Following Jesus Christ 3

This is the third post in this series. It contains what I am sending to my high school classmates as we celebrate 55 years as graduates. Although this is written for mostly Christians, its truth is available to all. The Spirit of Christ that I will refer to below is available to all. Gandhi was never a traditional Christian, but he certainly admired Jesus. Gandhi’s life was marked by some of the same characteristics that can be seen in Jesus–and one was the way of gentleness, which is a pathway into the presence of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle; they shall
have the earth for their possession.”
(Matthew 5:5)

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn
from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
(Matthew 11:29)

In my teaching, I have insisted that way too many people “believe” in Jesus, but don’t “follow” him. And sometimes I fall into that crowd. But that does not mean we all can’t do better. We can learn gentleness and humility from Jesus. Again, I say—read the gospels.

The character of Jesus is marked by patience, colored with gentleness. Does Jesus ever get angry? Well, yes, we can see that from time to time. A gentle person can get angry when the situation calls for that kind of confrontation. But for followers of Jesus, Christ-like gentleness is never far beneath the surface.

In looking out at today’s America (and the world), I see that we are flooded with anger, violence, and hatred. Even some Christians, sadly, are more characterized by a bullishness and rage than they are Christ-like gentleness.

As followers of Jesus, our character should mirror Christ’s gentleness. That is possible because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Listen to what characterizes the Spirit work in our lives (hint: it does not include aggression and hatred!) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25)

Peace, LaMon

Following Jesus Christ I

This year my high school class is celebrating our reunion virtually. In fact we are celebrating it for several months. One of the ways, is that some of us have been asked to write meditations from time to time. I decided to write on following the teachings of Jesus. The theme of all of my blogs is ways or paths to experiencing the presence of God. One way is to follow the teachings of Jesus. So I will be sharing these on my blog in the months to come.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Luke and Matthew affirm that Jesus taught this to his disciples. Matthew’s version simply amplifies the plight of the poor, i.e. they are dis-spirited, crushed, without hope.

If we are to take this saying of Jesus seriously, what must we do? Jesus could say that the poor were blessed, because he knew that his followers would care for them as much as they could. We are called to a practical compassion for the poor. We are called to individual actions of charity, but also to support programs the seek to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

This becomes clear in Matthew 25 where the peoples of the world are judged, not on what they believed, but on what they did. The sheep—those on the right of the Son of Man—cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the imprisoned. Because they acted this way, Jesus said they were blessed by the Father. The goats, on his left, did no such thing and they were cursed.

I honestly don’t claim to know what this all might mean in terms of eternity, but this I know: people following the teachings of Jesus will be more interested in blessing the poor than in shaming or blaming them. We are called to compassion.

Peace, LaMon

Getting Through the Pandemic and Other Troubling Times

My advice is simple: holy habits, daily religious or spiritual exercises. I wrote briefly on this some months ago, but felt encouraged to write in more detail.

What do I do each day as part of my spiritual routine?

First, I light a little candle and sing a short chorus or song. No one would want to hear me!

Then I use a bit of liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy is a prayer that I make my own. Right now this is what I am praying; “Lord Jesus, be with us for morning has dawned and the day has come. Be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of you love. Amen.” Those familiar with the BCP, will recognize that I have altered a prayer for early evening for use in the mornings.

Next I read a passage of scripture from the Gospels. I use the suggestion for the day’s reading found in the BCP, but any regular structure would work as well. After reading, I begin writing in my journal. I reflect on the passage; asking questions, making comments, writing haiku, etc.

Following that I read in others books of the Bible or other spiritual readings. Right now I am reading slowly through Kahlil Gibran’s Jesus the Son of Man: His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him. These are images and thoughts by Gibran who attaches them to imagined people in the time of Jesus. Again, I make comments in my journal about what I have read.

I close my journal writing and my morning devotions with notes about the past day, about the day that is before me, and sometimes with written prayers.

In the evenings, I have a much shorter devotional time. I again begin with a bit of liturgy from the BCP. Then another reading. Presently I am in Brian Doyle’s delightful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. Then I pray for family, friends, churches I love, countries I love, and for the environment. I close with the Lord’s Prayer.

The only other element in both morning and evening periods would be short silent pauses with slow breaths in and out.

These holy habits have helped me to get through a lot in these past few months. I am not recommending that you follow in my own pattern, but if you do not have a specific daily pattern of holy habits, I encourage you to start. And if you do, I would love to hear from you about what those are.

help for each day:
enduring difficult times
with holy habits

Peace, LaMon

Gospel Reading

In my last blog I talked about there being many spiritual practices or exercises that can help us experience the presence of God or the Divine. Most of the religions in the world seek to find and follow a path or paths to God. I have found spiritual treasures in careful readings of the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, Zen writings, the Songs of Kabir, a host of poets, and, of course, the Bible. In the Hebrew scriptures, I have been especially drawn to the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

However, most significant to me has been reading the four gospels in the Christian scriptures. Some 25 years ago, a spiritual adviser encouraged me to focus my scripture reading solely on the four gospels–at least for a time. Of course, as a Christian since childhood, I had read in the gospels off and on for many years, along with all the other books in the Bible.

However, as I began to focus primarily on the life and teachings of Jesus, I was changed. Jesus became more than just the one who died on a cross and rose from the dead for the sake of our ‘salvation’. Jesus became the paradigm for how I was to interpret everything else. Jesus became the model or example for how I was to live and think. In this eye-opening understanding of Christ, my own connection with God deepened.

Of course, I read many things these days, but my pattern always includes a portion of a gospel reading. I read and then reflect and/or pray in my journals. (Unless I am determined to write a few lines in a journal, my reading can become shallow and meaningless.)

In the next few blogs I will write about other practices that connect me to God through Jesus Christ. However, if you want to try this practice, I suggest that you begin with a journal to write in and begin reading the Gospel of Luke, and next on through Mark, Matthew, and John. Then repeat and repeat and repeat. For 25 years it has not gotten old!

Images from a Contemplative Retreat

It was still dark as I walked to the guest cafeteria. The Rosemary bush was waiting:

Early morning walk                                                                                                                              Caressing the Rosemary                                                                                                                        The day’s first blessing

Later walking to the chapel to chant with the monks and praise God another blessing from Nature:

The path to worship                                                                                                                              Covered in Honeysuckle                                                                                                                      Aroma of God

I have always been blessed to experience the beauty and glory of God in Nature. It was no different at Mepkin Abbey whose beautiful grounds boarding on Cooper River afforded ample opportunities for silent meditation.

In blessed silence                                                                                                                                    I heard the presence of God–                                                                                                              Music of Nature

I came to the retreat hoping to grow in love for God and acquiring more of the compassion of Jesus. One day I walked in a labyrinth marked off by wildflowers.

In the labyrinth                                                                                                                                      Unbidden a song arose:                                                                                                                        More love to Thee

In those seven grace-filled days, I also meditated on Scripture. With the psalmist, I learned to sing my own song, “All my life I will sing to you, my Jesus.” Over and over again as I read in the Gospels, I experienced the glad-hearted kindness of Jesus.

Blessed are the kind                                                                                                                              For they are children of God                                                                                                              Kindness is divine

I was loved by God on this retreat and I returned home with more love and compassion for others–at least for a time. The ordinary world often makes compassion difficult, doesn’t it? So, my growth in love and compassion is far from complete. But in that wonderful retreat perhaps I sprouted a new blossom or two.

Trust in God’s slow work                                                                                                                      Transformation takes ages                                                                                                                    For each one of us

Addendum:

  1. As always, as you are moved, you may share this with others.
  2. If you are interested in retreats you may check out this web site: http://www.theanchorage.org.

Haiku Spirituality

This may be the last in this series of blogs on spiritual practices that can help us to sharpen the divine image within. All have been time-tested practices that have helped individuals grow spiritually. We have considered silence, journaling, holy reading (lectio divina), Gospel reading, and meditation. Today I want to affirm a newer practice that I have been doing for the past few years. It is composing haiku.

I write haiku for two reasons. First, it is fun. Yes, spiritual practices or disciplines do not have to be onerous. At least some of them can be fun and bring joy.

The second reason is that writing haiku helps me to be present. It helps me to be present to what I see and to what I read. For example, a day or two ago, I was walking around our neighborhood and noticed a tall weed on a hill-side. The ‘weed’ had a bushy head of yellow.  Almost immediately haiku began to work its way into my consciousness. Eventually I wrote:

Springtime on hill-side

A four-foot weedy plant grows

Topped by yellow blooms

Writing haiku about nature helps me to be present to God in God’s creation.

Writing haiku also helps me to be present to my devotional reading. I have composed at least one haiku for each of the 150 psalms and I am presently writing a haiku in connection with my Gospel reading of the day. After reading a resurrection story in Luke’s Gospel earlier this week, I wrote the following;

Disbelieving men

Wild words of foolish women

Jesus is risen

The haiku form in English is simple–lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. But straining to make your experience of being present fit that pattern is not necessary. There are times when 4 syllables instead of 5 seem to work best. However, I do try not to have more syllables than the norm.

I heartily recommend Haiku–the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines by Margaret D. McGee. This book helped me to get started with writing haiku as a spiritual practice. It is a treasure.

Haiku devotions

Demanding one’s attention

Centering on truth