… and the Spirit of God …

The bible is a book written by men and is mostly stories about men. Considering today’s current climate with the #MeToo movement and attention being called to women who do not have a voice, it might be a good time to give voice to some women in the bible. Over a few weeks in Lent I will be focusing on some of those stories. Today, let’s start with the first female being mentioned in the bible. She is found in Genesis chapter 1 and verse 2 … the Spirit of God. God is mentioned first, of course, in Genesis 1:1, but God has no gender.

This is what we read in Genesis 1:2

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Some versions refer to the Spirit of God as the “wind of God” because the Hebrew word for Spirit can be translated as such. What I’m interested in is the “hovering.” Some translations use “moved” in place of this word. The meaning of the word could also be “to brood,” and some interpreters say the force of the word could mean “to bear” as in bearing a child. The fact is, the earth, being formless and void, needed a woman’s touch! Hovering and brooding over things that are not quite yet done are typical mothering things to do.

Creating is a feminine endeavor, not exclusively feminine, but often thought of as feminine. We women create lives in our bodies. We create a “home” that is beautiful, comfortable, and meets the needs of our families (not unlike God’s creation of a beautiful and comfortable earth for humans). The word earth, by the way, is also a feminine noun in Hebrew. We women fuss and brood over our homes, making our nests, ensuring that “it is good” and beautiful and nurturing and comforting.

To top it all off, God makes clothes for Adam and Eve (3:21). While sewing is not a strictly feminine endeavor, it is mostly associated with women. So, not only are God’s initial acts of creation/creating feminine, God ensures that the humans have clothes to wear.

I love the image above of the bird gathering materials to make a nest for her young. She looks fierce, doesn’t she? Maybe not unlike our own fierce mothering instincts … or maybe not unlike God’s.

What does this all mean to me? I find this aspect of God to be comforting. God’s nature includes preparing, creating, comforting, protecting, nurturing, and those are beautiful and healing thoughts to contemplate. For women who may have been abused, or who have suffered spiritual trauma, only knowing a God who is vengeful and punishing, this is good news.

Spend some time this week contemplating this aspect of God. Re-read the creation account with a mother’s eye and heart. Ask for your understanding of God to be more deeply opened to you.

We Interrupt this Study …

After nearly two months off for traveling, and a month finally getting settled back into a routine, we are nearly into Lent. Ash Wednesday begins this week. So, while I’d like to get back to the Psalms, it is time to interrupt these thoughts with a special study during Lent. We will take a break with Psalm 78. It is a “teaching psalm” (that’s what a “maschil” is). And what it teaches is the history of Israel. Which makes for a good segue, because, interestingly, I have decided that during Lent I’d like to review a bit of history. By “bit” I mean I plan to teach, over the next few weeks, a Sunday School class that will cover the entire Bible! Whew!! And, I will be sharing some things from that class on this blog. So, if you’d like a quick overview of the Bible, this may be a good way for you to spend the Lenten season.

There will, however, be a twist. I will be covering the Bible from a feminine perspective. Many of us think we know what the Bible is about, and we think we know the major stories. However, those stories are told by men, from their perspectives, and we often overlook the stories about women, or contemplate what a woman’s perspective might have been, had they told the stories. So, if you are up for a different way of looking at scripture, please join me.

As you prepare this study, you might ask/consider the following:

  1. Find your Bible! Dust it off! Open it up!
  2. Ask God to open up the eyes of your heart to seeing something fresh and new.
  3. Ask God to help you to fall in love all over again with the Word.
  4. Be willing to have an open mind, and to consider that there might be another interpretation that you have not considered.

Remembering Dorothy

I attended the memorial service of a saint yesterday. She was 102 when she transitioned from this life. Labeling her as a saint was something mentioned often during the service, and was a claim also made in a blog by noted theologian, Dr. Joe Jones. Psalm 76 is about remembering. The psalmist not only states that they remember God (verses 3, 6, 11), they recount the things they remember about God. Today, I’d like to remember Dorothy by recounting my memories of her.

 

I met Dorothy Messenger sometime in 2008 at, what I learned later was called, “Friday Group.” It was advertised in church announcements as a book club. My work schedule allowed me to be off every-other-Friday, so I thought I might join them on my Fridays off. I soon discovered this was no ordinary group of women. I was the youngster among them, their ages ranging from the 70s to the 90s, and I in my 50s. Dorothy was 92 or 93, still driving in those days, living alone in her own home. That first time I visited the group, they shared with me about some of the books they had read and discussed in the past, many of which I had on my bookshelves at home. They were reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, taking turns around the table with the reading, not skipping a beat at the F-bombs, no giggles or apologies (no “Pardon my French.”). And then the conversation ensued. I was just fresh from 40 years in a conservative denomination, and this was my first encounter with women who had experienced, first hand, their denomination’s move from a male-oriented leadership model to a gender-neutral model. That happened back in the 1960s, so for most of their adult lives their lived spiritual experience was of women in the pulpit, women serving at the Table, women liturgists, women leading committees, women elders and deacons. This is not to say that times were easy for these pioneers, but they had surely settled into a comfortableness with being people of faith who experienced no boundaries for the possibilities of how that was expressed in their lives.

 

I learned from them how our language can shape us in ways we do not fathom, and that the stories we overhear during impressionable years and tell ourselves throughout our lives end up being the measure against which we limit ourselves or allow ourselves to fly. The depth of conversation in that room was unlike any women’s conversations I had ever experienced in my spiritual journey up until then. Over the next few years the group disbanded as aging began its limiting work, but we would meet occasionally for a luncheon. I remember Dorothy hosting us in her home, and I played the harp afterwards. I remember how much Dorothy loved it, and said so. The picture, above, is of a Friday Group luncheon we had at my house in 2011. Dorothy is sitting there at the end, by the window, smiling. She was always smiling, always had an encouraging word for me, always seemed genuinely interested in me and my life and whatever it was I had to say. As speaker after speaker expressed at Dorothy’s memorial service, their lives were richer for having had Dorothy in it. The same is true for me.

 

Remembering is important. Rituals are built around remembering. Weekly communion is one example. Liturgical seasons are another. We are almost upon Advent. I will be taking a break from the blog for several weeks as I approach a new chapter in my life … retirement … and begin a time of travel. I invite you to consider what or whom you might remember during this Advent season, people who have come into (or who have gone from) your life and the impact they have had, or, remembering the One who came into the world and the impact that has made in your life. I hope to return to the blog after Advent.

 

Wishing you a blessed Advent and Christmas season!

Weary in Well Doing

Galatians 6:9 is encouragement for those of us who sometimes (often?) get tired of trying to always do the right thing. “Don’t grow weary in doing what is right.” it tells us. Reading the Psalms, especially those of David, can at times get exhausting for me. He goes on and on and on with how righteous he is, and how screwed up everyone else is. And, I think to myself, I simply cannot relate to David. I don’t think I’m a bag of chips and all that. So, how refreshing it was to come to Psalm 73, composed by Asaph. Although there is some speculation as to who he was, one thing is for certain. He is not David. He doesn’t have a list of all the great things he has done for God. No, in fact, he opens with a confession (my paraphrase):

I’m pretty sure that God is favorable to the good-guys, but me, I’m a screw up, so I wonder. (v.1-2a)

I tripped up when I got jealous, hearing the braggarts, seeing how evil people seemed to fare just fine. (v.2b-3)

<insert a litany of how bad guys end up on top> (v.4-10)

And then they have the nerve to say, “How is God going to know?” (v.11)

<insert more litanies of the things bad guys do> (v.12)

Sometimes I think my attempts at a spiritual life are in vain. (v.13)

And this thought nags at me, because I know it’s not right. (v.14)

And then I  just stuff my feelings. (v.15)

And this inner turmoil, I do not understand it, so I seek ways to numb the pain it causes me. (v.16).

And, then, all of that confusion just melts away when I finally experience God. It hits me, suddenly, when finally I am aware of God’s presence. (v.17)

This is always how it is for me, so here is a Psalm I can relate to. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mess of the world, in other’s junk, to struggle to do the next right thing, and continually feel like we are getting nowhere.  So … screw it. And, just when we are about to really mess things up, God comes along. Well, God is always there, but it feels like God just shows up, unannounced, sometimes, when, truly, I just needed to get myself out of the way so I could recognize God in my life. And everything falls into perspective. God is God, and I’m not. What a load off! Maybe I’ll just focus on me and not those other guys. Novel.

This psalm, when we turn the tables on ourselves, raises several questions, so I leave these with you, to use for your meditations and journaling:

  • What is tripping you up lately? Where are you stumbling? What might you do differently? (v.2)
  • What makes you jealous? Why? What’s behind that? (v.3)
  • When have you shown pride lately? How does it manifest itself? Is pride ever justifiable? (v.6)
  • How is it that our eyes can “bulge with abundance?” Does this sting a little when you think about your own life, how much you have, why it’s not enough, why your eyes keep bulging more and more? (v.7)
  • What does your heart wish for? (v.7)
  • Have you ever spoken like you’re a know-it-all? How did that work out for you? (v.8)
  • Have you ever acted as if you can get away with something and God won’t know? (v.11) In what other ways have you lied to yourself? Wait, what about that bag of chips?
  • Have you ever felt that all your attempts at living a righteous life were in vain? (v.13)
  • Have you ever spent an entire day fretting about something? (v.14)

When I contemplate the above about myself, it’s not a pretty picture. I’d rather pretend I’m not that bad off. But then, verse 11 comes back to haunt me (surely God won’t recognize my rotten heart hidden by my good-girl façade).

I’m always knocked right off my high horse and to my knees, though, when I encounter God (v.17). This is why weekly worship is life-blood for me. This is why periodic prayer/meditation keeps me grounded. I pray you experience the same.  Blessings to you this week as you contemplate your life in God.

God the Rock – A Blessing

This is a blessing for you, based upon Psalm 71

May you find trust in the Lord.

May shame never overcome you.

May you find respite from everything that confines and hinders.

Know that God is always listening and is continually your rock-solid refuge.

May you find deliverance from those who are hurtful and cruel.

May you find hope and trust.

Know that you are being held gently, like a baby from a mother’s womb, and are a wonder!

Even when you come to your sage years and your strength fails, know that you are not forsaken, for God is always near.

May your hope be as continuous as your praise, and without limits.

May God’s strength revive you, lift you up from your troubles, and bring you comfort.

Are there only two options?

One of the hardest things to do, it seems, is to consider the other side, or an alternative view. Self-preservation is a basic instinct, and when we are being personally attacked, it’s hard to consider that something else, other than the opinion we have formed, might be the case. And, being open to an alternative view is most difficult when we are being personally attacked. So we have David, again in Psalm 64, on the defensive, feeling persecuted by those with sharp tongues who shoot their vile, arrow-sharp, bitter words at the blameless (David is always the innocent one) and do so without fear (verses 3-4). He claims that they further escalate things through banding together, scheming and vile-talk (verses 5-6).

David has fallen into the trap of seeing the world as black-or-white, either-or, good guys vs. bad guys. In David’s dualistic world, God will deal with the bad guys (they will get their just desserts we are told in verses 7-8) and God will ensure that everything will be a happy dance for the good guys (verse 10).

If only …

These descriptions are so on point with much of what is seen today in the news and on social media. Can’t you just see folks moving into two camps on any given issue and shooting their vile, arrow-sharp, bitter words at each other? Where are the voices of the peacemakers, of those who hold strong opinions but are still willing to listen to and be fully present for the “other” and to seriously consider that another way might also be valid?

This psalm provides us a good example of how a mystic approaches the Bible. A literal approach assumes God will always shoot, wound and cause-to-stumble all of our enemies, and that we, the “righteous ones,” will always be glad. But, we all know that bad things happen to people who have spent their lifetimes acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly. And we also know people who have committed atrocities against humanity who die without ever having been held accountable.

So, what else might this scripture be calling us to? Rather than skip over these difficult passages, I suggest that we approach them with an attitude of what might there be that God wants to reveal to us. Here are some questions that surface for me from this Psalm:

  1. How do I hear God’s voice? (v1)
  2. What does preservation of my life look like and where might God be in that work? (v1)
  3. Have I tended to hide when life gets difficult? (v2) How might God help me work through my avoidance issues? Have I asked for God’s help? Am I avoiding God?  If so, what is that about?
  4. How have I been wounded by vicious and bitter words? Where might God have been in that experience? Could I have missed that God was there, with me? How can I be more aware of God’s presence when this happens again, because I know it will?
  5. What is causing me to dwell on those who do not agree with me, to rehash their words, to spiral down to anger by dwelling on their negative activities and hurtful ways? (v5-6) Why am I driven to knee-jerk responses without first considering that there might be another way, or without at least seeking God’s presence in my painful experience?
  6. What might be behind my need for the “other” to hurt as much as I am hurting? Have I sought God for the answer to this question? Am I brave enough to ask God to show me what is behind my fear?
  7. What does it mean to be glad? (v10) What would that look like for me? Have I been aware of God’s part in that gladness and expressed thanks, or did I take all the credit? If the latter, have I repented of my arrogance?

I have looked for you …

After several people-bashing Psalms, Psalm 63 is an oasis in the desert.

O God, you are my God. I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So, I have looked for you in the sanctuary, to see your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So, I will bless you as long as I live. I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips, when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night, for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you. Your right hand upholds me. (Ps. 63: 1-8).

This is the song of a thirsty, desert-weary-faint, soul-sated seeker, whose response to finding God is to praise, bless, lift up hands, name-proclaim, meditate, sing, cling.

The Psalmist says “I have looked for you …” 

This Elizabeth Barrett Browning excerpt, from her epic novel/poem Aurora Leigh, is but one answer to the question of where we might find God:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware

I really can’t contribute anything beyond those words to provide a more profound answer. So, I’ll just leave you with these questions:

For what are you looking?

What have you found that surprises you, or takes your breath away?

What drives you to spontaneous praise?

Where is God?

I read an article today in Spirituality & Health about various types of meditation that have been scientifically studied. They have learned that meditators at the highest level can control fear before experiencing a fearful situation. That is, they experience no fear prior to and throughout a fearful experience, despite knowing it is going to happen.

Psalm 53 is about people who have no relationship with God, some of whom even claim that “There is no God!” (Ps. 53:1). These people, the psalmist claims, “…are in great fear where no fear was.” (Ps. 53:5).

I am not a meditator by any means. But I believe that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) and that “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18). So, the closer we are in relationship with God, the more we experience God’s love in us, and less fear has control over us. This is not some superficial promise that everything is going to turn out perfectly, nor is it some form of a prosperity gospel. It goes deeper than that. It is a feeling of peace despite the circumstances in which we find our lives. But, then the question comes up … “How do we get closer to God?”

Meditation is, of course, one way. Use of the word “prayer” can be limiting if we have only one definition of what prayer is. I believe that there are many different forms of prayer, meditation being just one of them. Each form of prayer helps to bring us into closer relationship with God. They don’t all involve a one-way conversation from “me” to a God who is “up there” somewhere. Unfortunately, that is often how people think about God, and may explain why some find prayer hard. In fact, that’s how the psalmist thought about God.

“God looks down from heaven …” Ps. 53:2

Diana Butler Bass (DBB) discusses this problem in her book Grounded. I’ve heard her speak about this in person, and you can read her thoughts on this in multiple interviews posted on the internet. Here are some quotes from just one interview:

DBB: … probably the biggest problem in the church right now is that the metaphors have failed…

DBB: Grounded is about an attempt to find a different kind of metaphor… the driving question of Grounded is, “Where is God?”

DBB: …the steeple is like an elevator shaft up to sky…God’s way up there and we’re way down here. And we’ve got to figure out how to ride that elevator right up into heaven.

Interviewer:  It’s like we’re spending all our time looking for the up button…

DBB: Yes, and so something else needs to emerge…What’s the deeper spiritual structure of faith going to be…?

Her book is about how God is not “up” but “with” us, incarnate, and the multitude of ways we experience God. So, I thought that I’d leave you with some prompts that you could use over the next few days or weeks, to help you connect with God in a more intimate way. With each one, be sure to set your intention that this will be a time to experience God in a new and fresh way, and ask God to help you “notice” anything that God would bring to your attention.

Movement Prayer

Go for a walk, anywhere. Use you smart phone to take pictures of anything you notice that is in a place you usually don’t look, such as down at your feet, or behind you. When you return, and for as many days following, spend time looking at these images. Don’t skim through them. Really look at them. What do you notice? What might it mean? How is God speaking to you through what you noticed? If you like to write your prayers or do something creative, you can print the images and make a collage, or journal about what is coming up for you when you meditate on each image.

Word-based Prayer

Use Psalm 53 as a source for Lectio Divina (if you are familiar with that prayer form). For passages that are difficult, or for which you may have a different opinion, spend time talking with God about how you feel, why you are struggling with the passage, what you want to know about God. Ask God what there might be for you to learn about yourself as part of the process of questioning. As just one example, in verse 1 it talks about those who are “corrupt” and who have done horrible things. Maybe this brings up those who have injured you in your life, physically, verbally, emotionally. Talk with God about your feelings or about how to deal with unresolved issues about those who come to mind or about your past experiences that have come to mind.

Music Prayer

Listen to or play music that helps you feel close to God. While you are listening, think about those whom you know who feel that God is very far away, and send positive thoughts into the universe that they, like you, may find ways to experience God. Thank God, while you are experiencing God through the music, for being present to you through this experience.

Writing Prayer

Use these writing prompts inspired by Ps. 51 (I know, it’s not our Psalm for today, but it works better for writing). Maybe focus on one for several days, or use a new one for each journal entry:

  • Verse 1: I experienced God’s mercy …
  • Verse 2: I have felt new and clean in God’s presence …
  • Verse 3: When I have been honest with myself …
  • Verse 4: I experienced God just-in-time …
  • Verse 5: When I think of my mother …
  • Verse 6: I think the truth …
  • Verse 7: When I consider snow …
  • Verse 8: To rejoice is …
  • Verse 9: If God really didn’t acknowledge how I’ve failed …
  • Verse 10: The last time I really stuck with something …

It would be wonderful to hear how going through one of these exercises helped you to experience God. Feel free to share in the comments.

A Blessing for Truth-Telling

This blessing is loosely based on Psalm 51

May the Lord grant you mercy and forget anything you have ever done wrong
May you feel clean and fresh, like sheets from the dryer or fresh off the clothesline
May you have the courage to speak your truth, even when it’s ugly
May truth-telling be a desire that wells up from the deepest parts of you,
exposing what you have been fearfully hiding
May the truth you speak bring joy and gladness and deep healing
May it renew your spirit within you, and be a steady support
May you always feel God’s presence and be filled with God’s spirit

Sharing a Post from another Blog

I receive the blog from the Abbey of the Arts on a weekly basis. In this week’s blog, the author discusses, among other things, her reading of the Psalms, and the issue of dealing with the inner conflict arising from complicated passages. I have raised this same issue often, particularly, how do I respond to passages that represent God in a way with which I cannot relate.

I really like the questions she raises about her reading of Psalm 10. This is a great example of how a Mystic reads the bible. What can I lean about myself? What is rising up within me when I read this passage?  Here is a brief excerpt:

Even more disturbing are the images of the “enemies,” the ones whose “mouths are filled with cursing, deceit, and opposition.” Or those who “murder the innocent” and “stealthily watch for the helpless.” The psalmist later calls out to God to “break the arm of the wicked.” As I sit with these images I want to turn away and say these have nothing to do with me and my peaceful life.

Yet, in prayer the invitation arises: What are the ways I deceive myself? What are the places of opposition within my own heart? How do I “murder” my own innocence? Or take advantage of that which feels helpless within? How do I fuel my own self-destruction?

I am discovering the psalms as a beautiful gateway of awareness into my own inner multitude.

This is the link to the full blog. This was just too good to not share.

Be Blessed.