Practicing: Relationship, Growth, and [NOT] Christmas…

Centering prayer does not work; Lectio Divina does not work; there is not a spiritual practice on the planet that “works.”

We know when something “works,” right?

When you sit down with family…

(the people who know you BEST!)

…on the best day of the year…

(Christmas!)

and

…you open that perfect gift…

(What is your perfect gift? An iPhone? iPad? Xbox? Playstation?)

The second you open that gift you know it “worked.”

The present gave you overwhelming joy, the feeling of love and appreciation, happiness beyond happiness. This is how we know something “works.” Something is doing its job and fulfilling our every need when we experience joy and stop experiencing “want” or “need.”   We know when something works!

Lectio Divina, centering prayer and other spiritual practices are so counter cultural to that message of happiness and joy that comes with the opening the best Christmas present. We do not expect a Christmas morning experience with Lectio Divina. I know it is not something I look for or expect to happen. In fact, I expect nothing…and I am content with nothing. (Well…I practice being content with nothing…)

Practice

As a requirement for my United Methodist History class, I prayed with Lectio Divina six days a week for nine weeks. I choose my iPod as my starting point. First, I created a playlist on my iPod and named it daily prayer. Using my iPod had a few advantages: I could adjust my time in prayer by adding or deleting songs, it allowed me to clip the beginning or ending of audio tracks, and if I fell asleep in the midst of prayer (oops!) I could stay asleep because the end of a playlist means the end of all iPod generated sounds! Nine weeks ago, my playlist contained three tracks: a piano solo, Lectio Divina when in doubt by Rev. Todd Spencer, and finally O Lord Hear My Prayer by Taizé Community Choir. Every Monday I delete the old Lectio Divina Podcast and replace it with the new one.

Having it on my iPod made it easy for me to make adjustments. For instance, I found that I was uncomfortable moving straight from Lectio Divina to O Lord Hear My Prayer, there was not enough transition time between the two. To fit my needs, I added Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation by Sounds for Life between the two tracks. Only to discover that the Tibetan Singing Bowls were too loud, (especially if I had drifted off to sleep! Ouch!). Luckily, this is an easy fix in iTunes; I just turned the volume of this track down. Unfortunately, adding the Tibetan singing bowls made my total time in prayer too long. iTunes allowed me to cut out some of the singing bowls, which was enough of an adjustment to the time. I think the ability to make small adjustments like this made the assignment more manageable and enjoyable.

As the weeks went on, I also adjusted what I did while praying. I tried an assortment of activities while listening: I walked or sketched, sometimes I followed along with the text, and occasionally I would journal or blog after praying. Some of these adjustments grew out of impatience, others out of the need for a better fit. For instance, I often had a hard time focusing. Suddenly, I would catch myself planning, scheduling or thinking about homework. However, when I read the scripture while listening to it I could focus with ease. This adjustment fit my spirit. On the other hand, drawing had the opposite effect. I can draw OR I can listen, I cannot do both at the same time! Two things that were most helpful were blogging and journaling in response to the time I spent in prayer. Every time I responded in some way, it was a deeper more meaningful experience.

Journaling or blogging was important whether in the form of a written prayer or a quick sketch (which worked just fine after listening to the text!). This assignment led me to the discovery that I need to respond in some way, it is not a place for me to receive something; instead, it is a time for me to join in conversation with God.

Relationship, Growth, and NOT Christmas

What did I get out of it? Let’s be real…it was never anything like Christmas morning! There was not a moment when I was suddenly overwhelmed with joy and happiness because of this newly opened gift. Spiritual practices, including Lectio Divina, do not offer the instant fulfillment our culture has grown to expect from Christmas Day. We often believe that change must happen in a “WOW!” moment. The tradition of Lectio Divina exists in a world that moves much slower. We slow down to enter into that world. Growth…from baby…to child…to wise adult, takes decades, not a moment or two. This ancient practice seeks to remind me to slow down. It holds me lovingly in God’s hands and gives me the courage and confidence to grow and learn. It is a slow process.

I  did not experience Christmas morning but I did find time and space to think about what was works and what doesn’t. I cannot draw and listen at the same time, but I can read and listen. I can rest or walk away when I am done, but putting effort into responding is an important part of growing my relationship with the One that is always inviting me closer. So, no Christmas morning, no dramatic change…but day after day, year after year, decade after decade, I am shaped by God.


 

P.S. As an interesting addition to my practice of Lectio Divina this quarter: For an (unrelated) history course we created projects in groups. A member of the group suggested that we create a project on Lectio Divina. So, by a random coincidence  I also studied the history of Lectio Divina AND had the opportunity to have a few conversations with other students/pastors. What a great experience :-) Anyway, here is one video that we created for our project. (We also created a Google Site: Lectio Divina)

Other Blogs, Sermons and Stuff…

May your Christmas Eve be VERY blessed!

Lectionary Links…

Although this would normally be the place for blogs on the Lectionary text, I did attempt to chase a rabbit down this week so I am posting links about the Lectionary itself first…

Links to other Links…

Isaiah 9:2-7 and Other Study Help…

 

Tools…

The Light is Coming…

I have spent quite a bit of time this week thinking about Isaiah 9:2.

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

those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined.

It is one of those texts that people get or they don’t. Yes, we can understand the history of it, we can understand the Israelite people and all that they were going through, but that doesn’t always translate into “getting it.”

For some reason I woke up in the middle of the night, it was 3:30 in the morning and I could not get back to sleep. Eventually, I decided that it would be better to just get up for a while. After about half an hour of playing on the computer I decided that I would go back to bed. I turned the computer monitor off, got up and turned off the living room light and found myself in the pitch black of night. When I entered the living room, I could see just fine, we have night lights in the hall and in the bathroom. Now that I had spent some time in the light, the dark was deeper, blinding. We live in the dark with some light, then someone turns on the light and we realize how much darkness was invading our lives. We don’t “get it” until we really “get it.” The bright light of Christ, the one that shines on us, when we are in his light, the dark becomes unacceptable.

Tonight, sitting in church with my friends and family, someone will turn the lights in the sanctuary off. Slowly, flame by flame, the sanctuary will be illuminated with the small flame of hundreds of candles, the dark will be no more.  The light of a baby Jesus coming into the world, through our hands.

As I see the candles being lit, I am reminded that every person holding a candle, the people who cannot, and the people at home stuck in the consumerism of Christmas, every man woman and child, is worthy of Love. The Love that surpasses all understanding. This is what I will remember as I light my candle tonight. And every candle through the year.

I wanted to share a video that friends of mine shared on Facebook. We are worthy of Love, Thanks be to God….

unpresentable

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
   on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

I wish I could remember where I read this but it is my favorite quote…”Light returns dark to its original nothingness.”

Revised Common Lectionary…Too Many Choices

Learning the Lectionary…

The Revised Common Lectionary surprised me yesterday when I opened the webpage to an abundance of choices for text on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My world was a much easier one to live in when I was able to choose from 4 texts instead of the 12 that the Revised Common Lectionary offered this week. The text that my home church choose for this week is Luke 2:1-20. (The only reason I know is that our Youth Pastor creates a Lectio Divina podcast for us to listen to every week.) I was going to pick a text from the same “Proper,” I, II, or III, that they choose from but it ended up not being that easy (what else did I expect?). The Revised Common Lectionary lists Luke 2:1-20 twice. It is in Proper I, and in Proper II.

After roaming around the internet for a few this morning, I don’t really have an answer as to WHY there are 3 sets of text to choose from this week. (If YOU know, could you drop an answer in the comments?) I did find an amazing explanation for the Lectionary as a whole on the Reformed Worship blog, this blog alone made it well worth my time this morning! The example that Friz West gave made the Lectionary easier to understand. Loved it!

Picking the Text…

After flipping a coin…well asking my 14-year-old (Happy Birthday, Dev!) to pick a whole number between 1 and 2, I will be picking a text from Proper I this week. Staying with the Old Testament for the time being that gives me Isaiah 9:2-7.

Isaiah 9:2-7

The Message (MSG)

 2-7The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Strong God,
Eternal Father,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.
He’ll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.
He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.
The zeal of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
will do all this.

Christmas Day Lectionary…

What I learned and what’s coming up…

Week 1 of Lectionary blogging down! I enjoyed it. Although I know I spent more time on it than I will normally have once school starts again. I did learn a bit, for instance…I need a Twitter style introduction. I didn’t even think about that as I wrote in my blog last week. It looks very odd on the front page if I forget a clear introduction. Also, as I work on the blog I hope to get a bit better at being a concise and clear writer. I rambled more than I like to (ya…I realize I am rambling now!)

Lectionary Text for Christmas Day

There are moments that I have asked myself “Why am I doing this?” Then there are those moments that I get a bit of a shock and know that blogging can’t hurt. This morning when I opened up the Revised Common Lectionary for this week was one of those “um” moments! Instead of 4 verses to choose from this week, the website greeted me with a 5×6 table of verses to choose from! Well, the first column includes descriptions and the last row is “Not observed this year” (HUH???). Technically that leaves 24 verses to choose from. But wait, the last 3 of those rows are for January 1st, so I am down to 12 verses to choose from…still quite a few. What if I was sitting down to write my first sermon and discovered this? I would be very lost and probably a bit confused. Since I have discovered this randomness that is the Revised Common Lectionary, I will be taking a least a day or two to figure out what in the world these are: Nativity of the Lord – Proper I, Nativity of the Lord Proper II, and Nativity of the Lord – Proper III.  I will decide on a verse at some point this week but it might just be later (or it’s Christmas week and I might have to skip a day or two!!)