Fellowship with the Spirit (aka Prayer)

couple on bench watiching sunset

Throughout his letters we hear Paul praying. In Romans 8 he comes to his key thoughts about prayer. A few simple sentences that say so much. To me, that say it all.

Paul has prayers of thanksgiving in his letters. They all begin and end with thanksgiving and a blessing. He prays his converts will be able to meet the challenges to their new faith. He prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with them. You might even say that his letters are at their heart and soul, letters about prayer. Prayer as our relationship with God. Prayer as accessing the God-life within us and without. Prayer as giving ourselves over to the Christ we have received. About living the Christ-life prayerfully. With attention to the Christ we have received.

In this modern world, prayer is a difficult subject to broach. Not because praying itself is difficult. But because, as we see in Paul’s letters, it is easy. And like everything else Paul writes, prayer is about having faith. Having faith that we are heard, that we don’t have to ‘do it right’ because there is no ‘right way’ to pray; and that the Spirit of the Christ life we share in faith, is also the Spirit that prays in us. The Spirit that invites us to pray. The Spirit that is always praying within us. Drawing us out and out and out.

Over the ages prayer has been preached, like the faith-life of Jesus Christ, with indomitable hurtles to achieve and cross so that one might feel ‘successful’ in prayer. Here in Paul we cut to the chase. We come to the heart of the matter.

Paul counsels his converts to pray always. For in this praying always they/we put on the mind of Christ. In prayer we tap into, if you will, the Christ whose Spirit continually prays in us.

The Spirit prays in us when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly.

Prayer, like Jesus Christ, saves us. Pray opens us to the ever-available Spirit. It is a great comfort to know that when I cannot pray, and there are times when life so overwhelms that I have no words, I know that I can sit in the silence of my soul and let the Spirit speak for me. Just like in the psalms which I reach for often, this spirit knows every human emotion, feeling, desire and even mean and horrid thought I think. It is a great assurance to know that it is this Spirit of Christ which has the power to resonate with my own. On Good Friday we will hear Jesus cry out from the cross, a lost and forsaken question to the Father he knew was his “Abba Father”.  By Jesus’ unselfconscious crying out to his Father, he became broken open to his Father’s saving grace and action in his life. We follow Jesus Christ in this as well. He shows us we too can say anything to God. We can even doubt God. If we feel abandoned by God, so did he.

When we pray “Abba Father” we are reassured that not only can and does the Spirit pray within us, but that God will not refuse anything he can give. In prayer God turns everything to our good because he cooperates with those who love him. Once again, it is love that is the essential thing. In our faith, in our comings and goings, in our activities, our stance toward one another and to God, and in praying. Have you told God that you love him today?  While I ask and while I knock, I try to make sure that I don’t treat God like a cash cow.

Paul’s words in Romans 8 speak for themselves. They don’t need a lot of words heaped upon them to take meaning. They are sentences that we can take to heart, to memory and carry with us like a prayer as we go through our day.

Our day, knowing that it is Christ who pleads for us at the right hand of the Father. The Father who hears us as he heard his son, who refuses us nothing and turns everything to good.

 

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Pentecost

Pentecost red ribbons

The manifestations of the Spirit are truly wondrous and as varied as creation itself. The living Spirit grows and even outgrows it earlier expressions. It freely chooses men and women in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living Spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of humankind. Measured against it the names and forms given it mean little enough. They are only the changing leaves that blossom on the stem of the eternal tree.
                                                                                                                                                Carl Jung

 

The Spirit Bears Christ to Us

Our dreams are written on the heart of God.

Our dreams are written on the heart of God.

When I write I don’t use what you might call ‘churchese’. All those words like atonement, salvation, redemption, repentance.  There is nothing wrong with those words, its just that they have lost their meaning. They have been so overused, we have turned a deaf ear to what they are pointing to. And if they are not pointing to living our lives in Christ, pointing to Jesus and his life, then they don’t mean anything to me any longer.

Even that word ‘sinner’ seems to be much to much in the vocabulary of preachers that, I don’t know about you, but it blocks out anything else anyone has to say. That’s not who I am. That is not to say that I haven’t made missteps in my life, I have and I am sure I will again. But I don’t focus on not being a sinner or even telling my ‘sins’ to anyone. That is between me and my Creator, the Creator who made me good. Like the psalm says ‘I am wonderful’. I trust you say that about yourself today.

But when we are seen as sinners, we aren’t seen at all. Perhaps that is why the churches are hemorrhaging people today. As a culture we have become more healthy. Psychologically, spiritually, socially and environmentally. My sense of it is the churches have not kept up in this regard. That’s why I always return to the scriptures to find my way through these things. To see what it was/is that being a believer, how to live a healthy faith-life is really about.

I find that Jesus did not see people as sinners. He never called anyone a  ‘sinner’. (His saying your sins are forgiven is not the same thing.) He saw them as human persons. People needing his teaching, his help, his healing, his hand to stand, a heart to love them. He gave everyone a sense of their own worth; a worth that the world often denied them. And those were the people who followed him. It wasn’t the priests or the Jewish leaders or the Roman authorities who followed him. They were secure in their worth (i.e. their power, status and standing). Those who were devalued, he valued. Those who were down trodden, he lifted up with hope and with real substance, the real substance of his very self. That’s what feeding the multitude means. We have a multitude within us. Conflicting needs, pulled in different directions, many voices calling out to us, asking for our time, our resources, our attention to others needs and problems. Balancing work, home, family, schools, churches. The list goes on and on.

Jesus walked right out into the midst of all this. Through the crowded market places, into the synagogues brimming with those who wanted to hear what he had to saw, hoping he would touch them both with his words and hands, so his words and his hands would heal them, transform them, renew their lives, their well being, their health, their worth.  And I believe that if we touch the Word that it still has that power to change our lives, bring us to health and spiritual maturity. For his Spirit, through the living Word, bears Christ to us yet. We can still follow him through the corn field, down to the turbulent sea shore, across still waters or up the steep hill side and even across the rocky landscapes of our lives and he will see us and touch us and let us know in one way or another that he is there.

And then we too can go off to that lonely place to pray.

 

 

Love comes first

I just have to say, I love the new Pope. Even though I am an Episcopalian, I am so delighted to see a man who follows in the footsteps of the fisherman and truly understands, knows and lives what Jesus was all about. Truly he has opened the arms of the church wide to all. Like Jesus before him, everyone is welcome at his table no matter what you have done.

St. Paul says we are God’s work of art. In Genesis all that God created he said was good. We are all on the potter’s wheel. And God is not an extra-terrestrial task master. He is the I Am Who Am who identified himself as the personal sacred Reality of our lives. The God who pitched his tent among us, and continues to journey with us, to ensure that we get home safely. The churches’ emphasis on sin has kept many people from approaching its doors, let alone its altars. St. Paul says love comes first. Then people can change. Its not the other way around. Change your life and I will love you. That wasn’t Jesus’s program and the church has done a great disservice to gospel message by often making this the focus of its preaching.  Jesus invited all kinds of people to his table. Jesus ate and went around with people from all walks of life, those his society deemed ‘unclean’ or outcast. In a time when ritual purity was so important Jesus looked past this to the person, to their hearts and saw that it is the heart that counts.

Perhaps the churches can turn their focus and follow in another fisherman. Let us know we are God’s work of art. We are created in image and likeness. We are good because what God has made is good. That first and foremost we are loved. No matter what we do. For who we are is more important to Jesus and his Father.

This is how the kingdom comes. In love. One person loving the other. Then another. Until all humankind finds itself in this embrace and the kingdom has truly come to be in our midst.

Under the Rainbow

rainbow over water  I often wish I had the spirit of Georgia O’Keefe, so I could paint beautiful close-up images like hers that take over your entire view when you look at them. Or the spirit of Walt Whitman in order to create a sustained homage to nature. Of course, I can imitate other artists, looking long at an O’Keefe painting or reading Whitman’s poetry hoping to catch the spirit from which their work sprang. Artist and poet look at the world more intensely, with more intentionality, so that every day things like a piece of drift wood or even the tiniest blade of grass come to life in a way that allows us into their singular vision, and enlarges ours. Mary Oliver meanders through the woods early in the mornings with her notepad, watching and waiting for the deer to come down and drink at the pond, or the flower to open at the first light of day. I often read her poems of a morning as I would the psalms, wanting to enter into the spirit of the world that she has been able to capture in well-chosen words. Her poetry also brings with it a sensibility for the sacred and the blessed in our world.  As the artists opens other worlds for us, we glimpse this world with more truth, beauty and grace.

Jesus left his Spirit with us in a very decisive and intentional way. Two thousand years later how do I come upon his Spirit? How does his Spirit enter into you and I so we might see more truth, beauty and grace in the world and in ourselves? Can I look at his life and his ‘work’, what is left to us of him, so I can enter into the Life of his Spirit? Shall I watch and wait for his Spirit to come down from Galilee to the river, or like St. Paul says, ‘walk according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4) looking for the day to open its broad petals across the landscape.

We are the people of Pentecost. On that day Jesus poured his Spirit out upon the world, like a rainbow of colors spilling down, transparent, washing over us all, the felt experience of his life. His Spirit is like the rainbow in Genesis that the Lord set in the clouds as a sign of his promise and blessing upon the earth and all the people in it.(Gen.9:13) Christ’s Spirit remains too as both promise and blessing. The promise of our becoming and the blessing by which we are touched by his Life in his Spirit. He is with us too in a reign of words that comes down to us in stories about him. Whatever he did and whatever he said, he was unforgettable. Surely some sacred Spirit created in those whose lives he touched the need to tell others what they knew of him, so that we too might get a glimpse of him from the distance of two thousand years and today enter into his Spirit, and into the timelessness of his presence as it remains with us.  Perhaps all I need do is stand under the rainbow and believe.

Freedom, a Secular and Sacred Trust

Pentecost red ribbons                                   4th of July

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

These are St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. In a few days we will celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. This country’s victory to gain freedom and pursue life, liberty and pursue happiness on our own terms. This is the American spirit.  It is also the gift we call free will. It is the ultimate freedom to choose. To choose who we are, how to lives our lives, and how to practice our beliefs. At the core, this is the freedom those who came here fought for and for which many died.

Having said that, I am also painfully aware of the history of this county which continues to spill into the present, where liberties were denied, freedoms are withheld.

          The interesting thing about spirit is that unlike the body its very nature is its ability to be at liberty. The inherently sacred nature of our humanity is bestowed with this spirit of freedom. Freedom is a sacred trust. Stories of faith are fraught with journey narratives where the protagonist’s/hero’s goal is freedom. The story of Israel which began with Abram/Abraham is such a story. A people seeking to be free of Pharaoh, free from Exile, of her oppressors. When Jesus came upon the scene, she wanted to be free of Roman rule. But the Galilean carpenter had another idea of what freedom meant. It was a freedom within, whose only rule was the reign of God. He told us stories so we too might make our own journey with more insight and understanding, and perhaps the awareness of the presence and experience of the Spirit carrying us to the new land of our truest and most free selves.

          Long before Jesus came on the scene, a Hebrew shepherd boy, who lost his home, his family and his country, and became a slave in Egypt, had something also to tell us about captivity and freedom. For Joseph, the son of Jacob/Israel, came to realize that in the most foreign circumstances nothing is foreign to the Spirit of the Lord God. Even in the prison of our lives a light can begin to dawn. In the darkest, deepest prison we can be most free because we carry our freedom within as a rescuing presence, a redeeming love. A love that redeems not just us but the circumstances of our lives as well. This is Genesis’ final revelation. Our humanity is shaped by a sacred design, endowed with a sacred spirit ever available to us.

          Life’s purpose is often hidden within the unlikely path, the unintended journey, the fall from the garden or from grace, the fall into the abyss as it appears to harbor the absence of God. We are a sacred design created for good, for well-being, that no prison can prevail against. In the midst of suffering and loss, in betrayal, alienation, captivity, in our most unfreedom, we are most free in the Spirit that journeys with us, the Spirit that is often seen by others rather than ourselves as we struggle with the daily round that challenges the awareness of Spirit dogging us to the awareness of the sacred in our lives. The Spirit of the Lord of Life is the way in which we are free, successful, whole. For it is God that is the definition of what it means to be whole. The deepest human bondage is no barrier for the sacred available to us, not instead of but along with all we carry with us into bondage and captivity. We have built altars to the processes that would care and cure the captivity and bring us release through self-understanding and insight; to the crumbling altars of our displaced hopes where we worship the false gods of processes that only further imprison us. The life of Joseph and Jesus, along with the letters of St. Paul, remind us that even death or being forgotten can stay the presence of the Spirit of Christ Jesus who is for us wholeness, his Spirit the freedom that is ours, which grows brighter as we turn into the image and likeness we reflect.

Enjoy and be thankful for Independence Day.

 

The Earthed Spirituality of Christ

 

 footprints    Recently my twelve year old grandson said something rather profound. He wasn’t going for profundity, but rather was instructing his grandmother on the art of football. He said that in football never let your feet leave the ground. That’s when you get hurt. He explained: Don’t jump over people or jump on top of the other guy(s). My grandson knows whereof he speaks.

Seems to me this can apply to life as well. We often associate the spiritual life with living in some airy fairy world that is above or even beyond our all-too-real lives. That it floats above us in some rarified atmosphere that we must jump through hoops to access. That spirituality is something over and above human life, real life.  It seems Pentecost is saying something different. That the Spirit of Christ that comes to us is that of a real person who embodies both the human and sacred. His Spirit endows us with his image and likeness. With his humanity as well as his sacredness. This spirituality is a grounded spirituality. Grounded in Christ. Grounded in our very real and often difficult lives, as it was in his.  It is my experience that unless we have your two feet firmly planted in your life, God cannot put his two foot there either. And when we do and he does, nothing we do can separate us, as Paul says, from the love, the experience, the presence of Christ Jesus.

Paul talks about modeling ourselves on the lived example that Christ embodied. Paul often too refers to the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ seen in his actions. What we observe first and foremost is a man living an authentic life true to who he knew himself to be. He was in solidarity with others; celebrating their marriages, eating and drinking with his friends, for which he was roundly criticized, tending to their physical and spiritual needs, standing between himself and evil spirits, and talking to those who began to follow him, telling them stories about another way of being which he called the kingdom. He sought to give others sight, and new ways of looking at life, and at his Father, whom he said we could see in him. So why is the way we look at God, so very different from how we see Jesus? Or at least how he is represented in the gospel accounts of his life. He wanted others to hear, not the old ways, which obviously were not only not working, but were causing people more difficulties than intended. And what he intended, what he wanted for his followers, was a different kind of peace, a different way of living the faith of Israel, which he now embodies in his Spirit.

It is this Spirit, his Spirit that has been given us. One that gives life. One that is real, earthed, and is an abiding presence, the awareness of which he tried valiantly to bring to our attention by his very life and humanity, a presence that would was not, is not, deterred by those killing his body. The man who walked the Road to Emmaus and sat by the sea shore cooking breakfast for his friends, was again, showing us that the realm of heaven, of the eternal, of the sacred, is one with this world of flesh and blood, earth and sky, road and seashore, which nothing can deter, restrain, contain or destroy. For his Spirit is absolutely the Spirit of freedom. The Spirit of love. The Spirit of an abiding presence that is as close as the wind on our faces, as real as our heart beats and as available to us as our believing it is so.

Pentecost and Peonies

Forty Days With St. Paul

  IMG_0828        Pentecost is just past and I am reminded that Pentecost was already a feast that Paul and the other followers of Christ celebrated. It is the feast of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit that transformed the world in Christ. Like the gift of springtime, Pentecost brings us the gift of the Spirit.
Also, during the Pentecost season both my peonies and irises bloom. Like Pentecost, peonies are my favorite flower. Each year I take copious photographs and make arrangements of them to paint and capture their fleeting beauty on canvas. It seems appropriate that peonies bloom at Pentecost because the word for peony in German is Pfingstrose. It means Spirit Rose. It is a gift in my garden just as the Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to us.
Moving throughout Paul’s letters, as he goes about guiding people in this new faith in Christ, is the Holy Spirit…

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Birth of the Word in the Soul Part V

Mary’s response to this miracle of birth is simple and concise. Let it be. In the moment of her assent, assured of its possibility, Mary’s faith shatters the seeming limitations of this world, so the fullness of God can find its expression in the fullness of humanity. Mary’s fidelity to her heritage and to Yahweh inaugurates the renewal of the kingdom, God’s reign as the place of promise, now realized in her son. As the Spirit of Yahweh enters into the mother of Jesus, the place of promise is no longer only a land, but a way of being, the ever-abiding-yet-to-come kingdom of God in the human heart, begun under the heart of a woman.

Mary’s let it be is the life-affirming response running through all of scripture. From a woman who considers herself a handmaid, by her assent, Mary becomes co-creator with Yahweh, open, responsive and receptive to the sacred spirit that overarches human finitude to bring about that which is no longer bound by time. Be it child or image, painting or poem, or the life lived authentically in response to the spirit hovering over the waters of this world, we, like Mary, give worship to that same spirit in each new day, in each new creation we bring forth, ever open and attendant to its advent.

As we sift through the gospels in order to make a response to the question Jesus put to his disciples and to us, who do you say that I am, we do well to look first to his mother. What she was, he will become. His first lessons came from her; his last instructions are for her care. She is present from the beginning of her son’s life until its end. From Bethlehem to Calvary, from the manager-cave of his birth to the rock-hewn cave where his body is placed after his death, Mary will watch Jesus grow and she will watch him die. The first place Jesus goes when he comes out of the tomb is to his family in Galilee. For a few brief moments a mother will hold her son again. After he goes to his Father, Mary is present at Pentecost when the spirit of her risen son is poured out upon her and the disciples, giving birth to the community of believers, just as it conceived her son in the temple of her belief.

The angel tells Mary that her kinswoman Elizabeth is also going to have a child.  As soon as the angel departs, Mary is off to share her news with Elizabeth, who is overcome with joy at Mary’s greeting.  At this greeting, John, the babe in her womb, leaps for joy. This leap of recognition spills from his mother as she cries out Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Elizabeth’s happy words to Mary come from the song of Deborah and Barak when Israel triumphed over Canaan. As these two women stand at the threshold of their lives, Luke uses the triumphal events of Israel’s past to telegraph the triumph their sons will have over foreign rule and foreign hearts, to bring their people safely home to Yahweh.

Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s jubilant song also springs from within her. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. From the depths of her soul she reaches back to the sacred writings of Israel, to the poetry of the woman Hannah who took a similar path to the one Mary is about to embark upon. Her song magnifies the wondrous deeds of the Lord God of Israel, wrapping her unborn son in the blanket of his destiny. She knows she is blessed. She knows she will give to the world the man who will magnify the same Lord with his life, so much so that he can call him Abba, Father, and tell us that to see him is to see the Father.

 Mary’s Magnificat is taken from the ancient canticle of Hannah, as Hannah surrenders her son, Samuel to Yahweh in service in the Temple. Like her kinswoman, Elizabeth, Hannah was beyond child-bearing age and was mocked because she was barren. She prayed to Yahweh for a son who would, as Elizabeth intones, take away her humiliation. And Yahweh gave her Samuel. And she gives Samuel back to Yahweh, just as Mary and Elizabeth give their sons who, like Samuel, will rescue Israel from her enemies and go on to be great leaders.

In the Magnificat the voice of Yahweh resounds again, echoing from Malachi, reiterating that the covenant made with Abraham has not been dashed upon the rocks of their oppression, but lives in the flesh and blood of two infants whose destinies could not have been foretold or imagined. One will be the unlikely messenger of the promise; the other the embodiment of that promise.

There is an irony here not to be missed. When he became their leader, the people pressured Samuel for a king but Samuel repeatedly refused. Eventually, however, he relented. In the end he had been right to refuse them, for the choosing of King Saul was the beginning of the end for the nation. The twelve tribes would shatter. When John and Jesus come on the scene, the Jews living in Judea are no longer the unified tribes of Israel but rather divided into often quarreling sects under Roman occupation. Once more they want a king. A powerful militaristic leader like David who will save them from their oppressors. But Jesus, like Samuel, refuses to take to himself the mantle of kingship. In the four gospels Jesus speaks more of himself as a shepherd than a king. He saw what the people did not. The shepherds who came to the manger were a sign in themselves. Their presence announced that a shepherd-leader had come among them. It is part of the paradox of his life that King of the Jews became the title that mocks Jesus’ death, though his death would not deter the advance of the kingdom he came to bring about.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part 1

During this Christmas week I want to post an article I have previously written. It is a commentary on the Infancy Narrative in Luke’s Gospel. You will find in the following series of postings of this article many of the themes that appear in this blog, connected as they are to St. Paul’s invocation of the hidden-self, the Christ-self. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

     night sky I will speak to you in poetry,

to unfold the mysteries of the past.

what we have heard and know,

what our ancestors have told us.

We shall not conceal

from their descendants, but

will tell to a generation still to come.

                                                                                                                                      Psalm 78: 2-4

And this will be a sign for you; You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.                                                                                                                    Luke 2:12

At the heart of Luke’s infancy narrative, surrounded by songs of praise and joy, the hope of Israel is found lying in a manger. When the infant Jesus comes into the world he is set in the only place his mother has to lay him in their stable sanctuary, a wood-hewn trough. This trough, where animals have feed, becomes a manger, a sign for the shepherds who go in search of him. It is to this sign of the manger that we too, more shepherd than scholar, might look as we search for him as well.

Luke’s infancy narrative is a wonderful mix of people and emotions. There is belief and disbelief, surprise and bewilderment, questioning and assent, blindness and recognition, silence and song. Through the chorus and cacophony, two children come, one a prophet, wild and free, who will splash in the waters of the Jordan River, turning the hearts and sights of the people to the other. There the other will come, confident, striding across the rocky landscape of Judea, intent on his destination, carrying with him the hopes of his people, bound at birth to free them in his one great act of dedication, living his life.

With poetry, puzzlement and wonder, Luke crafts his narrative to give us the story of Jesus’ coming. It is a story that turns on prophecy and praise, promise and fulfillment. It is the story of Yahweh. Yahweh, the gypsy-god who journeyed with the Israelites, pitching his tent among them as he led them through the wilderness. It is the story of the transformation of a nation. It is the story of the transformation of their God. Their God is the Lord God of Israel as both author and protagonist, who reveals himself through his Spirit in the births of John the Baptizer and Yeshua of Nazareth to bring new life to Israel, calling the people back to him. In the events surrounding Jesus’ coming, the tent-dwelling Yahweh breaks through the laws of nature in order to take his future forward once more.