fearfully and wonderfully

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Consider the cosmos.

13.8 billions years old.

Trillions upon trillions of miles across.

The stars that are even in our view are too numerous to count, and the stars outside of our view? Who even knows?

The One who created all of this, and inhabits all of this, and loves all of this…

Knows you. Searches you.

Follows your journeys and your resting places.

Knows every word you utter before it even crosses your lips.

This One fashioned you, and knew you, when you were in the womb – before even you were aware of you.

That the God who creates and fills the cosmos knows and loves you is a great gift, and a mystery too wonderful for words.

This God fashioned you in the womb, and knows your every thought. And, God knows the other 8 billion people in the world the same way. God knows the people you love in the same way. God knows and cherishes the people you can’t stand in the same way.

Consider how you might behold the people of the world, the people you like, and the people you don’t in the same manner that God beholds them.

Ask God to help soften your heart and mind, opening you up to the same level of love, mercy, and grace that God gives to you.

Resolve to love the people you will encounter in the next hour, the next day, the next week as God Loves them.

Let us pray… Our Father.

you are God’s child, the beloved

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Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

As Jesus rose out of the water, the voice of God boomed through the cosmos saying, “You are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Our own baptismal covenant compels is to live into the Christian life – the baptized life. Each time someone else is brought into our community to be baptized, we all are confronted again with these promises. Let us dwell on these baptismal promises for a few moments.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Recall your church community, where the teaching of the apostles is sought, where we gather to pray, and where we are fed at God’s table.

How have you fulfilled this promise?

How might you better steep yourself in prayer, the Gospel, and the Eucharistic meal?

How might you be more diligent in worship and prayer?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Recall the evil that you’ve encountered around you, and within you.

Bring to mind the sin you’ve fallen into, which has hurt God, people you love, people you don’t even know, and yourself. Offer to God a sincere heart, ask for forgiveness, and pledge to return to God with all you are.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, he brought God’s Good News to the whole world.

Recall how you make this Good News known in word; in what you say.

Recall how you make this Good News known in deed; in how you live your life.

Consider how you might better make this Good News known to a world which so desperately needs it.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Where do you see Christ around you?

Who is it easy to see Christ in? Give thanks for them.

Who is it hard for you to see Christ in?

Pray that God may open your heart and eyes to see Christ in all people, regardless of who they are, how they have hurt you, or how they offend you.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Every person is made in the image of God, and how we treat them, is how we treat the image of God.

Who in this world needs justice?

Who in this world needs peace?

Who in this world needs to be treated with dignity?

Consider how you might strive for these things; for these people.

Now, you, beloved child of God – washed in the waters of baptism – know in your heart, mind, and soul how you please God, not just when you succeed in fulfilling your baptismal promises, but even when you fail.

You are beloved of God, and with you God is well pleased.

Let the knowledge of this great love be your inspiration to live more fully into the life of Christ every day.

And, let us pray,

Our Father…

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This meditation is for the First Sunday after Christmas, Year B…

Find yourself floating ting in a vast empty blackness. A void.

No sound. No sight. No smell.

Nothing. Except anticipation. That feeling that tells you without a doubt that something is about to happen.

… and then it happens. Light has been given permission to be. And it shines.

Somewhere a word was spoken, and it all just happened.

Just a spark at first, just a pinprick. But it was enough to pierce the chasm of the cosmos.

There aren’t any molecules yet. It’s still a vacuum. So there’s no sound.

But, you have the sense that if you were able to pull back the curtain which separates the two realms of existence you’d hear the angels singing together with all the heavenly host.

That light, spoken by the Word, still shines, still speaks. Even in the dark.

And the dark, no matter how heavy can never snuff out the light.

That light shines in you. In your heart. In your every moment.

Locate that light within yourself. That light that is brighter than the stars.

Where is the light in you?

…That Word still speaks. It speaks in you and in the works around you. It speaks to you when you weep and when you laugh. When you’re bored and it whispers to you in your sleep.

Where is it? Where is the Word in you?

What is it saying?

Knowing that you are infused with the Word and the light, hear the opening of the Prologue to John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Offer thanks to God for all of it.

Ask God to help you shine.

Ask God to help you speak of love wherever you go.

Now, pray with me:

Our Father…

every nook and cranny

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This meditation is for Advent 4b

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

This angel broke into the world, appearing wherever Mary happened to be at that moment. He breaks in and tells her that God wants to break into the world through her, as a child.

Gabriel tries to reassure her. She doesn’t need to be afraid.

But, how could she not have been?

God was coming, and she was to be the door to let God in.

And why? For this world. For you. For the people around you.

Think of the history of this earth. The horrors that have been done. The evils that have been unleashed. The cruelty, the struggles for power, and the brokenness which we see all around us.

But, also think of the wonders. The beauty. The art. Mighty acts of self-sacrifice and love. People who have been gentle, and wise, and noble.

God entered this world, with all of its complexity and nuance. With all it’s noise, and with all it’s songs.

The people around you, and you yourself, are broken. There’s hurt, and anger, and petty jealousies, and wounds that never seem to heal.

And the Angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that God is coming into the midst of all of it. To feel all of it. To live with all of it.

And to die in the midst of it.

For love. For love. For love of you, and everyone you see. Every nook and cranny of this universe. All things seen and unseen.

Take a moment and realize that all of this is held in God’s hand. That all of this was worth God coming. That you were worth God coming.

For as Luke tells us, with God, nothing is impossible.

Let us pray,

Our Father…

who are you

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Welcome to scattered and sown, A weekly guided meditation based on the revised common lectionary.

This episode is a meditation based on John 1:6-8,19-28

For this meditation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments, and turn off any notifications on your devices.

Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Draw your attention to your breath. You don’t need to breathe deeper, just notice your breathing.

Recall that the oxygen you breathe in is being sent to every cell in your body. The cells in your feet, your fingers, your ears, and your brain. The carbon dioxide you are exhaling is in turn being breathed in by the plants, shrubs, and trees nearby.

Recall that all of this is a gift from God, and take a moment to be grateful to God for everything.

Ask God to be with you now, and to open your heart to this passage from the Gospel of John.

John the Evangelist tells us “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”

We are told who this John IS.

He was sent from God. He came to testify to the light.

We are also told who he was not. He was not the light. Later, the crowd wants to identify him as the Messiah. Or Elijah. Or the prophet.

But, he was none of these.

He was the voice crying out in the wilderness.

There were things he was. Things he was sent to do.

But, there were things he wasn’t sent to be or do.

Just because someone wanted him to be something, or someone, else, didn’t mean that was his job.

So, who are you? Who are YOU?

Think back over your life and remember the best times. The best days. The best seasons. The highlights.

Give thanks to God for these times, and the way that these have shaped you into the person who you are.

Think back on the important people in your life. The people who shaped you. The people who believed in you. The people who helped you form your values. The people who were there for you in ways that no one else was.

Give thanks to God for them. For the ways, they helped form you into the person you are.

Think back on the hardest times in your life. The lowest points. The times you struggled, and grieved, and felt loss and hopelessness in your bones. The time’s other people let you down. The times you let yourself down. The times you felt God let you down.

If you are able, give thanks to God for the way that these times helped form you into the person you are. Give thanks for the things you learned.

Give thanks for the people who stood by you through this time. Give thanks, knowing, despite all appearances, God never left your side.

Now, think of the person you want to be. The things you want to accomplish. What are your wildest hopes and dreams for yourself and the world around you?

Think of the people who you would like to support, love, and lift up.

Think of the things that are crooked in this world that God wants you to help make right again.

Take all of this – all of these memories, and all of these hopes and dreams – and offer them up to God. Give thanks to God for who God has created you to be.

Ask God for the strength, wisdom, and courage to be this kind of person.

And now, with all that you are,

Let us pray,

Our Father…

You are most welcome to share this meditation in audio or written form, and use it in any way that may be helpful to you or your community. Just please attribute the source.

ends of earth and heaven

a meditation on Mark 13:24-37, the gospel lesson for advent 1b

Here’s the full text of the meditation:

For this meditation, find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few moments, and turn off any notifications on your devices.

Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Draw your attention to your breath. You don’t need to breathe deeper, just notice your breathing.

Recall that the oxygen you breathe in is being sent to every cell in your body. The cells in your feet, your fingers, your ears, and your brain. The carbon dioxide you are exhaling is, in turn, being breathed in by the plants, shrubs, and trees nearby.

Recall that all of this is a gift from God, and take a moment to be grateful to God for everything.

The Gospel of Mark was written in a time of great turmoil. The Romans had just recently destroyed Jerusalem. Rome had burned to the ground under the leadership of Emperor Nero – and the Christians were placed under heavy persecution for they had been blamed for the fire.

These words from Mark’s Gospel would have struck a deep chord in Mark’s congregation.

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

There was so much pain and fear, it must have felt like the whole universe was coming unglued. But Jesus says not to worry. His angels are coming to gather up his people – from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

In your imagination, and with your eyes still closed, find yourself floating, as if in space. Look down and see the earth – that beautiful marble with swirls of blue and green, brown and white. Look down upon this home to 7 billion people, from every continent, and every faith, and every condition.

Ask God to help you recall the places in this world which dwell in the darkness of pain and fear. The places of famine
war
terror
And death
The places that have fallen victim to earthquakes
Fire
Flood
Storm
drought
And the evil machinations of the human mind
The places where parents fear for their children, and where children fear for their parents.

Vast swaths of these suffering people will be totally unknown to you. Just flickers on the television.

But there is also great suffering in the lives of the people you know. Find them on the globe spinning beneath you. See their faces. Feel their pain, taste their tears.

Now, as you look down, where once you saw the earth, now see your heart.

Ask God to show you the corners of your own heart and soul where fear and pain reside.

The fear and pain that has been visited upon you. And the fear and pain you have visited upon yourself.

Ask God to reveal to you where you have colluded with the principalities and powers of this world. Where has evil been done in your name, or in the name of your faith?

Now, see the angels come from the ends of heaven to the ends of the earth, and the ends of your heart to the ends of your soul. Watch them comfort God’s people, fight for God’s people, and gather God’s people.

Ask God to show you where the angels are leading you to comfort the afflicted. Where is there darkness, and how can you help shine a light there? Where is the fear and despair that you can help alleviate?

Now, inspired to follow the wings of the angels, and primed to reflect the love of God unto the valleys of darkness, let us pray,

Our Father…

Book Review: Nurture the Wow

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book review

There I was, sitting at the town pool, with my newly minted teenager and my budding tween splashing around with their friends, and I was plunged again and again into memories both sweet and sour.

I remembered sitting on our bed, holding my wife, as we cried through our first miscarriage. A few days later, we gathered with our priest around the baptismal font in which we had hoped that that child would have been baptized in, and we prayed the Psalms of Lament.

I remembered the surge of love and ecstasy of wonder when I held my first child in my arms. The nurse bundled her up like a little burrito, handed her to me, and left the room. There I was all alone with this new little miracle, still covered in gray goo.

I remembered getting in over my head at work, and a dear colleague pulling me aside to ask if there was a picture of me above my children’s beds. I said, “… Uh, no…” He then proceeded to say that I should consider that so my children would remember what their father looked like.

Ouch.

Danya Ruttenberg’s Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder, and Radical Amazement of Parenting, provided the impetus for me to examine my parenting—both in the past and in the present—and to remember that my parenting is a spiritual practice. It’s not something that I try to fit my spiritual life around. It is the bulk of my spiritual life.

In this sense, the book was like the Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a pregnant pause to reflect back on the father I’ve been, and reflect forward on the kind of father I want to be, and that God wants me to be. Yes, I’ve been called by God to be a priest, but God has also called me to shape the lives, minds, and spirits of my little ones—and to be shaped and formed by them too.

My family is getting ready to head off on an RV trip across the country. We’ll all be living in extremely tight corners while taking in new cities and landscapes and cuisines and experiences together. Nurture the Wow has reframed this family vacation for me, as a sacred time to be with my family, and to see all the wonders and disappointment, the times we get lost and the times we lose our minds as opportunities to be shaped by each other, and by the One who always journeys alongside us.

Oh, AND, Danya totally reignited my passion for Buber’s I/Thou, introduced me to Max Kadushin’s concept of “normal mysticism,” and made me chortle at how Ram Dass can so miss the point. As a dad, I got SO much out of this book. As a priest, I’ve got the material for more than a few sermons.

One of my favorite lines of the book is:

Parenthood is supposed to magically transform us. I mean, it transforms us. Just not magically. The transformation is damn hard work. [Page 71]

So true. And, isn’t transformation the work of God? Isn’t that what it’s ALL about? Isn’t that the very essence of the spiritual life?

And, isn’t it just sometimes incredibly hard work? Daunting? Scary? Exhausting? Infuriating?

But, in the end, isn’t that what makes it so good?

[Nurture the Wow is available at Amazon and will be available in paperback later this summer. There is also an excellent study guide!]

the “God we want” and the “God we have”

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Religion

There’s an old saying that goes something like this:
God created us in his image… and we returned the favor.

Most of the time when we humans contemplate the Divine, we find ourselves mentally conjuring up a glorified projection of ourselves. Oh, this projection is bigger than us, for sure. This projection is omnipotent, and omnipresent, and omniscient.

As Aladdin’s Genie said it so aptly,
Phenomenal cosmic power!…

But, this vision of God sees the world through eyes that are almost identical to our own. The things we like have his celestial stamp of approval, and the things that we detest he desires to smite. This God votes like us, and is judgmental of the same people who we cast judgement upon.

If we’re peaceniks, then so is our God. If we’re live-and-let-live kind of people, then so is he. If illegal immigration so infuriates us that it keeps us up at night, then it does the same to God. If we’re disgusted by Arabs, or homosexuals, or the Teletubbies—then this God is on our side the whole way.

It’s just that this God does it from a higher register. His judgements and condemnations come with fire and brimstone that is ready to be cast from the heavens at any moment.

Some of us will even find ways to see divine cause-and-effect at work in the world. If a hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast, it’s because of sexual immorality. If a disease like AIDS takes off, it’s judgement on the gays. If terrorists hijack planes and crash them into buildings, that’s because of the abortionists. And, if the Supreme Court or Congress passes some legislation that we find abhorrent, then God’s retribution for this will come at any moment.

This understanding of God carries with it no measure of mystery, or unknowability. We don’t have to guess where he stands on a particular issue, because his position is self-evident.

At its best, this concept of God is the one who sits on our shoulder, rides shot-gun with us, and compels us towards what is good and right. At its worst, this concept of god is the impetus for people to strap bombs to their chests.

This isn’t the only way to see God though. God doesn’t always have to always be just a bigger version of ourselves.

American philosopher, John Caputo, says that instead of God being a projection of ourselves, any real God is far more likely to be a projectile sent to smash all of our preconceptions and ideals to smithereens.

I am not saying that God is a “projection” of human perfections on an infinite screen in the sky—as if we empty our real selves into a fiction called “God.” God, what is going on in the name of God, is not a projection but a projectile headed straight at us, a missile upending our narcissistic desires, a visitation that comes without invitation. This Projectile is an endless mystery. An unfathomable depth of which is there far more of that which we-don’t-know-that-we-don’t-know about than that which we-know-we-don’t-know-about.
( Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim. John D. Caputo. Page 125.)

This is the God of whom we sing,
Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.

Northern Irish philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins often uses the metaphor of a ship sunken into the sea to get at this. He says that while the sunken ship contains the ocean within it, and the sea contains the ship, the ship only has an infinitesimally small part of the ocean within it, while the sea contains the whole ship.

The ship, resting on the bottom of the ocean is filled and surrounded by the sea, but it can’t even begin to wonder where the limits of the sea are. It can’t find even a faint horizon where the sea stops, and there’s something else.

This, says Peter Rollins, is like us and God. Like the ship, we are filled and surrounded by God, and yet we only have the faintest notion of where God’s boundary is—if there even is a boundary.

I offer all of this, because I’m coming to believe more and more that the first understanding of God—the God of the Projection—is where we end up associating God with power, and might, and glory. Not because we’re filled with those things, but because we so desperately want to be.

And, perhaps even more, we are captivated by the notion that we could cozy up to such a font of power—and that this being with phenomenal cosmic power sees the world, our friends, and our enemies as we do. And, unlike us, this God is willing and able to let loose upon those who so deserve our—I mean HIS—ire.

In the West we’re seeing the phenomenon of the Prosperity Gospel, which is nothing more than the incarnation of religion when it takes God Our Projection to its next logical position: If God is all powerful, and if God loves us, and if God loves the people who love, and hates the people we hate—if we stay on God’s good side, then God will want to give us our every desire.

This God (Who we might more correctly call “Narcissus.”) wants us to be rich, and comfortable, and healthy, and be self-actualized. And, so all we need to do is name it, claim it, and pray for it.

Oh, and call now. We take Visa and MasterCard. Operators are ready.

This complete bastardization of the Christian Faith is spreading like a malignant disease through the Church. It used to just be found on television at two in the morning. Now, it’s gone mainstream. Their books are bestsellers. Their churches are filled to the rafters. And, their theology is popping up like metastases in otherwise mainline, mainstream churches.

If it’s not being preached from the pulpit, it’s at least holding sway from the pews.

It’s spewing from the mouth of guys on the YouTube with crosses on their caps, with titles like “coach” who bold claim that what we need is a more “violent” Christianity.

I’m sorry. But, you can have violence, or you can have Christianity. You cannot have both. You cannot claim that actually pushing your way to the front of the line is something that God wants us to do.

He says that there’s violence in the Bible—and in that he’s right. But, when does that violence ever lead to anything good? And, when did Jesus call for it?

It’s beyond God-as-projection. It’s a religion which turns religion 180 degrees around from a focus on God, completely focusing on us instead.

This Me-First kind of religion is infesting our politics, our national discourse, and our ethics and morals—if we can even call them “ethics and morals” anymore. But, more on that later. If heretics like “Coach” Daubenmire have much of an audience, this the infestation has reached the church.

I don’t claim to know the fullness of God. I’m just a ship, submerged in a sea.

But, I do know a charlatan when I see one.