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big sister with baby brother

“Tell Me About God:  I’ve almost forgotten…”

Today in her sermon our priest told this story.  It was immersed in a Lenten meditation, and described a story that was originally written by Parker Palmer and then was shared by Marcus Borg.  Now I share it with you here.  It is from a different sermon but describes the same source material.  It brought tears to my eyes.  

In the Hebrew language the “voice of God” is named as “bat qol”.
It means – the daughter of a sound.
Sometimes we translate it as a still small voice, but I think that is a bit problematic
Because a “still small voice” suggests a voice.  Words and all that
It is I think, better described as the daughter of a sound –
something that is beyond the boundaries of speech

I don’t know how many people have spoken to me
about the fact that they haven’t ever heard that voice.
I am saddened that we – I – in the church haven’t fostered a better appreciation,
and that we have left people feeling that God is not speaking with them

The Quaker movement calls it “leadings” or “proddings”
Marcus Borg says that sometimes it is nudges or clobbers
Frederick Buechner says it wonderfully:

Listen to your life.
Listen to what happens to you, because it is through what happens to you that God speaks.

It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher,
but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.

Have you had a voice of reassurance – especially if you are scared or unsure – bat qol
Have you seen someone whose life is clearly suffering get turned around – bat qol

This week, we start the season of Lent, and we will be working with a resource
that is aiming to help us understand and appreciate Jesus’ life.
It is about a journey to Jerusalem – from the Transfiguration on, this is precisely where he is heading
On that journey Jesus speaks about the way – the path of following him.
To listen to Jesus means to follow him on that path that leads to Jerusalem.

Borg comments:

“Jerusalem is both the place of confrontation with a domination system,
and it is also the place of death and resurrection,
it is the place of endings and beginnings, of endings and new life,
the place where what we feared was the place of death becomes the place of new life.”

Listening to Jesus means embarking on that journey,
and it is the journey at the very center of the Christian life.

Lent invites us to head on that journey
and to listen for the bat qol along the way

Early in our lives, we have what some people call the birth of self-consciousness,
the awareness that the world is something separate from us.

At some point, the world ceases to be immediately responsive to your needs,
and we become aware that “the world there” is something separate from you.
That’s the birth of self-consciousness, or even more simply,
that’s the birth of the separated self.
And it happens very early in life.

Lent invites us back to a new birth.  A new listening.  A new life.

Parker Palmer – a Christian writer –  tells a story about a three-year-old girl
She was the first born in her family.
But then her mother became pregnant,
and the daughter was very excited about having a baby in the house.
The birth goes well, and the mother and the new baby come home.

After they’ve been home for a couple of hours,
the little girl tells her parents that she wants to be with the baby in the baby’s room, alone, with the door shut.
She’s absolutely insistent about the door being shut.
It kind of gives her folks the willies, you know?
They know she’s really been looking forward to the baby
but at the same time, they are a bit nervous about sibling rivalry
and the impact of such a big change in the girl’s life.

Then they remember that they’ve recently installed an intercom system
in preparation for the arrival of the new baby,
and they realize that they can let their little girl do this,
and if they hear the slightest weird thing happening, they can be in there in a flash.

So they let their little girl go into the room.
They close the door behind her. They race to the listening post.
They hear her footsteps move across the room.
They can tell that she is now standing over the baby’s crib,
and then they hear her say to her two-day-old baby brother,
“Tell me about God. I’ve almost forgotten.”

It captures the sense that as we grow up,
and as we learn the language of this world, we engage in a process of forgetting

Because as we learn the language of this world,
the categories of this world get imprinted upon our psyches,
and our sense of being a separated self grows stronger and stronger.
That sense of disconnection continues throughout childhood,
until, by the end of childhood, we may have lost that sense of connection altogether.

Frederick Buechner again,
Increasingly, we live our lives from the outside in rather than from the inside out,
taking our cues from the world, taking our cues from others, taking our cues from culture.

During Lent, we are invited to reconnect with the one who is the source of our life
To listen again to the bat qol –
the daughter of a sound which we might hear with words – in prayer or in conversation
Or which we might hear as we pay attention to life, or to our own deep feelings
Or which we might hear with a sense of reassurance, or in a time of healing
or which we may hear in the call to journey to a place where
in a confrontation with the systems of this world, and of its governments
we undertake a process of dying, and discovering new life.

Read, Write, Worship Susana Fernandez / Flickr

Jun 4 2013

In a series called By Heart, The Atlantic features authors’ reflections on their favorite passages of literature. Iranian-born Dina Nayeri, who wrote the recently released A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, choose from Marilyn Robinson’s quiet but strong book, Housekeeping:

There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Her selection was haunting in its layman’s theological truth: we can spend our lives trying to incarnate our own beautiful gods out of longing for reconciliation with those we’ve loved and lost.

Robinson’s words and Nayeri’s response struck me and reminded me once again of the power of reading. Reading can create an intangible sanctuary where all are invited, regardless of faith, to receive benedictions that send us back into our respective broken worlds with more courage, strength, and hope. Reading can be an invitation to turn, face God, and live. For Nayeri, she was blessed with a new perspective on her grief; an alternate way of honoring what is unique to her own suffering but common to the human condition.

Reading and writing as a way of engaging the holy is not a new idea, and yet, we don’t consider it enough anymore as a viable way to make small pockets of sanity and sense within the various wards of our crazy human existence. Perhaps this is in part due to the growing and saddening decline of reading in general. In a 2007 report, the National Endowment for the Arts shared some frightening figures in the decline of reading among Americans over the years, starting with teens and extending through adulthood. Almost half of American young adults between 18 and 24 never read for pleasure. And reading, according to the report, correlates with social and civic engagement. The more we read the more involved we tend to be in our communities. Bookworms do actually inch their way outside and into the world, more so than non-readers it seems.

“If, at the current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks,” the NEA wrote.

I worry that if Christians do not encourage one another to read more literature and to read widely that there might also be spiritual setbacks. In the Judeo-Christian imagery of Moses before the burning bush, a sacred and holy space can be likened to where we feel invited, rather compelled, to take off our shoes and encounter God. Literature can and has been such a space for centuries. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678 and has never been out of print. For centuries this piece of Christian literature has encouraged readers to consider their own spiritual journeys with hope and perseverance. Yet despite such classics, it is essential that we read literature without Christian affiliation. Reading in this way invites us into multiple rooms in the mansion of the human condition. It reminds us that regardless of race or religion, social and economic circumstances we share a common humanity stemming from one creator.

Reading also reminds us that we have unique stories to tell one another. It reminds us that different and equally significant realities exist beyond our own experiences and small worldviews. Each of these has something to tell us about what it means to experience being with God or seemingly without God. I believe that our lives are always moving in one direction or the other, towards God or away from God. That movement is replete with endless variety of form.

When I was 16, I read Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on The Western Front. I can never forget the night I finished it. Remarque had awed me into a silence of unspeakable grief and confusion at the shared compassions and evils of man, and the fine line between the borders of friend and foe. Being a sensitive kid, I had no idea how to process my emotions. I wanted to have a personal conversation with God. So, I did the only natural thing to me, I wrote a poem. That is the effect good literature has always had on me. It has always drawn me to both philosophical and spiritual reflection, things that make me wonder about the ways of God and humans in the world, things that make me wonder about the variety of ways in which we can respond to what life throws our way or offers us.

Monk, writer and philosopher, Thomas Merton understood the power that reading could play in tiptoeing us into the presence of God. In Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing, editor Robert Inchausti quotes Merton as saying, “The real joy of reading is not in the reading itself but in the thinking which it stimulates and which may go beyond what is said in the book.”

Engaging reading does require some effort on our part. It might mean learning to read as though we were pilgrims open to holy encounters in the most mundane of places and passages. Such reading might mean trying our best to leave our everyday prejudices and expectations behind when we approach a piece of literature. It might mean daring to pick up a novel outside of one’s preferred genre or from an author of a distinctly different culture and ethnicity than oneself. As the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “Christ plays in 10,000 places.” There are endless lines of prose in which to stumble upon God and perhaps to draw closer to one another.

holyground
.
.

No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus
.
.
When I walked through the door I sensed His presence
And I knew this was a place where love abounds
For this is a temple the God we love abides here
For we are standing in His presence on Holy Ground

We are standing on Holy Ground
And I know, I know there are angels all around
Let us praise (praise God) Jesus now…
We are standing in His (sweet) presence on Holy Ground

In His presence there is joy beyond all measure
And at His feet sweet peace of mind can still be found
For when we have a need He is still the answer…
Reach out and claim it for we are standing on Holy Ground

(Repeat Chorus) We are standing on Holy Ground
And I know that there are angels all around
Let us praise (praise God) Jesus now.
We are standing in His presence on Holy Ground

Echoes

In his holy wonderful presence
He loves us in our hour of sorrow
He’s our hope, our hope for tomorrow
We are standing in his presence on Holy Ground.

madonna and child

Mother Mary, full of grace, awaken
all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken
taken by the sea
Mother Mary, calm our fears, have mercy
drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy
hear our mournful plea
our world has been shaken
we wander our homelands forsaken

in the dark night of the soul
bring some comfort to us all
oh Mother Mary come and carry us in your embrace
that our sorrows may be faced

Mary, fill the glass to overflowing
illuminate the path where we are going
have mercy on us all
in funeral fires burning
each flame to your mystery returning

in the dark night of the soul
your shattered dreamers, make them whole,
oh Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace
lead us to a higher place

in the dark night of the soul
our broken hearts you can make whole
oh Mother Mary come and carry us in your embrace
let us see your gentle face, Mary

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory