Sunday, February 21, 2016

Deeper Into the Wilderness we Go

This Lent has been a wondrous time of slowing down, reflecting, fasting, and praying, a new adventure in going deeper spiritually and mentally.  The Daniel Fast has been a mental test considering I love food, but am finding meaning in it in focusing my mind towards God and imagining the Hebrew people in the desert in the exodus from Egypt while being provided with just enough.  I think of those who don't have enough to eat, knowing that many would love to have just the basics of fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts.  And while giving up coffee and any other drink than just water, I think of those who may not have clean water to drink.  It really gets me thinking more about what I have as opposed to what I don't have, given how easy it is to take things for granted.  Although it's also easy to get caught up in what you do have as well.  Even some conversations I've had this week have been humbling too.

While doing something renewing in visiting a couple of art galleries last week, I found myself thinking back to seven and eight years ago when the recession was beginning to grip our nation and realize that the fact I was still working was a blessing despite the many battles I had over scheduling and just not enjoying my work.  Not sure why it came up at that time, but it just did.  Never take it for granted when you hear the phrase "but you have a job" or "you're still working" considering someone who doesn't have what you have would love to be doing what you're doing.  A humbling experience indeed.  It's a trip deeper into the wilderness as we sit at the second Sunday in Lent.  Sometimes, going deep into the wilderness is a good thing, giving oneself a new sense of focus and self-awareness.  It's a chance to reconnect with God, but also reconnect with the world around as well, something I have found by also disconnecting from social media (Facebook and Twitter).  This week should bring some new insights, but also a chance for God sightings too.  So, let's go deeper into the wilderness as we press on in Lent.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Of the Wilderness and the Dark Wood

Although we are still at the edge of the wilderness and still relatively fresh into our Lenten journey, it has already been filled with challenges and things to think about.  But it has also been full of some surprises too.  Adopting spiritual and life practices during Lent are an important part of the journey, especially when facing temptations and such while in the wilderness.  That's what can make giving something up all the more difficult.  This year, I decided to give up Facebook and social media, but at the last minute decided to also give up meat and dairy (except fish) by doing a Daniel Fast with one of my friends.  While it sounds extreme to give up both, it gives me more time to contemplate, to feel what those who may not have enough to eat go through, but also cleanse myself and re-fill myself with wholeness and new vitality.  But shopping is such a challenge, meaning avoid the snack aisle and the seasonal aisle!!  Talk about temptation right there.  Just as Jesus faced those temptations by the Devil in the wilderness, it's easy to fall to the temptation of those bags of candy.  But at the same time, eliminating a lot of things will help in being filled with a whole new sense of health, vitality, and wholeness.  It takes discipline and focus, something that the wilderness can offer.  

During Lent, I have also added some extra reading and meditating and was presented with a book by Rev. Eric Elnes called Gifts of the Dark Wood, as we can also enter into the dark woods along with the wilderness.  Upon reading the first chapters, I was definitely struck because it is also written for "soulful skeptics" which I admit I tend to be.  But what really struck me was in the introduction where the author hears a voice during a swim in a mountain lake while breaking from a hike.  Eric Elnes writes that he hears, 

"You have a place in this world; a place where everything comes together in your body and you disappear into a seamless whole.  Get over your clumsiness, and your fat little belly, and inhabit this world with your fullest self" (xiii).  

It almost brings to mind a hit song from 1990 by Michael W. Smith, "Place in This World" whose chorus goes

Feels like I'm
Looking for a reason
Roamin' through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Rev. Elnes brings up an important fact in the introduction and first chapter that too often, we spend our time searching for our place in this world even with all of its pitfalls and challenges, or unrealistic expectations that revolved around success.  Sometimes, wandering through the wilderness and the dark wood gives us the focus to help us pay attention and listen for God's voice which helps show us where our place in the world is at.  Eric Elnes explains that "sometimes it takes a journey into darkness, even deep darkness to fully awaken to the smallness of our success-based world.  Sometimes you need to lose your way in order to discover the grandeur, mystery, and freedom of the world that awaits you" (5).  And getting lost is okay (Barbara Brown Taylor has a chapter on "The Practice of Getting Lost" in her book An Altar in the World).  It's in those moments of being lost where we tend to find God and in those moments of darkness.  What do you think your place in this world is?  What are you doing to reach your fullest self?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Step Into the Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV)
The Temptation of Jesus
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil[a] led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil[b] said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
Then the devil[c] took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’
11 and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent and a time to turn inward, examining ourselves from the inside out for these next 40 days and nights (not counting Sunday).  But now that we got our ashes and have begun this journey of introspection, it's now time to step into the wilderness.  Coming this Sunday, our Gospel lesson from Luke talks about Jesus's own journey into the wilderness following his baptism in the River Jordan.  The wilderness is one of those rich metaphors, full of many possibilities, yet the wilderness oftentimes gets such a bad rap.  Perhaps because the wilderness is oftentimes so desolate, devoid of the necessities of life with a bleak landscape.  During Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness, he was faced with many temptations by the Devil.  That crafty Devil tried in every way possible to trick Jesus, but to no avail.   
Even amidst the temptations, the wilderness is not always what we think it is.  The wilderness can be part of our faith journey without even stepping foot into an isolated place.  Last year, a group of us from Wesley spent ten days in the wilderness of Pine Ridge, South Day.  It literally was wilderness,complete with a stark landscape filled with extreme poverty among those who lived in it.  Sometimes, the wilderness is necessary to open our eyes and transform us.  But at the same time, the Wilderness is not a bad thing.  Four years ago when I was beginning my discernment of seminary and ministry, Pastor Tina preached about the wilderness and her own time in seminary being like the wilderness.  But what stood out in the message was that the wilderness can be a time of seeing yourself in a new light and getting to know yourself in new ways.  Following worship, Pastor Tina said she hoped I was paying attention and it has stuck with me since.  While I have definitely gotten to know myself in new and exciting ways, I also still have a lot to grow on, as I'm sure all of us feel that way at one time or another.  So perhaps it is time again for a trip to the wilderness, a time to face temptations, a time to form disciplines, and a time to see ourselves and know ourselves in a new light.  What is on your mind as you step into the wilderness?  

Monday, February 8, 2016

From the Inside Out

Whenever I fly back to CA from Washington, DC or from anywhere for that matter, I LOVE taking pictures from the plane.  I'm sure I get a few puzzled looks, but I love looking at the landscape and the clouds outside while seated (not always so comfortably) inside the plane.  As we begin the journey of Lent this Wednesday, looking at our own lives from the inside out is essential as part of our faith journey.  It is a time of examining who we are, reaching deep into our core then working our way back out as we die to our old selves as we reach towards the hope and promise of resurrection on Easter.  While Lent can be seen as a time of repentance, it is a time of going deeper spiritually and a time of seeing where we can improve and grow closer to God, even if it means walking that lonesome valley with Jesus.

Lent is also typically a time of giving something up, or adding something.  As I have been contemplating what I want to give up to help me become closer to God, I have decided to give up social media (Facebook and Twitter in particular).  I have been finding that I really do spend a lot more time on Facebook and social media than I need to which could free me up to actually have face to face conversations with people, or conversations with people on the phone (i.e. my parents).  But this time away from social media can also help me seek answers to the question, "who am I?" I have to admit there are sometimes I struggle with this question, as sometimes I'm not sure I entirely know who I am.  Perhaps it's my lack of self-confidence, or because I'm so easily swayed and influenced by what people think of me that I feel forced to conform just to fit in.  Or because I see others and how they live or how good they have it, that I want to emulate them which doesn't necessarily work.  It's time to look from the inside out.

In some of my self-reflection, one practice to add during this time of Lent is to stop worrying what others think.  In his book, Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus, my friend Rev. Jerry Herships speaks out in several places throughout the book that we have to not worry about what others think.  Perhaps that's one of my biggest character flaws and perhaps the Lenten journey is a start towards fixing some of those flaws, in which time away from social media could help.  It's a chance to stop worrying about what others are doing, but also gives me a time to look inward, or as one of my friends once told me, take a long look in the mirror.  What can I see from the inside on out?  As I take a break from social media, I hope to get back to this blog a little more regular.  At the same time, I encourage each of you to think about your own inward self.  What do you see when you look at yourself from the inside out?

"Sky - Dominion & Exploitation" from "Season of Creation," Sermon, September 16, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy “Season of Creation: Sky – Dominion & Exploitation” Rev. Andrew Davis September 16, 2018 Psalm 19   ...