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Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Formation’

There seems to be a marked increase in the number of diagnosed cases of diabetes among my circle of friends and acquaintances. Most of these newly diabetic men and women are Type II, meaning they will have to adjust to a balance of medications that help the body to use the insulin it still produces, along with changes in diet and exercise. It is not a diagnosis to be taken lightly. Several of my friends have been diagnosed as Type I, like me, meaning their bodies no longer produce insulin and they will have to adjust to daily injections of insulin (I wear an insulin pump), close monitoring of their blood glucose levels and real changes to diet and exercise. Whether Type I or Type II, this diagnosis most often results in a psychological, physical, and spiritual shift that translates into something akin to a west cost earthquake.

I recall the day I was first diagnosed, the day my doctor handed me a meter to test my blood sugar and told me (my words) I was now on manual drive instead automatic. Everything I ate and everything I did was going to effect my blood sugar and my way of navigating through each and every day.  I finally had some insight into what was going on with my body. The blurry vision, fatigue, confusion and feeling of panic was grounded in a very real response to high blood sugars. I recall that day. I felt as though I had been handed a death sentence, not that I was going to literally die. I had more of an identity death. The ‘body ‘part of mind-body-spirit had betrayed me.

You may be wondering what this has to do with a blog site dedicated to spiritual formation. Simply put, everything related to mind and body has a profound influence on all things spiritual. Issues of faith, trust, health, core values, vocation, even family and community flow in and through our spiritual selves. And so, I began a darker journey of trying to re-assemble myself, testing assumptions about   what was and was not possible for my future.  Part of my process included creating a short video entitled “Food and Faith.” which you are welcome to view.carrycross2

It is easy enough to accept tragedy, chronic illness, loss and other personal  assaults as a ‘cross to bear’, as if we have been personally targeted to be pressed  down by some God directed lesson, as if suffering is the only way to carry a cross.  But here is another perspective. Matthew 16:24 was the gospel text on Sunday. Then Jesus told his disciples, “If  anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” I must have read this scripture a hundred times and only just realized the distinction between picking something up and setting something down. Just maybe I should change my focus from carrying the burden of ‘my cross’, setting it down, freeing myself, mind-body-spirit, to more fully follow the lead of the Cross Bearer. 

Just as managing chronic illness is a daily business, so is the daily choice we have to put on Christ, to self identify with the Cross Bearer, to live sacramentally and rooted in the One who calls us by name and to lift high the cross of Hope and Love that is ours as Easter people. I will continue to journey through this season of Lent, remembering the call God has placed on my life, resetting my intention to remain focused on the light of Christ even as our world dwells in shadow. I will continue to journey with others, finding strength in community and our mutual commitment to a life of Christian faith.11046726_1013784178650220_298275671874258863_o

 

 

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Advent 2013

Gracious God, it feels good to be in your church, together with people I love, my faith community.  Here, I am at home, surrounded by warm friendships and life long support. I relax into the rhythm of worship as I listen to familiar scripture, re-telling the story of Jesus’ birth, and drink in the sounds of singing and prayer.

Words like longing, waiting, preparation, expectancy are woven in and through the garlands of the advent wreath, holding a place for the hope, peace, joy and love that is promised.

Help me prepare my heart as faithfully as Mary, to be a place of welcome and hospitality, awaiting a renewed presence of Christ in my life. Embolden me to offer your radical hospitality to those who are not yet at home in your church.

Help me be as obedient and trusting as Joseph, as I journey through my days, by faith, taking nothing for granted.

Help me, Lord, to be watchful like the shepherds, seeing with new eyes the emerging light of Christ in the midst of the mundane and ordinary.  Especially let me see the light of Christ in others.

Increase my faith so I can boldly and freely share the hope and love of Christ I have come to know and trust. With the confidence of your angels, let me sing, “All Glory to God in the Highest.”

We, your church, are called to be a steadfast and watchful people. Give us renewed patience to wait for your quiet voice to reach our ears.  Give us new hearts that we may receive all the love and assurance that comes through your Holy Spirit. Increase our capacity to be instruments of your love and peace. Place in our hearts your seed of compassion, the Christ child. Like Mary, let us receive it without question, saying with confidence, “The Mighty One has done great things for me___ Holy is God’s name.”

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A practice room in Phillips Music Hall becomes a temporary sacred place of refuge.

Earlier this month, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered on the campus of Gordon College for it’s Annual Conference; a three day gathering of clergy and laity, for a time of holy listening, worship, legislation and learning.

Central to the work of the church is the practice of prayer. It is a privilege to work with the many gifted individuals who serve on the Spiritual Formation Initiative; a dedicated group that focuses on and coordinates conference wide spiritual formation events, throughout the year. One of our contributions is providing resources for the Prayer Room which is made available for individuals to engage in prayer, meditation, quiet reflection and exploration of various spiritual disciplines.  This year conference goers were able to read about and experience a ritual of anointing with oil.

anointing is an ancient practice of setting something apart as sacred using fragrant oils and prayer.

Anointing is an ancient practice of setting something apart as sacred using fragrant oils and prayer.

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Coloring mandalas is a way to relax the mind for deeper meditation and listening.This was completed by an anonymous visitor to the Prayer Room.

A  number of small worship altars were placed around the room to inspire the use of simple objects and images to create personal  ‘sacred spaces of rest’ in the home.

A floating candle in a pair of inverted bowls add light and interesting reflective surfaces to an already serene view.

I  A floating candle in a pair of inverted bowls add light and interesting reflective surfaces to an already serene view.

A simple cloth and candle draws your attention to stop awhile and pray.

A simple cloth and candle draws your attention to stop awhile and pray.

Icons are another way of experiencing deep prayer as one is invited into the scriptural story written in the form of an icon. A beautiful blue plate on a stand makes a striking background for this icon of  the Pantocrator.

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Natural materials, bits of colored cloth draped as a foundation for your altar, other items such as a cross, a journal, scripture, stones, or anything that evokes and encourages you to prayer are things to try. The important thing to remember is that we are all called to a life of prayer. We can live a sacramental life in the home when we establish a set apart place for worship and allow it to invite us to rest awhile and Be with God.IMG_0583

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Just a few short weeks ago, the Christian church celebrated Pentecost. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send God’s Holy Spirit to remain with them once he ascended into heaven.  “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16–18  This event, fifty days after Easter, is annually celebrated as the “birth” of the church.  The symbol of the Spirit is depicted in two familiar ways, as an ascending white dove and/or as tongues of flames. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1–4  The color red dominates the liturgical paraments.

Our spiritual life is predicated on the expectation that the Holy Spirit does indeed abide in the hearts and lives of God’s people. It is the Spirit that inspires our faith, conspires with us in our Christian work and is our very breath (respiration) in the midst of prayer. Next week, the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church will gather for its Annual Conference, a gathering of all elders along with an equal number of appointed laity. For three days, we will engage in what John Wesley called Holy Conferencing. We will join in worship and prayer, engage in biblical studies, share in any number of meals, ordain a new class of clergy, debate our polity and practice and generally indulge in fellowship and fun. At the center of our work shall be God’s Holy Spirit, inspiring and informing all that we do. I look forward to waving ribboned poles and lifting banners to announce the beginning of our time together and to affirm the very presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

Celebrating God's Holy Spirit!

Celebrating God’s Holy Spirit!

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In my small part of the world spring has arrived. Everywhere there are signs of emerging buds, and the sweet songs of returning birds. The nighttime hum of the nearby marsh assures me that temperatures are rising.  I feel lighter. I feel alive. I want to scatter seeds and participate in the cycle of renewal; to encourage and nurture life in all its forms. I am filled with the presence of God in all I see and touch and smell and hope. IMAG0898 Not only is it springtime, it is also Eastertide, the fifty days that follow Easter. It is a season ripe with reflections on the resurrection story, rich with the power and possibilities for Christians to live as resurrection people. Incarnate God has come to dwell among us and within us; to save us and restore us to God’s self; to kindle within us a renewed compassion for the other; to forgive; to love, to invite us again to live as God intended. Praise be given to God. And yet, it seems, in my small part of the world humanity has failed once again. Daily, there are signs of emerging hatred and distrust, violence and threats of violence, tragic loss of life, loss of security and economic stability. We ask the ‘who, what and why’ of it.  We view the stranger with eyes narrowed.  All too soon the lightness that is supposed to be the mark of our faith in Christ is cast into deep shadow.  We question how it is that we can journey with those who suffer when we are, ourselves, overwhelmed and weighed down with our neighbor’s grief. It is hard to live as resurrection people. Still, the Incarnate God dwells among us and within us and invites us to turn and return to God. We are invited to lay our burdens down, to find refuge and rest in the One who weeps with us in our suffering and holds us close amidst our frailties and doubts.  Our desire to feel compassion and consider forgiveness is the first step in our turning, once again, to God.  We choose to participate in the healing that must come, to participate as agents of God’s love until we are no longer afraid to offer compassion and forgiveness to the stranger. It is possible to once again feel the presence of God in all we see and touch and smell and hope.

 Pray, dear Lord, let your Spirit pour over me. Flush headlines and unholy habits from my heart. Unwelcome maladies, they clutch and cling, sending me to my knees. Anoint these lesions and loosen their hold. Place healing balm on unrelenting wounds. Wrap your servant in cloths of righteousness and bring me to rest in your house of Holiness. In your time, lift me from your bed of blessing. Raise me to my feet to carry good news and hope, to become your messenger of healing and servant of all.

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A Trinity of Light Special Occasions in the church invite us to consider our worship space in a new way.  What theological themes do we want to highlight? Is the occasion celebratory or meditative. For Sept. 11, I created a central worship visual that used color to give a subtle patriotic foundation to the service. Some of our guests represented the firemen and other civil posts like the state senate and the house of representatives. Other participants were clergy from other denominations in town.

I like using floating candles as the light ‘migrates’ with the air currents in the room. It reminds me that the light of Christ, while constant, is not stagnant. Glass vases and bowls reflect and multiply the candle light, not unlike the way the church is called to reflect and multiply Christ’s light in the world.

The use of water (floating the candles rather than using a single pillar or taper candle) can remind us of our our baptism; remind us to recollect water’s role in cleansing and renewing; remind us to seek reconciliation and forgiveness personally and as a faith community.

Simple displays can be used in the home to remind us to take time for prayer and reflection. Take a  moment to name the current state of your spirit. Choose a piece of cloth (a dinner napkin works well), place an object (natural or otherwise) such as a bible, a stone, a plant, a letter, a pile of shells, a photo, etc. Now light a candle, whatever you have available.

Be still. Offer a prayer.

Be still. Listen.

Give thanks. Notice any thoughts you have or feelings that arise.

Consider keeping a prayer journal.

Come back to your worship space often. God’s Blessing be Yours.

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We all order our daily lives based on a variety of imposed expectations and demands from family members and work schedules, as well as personal preferences and civil calendars. We set our alarms, follow well established routines for grooming, eating, commuting, exercising, working, and resting. We are more than creatures of habit. We respond to the necessary rhythms of life imposed by external demands and internal desires because we are created to be relational. Relationships depend on regular nurturing and are most healthy when we are dependable and intentional about maintaining them.

A Rule is like a trellis, giving support and shape to a growing spiritual life.

Relationships are fragile. We guard those that are most precious to us and neglect those that don’t seem important enough to invest our time and energy in. We are in relationship with ourselves, with those we share our life with and most importantly, we are in relationship with God and God’s creation.

Throughout the centuries, religious communities have lived under a Rule in order to foster a Christ-like rhythm of living simply and sacramentally, in community and in the world. Have you ever considered creating a personal Rule of Life? How would you begin? What sort of things should you take into account?

This is an invitation to YOU to intentionally shape and grow your relationship with God and self, in order to strengthen and honor your relationships with Mother Earth and others. The idea of writing a Rule of Life may seem daunting. I will guide us through a simple but serious process of  discernment and sythesis using a workbook created by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE). Sermon reflections derived from their Rule of Life can be read on their website: www.SSJE.org/monasticwisdom.

Developing a Rule of Life can be found on its own page by clicking the link here or in the header. I look forward to revising my own Rule and helping you write your own. Let me know how you are doing with it.

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I have been quiet for a few weeks. Sometimes when I prepare to preach, God’s Spirit moves in a profound way. So it was after sharing my guiding principles with my faith community. While I have a number of projects to tend to, God drew me to a place of quiet reflection.  These periods of relative silence are fundamental to my discipline of discernment. Out of the silence, I emerge more focused and intentional. My work is more fruitful and my voice a little bolder.  

A friend’s blog directed me to Raven’s Bread Ministries, a ministry for men and women who seek a solitary life. I then read “Consider the Ravens,” a summation of posts by others seeking to live in the simplest way in order to direct the majority of their time and energy to prayer. At first look, it may seem impossible to live a solitary life in the 21st century. The reality is that more and more individuals not only seek a simple, set apart life but are able to find a way to live into a ‘hermit’s way.’

This may strike you as personally irrelevant, living as you do in a Post-Christian world, but even a cursory survey of Scripture reveals our need to have time apart for prayer and reflection; time to hear God’s voice; time to choose a life in concert with our brothers, our sisters, and creation.

In Sunday’s reading from Isaiah 49:8-16a, God meets the needs of God’s servant: “I have answered you. I have helped you.  I have kept you.” Sheldon Sorge writes in his essay in Feasting on the Word, “Flush with a personal encounter with God’s redemptive work, the minister is equipped to go public with God’s good news.” He continues, “Those who would minister in Christ’s name must first tend to their own souls, availing themselves of God’s help before offering it to others.”

Very soon, we will enter the season of Lent. There is no better time to consider our life choices, our life styles, our personal consumer practices in light of a world where economic injustice prevails, our earth suffers, and our children trust us with their futures.

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This morning I lingered over one more cup of coffee and found myself gazing at the sunlight, filtering through my Christmas tree.  I know lots of folks who are in a hurry to ‘light the lights and trim the tree’ only to take everything down before the New Year. But I am one that likes to take my time before, during and after Christmas day. All my expired  coupons for 2010 have already been tossed into the paper recycle bag. Left overs have long since been remade into soups and casseroles, overeaten and sometimes simply tossed out in the compost pile. Gone are the crumpled foil remnants of wrapped, unwrapped, and re-wrapped cookies and brownies (I do miss those).

Is it really time to pack up and put away Christmas? I don’t mean removing bows from the banister or winding up strings of lights. I’m not thinking, really, about dissembling the artificial tree or reflecting one more time on when or from whom a certain ornament or stocking or card was received. Rather, has the advent journey really come and gone? Have I wrapped myself in all the richness and revelation that comes to us through the gospel story? Have I seen enough light this season? Have I finished counting the many times of when or from whom Christ’s light was received. Did I do my part to offer the true light of Christ to others?

It probably is time to pack up the physical remnants of Christmas 2010, but put it away? I don’t think so. The journey is simply this, one step at a time, until the coming of Christ again; in a look, an action, a Word, a prayer, an offer of love. There is no box that can contain Christmas.

Blessings,

Deacon Gates

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