Train Your Brain

17 Nov

This is a phrase that is often in my mind.  It came to live in my brain when I was ready Richard’s Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  There is a chapter on Study, with a discussion of what we put into our minds is essential to our mental and physical health, as well as our spiritual growth.  In the book of Romans, Paul begins Chapter 12 this way.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,  by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.

This has been my goal for many years now. I try to place my thought processes before God and reflect on whether they are of God or even worthy of God.  It was truly the way I stop worrying about my life (besides making myself say Philippians 4:6 -Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. over and over again in my head)  The question that I asked myself was whether or not I trusted God with my life? – the answer was yes.  Then the question is, does God have the power to transform my life if I open myself to God? – well, God did that whole resurrection thing with Jesus, so it seems that even death is not a barrier to God – so that would be a yes?  Then if I trust God and believe that my life can be changed, then what was there to worry about???

I also know that my emotions are informed more by what I think and then the other way around.  I am sad because I am thinking sad thoughts.  I am not forced to think sad thoughts, so I could choose some other pattern of thought (with God’s help).  Imagine what a better day you could have if you decided just to think about God, and positive things and about how you could make other’s lives better and learn a Bible verse.  You can have a joyous day.

So here’s the story.  I went into CVS to make some photos from my niece’s wedding.  When I was printing them from the machine I noticed that there were already stacks of photos in the slots.  I fact, I had to pick my photos of the other.  So, I put those photos on top of the printer.  When I went to pay for my order I told the clerk what I had done.  In a stressed out voice and rush of words she said she had just been too busy to take care of it.  So I gave her my credit card and it was denied.  I said it happened yesterday and I guess I would have to call the number and figure out what was wrong.  She said, again in the stressed out voice, “Aren’t you worried, something wrong with your card, you should be more upset. . . I would be really upset.”  In my calm voice I said, “I’ll probably figure it out sooner or later, probably it will be alright, but worrying about it will not change the reality.”  Of course, she just looked at me like I was crazy.  I told her I would pray that she had a calmer day.  and finally I said, “relax and enjoy the moment, this is the only time you will get to have this one.”  There was more weird looks at me as I left.

If you are wondering, I did call the credit card people and found out there had been suspicious charging on my card.  Apparently, someone in California was changing Pizza and Beer to my card and I wasn’t even invited! It’s all worked out and they are sending me a new card.  No worries.

I will leave you with The Message’s version of the first few verses of Romans 12

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Go for it and have a joyous day.  It truly is your choice.

The Greatest Generation

11 Nov

This photo taken of my dad in 1945William Ricketts Navy Protrait 001.  Those who experience World War II have been called The Greatest Generation.  There are many people who will talk today about the service and sacrifice they gave to our country and give thanks for those who continue to service in our military today.  I agree whole hardheartedly with this praise of those who serve.

This morning I would also like to reflect on how the experience of World War II changes lives.  Again, there are a thousand books and a hundred TV shows that will talk on this topic, but I guess I will add my two cents.

My father joined the Navy when he was 17 years old.  He had just graduated High School and had to get signed permission to join.  My grandmother signed the form.  My grandfather had abandoned the family when my Dad was five.

The War opened up a whole new world for my dad.  Not only was every one “joining up” after the Pearl Harbor attack, but it gave my dad a way to “get out of town.”  At seventeen he was on a Liberty ship moving supplies from one part of the world to the other.  He talks of being in the South Pacific and docking in France and Wales.   No one in his family had traveled out of Virginia.  He talks about calling home and talking much of the time with the switch board operator who knew all of the news around town — it was a small town.

When he returned he had the G.I. bill to pay for a Bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech.  The day after graduation, he married my mom.  He still lives within a 100 miles of where he grew up, but his world view had changed.

I have talked with a number of lives when their WWII vet has died and the story is similar to my Dad’s.  They had grown up in rural/small town America, then join the branch of service that interested them the most, Navy, Air Force, Army, and it became a passion the rest of their life.  Men who had never flown in a plane joined the Air Force and continued to work with planes the rest of their lives.

I know we talk about the big stuff, about how the world was changed through the experience of war.  Yet, maps are not the only things that are re-drawn in a war.  My dad came home from the war and so I exist.  I am glad did not have to be in a deadly battle; at least he has never talked about an experience of people dying during the war.

Billy Ricketts and Frank Fletcher 001

Billy, bad boy, Ricketts is on the left

A number of years ago, I was with my mother’s brother when he was dying.  He had been a medic in the war.  At the point of his death, he talked with great pain about the lives he had not been able to save during the war.  He talked about a promise to one young man to contact his family and tell them how he died.  My uncle had never kept that promise and he spoke about again and again during his last days of life.  We had never had a clue about this guilt.

Life is changed everyday by the choice we make; big ones and little ones.  I know, I am convinced, that God wants to be a part of all of those choices.  I pray for choices of peace and compassion.  I am sure we can find other ways to give young people a life changing experience.   Peace

Always Blessed

6 Nov

I really love the Bible.  I can read through a text a hundred times and then on the 101st reading, I find something incredible.  I have heard the beatitudes all my life and never really liked them.  It just sounded like an ongoing list that did not make a lot of sense to me.  I know the “peacemaker” line is nice; but really, what does it mean???

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Maybe it is all about verse 12 and encouraging the early Christians.  They had a really tough time (i.e. could have been killed) for living their beliefs in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God.

But, like I said, I finally had an insight after reading this list for the 101st time.  Maybe Jesus was one more time trying to tell the people how much God loved them.  I know it is easier to believe God loves me when I do something well or am bold in telling others about my faith.  But here, God is blessing those who morn, those who are meek, those who are even poor in spirit.

I should have seen it sooner; God is always blessings us.  No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing.  Even when life is not going well.  Even when our faith is weak and we have trouble believing the wonder of the Divine.  God says we are blessed.  Maybe we feel like saying, “Screw you God, I don’t feel blessed” (I have had these kind of days).

But our faith is not about feeling, it is about believing.  It helps me to know that on my worse days; God says that I am blessed.

I have literally spent years intentional trying to find God’s blessing everywhere.  But I must confess, that it too often the blessing rested on my faith and strength and emotions.    I hope in the future I can remember in times that life sad and painful that God’s blessings is there.  The human reality that I do not feel it does not remove the Divine reality that it is there.

You are blessed, I am blessed. .  on good days and bad; when our loved ones are safe and when they are not; when our bodies are healthy and when they are not; when life turns out just the way we planned and when it does not.

I continue to to seek the blessing, it is like a path of crumbs to the presence of the living God.

Peace.

All Hallow’s Eve/All Saint’s Day

2 Nov

Is it surprising that our world focuses on Halloween rather than All Saint’s Day?

The focus has been on dressing up, becoming altar-egos, and scary movies.  The best I can say for Halloween is that little kids look cute and a free sugar haul is not all bad.

Yet, the original focus of All Hallow’s Eve was preparation for All Saint’s Day.   And my guess it that most of the world doesn’t even know that All Saint’s Day exists. [I don’t think the hosts of the Today show will dress up as their favorite saint!] It is such a loss.  I think it is the saints of the church and in our lives that inspire us to be our best selves – ourselves transformed by the Divine.

I truly wish that our culture would be more helpful in navigating us through our lives.  Yet, our church community can be.  We can see people around us in church who are daily try to love the Lord their God with all their heart and all their soul and all their might.  I can think of people at every church I have served who inspired me.

I encourage you to think of those who have inspired your spiritual walk.  People who have shown you through their daily life what the words of the Bible mean.  All Saint’s Day is about seeing the Divine Spirit moving in our world through the lives around us.  We are inheritors of a living and lively faith.  It is not an easy path, but it is one that is full of joy and meaning.  Just look at the Saints!

For this moment

11 Oct

I talk a lot about being present in the moment.  I have practiced not worrying and giving stressful stuff over to God for many years.  So, I want to say that I think practice really works.  I have believed this for a while too.

So often we encourage our kids to practice sports or dance or even studies, but do we ask them to practice spiritual disciplines.  I don’t think I did and what I find in my “old life” it that it is the spiritual practice that is enabling me to enjoy each day.

Many of you know the practice I started many years ago.  If I was worrying about anything; my sons, my work, someone being upset with me, me being upset with someone, anything at all; I would have to recite Philippians 4:6.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I don’t know how I settled on this verse, but I know it very, very well now.

Also, my spiritual practice has been to be present in the moment.  That is, not thinking about what has happened in the past.  You know, re-running that painful, emotional, or ridicules scene in your mind until you have no idea of what you are doing in the present.  OR, thinking about what will happen in the future.  You know this one too.  Where you think through the next day’s encounter and play out all the parts in your head.  Both of these can also involve a lot of worrying.

When I found myself in these mental loops my simple question was; can I change anything about the past or future in this moment.  Actually, sometimes I can.  I can apologize, or even ask for help, from someone who I had a bad encounter with in the past. OR, I could practice or prepare something for the future work I had to do and was on my mind.

But if I had no power to change the past or impact the future, then my rule is to let it go.  This no power options usually has to do with changing someone else.  Wanting the someone  to make different choices or realize the wonder that is their life or value their relationship with the Divine or others.  We, I, have no power to change someone else.  I can influence them, give my opinion, say what I see to be true; BUT the decision, the choice is the other persons.  It is the gift of free choice that God has given to human beings, for better or for worse.

These disciplines are not easy.  Yet I find that since I have worked hard at keeping my mind in the present moment and finding the joy God has for me there, that it is easy than when I first began.  Of course, it is God who has created, enabled, sustained any change in me.  My bottom line is that if I truly believe that God has the power to raise Christ from the dead; to change death in life; then I ought to believe that God can transform my mind always.

I encourage you to read all of the Philippians 4.  It has some great stuff in there.  I pray you find meaningful words that help you to enjoy each moment that God has given you. For this moment I what to praise God for the joy I find as I travel this path.

Sabbath

29 Sep

Trying to find Sabbath rest as a clergy person is always a bit of a challenge.  I usually took Monday as a day of no appointments – of course, for me there was always laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.  Yet, if I didn’t have to go to work and I could spend extra devotional time, I counted it as Sabbath.  The most precious Sabbath rest for me was time spent at Mount Saviour Monastery.  It is a beautiful place and retreat time there was sacred.

So, the reason I am talking about Sabbath is because of a new study I am doing in my churches [OK really just Garfield people showed up, but I have people and that is the important thing.]  The study uses a DVD from the Great Lecture series.  The presenter is Amy Jill Levine from Vanderbilt University; she is incredible.  The study is the entire Old Testament, but we are just studying Genesis for now.

As you might guess, the first lesson was on the first creation story.  I have been around a long time, so I have heard a lot on commentary on this study, but this time I really had an “ahha’ moment.  The first creation story was most likely written during the Babylonian exile.  The first line of the Babylonian creation story, The Enuma Elish, is, “When on high the heavens had not been named.”  The first line of the Genesis creation story in Hebrew sentence structure is, “When God began to created the heavens and the earth,”

Dr. Levine posits that the Babylonian story is about place and the Hebrew story is essentially about time.  Think about it, if you are in exile is a place that will not let you worship your God, and they say their gods are “bigger” than yours, then you take their creation story and turn it to your advantage.  Your God created out of nothing and your God made time sacred so that your God can be worshiped anywhere.  So, even in exile, you rest on the Sabbath day and proclaim the power of your God.

Genesis 2:1-4 says:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

So, let us say that the great thing about our God is that the Divine make time sacred.  We can worship our universal God anywhere because God created all that is, but it is the Sabbath that is redeemed and made sacred.

So, how do we spend our Sabbath. Do, we have one anymore?  The rest of primitive people was imperative because of the physical nature of their work.  Yet, according to the morning show, we still need rest.  We need rest to restore our health, to manage our stress, to be fully human.  I wonder what the world would look like if we all took a day of rest?  Would we be kinder to one another, would we be more patient, would we find creative alternatives that we didn’t see before???  I know that all of these things have happened to be after I have spent time at Mount Saviour.

So, think about Sabbath rest today.  Think about the idea that our fore-bearers in the faith, as they lived in exile in a foreign  land, claimed God’s power to transform time.  Can God transform the time in your day?

Just wondering, always thinking.  Peace, Mary

Being Human

26 Sep

I’m back again to say ‘Hello’ and write down a few thoughts.

The scripture designated for this Sunday’s worship service has been flowing around in my head, as usual.

The gospel reading, Matthew 21:23-32, recalls Jesus walking into the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Temple was the center of religious power and questions of power are asked.  The chief priest and elder asks what gives Jesus the authority to preach and heal and forgive and speak of God’s kingdom.  In essence, “where are your credentials Jesus?”, with the implication that if Jesus can show the credentials, they will respect his authority.  Jesus, who would make a get politician, never gets trapped in a question.  He turns the tables and challenges the men who claim themselves to have the power to decide if he has “proper authority” to continue preaching and healing and teaching as he wanders around.

23 Then he was back in the Temple, teaching. The high priests and leaders of the people came up and demanded, “Show us your credentials. Who authorized you to teach here?”

24-25 Jesus responded, “First let me ask you a question. You answer my question and I’ll answer yours. About the baptism of John—who authorized it: heaven or humans?”

25-27 They were on the spot and knew it. They pulled back into a huddle and whispered, “If we say ‘heaven,’ he’ll ask us why we didn’t believe him; if we say ‘humans,’ we’re up against it with the people because they all hold John up as a prophet.” They decided to concede that round to Jesus. “We don’t know,” they answered.

Jesus said, “Then neither will I answer your question.

Jesus knew the source of his power and never felt the need to prove it to anyone.  It was his connection to God that provided strength, and power, and grace to respond to the needs of those with whom he traveled and those who came to hear him preach and those who came to him for healing.  I like the juxtaposition of this gospel lesson with the reading from the epistle.  We have finished reading through Romans and have begun reading through Philippians.  The passage for this Sunday is thought to contain one of the first affirmations of faith regarding Jesus.

In verses 1-4, the writer is personal and trying to talk the Christian community into acting like Christ!  So, in verses 5-8, the writer gives details as to what that exactly looks like.

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

I don’t think this kind of humility means letting people walk over us, or never making a disagreeable statement. I think it means being clear about who we are – Children of the Divine – and who’s we are – God’s – and what are purpose is – to continue the work of Christ.  We are to continue to preach and teach and heal and care and listen as Christ representatives in the world.  To be fully convinced of who we are and what guides our lives gives us the power to live transformed lives.  It is not a power that bullies anyone, or dominates the other; it is power that offers choices and lures us into a whole and holy life.

Alicia Keys wrote a new song that asks the question of what we are doing here – like on the planet or with our lives.  I wonder how many answers have God in the midst of them?    I wonder if we can truly give any answer to that question that does not involve the Divine?

I always have questions that lead to questions and then lead onto more questions.  But, I enjoy the journey.  Thanks for reading, I hope some of it made sense.     Peace

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