Category Archives: Musings from the Daily Office

Doula for the Holy Spirit

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

The people of Judah need a savior. Today’s reading from Isaiah comes from the period of the divided kingdom: ten of the original twelve tribes of Israel inhabit Israel to the north, and two tribes inhabit Judah—where Jerusalem is—to the south. Israel has teamed up with its northern neighbor, Syria, to gang up on little Judah. Ahaz, King of Judah, is afraid. He wants to protect his people by teaming up with Assyria (not to be confused with Syria). If Judah is here, Israel is here, Syria here, and Assyria over here….

The prophet Isaiah tells the king: ask for a sign from God. But Ahaz says “I will not not put God to the test.” This has a familiar ring to it, right? It comes from the ten commandments and Ahaz is trying to be obedient. At the same time, this is a false piety. He says he doesn’t want to put God to the test, but actually he is denying his need for God. He lacks the willingness to use any means necessary to save the people of Judah.

But Isaiah, God’s spokesperson, says: “Too bad, God is going to give you a sign anyway.” And the sign is this:

A young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. And within a few years, those two countries whose kings you are afraid of will be deserted.

motherandchildA young woman of marriageable age. Not a virgin, not a woman with anything special about her—she will bear a child and name him Immanuel, God with us.

Well, guess what happens? The kingdoms of Israel and Syria are in fact destroyed in the end of the 8th century, and are no longer a threat. But, ironically, Assyria invades Judah, destroys Jerusalem, and takes its people captive. So much for prophecy, right? Wrong. Because the true part of Isaiah’s prophecy, the part that does not rely upon the proof of human history, is God-with-us. Immanuel. No matter what happens, God-with-us is a sign of hope, encouragement, and steadfast love.

The prophet Isaiah points Ahaz to a sign of God’s presence. God’s presence comes to Joseph in a dream, saying the child Mary carries is conceived by the Holy Spirit.

What does it mean to be with child from the Holy Spirit? In Mary’s case, this has come down to us as the explanation Joseph has been given to help him stick it out during a potentially awkward situation. Don’t worry! Mary has not been unfaithful to you.

Mary’s virginal status, meant to remind us of the young woman who bears Immanuel—God-with-us—began as an error in translation. It has come down to us as doctrine—God’s great miracle of parthenogenesis. (That’s a fun word to say! It means creation from virginity.) The challenge of our doctrine of the virgin birth—and I’m not going to offer heresy a third week in a row by dissing the virgin birth—but the problem with that being doctrine rather than translation is that we focus on that miracle rather than the miracle of God-with-us.

The other day I heard a commentary on the radio about how this time of year can be difficult for people who have never had children and have always wanted children. I still remember when I was trying to get pregnant, and then learned that I never would, hearing a preacher (a man) say: “There’s only one good metaphor for Advent, and it’s pregnancy.” I’m not so sure.

What if we stop—at least until the Christmas Pageant on Tuesday—thinking about a baby, and instead think about the sign Isaiah spoke of, the sign remembered in Joseph’s dream, reminding us that God is with us? What if we ask ourselves: what else might it mean to be with child by the Holy Spirit? What if I, a 54-year-old—were to bear the Holy Spirit? What would it mean for Joshua to be with child by the Holy Spirit? Or Tom? To what would the Holy Spirit give birth, in us? What sign of God-with-us would we show to the world?

immanuelIn the time of King Ahaz, a young woman bore a son and named him Immanuel, God-with-us, and Assyria still invaded Judah. Jesus came with a message of God-with-us, and three years later, he was crucified. God raised Jesus from the dead, another sign of God-with-us.  People took this sign seriously enough to start a church, but the world is still full of suffering and disappointment.

What are the signs today of God-with-us? Where is the Holy Spirit growing inside of us?

A few days ago, I decided to do something kind of hokey. I decided to pay attention just for a few hours to signs of God-with-us, and see what I could see. Here’s what happened:

On Thursday evening, I met a woman who was recruited a few years ago to be part of a reality-TV expose of sweatshop conditions in developing countries. She was chosen, along with several other women in their late teens and early twenties, because they were typical consumers of the clothes created in these sweatshops. However, her life was changed by the experience. Not only did she change her shopping habits, but she became an investigative story-teller and devotes her life to exploring issues related to human exploitation, liberation, and reconciliation around the world. Nowhere did she talk, while telling her story, about God-with-us or bearing the child of the Holy Spirit. And yet that’s what I think happened to her.

Friday morning I heard heartbreaking stories on the radio about suicide among college kids. But the stories included two parents who lost their son to suicide and then started a foundation to provide better support for kids on college campuses. They have turned their grief and misery into a source of strength. They are, in a way, giving birth to hope for others.

After listening to that story I pulled myself together and went into the gym. On the stair master I began my workout by reading Morning Prayer on my iphone. I read from the prophet Zechariah, who wrote to the kingdom of Judah two hundred years after Isaiah. By this time, the Hebrew people have survived several invasions and deportations. Times are grim. Zechariah writes:

Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, the Lord of hosts? Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people…. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness.

These words are no less true today than they were in the 6th Century B.C. What if we always knew that God is with us? What if we went through each day looking for signs of God-with-us, and bringing those signs to birth by talking about them? How does it feel to have the Holy Spirit growing something new inside of you? Who are you going to tell?

Steer Your Surfing Towards the Word

Are you in an internet rut? I get stuck in one every time I open my browser. I mean well. I open it and check some news sites to see what’s happening in the world. I open up my email to see who needs what. Then I open up Facebook. I tell myself I’m just checking on my friends. This rarely actually happens, though, and instead I find myself scrolling through an endless list of cute kitten photos on buzzfeed or moderately interesting opinion piece about an issue I may tangentially care about on huffpost or the not-really-news pieces that npr.com seems to be fond of lately. All mediocre content with catchy or provocative titles meant to lure clicks into ad space. Unintentional browsing of the internet can easily turn it into a tabloid; or, the click of least resistance leads straight to kitten pics and commentary on Miley Cyrus. Sometimes I find something interesting. Much more often, I get to the end of a story and I think, “I can’t believe I just spent five minutes of my time reading that.”

Have you considered spending that five minutes with scripture instead? (Will you please imagine me asking that in a Mr. Rodgers sweater vest?) Perhaps you already have a daily practice for reading sacred stories that works for you (share it in the comments below so we can hear about it!) If you’re like me, daily practices can be hard to maintain. Sadly, one constant thing in my day-to-day life is my web browser. The good news is that even this can be easily turned into a tool for redirecting your attention towards something that matters more to you than kitten photos. (Don’t get mad, even baby Jesus likes kitten pics, but in moderation, people.)

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Here’s what I’m committing myself to for the rest of the season, you can join me if you feel so inspired: place some or all of these links below in your bookmarks bar, and when you open your web browser during the day, open one of them before you go to Facebook (or whatever else your internet addiction is, pie-baking blogs, youtube make-up tutorials). In other words, read something with some real, hearty, thought-provoking heart-inflaming head-scratching content. Read the Bible online. Five minutes. It will make the Bible-reading kitten pictured here proud.

So where do you want to start?

You can drag any of these links straight up to your bookmark bar where it can stare you in the face every time you open the internet.

You could start with a simple with a link to the weekly lectionary such as:

 http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

This will give you a heads up for what we’ll hear in church on Sunday morning. It’s not cheating to read the scripture ahead of time. Walk around with it, let the stories simmer in your mind. Then you’ll be one-up on whoever’s preaching that week.

Soak up all the Sunday lectionary for the week? Try the daily office lectionary. Here’s one great place to look it up:

 http://satucket.com/lectionary/

or you could give yourself a direct link to the calendar for the month, such as this:

http://satucket.com/lectionary/October13.htm 

Clicking on any day of the calendar will take you to the readings for that day, daily office, daily Eucharist. Don’t get overwhelmed by choices, just click on a passage of scripture. Maybe something you know you haven’t read before. Maybe you just close your eyes and click, the modern-day equivalent of opening your bible to whatever page it lands on. Sometimes I read all the Old Testament lessons for the week at once, in order, consecutively, because I know I probably won’t come back to it tomorrow. (Now we’re getting really real here.)

Maybe, just maybe, you even want to read the Daily Office from the web. If so, try this:

http://www.missionstclare.com/ 

It’s all there, right on the web. Or perhaps a shorter devotion, such as this:

http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/forward_day_by_day

Whatever you choose, read some scripture. Read a little, read a lot. If you’re alone or unselfconscious read it out loud to yourself. Then, close your eyes. They’re tired of looking at the computer anyway. Close them, breathe deep, and invite God to be with you. Then, when you’re ready, move on with the rest of your day.

The Green Tablecloth

This week has been a week of–among other things–two unexpected gifts.

The first was a practically new green damask tablecloth which a thoughtful and generous person handed to me at the church door on Sunday. She knew we needed round tablecloths for special occasions and had one she wasn’t using.

The second gift was a conversation in Wednesday’s “Bible 101” class. We talked about ways to read the bible, and I introduced folks to the Daily Office Lectionary and the Mission St. Clare app. We talked about the challenges of adding new disciplines–let alone new small group bible discussions–to already-packed schedules, and how those challenges conflict with the longing to connect….connect with the biblical text and connect with others on the same journey.

Someone in the conversation said: “What if anyone who wanted to could gather at a particular table during coffee hour each Sunday to talk about their experience of the daily lectionary that week?” And so the Green Tablecloth was born of these two gifts, a tablecloth and a conversation. Look for the table this Sunday, and share your hopes for an Advent-born discipline of daily scripture reading. ‘Tis the season in the church year, after all, for new year’s resolutions.

The blessing of peace

From this morning’s psalm 29: “The Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.” St. David’s is blessed with peacemakers these days and I thought in this “season of sharing” it was worth mentioning some of them.

Our artist-in-residence, LeRoy Goertz, has an vision of art as areconciliation, and has stories to prove it. LeRoy sculpts and talks about peace in his Art of Reconciliation office in our lower level. Learn more about LeRoy Goertz and his work at www.artofreconciliation.com.

The Portland Peace Choir (www.portlandpeacechoir.com) had an overwhelmingly successful first concert at St. David’s in November, the church packed to the rafters with people longing to hear songs of peace. Members of the choir have come back to sing with us on Sunday mornings, and others are exploring using our space for other kinds of peace-making activities. The Peace Choir’s spring concert is May 22, 2010.

The Zen Community of Oregon is hosting a 12-hour Chant for Peace on January 9 in our parish hall. What a blessing of peace that will be! Members of the Portland Peace Choir and St. David’s Choir will be among those participating in this important event. You can learn more at www.zendust.org/12_hr_c_4_peace.html.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are blessed indeed!

Driven by joy

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The “someone” in the first mini-parable is in contrast to the rich young man we heard about a few weeks ago from Mark, the guy with so many possessions that he went away sorrowful. To that young man Jesus said: “you lack one thing.” The one thing is perhaps the joy that is the motivation for today’s unnamed “someone” to sell everything in order to buy the field. He doesn’t just want the treasure, he wants the whole field.

This reading makes me ask: where do we see the kingdom around us? Where do we see glimmers of the kingdom, like a jewel glinting up through grass in the sun, filling us with so much joy that we’re willing to sell all that we have? What gives us that kind of joy? And how do we recognize the one pearl of great value? I’m longing to hear real-life stories of people selling all they have—literally or figuratively—in order to unveil the kingdom. These two guys–the one who buys the field and the merchant after the pearl–are driven by joy. What drives us?

Lonely churches

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!…her priests groan; her maidens have all been dragged away, and she herself suffers bitterly.” Lamentations 1:1-5

How lonely sit the churches that were full of people!

This reading from Lamentations about the desolation Judah, “suffering for the multitude of her transgressions” brings to mind all of the desolate, empty churches spread out across our city and all across North America and Western Europe, churches that, when built, were grand and triumphant. What have been their transgressions? What other gods have they run after? To what foe are our children now captive? Can we still hear the voices of the people who “groan as they search for bread”?

How can we move from despair to celebration, celebration of the new thing that is ready to be born in our very midst?

Reformin’ Norman

Yesterday morning I was reading about Josiah–one of my favorite stories from Second Kings. This guy is doing a major renovation on his property–so major it’s more like an archaological dig than a plumbing project. So one of the workers finds something buried way down under the basement, and its an old, old scroll. He gives it to his boss, the contractor, who brings it to the King. This turns out to be an ancient copy of the Book of Deuteronomy, or something a lot like it. The King has a 6th-century-BCE version come to Jesus: OMG, we haven’t been doing this at ALL! After rending his garments Josiah proceeds to destroy all the temples built to other gods, and dedicates the rest of his life to restoring Judah to right living and right worship. (Come to find out this morning that his son did not follow suit, but that’s another story.) So if someone came across a lost book during a major construction project in Portland today, what book would make us rend our garments and change our lives? What reforms are needed in our Church?