Transformation: Learning from Worms during Lent

Note: Today’s blog is written by guest writer, Pastor Sarah Clark.

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

I like to tell people that I got worms for my birthday…. because it’s true. I did, just not the gross kind of worms! My husband Brian gave me composting worms for my birthday – a 37 gallon bin of dark dirt and many hundreds of (maybe even a thousand) red worms. And now, these worms are happy to call the north-west corner of my basement ‘home.’

I know that composting worms aren’t a normal birthday present. The guys I share an office with remind me of that every time talk of the worms comes up. But I really like my worms. I like that during the week I save all my coffee grounds, veggie scraps, and egg shells in a big Tupperware container.

Then when Saturday rolls around, I take all of that gross, slimy, smelly stuff and I feed it to the worms. I open the bin’s lid, dig a hole, fill up the hole with the week’s gross collection, cover it all up with dirt again, and then top it off with some brown oak leaves from the tree in my yard. In some very strange way it’s satisfying.

The worms don’t say much. They don’t ever say thank you. They don’t cheer every Saturday when I open the lid. But I know they’re content because every week I see baby worms crawling around… eating the previous weeks’ blueberries, spinach leaves, and carrots. And each week, there’s more rich, black dirt for me to use in my garden this spring. Talk about transformation.

Transformation. From disgusting leftovers to rich, wonderful soil. From moldy refrigerator scraps to fertilizer for this summer’s tomatoes. This time of year is a time of transformation. From dark winter to warm, bright spring. From brown to green. From death to life. Lent is all about transformation… and I’m so glad that Easter [Lutheran Church] is talking about transforming at worship, and church school, and confirmation, and book studies, and Chick Talk [women’s group], etc.

‘Transformation’ means that there’s hope for us. If a bin of worms in my basement can transform slimy onion skins into fantastic soil… how much more hope there is for us… who will be transformed by the promises of Jesus Christ on a sunny Easter morning!

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

Sarah Clark is an ELCA Pastor and works at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 and Luther Seminary in 2010. Sarah seriously loves the Current (a radio station), good food, and the BWCA in northern Minnesota.

Worms in the photos from Julie’s garden.

Until next time, Amen!

Holy Vulnerability

For he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully.  –St. John Chrysostom*

click on image to enlarge

I was surprised the other day when this lovely bird sitting by the grassy path did not fly away as I approached. He (she?) even allowed me to stand only a few feet away, taking photos.

I don’t know if it was the closeness or the filtered sunlight, but the bird appeared to me the most exquisite, beautiful living thing. (I would later find out it was an ordinary fledgling robin!)

From the bird’s behavior, I thought it was either sick or wounded–indeed, it was no longer living when I passed by it on my return trek. I was saddened, but grateful that in its vulnerable state, I had been able to see the details of its gorgeous feathers.

This experience made me think how God wants to be close to us, but often we fly away, just out of reach. God is always with us, of course, but sometimes we just don’t want to get too up-close-and-personal with God.

I am not sure why this is. We may be afraid because of having been exposed to harsh, wrathful images of God when we were young. Perhaps we are afraid God will ask us to change our ways or take on a new calling. Maybe we are just too busy to spend time with God. 

I think for some of us, it is when we are most vulnerable, like the little bird, that we allow God to come close. When we are suffering prolonged illness, failing relationships, job loss, or grieving, we may cry out to God in our anguish. In our vulnerability, God determines we are ready to receive spiritual growth, new callings, or deeper experiences of being loved.

St. John Chrysostom, an early church father known for his preaching, observed that God uses our vulnerability to draw us to himself. Chrysostom writes that Jesus did not call Matthew at the same time he called Peter and John because Christ knew Matthew was not yet prepared to accept the calling. He notes that others, too, like Paul, were called at various times because it was only when they were finally vulnerable they could really respond fully to the good news. (I wonder, did Paul’s vulnerability cause him to fall off the horse, or did the great fall cause his vulnerability? Ha ha ha ha…)

God knows the best timing for spiritual growth in each unique person. As Chrysostom explains:

click on image to enlarge

For he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully. Therefore he did not call them [the apostles] all together at the beginning, when Matthew was still in a hardened condition. Rather, only after countless miracles, after his fame was spread abroad, did he call Matthew. He knew Matthew had been softened for full responsiveness. *

When we have an attitude of openness and “holy vulnerability” before the Lord, we can really listen to what the Spirit desires for our lives. This attitude of vulnerability does not mean cowering in our shoes or belittling ourselves, but rather being open to whatever God has in store for us. Holy vulnerability allows God to draw close, like the little bird allowed me to share in his last few moments of life.

Until next time, Amen!

~~~~~~~~~~

*Quotes and concepts based upon St. John Chrysostom’s The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 30.1, quoted in Give Us This Day (Sept 2011, pp. 219-220). Give Us This Day is a new monthly publication from Liturgical Press centered around the Roman Catholic lectionary (daily Mass readings) with morning and evening prayer. I highly recommend this insightful and convenient daily prayer guide. For more info click here.

Building Bridges with Books

Since the last blog post, I’ve been thinking: What have I learned in the period since the tragic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001? Is there anything good in my life that was brought about by something that was otherwise an evil deed?

(I don’t believe God causes evil, but that sometimes, when you look back over a long period of time, you can find something good that God brought out of an otherwise bad/evil situation.)

In reflecting on this question, the thing that surprised me most is how much I’ve learned about Islam, that is, people called Muslims. It’s not that I even know that much about Islam, but before 9-11, I knew nothing about it. Absolutely nothing.  If it hadn’t been for 9-11, I doubt I would have ever wondered about this major world religion and its devout believers. 

Looking over the past decade, I discover that I’ve read a number of books I never would have thought to read otherwise–and a number by Muslim authors:

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Asar Nafisi;
  • The Kite-Runner, by Khaled Hosseini;
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, also by Khaled Hosseini;
  • The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji;
  • Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter, also by Asar Nafisi);
  • The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew –Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner;

These books do not represent all sides of the Muslim world–they just happen to be the ones I read. As I said, I didn’t exactly plan it that way. I just observe this when looking over the past decade.

These books gave me windows into other people’s worlds, realms that were completely unknown to me. Reading stories or the personal experiences of others was far more engaging than merely reading theological textbooks (although those have their place). My reactions to various parts of these books covered the full gamut of human emotions: sometimes I was laughing or crying, sometimes feeling shock, anger, outrage, or empathy–and always, always, I learned something.

This doesn’t take away the evil or tragic dimension of what happened on 9-11–and particularly not for those who lost loved ones–but for someone like me it shows that God can bless us in unexpected ways.

Until next time, Amen! 

Spiritual Aerobics

1. Can you think of a time in your life when God brought something good out of something that was in other ways a bad situation?

2. Is there something positive you can do today about a situation that is otherwise sad, trying, frightening, or painful for yourself or someone else?

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies.”

But to you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
     –Words of Jesus recorded in Luke 6:27-28.

The tenth anniversary of 9-11 will soon be upon us, and I wonder: What I have learned in those ten years? Have I overcome my fears and anger? Have I become more compassionate towards those who are “different” from me?

While thinking about this, I thought it might be worth revisiting a column I wrote at the time of the first anniversary of 9-11, published in The Catholic Spirit and a few other newspapers around the country.

Back then I was pondering the meaning of Jesus’ command to love your enemies, and the context was the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks. Today when I reread it, I think about how so many Americans have turned against each other in their extreme enthusiasm for their favorite political agendas.  At times it seems hostility has become the national pastime.

Being kind to those who hurt us is no easy task, and I certainly struggle with “love your enemies” myself. Nevertheless, if we call ourselves Christ-followers (Christians), then we must strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to practice all that Jesus taught.

Here’s that original article:

Praying for Enemies on the Anniversary of 9-11

As the one-year [now 10-year] anniversary of the tragic events of September eleventh approaches, I am pondering the meaning of Christ’s command to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Just what did Christ mean? Should I pray for terrorists?

A priest I know did just that during a time of shared prayer at church. Some people questioned what he meant by praying for terrorists. Was he condoning their acts of violence and murder? Did he want terrorists to “win” the war?

Praying for one’s enemies does not mean that we agree with their ideas or support evil. Praying for enemies does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It certainly does not mean that we eliminate praying for the poor, the oppressed, and victims of violence.

Therese of Lisieux at age 15

A startling example of praying for “society’s enemy” is found in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. When she was a teenager, Thérèse heard about a notorious murderer named Pranzini, whose story made headline news. While waiting on death row, Pranzini showed no signs of repentance. Because Thérèse felt a great longing to prevent sinners from suffering the pains of hell, she prayed ardently that God would forgive Pranzini, granting him eternal happiness in heaven. On the day following his execution, Thérèse read in the newspaper that “Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head beneath the guillotine’s blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.” Thérèse tells us that she felt such joy over this news that tears came to her eyes.

I find it difficult to pray for mildly irritating people, let alone violent criminals. However, someone taught me a method that helps. Setting aside your own agenda (that’s the hard part!), simply ask God to grant this person a pleasant day, peace, joy, etc. If you like, envision the blessings like a gentle rain showering upon this person.

When I pray this way for someone everyday for a month, I often notice a change in myself. Sometimes I begin to see this “enemy” in a slightly better light. I listen to him or her more at meetings.

Some wounds in life—like childhood sexual abuse—are so painful that we cannot do this type of prayer exercise. In these cases, we can pour out our troubles to the Lord, ask for God’s help, seek necessary professional help, and give ourselves time for the healing process. God understands.

Nevertheless, Christ calls us to deepen our love for others by praying for someone we dislike. Why do such a distasteful thing? Jesus explains that because God gives the blessing of sun and rain to all people—both saints and sinners—we must do the same. We ask God to grant our enemies the same love and mercy that God has given us.

Jesus also reminds us that being kind to people we like is not really so special or virtuous. (Even terrorists are kind to people they like!) The Lord Jesus forgave his executioners and the repentant thief during his own crushing agony on the cross. This same Lord promises that when we love our enemies, we will truly become children of God.

New Beginnings

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”–Revelations 21:5

Click to enlarge--Butterfly near fountain at Eagan's Central Park--photo by Julie McCarty, 2011 All rights reserved.

The other day I was walking at Eagan’s Central Park and stopped to take pictures of this butterfly in front of the fountain. We had a little dance going: she would move her wings, I would, quick-snap-the-picture, while in the meantime she moved before the picture was complete. After awhile I tried to predict her next move, but I was mostly one step behind the lovely flying creature. 

Butterflies always remind me of new life, new opportunities, new chances to try to be something different or become a better person. How the caterpillar goes from one stage to the next inside its cocoon is certainly mysterious–and so it is with us humans, although we often miss the many ways we grow and change, even as adults.

In the book of Revelations, John has a vision of a new heavens and earth. He is told by God, “Behold, I make all things new.” Although this passage is about the coming kingdom at the end of time, it is also true that God brings about newness in our own lives, our own time–if only we let him. When we say “thy kingdom come,” we mean not only in some distant future in heaven, but also in the sense of bringing God’s will and compassion to life in the here and now.

School will be starting soon–or has already begun–in many places throughout the country. Sometimes I think that the starting of a new school year is more of a “new year” than January 1. New teachers, new books, new clothes, new classes–a new start on life. Even if you are not in school, many activities that were set aside for summer come to life once again in September.

What newness of life does God want for me, for you, at this particular point in our lives? What concrete steps might we take to cooperate with God’s desire for our lives? What single choice might I make this day to bring about a better world, at least in my little corner of it, just for today?

Click to enlarge--Open Butterfly--photo by Julie McCarty, 2011. All rights reserved.

Jesus, Saint Clare, and the Gospel of Prosperity

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  —Mark 10:21-22.

Today is the feast of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), a Christian who fully embraced these words of Jesus. A young woman from a wealthy family, Clare gave up a luxurious lifestyle at age 18 in response to the preaching of the now-famous Francis of Assisi. Like Francis, her goal was to embody the gospel message completely, to imitate Christ so much that her life might become a sort of mirror image of the Savior.

In founding the Poor Clares, a religious order of women who follow Franciscan ideals, Clare made living a life of utter simplicity or “holy poverty,” a foundational principle. Clare wanted to be free of all that might keep her from experiencing the fullness of Christ in her life.

That is not to say that poverty is a glorious thing. It is not glamorous or desirable to be forced into poverty. The Lord does not want people to starve. The key thing here is that those with much wealth and many material things (and most Americans fit into this category) can become so attached to these things that they focus their lives on obtaining more and more things or money rather than focusing their hearts on God.

The man in the gospel reading above goes away “shocked and grieving”–he can’t  believe his ears. He’s kept all the commandments and now Jesus wants him to get rid of his treasured possessions. This man probably spent his whole life amassing those possessions, maintaining them with repair and upkeep, and protecting them from thieves. His “things” were probably his main focus–and Jesus encourages him to get rid of them.

In her time, Clare took these words of Christ very seriously. I’m trying to imagine what this teaching means in our lives today. Certainly Christ desires that we have basic food and shelter. After all, he taught us to pray, “give us this day, our daily bread.” But I rather doubt Christ would want many of us (if any) to pray “give us this day, increased stock dividends,” or “save me from higher taxes.”

Yet, some Christian speakers of today give the impression that following Christ is a recipe for wealth, success, and earthly power. If you pray the right way, or donate to the right ministry, money will come back to you in return. This is known as the “gospel of prosperity.”

I wonder, how does one reconcile the gospel of prosperity with these words of Jesus telling the man to sell all he owned? To build up treasure, not in bank accounts, powerful cars or sleek electronic gadgets (confession: I just bought a Kindle), but rather “treasure in heaven”?

Saint Clare was counter-cultural when she dared to say no to her parents’ plan for her life (prestigious marriage, no doubt) and took up instead the cross of Christ in holy poverty. She even stood her ground on this issue when church officials wanted to release her from her vow of holy poverty because they thought it too strenuous for a woman. “Release me from my sins,” she said, “but never from the vow of holy poverty,” or something to that effect (I regret I can’t find where I read this).

Today we are bombarded with messages that would lead us away from the true way of Christ, some of them coming from people who call themselves “Christian.” May we have the courage of Clare, even when it means giving up wealth, power, or prestige for the sake of the gospel.

Spiritual Aerobics

Think about your possessions. Is there something you own that you could give to someone in need? Perhaps a closet filled with things you never use? Magazines? School supplies? Dishes? A table? Socks? Suitcases? Phones? Radios? Winter coats? School clothes? Books? A musical instrument or sports equipment? Blankets?

Enuma Okuro’s “Reluctant Pilgrim”

 

You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.– Saint Augustine, in the Confessions

Earlier this year I attended a women’s retreat led by spiritual writer Enuma Okuro. When I first signed up for the retreat, I knew almost nothing about Enuma, but I wanted to meet other women in my latest experiment with finding a church home, and the lure of meeting another spiritual writer in the flesh was more than I could resist.

The weekend retreat was a good experience, and one of the many blessings was seeing Enuma in action. She has what I would call a genuine spiritual presence in an honest, creative, and faithful-to-God way. I couldn’t get over the way she got all of us engaged in creative activities and sharing despite the fact that hardly any of us would normally think of ourselves as very “creative” or “artistic.” 

More recently, I finally had the chance to read Enuma’s book Reluctant Pilgrim–and, frankly, all I can say is, wow.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the book because I think it’s better to read it without a lot of preconceived ideas. However, the subtitle gives the main focus of the book: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community. Enuma hungers for God, but calls herself “half-graced” because, although she was baptised Catholic, she was never confirmed and feels she is missing something, the adult faith commitment and the feeling of belonging to a community of believers. But, to what church should she go? Where will she find a spiritual home, a faith community? To say her background is varied is an understatement. Although her first years of memory were spent in Queens, New York, she is never quite sure how to explain where she is “from”:

Once we moved back to West Africa, I was introduced to my first mosque, and the rest of my early childhood was lost in a whirling dervish of Hail Marys and muezzin cries to holy prayer. I was raised by a Catholic father, an Anglican, somewhat evangelical mother, and endless Muslim aunts, who called on both Jesus and Allah within the same breath, depending on the circumstances. I ran into God beneath the billowing skirts of Catholicism and Islam while learning the cultural steps of being a foreigner in my native country. When people ask me where I’m from, I fumble for answers, take a deep breath, and exhale with, “I was born in the States, but my parents are Nigerian, and I grew up in four different countries. But currently I live in (insert current city of residence) so that’s where I’m from, I guess. (page 17)

Reluctant Pilgrim is a fresh look at the Christian journey in the midst of today’s multicultural, multi-religious, multi-spiritual and even doubting world. It taps into the human hunger for God with the frank admission that we often resist this hunger, and our spiritual communities often seem–at least on the surface–lacking this hunger for union with the divine. 

To get a small taste of this book and Enuma’s honest, creative style, view the YouTube trailer below. I found myself pondering the spiritual mystery of God and God’s presence in others just watching the preview!

(If this YouTube video does not print in your email subscription, just google “Reluctant Pilgrim” and “YouTube” and look for the trailer.)

Until next time, Amen!

Invitation: Contemplative Spiritual Practices Group

Sunrise beach walk--photo by Julie McCarty--click to enlarge

Every now and then, I find I have to do something to spice up my relationship with God. Like any relationship, God and I can get stuck in a rut, take things for granted, or let things go a little stale. Of course, it’s not really God who is letting things flounder, but rather I am the one who gets a little lazy or distracted.   (Sometimes the feeling of boredom or being stuck in a rut in prayer can really be God calling one to a deeper way of prayer—but that is the subject of another article.)

One way I hope to put a little pizazz into my prayer life this summer is by meeting with a small faith group to explore various contemplative spiritual practices. For six sessions, meeting every other week, we will be exploring different ways from the Christian tradition to pray and relate to God.

We will be meeting every other Wednesday beginning on June 29th, from 7:00 to 8:30 at a member’s home. Because of my background and training in this area, I will be facilitating the first few meetings. This group is part of the small group ministry at Easter Lutheran Church (ELCA) here in Eagan, Minnesota, but one does not have to be a member in order to join us. So you are welcome to attend if you are interested.

To begin with, the book we will be using is called Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert. The author lives up in the area of Crookston, MN, and is a church pastor with many  credentials and experience in teaching Christian prayer. We’ll be looking at only 2 chapters per meeting so as to allow time between sessions to experiment with prayer on your own. The book is available from Amazon, Border’s, and Barnes and Noble for about $11. Local stores would probably order it for you. Topics include how to pray using short passages from Scripture, journaling, praying in nature, integrating prayer and life experience, finding God in silence, and other topics. The book is very helpful, but you do not have to obtain it before the first meeting.

Creating a Life with God explains how to pray with Scripture using the ancient Christian method called lectio divina (sacred reading), the Jesus Prayer, entering into silence and solitude, finding God in day-to-day experiences, journaling, the role of body in prayer, praying in nature, etc.  It looks at how various Christians of the past used these different ways to build their spiritual lives. You can read more about this book at the publisher’s site here  and a review of it here.

As I mentioned, if you live close enough to join us, we would love to have you come. Just contact me for more info and directions to our first meeting location at a member’s home. (Click on contact page above.)

And if you are interested but cannot attend, think about reading the book yourself. Feel free to send questions to be discussed on this blog if you like.

Until next time, God be with you,  Amen! 

Pentecost and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem on the Holy Spirit

The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.Jesus  (see John 4:14)

Christians celebrate Pentecost this Sunday, the feast commemorating the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a lovely meditation on the Spirit by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a famous teacher in the ancient church.

Like other church leaders of his age, Cyril reads the story of the woman at the well with an eye for symbolic imagery. He views the water that Christ offers the woman as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Cyril writes:

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is alway the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

This is a lovely way to describe the eternal, unchanging nature of the Spirit while at the same time explaining the dynamic way the Spirit moves and acts in our lives. Like a “personal trainer” or an intimate friend, the Spirit works one-on-one with each person in the way best suited to his or her personality, giftedness, life situation, etc.

Cyril also explains that the Holy Spirit enters the soul like water enters a dry tree. The tree produces fruit because of the action of the water; so too, the human soul “bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit.”

These fruits of the Spirit vary from person to person:

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.  

St. Cyril’s reflection makes me think of the theological prinicple of “unity in diversity.” It reminds me that my calling maybe different than your calling, my gifts, prayer style or spirituality may be different than yours, but that’s okay. God didn’t create us to be clones of each other.

We are united not through having identical gifts or even precise agreement on every doctrine, but rather, it is the water of the Spirit, the presence of God within and among us,  who unites us with bonds of love. In this life, we will never have perfect agreement among all peoples, but we can be united in the Spirit, the water of eternal life, that nurtures all of us together to grow into the one Mystical Body of Christ.

For me, and I hope for you, that’s good news.

Until next time, Amen!

Notes: Passages quoted from Cyril of Jerusalem are from volume 2 of The Liturgy of Hours (Catholic Book Company), pages 966-967. Photos on this post by Julie McCarty, 2011.

Living Stones, Spiritual Milk, and Soul Growth

Come to him [Christ], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourself be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  — 1 Peter 2:4-5.

This week I have been pondering this verse, taken from the First Letter of Peter, which will be proclaimed this Sunday at many Christian churches throughout the world.

Peter—whose name means “rock”– calls Christ a living stone, and later in the passage, a cornerstone, the important foundation for the beginning of a building. He also calls us living stones that God is building into a spiritual house or temple. Although each one of us is uniquely gifted, each one of us has our identity and space in the building, our relationship to each other. Individually, we are loved by God, but together we form something even better and bigger than ourselves, the “spiritual house” God is building.

Having been raised Catholic, I can’t help but notice that Peter, the Rock, whom many call the first pope, doesn’t say anything about popes, cardinals, bishops, or other hierarchy in this reading. All are “rocks,” built together upon the Cornerstone, Christ. Peter calls all of us together a holy priesthood, whose purpose is to offer spiritual sacrifices to God.

But what is meant by living stones?

Unlike inanimate matter, Peter doesn’t want us to just “sit there,” motionless. We are to be strong, like rocks, in our faith in God, no matter what the weather brings, but we are also to be alive, growing, moving, and changing more and more each day into the image of Christ.

Churches who use the Revised Common Lectionary this Sunday, will hear the words of Peter just prior to these verses, and I think it’s worth looking at how these verses illuminate what the writer meant by “living” stones. Just before he writes about the living stones, Peter writes:

 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.  (1 Peter 2:2-3)

At first I didn’t think there was any connection between this verse on drinking spiritual milk and the living stones. However, the original text would not have had paragraph indentations and periods at the end of sentences. The writer was flowing from one thought to the next.

Peter exhorts us to long for spiritual milk from God (food like Eucharist?), so that we can keep growing in the Lord. We forget to consider that in biblical times there was no packaged infant formula. The only way an infant was fed was directly from the mother’s body (or a “wet nurse”). The original hearers would have imaged a mother feeding her baby when they heard this verse and perhaps thought of God as feeding them directly from himself in the Eucharistic feast. (I am not the first person to think of this. See May 5th post.)

Although we must be strong in faith, like rocks, we are also to be fluid, moving, and growing, like a newborn baby. God is both the builder who is creating a strong church community and the mother who is feeding us directly with God’s self. (I think of Eucharist here, but I suppose additionally, in a mystical sense, the Spirit feeds us in the depths of our hearts as well.)

If you stop to think about it, these are amazing ideas: a God who is constantly supporting us, feeding us, building us up, not only individually, but together, in interdependent relationships.

O God, Sacred Builder and Divine Nurturer, help us to be strong as rocks in our faith in You, and as innocent and reliant upon You as a newborn baby is upon his or her mother.

Until next time, Amen!