God

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 3 Jesus Falls The First Time by Caryll Houselander

February 22, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  At the very first step of the way to Calvary, Jesus stumbles and falls.  He is down on his knees in the dirt! What has happened to this man?  This man who had just now declared himself to be king of a spiritual world with legions of angels at his command, who has been known to hold back the overwhelming force of the storm and still the raging seas by an act of his will, who by a mere touch of his hand caused a living fig tree to wither, and has fallen now under the purely material weight of the cross he so lately welcomed! Only a few moments ago he held out his arms to receive it, seemingly with joy.  Now, at the very first shock of its weight on his shoulder, he has fallen! The crowd thronging outside the [...]

LENT: A (Mercifully Short) History Of Lent by Aaron Damiani

February 22, 2018

From The Good of Giving Up Where did Lent come from?  How did it become recognized as the forty-day period of prayer, fasting, and generosity leading up to Easter?  And when we say, “Lent began as a practice of the ancient church,” what does that even mean? To answer these questions, I invite you to picture yourself in a thorny pastoral situation.  Imagine the Lord saw fit to answer your prayers for the unchurched, and revival broke out in your region of the Roman Empire.  Your church is deluged with new converts, and the nets of your ministry are breaking from the surplus of fish reeled in by the gospel.  People with broken pasts and no background in Christianity come readily to be filled with God’s love in Christ.  The poor [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Alba de Tormes, Spain—Being Humble by Albert Holtz

February 22, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Old Padre Angel believes that no self-respecting Christian should spend a month studying in Salamanca without at some point traveling to the nearby town of Alba de Tormes to visit the tomb of Saint Teresa of Ávila.  So this afternoon I’m riding in the front seat as he drives me on my mandatory half-hour pilgrimage across the gently rolling farm country of Castilla y León in north-central Spain. Alba lies on a gentle slope above the River Tormes.  A drive up its winding streets reveals hardly a shade tree or a blade of grass along the way.  We park near the single, squat tower that is all that is left of the castle of the once powerful Duke of Alba.  I remember reading somewhere that the present Duchess of Alba [...]

WILDERNESS: The Wilderness—Where Miracles Are Born by Brian & Candice Simmons

February 21, 2018

From The Wilderness It was our very first visit to the jungle as we were preparing to move in among the Kuna people as tribal missionaries.  The hour-and-a-half flight took us into some of the deepest parts of the Darien Gap, a dense tropical rainforest that covers large portions of Panama and Colombia.  We were finally moving to the village after years of prayer and preparation.  Our hearts were pounding as we stepped down out of the Cessna 185 “bush plane.”  We were now in our new home, the Paya-Kuna tribal village of Pucuro! Would the people welcome us?  Would they be friendly to our family?  Would their hearts be open to our message of new life in Jesus Christ?  The first words we heard from the Kuna people were not what we [...]

POETRY: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

February 21, 2018

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Fátima, Portugal—Dealing With The Real by Albert Holtz

February 21, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The train south from Coimbra, Portugal, to Fátima is a real “local,” calling at every little village.  We arrive fifty-five minutes late at the station marked “Fátima.”  That’s when I find out that the railroad station is called “Fátima” not because it’s located in or anywhere near the town of that name, but because it’s as close as you can get by train.  I soon learn that I still have another twenty-some miles to go, and that the only practical way is by taxi for the flat rate of $20 one-way. The ride along winding roads through the rugged mountain country of central Portugal finally brings me to the real Fátima; as he drops me off, the friendly taxi driver points me toward a wide sidewalk that [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 2 Jesus Receives His Cross by Caryll Houselander

February 20, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  They have put his own garments on him again, and Jesus comes out from the judgment hall of Pilate to receive his cross. He comes to it gladly!  This is a strange thing, for the cross is a symbol of shame, and it is to be his deathbed.  Already he sees the very shape of his death in the wide-spread arms.  From this moment he will be inseparable from it, until he dies on it.  He will labor and struggle under the weight of it until the end comes.  Yet Christ welcomes the cross.  He embraces it, he takes it into his arms, as a man takes that which he loves into his arms.  He lays his beautiful hands on it tenderly, those strong hands of a carpenter that are so familiar with the touch of wood. This is not the [...]

PSALMS: Psalm 69 by W. Robert Godfrey

February 20, 2018

From Learning to Love the Psalms This psalm presents now-familiar elements of lament and praise, but in a particularly pointed and vivid way.  The suffering is poignant, the praise strong, the imprecations severe, and the anticipations of Christ detailed.  The psalm is primarily a series of supplications with elaborations explaining the circumstances that have produced these prayers, (vv. 1-29).  The psalm concludes with a call to praise God as the One who hears and answers prayer, (vv. 30-36). The first prayer is an individual cry for rescue: “Save me, O God!”  The psalmist presents his need in the poetic image of a man who is drowning.  The waters surround and threaten him so that his life seems at its end, (vv. 1-2).  Added to [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Dieppe, France—Being Unfinished by Albert Holtz

February 20, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The sturdy brick houses of this newer section of Dieppe, up in the hills east of the old town, are designed to keep out the damp and chill that are to typical of Normandy.  As we drive to church this Sunday morning I say to my hosts, “Well, maybe there’ll be some sunshine later today.”  I’ve been staying with Bernard and Colette for almost a week, and I still haven’t seen the sun. For me, the name Dieppe conjures up black-and-white images of smoldering ruins and beaches littered with charred invasion vehicles.  In 1942, a Canadian force attempted a beach landing in German-occupied Normandy a couple of miles west of here.  The operation cost a thousand lives, but the Allied commanders got what they’d hoped [...]

PRAYER: Love—A “Yes” To Belonging (Part Two) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

February 19, 2018

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer My and Mine We can test this understanding of love against the precept to love our enemies.  Now things look different.  The notion of romantic love just wouldn’t fit.  But we and our enemies certainly belong together – obviously not in the same way as friends belong together, but it is a belonging, nevertheless.  Moreover, by choosing our friends, we choose our enemies.  If we have no enemies, maybe we have never had the courage to take sides.  The command to love our enemies implies that we must have enemies.  How else could we love them?  God certainly has enemies.  “As it is written: Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated,” (Malachi 1:2f; Romans 9:13).  Yet, the same God is [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Muros, Spain—Using Low Tide by Albert Holtz

February 19, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road The afternoon bus from A Coruña is weaving its way south down the ragged coast of northwestern Spain.  The scenery is a kaleidoscope of mountain slopes, evergreen groves, and stony seacoast. Straight ahead spreads a broad, dark-blue bay, and beyond it soar high, brown mountains, clad to the waist in dark pine forests.  Each isolated house along the narrow road salutes us with a line of bright-colored laundry that flutters sideways in the strong sea wind.  Shrunken old ladies in black sit in a row, their backs against the wall of the village church, catching the late afternoon sun.  Here and there a stranded palm tree stands beside the road as if waiting for a ride from a friend.  On a headland to our right, a [...]

PRAYER: Six Short Prayers For The Lenten Period

February 19, 2018

From The Methodist Church Lord, as we enter Lent help us to draw near to you in praise, stripping away all that distracts us from worship. Amen. As Jesus resisted temptation by the devil in the wilderness, help us reflect on his faithfulness to God, his rejection of worldly values and hold these thoughts in our hearts throughout Lent and beyond. Amen. Jesus, you prayed and fasted. As your disciple teach me about spiritual discipline in my relationship with you. Amen. Lord may Lent be a time of inward searching that makes me more able to look with compassion at the needs of the world. Amen. Thank you Lord for desert experiences, when being confronted with myself makes me realize my need of you. Amen. Lord, you’ve guided us through [...]

PILGRIMAGE: The First Week Of Lent by Albert Holtz

February 18, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Meeting My True Self The Israelites’ journey through the wilderness stripped away all of their illusions, so that they could see who they truly were.  It brought them face-to-face with the stark reality of their weakness, their unfaithfulness, and their forgetfulness. Many pilgrims made the long journey to Jerusalem, Rome, or Compostela as a means to atone for their sins.  As early as the 800s, when traveling was an uncomfortable and dangerous business, pilgrimages were often imposed as penances, even by civil authorities, for certain sins or crimes. Like the Israelites in the desert or those penitent pilgrims, we must begin our own inner journey of conversion with the honest acknowledgment that we, too, are flawed [...]

SERMON: On Lent I by Leo the Great

February 18, 2018

I. The benefits of abstinence shown by the example of the Hebrews In former days, when the people of the Hebrews and all the tribes of Israel were oppressed for their scandalous sins by the grievous tyranny of the Philistines, in order that they might be able to overcome their enemies, as the sacred story declares, they restored their powers of mind and body by the injunction of a fast. For they understood that they had deserved that hard and wretched subjection for their neglect of God’s commands, and evil ways, and that it was in vain for them to strive with arms unless they had first withstood their sin. Therefore abstaining from food and drink, they applied the discipline of strict correction to themselves, and in order to [...]

WANDERING: Wandering And Lamaze by A. J. Swoboda

February 17, 2018

From The Dusty Ones This is what the Lord says about this people: “They greatly love to wander.” (Jeremiah 14:10) This book is about wandering. It wouldn’t be fair to say I make my final approach to the topic of wandering out of nowhere or free of baggage.  I’ve checked some heavy bags for the flight.  Indeed, I bring myself with a cargo load of luggage from my own story that’s sure to affect the way I reflect upon it.  For one, I approach the topic of wandering as a preacher.  Preaching is my trade, my vocation, and my life’s passion.  Preaching is also my paycheck – it puts food on my family’s table.  But my preaching isn’t entirely driven by economic forces alone.  I preach because I am a Christian.  And as a [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Rue de Sèvres, Paris—Putting Faith Into Action by Albert Holtz

February 17, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Number 95, rue de Sèvres, is a charming rabbit warren of buildings.  Since 1817 it has been the mother house of Les Pères de la Mission (the Vincentians), founded in 1625 by Saint Vincent de Paul.  The order has since spread around the world, bringing the Good News to the poor.  Vincentians of all ages come and go in the hallways, speaking French, Spanish, English, or any of a number of other languages.  Many are here for ongoing refresher courses in the theology of their order. Vincent was born in 1581 into a peasant family in a village of southwestern France.  As a young priest, he arrived in Paris and became chaplain to the rich and influential Gondi family.  Then one day he was called to the bedside of a [...]

THE HOLY SPIRIT: What Life? by Raniero Cantalamessa

February 16, 2018

From: Come, Creator Spirit But now it is time to ask ourselves about what kind of life are we speaking when we say that the Spirit gives life.  The faith of the church has never had any hesitation or doubt in answering this question.  We are talking of divine life, that is to say, the life that has its source in God the Father, which in Christ “was made visible,” (1 John 1:2), and in baptism is given to the believer.  Between this life and the natural life that we have from our human birth there is no real opposition (both come from God who is the absolute master of all life, physical as well as spiritual); yet the two are diverse and in contrast on the moral level, as we see in the well-known antitheses: nature / grace, flesh / [...]

PILGRIMAGE: La Paz Witches’ Market, Bolivia—Trusting In God Alone by Albert Holtz

February 16, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road La Paz, Bolivia, sits in a bowl-shaped valley 12,000 feet up in the Andes.  Hundreds of tiny brick houses climb the steep slopes like a tattered blanket of brown ivy. Iris, our private guide, is escorting three of us on an afternoon tour of La Paz, the world’s highest capital.  With me are a young Chilean couple, Carlos and Elena.  We’ve left our hired taxi for a few minutes to stroll up a cobblestone street in an old quarter of town.  Its official name is Calle Linares, but everyone calls it, “el Mercado de las Brujas,” (“the Witches’ Market”).  The street is lined with little shops and sidewalk stalls displaying love potions, magic charms, animal skins, medicines, and folk remedies.  Iris explains [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 1 Jesus Is Condemned To Death by Caryll Houselander

February 15, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  “Behold the man!” He is a man of sorrows.  He is covered in bruises and stripes.  He is made a laughing stock.  He is crowned with a crown of thorns.  A reed is put into his hand for a scepter, a tattered soldier’s cloak is thrown over his naked shoulders.  His eyes are blind-folded.  His face is covered with spittings.  He is bound like a dangerous criminal.  His own people have chosen a murderer before him.  His friends have forsaken him.  The kiss of treason burns on his cheek. “He has no comeliness whereby we shall desire him!” “He is a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people.” And he is condemned to death. “Away with him!  Away with him!  Crucify [...]

LENT: Into The Wilderness by Aaron Damiani

February 15, 2018

From The Good of Giving Up We are not ready for Easter.  Not emotionally, not spiritually.  But we always seem to be ready for the trappings of Easter. For most Christians, Easter Sunday is a polite and happy occasion.  Families, including mine, dress up in pastels and bow ties for the after-church picture.  Children paint eggs, hunt for eggs, and consume Peeps and chocolate bunnies.  We eat brunch, including delicious ham, and then move on with our lives. Meanwhile, church leaders see Easter Sunday as an opportunity unlike any other to reach out to the community.  Easter is still one of the highest-attended services of the year.  As a local church pastor, I appreciate that people are open in a unique way on Easter Sunday.  And I [...]

PILGRIMAGE: The Channel Tunnel, England—Waiting For The Lord by Albert Holtz

February 15, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road 8:09 a.m.  Ping-pong-ping!  The electronic chimes sound their warning.  The shiny silver doors of the Eurostar train slide closed, and we roll smoothly out of Paris’s Gare du Nord.  On its second day of regular operation, the train smells of new carpeting and upholstery.  Everything around me is sparkling and high-tech.  This streamlined train, specially designed to run through the new tunnel under the English Channel, will whisk me to Waterloo Station, London, in three hours and six minutes.  The sooty slate-blue of the November morning glides past my window as the train hums through suburban Paris. 8:20 a.m.  We’re now in high gear – 186 miles an hour.  The farm fields are pouring past like a river of [...]

WILDERNESS: The Wilderness—Everyone Has One by Brian & Candice Simmons

February 14, 2018

From The Wilderness When you see the word miracles paired with wilderness in the title of this book, you might think, Are you kidding?  We all love the word miracle, but wilderness – not so much!  We’ve all experienced difficult seasons at one time or another and have hoped for that instantaneous miracle to appear.  Over and over you can hear the cry of our hearts through the psalmist, King David, as he says: How long, O Lord? When will you answer my cry? Why must I wait so long for your promise to be fulfilled? We can all identify with those words, for we’ve all had unresolved issues surface in our journey with Christ.  So in spite of what others may tell you, the Christian journey is not a life of endless bliss, with a perfect [...]

PILGRIMAGE: Canterbury, England—Patrons For The Journey by Albert Holtz

February 14, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road Canterbury is lively and welcoming this November afternoon.  Her streets, lined with pubs and souvenir shops, are noisy with the tongues of a dozen different lands.  People still flock to visit the magnificent Gothic cathedral and its tomb of Thomas Becket, just as they’ve been doing since the late 1100s.  Along these bustling lanes once walked the Wife of Bath, the bawdy Miller, the courtly Knight, the Pardoner, and the other colorful pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, who told each other stories to pass the time on the road. But if Canterbury breathes welcome and warmth, she also has an air of Saxon solidity, thanks to her cobblestone pavements, granite fences, moss-covered church walls, and grumpy [...]

PILGRIMAGE: The Days After Ash Wednesday by Albert Holtz

February 13, 2018

From: Pilgrim Road SETTING OUT Imagine that we are in a church in Le Puy, up in the rugged central mountains of medieval France.  The group has been gathering for an hour already and there is a growing feeling of festivity and excitement in the air; we are about to set off on a pilgrimage to the great shrine of Saint James, Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain.  Many of the people in the church are carrying the walking stick and drinking gourd that mark them as pilgrims; some are wearing a scallop shell, the traditional badge of pilgrims on the difficult and dangerous 800-mile journey over mountains and across desolate uplands to Compostela.  There is a spirit of joyful anticipation as we greet friends and check our supplies while [...]

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Via Crucis by Caryll Houselander

February 13, 2018

From The Way of the Cross  Three o’clock on a grey afternoon.  Outside, a steady drizzle of rain; inside the church, an odd motley of people. A smartly dressed woman, side by side with one who is shabby and threadbare.  A boy and girl who appear to be in love.  A very old man, so bowed that he is permanently in an attitude of adoration.  A stalwart young soldier whose polished buttons glitter like gems in the candlelight.  A couple of students, shabbily but elegantly dressed in corduroys and bright scarves, rubbing shoulders with a gaunt, round-shouldered man who looks like a tramp.  A sprinkle of small children.  And behind them all, as if he felt himself to be the modern Publican, though there is no reason why he should, a [...]

POETRY: Station Island XI by Seamus Heaney / John of the Cross

February 13, 2018

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope I plunged once in a butt of muddied water Surfaced like a marvelous lightship And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face That had spoken years ago from behind a grille Spoke again about the need and chance To salvage everything, to re-envisage The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift Mistakenly abased …. What came to nothing could always be replenished. “Read poems as prayers,” he said, “and for your penance Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.” Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness, His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining, He had made me feel there was nothing to confess. Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this: How well I know that fountain, filling, running, [...]

PRAYER: Love—A “Yes” To Belonging (Part One) by Brother David Steindl-Rast

February 12, 2018

From: Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer Belonging In the two preceding chapters we have seen that faith and hope are always there when one is grateful.  We saw that one must have trust in the giver before one can give thanks.  But trust of this kind is the very core of faith.  And we recognized also that one must be open for surprise before one can be grateful.  Deep down, every gift is a surprise.  But openness for surprise is the essence of hope.  Faith and hope, in this sense, are two aspects of the divine life within us.  The third one, often mentioned in the same breath, is love.  It, too, is intimately tied in with giving thanks.  The ties between love and gratefulness are what we shall explore in this chapter. In getting at [...]

LENT: Preparing For Lent

February 12, 2018

From Full Homely Divinity “The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.” (The Book of Common Prayer). By the middle of the fifth century, the church had taken a similar approach to preparing for Advent, then known as “Saint Martin’s Lent.” Much of what follows may also be profitably applied to Advent. Since Lent is itself a season of preparation, it may seem like overkill to have to prepare for Lent. Yet, how will we take full advantage of the opportunity of Lent if we wait until the last minute to decide how to keep it? Both the Eastern and Western [...]

PRAYER: The Prayer Of Saint Ephrem The Syrian

February 12, 2018

(To be used daily through Lent.) O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust of power, and idle talk; But grant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother; For blessed art Thou unto the ages of ages. [...]

UNITY: Spiritual Warfare, or, The reason the church was created in the first place

February 12, 2018

Let us begin with an exercise in imagination. I want you to picture a pie chart. At first, when you look at it, it looks like it is all one color. Let’s say, white. But as you study it, even use a magnifying glass on it, you are able to see one very fine, black line. As you pull away from the chart, the black line blends into all the white. This is the pie chart of sin. The white represents sins for which a person can atone, ask for forgiveness, and receive it. That very fine, black line represents the one sin for which a person cannot atone or receive forgiveness. One sin. So if the overwhelming majority of sins can be forgiven, why do so many churches spend so much time on justifying judgment and condemnation? One of the very [...]