Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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July 17, 2019 — Grief for the Earth


Benjamin Von Wong

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Job 38

Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.

More thoughts for meditation

The story of Job is a great lament, where Job, having lost his family wrestles with God repeatedly while he grieves. Throughout the lamentations, Job’s feelings are exuberantly, irrationally expressed and God speaks to him to settle his effusiveness and focus in on the deeper reality of creation and death — all of His doing.

Grief often hits us hard, like a strong wave at the ocean, pulling us under and away from the shore. It makes it difficult to be present for the rest of life around us. However, when we allow grief to have its time, sit with it and see at as part of the story of creation, we become more grounded in existential purpose, what God is calling us to. Grieving helps to give us perspective on working toward connection and love.

The artist Benjamin Von Wong has amassed hundreds of thousands of straws to help us see the realities of some of our smallest choices. His wave, “strawpocalypse” installation in Vietnam was created with brushstrokes made from straws he and a team gathered over 6 months (not purchased). It overwhelms a person with its scale and might serve as a reminder to grieve the negative impact that thousands of small choices have on the earth’s biosphere and the humanity that is interrelated.

We all need physical reminders of the grief and loss cycle to feel that help us imagine the impact on our own lives and on the lives of others like us (aren’t they all like us?) in order to be called into action toward love.

Suggestions for action

Sit with the grief that you feel for the environmental degradation. Put into your mind the ugly sights of woundedness and death that are part of our thousands of small choices that we make everyday toward in our interrelationship with the biosphere. Let the grief wash over you like a wave and settle not into angry indignation but powerful action. Resist giving in to small gestures that amass to large consequences. Find the will to take small steps toward change for the common good.

Pray: Cry out to God, like Job. Wrestle with your frustration, hurt and anger. Then settle in to grief and pray, “Lord, be with me in my grief, be with me in my love for the world and all its inhabitants. Lord, help through this struggle, help me resist and help me choose love and connection over ease and convenience. Help me love the world.”

Today is Peter Waldo/St. Alexius Day. Honor our radical spiritual ancestors at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

July 16, 2019 — Hurt

Image result for plastic island pacific

Pacific plastic dump

Today’s Bible r and an excerpt

Read Isaiah 24:4-6

The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.

More thoughts for meditation

Looking at the image of one of the mounds of plastic trash from the Pacific Ocean, we clearly see how our human systems have lead to great destruction of the earth. From the fall of Eden and throughout the Bible, there are many references to how human involvement in agriculture and the other ways in which we move away from the land and it’s inherent patterns and ways of balancing, have lead us to ecological wounding. We have fallen out of being in tune with our part in nature’s web. Not only is the result great chaos for the environment, climate and food stability, but we are also facing a severe deficit in attuning to the natural world for our own balance and restoration. Young children, and even older folks, no longer know the sources of their food let alone the rhythms of local streams or how to look up and see clouds gathering for a storm. Instead, we hold our faces to screens to tell us everything and think nothing of paying for water out of a bottle.

For many of us, the wounds of this misbehavior are difficult to see. The Pacific Ocean Plastic Island is far from Philadelphia. However, the explosion at the Philadelphia Energy Solution late in June is a horrible reminder of the ways that we are wounding our ecosystem daily. Not only was that a devastating explosion, but when you look at the landmass that is taken up with the refinery, beautiful waterfront land that is integral to our water system; and consider the asthma rates affecting young children where upwards of 10% of children in Philadelphia suffer from the disease and we are ranked as third worst place for asthma sufferers, it becomes more clear that our dominion over the land has created great hurt.

When we minimize these wounds, they don’t heal. When we feel overwhelming powerlessness over change, the wound festers rather than finds a salve for healing. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” By minding the wounds, paying attention and seeing the devastation, we have the potential to find our power that will lead to healthy change. God calls on us to see with open eyes, hear with open ears and open our hearts to empathize with wounds so that we may work toward healing.

Suggestions for action

This week, this day, reflect on the ways that you see the earth wounded. Hold that what you see is part of a living organism, of which you are a mere part as well, created equally with the other animals, flora and fauna and if there is a hierarchy to the unfolding of creation, we are just below the sabbath.

Pray: Like Thoreau, “Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs.” Ask God to keep guiding nature to repair; to be with us all each day as we choose our path to reducing our destructive ways.

July 15, 2019 — Paradise created, paradise given

This week we will be considering the beautiful garden that God gave to us here on earth; endeavoring to long, grieve and work for its recovery from the devastation that is being wrought. We hope for the courage to make critical changes in our behavior and policies that can improve the quality of life for all organisms and consider the future for our children. Voices front the Bible along with current theologians, artists and thinkers will guide us in considering our responsibilities to protect the environment and all its inhabitants.

The little Garden of Paradise by Upper Rhenish Master, Städel, 1410/1420

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Genesis 2

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

More thoughts for meditation

The image above, painted in the early 15th century in Germany by an unknown painter (Upper Rhenish Master), is that of an enclosed paradise garden. Groupings of people engaged in activity speak to us of the ways that the spiritual life is manifest in such a sacred space. Viewers of the work would have recognized the symbolism inherent to the work as a way of speaking to diverse (i.e., illiterate) audiences of the importance of growing one’s inner life in a variety of ways; music, cultivating the land, water, song, reading scripture. Though the original garden was presumably more open to the world, the importance of nature, beauty and green growth appeals to our need for connection to natural resources and to nature herself for sustenance and sustained faith.

In her book, Inhabiting Eden, Patricia Hull looks at the passages of Genesis, pointing out the poetry that the author uses to structure the graceful story of the beginning of earth, land, (wo)man and all the creatures. In her accounting of it, she says,

Though humans most often see creation’s flaws, according to Genesis 1 God views it as fundamentally good. We know this phrase so well that we may overlook it. We may also overlook creation’s majesty. We may go for long periods without looking at the color of the clouds or the ripples in the river, not really feeling the fur of animals who live with us, or the cool shelter under each tree. Then we get hungry—“ nature deficit disorder,” some call it—because the natural world feeds our souls. It is good, this earth that God made. Very good. Perhaps the poet envisions that creation satisfies God’s sense of well-being as it does our own.

As we begin this week, I hope that we can see the goodness that is all of creation. God wants us to recognize our humble part in the living world; to respect the power and place of all the creatures He made.

Suggestions for action

Think about the ways in which you connect to the natural environment. Consider if you have green space near you or if you seek to find it on a regular basis. Ask, “Do I respect the environment? Am I appreciating God’s beauty and abundance?”

Pray: Lord let me walk with respect on the earth that you created; let me see Eden as my refuge; let me treat it with respect


July 14, 2019 — Agnus Dei

Image result for come and see jesus art

Today’s Bible reading

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come and see.”

They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). – John 1:35-41

 More thoughts for meditation

The Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach is a musical setting of the complete Ordinary of the Latin Mass (“ordinary” means the parts of the liturgy that stay the same every day). Bach’s Mass was never performed in its entirety during his lifetime.

If you read his entry on Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body (July 28), you’ll be reminded that much of Bach’s genius was unappreciated during his lifetime, yet he persisted in offering it. The first documented complete performance of the B Minor Mass took place in 1859 after Bach was “rediscovered.” Since the nineteenth century it has been widely considered one of the greatest compositions in musical history, and today it is frequently performed and recorded.

The work was one of Bach’s last compositions, not completed until 1749, the year before his death. Some say it represents the consecration of a whole life. It was started in 1733 and was not finished for 26 years, after Bach had already gone blind. It is a monumental work containing a synthesis of every stylistic and technical contribution the Cantor of Leipzig made to music. It is also a striking spiritual mixture of the Catholic glorification of and the Lutheran cult of the cross

The “Agnus Dei” was one of the last portions to be added to the Mass Ordinary in the 700’s. It comes from John 1:29 and is often used during communion. The priest again uses the phrase “Lamb of God” when displaying the consecrated Host (or the Host and Chalice) to the people before giving them Holy Communion. He says: “Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi. Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt” (Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb).

As you listen, let that phrase be lifted by Bach’s faithful, heartfelt expression of genius. The solo is such an interesting tune, it could be distracting. Maybe the second time you hear it you can feel the mournful complexity and the confident yearning of asking the wounded Lamb for mercy. If you read music, you can be part of the choir!

 Suggestions for action

All the talk of the Book of Revelation this week brings up the subject of judgment and hell. Here is a quote from one of our favorites books: Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace.  In that book Volf reflects on Revelation 19 and helps us sort out  the apparent dichotomy between the God who loves us enough to die for us and the God who will judge us on the last day — the Lamb on the throne.

“The Anabaptist tradition, consistently the most pacifist tradition in the history of the Christian church, has traditionally had no hesitation about speaking of God’s wrath and judgment, and with good reasons. There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who “eat up my people as they eat bread,” says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put “in great terror” (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better. why not reasoning together? Why not just display “suffering love?” Because the evildoers “are corrupt” and “they do abominable deeds” v.1); they have “gone astray,” they are “perverse” (v. 3). God will judge not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.

If we accept the stubborn irredeemability of some people, do we not end up with an irreconcilable contradiction at the heart of Christian faith? Here the “crucified Messiah” with arms outstretched embracing the “vilest sinner,” there the Rider on the white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth to strike down the hopelessly wicked? The patient love of God over against the fury of God’s wrath? Why this polarity? Not because the God of the cross is different from the God of the second coming. After all, the cross is not forgiveness pure and simple, but God’s setting aright the world of injustice and deception. The polarity is there because some human beings refuse to be “set aright.” Those who take divine suffering (the cross) as a display of divine weakness that condones the violator – draw upon themselves divine anger (the sword) that makes an end to their violence. The violence of the Rider on the white horse, I suggest, the symbolic portrayal of the final exclusion of everything that refuses to be redeemed by God’s suffering love. For the sake of the peace of God’s good creation, we can and must affirm this divine anger and this divine violence, while at the same time holding on to the hope that in the end, even the flag bearer will desert the army that desires to make war against the Lamb.

Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? That is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. “How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood?” cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Rev. 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls on the souls “to rest a little longer until the number should be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed!” (v.11) But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Wanting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue….

Does not the Apocalypse paint a different picture of the end, the one more congruent with its violent imagery of the Rider’s conquest? Is not the last vision dominated by “the throne” (Rev. 22:1) from which earlier “flashes of lightning” and “peals of thunder” were coming (4:5)? Is not the nameless “one seated on the throne” (4:9, 5:1) a perfect projection of the ultimate and incontestable warrior-potentate? If this were so, the Apocalypse would simply mirror the violence of the imperial Rome it had set out to subvert. The most surprising thing about this book is that at the center of the throne, we find the sacrificed Lamb (cf. 5:6, 7:17, 22:1). At the very heart of “the One who sits on the throne” is the cross. The world to come is ruled by the one who on the cross took violence upon himself in order to conquer the enmity and embrace the enemy. The Lamb’s rule is legitimized not by the “sword” but by the “wounds”; the goal of its rule is not to subject but to make people “reign for ever and ever” (22:5). With the Lamb at the center of the throne, the distance between the “throne” and the “subjects” has collapsed in the embrace of the triune God.”

Within the church (particularly Circle of Hope, where we encourage such things) there are people who are resistant to truth, love, morality and service. Our patience with them leads to repentance. We must keep the Lamb on our throne. Our persistent embrace is the flash of lightning upon which we rely. The lure of our relational truth-being and truth-telling is crucial to any change the God-opponents might experience. We might long for “apocalypse now” when it comes to the persistent unbelievers and sin-dealers, but we are constrained to leave that to God’s timing. Let’s meet the end in God’s embrace, embracing. Consider how to embrace today.

If you lead worship among us, what is all this teaching you?

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