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

 

Early each morning at this old house, I follow the historic lectionary readings in my daily Bible reading time. The Lectionary is the series of readings from Scripture appointed centuries ago for each day of the year in a one to three year cycle. Often the Old Testament and Gospel parallel each other and the New Testament reading provides its own thread of “how does one then live as a Christ-follower.” Wikipedia gives more background and clarification on this practice of dividing Scripture up each day:

The Talmud claims that the practice of reading appointed Scriptures on given days or occasions dates back to the time of Moses and began with the annual religious festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles…The Mishnah portion of the Talmud, probably finished in the early 3rd century CE, contains a list of Torah readings for various occasions…The early Christians adopted the Jewish custom of reading extracts from the Old Testament on the Sabbath. They soon added extracts from the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists. ..Typically, a lectionary will go through the scriptures in a logical pattern, and also include selections which were chosen by the religious community for their appropriateness to particular occasions…The existence of both one-year and three-year cycles occurs in both Christianity and Judaism.

Within Christianity, the use of pre-assigned, scheduled readings from the scriptures can be traced back to the early Church, and seems to have been inherited from Judaism. The earliest documentary record of a special book of readings is [from] Bishop Venerius of Marseilles, who died in 452, though there are 3rd-century references to liturgical readers as a special role in the clergy. Not all [branches] of the Christian Church used the same lectionary, and throughout history, many varying lectionaries have been used in different parts of the Christian world.

Every Saturday, I include with my Scripture readings two art and music resources that are also related to the lectionary readings Sunday or Feast Day. One resource is a three volume set of art and poetry called “Imaging the Word.” Today, in preparation for tomorrow’s Gospel reading, where John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29-42), I was invited to view details from the Jan van Eyck “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” the central panel of The Ghent Altarpiece. What a magnificent painting and one I was privileged to see live in Belgium years ago.Image result for free photo adoration of the mystic lamb

I was also invited to reflect on an excerpt from Denise Levertov’s poem, “Agnus Dei”:
God then,
encompassing all things, is
defenceless? Omnipotence
has been tossed away,
reduced to a wisp of damp wool?

And we
frightened, bored, wanting
only to sleep ‘til catastrophe
has raged, clashed, seethed and gone by without us,
wanting then
to awaken in quietude without remembrance of agony,

we who in shamefaced private hope
had looked to be plucked from fire and given
a bliss we deserved for having imagined it,

is it implied that we
must protect this perversely weak
animal, whose muzzle’s nudgings

suppose there is milk to be found in us?
Must hold in our icy hearts
a shivering God?

Both the van Eyck painting and the Levertov poem excerpt have given me much to think about regarding corporate worship and the lectionary readings I will hear there. May they be a blessing to you as well!

Here in this old house, we have 18″ of new snow on the ground. The storm brought bitter cold temperatures for a couple of days but in true Colorado form, the sun is now out, the temperature is rising significantly, and the clear blue of the sky is breath-taking.

We are also in-between events here: yesterday, the Church celebrated Epiphany, the official end of the Christmas season, in which the story of the arrival of the Magi to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem is told in Matthew 2. Tomorrow, the Church remembers the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist, his cousin (see Matthew 3: 13-17).  We go from toddler to adult in a very short time!Image result for free stock photo kings following star

This year, one phrase that particularly stood out to me on Epiphany came from Matthew 2: 1-4: In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;  and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

Isn’t it ironic that King Herod, king of the Jews, a people who had been waiting for the Messiah to come since Adam and Eve (see Genesis 3: 14-15), missed this astrological sign, or star, that was so remarkable it caused a party of astrologers to travel a great distance to see the Child born under it? King Herod had no idea where the Messiah had even been prophesied to be born!

Now before I come down too hard on Herod, I ask myself, what signs of God’s presence have I missed throughout my life, or even yesterday? Am I so dialed into the Kingdom of God that I can see God’s fingerprints in all kinds of situations? Or am I so busy, as was Herod, keeping my own status quo going that I have missed stars and burning bushes and prophets around me?

Isaiah 9: 2 declares, The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.  The Prayer of Examen by St. Ignatius invites me each evening to reflect on where I saw God at work in my day. It is an intentional “scanning the heavens” for a sign of God’s presence at work in the world. It is a conscious looking for the light and not being content with “living in darkness.”

What can I do to focus better  on God’s Kingdom throughout my day and where I might be called to be a part of it here and now? Would I drop my daily routine and follow an unusual sign that appears in my “sky”? Holy Pause, that is, taking a minute after finishing one thing and before beginning another to reflect is one step I can do more of. Stop-look-listen applies to more than crossing streets!

Epiphany is far more than an exotic story of mysterious kings showing up in a backwater village in Israel. It is more than a chance to rearrange the manger scene or hang up stars around the house. The call of Epiphany is to open my eyes, to live in intentional awareness of God’s presence and work right now. The call of the Baptism of Jesus is to open my ears and hear God us Beloved. Stars and wonders get lived out in a call to service, a call that is confirmed in our own baptisms.

Happy New Year, everyone! We here at this old house are glad for a new year; 2016 in the United States was pretty ugly. Not that we expect the flip of a calendar page to change people’s hearts and attitudes but there is something about a new year that gives one hope. Image result for free photos new year calendar

One of the things I love about my church is that we do a quiet Holy Communion service at 6 PM on New Year’s Eve. It is such a great way to end one year in confession and forgiveness, prayer and song, and begin a new one with the Body and Blood of Christ to sustain us for the days ahead. That brief moment of reflection is a real gift in the midst of more festivities of the season. Too often we rush from one thing to the next, one day or year to the next without a bit of “holy pause” in between.

Even if you don’t have a worship service to go to tonight, find some time in the next couple of days to ask yourselves a few questions based on the Examen developed by St. Ignatius. Some of the questions you may want to consider are:

What was good about last year? Where did I see God’s hand at work for good and for growth?

What was hard about last year? What made it so hard? Was there anything I could have differently? Where did I see God at work in those challenges?

What do I want to do differently this year? How might I break that desire down into small, measurable steps that will keep me moving forward and not get discouraged?

What was life-giving last year? What was life-draining?

How am I different from a year ago? Is it a good change? If I were to continue on the trajectory I am on, would I end up where I wanted to be?

Maybe  some of these, or similar questions, could be part of a journal project during the month of January. Perhaps instead of making New Year’s resolutions, you could work on crafting a Rule of Life. https://ruleoflife.com/ is one place where you can find resources to create guidelines for making decisions, large and small.

However you approach it, I invite you to stop-look-listen to your heart and soul before you proceed unintentionally into 2017. Embrace the gift of Holy Pause tonight and periodically throughout the year. You may find yourself in a better place next year because of it!

 

Greetings from this old house! We are ready to celebrate the next 12 Days; I hope you are as well.

There is a wonderful old legend that on Christmas night the animals can speak. You can understand why that’s a legend because it made such a difference to the world that Christ had come—so naturally everything changed.”—Sr. Wendy Beckett

This legend is portrayed in the Nativity Window at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Iffley, England. It was created by John Egerton Christmas Piper, (1903–1992), an English painter, printmaker, and designer of stained glass.

john-piper_nativity

As we celebrate this weekend and beyond, may we be open to the newness we are offered in Christ. By his coming to earth as a man, he showed us how to live fully human lives, the lives we were created to live. May that bring us all peace and joy today and always.

Merry Christmas!

 

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