MINDFUL CHRISTIANITY

DUIS COMMODO CONSEQUAT VELIT

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR

LOREM IPSUM DOLOR

LENT:

PRACTICING

MINDFUL

CHRISTIANITY

This guide to mindful Christian practices for Lent is intended for use by individuals, churches, small groups, and retreats.  


Mindful Christianity:

Spiritual Exercises for Lent

2017


Jim Burklo  

Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC

Introduction

Lent is a kind of sabbatical, introducing breaks from the usual routines of our lives, over the forty-day period from Ash Wednesday until Easter.  On the Sabbath, in the Jewish tradition, the prohibition from work is more precisely a break from doing things that interfere with Nature's processes.  According to the Torah, on the Sabbath you can pick up an apple that naturally falls from a tree onto the ground, but you can't pick it from the tree.  Mindful Christian meditative prayer practice is similar.  In it, we take time to see things as they are, without interfering with them or trying to fix or change them.  Once we know what is, we can then think and act wisely on what ought to be.   Mindful Christian practice prepares us to engage in the world thoughtfully, non-reactively, compassionately, and with commitment to work for justice and peace.

This guide to Lent is based on a theologically progressive form of the ancient Christian practice of Lectio Divina.  Its aim is “contemplatio” – the experience of mystical union with the “I Am” who is God who is the true Self within us all.

This guide can be used by individuals or groups.

Recommended book for reading during Lent:  MINDFUL CHRISTIANITY by Jim Burklo, (2017, St Johann Press)

Ash Wednesday, March 1

Chant:

Return again, return again

Return to the land of your soul

Return again, return again,

Return to the land of your soul

Return to who you are

Return to what you are

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again....

Tune

Ashing Questions – self-examination:  for individual or group meditation/discussion, to prepare for the journey of Lent:

Where is love leading you today?  Who is hard for you to love, and why, and might there not be a way for you to love them anyway?  What is the difference between your highest values and the way you actually live?  What unfinished spiritual business do you have that ought to be completed?  What are you running away from, and what would happen if you stopped avoiding it?  What is below the surface of the image you present to the world?  and what would happen if you revealed what was below the surface?   What can you discover by taking time to keep silence, and finding the courage to look within?  What is getting in love's way, for you?  What kind of help do you need, and are you willing to ask for it and receive it?  What gift do you have to give today to others?  How do your decisions about what you wear, buy, and eat affect others you don't know and will never meet?  What can you do to make life better for poor people and other vulnerable people in the wider world?  What message do you need to hear, but don't feel ready to hear?  What can you do to get ready to hear it?

Introduction to Lectio Divina:

A 12th c Carthusian French monk, Guigo II, described the spiritual life as climbing a ladder.  The steps were lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio – reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  This “ladder” has defined Catholic Christian spiritual discipline ever since.55 An ancient practice, employed today in churches both Catholic and Protestant, is called “lectio divina”.  It follows Guigo II's steps.  It is about reading passages from the Bible in a way that lets them dwell in the heart.  It's not about parsing some official theological meaning or historical context out of the passage, but instead is about directly experiencing it.  The passage is read aloud four times, each followed by a time of meditation.  Then follows a prayer as a petition to God, asking for inspiration.  This is followed by contemplative prayer, in which the focus is on listening to God.  “Contemplatio” is the goal-state of mindful Christian prayer:  present awareness of the union of one's soul with God.

The Temptation of Jesus    Matthew 4  (NRSV)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:  

Pray in the desert with Jesus.  Go to a quiet place – a metaphorical desert, if not a physical one - and get into a physical position in which your body will be comfortable but you'll be unlikely to fall asleep.  (The “lotus position”, seated with legs crossed and tailbone slightly elevated on a little pillow, is just one way to achieve this balance.)  Close your eyes, and in silence, observe whatever arises to take your attention.  The object of your observation can be anything at all.  A thought.  An idea. A sensation – something your body feels, something you hear.  A memory.  A scheme for the future.  It can be an urge – a desire – a sense of needing or wanting to do something.  Just watch the urge.  Let it be.  Watch all that arises and passes, observing with non-judgmental, caring attention.  Be a quiet presence, like a friend who stays close in silence with a loving attitude toward you.  Do this for twenty minutes.

The Sign of the Cross:

Repeat while marking the forehead with ash in the sign of the cross:

“This marks the beginning of your lenten pilgrimage on the way of the cross.  Continue your journey until it is no longer just you who lives, but Christ who lives within you.” (ref: Galatians 2:20)

Week 1:March 2-12: Daily Practice

“He said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' 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. Then there came a voice to him that said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'” (1 Kings 19:11-13, NRSV)

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:  

Get into a comfortable physical position in which you will be unlikely to fall asleep, and for 20 or more minutes, be mindful of your body.  What bodily sensations do you experience in the moment?  What emotions are associated with these sensations? How do these emotions affect your breathing, as well?  Remember: suffering equals pain times resistance.  So strive to observe carefully any physical pain you experience, stay open to it, surround it with loving attention, and gently release ideas or opinions about it.

Something that can help with this practice is "progressive muscle relaxation".  Tighten and then relax your body's muscles, one group of muscles at a time, being mindful of each of the sensations that result.

As part of your practice, try "urge surfing".  When you feel an urge to do to take an action or solve a problem, explore it by paying attention to it.  Let the urge be.  Delay acting on it long enough to fully experience it.  Where and how does the urge manifest in the body?  What emotions go with it?  What does this urge feel like?  Ride it out for a while.  See what happens!

In mindful Christian prayer, who are you?  The observer, or the personality and body consisting of the experiences that were observed?

Meister Eckhart, a mystical German Catholic Christian priest of the 14th century, preached that “The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.”  (Meister Eckhart, Sermon 4, True Hearing)

Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic of the 16th century, advised her fellow nuns: “mire que le mira” – “see that you are seen”.  (Vida, 1562, 12: 22)

Mindful Christian prayer practice begins with this experience of spiritual union with the Divine, seeing that we are seen with the same eye.  The observer within you, when you are deep in mindfulness meditation, is God.  This divine seer directs loving attentiveness toward your every sensation, urge, and thought.  God is compassionate awareness of all that manifests within you.

You true Self is God, experiencing your particular, unique life on a particular planet in a particular time.  Through mindful prayer practice you experience God directly and personally.

“Mindfulness is "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  To be mindful is to be aware:  observing what is happening right now in the changing flow of experience.  It is to be open: allowing what is happening right now simply to be, and to observe it without judgment.  It is to be kind: responding compassionately to whatever arises before one's attention.  This definition is used both by non-religious and religious people.  You don't have to be a Christian or otherwise be religious in order to maintain a practice of mindfulness.  But Christianity has throughout its history been a very special container for this experience, enriching and enhancing it, giving it a context in a wide, deep spiritual tradition.

Week 2: March 13-19:

"Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am the knowledge of the truth. So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in fact) already come to know, and you will be called 'the one who knows himself'. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all.”  Jesus, in The Book of Thomas the Contender in Nag Hammadi Library, sec 138

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:  

Pray mindfully 20 minutes a day, focusing especially on emotions that may arise – and on the ways they manifest in your body and breath.  We have emotions all the time:  this discipline involves watching them.  When one arises, observe it with "high-resolution perception", as Chade-Meng Tan (Google's Chief Happiness Officer) describes it in his introduction to mindfulness practice, "Search Inside Yourself".  (2012: HarperOne) Observe the emotion, and its effects on the body, with openness and warmth.  Let it play out naturally and then let it pass in its own time.  

Here's a mnemonic created by Michele McDonald to describe the essentials of mindfulness practice -  RAIN:  Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-identify.  Non-identifying means moving from "I am sad" to "I feel sadness".  How long does it take for you to move from sensing an emotion to being able to observe it in a conscious way, thus recognizing its distinction from your core identity?  For example, you become conscious that you are anxious.  In that moment, can you look back and recall when the emotion of anxiety actually began - and how that anxiety manifested in your body?  Very often there is a gap between the onset of an emotion and our full consciousness of it.  It is in this time gap that suffering and confusion multiply.  One of the fruits of mindfulness practice is shortening this time gap, giving us much more control over the way we respond to our emotions.  “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” said St. Paul (Ephesians 4:26).

Week 3: March 20-26:

“Seek and do not stop seeking until you find.  When you find, you will be troubled.  When you are troubled, you will marvel and rule over all... the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.  When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty and you are poverty,” Jesus, in the early Christian text, the Gospel of Thomas

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:  

For 20 minutes daily, in silent mindfulness meditation, turn your attention to someone you love very much, aim love toward that person, and savor and investigate the experience of it.  How does it feel?  Where does the love reside in the body, how does it affect your breathing?  What is the emotional content of it?  You can use the Center for Nonviolent Communication's website, cnvc.org, to read a list of feelings. This list is useful for identifying and investigating the emotions you experience in mindfulness practice, generally.  How does this love "metabolize" - how does it flow from one experience to another?  Then turn your attention to a person you don't know well at all, and direct love toward that person, and investigate the experience.  Then turn it toward the whole human race, the whole planet, and do the same.  Then turn it toward yourself, and do the same.  That's the hard part, for most of us!  We're so much easier on others than we are on ourselves.  But learning the discipline of deep self-compassion also turns open the tap of love for others.

If I were to condense a definition of mindfulness into a single word, agape would be the one.

The Greek words for love in the New Testament are “eros” - romantic love, “philia” - filial love or friendship, and “agape” - unconditional love – love no matter what.  In 1 John 4:8, where it says “God is love”, the word for love is agape.

Mindfulness is this specific kind of love.  It is deeply attentive, open, curious, engaged; inclined to enjoyment and delight, but willing to experience suffering as well as to commune with the suffering of others.  It refrains from judgments or evaluations.  It gently and appreciatively holds whom or what is observed without preconditions or assumptions or fixed definitions.  What is, as it is, it allows to be.  It does not grasp or clutch.  It affords freedom to whom and to what it attends.  It is not focused on fixing or changing people or things.  

Agape is God.  Agape is prayer.  Agape is mindfulness.  Agape is the love we practice in mindful prayer.

Week Four:  Mar 27-April 2:

“I am a mirror to you who know me…this human passion which I am about to suffer is your own.” Jesus, in the early Christian text, The Round Dance of the Cross

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:

For 20 minutes daily of mindfulness prayer, focus on your thoughts.  What are their colors, textures, tones, and qualities?  Which ones are "sticky" and which ones pass quickly?  What form do they take?  Are they voices? Are they images?  What emotions are associated with them?  Again, where do these emotions reside in your body?  

Thoughts spin around problems we are anxious to solve.  This can pose a challenge in mindfulness practice, as we lose our attention to the problem by becoming totally absorbed in problem-solving, which often leads to the experience of getting "stuck".  I cherish an old, wise book:  HOW TO SOLVE IT by George Polya (1944).  Polya was a celebrated mathematician who wrote the book to help improve math education.  But it generalizes as a source of wisdom about problem-solving in many situations.  It's a contemplative approach to the study of mathematics.  In his book, he repeated this phrase:  "Look at the unknown!"  This concentration on the problem itself, rather than on problem-solving, has the paradoxical effect of opening up a fresh awareness of the peripheral realm around the problem, in which solutions may be found.   When you get stuck in your thoughts, go back to Polya's mantra and "look at the unknown".  Contemplate the problem itself with loving, patient attention, and gently let the solution emerge in its own time.

Richard of St. Victor understood this practice in the 12th century, as a teacher of monks:  “Thinking always passes from one thing to another by a wandering motion; meditation endeavors perseveringly with regard to some one thing; contemplation diffuses itself to innumerable things under one ray of vision.”  (“The Mystical Ark”, Ch III, p 156, "Richard of St. Victor: The Twelve Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, Book Three of the Trinity", tr. Grover A. Zinn, Paulist Press, NY, Ramsey NJ, Toronto, 1979.)  )  Spiritual practice moves between and among these forms of attention.  One-pointed focus yields to a wide peripheral vision, a sense of the wholeness and unity of all.

Week Five: April 3-9:


“…they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”  Matthew 21: 7-11  NRSV

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:  

Pray mindfully for 20 minutes, attending particularly to your desire for spiritual progress.

In the context of mindful Christian prayer, wanting equals having.  To pay mindful attention to our desire for progress in mindfulness is to have a taste of that progress.  As the anonymous author of the 14th century Cloud of Unknowing wrote: “The will needs only a brief fraction of a moment to move toward the object of its desire.”  “The aptitude for this work is one with the work; they are identical…. You possess it to the extent that you will and desire to possess it, no more and no less.”  (Ch 34,  P 9 Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counsel Tr. by William Johnson  NY:  Doubleday Image Books, 1973)

Savor your desire for this progress, as its own experience in the moment.  Let it be a mustard seed that you can trust to grow, in it own time and on its own terms.  Mindfulness practice trains us to trust that our awareness of a problem or of a need for growth will activate our inner creativity and capacity for change.  We don't need to solve problems, fix things, in the moment as we practice: we learn to trust that solutions will arise from within, when the time is right.

Mindfully attend to all that arises in your daily practice: bodily sensations, the rhythm of your breath, your emotions, your thoughts; directing love toward each of these experiences; staying open and accepting toward them, releasing them as they pass in their own time and on their own terms.

As Thomas Merton, the 20th century Trappist Catholic monk, summarized, “in prayer we discover what we already have.  You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there.  We already have everything, but we don't know it and we don't experience it.  Everything has been given to us in Christ.  All we need is to experience what we already possess.”  (Quoted in David Stendl-Rast, “man of Prayer”, in Thomas Merton, Monk, ed. Atrick Hart – Doubleday 1976 p 82)

Passion Week, Week Six: April 10-16:


April 10-12:  Ten Ways to Meet God Mindfully

From Palm Sunday through Wednesday, employ one of these practices each day:

1.  Watch your thoughts and feelings and urges.  Close your eyes, stay quiet for at least 20 minutes, and observe what is going on in your mind and your body.  What claims your attention?  What emotions and bodily sensations do you feel?  What ideas and plans and memories bubble up?  Simply be present for your experiences, like a trusted, caring friend, without trying to judge or change what you observe.  God is the one within you who observes all with loving attentiveness and acceptance.




2.  Look at an everyday, unremarkable thing - anything at all - for several minutes, until you notice something beautiful about it that you never saw before.  That out-of-ego moment of wonder is an experience of God.




3.  Look at another everyday, unremarkable thing for several minutes, very closely and intently.  Then release your attention to it, and notice what you experience.  That moment of expanded awareness is an experience of God.


4.  Find somebody you don't like, and listen to them for at least half an hour.  As you listen, observe and then release any attachment you have to your opinions of this person.  Show love to this person, without needing to like or become a friend to this person. But act as if you love this person, until the moment comes when you begin to feel like you really do.  This love is God.




5.  Choose one public policy issue that has an important direct or indirect effect on vulnerable people: the young, the elderly, prisoners, the sick, immigrants, people with low incomes.  You probably don't have time to go deeply into every issue, so just pick one.  Seek information about that policy issue from the most reputable, objective, in-depth sources you can find.  Stay on top of current debates or events that relate to this issue.  Inform your friends and family about it when the right occasions arise.  Communicate with your elected officials and other policy-makers about your views on this issue, on a regular basis.  Every so often, show up at public events that may have a strategic effect on making things better for people affected by this policy.  The deep concern you feel for those people, expressed through your learning and your activism, is God.



6.  Immerse yourself in nature.  Take a walk in the wilderness, or at least in your neighborhood.  One word per stride, ask yourself:  "What… is… here….?" over and over, until you begin to feel present in the moment, noticing and appreciating all that is around and within you, instant by instant, item by item.  The moment you can say "I... am... here…" as you walk, you have arrived at God.  (This is my primary daily form of mindfulness practice.)




7.  Watch a small child play.  Observe the child trying to do something he/she cannot yet accomplish.  Observe your urge to help the child do the task, and let go of that urge.  Let the child know you are there, paying attention, but don't intervene in the play until, and if, you sense a clear invitation to do so.  Imagine what the child is thinking and sensing, and begin to play with the child in the way that the child is playing.  The moment you give up your adult perspective and take on the child's perspective in play, you are playing with God.



8.  Draw a picture.  Then look at the picture.  Observe what's there, but also observe your reactions to your picture.  Do you judge it somehow?  Do you have opinions about it?  Do you wish it were different?  Notice these experiences as you look at the picture.  Then draw another picture slowly, and do the same thing as you are drawing it - noticing your feelings and opinions about it as you go.  Look at the finished picture and again observe your reactions to it.  Do it again and again until you feel liberated from your opinions about it, and simply enjoy the process of drawing it and looking at it.  When that happens, you have drawn a picture of God.



9.  Go to a house of worship - of any faith - and sit and listen to the liturgy or prayers.  Instead of focusing on the words being said or sung, or on their meanings, focus intently on the silences between the words and the sounds.  Notice and savor as many moments of quiet - some extremely short, others longer - as you can.  Let the silences be the focus of your worship.  Let the silences become the source of meaning for the sounds in the worship service.  When you are enthralled by the sound of sheer silence, you are hearing God.

10.  Take a walk in a familiar environment:  one you see every day.  Look at everything around you and name it.  "Tree" - "house" - "car" - "dog".  Then start to do it another way:  "My idea of tree" - "my idea of house" - "my idea of car" - "my idea of dog".  Then, in the same way, start naming your emotions and feelings and thoughts alongside naming the things and events in your environment: "My opinion of dislike for that car" - "my feeling of pain in my foot" - "my thought of trimming that tree".  Do this until you are awakened to the fact that so much of your inner and outer experience is based on your ideas of things, rather than the real essence of them.  When you are awake to the possibility that the world around you has an essence that is beyond your ideas and opinions, you have awakened to God.



Maundy Thursday, April 13:

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.””  Matthew 26: 26-29

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:

Pray mindfully for 20 minutes.

Ritual:  Wash each others' feet.  Share the bread and the wine of the eucharist:

Feast and Fast – Words of Institution of the Eucharist by Jim Burklo:  

With this wine, with this bread,

Let us feast on simple pleasures, and fast from all that gets our bodies and souls out of balance.

Let us feast on kindness, and fast from sarcasm.

Let us feast on compassion, and fast from holding grudges.

Let us feast on patience, and fast from anxiety.

Let us feast on peace, and fast from stirring up needless conflict.

Let us feast on acceptance, and fast from judgment.

Let us feast on joy, and fast from jealousy.

Let us feast on faith, and fast from fear.

Let us feast on creativity, and fast from all that deadens our souls.

Let us feast on social justice, and let us fast from negligence of the most vulnerable.

Let us feast on service to others, and fast from selfishness.

Let us feast on delight, and fast from despair.

Let us feast on bread and wine in spiritual communion, and fast from all that keeps us from communing deeply with each other and with God.  

So that our lives might be sufficient, fulfilled, complete, whole, enough.

Amen!

Good Friday, April 14:

“From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God's Son!””  Matthew 27: 45-54

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today."

Contemplatio:

Use the cross as the focus for mindful prayer.  It is a compass - north, south, west, east - converging at a point.  Through the center point of the cross, take aim at how you want to be, where you want to go.  It aims at divine consciousness.  It aims at kindness.  It aim at compassion.  It aims at knowing the Knower.

In Numbers 21:9, Moses lifted up a bronze serpent on a pole in order for the people of Israel to gaze on it and be cured of snake bites. Jesus said in John 3: 14:  "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…" The snake on the pole, reminiscent of the caduceus, the snakes on the pole that are an ancient symbol of medicine, was a form of homeopathy, an ancient form of medicine that exists today in the example of vaccination. Homeopathy is the idea that a dose of that which ails you is the cure.  A dose of the snake through a confrontation with its image was the cure for the bite of the snake in the biblical legend. Likewise, Jesus suggested that a dose of evil and death, delivered by gazing at the cross, was the cure for the human condition of suffering. Healing and reconciliation begin with honest, direct mindfulness of pain and its sources. But so much of the time, we avoid paying real attention to this pain. Instead, we buy into the culture around us, which tells us that pain is to be avoided, masked, drugged, denied. We buy into the culture around us that tells us that life is about bigger and better things — the upward trail of material progress. Meanwhile, the cross tells us something completely different: that human life is about loving each other through the inevitable suffering that is our human condition.

Gaze at the cross, and focus on its center, the place of the heart of the suffering Christ. Notice your own sufferings as well as the sufferings of others around you and of people in the wider world. Name them: pain, unfulfilled desire, existential emptiness, frustrated ambition, anger, resentment, fear, oppression, poverty, pestilence, war - as you gaze squarely at the intersecting point of the cross. This is your reality, and the reality of the human race of which you are a part. This is the reality of the crucified Christ. You are not alone. Jesus suffered with you. The Christ, which is the human encounter with God, is fully and compassionately present in every pang of misery that you and other human beings experience.

When you are fully conscious of the true extent of your suffering and that of others, pull back your gaze and notice the cross as a whole. Its arms point out in the four directions.  There is life on the other side of suffering and even death. This, too, is the human condition: to go through suffering, and to find an eternal kind of life beyond it, in this life.


Easter, Sunday April 16:

Chant:

Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti!

(Greek Easter chant – “Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”)

Chant:

Return again, return again

Return to the land of your soul

Return again, return again,

Return to the land of your soul

Return to who you are

Return to what you are

Return to where you are

Born and reborn again....


“As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  Luke 24: 28-35 NRSV

Lectio:  Read this scripture passage aloud, slowly.  Release any interpretation or opinion you may have about this passage, as you read it.

Meditatio:  Let the passage “sink in” for two minutes.  Sit with the passage.  Hold it lightly – don't force any attempt to interpret it.

Repeat “lectio” and “meditatio” three more times.

Oratio:  Pray aloud:  “May I receive from the scripture what my soul needs for today.”

Contemplatio:

Focus your meditation on the bread and wine of the Easter Eucharist.  This practice is known as the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

“As this piece [of bread] was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom.”62  This passage from the Didache, a very early Christian liturgical document, expresses one of the many meanings latent in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

The Eucharist (a Greek word meaning "good gift"), or 'communion' or 'Lord's Supper', is the ritual of sharing bread and wine. From the very earliest days of the church, it has been the focus of Christian worship. It recalls the moment (Mark 14: 22-25) when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples before his death. Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, and other churches celebrate the Eucharist at least once a week.  Most Protestant churches perform it monthly, but an increasing number are part of a “liturgical revival” that has returned to the ancient practice.

For “high church” Christians, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus in the mass.  For “low church” Christians, the meal is symbolic.  The breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine express the breaking open and pouring out of the love that is God, through the Christ who dwells in each of us. For some, the ritual is a moment of deep bonding and sharing with the other members of the church community. As we share the bread and the wine, so we also share the many different meanings that the Eucharist has for different people in the congregation.

So much of the time, we eat and drink mindlessly: we don't pay that much attention to how it tastes or feels. We don't spend much time savoring it, focusing our attention on the food itself, rather than on conversation or on other things that are on our minds. The communion ritual offers a chance to mindfully eat bread and drink wine. It's “soul food” and it's “slow food”.  One meditation to employ during the ritual is to pay attention to everything about the bread: its texture, flavor, sweetness or sourness, yeastiness, saltiness. Then pay attention to the wine.  Churches seldom use fancy wine for the communion ritual, but the cheap wine of today is still vastly better in flavor to the rotgut beverage that people drank in the first century.   So savor the flavor, the aroma, and the consistency of the cheap but good communion wine, paying real attention to the experience at every level of your senses.   Imagine the fields of wheat.  Imagine the rows of vines.  And meditate for a moment on the labor of the people who worked to make grain into bread, grapes into wine. Then, as the chants are sung while people take the elements, pay attention to the human beings that surround you in the circle. Savor their presence: notice the beauty in each of them, all ages, all sizes, all shapes, all ways of living and being.  Mindfully open your heart to them. Commune with them with as much attention and intention as you put into communing with the bread and wine. Then, as the chants continue, imagine the millions of human beings who have taken the bread and wine with attention and intention over the past 2,000 years of Christianity. Imagine that vast community of faith being culminated in this very moment. Imagine that you have eaten bread and drunk wine not just for yourself, but for all of those who have gone before, and for all who will come after you.


A Credo for Progressive Christians by Jim Burklo:


I worship and adore God,

source, essence, and aim of all things,

spirit that enlivens all beings.

I follow the way of Jesus, who found God in himself

and shared a way for others to find God in themselves.

He was born through love,

He lived for love,

He suffered for love,

He died for love,

But love never dies.

I submit myself to the leadings of the love that is God,

that I may be compassionate to all beings,

that I may live and serve in community with others,

that I may ask for and offer forgiveness,

that I may praise and enjoy God forever.  Amen!


The Vine:  “Words of Institution” of the Eucharist by Jim Burklo:


"I am", said God to Moses from the burning bush.

"Before Abraham was, I am", said Jesus.

"I am the vine," said Jesus."

And you are the branches."

Gnarled and twisted,

My woody sinews holding you aloft,

You, my branches, spreading, budding leaves,

Giving shelter, sharing beauty.

I am the vine, you are the branches.

We are members of each other.

I need the nourishment you pass

From your leaves back down to my trunk

As much as you need the water and food

I pour into you, up from my roots.

Re-member me when you feel cut off

Graft yourselves back on to me

When you are lonely or afraid.

Re-member me so that together

We may thrive and serve.

I am the wine.
  Take me and drink.

We are one, and this is the sign.
  

As the vine turns water into grapes I turn water into wine.

Through me you will find

That you and I are divine.