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Mary Jane

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Living Christ, Liberating Spirit, Loving Disciples – For Such a Time as This

We have recently been through a renewal time where First Christian Church and I, as the Pastor, spent three months apart focusing on Belonging, Boundaries, Balance. We are now back together and in the process of sharing our learnings and insights so that the renewal can continue. Expanding on the renewal, our theme for the 2017-18 year will be Living Christ, Liberating Spirit, Loving Disciples – For Such a Time as This.

Living Christ – As people who celebrate Easter, we understand that the tomb could not hold Jesus. So on Easter Sunday we shout, “Christ is Alive!” And we understand that we belong together as church. Together we are the Body of Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. So “Living Christ” is both a declaration of what is, and a call to be that which we proclaim.

Liberating Spirit – The Spirit of God or Holy Spirit is the power that allows us to be true to our call as God’s children and followers of Jesus Christ. The Spirit liberates us from the chains that would keep us bound to past mistakes or ways that destroy the goodness of the Christ-life, so we rejoice in the “Liberating Spirit” that brings balance to life.

Loving Disciples – In the Gospel of John we read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as they gather together on the night before he was crucified. He washed their feet and gave them a “new commandment” to love one another just as he had loved them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” “Loving Disciples” is what we want others to see and hear and experience from we who follow Jesus. Love is a very important boundary that makes visible Christ living in us. Jesus’ higher righteousness grounded in love helps us stay true to God’s vision and dream for how we are to behave and treat ourselves and one another.  Living Christ, Liberating Spirit, Loving Disciples.

For Such A Time As This – The news is full of stories about division, hatred, and strife in our communities, in our country, and in our world. People are feeling both disconnected from one another and often even hostile toward those different from themselves. Technology has made possible so many changes that are coming faster than we can keep up. And in the midst of “Such A Time As This” people can feel powerless and want to throw up their hands in despair. In the book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, a young Jewish woman became queen, but the King did not know she was Jewish. One of the King’s advisors convinced him to kill all the Jews. So Esther’s uncle comes to her and says, “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Esther surely felt powerless to speak up to the King, yet she was in the right place at the right time to speak up and she did! And the Jewish people were spared. For Such A Time As This.

This year we will explore how our faith calls us to be and what our faith calls us to do in our time. We know that just as there are stories that illustrate “how bad” it is, there are also stories that illustrate the Living Christ in our time.  We need to tune ourselves in to see the good and share it with one another. We must not remain silent, but rather echo in word and deed and attitude the Christ-life we share. May the renewal that began following Easter continue to open our hearts and give us wisdom and energy to be Loving Disciples for such a time as this!

 

 

Getting Real

In my last post I wrote about the holiness of silent sitting meditation in the company of others. In that post I shared these words from the Plum Village websiteSitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. That all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?! Breathing, peacefulness, calm, quiet… that is the stuff we all need, right? And I did absolutely experience the joy of those qualities during silent sitting meditation. But I would be remiss if I did not also mention some other qualities one inevitably experiences during silent sitting meditation.

In the uninterrupted silence we also meet our pain, suffering, anger, grief, disappointment, judgment, shame – what we church folk sometimes call our demons. In the silence we hear the voices in our head which tell us we are not enough, or bad, or powerless or unloveable. In the silence, all the armor and defense mechanisms come down and we are left with ourselves – the good, the troubling, the beautiful, and the ugly alike. At Plum Village we were taught to allow those uncomfortable thoughts to come and go without attaching any judgment to them or holding onto them. In the silence we see those thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them, and breathe deeply and slowly allowing them to be healed and transformed by the very breath of life.

Sitting in the silence of the early morning and again in the evening, I had the privilege of encountering my own demons face to face. And when I encounter these faithful friends (they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin) I want to minimize their presence or push them back or wrestle them. But you know what? My demons are amazing teachers. And ultimately, facing them allows me to build humility and compassion. For if I am able to acknowledge the disturbing parts of my own personality and presence, I can empathize when I see that in others. When I know I am not perfect and am okay with that, I can accept that others are not perfect either. When I understand with each breath that I am alive and that is a gift to be cherished, other things find their respective place more gracefully.

Sitting in the silence and listening deeply allows me to sort out what is real, and to face the truth with love and grace for myself as well as others. For years I have had a quote on my wall at home from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: [S]He who controls others may be powerful, but [s]he who has mastered [herself] himself is mightier still.  The purpose of silent sitting meditation is to increase one’s power or self-mastery. That happens when we can sit still long enough, listen deep enough, and face courageously and compassionately our thoughts and feelings, including our demons, and our suffering and pain.

In Luke 8:17, Jesus says: Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. When we allow ourselves the time and the space to sit with our thoughts, our heart, our spirit, we are inviting the loving light of God to shine upon us and reveal, heal, and transform the weakness into strength. The very strength Jesus embodied and invites us to share. It is not easy. But it is very powerful!

Sit. Still. Together.

At 5:00 each morning the deep resonate sound of the very large bell at Plum Village would reach my ears. Waking up to a bell is not a new experience. You see, I went to church camp in my childhood and youth. That is another setting where the morning bell rings and everyone gets up. The bell at church camp, however, I remember being much higher in pitch, much faster in tempo, and much later in the morning. The morning bell at Plum Village is very deep and low, with each strike of the bell allowed to be heard before the next would come in the dark of early morning. And unlike the morning bell of church camp, when this bell rang, all remained quiet as we dressed and made our way from our rooms, outside, across the Village, mindful of each step until we found our way to the Meditation Hall. If we encountered others along the way, we would simply smile and nod or bow in recognition, but remain silent.

Upon reaching the Meditation Hall, shoes would be removed outside before quietly entering the hall (pictured above), bowing in gratitude, finding a place with a cushion and mat, and settling in.  As you can see from the picture, there are two sides for sitting with an aisle down the middle. That is also similar to going to church. Except here, we sit on a cushion on the floor, and face the natural world just through the windows. Getting here in the dark and leaving in the light was part of the beauty and wonder as I would come to experience. Once we were gathered, at the appointed time, another bell would sound, words would be spoken by a nun, then more sounds of the bell would bring us into our collective silence. And there we would be, sitting, silent, and together for over an hour.

When I was a child in church I sat with my mother. She would tell me in every way she could to sit still and be quiet. Sometimes that even involved a pinch to my arm. I remember sitting very close to the front for what sometimes seemed like an eternity each Sunday morning. I was expected to be quiet so I could hear my father, the minister, speak. I was expected to be quiet so others could hear as well. I was expected to be quiet and sit still so I didn’t become a distraction to others. And I get that. I appreciate that. But what I didn’t get growing up in church that I got in the Meditation Hall of Plum Village is another reason to sit still and listen – to hear deep within myself so that I might understand my own heart and emotions and use them as a springboard for love and compassion toward others. Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining or criticizing. I appreciate my upbringing in the church. It has shaped me and made me who I am today. I only use the contrast to share my experience and to emphasize what I did hear and receive as I stepped out of the comfort of my own tradition to encounter another. Gathered together in the Meditation Hall was a community of people – myself included – seeking greater understanding of themselves, others, and the connection of all creation sitting in silence. In that silence there is no distraction of what is going on with anyone other than myself, but there is the comfort and support of others doing the same thing at the same time in the same place. It is quite beautiful and powerful to be in such company yet allowed, indeed expected, to be focused on our own heart, soul and mind. As I sat still in the silence and in the company of a community of practice, I was touched by the holy presence of God both within me and filling the spaces separating all gathered in this quiet place of beauty and grace.

There is so much to be said about sitting meditation. I will close this post by sharing from Plum Village’s website: https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/sitting-meditation/

Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.

Sitting meditation is very healing. We realize we can just be with whatever is within us- our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

Upon rising each morning I heard the sound of the bell summoning me to silent sitting meditation. And before bed each evening the process was reversed. Rising in dark and silence to greet the sun. Then returning to silence as the sun went down at the close of the day. And as I returned to my room, the sound of the bell would make it’s final sounds of the day, calling us to more quiet, calling us into Noble Silence. That will be the topic for another post.

The Sound of Silence

In Paul Simon’s song, “The Sound of Silence”, made famous by Simon and Garfunkel, we hear:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.

This song is very telling of how it happens that people lose their voice in the midst of all the noise of a culture that is consumeristic and idolizes celebrity, appearance, and affluence. The sound of silence is the sound of people losing themselves in this loud and deafening throng of voices seeking your attention and your buy in. Silence, in this vision, is symptomatic of what’s wrong. People talking without speaking. People Hearing without listening.

The Sound of Silence was written a long time ago. Yet is rings very true today. In the midst of all the noise and things and people and commercials and notifications and competing voices for our attention and our buy in, the sound of our own silence can be deafening. Yet I would offer that the antidote to the external noise with it’s silencing effect is not more speech, but more intentional silence so we don’t end up “talking without speaking.”

As I mentioned in my last post, I began my Clergy Renewal at the Buddhist Monastery of Plum Village in Southwest France. Silence there is very much a part of the daily practice. One of the purposes for the intentional practice of silence is to allow each person to hear and know themselves more deeply. In silence there is the possibility for us to cut through all the noise and messages others tell us and to discover our authentic voice. As I use the term “authentic voice” I want to pause and offer a distinction. In the noise of our culture and politics and even religion in the United States today, a tendency of equating two things that are qualitatively different has arisen. When we say things like, “everyone’s opinion matters” it can translate into everything that is said should be given equal weight. When that happens, our ability to evaluate the quality or truthfulness of claims is eroded. So when I say we need silence to discover our authentic voice, I am not talking about opinions or beliefs or chatter. I am talking about something of more substance, depth, width, and breadth; something soulful that grounds us on our journey of life and touches the holy. The sound of that kind of silence is beauty, grace, peace, and compassion – for oneself, for others, and for the natural world that supports the wholeness of life and the oneness of all creation.

At Plum Village, we practiced this intentional silence in many forms – sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, and noble silence from that last meditation until the completion of breakfast. Most of the silence was practiced together with the whole community gathered. Silent, together. In my next post(s), I will share my experience of practicing silence in a variety of ways and the influence of being silent in community upon my sense of belonging, boundaries and balance (the theme of my renewal).

 

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

When I began this renewal journey, I thought I would be writing and posting here along the way. But once I slowed down; once I found myself in new surroundings with different ways of being and living, it became clear that I, first of all, needed to develop a deep awareness of the journey and what was going on inside myself. In that awareness, it became clear that communicating with others, would take me from my heart, soul, and body to my head, or mind (which is where I spend too much time). This renewal needed to nurture integration and balance – heart, soul, strength, and mind. So all my focus and attention went into slowing down, going deep, and not worrying about how I would communicate the experience with others. So here I am, nearly at the end of this renewal time away, and posting for just the second time.

The picture above is of the Meditation Hall in the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village in France -the Buddhist Monastery in southwest France founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. I spent a lot of time each day – in the early morning, mid-day, and the evening – in this Meditation Hall. Plum Village was my first stop on my renewal. The intention of going there first was to quickly remove myself from my “normal” way of being and put myself in an environment that would nurture quieting my mind and my body, and allow me to discover myself, others, and God in new ways.  At the point when I left Ames, my “normal” way of being was fast-paced and busy, with a racing mind, emails demanding response, notifications needing my attention, and lots of good-byes to share, all while trying to make sure I had what I would need to be in Europe for 2 months with everything on my back. I was exhausted!

After just one night in Bordeaux following my overnight flight to Paris, I arrived by train, then van at Plum Village. I started my renewal journey there because it was the most different from my own context. Plum Village’s website describes itself this way: “At Plum Village we weave mindfulness into all our daily activities, training ourselves to be mindful throughout the day: while eating, walking, working, or enjoying a cup of tea together. Plum Village is a home away from home, and a beautiful, nourishing, simple environment in which to cultivate the mind of awakening.” That sounded like just what I needed for my own renewal – heart, soul, strength, and mind! So I wasted no time. There, right at the beginning of my renewal journey, I was suddenly immersed into a completely different way of being, including finding myself surrounded by an international community speaking several different languages. Yet what I encountered was a way of being that allowed me to slow down and hear myself think, and get in touch with my heart at the same time. What I experienced was a way of being that allowed me to hear my own thoughts while being part of a community. What touched me was a way of being in tune with the interconnectedness of human life, and all of creation. What I found healing, and deeply moving was a way of being full of grace and wonder, gratitude and awareness. Gentleness, calm, grace-filled discipline wrapped me in its loving embrace.

Plum Village was the perfect place for me to begin my renewal. In my next post, I’ll begin to share some of the insights and experiences I had in the quiet, beautiful, fully alive community of Plum Village.

 

 

Crossing From Here to There

Today I begin my Clergy Renewal! For the next three months I will be on a journey to renew myself – heart, soul, strength, and mind – both personally and professionally. I, along with leaders at First Christian Church, have been working hard to prepare for this moment. Here I am! Today, on this beautiful, spring day, I hiked Pine Lake State Park Trail near Eldora with my husband, Tim. We took in the sounds of nature – the honking of the geese, the chirping of the insects, the cooing of the mourning doves. We saw about a dozen or so turtles sunning themselves on the tree branches that lay in the water.

Today was about trying to slow down, look and listen, so that I may fully experience life teeming all around. It is Spring, and we just celebrated Easter yesterday. Today was also about finishing tasks necessary for me to board the plane to France on Wednesday in confidence. I am grateful to be present to the “here” even while edging my way toward “there.”

And so the journey begins!

 

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Bridges are only needed if there is something creating a barrier between two places. What a vivid image. There is a river or divide of some kind that makes it difficult, or even impossible to connect the two. And sometimes, what is dividing is tumultuous, dangerous, life-threatening. In this case, a bridge can become even more important.

Radical Welcome, Safe Space

The question of how to both be a safe place for people and have an “open door” – “Come as you are, you belong!” is challenging and necessary if it is to be real. When you throw your doors open wide, you will get diversity – of experience, of upbringing, of theology, of attitude. So it takes a lot of conversation and modeling in order to create a climate that remains both open and safe.

Bridges and Boundaries of Belonging

Welcome! I have spent my adult life working with people in faith communities. No one has to be here. People participate in this community because they find meaning and purpose in doing so. The circle of relationship within a congregation is a microcosm of ever larger concentric circles of relationship and community that bring people together around something meaningful – faith community, local municipality, counties, states, regions, nations, associations, etc. In these circles of relationship, there is often a sense in which people share something: religious beliefs, a geographic location, an interest, a political party, an experience, and so on. People tend to enjoy getting together with “like-minded” people.