Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.—Jesus (in John 12:24)
When I was a child, we loved to play with milkweed seeds, watching them float away like bubbles on the wind. I was reminded of this recently when I spotted this milkweed plant in Lebanon Hills Regional Park here in Eagan.
Seeing these seeds bursting forth makes me think of all the hopes and dreams lying dormant within each of us. In my forties, it felt like life was “over” (I’m so old!) –and yet here I am in my early fifties, eagerly learning new things, such as watercolor painting, digital photography, and gardening techniques.
The good Lord gives us many gifts and talents deep within ourselves. Is there something you have always wanted to do, but never have gotten around to doing it? Chances are, it’s not too late. You may need to modify the goal or alter your plan a bit, but that unique packet of gifts inside you is still there.
But here’s the thing about seeds: some part of our life activities may seem to “die” in order to make room for something new. The old “something” may be basically good or perhaps something that is no longer working for us, but we decide to focus our efforts on this new thing. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.
If there is something you really feel called to do, some deep desire in your heart, ask God to show you the way. Take one step in that direction and see what happens.
Allow the “wind” of the Divine Spirit to carry the seeds within you wherever God desires. Something good is bound to happen.
Earlier this summer I attended the Summer Institute in Spirituality and the Arts at United Seminary. This year’s workshops explored freeing your voice, creativity and spirituality, performance and spirituality, and experimenting with art as a springboard for writing poems.
Four days packed with the interplay of spirituality, art, and writing–three of my favorite things. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!
One of the activities involved writing a poem focused on the wonder of a particular color. I love many colors and color combinations, but I decided to stretch myself by choosing orange, my least favorite color (no offence, orange-lovers!).
After playing with orange paint, I surprised myself by writing this poem:
Ode to Orange
My least favorite color— purple’s shadow side— nonetheless captivates me in autumn’s luminosity of sparkling maple leaves, pregnant pumpkins, and shining haystacks on an Amish farm.
Then, too, the heady smell of a Phoenix February: orange blossom perfume, Mom’s orange cake, and Tang, the inflatable drink of astronauts. . .
How unusual the first time I traveled through peach painted deserts, rusty red-orange cliffs or Santa Fe hills dressed in piňon pine polka-dots (sprinkled just so by Mother Nature)!
When angled sun shines at the end of the day, orange speaks to me– pinkish adobe homes turn yellow-orange, set-aglow, illuminated: God exhaling spirit into our oh-so-earthy reality.
What is your least favorite color and why? Try this: See if you can think of things you like that are that color. At the end, give thanks to God for all colors.
For many years, I have been attempting to live a contemplative lifestyle that is often puzzling to others, even to professional church leaders. This way of life is grounded in my calling to follow Christ, but has often been difficult to explain in “sound bite” definitions, because this vocation does not fit easily into the Catholic or Protestant paradigms many of us were taught.
In addition, I can hardly begin to describe whatever-this-is that God desires for my life (at least I believe God wills this!), when the contemplative quest is so very difficult for me to grasp myself. So mysterious does all this seem that many times I have tried to keep this calling hidden, feeling others might not understand. (Many of you already know this about me–it is only I who think I need to “come out” of the contemplative closet!)
What I have discovered, ever so gradually over the course of my life, is that I am what could be called a Christian contemplative (also known in some circles as a lay contemplative, or, in my case, a married contemplative). A Christian contemplative is a person wholeheartedly attempting to follow Christ in a concrete way that emphasizes “be-ing” over “do-ing” in their day-to-day attitudes, work, and prayerful lifestyle. Although living “in the world,” a Christian contemplative focuses his or her life more intensely on spiritual values and practices that are often thought of as belonging to monks, such as silence, solitude, Christian meditation, biblical study, simplicity, and digging deep into one’s own soul, searching for the Holy Spirit or ongoing presence of Christ within.
This idea of living monastic values in the midst of the world is, in some ways, new, and in other ways, ancient. Many Western Christians assume a strict delineation between monastic living and those “in the world,” and, indeed there are significant differences between the two ways. For example, as a married lay woman, I am not celibate and I do not live in a monastery setting. On the other hand, monastic values, such as silence, almsgiving, humility, and treating others as brothers and sisters in Christ, are ancient practices found among biblical figures who were family men and women, living “in the world.”
Two books that really helped me understand this lay contemplative calling and how to begin to put it into practice are listed below:
The Lay Contemplative: Testimonies, Perspectives, Resources edited by Virginia Manss and Mary Frohlich with Foreword by Tilden Edwards (St. Anthony Messenger Press)
Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar (Paulist Press — I see there is a new edition of this since I last read it.)
I found these books unique because they describe the experiences of other people who are also searching for a quieter, more contemplative lifestyle outside monastery walls.
This is not to say that the contemplative lifestyle is necessarily “better” than those who are called to a more “active” service- or ministerial-oriented lifestyle. However, I think it would be good for those who lead the church to have a grasp on this often misunderstood Christian path.
If you feel drawn to a more contemplative lifestyle and would like to share your experiences, or perhaps just want to ask questions, join the conversation! Feel free to post your thoughts, or use the contact tab to write to me privately if you wish.
More to come on this topic in a future post…
Until next time, Amen!
P.S. Yes, it is always okay with me to forward this post to your friends via e-mail. –Julie
“And you kill what you fear And you fear what you don’t understand” –Lyrics from “Duke’s Travels” by Genesis
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”
–Words of Jesus in Mark 6:50
Sparrow photo by Marek Kosmal –Dreamstime.com
Have you ever noticed how fear permeates our society like a kind of illness? Although it is part of the human condition to have to deal with a certain amount of tension, it seems to me that the overall anxiety level of our culture has escalated in the past decade.
While humans have always had to deal with fear, Americans are bombarded with negative, anxiety-producing messages every day, thanks to the many forms of modern communication. Advertisers play on our underlying nervousness about becoming old, infirm, weak, or ugly. Politicians stoke our fears in order to gain votes. Religious preachers speak of a terrifying time they call Armageddon (Is this supposed to make me want to join their church?), while environmentalists warn about catastrophe caused by global warming.
It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about issues of our day or things that touch our lives in big and small ways. However, I am concerned that too many decisions are made out of raw fear and too many of us are stuck in a fear-based lifestyle.
I’m not immune to the effects of all the negative messages that surround us and infect us with anxiety. In fact, it is because of my own fears that I am exploring this problem here on the Spiritual Drawing Board.
As part of the human condition, fear has its place. When you see a runaway semi-trailer headed your way, fear can make you swerve to avoid collision. “Fear of God” (healthy respect) can motivate a person to change his or her life for the better. Feeling an intuitive fear in an unusual situation sometimes warns us of real danger.
But—and here’s the big question—how does one reconcile all this anxiety, fear-centeredness, and fear-mongering with the words Jesus said repeatedly, “Be not afraid”? So many people in our country say they believe in Christ, claim to follow his teachings, and even want to call America a “Christian nation” (something that makes me uncomfortable), while at the same time acting fearful about all sorts of dangers, real and imagined, creating scary scenarios, and spreading ideas that only serve to increase fear.
However, is this how the real Jesus of Nazareth would want us to live? As slaves to fear? Jesus himself experienced a kind of fear or agony in the garden just prior to his arrest and death on the cross, but he did not let that anxiety stop him from accomplishing God’s plan for his life. Jesus trusted God, his Abba (Father/Daddy) completely. This trust was not the belief that nothing bad would ever happen, but rather that God was always with him, through both the good times and the bad times.
In the gospels, Jesus tells people again and again not to be afraid—and these people he spoke with had a good deal more to be afraid of than the average American of today. Most of his listeners did not have the abundance of possessions that most of us have, they did not have credit cards, life insurance, or the advanced health care we have today. Most of Jesus’ friends would not have been considered full-fledged citizens (his early followers were Middle Eastern Jews living under Roman rule). In fact, in the years that followed Jesus’ death, some of them would give their own lives for following Christ—and yet, Jesus told them don’t be afraid.
As the year 2011 continues to unfold, there are many challenges ahead. Jesus did not promise us we would never suffer, but rather that he would be with us in our suffering. The Divine Spirit is with us in the depths of our hearts. Christ is with us when we gather together for worship, Word, and Sacrament. When we are attentive to God’s presence, we hear not the voice of fear and darkness, but rather the still, tender voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” –Jesus in Matthew 10:28-31.