Jan 29, 2010

Itchy tu-tu's and a quiet Spirit

"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
~ James 1:19

For whatever reason I've been bombarded with the temptation to believe that I need to be more exciting and contagiously extroverted. By nature I am a listener, an internal processor and a molasses style observer to this tilt-a-whirl called life; but I'm thinking of undressing myself from these traits with the same immediacy that I tear off my running gear after a 10 mile'er in late August. The bright pink fluffy tu-tu of charming wit is far more appealing that my torn blue jeans of simplicity - and that sexy scarlet lipstick of whimsical story-telling is intoxicatingly entertaining compared to the matte chapstick of deep and intimate conversations.

A couple days ago I had a job interview and had asked some of my closest friends to be in prayer for the interview. Their gorgeous responses didn't touch me right away, rather it took a couple of hours before I recognized the weight of truth behind each of their words and how, without any amount of consiousness, they spoke directly into my aforementioned temptation. Each of these amazing life-long companions of mine encouraged me with the counsel: "Be your beautiful self!" I don't need to be more exciting to win the love of others, so where did this outrageous temptation to blabber party confetti every time I open my mouth?

James tells us that we ought to be slow to speak. I just finished listening to a podcast by Pastor Francis Chan; pastor of Conerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA; that encompasses this rhythm of patient proclamations. The sermon was equally convicting and encouraging. To what level of arrogance to I come before the throneroom of God and spout off my needs like an obnoxious sprinkler drowning the sound of the gentle breeze? Chan poignantly highlights the fact that in heaven there is no space, no need for the repetitious palaver we parade around in here on earth. The only words that echoe off the emerald rainbow encircling the throne of the Lamb are as simple as this:

"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
~ Revelation 4:8

Day and night John tells us, these words from the four living creatures continuously give glory to Him who sits upon the throne. Over and over and over. No styrophome worship, just authentic reverance. If God does not care for bellowing lists of entertainment then why do I allow myself to think I need to alert others of my presence by flapping my jaws? Can I dare to believe that I am enough in my quiet, "slow to speak" ways? After all, tu-tu's are itchy and red lipstick ends up on your teeth. I'll keep my blue jeans and dwell in the encouragement of my friends to be my beautiful self while charging the throneroom of grace with silence.

Jan 15, 2010

Hey Sister Soul Sister

At 5:30 this morning I hustled out to my car, hot mug of coffee in hand and a soul filled with anticipation to spend the day with the sisters at St. Benedict Monastery. As usual I was crunched for time, but can you blame me? I mean, who really likes to hear the piercing screams of a 4:15 a.m. wake up call? When your REM is rudely interrupted by the blaring honk of the clock, five minutes of snooze are as sweet as a Ben & Jerry's ice cream sundae piled with heath, butterfinger and smothered in peanut butter. But those sinful snoozes wreaked havoc on my not so tranquil morning drive. I hardly made it out of the alley before the boiling boldness of Costa Rica's finest blend of coffee beans decided to jump ship and cannon ball all over my pants.

"F*ck dudesie." slipped from my lips...."
"Damn it I forgot I gave up swearing." bashfully trailed behind like Linus' tattered blanket. What a disheveled way to commence a day of rest at a Benedictine monastery. But my enthusiasm refused to be curbed by such minor inconveniences. Who needs a cup of perfectly brewed, well balanced coffee at pre-dawn anyway?

One hour and twenty minutes later I found myself in St. Joseph. The arms of dawn hadn't even stretched themselves yet, the town remain in peaceful dreams. To the right I could faintly make out the black iron gates of St. Benedict's Monastery, they were unlocked and opened wide to welcome in weary pilgrims. I was a pilgrim, but not your traditional pilgrim. Rather than trekking hundreds of miles for months over dusty terrain on my bare feet, I was cozied in a Mazda traveling 70 mph for a lousy 80 minutes (let the reader note the magnitude of my distress and recall that I was, in fact, up before dawn AND without coffee... ). Nonetheless, I was a pilgrim.

I was to meet Sister Cecelia at the front doors of the Gathering Place at 6:50 a.m. and from there we were to attend morning prayer together at the Oratory. Over the phone Sister Cecelia's voiced dripped with gentle beads of hospitality, so it surprised me none at all to see her small shadow framed by the towering doorway to the Gathering Place. I smiled to myself as she watched me walk to greet her... this was going to be a great day.

"This must be Ms. Brianna.", her voice was like that of a thousand heavenly saints. "Good morning Sister Cecelia. It's lovely to meet you." I whispered in response. Sister Cecelia stood at most, to my shoulders and looked up at me with bright smiling eyes. "We are so glad that you are here. Are you ready for prayer?"... Sister you have no idea...

We walked in silence to the Oratory to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours. I think I was expecting to see a barrages of black veils and turtlenecks (otherwise known as habits) because I was a little taken a back to see but a single sister adorned in the traditional habit. But her habit wasn't even black, it was all white. Sister Cecelia led me to the center of the pews and there we sat with dozens of faithful saints in complete silence. Each of the ladies looked identical. Short in stature, simple gray hair, no make-up, long skirts or slacks and beautifully aged hands worn by years of devoted service. Just then I was hit by a comical reality. What must I have looked like bouncing into this community? I towered over each of the sisters by a good six inches with my blue jeans, vibrant magenta shirt, sparkly flowered scarf and long blond curls. Why were the words; "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair and gold jewelry..." blinking like a gaudy fluorescent light outside a grungy tavern? Maybe I should have opted for a pony tail?

Morning prayer quietly ignited at 7:00 a.m. by the soft tune of a gong. It was a radiantly melodious display of humility, contrition and praise. In unison we sang through four Old Testament psalms and communally recited the Lord's Prayer. I aped the motions of Sister Cecelia in the traditional Catholic gestures I was so ignorant of.

After prayer we went to breakfast. What a treat! Just like at camp you grabbed a plastic tray, utensils and eased your way down the line of tasty choices. I laughed when I saw Fruity Pebbles and Corn Pops... nuns eat Corn Pops? I settled for oatmeal and a banana and, of course, a cup of coffee. All the while Sister Cecelia was describing each and every option I could choose from in great detail, encouraging me to take as much as my heart desired. Multiple times she asked me whether or not I wanted anything on my oatmeal. The first time I passed her offer, but the second time I said that I noticed there was a bowl of peanut butter and maybe I'd like some of that. She winked and we walked back up to the line for some pb. I figured I ought to expose my garbage and confess my ridiculous addition to peanut butter. She laughed and thought it was the craziest thing to put pb on your oatmeal. I'll save telling her of my other addictions, namely gum, for later.

Breakfast was filled with conversation, the exchanging of stories and an outlandish amount of joyful introductions. I met dozens of sisters (all who looked the same - so remembering names was completely out of the question) and listened adoringly at the way Sister Cecelia introduced me. "This is Brianna. She does photography and youth ministry and lived in California and now she is studying Theology and English at Bethel and wanted to join us for the day to see what we're all about. But when I talked with her on the phone and asked her if she wanted to visit for a day, a week or a month - she said all of those, but I'll start with just a day!". Yes, every person I met I soaked in the sweet disclaimer to my attendance. Sister Cecelia was as thrilled to have my company as I was to have hers.

We made our way through multiple clusters of Sisters and as they each slowly scattered from breakfast on to their morning services, we stopped at the last remaining group and shared in conversation for quite some time. This was my favorite group of ladies. They were spunky and eager to talk of adventures.

Sister Cecelia introduced me to another Sister, "Brianna this is Sister so and so... (Oy, the dauting task of recalling names!)... She is recovering from a broken ankle that she got when she was in Big Sur."

"That was God's way of knocking you on your ass!" Laughed another sister sitting across from me. The table exploded into laughter while I sat there with a dropped jaw and stunned ears. "Sisters swear?!!? Rad!" This made me feel so much better for the f-bomb I dropped in the car earlier!

After breakfast Sister Cecelia slipped yet another surprising nugget of a sister's un-characteristic routines by inviting me to hit up a 20-minute workout at the monastery's gym. This was an inside look I wasn't about to ignore so I grabbed the invitation with both hands and walked up the cloistered staircase with Sister to the tiny room that held 4 dodgey workout machines. Sister Cecelia picked up her book and fell into her familiar 20-minute routine on the stationary bike while I kicked off my heels and started up the treadmill. There we were. Sister Cecelia and I hanging out in the monastery workout facility - I defied the sketchy belt that flopped all over the treadmill while Sister grooved her legs to the rhythm of silence. Never would I have anticipated working out with a 70-something Sister!

Warming up our core body temp led us into a grand tour of the entire monastery. Sister Cecelia transformed into an over-enthused kindegartner proudly explaining their show and tell object in exaggerated detail. Every painting or work of art we passed by I was given the run-down of who created it, when they created it and how they created it. With every work of art Sister looked at it with gracious attentiveness that I was unable to resist the force of the intentionality by which she studied. This impecably focused tour actually spread through the remainder of the day. I was shown every room of the monastery, the spirituality center, the hermitages and the guest house. What captivated me the very most was the rich hospitality I saw in Sister Cecelia and every other tender spirit we encountered. The moment I entered the open gates of the monastery I knew that hospiatlity was going to be a prominant characteristic, I just never thought it would be so radiant, so contagious and so deeply authentic. It was truly lovely.

3:00 p.m came far too quickly and it was time for me to leave. The day completed itself with a tour of the guest house and it was there, with Sister Cecelia and Sister Rita, that I decided I had to re-visit, and not just for another afternoon, but for an overnight experience. Sister Cecelia wants to show me the artisan studio, the college's art department and lastly; because she knows how dearly I love writing and everything English, she wants to introduce me to yet another sister; Sister Mara Faulkner who apparently teaches in the English Department.... I told you the hospitality was amazing! My next visit will include more solitude and silence as well as a deeper look into the pillar by which St. Benedict's Monastery stands - Prayer/Community/Service.

Jan 14, 2010

Lord have mercy

Lord have mercy.

A catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the island
of Haiti Tuesday night. It is said that 3 million people have been effected by the quake and some hundreds of thousands of people dead. Life is crammed with the unexpected and we are often left in the wake of destruction. My heart is suffocating under the heaviness of this devastating disaster.

Dear friends, we are called to be pray'ers - if ever there was a time to intercede for the nations, very truly now is that time. Pray with me.

Jan 13, 2010

As a way to ignite my hopeful daydream of taking a pilgrimage to European Monasteries, I will be spending this Friday with the sisters at St. Benedict's Monastery in St. Joseph. I can hardly contain my excitement.

Sit perfectly still and Listen for a tune

"I feel I'm on the verge of some great truth. When I'm finally in my place. But I'm fumbling still for proof and it's cluttering my space, casting shadows on my face. And though I have the strength to move a hill, I can hardly leave my room. So I'll sit perfectly still and I'll listen for a tune." - Alexi Murdoch.

Life is a journey of seeking after truth. And truth, as sad as it is to say has become ghastly relative through the generations of broken voyagers. We want truth, we crave it. But only the sweet part. If it is hard we cast it aside. If it is inconvenient we dismiss it entirely. And if it asks anything of us, we go in search of option B. Alexi Murdoch puts it beautifully in his song 'Wait'. What is it to be in our place? For this place is the center of truth, and this truth demands that we sit perfectly still and listen, for its tune. The art of stillness and listening was not first practiced by the hands of songwriter Alexi Murdoch, rather it is an ancient tradition that has been practiced through the centuries of pilgrims looking for not just "some" great truth, but "the" great truth.

"The monastic life is, above all, a life of prayer." - Thomas Merton

I have a daydream to study under the spiritual directors in early European Monasteries. I long to embark upon my own pilgrimage in search of the stillness and listening methods that our desert fathers and mothers have been boldly and steadfastly exercising for years. The monastic life consists of four unshakeable pillars that hold together their quiet ways of living. The pillars are that of Prayer, Community, Work and Rest and it is the first that binds everything else together. I have a confession. I desperately need the grace of Christ to help me live as an intercessor. It's a clumsy journey that I cannot seem to manage with any level of consistancy and yet there quietly breathes a desire for the spiritual intimacy that comes from prayer.

As Christians prayer seems to be the first sacrament we toss in the trash like a filthy rag. Nobody wants to draw the "intercession" vocation card in their game of life. It is a 'job' that carries no amount of glamour, attention, success or fame. It is a lifestly that goes unnoticed, that is why we bury that card underneath the more attractive ones. Why do we do this? Because, as Donald Miller so creatively put it; 'Everybody wants to be somebody fancy'. So we claw our way into the pile of possiblities and clutch to the roles that guarentee the spotlight, roles that will don us with flashy costumes and make others jealous of our amazingness. And yet, prayer is countlessly highlighted througout scripture. The apostle Paul is one of the greatest intercessors I've known (not personally of course, but from what I've read at least.)

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." - Colossians 4:2

I have seen the ways life unravels when it is not tightly knitted together with prayer. If you look through the Pauline letters I encourage you to take notice of the frequency in which his prayer life is mentioned. Repeatedly Paul opens his letters with, "I have been praying for you... In all my prayers for you... We always thank God when we pray for you... We have not stopped praying for you... Devote yourselves to prayer... " And he humbly signs them asking that the church be in prayer for him as he continues his mission of spreading the truth of Christ.

Paul was first and foremost an intercessor. He drew this vocation card with joy and invites us to do the same. Had not Jesus interceded on Peter's, his faith would have miserably failed. Often times Jesus withdrew from the crowds in order that he may sit perfectly still and listen for the tune of his Father. The monastic communities set aside times during each day for communal and private prayer.

Jan 8, 2010

Divine Providence

"Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; through war break out against me, even then will I be confident" ~Psalm 27:3

Throughout the psalms my mind is completely rocked by the ways in which unwavering confidence is proclaimed. As a girl who is clumsily learning to trust in Christ as my true and only provider, I am in awe of those who hold the gorgeous ability to stand firm in the faithfulness of God. At every corner there are flashy attractions deterring our minds from the one thing, namely God and his kingdom, that deserves our full attention. In a world where we put our hope in the things that moths and dust destroy, it is painfully easy to grow sick with worry. Often I am plagued with anxious ridden questions. "How will I pay off my ridiculous college debt? Will I have rent money this month? Am I hearing the Lord correctly? When will I get married?". Though I may trip over these earthly distractions I am encouraged to put my hope in the Lord, the one who orchestrates the melodies of creation by his divine Providence.

It is because of the leadership of the Lord that the psalmist can declare confidence even when war breaks out against him. John Calvin asks this of the psalmist:

"How is it that their confidence never fails? It can only be that while the world seems to go on its random way, they know that God is at work everywhere, and they can be secure in this." ~ The Institutes.

What have I to fear when the God of all creation is at work everywhere? Furthermore Calivn explains:

"When once the light of divine Providence has shone in the believer's heart, he is relieved and liberated, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which had previously oppressed him, but from all worries. Because, as he rightly rejects the idea of chance, he can confidently put himself in God's hands." ~ The Institutes.

There will come a day when my knees will fail me and I can no longer go out for a run. But I will put my identity in the Lord. One day I will be 60 years old and reflecting over the years of serving Christ alongside my hubby and I will smile at the days in which I doubted the partnership of another. And when my bank account is as dry as Death Valley I can rest assure that God is a good and loving parent who will not let me live without. God is in control of everything. He knows when I rise and when I sit, though I may plan the course of my life the Lord determines my steps. The goodness and providence of God are beautifully linked, and so I say "Be strong and take heart!"

Jan 6, 2010

peanut butter and the trinity

if you walk down the peanut butter aisle at your local grocery store you will find yourself transported into a great land of deliciousness. there are peanut butter flavors to tempt every palette, it's similar to the edible wallpaper at willy wonka's chocolate factory. do you want chocolate or raspberry in your peanut butter? pb loco to your rescue! feeling like a tree-hugging traditional? there are a dozen different kinds of organic chunky and creamy, sure to pair perfectly with your thrift store goodies and sandalwood oils! can't seem to kick that inner-child? skipppy and jif will spread like butta on your crustless wonder bread. with all of these choices the process of finding your favorite is as frustrating as searching for your car keys when your already running 15 minutes late (ah, personality disclosed). after years of searching for the perfect pb, i have discovered that there is a delicate and true subordination to the nutty web. smuckers organic chunky on top, followed by parkers honey crunchy and trailing with the wildly outrageous pb loco. three separate brands united with the golden thread of peanuts.

this spurs a desire to delve into the theology of the trinity. doesn't conversation about peanut butter cause you to think of jesus? come on, own it- i know i'm not alone. when one ponders the mystery of the trinity the general understanding is that the father is like splinter, the son is like donatello, and the spirit is as off-kiltered as michelangelo. did i lose you? i guess all the talk of peanut butter transported me to my childhood love of tmnt - i apologize for nothing. but really, there is a level of subordinationism to the trinity that is simultaneously unified and equal. how does this make any sense? in "the institutes of christian religion", john calvin writes:

"although the eternal nature of the father also belongs to the son and spirit (since god could never be without his own wisdom and energy) and although there could be no place for first or last in eternity, the distinction of order is not meaningless or unnecessary."

ok calvin, so there IS validity to the notion of hierarchy within the trinity??? what say you?

"the father is thought of first, then the son from him, and finally the spirit from both. everyone thinks naturally of god first, then the wisdom which springs from him and finally the energy by which he carries out his plans."

i work at caribou as a desparate way to keep from sinking into educational debt. i adore my job and see it as my ministry. the other day i was lost in conversation with a young woman that i work with. we were (as only the spirit could ignite) talking about our beliefs in god/religion(s) and she proclaimed that she does believe in god but she cannot believe in jesus or the bible. i held my tongue, though i wanted to dig further. i knew that one cannot truly believe in god if they cease to believe in his word and his son. my friend, like many other professing believers, walks the al a carte line of the character of god and chooses only that which pleases her comfortable lifestyle. one meaty helping of god, well done. hold the jesus, and no word sauce. one cannot believe in god if they are unwilling to confess jesus as god as well as the word as god (which it is, but that can be saved for another theology on blogger). here is where my good friend calvin links together the subordinate existence and unity.

"this distinctiveness in no way interferes with god's perfect unity, because the son can be proved to be one with the father and the spirit to be no different from the father and son."

and it is here that i am left undone. what a mystery god is! that the nature of god can be seen in each of the persons - each one holding his own individual existence - and yet be perfectly united. three separate and three united. i follow god because i will never be able to comprehend his mystery (well that, and because he chose me) and i love that, it's what makes the entire journey one rad adventure of flirting with the mystery of the unknown. so remember, next time your trying to find your choice peanut butter, remember that they are all different, but fundamentally they are united under the umbrella of perfect goodness.... did i just say that? forget it, pick up calvin's institutes instead.