Silence

I spent this last weekend at a silent retreat–one that Charlie and I facilitate every year. People’s initial reactions to the idea range from “Oh, that’s great!” to “I could never be still that long!”

And yet so many of us long for silence…but there’s always too much “stuff” that gets in the way.

At this retreat, we chatter away as we gather on Friday night. Someone made the comment this weekend that it’s like a family reunion–and in many ways it is. Some of the folks have been coming for each of the last ten years. But our family continues to grow as well–slowly sometimes, but this year we had six new people.

We go into silence with a worship Friday night–led into it the last couple of years by playing on the Native American flute.

And Saturday is all day in silence. It is surprising how much interaction can still go on–and in many ways, how much deeper the interaction is. We listen to nature…to ourselves…and to God. Sometimes it takes a while to get to that final step of listening–we like to hear ourselves talk too much!

Sunday morning we share in a personal Communion with God. Each person receives the bread and wine (grape juice) when they are ready, and they share it in their special place when they are ready.

And then we come out of silence–again with the playing of the Native flute. That is one of the hardest parts of the weekend–breaking the silence, even though we haven’t been in it all that long. But it’s been such an opportunity to get away from all the distractions that normally keep us from listening to what we really want to hear.

And even those who come in fear, wondering if they can survive the weekend, or those whose friends laugh when they say that they are coming to a silent retreat find themselves leaving with new friends, with an attitude of “I can do this!”–and usually are back the next year.

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Jealousy?

We’re currently babysitting our “grandpuppy”–our daughter’s dog–while they’re away. She’s a schnoodle–but about half the size of our schnoodle…and several years older.

It’s Rascal’s home, but when Pepper comes over, she’s the top dog, and she’s not afraid to let Rascal know. Rascal has his favorite chair, his chew toys–and he loves to sit in my husband’s lap to watch the news. But Pepper takes over the chair, the chew–and the lap.

They’re neither one of them big dogs. Rascal weighs about 17 pounds, Pepper about 8. And there’s plenty of room for them both in the chair or on the lap. But will they share? Not on your life!

And will Rascal sit in my lap while Pepper’s in Charlie’s? Nope. He’s rather sulk on the floor!

Pepper brings her own food with her, but she’d rather check our Rascal’s. And Rascal–who is perfectly content with his food normally–is absolutely intrigued by Pepper’s.

Who says animals don’t show emotion? Who says that jealousy is limited to humans? All you have to do is watch these two dog “cousins” to know….that just ain’t true!

Education Is Not a Dirty Word

In another board I am active on, there has been quite a discussion as to whether ministers should be educated–specifically in a seminary–or whether they should depend primarily on the Holy Spirit. At times it’s gotten quite heated!

I’ve always wondered why the two have to be seen as antithetical to each other.

I think a lot of it grows out of our understanding of what scripture is. I don’t believe it was ever intended to be “fact” or “history” in the way we look at those two words today. The scripture writers had a spiritual message to share–and the writers told it in the ways that would catch their readers’ attention. Do I believe that every word of it can be authenticated–as I would expect if someone today were writing a biography of a figure like Jesus? No. But do I believe it is truth? Yes.

How? There’s a Native American storyteller I know who starts out every story with a sentence something like this: “I don’t know if it happened exactly this way…but I know that it’s true.” In other words, there’s something behind the words of the story that’s important, and if I get caught up in parsing every single word and every single fact, I’ll lose the essence of the story.

Unfortunately, I’ve known some people who have had seminary training who would tend to make me agree with the point of view that education can be detrimental to ministry–some who have seen their education as something that makes them “better” than the average person in the pew. These are folks who flaunt their education as being the answer to all questions.

There are also those, however, who make me wonder why seminary education isn’t required for all who would want to bring ministry! Some of them wear their lack of formal training as a badge of honor–badgering those who have gone to seminary and accusing them of somehow “killing” the Spirit.

It’s not an either/or situation. The problem occurs when we try to make it one.

Both are important in creating effective ministers and ministry. They enhance each other (or at least, they should) rather than tearing each other down.

Education helps us understand the background of scripture…the context…the changes scripture has gone through over the centuries…and how changes in our language have sometimes significantly altered the meaning of what we think are common words. Education provides us with training to assist us in knowing when and how to help those we are called to minister to…to know when we are dealing with issues we need to turn over to someone trained in psychological areas. Education can give us tools to help create vibrant worship…to understand how worship elements work together to create an environment in which the Spirit can breathe.

The Spirit gives us sensitivity to know when people are hurting…when they need someone to reach out. The Spirit can bring to memory those scriptures we’ve learned that would be helpful in specific circumstances…the words of healing or chastisement or forgiveness.

Education provides the framework; the Spirit gives life.

Who Is Welcome?

Last week I played for a worship of a group of ministers. One of them shared this story…

There’s a little congregation that is delighted if they have 25 people in attendance–that’s a crowd! One of the women brings her grandchildren as often as possible, but if they don’t come, the congregation didn’t have children. The congregation is in a university town, so it’s not surprising when they have young adults come by to check them out.

One particular Sunday, a young man came. He indicated that he was doing research on some churches and just wondered if it would be okay if he came to some of the services and social events. He was warmly welcomed–and he attended for several months.

About four months later, his wife came one Sunday, bringing their two children–a little 4-year-old boy, and a little girl who wasn’t walking yet. The children had instant grandparents! As the family continued coming, the congregation made sure that the nursery was available, that Sunday school happened, and they continued to claim the children as their own.

Several months later, during the “sharing” time at the beginning of the service, the young man spoke. “I have a confession to make,” he said. He wasn’t really doing research. When he and his family had moved to the town, they had gone to the church they were members of, excited about the possibility of being in that community of faith. They had taken their children to the nursery–where there were about 12 children and 5 staff–and shared in the worship.

But when they went to pick up their children, they were told that it would be better if they didn’t bring their little boy back. This little blond-haired boy who had a grin that split his face, who was so loving, who so enjoyed being with friends and at church…this little boy also had Down’s Syndrome. And he wasn’t welcome there.

The family was devastated. Somehow they found their way to this other church. The father told them he was doing research because he didn’t want to be seen as someone who could be proselytized–as a candidate for baptism. But he and his family had been made so welcome–so accepted as a part of the community–that they now wanted to make it official.

Because this church believed in baptism by immersion–and because they did not have a working font–arrangements were made with the local YMCA, who opened up an hour early and allowed the congregation to use their facilities to unite these two parents with the community of faith.

Sad story? In some ways. But also a delightful story–and a challenge to each of us. Who do we welcome to our table…both individually and corporately? If we see each other as children of one family–as brothers and sisters in Christ–how can I tell anyone they are not welcome?

Jesus invites all to his table…

Final Four

Tonight is the basketball play-off that determines who gets to play in the NCAA championship game…and I’m going to watch! I don’t know that I’d be as interested except that KU is playing.

Did I mention that I live in Missouri?  And attended schools in Iowa and Missouri? But not in Kansas?

During the regular season, I would be rooting loudly against KU in all likelihood, but tonight I’ll be cheering them on. What makes the difference?

They’re the last team left standing from our Conference…they’ve played well to get there…they’ve overcome some significant obstacles–and have some more to overcome tonight…

I’m not usually a huge basketball fan, but this year, it’s gotten my attention. Maybe because there have been some “Cinderella” stories in the teams.

I’m really not sure why. My son laughed the other night when I told him I’d been watching–and asked “When did you become such a big sports fan?”

Maybe part of it is feeling a connection to my dad again. When I was growing up, Dad watched just about every sport he could find on TV–and that was with only three channels! Basketball, baseball, football, soccer (when it was on), racing… I can remember sitting with him and undoubtedly frustrating him with all the questions I would ask about why this team did that…or why wasn’t that acceptable…or… I definitely remember cheering loudly against the Green Bay Packers any time they were on!

Anyway, I am looking forward to tonight–and hoping that KU wins. But I also am hoping that all of the teams that have made it this far play well.

Prayer in Music

Prayer through Music

 I attended an organ concert last night by the young English organist Simon Thomas Jacobs. It was not a religious concert, but it reminded me of the connection I feel between music and spirituality.

There are many things that I believe touch our souls in ways that we cannot completely understand–or express with words. The Bible talks about those times when we don’t have the words to pray. Those times are when I pray in music.

The first time I really became aware of this was about ten years ago. I had applied for a job that I really felt called to…felt I had spent my whole life preparing for. The job description seemed written for me. I went through the interview process, was one of the final four, and felt great…until I received a phone call letting me know that the job had been offered to the only one of the four of us who I felt lacked what had been identified as some of the crucial qualifications.

I spent much of that summer in tears. The job had been with my church–and I really was wondering if there was a place for me any more in the church. Late summer I attended a weeklong workshop sponsored by my church. There were a lot of things that week that were emotional and spiritual challenges, and again I spent a lot of time in tears. One of the evening presentations talked about responding to God’s call, and following that, someone came up to me as we were visiting afterwards to ask me a couple of questions for a class assignment. The first question was fine, but the second felt like a hot poker had been touched to that sensitive spot (although the woman who was asking me the questions had no idea of what had happened).

I fled the building…went to the campus chapel and sat at the piano. I turned no lights on, because I didn’t want anyone to join me. I felt like I needed to pray, but the hurts were so deep that I had no words. And so I spent the next half-hour playing my prayer. At times it was angry…other times it was pleading…at times it expressed my confusion.

At the end of that time, I felt drained, but I also felt relieved…sensing that what I had not been able to put in words God had understood through my music.