Praying simply

A poor life this, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

These are the closing lines of W H Davies’s so simple poem, Leisure.

I bet I’m not the only one to be brought up sharp by this. Could this be a Lenten discipline: to take time?

Mary Oliver’s simple lines in Praying might help us to take time in the everyday – just to wonder and wander in prayer. Prayer doesn’t have to be difficult.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Photo credit: Vilseskogen

 

The Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I am grateful to Ivonprefontaine for reminding me about Rumi’s wonderful poem, The Guest House. It seems perfect for Lent in that it explores an important dimension of hospitality in a way that reminds me of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness.
Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet. He was a Sunni Muslim, theologian and Sufi mystic. He was the “father” of the Whirling Dervishes (founded by his son, Sultan Walad).

The image of the poem is freely available through Pixabay

How high can you go without falling down? – a sermon and temptation for Lent 3B

A sermon for Guilden Sutton. Lent 3B. March 8th 2015.

On top of the World Trade Centre: how high can you go without falling down?

Well. Top of the morning to you.

Ever hear that expression? An Irish greeting – “top of the morning to you”, meaning “the best of the morning to you” – for which the response is “and the rest of the day to you”.

It’s a bit like our responses, “Peace be with you”, “and also with you”.

So “top of the morning to you” …………………

It’s a greeting of energy isn’t it – someone who’s got up at 5.30 and stolen a march on everyone else. “The top of the morning to you”. It’s the greeting of someone who is full of beans, feeling “on top of the world”: “On top of the world” as opposed to being “under the weather”.

I have a theory that we usually only ever see people who are “on top of the world”. People who are “under the weather” keep themselves to themselves in a self-imposed hiding, unless the weather they’re under is “fine”.

“How are you today?” “I’m fine thanks.”

But we see very few people who are really under the weather – those with depression, those who are drowning are hidden.

We are in a time of discipline. This is Lent when our consciousness of temptation is heightened and we are more likely to respond to the call to resist.

There are a number of temptations for those who feel “on top of the world”. Those “on top of the world” can be so annoying. “Cocky” is the word we’ll often use – the cock, who really is “top of the morning to you”.

Jesus had this temptation when he felt “on top of the world”. Do you remember the story (Luke 4:9-12)?

The devil had Jesus stand on the highest point of the temple and said “if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here”. He said “you’ll be all right because God will send his angels to make sure you don’t get hurt.”

Here is the temptation to be wonder-full, the temptation to be Mr High and Mighty, the temptation to be Mr Big. It’s a temptation that takes place on the pinnacle of the temple – on the height of religious experience and achievement. Many people stand at that same spot, on top of the world, on to the height of religious experience and achievement … and they think they’re wonderful, proud that they’ve got there, looking down on others, judging and despising.

I work at Church House. We have staff prayers on Mondays. The person leading those prayers asked us to have some moments of quietness to reflect on how we were doing in Lent, where we were up to in our Lenten discipline. This came as a bit of a shock to me because at that stage, 5 days into Lent, I hadn’t got round to thinking about my Lent.

I had read a reflection that morning on Jesus’ 3rd temptation. That made my decision for me for this Lent – to be disciplined to keep my feet on the ground, to count the blessings of being down to earth, to appreciate the lowly, and to remember who I am when, as sometimes happens, I am lured on to high ground. The question, the very real question for me (and for all of us) is how we behave when we are on high ground, when we are on the moral high ground, when we are on top of the world, how do we behave?

I was reminded of a story by G K Chesterton about a curate who had taken to praying, “not on the common floor with his fellow men, but on the dizzying heights of its spires”. Father Brown goes up to rescue him. He says: “I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray. Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.”

He tells the curate: “I knew a man who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime. He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had been kneeling with other men upon a floor.”

You may ask what all this has to do with today’s readings. Paul (1 Cor 1:18-25) asked the Christians at Corinth to consider their own calling. He tells them “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong”.

The problems that Paul was addressing in his letter to the Corinthians are outlined in the same chapter. The Corinthian church is a divided community, torn apart by quarrels and people taking sides with Paul, Apollos or Cephas.

Paul’s response is that no one should boast about human leaders (3:21). He tells them that he came to them in weakness, in fear and trembling. “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the  power of God.” (2:4)

So when we’re feeling “top of the world”, on top of our game, doing well, think again. That feeling is the doorway of temptation. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong. How will you stand when you’re on top of the world? How will you behave? Will you resist the temptation to look good?

A Baptist minister talks about the robe that he puts on every Sunday. He says that it stands for his professional expertise and training. But he also says that it signals that “we’re all fools for Christ”. He says “I think of myself as a kind of court jester and freelancer in life.” He says that he is always wondering, wondering about God. He is an expert who knows his foolishness and his limits. This makes him a good facilitator of community and friendship.

What are we like? Whether we spend a lot of our time on the high ground, in high places, along corridors of power; or whether we are occasional visitors, what are we like? What do we do? How do we behave?

Do we remember our calling, to be salt of the earth, a calling of the foolish to shame the wise, a calling of the weak to shame the strong?

Do we remain down to earth, with feet on the ground? Or do we pride ourselves on our position?

Do we remain full of wonder? Or do our ways shout to those beneath us, “look at me, how wonderful I am”?

Oh, the temptations of high places and of doing well.

References:
Malcolm Guite. 2015. Word in the Wilderness: 3rd Temptation https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/tag/temptation/
Celia Allison Hahn. 1994. Growing in Authority, Relinquishing Control. The Alban Institute.

Ash Wednesday

According to our Eucharistic (thanksgiving prayer) today is the day when we are led “into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your (God’s) people once again.” The Imposition of Ashes reminds us “that we are dust, and to dust we shall return”. On the face of it Ash Wednesday sounds pretty miserable – but wait a minute, for words by Herbert McCabe quoted by Timothy Radcliffe in “Why go to Church“:

If we go to confession, it is not to plead for forgiveness from God. It is to thank him for it … When God forgives our sins, he is not changiing his mind about us. He is changing our minds about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love.” (from God, Christ and Us)

I came across this brilliant poem thanks to Jenee Woodard’s wonderful work with the Textweek website.

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Ash Wednesday

According to our Eucharistic (thanksgiving prayer) today is the day when we are led “into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your (God’s) people once again.” The Imposition of Ashes reminds us “that we are dust, and to dust we shall return”. On the face of it Ash Wednesday sounds pretty miserable – but wait a minute, for words by Herbert McCabe quoted by Timothy Radcliffe in “Why go to Church“:

If we go to confession, it is not to plead for forgiveness from God. It is to thank him for it … When God forgives our sins, he is not changiing his mind about us. He is changing our minds about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love.” (from God, Christ and Us)

I came across this brilliant poem thanks to Jenee Woodard’s wonderful work with the Textweek website.

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)

Room at the Inn

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An interesting day yesterday at our local George and Dragon (linked as a thank you for their hospitality and for the benefit of those reading this blog in New Zealand who might want somewhere to stay in tarvin!). We’ve tried various things this Lent – one of which is a group meeting in the pub. Thanks to friend Hazel’s suggestion we’ve called it Room at the Inn and that’s caught people’s imagination. We gather every Tuesday morning at 9.30, each week starting with one of the four great questions of human being;

Who am I?
Where do I come from?
Where do I belong?
Where am I going?
Group members go where they like with the questions – but we’ve been returning to Psalm 139 at the end. It’s a great time and what we have shared has been really valuable. Friend Jinty came up with a really thought provoking quote from Penelope Lively:

We are all conditioned in a sense by those to whom we are bound; my real-life husband affected the person that I have become. Without him, with someone else, who knows what twists of personality might not have come about. I am a rather pragmatic and organized person. I was about to write “naturally pragmatic and organized” – but is that the case? Are such tendencies innate, or honed by circumstance?

Other people referred to the likes of Nelson Mandela and Terry Waite raising the question of why we react as we do, and what makes some reactions exemplary?
Note to me: see what happens when you only say the first words and then let people get on with it!