Summer as a Verb

Summer means different things to different people. If you are a kid, it means no school. If you dig the water, it means game on. If you are in Maryland, it can mean eating steamed crabs, rockfish season, river swimming, and/or lightning bugs. Maybe it means family vacations.

Winter and spring this year were fully scheduled. Events and programs at the community center; three different evening small groups at Christ Church Easton; lacrosse season and school for the girls. All great things, which drove where and when to be and what to do.

Summer right now is an opening up of the schedule. But in some ways, I can already feel this notion of chaos taking over from order, or inactivity as a response to hyperactivity. So it’s time to create fun and balance and challenge all at the same time.

Yesterday morning, I found Paul’s Letter to the Galatians staring at me:

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control… If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5, 22-25)

That is a great reminder, note to self, and guide for how to approach summer, or life in general, every day.

With all that as backdrop, I like making fun “to do” lists. Here’s one for the summer months.

1. Summer reading – read three unread/unfinished books from my bookshelf. My “to be read” stacks of books grow and books I have started or wanted to read get cast off. I started yesterday by picking back up T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” White’s wild take on the King Arthur legend, an imagination-shaping story for me as a kid, a favorite book of my brother-in-law, a book I have started and not finished. I am giving myself to the end of June. Other likely contenders are James Hillman’s “A Blue Fire,” Richard Rohr’s “The Divine Dance” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.” Every summer should have some Vonnegut.

2. Regular running – as a 5-mile run yesterday evening can attest to, I have some work to do. I let my running slide this winter/spring, and it is one of the habits that rights my body and mind.

3. Paddleboarding – at least 50 miles of summer paddleboarding. More than doable without being a stretch goal at all. I’ve just written about stand-up paddleboarding on the Shore, I live walking distance to the water, make the miles happen.

4. It’s called Natitude – go to five Washington Nationals home games (September counts). When I worked in DC, it was a habit. The girls are Nats fans and enjoy live baseball, and we haven’t caught a Nats home game the last two seasons. Time to change that.

5. Prayer – My deepest connections and most meaningful moments are when I can feel the Holy Spirit at work, when I “let go and let God” to quote a friend and small group leader. That happens more frequently when I silence and open my mind. Making time for prayer is an integral part of being guided by the Spirit.

6. Life’s a Beach – we’ve got our annual Ocean City pilgrimage on the map for July. But Assateague Island is easy. Boat and paddleboard beach exploring. Make more time beach time.

7. Go new places – I’m going to keep this broad. It could be trails, small towns, road trips, scheduled or unscripted.

8. Grow things – summer mulching has begun. I need to plant tomatoes again and regain that connection to the earth, even potted flowers and plants and the habit of watering in the mornings while drinking coffee.

9. Make a skateboarding adventure – there are a few folks who I think will be on board with this. We’ve pondered the Western Maryland Rail Trail before. I don’t know what this might become or where, but I want to recapture the feeling skater Jason Adams talks about here.

10. Live music – summer and live music are meant to go together. In June, we’ve got Josh Ritter at the Avalon Theatre and The Specials in Baltimore on the books. The Avalon has outdoor music on Harrison Street, the community center will be having Philip Dutton and the Alligators, just to name a few.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a way to shape thinking about the summer. A way to carpe the diem. John Eldredge wrote something that resonates with me: “We are created for adventure, and if we cannot find one, we start blowing things out of proportion so it feels like we have one.”

In the case of adventure, or summer, it can also be a state of mind. Be guided by the spirit, and approach these days, weeks, and months for all that they, and we can be.

Show Me How to Live

Our senses are gateways to the world. What we see, hear, smell, touch, taste give us our world, in part. And our senses have memories.

Walking the dog the other morning, I was overwhelmed by the smell of honeysuckle. It transported me back to being a kid, building forts in the marsh, sections of which were absolutely and wonderfully overgrown with it. The smell of steamed crabs has the same effect.

The feel of cut grass under bare feet, or hot sand, or gravel under toughened summer feet. The first time my daughters’ newborn hands wrapped around my finger.

Our senses cue up a lifetime of memories in our mind’s eye and in our souls.

And there is music. Our lives have a soundtrack. Mine is different from anyone else’s, though certainly we share songs and groups with others. Anyone who rode in my car during high school heard their share of the Beastie Boys “Paul’s Boutique,” The Specials, Public Enemy, The Clash, and Metallica.

Getting to North Carolina for college, it was meeting Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog.

I don’t generally sing, but to this day when Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” comes on the radio, much to my daughters’ cringing, I am belting it out.

Cornell and Vedder are still on about every running playlist I have. But Cornell is integral.

We all get to those rough places in our emotional lives. When I was driving four to five hours a day back and forth to DC, in what came to feel like a soul-less grind, and my marriage was crumbling around me, it was Cornell, Tom Morello and Audioslave. Played so loud the windows and dashboard shook. It was the angst, the wail Morello’s guitar, the reach and pitch and emotion and questions in Cornell’s voice.

You gave me life
Now show me how to live.

Audioslave was and is catharsis, solace, energy. When I moved down Bailey’s Neck and got my feet back under me, and would run the wood-lined back roads, it was Audioslave time and time again.

Show me how to live.

In finding a job in Oxford at the community center and re-embracing a community that helped raise me, in moving back to town here, and running through town and up Oxford Rd.

Show me how to live.

The night Ava had her big seizure in Pennsylvania and was flown by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh; as I buried the gas pedal driving through the night it was Cornell and company playing in the car to keep me awake and focused.

Show me how to live.

As we all returned home, and I was filled with gratitude for the outpouring of support and prayers from friends and family and strangers, and I found church and faith, and would shuffle a playlist on my runs, I could hear:

You gave me life
Now show me how to live.

In hearing and finding a calling and Christ Church and being in small groups and building a family and community of faith through our Alpha program, I hear the same words.

I’ve never met Chris Cornell. His death isn’t like losing a family member or close friend. There isn’t a hole in my life in that way. When David Bowie, Prince, or Lemmy died it was sad to lose great artists. But they weren’t a part of first team soundtrack of my life.

We come to know artists through their art. When we find those artists whose work resonates and enlarges our souls, we know it. We connect with them in ways that makes our own struggles and questions seem relevant for someone else; we feel less alone. Like together we tap into something bigger–in the best art we can feel connected; at times maybe we can hear God’s message for us.

In the end, I’m best leaving the words to Morello, who knew Cornell well. The poem Morello wrote to Cornell after his death is beautiful, moving, and open-hearted and minded. Go read the whole thing. But we’ll leave his last words here:

You’re the clear bell ringing, the mountains echo your song

Maybe no one has ever known you

You are twilight and star burn and shade 

 

Difference Makers: Christ Church Easton’s Alpha Weekend

Faith is not a sprint. The Holy Spirit is irrational and real. And sometimes, finding ways to nurture and stoke a community of faith and love; something that feels like a family, is about the best way you can spend a weekend.

Christ Church Easton‘s Alpha Weekend was a retreat suited for people who would quickly tell you they don’t do church retreats. I know because I was one of those people–I’d never done anything like it. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone at the end of the weekend who didn’t feel like they had been part of something totally unique, moving, connecting, and Spirit-filled.

The Alpha Course is billed as a sort of introduction to Christianity. It’s about understanding and building a relationship with God, not about hitting the books or simply learning facts. It was created in London and since Nicky Gumbel took it over in 1990, it’s become a bit of a global phenomenon. It’s designed with people who don’t know much of anything about church in mind; who maybe never thought they’d have a need or interest. Each meeting is centered on food, fun, discussion, and laughter. In my experience, it’s as much a personal and group adventure as it is a course.

At Christ Church, Kelsey Spiker, who heads up the youth ministry, was gearing up to lead a Teen Alpha Course. Fr. Bill Ortt and Jana Leslie liked the idea of running an adult Alpha at the same time, for any parents or others who were interested. What followed was 100 people–roughly half kids and half adults–who signed up. On Saturdays, after the 5pm worship service, the whole group sits down for dinner together, eats and laughs and connects, then breaks up into groups to watch a video and discuss. I signed on as a leader, and I’ve seen some pretty cool things go on each Saturday.

Which led to the Alpha Weekend away.

My daughters are part of the Teen Alpha group. The three of us were a part of about 60 people who headed out to the Claggett Center in Adamstown, Md–an idyllic setting in Maryland mountains.

It was a weekend to unplug from the distractions of everyday life; to refocus energy and attention; to connect with each other; to grow together in faith and understanding.

The youth movement took nature walks, played basketball and impromptu capture the flag, and made the most of the Claggett Center campus on a rainy Saturday. The adults went between group videos and discussion and unstructured time for reflection, with everyone coming together to eat, and morning and evening time to pray. As someone who generally prays by myself in solitude, there is something about praying as a community that transcends anything I can feel on my own.

Saturday evening, the rain let up and everyone gathered around a fire. There is a core of this group who radiate music and just being around them is being around a concert ready to happen at any moment. That night it was Grace (yes, that kind of Grace, but also a person), a soft-spoken 18-year-old arts student, who opened the song flood gates with a guitar and a song called “Difference Makers.”

It’s easy to think of a retreat as an escape. This wasn’t. The death of an Easton High School student preceded the weekend and was on hearts and minds of everyone. While we were there, word came in of a tragic death of a young child of somone’s close friend. People’s lives, loved ones, joy, pain, questions, sorrow, searching, and happiness were all present. And all real.

With the rain, Saturday was a day largely spent indoors. So when the sun came out Sunday morning, I ate breakfast quickly and hit a hilly hiking trail at Claggett. I wandered through the woods until I found a stream flowing downhill, and hopped onto rocks and followed the stream to the river. I sat next to the river, listened to birds, felt a breeze on my face and prayed for a while. Until I realized I had to get back for the morning’s movie, “How can I make the most out of the rest of my life?”

With a book in my hand, wearing jeans, I hit the trail running, smiling and laughing like a kid, making it with a couple minutes to spare.

I am a note taker–never leaving home without a pocket notebook and pen. The weekend was filled with things to write down:

“Prayer is a two-way conversation.” – Nicky Gumbel

“Jesus didn’t come to make life easy, He came to make people great.” – NG

“You’re not saved by doing good; you are saved in order to do good.” – NG

“The Holy Spirit is completely irrational and totally real and relevant.” – Fr. Bill Ortt

“The inspiration of the Holy Spirit isn’t found on page 101 of the prayer book.” – Fr. Bill (meaning it isn’t as simple as just opening a book)

After the movie and group discussions, morning worship service was filled with song and Spirit. People who don’t generally speak in front of groups shared gratitude and thanks for having a church family. We left the Claggett Center, and the weekend, fully charged.

This past weekend, we were back at Christ Church. Fr. Charles Osberger, a guest minister, led the Alive at Five Saturday service. He talked about his own experience with Alpha, saying, “the love of God is present like surfing on a wave.”

Building on a theme, he prayed that we “have the Scriptures open to us in ways that stretch and deepen our understanding.” And he noted that, “When God moves from a God ‘out there’ to a God inside us, it is like igniting a fire.”

That fire, the feeling that something is starting and building, that’s what it feels like is at work right now at Christ Church. With Alpha, but that’s only part of it. It’s something that is hard to put into words, but something you can see and feel. It’s people making a difference in each other’s lives. It’s people trying to walk their walk and live God’s love. It’s struggles, failures, challenges, and successes. To use a Christ Church notion, it’s “real hope, real grace, real joy, real God.”

Tangents and Timing

I waited until I was 45 to meet William Stafford. Sure, I’d heard of him. Maybe run into him at a couple parties (figuratively). But there is no reckoning, or quickening if you are a “Highlander” fan, until it is time.

Tangents seem to be the most direct route to my soul. Stafford is a writer who I have known I wanted to, and needed to read for probably 20 years. I have read bits and pieces and read articles about him, but haven’t made a point to dig in. And then he appears in a birthday compilation of thoughts, memories, and musings, writing about Great Blue Herons.

So I take the hint and find a greatest hits book that has that same poem in it. And reading Stafford it is instantly clear that he has his own unique place in my tribe of soul writers.

Timing is everything. I’ve seen it and felt it countless times: I read something or hear a song that seems cool, but doesn’t resonate. Until I have had the experience that makes the lid blow off it, and it drives directly to the heart and makes a home there. Until it is time, it doesn’t make sense.

Stafford is like that. I needed a birthday reminder to get in touch with him. Scripture is like that. For more than 40-some years, I have read spiritual tomes and everything I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t until last year that I knew it was time to immerse myself in the Bible. And now, finding the connections between the Old Testament, Gospels, epistles, and seeing how God’s Word becomes living words in our lives; I know I wasn’t ready for that search, that journey, those connections, until I was.

At Christ Church Easton, we’ve finished up our Lent Bible studies, which came on the heels of an Ephesians group. We’ve still got an Old Testament study underway, and Alpha groups, but I look forward to what’s next, what direction groups will take this fall.

But first it’s Holy Week and Easter. And spring and summer. And spring break for the girls. It’s finding the soul tangents and being led to follow them. Those tangents can be adventures, people, paddling, reading, traveling, sunrises, birds. They are the threads God puts in our lives, puts in front of us for us to follow.

He Speaks in Silence

Much of this spring has been scheduled, busy, on the move. All to the good, but jam packed with it. And so it has been the unscripted moments that stand out.

Tucked into our readings for an Old Testament class at Christ Church Easton, was this wisdom from 1 Kings 19:11-13:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

When Elijah hears the sheer silence, he knows God is about to speak to him. It strikes me as absolutely and beautifully profound that he lets the pyrotechnics of the wind, earthquake, and fire go by, but knows God in the silence. He speaks in silence.

It was this time last year that Jim Harrison died. He has been a literary and life hero/model of mine for 20 years or so, and I have been thoughtfully and randomly reading in his books, “The Shape of the Journey” and “Songs of Unreason” since. I came across this last week in the latter:

Don’t bother taking your watch to the river,
the moving water is a glorious second hand.
Properly understood the memory loses nothing
and we humans are never allowed to let our minds
sit on the still bank and have a simple picnic.

Sitting on the still river bank for a simple picnic. Again it’s the stillness and the silence that houses the profound moments. Where we let ourselves catch up.

Running has always been a listening time for me. Even with music playing into headphones, there is a stillness and silence in the motion and the head space that I crave. I have been on the shelf from running this winter, but managed to sneak in a couple five mile runs of late, unscripted, unscheduled, when time and weather have cooperated.

Tuesday was one of those days. After picking Anna up from lacrosse practice, I ran around Oxford, watching as the sun wound down, then grabbed the girls and Harper and hit the Oxford Park to catch the sunset. The clouds got the better of the horizon, but it didn’t matter. It was getting off script, taking advantage of an evening, making a few moments.

Life has its landmarks–those big, defining moments that we measure and remember. God is in the majestic, the heroic, the can’t miss pyrotechnics that leave us in awe.

But I’m trying to cultivate and make the most of the in-between times, unscripted, still. Those times when He speaks to us in silence.

Notes for Spring

The Eastern Shore is not known for cherry trees or Pablo Neruda, but with his line, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees,” watching, smelling, being outside in spring on the Shore, I think he was describing here as well. Blossoming, coming to life, opening into the fullness of what we can become.

Spring belongs to those who go out into it, who look for it.

Spring belongs to those who go on sea glass and treasure hunts on beaches at sunset.

Spring belongs to those who are mulching gardens and planting flowers.

Spring belongs to those who are paddleboarding in cold water, before it is sensible to be on the water.

When we were younger, spring belonged to the kid who got the nerve up to be the first to jump off the ferry dock on a warm day in April and re-open the river for the season.

Spring belongs to kids and coaches playing lacrosse and baseball on newly cut ball fields until the sun goes down.

Spring belongs to those who wake up camping on cool mornings.

Spring belongs to Jack Kerouac when he writes:

On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under
the stars
Something good will come out of all things yet
And it will be golden and eternal just like that
There’s no need to stay another word.

Spring belongs to those who walk outside on a clear, starry night in short sleeves and look up and wonder.

Spring belongs to William Wordsworth and his walks through the Lake District.

Spring belongs to those who plan epic trips for April birthdays.

Spring belongs to dogs running into rivers.

Spring belongs to those who look forward; those who get out and breathe in. Spring belongs to those who show up.

Seasons, Journeys, Treasure

I dig the seasons changing. There is something to that elemental shift that stirs my soul. These warm days of walking home for lunch and feeling the sun on my face; longboarding to work; thinking about sunrise or sunset paddleboarding on the horizon; putting tomatoes in and mulching gardens; seeing the return of green grass. I’m looking forward.

This is maybe the first time I have fully paid attention to the changing seasons of the church: from Advent to Christmas, from Epiphany now into Lent, looking to the Passion and Easter. Another new thing for me is leading a small group as we journey through Lent.

At the Ash Wednesday service last evening at Christ Church Easton, Father Bill Ortt gave out some information on what Lent is all about. Among other things, I like getting into the word itself:

The word Lent is derived from the old English word “lente” meaning “Springtime” or “lencten” referring to the lengthening of the daylight hours. In the agricultural sense, it is a time when fields are prepared to receive the seeds for the crops to be planted. On a spiritual basis, we might look at it the same way. There is much work to do to break the ground compacted by the weight of the winter period of “death” and there are weeds and obstacles to remove. And yet there is good to be found in the preparations, because it is preparation for new life. In other words, this is more than a good thing.

Lent is a preparation. Lent is also a journey. Lent is a journey over a period of time, 40 days, and it is also a journey over the terrain of the soul.

This morning, thinking about journeys, I went back to a book I pick up a lot for those kind of travels, Jim Harrison’s “The Shape of the Journey:”

It is not so much that I got
there from here, which is everyone’s
story: but the shape
of the voyage: how it pushed
onward in every direction
until it stopped

It’s not the destination, it’s the shape of the voyage that defines it. And can define us. In Walter Brueggemann’s “A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent,” he offers this prayer for today:

Self-giving God, call us to walk the road of
newness–a new self, a new society, a new world,
one neighbor at a time. May we have traveling
mercies this Lenten season. Amen.

We are each on our own journey. Some are fortunate enough to help others in their travels, some people help us along. Where our paths intersect, and where we can travel together, those are great times. This kind of trip can be lonely and rough and we need help.

The Ash Wednesday reading from the Gospel of Matthew had some really key traveling advice. Something we may want to take to heart. Matthew quotes Jesus, who talks about not storing up treasures on earth–material things, money, fame, success–but storing up “treasures in heaven,” those things that light the soul, that put us in touch with something bigger, that connect us to God:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This Lent, this spring, as we set out on our journeys; may we find and store up the right kind of treasures and know our hearts; help our fellow travelers on their way; and all know traveling mercies, as Anne Lamott and Brueggemann call them, remembering it is the shape of the journey at least as much as the destination.

A Tale of Two Buildings

Let’s be up front: this isn’t really a tale of two buildings. It’s more what they represent. They are buildings, but also emblems. The cabin and the church.

The Cabin

It is so easy for me to be a hermit. An active, outdoor hermit, mind you–wrangling sunrises with coffee, running, paddleboarding, looking for birds. I like to hermit in the John Muir, Edward Abbey, Thoreau style.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to daydream about finding a cabin like this one from Cabin Folk and holing up for a good stretch with books, notebook, trail running shoes, binoculars, backpack, you get the idea. And I would enjoy that and likely recharge a bit.

Solitude is a necessary condition for me. But I’ve come to realize it’s not enough. It’s just a beginning point, albeit one to return to. If you are one to ask life’s biggest questions and take the walk to find answers, there is a good chance that you are going to struggle at times. You are going to suffer, you are going to come up short, and sooner or later, you are going to need help. That can be a humbling experience. For me, being humbled is also a necessary condition.

It’s being humbled and needing help that sets us up for needing other people. Needing a community of sorts. Needing people who we can relate to; who understand our struggles; and who we can in turn help with theirs. In my experience, helping someone–whether it is moving furniture, listening, laughing, accomplishing a goal, or just being there–creates a feeling in me that I can’t replicate on my own, cabin in the woods or not.

The Church

The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Someone who thinks and feels with us,” Goethe is perhaps describing the beginning or foundation of community. In his sermon at Christ Church Easton on Sunday, Fr. Scott Albergate posited that “The reason to go to church is to be in the company of others,” and that while in a worship service, “Hopefully it will sink into your soul–through the sacraments, songs, Scripture–that life is beyond our control.”

If you spend time in nature, or if you are at all mindful of the passing of time, disease, death, the notion that life is beyond our control is almost self evident. And it can be a heavy truth to bear. As we try to carry that with us, it can weigh us down.

Fr. Scott also pointed out that the majority of what we know of Jesus through the Gospel, he is concerned with healing and transformation. Healing and transformation, through Christ, happen through love and grace. Love happens in the world, through people. We can’t experience it alone. And when we come together, a funny thing happens:

God brings his presence ‘into the house,’ and we are called to release it back out into the world. – Pete Greig, “Red Moon Rising”

Grace is only grace because God gives it to us, He shares it. We know it as a gift and show it by sharing it with each other and others. We know love and grace in the company of others.

Two Buildings

The cabin is the place to find ourselves in solitude. The church building is the place to come together with those “close to us in spirit.” We come together to know, to experience God’s grace through each other and to take it out into the world.

I need both buildings and what they represent. I think Thomas Merton gets it right when he says:

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.

Space for Grace

Tohu wa-bohu. It’s fun to say. Like an incantation you would chant while waving a magic wand over a hat. Tohu wa-bohu. It’s a Hebrew phrase from the Book of Genesis, describing the state of the Universe before God created order. “Formless void,” and “primordial chaos” are two of the translations I enjoy the most.

It’s a phrase Fr. Bill Ortt has unpacked in a couple different small groups at Christ Church Easton of late. He used it to point out that the first things that God created, in addition to light, were time and space. These were the ordering principles of the Universe. To get rid of the chaos, it was light, time, and space.

The image above is William Blake’s “Ancient of Days,” in which God creates order out of chaos. Blake is depicting God putting his orderly stamp on the Tohu wa-bohu. It’s an image I am familiar with: it’s on my left shoulder, the first tattoo I ever got, when I was 25, after my first encounter with Blake in Dr. Gillin’s British Romanticism class at Washington College. Funny to come back to it in a new way, almost 20 years later.

There is something to that need for order. When we want to calm the chaos in our own lives, we need to shine a light on things and create time and space. When things get hectic, there is a blueprint that goes back to the beginning.

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.” I like Lamott for her honesty, humor, compassion; for her irreverent reverence; for her willingness and ability to shine the light on herself and laugh and make us laugh at what she finds; for her willingness to wrestle God and surrender; and for her unique and personal path and walk of faith.

Both in reading her and for some time before, I have had the notion of “grace” on my mind. Here is how Lamott looks at it:

It is unearned love–the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.

There is so much there that I like. Grace is what is left when we have nothing else. It’s what is there when we are on empty. It’s foundational. It’s also not something we have alone, or by ourselves. Grace connects us to God and to each other. Sometimes that is a tough lesson to learn for those of us who are hermits by nature.

Here is another way she puts it, “Man is broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” Let’s play that out to bricks and mortar. A single brick only gets you so far. With a bunch of bricks, you can have a sidewalk, patio, house, etc. But the key to putting bricks together is mortar. And you have to make space for the mortar to join them together and make them stronger.

You have to make space for grace. If we get so busy with our lives, or so self-absorbed that we can’t see or feel grace, we are the bricks without mortar. We are the ones deluding ourselves that we can do it on our own.

We are broken. We live by mending. The grace of God is glue. We need to make space for grace.

Scripture, Small Groups & Ephesians

This week at Christ Church Easton, we kick off a small group study of The Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians. The build up, the study, the reflection, and prayer has led me to think about the nature of Scripture and how we read it and relate to it. And why. I doubt it’s a coincidence that one of my go-to thinkers, Richard Rohr, is spending this week talking about Scripture:

Serious reading of Scripture will allow you to find an ever-new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history and your own soul as you discover that the text holds truth on many levels… Sacred texts will always maximize your possibilities for life, love, and inclusion, which is precisely why we call them sacred.

The liberation of our own soul and maximizing possibilities for life, love, and inclusion–not a bad way to spend our time. I also love Frederick Buechner’s thoughts on reading the Bible:

If you look AT a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior’s Frisbee hit it. If you look THROUGH a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a holy bore and those who see it as the Word of God, which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past and into the depths of ourselves. 

There is so much to be gained by a thoughtful, in depth reading and study of the Bible. But it’s not easy going it alone. It’s a communal document, passed down by multiple people, for multiple people. It’s a living document, a living Word, that can open us up to more when looked at and wrestled and reckoned with together.

At a worship service, we can hear the Word. We can listen and reflect on it. But we don’t have a chance to discuss it. That’s what small groups are for. In looking at the reason for small group study, Carolyn Taketa writes:

When we take the risk of being authentic with a small group of people, we can experience God’s grace and love coming through others, which leads to freedom and transformation

John Ortberg writes: “God uses people to form people. That is why what happens between you and another person is never merely human-to-human interaction–the Spirit longs to be powerfully at work in every encounter.” So the goal of small groups is to create the environments where Spirit-driven, life-giving experiences can flourish.

The need for these kind of life-giving experiences, that kind of interaction and helping foster that kind of community is part of what compelled me to follow a calling to lead small groups.

What better place to start than Ephesians?

Bob Deffinbaugh calls Ephesians “the Rolls Royce of the epistles.” And he cites William Hendricksen’s “Exposition of Ephesians,” which calls the letter:

“the divinest composition of man,” “the distilled essence of the Christian religion,” “the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of the Christian faith,” that is “full to the brim with thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous.”

If someone had to write a movie trailer for Ephesians, I would sign Hendricksen up on the spot.

Life has a funny way of working itself out. Twenty years ago, I would have told you that the texts I would be wrestling with in my 40s would be Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, and the heavy hitters of continental philosophy and phenomenology. Looking back, it is clear to me that that would have been an academic exercise. I have lived and watched over that time as my head and my heart have become synchronized and moved into alignment with one another. I want to put that same spirit of inquiry into not just words, but the Word, and not just for study, but for living.

And so maybe it comes back to Ephesians, which seems the perfect place to start, when it is time to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

This is just the beginning.