Saturday, February 27, 2010


In the last School of the Spirit residency, our core teacher Patty walked us through the steps of lectio divina: lectio (reading and listening), meditatio (meditating, ruminating, and pondering), oratio (conscious response) and contemplatio (contemplation, resting in God).  

To get us started, she had volunteers read Psalm 15 and Psalm 130 aloud, in two different translations.  She invited us to listen deeply to the words, thinking around them, to see what arose for us.  The verse that jumped out for me was the beginning of Psalm 15:1,
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
The first word that caught my attention was "sanctuary."  I thought about how a sanctuary is a place of peace and refuge.  The image that came to my mind was of the sanctuary at Plymouth Church, across the street from where I work.  It is a lovely place, filled with light, and the people who work at Plymouth are always willing to open the doors to the sanctuary if I want to go in to pray.

Then I started to think about the word "dwell."  This verse reflects the writer's longing to dwell in God's sanctuary.  The Psalm goes on to list the things a person can do to stay with God, but I find the answer to this question in Psalm 23:6,
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Things we choose to do may bring us closer to God, but really it is grace that allows us to dwell in the house of the Lord, in God's sanctuary, forever.

Last year, I wrote about going to an Ash Wednesday service at Plymouth Church and feeling led to not put ashes on my forehead.  I did the same thing this year.  I also have not given anything up for Lent.  Despite the lack of outward signs, I have found myself appreciating Lent more this year than I ever have before.

Lent is a time when the church acknowledges how long and dark the winter can be.  There is space in Lent for us to cry out and share our longing for God.  But even when God seems impossibly distant and it feels like we are spending these 40 days in the desert, Lent holds the promise that the Living Christ will come to us againin Easter, in spring, and in unexpected ways throughout our lives.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Neither Snow nor Rain

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 
(Isaiah 55:10-11)
It was as if I appeared at the School of the Spirit residency in the middle of the night.  I went to Pendle Hill a few days before the residency, to spend time with my friend Charley, who is working there, and to try to get on East coast time before going to North Carolina.  Two feet of snow changed my plans a little.  After delayed and canceled flights (and a wonderful late-night ride from the airport), I finally stumbled into my bed in Avila just after 2 a.m.

The next morning, I hurried to breakfast, excited to see the others in my class.  On the way there, I ran into Lisa.  I said, "Good morning!"  She looked a little startled and responded, "We're in silence!"

I was a little disappointed.  I wanted to greet everyone, but instead we would be having a silent breakfast.  At least I would be able to see them.  

I went into breakfast and was overjoyed to see so many familiar faces.  As I got my food, friends noticed that I had arrived and welcomed me with hugs and smiles.  I sat down at the table and started in on my pancakes, to be interrupted as people came up behind me and to give me a hug.  Joy was sitting at the opposite end of the table and offered me her orange juice and when I looked down, I had three glasses of orange juice in front of me!

Later, after we broke the silence, I did get a chance to say hello to everyone and to catch up.  I was amazed, though, at how much love I felt even when no one was saying a word.

Monday, February 1, 2010


A few months ago, a friend from an unprogrammed meeting wrote me an email.  Among other things, he asked about my experiences with semi-programmed worship.  He said,
I sense that it has "life in it" for you, and I would like to know how you experience it in contrast to how you experience unprogrammed worship.
When I visited Freedom Friends Church this past weekend, I remembered our email exchange.  The email I wrote back to him was one of the most thorough descriptions of worship at Freedom Friends I have written, and I thought I'd share  it (with a few minor changes) here.

Dear Friend,

I have been thinking about your question, what has life for me in semi-programed worship. 

At Freedom Friends Church (FFC), our programing is pretty light.  We start by singing 3-4 songs (usually accompanied by Alivia on acoustic guitar, often people will request their favorites), followed by a few minutes of centering silence.  Then the pastor, Peggy, asks Friends to share out of the silence things they are grateful for ("gratitudes").  After everyone who wants to has shared, she closes with vocal prayer, then asks Friends to share places where we need God's help ("petitions").   When that is done, she closes again with vocal prayer, then leads us into about 45 minutes of unprogrammed worship.

All of these pieces are meaningful for me.  I love to sing, and when I came to my unprogrammed meeting in Seattle, that was the part I missed most.  I have tried joining different choirs (including the Seattle Peace Chorus, which has a membership pretty similar to a liberal Friends meeting), but there is something different about singing praise to God with members of my faith community. 

The gratitudes and petitions give us a chance to share our joys and sorrows with God and with the community―we really know what is going on in each other's lives.  I frequently wish there was a place for this kind of sharing in my unprogrammed meeting in Seattle (instead, it sometimes comes out during worship). 

Some of the folks at FFC can be a little twitchy and I think the time for singing and sharing helps us focus and center and makes the waiting worship deeper.  Our pastor stresses that the format of the meeting is a spiritual practice that we can do every day, not just on Sunday morning.  We are also aware that we are all learning together, and there is a tenderness toward each other's messages that I haven't always found in other meetings.

As you can see, I can go on and on about FFC!  Although I have had many Spirit-filled experiences in unprogrammed meetings, FFC is my spiritual home.  I would be happy to talk more about it or answer any questions, either in person or by email.

With love,