Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

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Benedictine spirituality: John’s story

Wednesday January 20 2016

Benedictine spirituality: John’s story

John, 46, is an attorney. He has spent time at two different monasteries, ranging from a few days to a week each time. Here’s how he describes his first visit:

My first monastery experience came six or seven years ago, right before a sabbatical I was taking from my law firm. I experienced a kind of tinderbox tension leading up to the sabbatical, trying to get everything done, trying not to leave too many unfinished projects for others to complete. As I drove home from work that last day, I was still dictating letters and leaving voicemails on my car phone.

As I drove to the monastery the next day, I was revved on coffee, full of energy, and playing loud music on my car stereo. As I followed the road up the hill to the monastery through the cool woods, I could feel myself unwind. There’s an open place at the top, where the breeze was blowing. I sat in my car, feeling the quiet. Under the quiet, I could feel waves and waves of fatigue. Under the fatigue, I could feel waves and waves of emptiness.

In my week at the monastery, God showed his love to me.

In Benedict’s Rule, there is no vow of silence, but there is a presumption against speaking. Speech is reserved for necessary things only, and there is a healthy understanding of the dangers of the tongue.

During my week at the monastery, I had a few mealtime conversations, but by and large I didn’t talk to anyone for a week. In the space where words would have been, there was room for God.

The silence didn’t scare me like it might have at a younger age. As you get older, you just get worn out from the noise. Life exhausts you. The pace exhausts you. So you are drawn to a place where you perceive it might be different, where it might be quiet.

It doesn’t mean it was necessarily easy. God was working with me that week. There were tears even as I was journaling.

I noted the role work plays in a monastery. To an outsider, it’s clear that work is a minor part of the picture. It’s a way to fill time between prayer services, a way for the monks to support themselves, a way to fill in the edges between what’s important.

At the monastery I visited, the monks attend a series of seven prayer services every day, beginning at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 7:00 p.m. These prayer services created an incredible sense of rhythm for me. I knew I would be anchored in prayer continually. The services integrated God into the whole day. And it seemed that for the monks, their lives are knit together into one whole, not fragmented. They work in order to be able to pray. My life at home – work, family, PTA, church – it has God over top of it all, but it still seems fragmented. I pray in order to be able to work.

I was struck by the monks’ approach to time. It is not adversarial. While I was at the monastery, God was showing me that I always fight time, trying to manage it, buy it, control it. I have too much time or too little time. I’m always struggling with it. The monks always seem to have enough time, just the right amount of time. No one rushes. They live in a rhythm that seems unforced.

I enjoyed the sense of rhythm. The monks go back and forth between work and prayer and rest. Time is seen as rhythmical rather than linear. It was clear to me that in our everyday lives we try to control time with our schedules.

At one meal I had an interesting conversation with a monk who works in the book bindery at the monastery. I asked him, “What if you were trying meet a Fed Ex deadline, and the bells rang for the prayer service? What would you do? Would you keep on working to meet the deadline? Would you choose to miss the deadline and go to the prayer service? How would you decide?”

The monk looked at me as if I were out of my mind. They really don’t understand the drive to squeeze things in because they don’t live that way.

 

This is the second post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. The first post was Benedictine spirituality: embracing structure. Next week focuses on Benedict, the person who lies behind the tradition.

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab. If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.

Benedictine spirituality: the first post of a series

Wednesday January 13 2016

Benedictine spirituality: the first post of a series

“I’ve decided to come with you to the monastery again this year. Last year I was able to pray there in a way I’ve never experienced before.”

For a half dozen years, I took a group of women from our congregation to a Benedictine monastery for women in Idaho for a weekend. Every time I walked into the monastery, I had a strong sense that people had prayed in this place for many, many years, and that I would be able to pray there too. I was glad when one of the young women at church confirmed my experience.

Every year we toured the monastery so first-time visitors could get a sense of the space and the structure. One year the sister who was giving us a tour said that Benedictine life is all about sacred places and sacred times, and indeed it is the serenity of place and the rhythm of time that are most noticeable to a visitor. I have stayed in numerous Benedictine monasteries. Two of them were housed in large building with “chapels” that looked like small cathedrals. On the opposite end of the spectrum was a monastery in a large house with a chapel in the basement. What they have in common is a sense of the space being consecrated to prayer and to prayerful work.

What’s also striking about Benedictine monasteries is the schedule of prayer services. Some have the traditional seven services each day, some five, some two or three, but in every case, the prayer services – also called the divine office or liturgy of the hours – set a rhythm for daily life.

In addition, immediately visible is the spirit of hospitality. According to Benedict, guests are to be welcomed as if they are Christ himself. Most monasteries devote space to guest quarters, and they expect that hosting guests will be a significant ministry for them.

The priorities of prayer and hospitality are rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict, a foundation that lies behind much monastic life today. Benedict’s balanced view of life calls monks and sisters to a rhythm and order that are visible when visiting a monastery. It may seem that these monastic patterns have nothing to do with the ordinary daily life that most of us experience at our jobs or in our families. Yet many people young and old have talked with me about the ways they have been impacted by visits to monasteries. They have enjoyed the quiet and reflection while they are there, and they have also carried something significant back home with them.

The popularity of Kathleen Norris’s books is one indication of a growing awareness that we have something important to learn from the monastic tradition. Norris writes in several of her books about her experiences staying at Benedictine monasteries. What she has learned in those visits has spilled over into her daily life. In the post for next week, John’s story, we will see the way the visit to a monastery called him to reexamine several aspects of his daily life.

Question to ponder for the week: what are the structures of your life that nurture your spiritual development?

(This is the first post in a series on Benedictine spirituality. Excerpted from A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife (InterVarsity Press, 2002), copyright © Lynne Baab. Photo: St. Gertrude's Monastery, Cottonwood, Idaho. If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

For further reading:

Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

Timothy Fry, OSB, editor, The Rule of St. Benedict in English (Collegeville, Minn,: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

Elizabeth Canham, Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today (Nashville: Upper Room, 1999).

Esther de Waal, Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1989, 1997).

Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996).

Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: MI: Brazos Press, 2007).

Gifts of Freedom: The Sabbath and Fasting, article by Lynne Baab that draws on her monastery visits.

Two postures for entering into the New Year

Wednesday January 6 2016

Two postures for entering into the New Year

What do I need to remember as I enter 2016? What do I need to embrace for a fresh start in a new year? Here are two foundational ideas or postures that I’m hoping will shape 2016 for me. “Posture” implies a way of standing, and I hope I can stand firm in these two truths.

1. I am beloved. Henri Nouwen talks about being beloved more vividly than anyone else I’ve read. In his wonderful book, The Life of the Beloved, he writes:

Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do. . . . What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life. Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about, and doing from hour to hour (pages 45 and 46).

I love that he discusses the “gap that exists between what I know myself to be” as God’s beloved and “the countless specific realities of everyday life.” God’s love is described so vividly in the Bible, and it pours into my life in so many ways, yet so often I don’t feel it or dwell in it. It’s so easy to feel self-critical. The task, according to Nouwen, is to pull “the truth revealed to me from above into the ordinariness” of daily life.

This is not necessarily easy, and I’m so glad he affirms the challenge. In the middle of the quotation above, he writes that this “entails a long and painful process of appropriation or, better, incarnation.” In 2016 I want to grow in beginning each day from a place of belovedness that flows into daily life. I want to see belovedness incarnated in my life more and more each day. I am God’s beloved child and I want to live that way.

2. I am sent. My second foundational attitude or posture for 2016 comes from the benediction Pastor Doug Kelly says most Sundays at Seattle’s Bethany Presbyterian Church: “You go nowhere by accident. Everywhere you go, God has a purpose for your being there.”[1]

Our word “mission” comes from the Latin “missio,” which means sent. In his prayer for all believers, Jesus says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you into the world” (John 17:18). We have been sent into the world as Jesus was sent, so it’s true that we go nowhere by accident. (If you'd like to read more about being sent, I highly recommend Sentness: Six Postures for Missional Christians by my friend Darren Cronshaw and Kim Hammond.)

So God has a purpose for us wherever we go, even in the moments when that purpose seems quite small or insignificant. What is that purpose? Here are some of the ways I would describe it:

To be faithful to God’s call each day.
To show God’s love to the people around me as much as possible.
To be God’s agent of reconciliation in as many settings as possible.
To abide in Christ so that I can bear the lasting fruit God wants me to bear.

I want to go into 2016 knowing I am beloved and knowing I have been sent to exactly the place where I am. I want to follow God’s guidance and fulfill God’s purposes as much as I can, resting in the fact that I am God’s beloved child.

As you enter 2016, here are some questions to reflect on:

1. In what settings do you know deep inside that you are God’s beloved? Make plans to go to those places often in 2016.

2. What are the biggest obstacles to knowing you are beloved? With whom could you talk and pray about those obstacles?

3. If someone asked you, “what is your purpose in Christ,” how would you answer?

4. What are the biggest obstacles you experience to knowing you go nowhere by accident? With whom could you talk and pray about those obstacles?

(If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog. Illustration: Lynne Baab at age four, watercolor by Dave Baab.)

[1] Doug Kelly's benediction comes from Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Halverson's benediction went like this: "You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a purpose in your being there. Christ lives in you and has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in the grace and love and power of Jesus Christ." When corresponding with Doug Kelly about this blog post, Doug wrote: "I heard the benediction at a conference where the speaker had met with Halverson at the end of his time at a church and he asked him what was the most impactful thing he had given his church.  Halverson thought it was probably this benediction."

These are a few of my favorite things for the Christmas season

Wednesday December 30 2015

These are a few of my favorite things for the Christmas season

1. I “met” this poem when I was in my twenties, and it has remained my favorite Christmas poem: Mary’s Song by Lucy Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest...
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove’s voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

2. Another favorite is the song, “Mary, did you know?” Here’s an intriguing version of it by Peter Hollen.

3. And here’s a new favorite, an email I received from Arise (Christians for Biblical Equality in Australia). It was written by Bronwen Speedie, the founder of the Western Australian-based ministry, God’s Design-Perth, which seeks to bring clarity, healing, and encouragement through the biblical message of the equality of men and women. She is the author of a Bible study and resource kit about biblical equality titled, Men and Women: God’s Design. She quoted from the song, “Mary did you know?” Then she wrote:

This led me to wonder what other things Mary may have pondered, hoped for, and even worried about. How might Mary’s own experience—as an unmarried, pregnant young woman in a cultural dichotomy of honor and shame—have shaped the questions she asked? With this in mind, I’ve added my own questions to those in the song. (Don’t try to sing along—I haven’t kept to the constraints of the tune.)

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy, in whose face relatives will look for your chin or Joseph’s nose, is the creator from whom all humans are made?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy, the fruit of a pregnancy that local gossips considered a sinful stain on your character, will one day protect a woman from similar judgments? That he will turn the stones intended to kill a woman caught in adultery into tools to convict her accusers of their own sins?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will lift the heads of countless women? That in opposition to the patriarchy of his culture, he will accept the touch of a menstruating woman, seek to protect the rights of women cast away in divorce, and reject service within the household as a woman’s sole or primary function?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy, whom you now nurse at your breast, is the Bread of Life, and that all who believe in him will never hunger or thirst again?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy, who will learn the Tanakh at the feet of the local rabbis with other boys, will open up the study of Scripture to women like yourself, encouraging them to learn at his feet as disciples?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will not reveal his identity as Messiah to the male authorities of Israel, but will first announce this good news to a despised Samaritan woman?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will inspire women over the course of two thousand years to exchange society’s restrictions for God’s calling?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy, whom you now wrap in swaddling clothes, will one day leave his folded grave clothes in an empty tomb?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will choose as his witnesses, and the first to be sent out with the message of his resurrection, a group of “mere” women?

Mary, did you know that your own faithfulness to God’s calling will play a key role in bringing a savior into the world who will set women free?

 

Last December's Christmas posts:
     Upside-down Christmas
     Bringing my whole self to the manger

(If you'd like to receive and email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

What I learned about the incarnation from Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Friday December 18 2015

What I learned about the incarnation from Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

I celebrated most of the Christmases of my childhood and early adult life in northern cities in the Northern Hemisphere, where night falls in December long before 5 pm. The most common Christmas imagery in those places draws on the Gospel of John’s description of Jesus as the light of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5). The dark and broken world needs light, and every evening during the Christmas season the candles and lights in our homes shine in the dark night, and we remember that reality.

It took me a while to adjust to Christmas here in the Southern Hemisphere, with the long days and warm December weather. Because the majority of Christians throughout history have lived in the Northern Hemisphere, many Christmas songs, poems, stories and traditions draw on Northern Hemisphere symbolism, and it makes us miss the rich possibilities for Christmas imagery here. I am convinced, with some creative thinking, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere can be a meaningful experience of celebrating with joy the Christian emphasis on Jesus becoming flesh in order to redeem the whole creation.

Warm weather gives opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities at Christmas: tramping, sailing, swimming, biking, gardening, walking on beautiful beaches. Delicious local fresh fruit and vegetables are in season. For many, the long school holiday creates relaxed times with families and friends.

On long bright summer evenings, you may want to pause to remember that Jesus is the light of the world. While we are enjoying light, many people on earth are experiencing darkness, both literal and metaphorical. Spend a few moments on a light-filled evening praying for God’s light to shine in darkness.

When you’re enjoying being outside in nature using your body, you may want to stop to reflect on the mystery that Jesus took on human flesh. He walked human roads alongside human companions. Spend some time praying for those whose human bodies cause them pain rather than joy: maybe a friend who is fighting cancer or someone who has been sexually abused.

When you bite into a fresh strawberry or home-grown tomato, you may want to take a few moments to remember that Jesus ate with his friends. He took on human flesh fully so he could fully redeem it, and being human involves the pleasure and necessity of food. Pray for those who lack enough food and for those who lack high quality food. Jesus came to earth for people in every kind of need.

When you’re relaxing with friends or family members – or even when you’re irritated by them – perhaps pause and remember how highly Jesus valued human relationships across all sorts of boundaries. Pray that you will cross boundaries in your relationships, and pray for those who experience pain in their relationships or who are lonely.

A summer time Christmas gives us the opportunity to remember Jesus’ birthday in ways that haven’t been commonly stressed in the past. To do so, we need to relinquish Northern Hemisphere imagery. We need to learn to celebrate the warmth and the light and our physical bodies as ways to connect with the deep truth that Jesus became fully human in order to redeem all of humanity, and indeed, the whole created world.

(If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column. This post was originally published in the Otago Daily Times. Watercolor by Dave Baab)

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