Soul Rain ... Kelli Sorg

a little rain refreshes the soul

Tag: rhythm of life

Clearing the mist #asburyu #kentucky

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As I sit here at the Asbury University Equine Program barn this morning, I can see Harold mowing hay way over in the far field.  He says it’s his favorite thing to do even though the college powers that be would rather him spend his time in more administrative ways. That’s a common theme with pastors, too. You have no idea how many of them love to cut the grass. In a life full of unresolved stress, tension and grief, when you look back over a freshly cut lawn, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

It’s still early enough that the mist is still hanging heavy over the river. The palisades are still covered with trees and green leaves so the path of the river isn’t as easy to see as it is in other seasons. Somehow the mist gets caught in the valley formed by the river and you can see its bending and twisting all the way to the horizon, where it bends and twists on itself and finally moves away behind a hillside.

Atlas, the big German Shepherd-Husky mix, just came and settled down at my feet with a sigh. I would guess that all he has to complain about is that the cats ate all their breakfast before he could finish it off for them. Across the pastures, the horses are all moving slowly toward the gates. It’s breakfast time for them, too.

It seems idyllic here. This farm cared for with love and respect, these horses and college students made sacred in their ordinary lives, even the land itself seems to be tilted upward along the edges, cupped in the palm of God’s hand. And yet, outside the boundaries of these stone walls, gravel roads and painted fences, the world moves quickly on. Politics, economics, cultural tension, financial woes, poverty, war and disease are having their field day, too. Just because we can’t hear the clamor from here doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

So how do we live in this world as ‘resident aliens’ (Hauerwas and Willimon), as if ‘this world is not my home/ I’m just a-passing through,’ like the old song says? Or as Jesus prays in John 17:14-15, how do we live in this world and not be of it?  How are we to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2) into people who are conformed to Christ instead of shaped by hurt, grief and woundedness?

There are three options. One, pull the farm gate shut permanently, lock ourselves in and ignore everything else. Two, go to the other extreme, lock the farm gate shut permanently but with us on the other side of it, living our lives as if this sanctuary didn’t exist or never existed. There has to be a third way, just as there is a third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is in considering the Holy Spirit, the real-time action of God at work in the world, that we can come to terms with the delicate balance between embrace and exclusion (Volf).

The key, I think is to understand that life is a both/and proposition, not an either/or choice. We have to learn to hold things lightly and to accept what we’re given.  What’s happening around me right now is a great example. It’s a beautiful, cool, September morning in the rolling hills of Kentucky bluegrass country. The sky is that cloudless Kentucky blue, clear and clean. The day gets started slowly around here so there is time to water the roses and write in my journal in the stillness of birdsong and the quiet that comes ‘dripping slow.’ But about 15 minutes ago, as I contemplated the mist on the river, someone decided to use the tractor for some chore around the other side of the barn from where I’m sitting. It’s loud, intrusive and well, irritating.

Yet, just as I write this, David, the farm manager comes around the other side of the barn on the tractor and I realize he is dragging the arena surfaces for today, so they’ll be flat, even and ready for all the folks that will come here to ride and experience a little of God’s creation. That’s what we’re here for – to connect God the Creator with his creation – human, equine, canine or feline. There are certain things that have to be done at certain times. Learning to accept those divine rhythms is a discipline that serves us well in places where we don’t have any control over the brokenness and just plain evil that exists in the world around us. That’s the point of spiritual formation or spiritual discipline. It’s not to make us miserable at God’s random whim. Through creation and creatures, God gently teaches us that He is God and we are not. That there is a rhythm, a hierarchy and a pattern, if we’ll sit still long enough to listen and begin to understand.

That hierarchical structure doesn’t take away from the experience of peace. It’s not an excuse for us to lord our human power over each other or the rest of creation in violent, degrading ways. In the time it’s taken me to finish these paragraphs, David has finished with the tractor and all is quiet again. I could have packed up my stuff and gone away when the tractor started up. By waiting (never an easy task), the sense of serenity has been restored. Someone else knew what had to be done (prepping the arenas) and i didn’t stomp off mad about something I couldn’t control.

So what are the lessons from this morning’s meditation?

  • God is God and I am not. (thank heavens)
  • Hold experiences and people lightly. As my grandmother Barkley would say: this too shall pass.
  • Being controlled by strong emotions and indulging our feelings, positive or negative, means that we make quick, rash decisions that leave us hungover and ill-prepared for the next right thing.

The mist has burned away now. The landscape has taken on its daytime look; horses are being led or ridden in for a day’s work; arenas are prepped and ready, planting beds watered, barns and classrooms swept and straightened. Physical and facility preparations have been made. So too must we prepare our hearts and spirits by asking for grace, expecting God to show up and saying thanks when we reflect on the gifts we have been given – gifts of patience, understanding, grace and freedom.

Ancient-Future Monasticism – A new kind of home

In the Dark Ages of western Europe, after the fall of the holy Roman Empire, history tells us that the vital facets of human community were preserved within the monastic walls of Christian communities that networked across the lawless lands. Monasteries and convents across Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and even into the Eastern Orthodox world provided havens of protection, learning, technology and, most importantly, Christian liturgy and learning.

With the perfectly tuned vision of hindsight, we can see that monasticism, the excesses of Roman Catholicism and the prescribed austerity of monastic life proved to be yet another breeding ground for greed, selfishness and ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. Despite the failures of medieval monasticism, at its best, it can provide a model for our spiritual practice in the modern and post-modern age.

As in the waning years of the authority and influence of the pax romana, western culture today seems to be ‘post-everything’: post-modern, post-Christendom, post-natal (separated from that which gave us birth) and in some ways, teetering on being post-mortem (past the vitality of life itself). We seem to be cast adrift from the way things used to be, cut off from the moorings that once gave us hope and meaning and purpose. Those moorings of money, culture, family bonds and all the other systems in which we placed our trust have proved fleeting, capricious and untrustworthy.

The church in our time has become a fountainhead of meaningless platitudes that have proven to be cheap band-aids laid on the bleeding sores of life as we know it.  Culture is more and more fragmented as the world digs into a battlefield no less real that the trench warfare of World War One, only in our time the trenches have been dug into the channels of our hearts. Governments, small and large, urban and rural, have been sacrificed on the altar of democracy. We are faced with a democratic system that is characterized by the smoky back room realization that, within a skewed democratic system, there is money to be made.

In the face of these realities, the safest reaction seems to be to build a fortress, to throw up thick walls behind which we can retreat and sing the songs of Zion until somehow, somewhere hope appears.

There is hope today just as there was hope in medieval Europe, just as there has been hope from the beginning of time.  It is a hope that calls us to worshipful work, to the building of a community that is defined by the One who does the calling, the One who does the building, the One who began the creation in the first place. We are part of a story, not a fable, not a moralistic tale, but a story that began when time itself began and a story that has no end. Each of us have vital part to play, a part that only we can offer and the gift of days and life and breath to be part of this ongoing narrative that truly is the hope of the world.

Monasticism, at its best, has important structure and strategic purpose that we can appropriate:

  1. The monastery or religious house was the center of the community. It provided religious instruction, disciplines, learning, worship and protection.
  2. The monastery practiced hospitality as a spiritual discipline – hospitals, hostels, hotels and restaurants all began as practical theology lived out in the world to follow the simple commands of Jesus – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, put the lonely in families, be the Good Samaritan.
  3. In historic times of chaos, the monastery was the place where learning was preserved and passed on. The Bible itself, before the printing press, was preserved through monks that copied the sacred text by hand and with great artistic skill. The preservation and education of musical greatness took place within the church. Art, music, literature, medicine, architecture, scientific discovery and technological advancement was centered in the system of religious houses that spread across eastern and western Europe and then across the globe.
  4. These religious houses, at their best, were the epitome of the ‘both/and’. They were internally focused on a life of contemplation, prayer and worship. They were literally dedicated – as carved into the novices’ gate at Kentucky’s Abbey of Gethsemani – to “God Alone”.  At the same time, they were externally focused in lives of action to exist for the good of the community that surrounded them – to feed, educate, heal, shelter, advise and protect, not with the weapons of violence, fear and domination but with the whole armor of God. (Ephesians 6:13ff)

 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

What can this ‘new monasticism’ look like as a spur to congregational revitalization?  It is incumbent on some of us to not focus solely on new church plants, on new places but on the revitalization, the recapturing of the existing church as the center of faith and life.

What are the issues facing our  surrounding communities that God is calling us to impact?

  1. Economic depression, lack of job opportunities
  2. Poverty level and concurrent drug/alcohol abuse
  3. Aging population, needs of caregivers and care receivers.
  4. Quality of educational delivery K-college. Economic and governmental stresses on educators and educational administration.
  5. Preservation of fabric of church building and commitments – what would it take to set up a rotating three-year endowment that would protect building, parsonage and missional commitments?

The Rhythm of Life: Action – contemplation model that characterizes the church, its members and its constituencies. Life lived in a rhythm of seasons structured by day, week, month, year, 3 year rotation, 10 year rotation. What could that look like if we really practiced a rhythm of work and play, effort and Sabbath??

 

Good Work

Alban – Building Up Congregations and Their Leaders. (Click link to take you to the article)

This is a great article for a Monday morning.  Take a few minutes to breathe in God’s grace and focus on the sabbath rhythm of life with God.  When we live in that rhythm even breathing gets easier.

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