In 1993, John and I made our first trip to Israel. It was on a tour and it was life-changing. Halfway through, I realized the trip had become a pilgrimage for me. I also remember standing at Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, looking at the ancient ruins of the city and the nearby Roman aqueduct and thinking, I want to retire here. (There is a residential neighborhood just down the road from the archeological site.) In subsequent trips, driving with family or friends, we discovered Zihkron Ya’akov, a wonderful village on a hill overlooking the ancient village of Dor, where they are doing underwater archeological excavations. Once, we stumbled into a little hut and were shown an encrusted sword that had been at the bottom of the sea since the time of Napoleon that the  local-but-famous archeologist talking to us had uncovered. Zihkron Ya’akov is a lovely village, off-the-beaten tourist path. There is little English, unlike the heavily trafficked tourist areas,  and so eating in a restaurant became an exercise in trust: “feed me” vs. trying to order specifically from the menu written only in Hebrew. We were delighted with what we got.

Throughout the years, we have lead tours, done driving trips, and John even did a solo walking trip at one point. We’ve been to Jordan, Israel’s (mostly) friendly neighbor three times as well, twice with tour groups, once driving on our own. Always in the back of our minds, we had the dream of spending an extended time in the region. Image result for free photo jerusalem

This spring, everything has lined up and we are going to Jerusalem for three months. I will be focusing on Lent and Holy Week practices in both the Western and Eastern churches, which share April 16th as Easter this year. John wants to walk every street in the Old City and has a list of bakeries he plans to check out. I will be subbing for the organist at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer on Maundy Thursday and then walking with the congregation to Gethsemane for prayer. We plan to spend unrestricted time at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. We will get a membership to the Israeli museum. We will eat at the restaurant by the Fifth Station of the Cross, get falafel at the Jaffa Gate, and buy coffee from our favorite coffee vendor in the Old City. We will spend time at the American Colony Hotel and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In short, we hope to soak more deeply into a place that has been meaningful and life-changing for us both.

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So “Life in This Old House” is going to take a break and “Life on the Road” will commence shortly. I hope you will ride along!

 

Here at this old house, we are preparing for a kind of “reverse tide.” A reverse tide is where a river meets a bay and as the tides shift, the water begins to reverse course from the bay back into the river. The mid-point of this transition becomes a scene of turbulence and confusion of rapids and waves until an equalization point happens. Then, 12.5 hours later, the process reverses itself and the river flows back into the bay.

Tomorrow, after 20+ years, I am leaving a wonderful ministry and steady income to go off on a bucket-list adventure. Later, there will be a time of looking for next steps, including a new source of income. In the days ahead, there will be times when I won’t know which way the water is flowing, causing feelings of confusion and turbulence as the old and the new seek to find a balance with each other. However, like the powerful pull of the moon on the tides here on earth, my heart is being drawn forward by the powerful pull of the Holy Spirit. Something deep within me is stirring and I must respond to wherever it will lead.

The ancient Irish monks used to follow God’s will by getting in a round boat, called a coracle, without oars and letting the wind and currents carry them to a new land to begin a new call from God in that place. In many ways, that is what I am doing. It is an internship in radical trust and complete faith in God’s good and gracious hand.Image result for free photo coracle with no oars

Stay tuned!

Every morning, I pray St. Patrick’s Breastplate. This is the lorica, or spiritual armor, the Celtic Christians were fond of and of which St. Patrick’s is the most famous. It begins:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation…

The piece that many of us are familiar with is the wonderful section where we invite Christ to surround us:Image result for free photo st. patrick's breastplate

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man {sic} who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

This morning, I was struck again by how archaic some of the images are:

I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

While we are drowned in too much to do and poisoned by false advertising and news, most of us are in no danger of being put under a spell by a witch or wizard, at least not in the sense that St. Patrick and the Celtic Christians felt the need for protection from. I thought it might be instructive to write my own lorica. What do I want protection from? What kind of situations do I want Christ with me in? This is a work in progress but a list of things I might add would include protection from:

Fear, a sense of entitlement, arrogance, ingratitude, indifference to others, mis-use of Creation, and being falsely named by myself or others.

What would you add? Consider writing your own updated version of St. Patrick’s breastplate. Make a visual representation of what the spiritual armor  you need to put on daily might look like. It could be a mandala you make from magazine pictures. It could be symbols you place on your dresser to see every morning when you get dressed.

I would love to know what you came up with!

 

Once again, as it is Saturday afternoon here at this old house, I am struck by the juxtaposition of the lectionary readings for corporate worship tomorrow and the day’s news. This week, much of the Church is united in reading Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 as it gathers.  The Matthew passage is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as the Beatitudes: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.refugee%20clipart

With the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, we are called to make a choice: mercy and justice or power and self-interest? The last few verses of the Micah passage say this: With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

God requires us to do justice. Does that apply only to individuals? Or does it apply to faith communities? What about nations that claim to be Christian? And what is justice? Is it an old fashioned idea that is no longer binding because of Jesus? Are the statement of Jesus in the Matthew text statements of fact or ideals? How “practical” is justice and mercy meant to be? For example, should we open our borders and risk letting in terrorists with those who truly are in danger of being killed in their own countries or do we slam the door in the face of everyone to protect our own interests?

What would Jesus do? It is a question we all must answer and be held accountable for.

 

We were visiting the new grandson this past week. As that involves airplane travel, it is a good time to take some of the books from the stacks around this old house to read on the long segments and while waiting at gates. One book that I took this time was written by Agatha Christy under her pen name, Mary Westmacott: “Giants’ Bread.” This was a cross between Jane Austen and an Agatha Christy mystery and I would have been hard pressed to know it was Agatha Christy if her name hadn’t been on the cover.

About three times in the story, she has a character quote Jesus and his parable of the Rich Fool found in Luke 12:13-21: Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee. The third time it is quoted, the character then says something like, “You had better make sure you have to a soul to give an accounting for!” Like the other character to whom this invective was directed, I was struck by the idea that when we die and give an account of our life, we had better have something to say and show.

What does it mean to have a soul? The Webster dictionary defines soul this way:

1 :  the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life

2 :  the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe

3 :  a person’s total self

4a :  an active or essential part b :  a moving spirit :  leader

5a :  the moral and emotional nature of human beings  b :  the quality that arouses emotion and sentiment  c :  spiritual or moral force :  fervor

6 : person<not a soul in sight>

7 :  personification <she is the soul of integrity>

8 :  a strong positive feeling (as of intense sensitivity and emotional fervor) conveyed especially by black American performers

That is a very multi-dimensional definition for a word that gets tossed around fairly casually, don’t you think? I came away reminded again that if I allow myself to be drained by situations and fantasies, negativity and mindlessness, I may lose an essential animating principle or even my total self and then what would I have to show at the Day of Reckoning? “And the wind shall say: ‘Here were decent Godless people: Their only monument the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls.” (T.S. Eliot)

So how does one prosper a soul? Here in January, the popular magazines are still telling us how to prosper our bodies through weight loss, diets, and exercise. Few tell us how to create a healthy soul, though, some talk about simplifying life and reducing stress.

Here are a few ideas of mine, based on the definitions above:

  1. Discover what is your essence and the cause of your life. For me, that would be a child of God created for a unique purpose on earth but everyone has to answer that question for themselves.
  2. Connect deeply with the spiritual principle of your life. Can you articulate clearly your spiritual life and practices?
  3. Examine yourself on a regular basis. Nightly, even. Ask yourself hard questions about your behavior, speech, thoughts, goals, attitudes.
  4. How might you tackle the “rough edges” of your personality in specific and measurable ways? Do you get defensive with criticism or do you try to learn from it?
  5. How moral are you? Do you believe in absolutes or is everything relative?
  6. Do you experience strong positive feelings on a regular basis? If not, why not? Where can you connect more with what brings you joy?

If we were to be boiled down, besides some basic minerals and water, the essence of ourselves would be found in our souls. Let us not be caught off-guard as the rich fool was; let us live well and wisely because we never know when we will have to give an Answer for ourselves!Image result for free photo soul care

 

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