls, but we do have a loving and trusting community. The bible tells us we can come boldly to Christ, and we can also come boldly to one another. These acts of caring for one another are indeed the very acts of the body of Christ.
Finally, in the coming year, I invite you to personally meet with me, especially if you never have. One query we might discuss is this: “what does spiritual progress look like for you in the coming year?” Or as Stan Thornburg likes to ask, “What is your growing edge?” This can be a start, but I’m open to discussing anything that’s important to you. Just be sure to let me know because my crystal ball is broken.