Yesterday, my Windwatchers group spent time praying with an object from the created world. I had prepared a tray with stones, shells, nuts, driftwood, a couple finch nests, and some dried plants. After a few minutes of settling and opening themselves to God's illumination, my participants each chose an object that drew them in some way.
The prayer itself is much like lectio divina, but with the focus being the object rather than a scriptural passage. We gaze and take in the object through eyes and touch, noticing any particular aspects that shimmer for us or nudge at us for attention.
Then we allow memories, feelings, images, and connections to our lives to surface. We listen for any invitations the Holy Spirit might have for us through this object. We rest in gratitude. We have time to share with each other from our experience and to name the invitations we've heard.
I was drawn to a pine cone. Since I was leading, my attention was somewhat divided between guiding the others and time focused on my pine cone. Still, I was entranced by the patterns and lines of this piece of God's creation and resolved to spend more time with it later in the day. Here are the results of gazing with my camera, ending with the cone back in its current normal location, at the side of a much larger cone my mother picked up in California years ago.
This past weekend was one of many details, as we pulled together the contributions of 16 people for worship at Assembly, as I reflected on how best to tell the story I wanted to begin communion with, as I baked bread to take to the Surprise Luncheon. And it was also one of relationships -- our usual Saturday morning breakfast at Rachel's and a table shared with Mary and Glen, a gathering of my Gestalt Pastoral Care peer group, the Sunday meal shared with a table-full of people in the Kurtz's spacious dining room.
Sunday morning, just as I was putting the braided loaf of challah into the oven, John came in from his quiet time, holding Philip Newell's prayer book, Sounds of the Eternal, and said, "I have a prayer for you."
And here it is, perfectly fitting.
In the many details of this day
let me be fully alive.
In the handling of food
and the sharing of drink,
in the preparation of work
and the uttering of words,
in the meeting of friends
and the interminglings of relationship
let me be alive to each instant, O God,
let me be fully alive.
Sounds of the Eternal, p 77
I'm reading Marked for Life: Prayer in the Easter Christ, by Maria Boulding, a book about silent, contemplative prayer written with the conviction that anyone seriously committed to this kind of prayer finds themselves experiencing its repercussions in every area of life, and that "this pervasive experience is an experience of death and resurrection which draws us deeply into the Easter mystery of Christ." (p 1).
Her first chapter is on Letting Go -- letting go of the old to make way for new life, leaping with trust from the known to the unknown. She writes of the ways we are all familiar with this from what we see around us in nature -- leaves changing to humus that nurtures crops, acorns that fall to the ground, then sprout, eventually becoming tall trees, babies that give up efficient and speedy crawling for the precarious enterprise of walking upright.
"Life springs and grows where the bearers of life do not clutch it to themselves, but hear the call to let it go in the interests of fuller life and action. The caterpillar consents to the cocoon, sensing its destiny." (p 2).
Ah. Caterpillars. Does the caterpillar consent, or does it go grudgingly into the mystery of the cocoon or chrysalis? Or does it just munch its way along, surprised to discover one day that it is a beautiful butterfly?
I've got images and text running through my head from numerous stories over the years -- The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Hope for the Flowers, a bedtime story tape the children used to listen to about a fearful caterpillar whose title I can't recall -- all with variations on what that caterpillar is thinking.
It doesn't really matter, because of course Dame Maria and those other authors are really writing about us, and we come in many stripes. Some of us consent, some wail, some grumble, some are oblivious -- and all of us do all of these some of the time.
A little further on Dame Maria writes, after a section on obedience and prayer, "...it is still difficult for us to let go of what we have or think we have, of the immediate tangible good which to our caterpillar's-eye-view seems to offer life here and now." (p 6)
Caterpillars, all of us, whether we are praying, "Munch, thanks. Munch, thanks. Munch, thanks." or "Help. Help. Help." or "Into your hands."
I was trying to take a photo of the cloudy, lavender, just-before-sunrise sky, and suddenly
Later, I lit a candle for a direction session this afternoon, with these words from the opening prayer in Philip Newell's Celtic Treasure:
We light a light
in the name of the God who creates life,
in the name of the Saviour who loves life,
in the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life.
We ended the session with a small ritual from Children and Worship – snuffing the flame of the Christ candle and then lifting the candle snuffer so that the smoke swirls through the room, with the words:
The Light that was in one time and one place
is now in all places,
in all times.
Light that has changed, Light that is absent and yet still present.
My walk got delayed a bit this (yesterday) morning, because this friendly fellow was splayed on the screen door to our porch, and I had to take his photo. Something about his fresh green oddity, and that amazing leaf-look just makes me smile.
I did a little internet sleuthing and found this link to the katydid's song.
Listening to it gave me a little aha! moment -- we've been hearing katydid's in the regular night chorus.
The moon was nearing the trees to the west as I crossed campus -- and looked twice that big without the camera.
A little way down the bike path, the morning glories were trumpeting a blue hallelujah to the dawn.
And the darker purple morning glories are an embodiment of the Inner Light.
I’d gotten that much written last night, but waited to post. Yesterday evening, Assembly’s worship space was available for people to gather in silent prayers around the cross. I knew it would be a time of light in darkness, and it was.
The worship space was dark, except for the lights on the banners and front table, where the flame of the peace lamp burned steadily. Closer to the entry, two semi-circles of chairs embraced an open space. In the center of that space, the rough wood cross that we use for Good Friday services lay on the floor, with two terracotta platters full of sand at its head and foot. A few small white candles stood in the platters already, bright flickers of light in the darkness. Others were held by people silently praying in the chairs, or kneeling at the cross.
John and I lit our own small white candles at the Christ candle, and joined the silent prayer.
It was a restful moment of light in the darkness. And in the middle of it, there came another spark of light. We had been there for awhile, in the midst of that prayer-filled place. There was quiet movement, as some left and others arrived, and I hardly noticed when Bethany, chair of our worship committee, got up and quietly opened a nearby closet. She brought out a small side table.
She disappeared into the worship closet. While she was out of sight, one of the older members of the congregation got slowly to his feet, his cane in one hand and burning candle in the other. He moved forward to place his candle in the platter at the head of the cross. I wondered how he would manage to get down and back up again, but just then Bethany arrived with another sand-filled platter. In one graceful movement she set it on the small table and put the table near the cross. With a gentle smile, she helped Hilary set his candle in the sand.
It struck me as such a lovely, attuned-to-the-moment gesture, a small act of kindness that captured the spirit of so many small acts of caring that are happening in this community, sparks of light as we struggle with the chaos of one act of violence.
I’d end with that, but I want to add the quote that I saw repeated in several facebook entries and a few emails yesterday. Karl Shelly, one of Assembly’s pastors and Adjunct Professor of Peace, Justice & Conflict Studies at Goshen College, wondered what to say as his “Transforming Conflict & Violence” class gathered for the first time since Professor Miller's death.
Here’s the quote. “Two things I know to be true: this world is filled with remarkable beauty and love. And this world is filled with unspeakable violence and pain. We live in between both; with glimpses of heaven and of hell; of darkness and of light. As one who seeks to transform conflict and violence, I will live by the proposition, and walk in the hope, that violence and pain never have the final word ...”
Amen and amen.
For months our congregation has been lighting a peace lamp each Sunday. We hear about one of the world’s troubled spots, light the lamp and respond to the leader’s “The light shines in the darkness” with “And the darkness cannot put it out.” (John 1:5)
This past Sunday one of our pastors, Heidi Siemens-Rhodes, shared with us that she learned earlier in the week that the cancer she had ten years ago was back. On Monday she had further tests and the news was bad. Not only is it back, but it has spread to several new locations. Radiation treatments started on Tuesday. Heidi, her husband Mitch, their three young boys, and their network of friends and family are still reeling.
There are many tears, and many prayers, and many photos of candles posted to Heidi’s facebook page. “The light shines in the darkness.”
It was raining Sunday as we heard the news, a slow, steady, relentless rain. As we anointed Heidi, we sang "Rain Down, rain down, rain down your love, God of life." (Jaime Cortez, OCP Pub)
It kept raining all day. It has continued raining all week, interspersed with moments when the rain eases. Yesterday brought one of those breaks in the rain, and the sun even came out. I seized the opportunity to get outside and walk around my yard and garden, checking on things.
My attention was caught by the splendor of sunlight reflected in rain drops scattered over burgundy rose leaves. The sight seemed to capture something of this week’s spirit of tears and of hope, of God's light shining in the darkness and in the midst of lament.
It occurred to me that a good practice these next weeks would be to look for the daily moments of light, and to try and capture them in a photo or words. And having just gotten this website up, a blog seems a good way to structure this prayer of hope and attention. I won't post every day, but I will keep watch, with my eyes and with my heart.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"