Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thoughts after reading Barbara Brown Taylor      

      I've been reading quite a bit of author Barbara Brown Taylor lately, and just finished Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. After being a Episcopal priest for twenty years, Taylor leaves her position as rector of a rural church in Georgia to accept a chair in the religion department at Piedmont College. Her book details the journey she undertakes from seminary to the present using language that stirs the heart and enables one to feel within oneself her painful, personal self-discoveries. As she finds herself drowning in "compassionate fatigue" as a priest, she realizes that to leave the position she loves is the only way to save her life. Taylor allows us to see into her soul as she pours out upon the page all of her anguish, uncertainty, and struggle as she begins the transition from the congregational setting to the university campus.
      As a person in ministry, this book resonated with me deeply, for I can see all too clearly how we ministers can slip into feeling needed and indispensable in the church setting. We find ourselves as being the one who's in charge, tossing life preservers to sinners with authority, and standing in front of people each week who listen to our every word. It can be heady stuff. What's troublesome is when we believe that we are in control and no one else can measure up, that everything depends on us, that our way is the only way to "do church."
      I remember in seminary during my Pastoral Theology course that we read Greg Ogden's Unfinished Business: Returning the Ministry to the People of God (Zondervan, 2003), and how I was struck by how we function in church with an institutional mindset, which is an extremely counterproductive ministry model. Ministry should be about equipping the people; after all, this was the vision Jesus had for his disciples when he sent them out in small groups to preach, teach and heal. Servant leadership is the model that Ogden proposes, and we would do well to explore this model if it isn't in place in our churches today. It's certainly a healthier model than the traditional pyramid; the top-down style.
     It's all well and good to say that one model is better than another, but I remind myself that receiving a call from God to enter into formal ministry can wreck all kinds of havoc in one's heart and life, and all kinds of feelings of superiority can easily arise within during the training, seminary education, interviews, and candidacy processes; so much so that by the end of our preparations for ministry, we somehow have puffed ourselves up to such an extent that we feel entitled to be the one giving orders and in charge of saving sinners. How vain we are! Hopefully, new ministers are placed into loving (and forgiving!) congregations that gently knock these feelings of superiority out of them with the everyday trials of a minister's life: visits to the homebound, budget meetings about the leaking sanctuary roof, homeless people asking for rent money, and parishoners who don't like your sermon delivery style or the new banner behind the altar. But sometimes it just takes years of parish life, while God whittles and pares away at you all the while, and you find yourself somewhat lighter and leaner in soul, your egotist presumptions left somewhere behind you along the path. There comes a time when you no longer feel strong reactions kick you in the gut when someone is less than polite, when the battles you thought worthwhile ten years ago are now not worth a moment's consideration, when more often than not the first thought in your head is not, "How dare they," but "What would Jesus do in this situation?"
      So this is the journey, the spiritual journey that we all share, whether we are aware that we are on it or not. Life whittles away at us, paring us down to what matters most, and if you're a Christian, then it's Jesus Christ, and how to live your life as closely aligned to his as you can possibly get it. Hopefully, the more the ego gets rubbed away, the better to see the light of Christ shining from within. That's the hope and the prayer, anyway. May Christ walk with you on your journey of faith, now and always!

      I'll be picking up another of Barbara Brown Taylor's books soon, I know. I've already read When God Is Silent, and An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, and I highly recommend them both to you. To find out more about Taylor, visit her website at You can find her books on and at many book stores.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Recently, a small group that I'm a part of took some time to practice lectio divina (sacred reading) using devotional materials instead of scripture. The following poem by John Masefield was my contribution to the gathering. It has stirred me deeply for years, and each time I ruminate on it, fresh revelations bubble up. I share it with you here. Take time after reading it at least three times through to find what images or words attract you. Stay with the words and images. Ask God what He's trying to tell you through them. Allow yourself to sink into your heart while you ponder if there is an invitation or challenge for you here. Whatever emotion or feelings arise, honor them. Don't rush the process; step into kairos time with the Holy One. Take time to thank God for whatever happened for you during the practice, then silently rest in His presence without thinking. Just soak in the message God gave you. Try it now.

O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
Of holy white birds flying after,
Lo, all my heart’s field red and torn,
And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,
The young green corn divinely springing,
The young green corn forever singing;
And when the field is fresh and fair
Thy blessed feet shall glitter there,
And we will walk the weeded field,
And tell the golden harvest’s yield,
The corn that makes the holy bread
By which the soul of man is fed,
The holy bread, the food unpriced,
Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.
John Masefield (1878-1967)
A native of Herefordshire, England, he published three collections of ballads in 1902, 1903, and 1910; and The Everlasting Mercy, a conversion epic, from which the following lines are taken, in 1911. Masefield was appointed Poet Laureate in 1930.

If you're not familiar with lectio divina, refer to the blog post beneath this one where you'll find more information on the Christian practice including step-by-step instructions. Blessings on your journey!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Lectio Divina - Reading Scripture with Deeper Eyes:  I've been revisiting an old and favorite prayer practice lately, that of lectio divina. If you're not familiar with it, lectio divina means "sacred reading." A new small group that I'm a part of is studying lectio divina for a few weeks, so I have submerged myself willingly into God's Word in the pages of the Holy Bible in order to discern what He/She is saying to me personally. Yes, personally! God will speak to you through the pages of scripture, for the Bible is not just words on the page, but a living communication from the Divine. Don't believe it? Try it out for yourself. Read about the four stages of the prayer, then follow the steps at the bottom.

Basically, there are four steps to lectio divina: lectio, meditatio, contemplatio and oratio.  Some people do the first three steps and omit the last.  Do as the Spirit guides you.  When doing lectio divina, the four steps flow naturally into one another, and not always in the order which is presented here.  The Holy Spirit is responsible for and leads you through the steps of lectio divina.

Lectio – reading & listening
To begin, you read from Holy Scripture, picking a passage, which speaks to you in a personal way. Not ordinary reading, like a magazine or book; but, taking in the Word and pondering it in your heart, memorizing it while gently repeating it to yourself, reading and listening at the same time, with your whole being.  Read slowly with great attentiveness to each word and phrase.

Meditatio – meditation

In Meditatio, you reflect on the Word of God by memorizing a brief phrase or passage from the longer text that was read, some part of it that spoke to you directly.  Think of ruminating, or “chewing the cud” of this phrase; taking it into yourself, deeply.  Once you have it memorized, repeat it again and again, and then enter into the picture that you create in your mind.  Let yourself be in the crowd as Jesus gives His Sermon on the Mount, if that is your passage.  Hear His words directed at you, when He says, “Blessed are you.” (Matt 5:11)  Feel what that experience does to you.  Take the text and use it to enter into relationship with Him, and learn.  Let His Words teach you directly, now, in your heart.

Contemplatio – contemplation
 At this point, you will find words and images drying up, as you silently contemplate God.  This part of the process happens to you; you cannot make it happen, and you have no control over it.  Let yourself simply rest in God’s presence now, because you find that no thoughts or words are adequate to describe what you are feeling.  When this happens, relax and flow with it.  Rest in God and be at peace.  Nothing is required of you at this point; just accept the loving embrace of the One Who loves you as His child. 

Oratio – spontaneous prayer
 This is the spontaneous prayer that arises from you as you meditate on the Word of God.  As you are touched by the text’s deeper meaning for you, your heart opens in response to your new understanding, and a rush of feeling overflows in an outpouring of verbal prayer, tears or wordless praise.

Here are the steps for you to follow:

 1.             Choose a short passage from Scripture.  Keep the passage short; just a sentence or two, and no more than a paragraph. (Suggestions are below.)

2.             Read that passage slowly and meditatively, over and over again.  Ruminate on this passage until it is committed to memory.

3.             Visualize the passage.  Feel your way into the passage.  Put yourself in the action, and let yourself experience the realities that the passage points to.  Really become fully involved in what is happening as you listen to and interact with Jesus.

4.             After a time, your visualization will come to an end of its own accord.  When this happens, just rest in contemplation for a while.  Simply sit in stillness and silence and be open to the loving Presence of God.  Relax and just “be.”

5.             When your contemplation comes to an end, offer up to God the spontaneous prayer from your heart, and your gratitude for this gift.  Then you may end your period of meditation by gently bringing your awareness back to yourself and opening your eyes.

  Suggested scripture passages:

Matthew 13:44     “The reign of God is like a buried treasure which a man found in a field.  He hid it again, and rejoicing at his find went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Jeremiah 1:5        “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

Matthew 28:20     “Know that I am with you until the end of time.”

Micah 6:8             “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Romans 8:38-39   “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels... nor things present, nor things to come… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

View the new content under the tabs...

Lenten peace to you all ~ 
I've added some new content under the tabs so you can begin to see some of what I offer. Please take time to view what's here currently! I just finished up the Meditation Group and Labyrinth Walks information just today, and it's ready for you to read. For those of you who are meditators and live in the general areas of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Newport Beach, Tustin, Santa Ana, and Irvine, the location of this church, St. Mark Presbyterian, is reasonably situated for you to come pray with us on Tuesday nights from 7:30-9:00 pm. Sometimes, there are three of us, and sometimes there are nine! We come when we can. Read the content under Meditation Group to discover more.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Site in progress...

Hello, Lovely People:  This blogsite is currently in progress. Please bear with me as it transforms into something easy to use and enjoyable to visit. Hopefully, you'll visit me in the near future and find some truly useful SPIRITUAL FORMATION RESOURCES. Till then, thank you, and bless you! Lynne