Tag Archives: God

Silence, Dark Sky: Spirituality

Snowy Lane

Recently I spent a couple of days and nights in the Catskills, remote and unlinked from the bustling matrix of the city.  Two aspects of that geography struck me (well, three if you count the mountains).

There was brilliant silence to the place.  It was as though someone had pressed the mute button on the remote.  No noise.  Birdsong rippling across wooded terrain, snow blanketed and frigidly cold, the place was just QUIET.  Then on the first night as I walked in the cold silence I peered into the dark ink sky and noticed how bright the stars were. They pierced laser sharp holes in the fabric. And I realized, there was no light pollution here like there is in the city.  

Let me make two points about spirituality or a life disciplined by the spirit. And these two points are, I would suggest, universal for religious traditions or thoughtful life. That is, these lessons are  not tied to a Christian doctrine of any sort. First, silence is requisite for hearing oneself and asking the right questions.  Noise from the entertainment consumer culture of which you and I are a part is an enemy of the spirituality.  And certainly, in a religious tradition like Christianity, where hearing the Word of the speaking God is simply essential, noise acts as a riptide, pulling us away from the shore.  Take deep breaths at some point in your day.  Deep, slow breaths in silence so you can listen to the mystery of your life pulsating at your wrists and in your chest.  The problem is not so much that you cannot hear God or your life but that you hear too well and the still, small voice of God goes ignored.  Second, the themes of night and day begin in Genesis and perhaps culminate in the Light of the World language used by the Gospel of John.  That is, night is a handy metaphor when things get to a point where we complain we cannot see God or see the handiwork of God’s love.  Something happens to us–an event, a betrayal or a diagnosis–and often our first reaction is that God has abandoned us.  But when I walked along that stretch of road in the Catskills that night and saw the illumination of stars so bright, I realized that it was the depth of the night which provided the opportunity to see.  So this second point boils down to this: even when you walk in a dark valley or a night of sorrow, even there and perhaps especially there, the Light of God is brilliantly offered to you.

Practice silence. Hit the mute button, I dare you, I urge you. Find a way to stop listening to the noise around you for at least one hour in the day.  Quiet. Listen.  When it is dark, look up.  Be illuminated.

See you Sunday~ PSTR

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We Are The Church

Communion

Here’s what I saw today on the first Sunday of February, on my 22nd anniversary as your pastor:  a choir and musicians who inspired us with beautiful music (notice I didn’t use the word, “entertain,” but inspire–they sang from their souls for God and for God’s people); a diverse congregation who, when they had the chance at the Peace of Christ, embraced one another; I heard laughter, the exchanges of peace and greetings between congregants, our children with smiles on their faces, two of our children displaying their Tai Kwan Do skills and being blessed and affirmed by the adults; a young man we’ve known since he was knee-high to a grasshopper arriving at 7:30 to lend me a hand setting up for church; leaders who worked behind the scenes to extend pastoral care and to insure we have heat; people reaching out to friends and inviting them to church; the proclamation of faith; a young adult covenanting with us to love God and others in this place; Holy Communion woven into our lives like golden thread; in short, I saw the Church today.  We showed up. We worshipped. We were blessed and we blessed.

Have a great week.  Go heal the world.  Do not tire of well doing.  And as the choir sang to us, Stand.

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75% Off

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery)

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I stepped into a local pharmacy which also stands in as a consumer- culture-consumed-with-consumables portal.  I was there to pick up a prescription and as I left, I noticed that there were some Santas sitting in chairs with large tags on them that said, “75% off.”  I wondered, is that the mark-up on these products then during season?

If your spirituality is pegged to a season like a Winter cold or Spring allergy then by all means, get yourself to a nunnery.  Well, that’s Hamlet.  You at least might consider that a spirituality marked up by 75% in season just might not be worth very much when the day arrives that you need something long-lasting and dependable in season and out.

 This is not to say that Christianity (or Judaism) is unaware of seasons.  Read Ecclesiastes chapter three.  Wise is the person who knows what season they reside in.  The sense of time in the bible that speaks to seasons, as in when the harvest is ready to be harvested, is replete throughout the scriptures.  The sense of a Santa on sale for 75% is similar to the prophetic annunciation that life is like the grass of a field.  It withers. Generations come and go.

 I stopped in a local café and ordered up a “skinny peppermint mocha” since I know the time is rapidly approaching when these won’t be served. The café will move onto other “seasonal merchandise.”  It’s okay to enjoy such seasons.  But for your life, for the journey into the sacred and holy, the season of God’s love that knows no end, that rock of Christ upon which the Church is built, that dear reader, is a far better thing.

 This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of 2014.  It is, however, thousands of Sundays recurring through millennia ever to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world.  Bring your little light into the sanctuary.  I’ll bring mine. Others will bring theirs and we shall begin this year illuminated and full of the joy of God’s everlasting kingdom.  Grace and Peace to you and all whom you love. ~PSTR

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Faith, Questions, Knowledge

Where do you keep your faith?  Is it in your heart?  Is it in your mind?  That is, is faith something you feel or is it an intellectual assent to some list of beliefs? 

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry, by Jean-Baptis...

Triumph of Faith over Idolatry, by Jean-Baptiste Théodon (French, 1646–1713). Church of the Gesù, Rome, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Or maybe faith is something not kept within any chamber of your life. Perhaps it is more a gift bestowed on you by a power greater than yourself.  Or maybe it is something you earn, like a grade in a course or a gold watch for reliable service rendered.  Is faith something you have anything to do with?  “Have more faith,” someone might say.  But if faith is bestowed on me then how can I have more of it?  If faith is simply something I earn, a merit badge, then I can see how I might have more faith by earning more merit. Works?  Grace? What is this we call faith?

 Do those who claim they do not believe thereby assert at one and the same time that they believe in something? They at least believe in the rationality of their statement of unbelief but it seems as arbitrary as anyone’s assertion of faith.  I don’t believe sounds a whole lot like I believe in unbelief. 

 Is faith communal?  I can read a novel by myself, a novel populated by characters and configured by plot.  Is faith simply individual and narrated by myself?  Or am I read into the narrative of faith?  Aren’t current pop ideas of individuality simply the most craven renderings of conformity?  Look at me! I’m like everyone else tweeting, texting, posting—an instagram moment of individuality conformed to instagrams everywhere. How can I know me if I am a mere island in a chain of islands cut off from any community of self-reflection?

Intelligo me intelligere wrote Augustine. I understand that I understand.  What mystery is this but the deepest?

 I do not know what your exposure to religion has been, but as I grew up in a naïve fundamentalist setting, my exposure was to religion as answer.  We didn’t ask questions.  And if we dared to ask we were simply and swiftly pressed back into line and told to accept without question whatever it was that was being asserted by the church.  At Riverside, we have tried to nurture a place of quest where we get to ask questions and reflect deeply about who we are.  We do not reject answers, of course. That would be naïve or stupid.  But neither do we accept answers simply because some authority has said it is so.  We will come to an authentic religious life, an authentic personhood, when we dare to ask questions and find a way to live within and through those questions. 

 Come join us. Bring your life. Bring your heart and your mind. Bring your questions and let’s journey together a while in a communal celebration of lives lived authentically before God and within a world that is more often than not translucent and too often, dark. Or as the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” [1Cor.13:12]

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