Whom do we invite into our lives, our communities? How do we segregate our societies and how do we embrace diversity? What may we learn from our differences? Themes from Jeremiah & Luke.

When we set that table, we would do well to remember that we are not the hosts, but the God who loves us all, and invites each and every one of us to the feast. — Kathryn Matthews

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter & become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. — Henri Nouwen

Everydayness (excerpt)— Emilie Townes
… there are other ways in which we sit here this morning
and i want to suggest that given the worlds we live in these days
however we are, as we sit here this morning
it’s normal
the challenge, i think for all of us is this:
what will we to do with the fullness and incompleteness of what we have
brought to this time and place
as we remember that we are in a world
that we have helped make
that needs a new, or perhaps ancient vision
molded by justice and peace
rather than winning and losing …
i’m talking about what we call in christian ethics, the everydayness of
moral acts
it’s what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than
those grand moments of righteous indignation and action
the everydayness of listening closely when folks talk or don’t talk to hear
what they are saying
the everydayness of taking some time, however short or long, to refresh us
through prayer or meditation
the everydayness of speaking to folks and actually meaning whatever it is
that is coming out of our mouths
the everydayness of being a presence in people’s lives
the everydayness of designing a class session or lecture or reading or
writing or thinking
the everydayness of sharing a meal
the everydayness of facing heartache and disappointment
the everydayness of joy and laughter
the everydayness of facing people who expect us to lead them somewhere
or at least point them in the right direction and walk with them
the everydayness of blending head and heart
the everydayness of getting up and trying one more time to get our living
right
it is in this everydayness that “we the people” are formed
and we, the people of faith, live and must witness to a justice wrapped in
a love that will not let us go
and a peace that is simply too ornery to give up on us
won’t you join in this celebration?


Guest House — Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.  


Questions to consider, themes from Jeremiah and Luke:

  • What sort of privileges, status or power do you hold or inhabit? Which ones were you born into and which ones did you earn or achieve?
  • How is your life segregated, so you spend your time with people like yourself?
  • When and how do you spend time with people different from yourself?
  • How do attributes of power, privilege, and status allow or interrupt your ability to make a difference?
  • Who is someone, holding a position of status and authority and power, whom you admire as a role model?
  • When have you sat down with people different from yourself to eat together? What was it like? How was it awkward or enlightening?
  • When have you prepared the meal for others different from yourself?
  • When have you been fed by others with different social identities than yourself?

On Privilege, Positions & Power

It is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble. — Proverbs 25:7

That the people in her particular village were ‘the most marginalized,’ and often those furthest from her own milieu of ‘incredible social privilege’ was what set her apart. — Dr Jonathan Jacobs (about socialite Judith Peabody)

Having power and wealth is not inherently evil; it is how one uses these privileges that matters most to God. Is power used to oppress others or to liberate them? Is wealth hoarded only for self-gain or shared with those who have so little? When the human family works together on behalf of everyone, life improves for all, and God is pleased. — Lisa Davison

When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable. — Madeleine L’Engle

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone–but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. — Frank Crane Do we welcome them on our terms, or with a willingness to say, “Today we are a different church because you are here in our midst, because you are part of us”? Let’s be the church, and let’s be open to the newness of what God is doing each day, the gifts brought in the person of new members, new friends, new Christians. — Kathryn Matthews

The centrality of honor in this culture teaches natives to stay always a step behind their rightful status, for it’s important that “one is not at all trying to appear or to be better than another person.” — John J. Pilch (commentary on Jewish culture in Biblical times)

Beneath all the great accomplishments of our time there is a deep current of despair. While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world. … The radical good news is that the second love [human love] is only a broken reflection of the first love [God’s limitless love] and that the first love is offered to us by a God in whom there are no shadows … — Henri Nouwen

The churches must learn humility as well as teach it. — George Bernard Shaw

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. — Thomas Merton

There are people who observe the rules of honor as we observe the stars: from a distance. — Victor Hugo

A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed. — Desmond Tutu

A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. — C.S. Lewis

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone. — C.S. Lewis

We are rarely proud when we are alone. — Voltaire

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. — Ernest Hemingway

Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. — C.G. Jung

With Whom Do We Eat?

Bread was important; in fact, where some eat and some do not eat, the kingdom is not present. — Fred Craddoc

When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist. — Dom Helder Camara

Eating, and hospitality in general, is a communion, and any meal worth attending by yourself is improved by the multiples of those with whom it is shared. — Jesse Brownerm

Hospitality is hope … If you feel hopeless, go visit your cranky uncle in elder care. Bring him flowers or a new pair of socks—nothing gives a person more hope than a new pair of socks. Then, because you’ve brought the hope, you will feel it. — Anne Lamott

Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect. — Brene Brown

Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis. — Letty M. Russell

We don’t practice hospitality to point other people to ourselves, our church, or even our beliefs. We practice hospitality to point people toward the ultimate welcome that God gives every person through Christ. — Holly Sprink

We might even go so far as to say, that the theology of Liberation can be understood only by two groupings of persons: the poor, and those who struggle for justice at their side—only by those who hunger for bread, and by those who hunger for justice in solidarity with those hungering for bread. Conversely, liberation theology is not understood, nor can it be understood, by the satiated and satisfied—by those comfortable with the status quo. — Leonardo and Clodovis Boff

When you start with an understanding that God loves everyone, justice isn’t very far behind. — Emilie M. Townes  Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, means ‘love of the stranger … banquet behavior fitting for the reign of God ought to affect dinner invitations even now. — Peluso-Verdend

Love … is not something you feel; it is something you do … Love seeks the well-being of others and is embodied in concrete efforts in their behalf. — Francis Taylor Gench

Jesus tells us to surprise others by our own dinner guest list, and prepare for a “great” time, too. Perhaps we, too, will come to understand a little better the meaning of true fulfillment and joy. — Kathryn Matthews

He comes as a guest to the feast of existence, and knows that what matters is not how much he inherits but how he behaves at the feast, and what people remember and love him for. — Boris Pasternak

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person. Henri Nouwen has described it as receiving the stranger on his own terms, and asserts that it can be offered only by those who ‘have found the center of their lives in their own hearts.’ — Kathleen Norris

Reflections on baptism and new life: themes for this Sunday’s baptismal sacrament

For some reason, there was something painful for me about the idea of being loved completely apart from what I do or do not do. It’s perhaps all we really want in life, and yet the prospect of it, stung. I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it only highlighted how much being loved apart from what we do or don’t do is so rarely something we ever encounter. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo. ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Sunday’s texts for baptism:

Questions to consider:

  • What am I trying to control, all by myself, that I could give over to a love bigger than me? (We are partners in transformation, but we cannot do it alone.)
  • Of what must I let go— in order to allow love to simply hold me and cherish me— just as I am?
  • What part of my life, my self, my past needs to die away to make space and room for new growth, new identity, new connection?
  • What does it mean to be adopted into this messy-but-beloved, sometimes-healthy, trying-to-be-holistic, always-imperfect-human faith community?
  • What am I doing now that I think is obligatory in order to be worthy of love and grace? What if I chose to do these things, knowing I cannot earn love and grace? (Holy love and grace are gifts, freely given.)
  • What do I think needs to be forgiven in myself?

Blessing prior to Mikveh or Jewish ritual cleansing bath:

Barukh ata Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah.

Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion.

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל הַטְבִילָה


What was in that candle’s light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?
Come back, my Friend!
The form of our love is not a created form.

Nothing can help me but the Beauty.
There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something from Your soul.
I drank water from Your Spring
and felt the current take me.
— Rumi

The energies of mindfulness, concentration and insight can liberate us from our anxiety and worries. We let go of the past and the future, and come in touch with the wonders of the present. — Thich Nhat Hanh

On Baptism

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. — Book of Common Prayer

The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God.― Hans Urs von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child
 

It is a symbol of your new life …. We bury the ‘old life’ and we rise to walk in a ‘new life’. Baptism is like a wedding ring, it is the outward symbol of the commitment you made in your heart, a commitment that has to be followed through and lived out on a daily basis. … It’s meant to show the world that that you love, trust, and have put your hope in Christ. — Hillsong International

Accept the past as the past and realize that each new day you are a new person who doesn’t need to carry old baggage into the new day with you. … For example, if ever I feel foolish or guilty about something I’ve done, I learn from it and attempt to do better the next time. Shame or guilt serves no one. Such feelings actually keep us down, often lowering the vibrations of those around us, as well. Living in the present moment is the recurring baptism of the soul, forever purifying every new day with a new you. ― Alaric Hutchinson, Living Peace

Once you have grace, you are free. — Thomas Merton

We have to learn to live our life as a human being deeply. We need to live each breath deeply so that we have peace, joy and freedom as we breathe. — Thich Nhat Hanh

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.  ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Simple, powerful, poignant, the Sign of the Cross is a mnemonic device like the Mass, in which we sit down to table with one another and remember the Last Supper, or a baptism, where we remember John the Baptist’s brawny arm pouring some of the Jordan River over Christ. So we remember the central miracle and paradox of the faith that binds us each to each: that we believe, against all evidence and sense, in life and love and light, in the victory of those things over death and evil and darkness. ― Brian Doyle, Credo

Baptism is one of those more effective rites that come in with the new covenant … And the fact that baptism does the miraculous work of binding diverse flesh into one body means that baptism is one of the rites that effects the social salvation of humanity. ― Peter Leithart

You know the one thing I love most about the Baptism of our Lord text is not just that God the Father says “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased”, but that God says this – before Jesus had really done anything. Think about that.  God did not say “this is my son in whom I am well pleased because he has proved to me that he deserves it, he has quiet time with me each morning and always reads his Torah and because boy can he heal a leper.”  Nope. As far as we know Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet and he was called beloved …That’s God for you. … Because in your own baptisms, God proclaims that in you his beloved children, God is also well pleased. In the waters of your baptism, God claimed and named you as God’s own. Whether it was as an infant or a youth or an adult. Whether your baptism happened in a church you can’t even remember, or in a river at Summer Camp or in a church you love or one that no longer allows you to take communion, your baptism, not matter the circumstance, was most certainly an act of God upon you. Not an act of faith that you or someone else was giving to God. Baptism, is God’s act of Gospel Love. And as is my tradition whenever preaching about baptism, here’s my standard offer: if you have never been baptized, we have water…right here, plenty of it. Come find me during open space and we’ll do it right now because you already belong to God. You are already God’s beloved … That feels like the kind of love that heaven can’t contain  … A love that is yours quite apart from what you do or don’t do … Beloved. Be loved. Just sit and be loved. Even if it hurts.  Just sit and be loved and be the beloved of God. For this is what pleases him.  — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness. ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

I don’t know of any greater baptismal challenges that you and I face than to seek, serve and love Christ in all persons; and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being.  As Chris Keating reminds us, “Jesus’ baptism leads him straight to the world’s misery.”  If the fact that Jesus’ baptism leads him, and each of us as well, straight to the world’s misery and tragedies doesn’t cause you to rethink the meaning of your baptism, then I don’t know what will.  — Bob Burton

Bath (excerpt) — Stuart Dybek
(full text at this link)

She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs
until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain
and when his Haloed hair bursts forth into foam
he holds his nose and dunks beneath the soapy gloom
ears flooding with signals …

He swipes abstractions in the sweat, finger painting night
while Busha towels his hair
as if reviving a drowned sailor
the sea has graciously returned.
Don’t worry, Busha, your grandson is clean
for Saturday night: ears, navel, nails, inspected,
teeth unstained, cleansed as baptism
leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep
—as you instruct him—
with the angels,
cleaner than he’ll ever be again.

Reflection on thin places, climbing & coming down from summits, and transfiguration (themes from Luke)

One way or another, we find ourselves standing in the presence of holiness. In thin places … sometimes beautiful, stunning, awe-inspiring … sometimes terrible and life-changing. Thin places are locations or experiences, in the world, when heaven touches earth. They are places and times in which we cannot stay or linger or make our homes … because they exist as both ephemeral and eternal. In such places and times, what will we leave behind?  And what will we bring with us back into our daily living? — Rev Gail

That when glory shines,
we will bring it back with us
all the way, all the way, all the way down. — Jan Richardson

On Thin Places, High Places

Thin places are transparent places or moments, set apart by the quality of the sunlight in them, or the shadows, or the silence, or the sounds—see how many variations there are?  What they have in common is their luminosity, the way they light an opening between this world and another … It works to make you more aware of the thin veil between apparent reality and deeper reality. It works to pull aside the veil for just a moment, so you can see through. Sometimes I know I’m in a thin place because it feels like the floor just dropped two or three levels beneath my feet and set me down in a deeper place. They can open up just about anywhere … But thin places aren’t always lovely places, and they’re not always outdoors. Hospital rooms can be thin places. So can emergency rooms and jail cells. A thin place is any place that drops you down to where you know you’re in the presence of the Really Real—the Most Real—God, if you insist. — Barbara Brown Taylor

To put it simply: the Holy Spirit bothers us … moves us … makes us walk … And we are like Peter at the Transfiguration: ‘Ah, how wonderful it is to be here like this, all together!’ … But don’t bother us. We want the Holy Spirit to doze off … we want to domesticate the Holy Spirit. And that’s no good. because he is God, he is that wind which comes and goes and you don’t know where. He is the power of God, he is the one who gives us consolation and strength to move forward. But: to move forward! And this bothers us. It’s so much nicer to be comfortable. ― Pope Francis, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday

On Climbing & Coming Down Again

I truly believe that there is no greater metaphor for life than climbing mountains. The mountains have a way of stripping the mind down to its basic senses and forcing us to live in the moment.  In order to do this we must respect everything around us and maintain balance. If you guys truly value your lives, then you must live them to the fullest. We have planned this trip for quite some time and have known from the beginning that it would be dangerous. To turn back now is useless. To turn back in the face of a fierce storm or worsening conditions is obvious. We must expect the worst and hope for the best. If we do not summit because we make the decision to turn back, then we will have learned yet another lesson. If we do not summit because we did not try, then we will learn nothing. I hope we all realize that if we believe mountaineering is about getting to the top of mountains, then we are treading a path of foolery. Mountaineering is about everything BUT getting to the top. It is about teamwork, courage, fortitude, good decision making, determination, etc. Getting to the top is merely the culmination of effort and circumstance. — Mountaineer, not attributed.

We should refuse none of the thousands and one joys that the mountains offer us at every turn. We should brush nothing aside, set no restrictions. We should experience hunger and thirst, be able to go fast, but also to go slowly and to contemplate. — Gaston Rébuffat

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end. — Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

The aim of the mountaineer, if he wishes to be an artist in the full sense of word, is neither escape nor “the search for the absolute” as some have claimed, but rather seek that place where “the mystic remains silent and the poets start to speak towards men”. — Bernard Amy

The … trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don’t dare, they’re crazy because they do. — Lisa Morgan

Just a reminder – a guidebook is no substitute for skill, experience, judgement and lots of tension. — Charlie Fowler

It’s a round trip. Getting to the summit is optional, getting down is mandatory. — Ed Viesturs

Definition: Alpinism is the art of going through the mountains confronting the greatest dangers with the biggest of cares. What we call art here, is the application of a knowledge to an action. — René Daumal

As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered. I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was. — Warren Harding

Trying to connect to the moment, that move, that breath – this is what I have been striving for; finding the oneness that can exist with all the things around and inside me. — Ron Kauk

Relaxation, acceptance, and keeping open mind are key. … If I can’t do a move I merely accept that I haven’t discovered the right sequence… I will try to do it … different ways … until I find something that does work. That’s what I mean by keeping an open mind. — Lynn Hill

If there’s only one thing I would like to say, this is: enjoy the process. Don’t worry about the result. Climbing must be fun. — Marc Le Menestrel

In the Presence of Holiness

What can we say beyond “Wow”, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. — Anne Lamott

Love enables us to see things that those who are without love cannot see. — Thich Nhat Hanh

An awake heart is like a sky that pours light. — Hafiz

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. — Thomas Merton

Show us the glory in the grey. — George MacLeod

I understood that I was being shown the future: shards of what would come to be. Often, I cried out for the pain of it. But other times, I was comforted, because I saw, for an instant, the pattern of the whole. — Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord

…he liked his transcendence out in plain sight where he could keep an eye on it — say, in a nice stained-glass window — not woven through the fabric of life like gold threads through a brocade. — Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God. — Irenaeus

Fortunately, the Bible I set out to learn and love rewarded me with another way of approaching God, a way that trusts the union of spirit and flesh as much as it trusts the world to be a place of encounter with God. — Barbara Brown Taylor

Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come. — Franz Kafka

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance–for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light….Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? — Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

And these Things, which live by perishing,
know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within – oh endlessly – within us! Whoever we may be at last.
Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn’t it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Commentary on the Transfiguration: Ascending and Coming Down Again



If the great spiritual journey is to have any meaning whatsoever in our times, we, you and I, too, will have to wade into the throngs of hurting people on every plain of this planet, listening, listening, listening to the prophet Jesus, and exposing to people the underlying causes of all the wounding in this world and healing what we touch. — Joan Chittister

A transfiguration, a morphing, a realization had to take place, even in Jesus, before he became the Anointed One in which everything else cohered and held together (see Colossians, Ephesians, and the prologue to John’s Gospel). The resurrected Jesus is the Christ. The Risen Christ is Jesus but also bigger and beyond Jesus’ individual form and lifetime … But it is one universe and all within it is transmuted and transformed by the glory of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is that the Christ is here—and always was! But now we have a story that allows us to imagine it just might be true. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He became the universal omnipresent Body of Christ. That’s why the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth. (Revelation 21:1), not an escape from earth. We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. What you choose now is exactly what you choose to be forever. God will not disappoint you. — Richard Rohr

The beauty that emerges from woundedness is a beauty infused with feeling; a beauty different from the beauty of landscape and the cold perfect form. This is a beauty that has suffered its way through the ache of desolation until the words or music emerged to equal the hunger and desperation at its heart. It must also be said that not all woundedness succeeds in finding its way through to beauty of form. Most woundedness remains hidden, lost inside forgotten silence. Indeed, in every life there is some wound that continues to weep secretly, even after years of attempted healing. Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place. ― John O’Donohue

The new heavens and the new earth are not replacements for the old ones; they are transfigurations of them. The redeemed order is not the created order forsaken; it is the created order – all of it – raised and glorified. ― Robert Farrar Capon

Reflections on recognizing and using spiritual gifts and meditation on Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

What works of wonder can we accomplish as individuals and as local [faith communities] that turn despair into hope, hatred into love, and violence into healing? Do you feel equal to the task? If not, what do you need? What unseen power lies within us that we do not recognize? What are your gifts? What gifts do you discern within your [faith  community] and how is God calling you to transform the world around you?— Rev Kathryn Matthews (excerpt, UCC Sermon Seeds)

You have no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these. So I’ve brought you a mirror. Look at yourself and remember me. ― Rumi

Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you
shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you
to the heavens
Become nothing,
And He’ll turn you into everything.
― Jalal Ad-Din Rumi 

There is a kind of vegetable in Vietnam called he (pronounced “hey”). It belongs to the onion family and looks like a scallion, and it is very good in soup. The more you cut the he plants at the base, the more they grow. If you don’t cut them they won’t grow very much. But if you cut them often, right at the base of the stalk, they grow bigger and bigger. This is also true of the practice of dana [giving of self and spiritual gifts … an essential Buddhist practice]. If you give and continue to give, you become richer and richer all the time, richer in terms of happiness and well-being. This may seem strange but it is always true. — Thich Nhat Hahn, Plum Village

Recognizing and Using Our Gifts

A Recipe for Creativity (based on prompts from Sula by Toni Morrison) — Excerpt from a reflection by Alex Posen

  1. Start with a curious mind and an open heart
  2. An unbiased hunger for studying the world
  3. Compassionate interest in experiences beyond oneself
  4. Attentiveness to all the dynamics, properties, qualities and details that you encounter
  5. You will know if you are on the right track if you can find inspiration anywhere and in anything
  6. Remember that you are building an archive of observations
  7. Metaphoric thinking. Metaphors are the tools of translation for all that you see, hear and feel. Metaphors give us words and ideas with which to hold and define our observations
  8. Last but not least, learn some skills, so that you can easily use your understanding to create and express your heart’s desire.

What gifts have I received? — Adapted from commentary by Curtis Thomas:

What gifts have I received? Answer these questions:

  1. What can I accomplish with my present abilities?
  2. What type of service am I personally drawn to?
  3. What have I been educated or trained to do?
  4. What gifts do my [spiritual] leaders think that I possess?
  5. What does my family (who should know me best) think that my gifts are?
  6. What specific needs are there in the church body [faith community and larger community]?
  7. Have I attempted to use a gift in a certain area and have regularly failed?
  8. When have I met with success in attempting to exercise a gift or meet a need in the body [community]?
  9. Have I asked my closest friends to honestly help assess where I could most successfully serve?

So we, in our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. As an individual, I participate in that wholeness, and that is holiness. That’s the only holiness we’ll ever know. It’s not my private holiness; it’s our connectedness together … Many call this state of consciousness the True Self. We have to fall through the little events of our life into this True Self. We have to fall through our life situation into The One Great Life. We have to fall through our identification with our small mind into the Great Mind of Christ … (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). We have to fall through our individual body experience into the One Spirit (see Ephesians 4:4-5), through what is manifest into the Unmanifest. There are many names and descriptions for this consciousness, for example, Being itself, “the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22), the Father, or if you were raised Catholic or Orthodox, the arms of Mary. We are always and only grabbing for images and metaphors, but the important thing is the experience of union itself. — Richard Rohr

Gifts of the Spirit

… we don’t find our gift through self-examination and introspection and then find ways to express it. Instead, we love one another, serve one another, help one another, and in so doing we see how God has equipped us to do so. ― Russell D. Moore

We must approach our meditation realizing that ‘grace,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘faith’ are not permanent inalienable possessions which we gain by our efforts and retain as though by right, provided that we behave ourselves. They are constantly renewed gifts. The life of grace in our hearts is renewed from moment to moment, directly and personally by God in his love for us. ― Thomas Merton

God never loses sight of the treasure which He has placed in our earthen vessels. ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

There is no greater gift than realizing the constant presence of the Divine and His Absolute Power to create and restore all things. ― Marta Mrotek

The only thing that will work is Spirit, the universal donor. It was all going to be an inside job…It was recognizing my truth, the truth of who I am. Not who I am, but whose I am.— Anne Lamott

There are spiritual gifts like mercy, faith, or generosity that enable people to set the standard, so to speak. But just because you don’t have that spiritual gift doesn’t mean you aren’t held to any standard at all. Even if you aren’t gifted in that way, you’re still called to live mercifully, faithfully, and generously. You might not set the standard, but you need to meet the standard. There is a baseline that all of us are called to. When the opportunity presents itself, we need to show mercy, exercise faith, and give generously.  ― Mark Batterson

Deep in our bones lies an intuition that we arrive here carrying a bundle of gifts to offer to the community. Over time, these gifts are meant to be seen, developed, and called into the village at times of need. To feel valued for the gifts with which we are born affirms our worth and dignity. In a sense, it is a form of spiritual employment – simply being who we are confirms our place in the village. That is one of the fundamental understanding about gifts: we can only offer them by being ourselves fully. Gifts are a consequence of authenticity; when we are being true to our natures, the gifts can emerge. ― Francis Weller

Nowhere in Scripture do we have the slightest hint that God’s people are to volunteer. Rather, the Scriptures indicate that the use of our gifts should be considered a joyful responsibility. — Curtis Thomas

Gifts for the common good (excerpt) — Rev Kathryn Matthews
… Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr … is a hero, an icon, really, a name that comes to mind when someone asks, “Does God still send us prophets?” His martyrdom only strengthens our confidence that this indeed was a man sent from God, showered with gifts, who will be remembered for his eloquent words, his courageous deeds, and his deep and abiding commitment to non-violence as the ultimate form of Christian resistance to injustice.

Dr. King was faithful to the ideal, the commitment to non-violent resistance … even in the face of police dogs with snarling teeth and the taunts of “nice, Christian” Americans … who reacted angrily and self-righteously when a people demanded justice too long delayed. Justice too long delayed, Dr. King said, is justice denied.

Renewing our own commitment

Still, as each year goes by and we remember Dr. King with our programs and sermons and singing and even our renewed commitment to justice for all of God’s children, it seems to me that it’s rather tempting to lift up this prophet, high above us, and make him so singular or special that we miss the whole point. I see the timing of Dr. King’s birthday and our communal observance as very fortunate: what better way to begin a new year that to renew our own commitment to the vision of Jesus, who practiced compassion and justice throughout his life? …

Everyday works of wonder 

I want to believe that Dr. King, while he was a great and gifted man, a prophet even, did things that we can do, too, with the gifts that God has given us. I do believe that there are everyday gifted people who are responding to human need, using the gifts God has given them — because everything we have, Paul says earlier in his letter, is something we have received—using those gifts to meet human need, to work for a better and more beautiful and more just world, to speak for those who have no voice or, better, to make sure the voiceless are heard, to stand with those who are stepped on and pushed out, to walk with those who are making their way to a better day. 

Works of wonder, yes, and yet I cannot emphasize enough how ordinary and everyday these efforts are. Whether we are called to offer up our lives for the gospel, or to live that gospel day in or day out, year in and year out, in everyday acts of compassion and justice, we are using those abundant gifts, just as God intended, and on God’s own timetable, for the building up of the reign of God.

Reflections on vows, theme from Book of Ruth

My whole life changed when I decided not just what I’d like to do, but when I decided who I was committed to being and having in my life. — Tony Robbins
The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows
Shu jo mu hen sei gan do. Bon no mu jin sei gan dan.
Ho mon mu ryo sei gan gaku. Butsu do mu jo sei gan jo.
Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to end them all.
The Dharma Gates are infinite; I vow to enter them all.
The Buddha Way is unexcelled; I vow to attain it completely.

The Road to Emmaus (excerpt) —  Spencer Reece
But if I get nothing right,
I must try to get a nuance of our friendship
and his sponsorship right—
we were bound, bound by a vow, a vow of attention
(there are many causes for attention, among them redemption).
Our attention concerned the spirit,
although that sounds pious and we were not so pious,
we were more selfish, more human than pious.
What else can I say?
I needed a liberator
and liberators can come in some unexpected guises.
I may never wholly explain the two of us.
Perhaps the spirit defies the human mind …

On Making & Keeping Vows

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. — Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Vows are powerful things … They set things in motion. ― John C. Wright, Orphans of Chaos

Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come. ― Rumi

We want to renew our vows with our people. We want to reconnect with our people. We want to get our people excited again. — Cyril Ramaphosa

Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us. Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and we support each other. I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative. ― David Cameron

It was a vow we made those long years ago. Neither of us spoke of it afterwards, but it hung between us like a spider web, fragile and easy to break, but danged hard to get shed of once the threads took hold. ― Cassie Dandridge Selleck, The Pecan Man

Riotous madness, To be entangled with those mouth-made vows, Which break themselves in swearing! ― William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

There was something of relative freedom in that feudal gesture of the vow; for no man asks vows from slaves …  ― G.K. Chesterton

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. ― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Vows made in storms are forgotten in calm. — Thomas Fuller

Blind obedience is itself an abuse of human morality. It is a misuse of the human soul in the name of religious commitment. It is a sin against individual conscience. It makes moral children of the adults from whom moral agency is required. It makes a vow, which is meant to require religious figures to listen always to the law of God, beholden first to the laws of very human organizations in the person of very human authorities. It is a law that … can never substitute for personal morality. ― Joan D. Chittister

On Wedding Vows

The papers say we’re married, but it’s the heart that writes the love story. ― Anthony Liccione

With the Mother Earth and Father Sun here to witness I give you my everlasting oath. My body is created of this Earth and belongs to it, but my soul belongs only to you. Even when this body succumbs and fades, my soul will continue to look after you even unto the next life, and the next, forever. ― Kazusa Takashima, Wild Rock

Blood of my Blood … and bone of my bone. You carry me within ye … and ye canna leave me now, no matter what happens, You are mine, always, if ye will it or no, if ye want me or nay. Mine, and I wilna let ye go. ― Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

Among men and women, those in love do not always announce themselves with declarations and vows. But they are the ones who weep when you’re gone. Who miss you every single night, especially when the sky is so deep and beautiful, and the ground so very cold. — Alice Hoffman

The forsaking of all others is a keeping of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken. The marriage vow unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the community in a vow of … responsibility toward all others. ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth”

Two people fall in love, and decide to see if their love might stand up over time, if there might be enough grace and forgiveness and memory lapses to help the whole shebang hang together. — Anne Lamott