Reading artwork with spiritual eyes.
Recently, the world has been treated to a new way of engaging art, the Immersive Experience of Van Gogh, Monet, Frida Kahlo, and now Egyptian tomb art with King Tut. These involve not just the works themselves but technologies such as VR, holography, and digital projection to enable the viewer to enter the art and engage all the senses at once. I have not been to one of these exhibits, but "Beyond King Tut" may lure me. I have visited the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the pyramids. How will the experiences differ? And how does it compare to viewing a painting in a frame?
Below is a watercolor painting I hung up in my office a few weeks ago. No one asked me about it. After all, its historical significance is not apparent like Anubis. The painter is a friend still taking lessons from a few years ago. And, perhaps, a church is not the usual subject matter for art in a legal office. So, I began to share the story of the picture. https://emmitsburg.net/sjlc/index.htm The congregation that worships there was my first after seminary, but its incorporation goes back to the year George Washington was born. The building pictured here is only one of many on this site over the years, but its location makes it so important. One of the nation's first crossroads converged here. It was a stagecoach stop with overnight taverns, stables, and blacksmiths. Early pioneers moving across the lands passed through, prayed, and bolstered their courage before heading out on the next leg of their journey.
A photo of me now hangs on the wall at the sanctuary's entrance as one of this congregation's many historic pastors. I am part of an ongoing ministry that will continue in time. The many people who have lived, worked and worshiped here have stories that moved across this country and the world. All of them are “present” here in this painting. If I ponder long enough, I can feel their energy, their spirit, glowing like the light in the windows on that dark snowy evening. In the gathering room, I hear the voices discussing and debating the many decisions made over the centuries. I can see the kids having snowball fights. Over there is the cemetery that is home to revolutionary, WWI, WWII war casualties, etc.
We need to take the time to allow the painting or other artwork to speak to us so that we can enter into the lives or events that it depicts. We may even look at Egyptian tomb art as tourists would. But it, too, represents the lives of people who attempted to understand the spiritual aspect of life, the stories that helped them make sense of their world, and what might be beyond. We will try to do this in our spiritual disciplines classes.
By Rev. Joan Copeland
What might be gained at an Advent Retreat?
The photo above is a delightful wooden version of an advent calendar. The winter scene reminds me of Christmas in Germany. Instead of the little punch-out cardboard doors with candy hiding behind them that we find in our grocery stores, some drawers might hold a meaningful treasurer. We hope you will return home with nuggets of wisdom, peace, and clarity that enhance your life no matter what the curiosity, goal, or burden brings you to our spiritual retreat.
There are as many reasons to go as there are retreat centers worldwide. Each person comes with their longings for answers. And while many settings enhance contemplation, whether sparse desert, lush forests, quiet, noisy, busy-ness, or solitude, our Advent Retreat will be four hours roaming from place to place on our campus at Christ Lutheran. By December 10, our church will start to "look a lot like Christmas" as preparations for the culmination of the Advent season are underway.
Still, we don't want to dismiss the purpose of Advent. We look toward the coming of the Messiah in a three-fold way. We will celebrate the birth of Jesus that manifests God among us; we often invite Jesus to come into our hearts daily to guide and direct us, and we await Jesus' promise to return as king to rule the world in righteousness. Each of these should give us pause to think about our preparedness actually to meet Jesus. This is not about how clean and organized our homes are. This is not a solemn time to contemplate our shortcomings but rather a season to contemplate how we can draw closer to the God that seeks us, calls us, and wants to commune with us every minute of the day. It is a time to deepen our prayer life and quiet the demands of the world’s expectations so that we can see the creative wonder of everything around us.
On November 13th, 20th, and December 4, during adult education, we will learn and practice several spiritual disciplines that will help us pray more deeply and allow scripture to speak to us in new ways. Then December 10, we will put it all into practice during the retreat. We will learn to consider everything in our surroundings with
fresh eyes that are not clouded by what we already “know.” This will be a time to cultivate an openness to hear the Holy Spirit share with us what God is up to now and an invitation to participate beyond what we think our limitations might be. It will be a time of becoming.
Lectio Divina is sometimes called the Holy Reading of Scripture or reverently reading on one’s knees.
In the past few weeks, I have asked you to develop a heightened awareness of who you are today and the moments in your life, both past, and present, that inform, shape, and fuel the person you are. You have joys and sadness, trials and temptations, strengths and struggles, anger and grief, stresses and questions, gains and losses, etc. You have grown up with, or possibly without, scripture study or an active life in a congregation. You may be a world traveler experiencing new cultures or someone who has never left the town where you grew up. You may be like me, someone who delights in the study of context or reads literally.
We are each unique and bring many things with us when we sit down to read the Bible. Sometimes we tend to go to the Bible looking for answers to a problem, inspiration for a decision, or comfort when distressed. Many publishers have attempted to answer those needs by creating The Woman's Bible, The Youth Bible, or The Devotional Bible for Men to help apply Bible principles to everyday life. In Lectio Divina, we do not discredit or set aside those tendencies and reframe the needs behind them.
As a funny example, I noticed that Pr. Lanny had posted a meme on Facebook. Standing at the sink, a husband asked, "where in the Bible does it say it's a man's job to wash dishes!" And the wife responds, “2 Kings 21:13 ‘and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.’” And while that may be a humorously applied verse fragment in a chapter that speaks of something much different, it is far from Lectio Divina!
Instead, imagine standing under the vast canopy of a clear night sky with all its stars, planets, and galaxies reflecting light upon you. Or, maybe you would instead picture the canopy of an ancient forest with its leaves rustling overhead whispering their story of how the breezes, sunlight, and woodland creatures have danced and scampered among them. And there you are, just sitting, conversing with God under this canopy. And God is doing the talking.
I like to use those two images to help me focus on how I approach scripture in Lectio Divina. This spiritual practice is not a study or analysis of the author or passage's meaning. While we may come to the reading with a longing hoping to be met, we will not consciously search for answers. Instead, we will suspend above us like leaves or the stars - all of who we are and what we bring. Allow all our heightened awareness of our life to form the canopy under which we invite God to enter our hearts. Imagine that we toss each of those things into the air, and God takes them into Godself. As stars, they will shed light on us; as leaves, they will whisper to us, but they will not drive the direction of the conversation. Openness to hear what God has to say is how we approach Lectio Divina.
We will learn more in-depth about “how to” in one of our three classes before the retreat but preparing our minds and hearts beforehand makes for a more rewarding experience. That's why we have spent several articles on personal reflection.
We begin with a centering exercise, disconnecting from our cell phones and the people around us and intentionally, meditatively slowing the many competing thoughts in our minds. We will read the passage several times, silently to ourselves, out loud, with different voices, silence, and time for quiet reflection between each reading. Frequently what happens is something in the passage that will consistently stand out for you. This might be something to contemplate in the quiet time of reflection. What is important is focusing on how that image, metaphor, or person impacts you. How do you identify with it?
Sometimes what it takes to be life-altering is entering the Bible story with all that I am, not just reading it at a distance. For example, when I was a member of All Saints Lutheran Church in seminary, we did a living Tenebrae service. I was one of the readers, and my teenage son, with long dark hair, was chosen to be Jesus. To witness a reenactment of the crucifixion with my son on the cross, I intensely identified with Mary's anguish and any parent who has lost a child, adult or not, through illness, violence, war, or accident. It has intensified my relationship with my sons and grandson and granted me patience and empathy for all living things. Just a couple moments from my life that were part of the canopy above me were the death of both my parents, the discovery of being adopted and learning my birth mother’s story, and all that I had learned in seminary. No one is required to share their insights, as I have, but it will be good for you to journal your thoughts for future Lectio Divina.
"SAVE THE DATE"
Building Freedom for the Homebound
Have you ever changed someone's life in a single day? The Texas Ramp Project does it hundreds of times a year! We build wheelchair ramps for older adults and others with mobility issues who can't afford to buy one. In a few hours on a Saturday morning, we give these folks the freedom to leave their home again - the house where they want to remain but whose steps have imprisoned them.
Please feel free to join in on the fun of our next ramp project on November 12th. If you are interested in participating, RSVP to email@example.com by November 5th. For more information, please go to texasramps.org.
We look forward to having you join us in this life-changing project!
Mt. Olive's 74th-anniversary celebration was a wonderful event, with a powerful worship service combining the musical gifts of the Mount Olive congregation with witness and testimony about the power of God in the members' lives. Pastor Ben was honored to be asked to preach on the theme "Lord, Make Us An Instrument of Thy Peace" and the passage, Romans 12:1-13. He talked about "peace" used in good ways and bad in the Scriptures and Martin Luther King Jr.'s distinction between a "false peace" based on the "absence of tension" and "true peace," which is the "presence of justice." CLC folks enjoyed the community's hospitality in the church basement afterward, with delicious food and good company!
Thank You Note From Mt. Olive
On Sunday, September 25th, Mt. Olive celebrated 74 years in the ministry. We were blessed with the presence of Pastor Ben and other members of CLC. We are so grateful for your support over the years and ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers.
Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, Scotland. Photo by Paul Barr
When we travel, we often come across amazing vistas that inspire our awe and wonder at the magnificence of God's creation. It feels as if we can truly sense God's presence and activity. When I was just a kid, we lived a half block from the ocean, and the changing weather would alter how the water looked and sounded. I knew its changing moods and felt as if all eternity moved and had its being in the powerful movement of the tide. At night I was lulled to sleep by the pounding of the waves upon the sand.
Each of us has some place in the natural world that pulls our thoughts, at least momentarily, toward the divine. But we can't always be in the mountains, by the ocean, or under the Northern Lights. Your focus this week is to think about the environment you find most conducive to prayer and contemplation. For many, that might be sitting in the sanctuary of a church, cathedral, temple, mosque, or tent where the handiwork of the community brought forth an architectural and artistic vision of a place where God and humans could meet. Or, perhaps, it is a particular piece of artwork that evokes some inner stirring of emotion or tells a powerful story. Or, maybe, it is simply gazing into the candle flame or the crackling fire.
Whatever it might be for you, jot it down and think about why it facilitates contemplation and communion with God. Does it carry memories of significant events, evoke stories from scripture, or does it simply carry you away from the cares of the moment? Whatever it may be, consider how you feel about this place.
The crisp morning air, pumpkins on doorsteps--it's finally fall, which means it's time for Oktoberfest!
Join your CLC friends for a feast of grilled wurst, potato salad, beer, ice cream sundaes, and other goodies provided by our Men's Bible Study Group on SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15, 5-7 PM. As an extra treat, Keith Dzygyn will bring his guitar, and we will enjoy an informal concert along with food and fellowship.
Weather permitting, we will gather on our lawn and patio, so bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs. (In case of rain, we will hold this event in Fellowship Hall.)
Don't miss this opportunity to enjoy the best of the season with your fellow Christ Lutheran members!
Click here if you plan to attend
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
If you are engaging in the exercise of examen that was suggested last Thursday and in October's newsletter, then it will be helpful to consider how well we understand the emotions that accompany our everyday experiences and how well we can describe them, not necessarily to others but honestly to ourselves. If we wish to engage deeply in our relationship with God, it is helpful to heighten our awareness of the emotions we were gifted with at our conception and experience every day. The journey to our heart as a place where God accompanies us in all these emotions works well with the image of a geode. On the outside, a geode looks like an ordinary rock, but once inside, a cavern of wonders. The accompanying pictures of geodes might help recognize how beautiful and complex emotions can be.
For many reasons, we too mask our complexity on the outside. Others might even describe us differently than we know ourselves to be. But God knows us as we truly are and communicates on that level. In her recent book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of the Human Experience, Brené Brown writes, "Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning, and self-awareness. Having access to the right words can open up entire universes. When we don’t have the language to talk about what we’re experiencing, our ability to make sense of what’s happening and share it with others is severely limited.”
In your journal, you might want to write down the emotions accompanying your responses to your exam questions. Think about why you felt that way, what it might mean, and how understanding your emotions might help you understand someone else, not just in your current life but in favorite or difficult stories in scripture. We will discuss this more thoroughly when we gather for classes in November. But for now, get in touch with your own emotions. Which ones can you name?
Henri Nouwen wrote, "spiritual formation presents opportunities to enter the center of our heart and become familiar with the complexities of our own inner life."
"In our modern milieu, the word heart has become soft. It might refer to just feelings or the seat of the sentimental life. We think of the heart as the warm place where our emotions are located, in contrast to the cool intellect, where our thoughts find their home. But the word heart in Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, purposeful, and moral energies. It is the seat of the will; it makes plans and comes to good decisions. Our heart determines our personality, and the place where God dwells but also the place where evil directs fierce attacks, causing us to doubt, fear, despair, resent, overconsume, and so on.” Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit ©2010 by the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust.
Henri Nouwen was a 20th-century Dutch priest known for spiritual direction. History is filled with other men and women who chose to pursue a deeper engagement with God. One of those whose names we are probably familiar with is St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), who founded the Jesuits. Jesuitresource.org offers a workbook developed by Gillian T.W. Ahlgren, a professor of theology at Xavier University. One of the suggested exercises is to create a daily practice of examen, a reflection on the inner workings of your day. You will find it provides an opportunity to understand what seem to be disparate events more holistic way—some of the questions to consider. Don't try to answer all of them. If you skim through them daily, you will quickly recognize which ones to dwell on.
God's Work. Our hands.