27 January 2010

Meditation: "Beneath the Surface"

what is it, really, that's keeping me
from living a life that's true?
When the worries speak louder than wisdom,
it drowns out all the answers I knew,
so I'm tossed on the waves on the surface.
Still, the mystery's dark and deep,
with a much more frightening stillness...
underneath.
--from David Wilcox's song "Underneath" on the album of the same name

"I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it." --Harry Emerson Fosdick

"Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It's way over our heads." (Romans 11:33 in "The Message" by Eugene Peterson)
*****
Dear Friends,

Have you ever had the feeling that you were just skimming across the surface of your life? I'm embarrassed to admit that very often that's where I seem to be living. It's not hard to explain why--family life, work, chores, meetings, etc.--and before I know it, another month has slipped away. But then something will happen and, like a curtain being drawn aside to let in the light, I will be reminded that there is a whole dimension to my life that doesn't go away just because I'm skimming across the surface and oblivious to it.

Oddly enough, that happened for me last week while I was attending five days of church meetings near Portland. The days were long, full of discussion and decisions to be made. But each morning I arose early enough to have a few moments of quiet to myself. And during that time I got in touch with the deeper dimension of my life--beneath the surface of it all. In that place, I began to ponder the significance of what's been going on in my life, how I've seen or felt God's Spirit stirring, where I've experienced joy or frustration and pondering why that's so. Sometimes I'm startled to be reminded of how much is stirring beneath the surface of my life, much of which will remain a mystery even to me. But on those occasions when I actually stop and reflect, I am heartened to be reminded that the significance of my life is much deeper than I often experience on a day-to-day basis. (For those parents out there, let me put it concretely: there's more meaning to life than diapers, play dates, and sippy cups.)

How about you? Are you like me, skimming across the surface of your life? What would help you stop, even if for a few moments, and appreciate the deeper dimension of your life? It's like an iceberg--most of the ice lies beneath the surface of the water. We get glimpses of God in our daily lives, but to really encounter the immensity of God in our lives, we must look beneath the surface and go deeper.

May you go deep and encounter God.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of the Depths, grant us the grace and courage to direct our eyes and our hearts to seek your wisdom beneath the surface of our lives. Amen.

07 January 2010

Meditation: "Names for God"

"And again Jesus said, 'To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.'" Luke 13:20-21

"God, like a bakerwoman, you bring the leaven which causes our hopes to rise. With your strong and gentle hands, shape our lives..." (excerpted from a prayer written by Ruth Duck)

"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." (John 14:2)

*****
Dear Friends,

I've heard many prayers in my life. But recently it seems that many of the prayers I've heard start like this, "Father God, we just..." And these prayers, as meaningful and heartfelt as they are, are peppered throughout with, "Father God, we just..."

I suppose this recent experience was why, last Sunday when I introduced a song we were about to sing, I told the congregation that, sometimes, I sing the words "God's glory" instead of "the Father's glory". In other words, I desired a more inclusive, less gender specific name for God.

Now, I know I sound a bit picky, but for me it really matters how we name God. Because in naming God, we image God, and for me, the image of Father, as wonderful as it can be, when it is used exclusively, becomes tired, narrow, and limiting. There are so many rich images for God throughout the Bible that exclusively calling God "Father" is like going into a candy store and choosing to eat peanut brittle over and over again instead of delighting in the variety available--fudge and toffee and dark chocolate and pralines and...well, you get the idea. And I'm getting hungry.

I can't remember who wrote this, but they point out that, in the Bible, "God is likened to various parts of nature such as a whirlwind, a cloud, and a pillar of fire and to such animals as a hen, an eagle, and a lion. God is pictured as a tower, a shield, and a garment. God is described as a creator, potter, shepherd, father, birthing mother, and bridegroom. God is assigned human qualities such as intelligence, will, memory, anger, and forgiveness. God is spoken of as possessing human form, with eyes, arms, and hands, as walking around, and speaking with a voice."

All these evocative images for God, and instead of calling upon them when addressing God in prayer (like Ruth Duck's "Bakerwoman God" above) so many simply repeat, "Father God, we just..."

How about, "Fiery God of Justice" or "Tender God, like a mother hen" or "Majestic God, like and eagle" or "Refining God, who purifies with love" or "Gracious God with open, merciful arms" or... You get the idea. So many images for God, and too often all we hear is "Father God, we just..."

Yes, I know, I know. Jesus referred to God as "Abba" which literally means "Daddy." Yes, I know, God is referred to as Father throughout the Bible. Yes, I know that masculine images of God take front and center.

But still, we know that God is beyond gender and, ultimately, cannot be limited to any human reference. And so I say, let us use our God-given creativity to name God in delightful, surprising ways mindful that they are just a few of the multitude of names that we might use to address our God.

I pray that you will find a name for God that allows you to meaningfully connect with God in prayer. If it's "Father," that's great. If it's "Mother," I promise that you won't be struck down for it. If it's "shepherd," that's wonderfully Biblical.

I even knew a woman who called God "Bill." Hey, it may not be a Biblical name, but she and "Bill" sure had a close relationship!

And that's what matters most of all.

Blessings on your week,

Jeremy