Tag Archives: unknowing

“Darkening Sky” Spirituality

old bridge (deposit photos).jpgChange. Say it soft and it’s almost like puking.

I used to dread Autumn.

About thirty years ago (college era) Seasonal Affective Disorder dawned in me. My love for distinctive Midwestern seasons got complicated.

Since then, good support and meds have helped attune me to my holistic health, but I’d be lying if I said the 4th quarter was easy.

I trust I’m not alone with clinical depression and a sense of guarding my emotional health when the weather turns cold and dark.

In the Midwestern USA where I’m from, there is no more intense earth season than fall to enact the disruptive, beautiful prospect of transformative change.

All through autumn we hear a double voice:
one says everything is ripe;
the other says everything is dying.
The paradox is exquisite.

Gretel Ehrlich

In the psalms, life comes naturally in waves, and each one is faithful unto itself. Right now, you may be in a season of great joy. Enjoy it; it will pass. You may be in the midst of freaked-out fear. Hang on; something different is on its way.

In 12 days, I’m hosting a free/tip call-in class called Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time, and you’re all invited.

Is it possible to accept a life that includes melancholia? Can we prepare for seasons of disruptive change and frame them as good? Or at least understand them so we can make the best of them?

What I’m calling “Darkening Sky” spirituality is a psalm-centered faith. This is theology that honors our most intense moments of transition, acknowledging God smack in the middle of whatever slow-mo rotating stage we’re on.

The parts of life we judge as intolerably dire straits the psalms name holy. As my psalmentor Rev. Dr. Clint McCann says, these moments of honest suffering are not good, but normal. See also Ecclesiastes 3 and Jesus’ mystical ministry of disrupting pretty much every life he encountered.

Need some courage? Here are a few psalm-songs that might be good company for your holy life that might feel like it’s unraveling: (Note: these are NOT cheer-up songs, but psalm-honest cries for what’s happening in you).

As summer moves into autumn, we know earth seasons will turn as they always have. It’s something we know, but sometimes do not wish to allow.

Here’s to allowing change to ripen what’s in our heart-gardens, that Gretel Ehrlich’s exquisite season would bring us to fullness before moving into the next.

Register now for Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time.

Advertisements

On Men, Pregnancy and Advent

~ Act One ~

In Advent we track the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, divine Possibility ripening within their very bodies.

As a spiritual director, one of my favorite images for the spiritual life is being pregnant with Holy.

Meister Eckhart wrote that we are always pregnant with God, because God always wants to be born. I feel a Yes in me with that. Yet as imaginative as I might be, pregnancy– a basic mammalian fact of life–is something my XY-brothers and I will never fully understand.

That’s why men in particular need and long for the stories of women.

That’s one reason my favorite liturgical season is Advent.

The stereotype of men is that we are interested in fixing things (maybe because we break a lot of things), that we think we know it all (well, don’t we?), and that men don’t understand emotional intimacy (whatever).

Advent stories open up to men the validity and vitality of mystery, process and patient hope. These are central to any meaningful spiritual life, men and women alike. But maybe men need more practice.

Now, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to gender differences. As different as men and women seem to be, we have common human experiences of life, just packaged and described in different ways. We grow in true humanity if we are ready to learn from one another instead of  treating the other gender as an interplanetary adversary.

So our ten-year-old son Sam knows exactly what happens in his mother’s body once a month. We’ve taught him– Trish and I together– because we want him to know what it means to be fully human. Trish’s moon cycle is a moment we acknowledge sensitivity and power that resonates with all gender identities. In the world-making endeavor that any parenting is, Trish and I are bent on creating a world where humans have respect for the feminine and masculine and everything else, too.

Men and boys are paying attention in Advent.

~ Act Two ~

There are literally dozens of models and metaphors for Divine Presence in what we call scripture. Yet in worship G-d is almost always portrayed in one way: a powerful, human, male authority figure. You’ve noticed this, right? The very premise of worship is built around this model. We may hear different kinds of texts on a Sunday morning and get the occasional gee-whiz non-“traditional” poetic, but on the whole, G-d is imagined as masculine (say, King, Lord, Father, Warrior or Judge). And the appropriate response to this kind of authority would naturally be worship and submissive obedience.

Now there are good and faithful reasons for this, most dear to me as a Psalmist being the ancient Hebrew reverence for G-d. If YHWH has a  name too sacred to be spoken, you get creative real fast about how to describe the mystery of covenant. You draw on the most accessible relationships of corporate goodness and power in current society, which for the most part, at least publicly, were male. That understanding is part of our heritage that some would say is inherently sexist. Either way, it’s here for us to work with.

For many American 21st-century Christians, in terms of God-talk, we eat what’s served. And what’s on our plate most every meal, even after all these years, is Big Man In The Sky. For many of us, though, even within the tight quarters of anthropomorphic images, that god is too small.

So I love Advent. Finally we get to hear about women, and the men who love them take a back seat. In these stories G-d has feminine patience and weaves stories of relationship like an auntie, like a matriarch. One that has no qualms about shutting a man up or sending an angel to open a can on him.

We are reminded in these four weeks that the essence of the Holy One of Israel is to seed, nurture, deliver, name, entrust, call and bless.

~ Act Three ~

Attention, worship leaders! Preachers, musicians, lectors, youth leaders!

This Advent, I implore you to deliver the feminine stories that are in our collective face. Be direct. In this season of the feminine, give the women the microphone.

  • As a call to worship, invite women who have been pregnant to describe what it’s like.
  • Show images of bodies bulging with child.
  • Invite your congregation to touch their own bellies during prayer, asking “What holy wonder is my life pregnant with?” and “How are we preparing for the Christ to be born in us today?”
  • Invite silent moments to watch and listen to a baby among you. Yep, right in worship.
  • Show ultrasound pics of a growing embryo on the screens each Sunday in Advent. How are we growing? Is our church Showing?
  • Invite moms and grandmothers to blog about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Initiate service projects serving women and babies
  • Living with the metaphor of pregnancy and birthing the Holy, invite the community to name the “baby: how do we describe what God is doing with our congregation, in our neighborhood, in our families, in our hearts. How would we name our calling?

You’re wondering if it’s too sexy.

Well, the Incarnation is about Emmanuel— God With Us–the scandalous Story that the divine would tabernacle among us.

So give it to us straight and real, and as human-body-earthy as it comes. The alternative would be to continue the strand of Christianity that is stoic and gnostic, separating heaven and earth, prying apart spirit and body, divorcing the Christ from creation. I say go with the disruption that pregnancy offers us in Advent. Let’s see what emerges at the end of term.

Penultimately, listen to a song for the season: Trish’s rendition of Amy Grant and Chris Eaton’s Breath of Heaven.

In closing, a seed of a song for you men and you women. I think it’ll be a waltz. Maybe the music will be married to it by next Advent.

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse i
Wave upon wave of some kind of promise
I stand in awe of this Life
Like the last seed on a desolate planet
A promise inside that has its own light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse ii
So let it be with me just like all time
I give myself to this Life
Yes, I am here to give birth to the new Christ
Like everything else, bearing the Light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

bridge
Bending so low to usher the hungry to the fantastic banquet of Life
This whole world is a mother in labor, her darkness relieved by one baby light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting


Progressive Christianity, Wild Geese and Evolution

I’m part of a quad of musicians convening a music/worship event we’re calling SHIFT. It’s in response to a question the four of us hear all the time as we travel: “Where can we find good worship songs?” (I wish a higher percentage of people would add “like yours.”) They tend to reach for words to describe what they want in a worship soundtrack as contemporary, alternative, emergent, post-modern, ancient-future. The most recent addition to the vocab list is progressive. We want progressive Christian music for progressive worship.

I quote brother Martin Luther: “What [the hell] does this mean?”

The blogs are humming with opinions. Smart people are scrambling to define it: progressive. Does it mean liberal? Post-evangelical? Left or Right? People who are recovering from an immersion in any tradition? There’s an amazing range of sensibilities for the people claiming this term. Maybe the most telling mark of this so-called movement is that so many are so keen to be on board. Lots of buzz, lots of words. More than a few writers claim to have thought of it first and are leading the way.

The idea of progress in the word progressive bothers me a little. It implies advancement, moving forward. Suggesting if you’re not in that club, you might want to check your compass or shift out of Park.

The main reason for our SHIFT event is to get to the bottom of what this word means for people. As a person who values questions, I am curious how people are feeling inspired, pushed and pulled? What are they excited about progressing toward? And what are they eager to leave behind?

The Wild Goose Festival starts today in North Carolina. It looks brilliant, offering an unprecedented gathering of amazing artists and theologians. Among those on stage, I’d be most excited about hearing T-Bone Burnett. Next most interesting for me would be David Wilcox, Michelle Shocked, Jennifer Knapp, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Anyway, you start to get the idea of the presence. There will be lots of words spoken and heard. Metric tons of it. Lovers of words will do their best to define this trend some call progressive Christianity. The thing is, language’s job is always to divide. So I am paying attention, dying to know what dialogue emerges from the event.

Luther’s idea was that the church is always reforming. In an incarnational theology, the Living ChristLogos is woven into every particle of creation. Fresh into Pentecost, we might say we’re within the flow of the Holy Spirit. Present with the holy, we live and move and have our being.

When I think of how my ideas about life, the universe and everything have changed since I was a kid, I’m certain that what I believe today will change. I’ve learned to cherish intentions more than beliefs. More of my center these days is in clarity and not certainty. My life works best when I remember I am an evolving being with a mind that is soft and flexible.

And if we are always emerging– as individuals, as societies, as the homo sapiens sapiens species, and as a global village with all creation– maybe it’s good for the church to see herself this way, too.

Hey. Instead of progressive, how about progressing? It reminds us we will never arrive, that we are always reforming, and that we have a lineage that includes wandering, being led and being provided for along the way.


Stretch.

As a rule, I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Definitely not in June.

But as 2011 broke through, I was part of an online community that invited each of us to claim a word that might be a guide for the present season. Mine turned out to be Stretch.

Stretch
Stretch
Stretch.
Feel the burn.

As with some of my favorite words, there are some different aspects to wonder in:

~ Flexing in preparation for some kind of exertion.
~ Reaching to span some particular measured gap.
~ Approaching the boundary of imagination: “Well, that’s a stretch.”
~ Expanding a surface to encompass greater volume.

So that’s me. What would it mean for you to have Stretch on your mirror or in your pocket for this season? Maybe as a reminder of your flexibility or your ability to evolve. A prompt to breathe deeply for inner expansion.

So far, the word has indeed been guide and council, leader and oracle.

What word would it be for you? If you feel the need for both a fencepost to lean on, and an arch to invite you into the next season, maybe the right word can be that. But I’m a word guy. It could also be an icon, poem, painting or song.

So I’m launching this blog.

Joshua Pearl has brilliant advice for musicians: Hit the record button when you have no idea what’s going on.

I am starting this blog unknowing what it will become for me or for you.

Welcome to it.  [Click. Whirrr…]