Monday, May 24, 2010

Many rivers to cross...

A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body
the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
(Ezekiel 36:26)

How would you receive these words? Would you hear the message of hope or would you be angry for being told you had a heart of stone? No doubt the people of Israel, exiled in Babylon, had difficulty hearing these words, too, from the prophet Ezekiel.

Ezekiel went on to say that God would save the people, not because of what they had done, but because of who God is.

When I am willing to admit it, I know that I, too, have a heart of stone. And I'm desperately in need of a new heart, a heart of flesh, a heart that cares about all of God's children.

These are God's words, says Ezekiel: "...and the nations shall know that I am God...when through you I display my holiness before their eyes (v.23)." Our actions are not about us but about the God revealed in what we do. "In the name of Christ," Mennonite Central Committee's motto, is a more contemporary version of the same truth.

The photo above is near Guggisberg, Switzerland the home of my Beyeler ancestors before they journeyed to North America. Their journey across rivers and oceans is mine, too, as I seek a new spirit and a new heart. My guess is that I will have many more rivers to cross, maybe even oceans, before the journey is completed...

Friday, May 21, 2010

The door is wide open

Can you imagine? A military captain comes to Peter and Peter lets him (and his entire family) in on the good news of Jesus Christ. Next thing you know, the Holy Spirit gets in on the act, too and, hearing no objections, Peter welcomes these outsiders in by baptizing them.

Of course, this gets back to other leaders in Jerusalem and Peter has to go and explain himself. And then comes one of my favorite lines in all of scripture. Says Peter: "So I ask you, if God gave the same exact gift to them as to us when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?"

Or as it says in the NRSV, "...who was I that I could hinder God?"

But we do, don't we? At least I do, over and over again, protecting God for me and mine and refusing to believe that God is in the other, even when the spirit is clearly evident.

On the coming Pentecost Sunday, I want to remember the Acts 10 message - through Jesus Christ, everything is being put back together again..and he's doing it everywhere, among every one. The door is wide open.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pursuing happiness

The trek continues for me. Since I ended my employment with Mennonite Church USA on February 1, I have spent a month on the beach in Jamaica, six weeks volunteering for Mennonite World Conference in Strasbourg, France, and shorter times in Collegeville, Minn., Arirzona and Nevada and in Norfolk and Harrisonburg, Virginia.

In the coming months, I'll spend three weeks in June in Scotland and Ireland and two weeks in late July and early August in Ethiopia.

I just told a friend this evening that life is different for me now. I no longer go to bed each evening with "left to do" lists spinning through my head. Daniel Taylor, in his book, In Search of Sacred Places, encourages us to live our lives with a sense of blessing and gratitude. But he says that's hard to do in a culture that multiplies our desires and then calls them needs and rights. Somehow, he says, we need to break free from the tyrannyof insatiable wanting.

My "wants" are broad, but I'm learning in these months that satisfaction can come in smaller things, too. Daniel Taylor offers a Celtic poem as helpful in his own journey and perhaps it can be useful in my trek as well:

Help me find my happiness
in acceptance of my purpose,
in friendly eyes,
in work well done,
in quietness borne by trust,
and most of all
in the awareness of your presence
in my spirit.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I am the true vine

Feasts are made for laughter. Wine...gladdens life (Ecclesiastes 10:19)

I found a wonderful book while I was in Strasbourg - The Spirituality of Wine, by Tom Harpur, a Canadian. This beautiful picture book was given to Larry Miller by Mennonite World Conference staff and volunteers.

As he talks about the process of wine making, Harpur lifts up an ample number of texts from Scripture that talk about wine and winemaking. Jesus, of course, uses the metaphor of the vine and branches to talk about how we are connected to God and to each other.

Harpur includes a number of wonderful quotes from others, including this one from John Calvin, not necessarily one of my favorite people: "Wine is God's special drink. The purpose of good wine is to inspire us to a livlier sense of gratitude to God." And this one from the Talmud: "Wine is the foremost of medicines...wherever wine is lacking, medicines become necessary."

Harpur's book got me to thinking about the use of wine and alcohol in my own life experience. First forbidden and then, for many years, something hidden. And then I compare that with my experiences the last several years and certainly during my time in Strasbourg - wine has been so much a part of leisurely conversations over meals, deepening friendships and celebrations.
At Taize, we sang the well-known chorus, Eat this bread, drink this wine and again I thought of the profound meaning of wine as a symbol of Jesus' blood shed for us so that we can have life and have it more abundantly.

"Wine is divine, a gift of God," said theologian Paul Tillich.

At 58, I think I'm too old to hide this divine gift of God. As someone who also grieves the lack of sunshine for days on end in northern Indiana, I prefer to think of wine, as someone else has said, as sunshine in a bottle. With gratitude to God, I'm going to let it shine, let it shine!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God

As I complete my time in Strasbourg, this Celtic prayer comes to mind

The vitality of God be mine this day,
the vitality of the God of life.
The passion of Christ be mine this day,
the passion of the Christ of love.
The wakefulness of the Spirit be mine this day,
the wakefulness of the Spirit of justice.
The vitality and passion and wakefulness
of God be mine
that I may be fully alive this day.
The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God
that I may be fully alive.

My hope for this time in France was that I could be of value to Mennonite World Conference in my volunteer role and also pay attention to my body, mind and soul. Even as I eagerly head toward home tomorrow, it's clear that this has been a rich time for me, full of looking inward and full of working outward.

In John 6, Jesus gives the 12 the opportunity to leave him and Peter replies, "to whom would we go...we've already committed ourselves.

As I look to the future, that's a bit how I feel. I don't know what the future will hold for me, six months from now, or a year or two years, but I do know that I've already committed myself to being involved in the life of the church. Where else would I go?

The vitality and passion and wakefulness of God be mine this day, and yours too.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Making the journey

Almost 300 years ago, Jacob Beiler (Beyeler), a native of Guggisberg, Switzerland, made his way to America on the ship, the Charming Nancy, with his wife, Veronica, and their five children. Veronica may not have survived the journey.

Two weeks ago, in the fog, I journeyed the other way, drove up around Lake Geneva, past Freiburg and to Guggisberg, a small village at the foot of the Alps. Nothing there much now at all that makes it stand out. Certainly no Mennonites. There is a Reformed Church at the center of town, and in fact, some would now say that Jacob was Reformed and didn't become Mennonite until he settled in Berks County in eastern Pennsylvania. He married again, shortly therafter, to Elizabeth and they had five more children.

I didn't find an old graveyard, just a new one, but it had plenty of Beyelers in it. That must mean that Jacob left many members of his extened family back in Guggisberg.

As I walked through the village, had a cup of coffee and a roll, stood and meditated in the Reformed church, I wondered what would have made Jacob sail halfway across the world on a small ship with almost 230 other people? Was it economic hardship? Religious freedom? A sense of adventure? And when he got to eastern Pennsylvania, did he think that it was worth it?
I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about Jacob, but as I drove back down into the valley, I thank God for Jacob and Veronica, who didn't survive the journey, for Jacob and Elizabeth and their children who made a new life in a new world, for the generations that followed, for my grandparents, Jesse and Elsie, for my parents, Robert and Ruth, and the rest of the family that has branched out from them.
I wonder if, in 300 more years, people will think of me in the same way as a person with courage and commitment, a will to do what needs to be done, of following through on my dreams?
Something to think about, at least...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Riding along the Rhine

15 push-ups. You wouldn't think it's such a big deal, but when I started several weeks ago, I couldn't even do one right. Now it's elbows out. Down and up, slow and easy. Walking and biking has been much the same experience. The more you do, the easier it becomes. For six weeks, I've been walking my 2+ miles each way from the apartment to the office and, by now, it's just part of the routine. Biking most days, too. Usually up around the canals that border the city of Strasbourg proper. Or down the canal toward Illkirch-Graffenstaden or out in the country toward Molsheim.
The 15 push-ups may be coming easier now, but I found out you can still overdo it. On Sunday, I biked across the Rhine to Germany and then headed south, farmland on one side, the Rhine on the other. Got down to the lock and watched the sailboats and then headed back north and west across the bridge back to Strasbourg. Beautiful country, but by the time I got back, I was glad to get off the bike and limp into my apartment!
Supper time was probably my last meal with Larry and Eleanor Miller, my Mennonite World Conference hosts for my volunteer work and my house hosts as well. The work has been good but their company has been even better. The older I get, the more I realize how precious friendship is and Larry and Eleanor have been the best. I've had space here, space I needed to begin to sort out some things for the future, but they've been close by and have welcomed me into their household for these weeks. I'll be heading home this week, but we'll be looking forward to hosting Larry and Eleanor in our house for a meal in early July.
Somewhere over the Rhine(bow) may not have been exactly what Judy Garland sung, but these weeks have sure been a good adventure for me. But now, it's time to get back to Kansas-, I mean, Indiana.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday morning at the cathedral

I never tire of looking at it. From the inside out or from the outside in. And in Strasbourg, you can see the spires of the gothic cathredral towering over everything else. It's been my landmark for six weeks. Across town. To the office. Back to the apartment. Walking or biking. I know where I am when I can see the cathedral.

The "Big Rose" window of the Cathdral of our Lady of Strasbourg (Cathedrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg) has a diameter of almost 50 feet. Though storms and wars have damaged it, some of the stained glass, dating from 1290, is still original. It has 16 gorgeous petals.

From the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, this cathedral was the world's tallest builidng (it's still the world's sixth tallest church). The first Christmas tree, so it is said, was displayed here. Five years ago, I was in the cathedral for a glorious Christmas eve service at midnight, and the Christmas market outside draws visitors from all over the region during the Christmas season.

The window is wonderfully inspiring. As I view it again, and remember the reason for this devotion, the birth of the Christ child, I am reminded of a poem from another tradition of Celtic pilgrims:

When Jesus came to earth as a baby,
He depended entirely on human love -
That of Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.
When Jesus preached and healed,
He depended entirely on human love -
The alms given by those who heard him.
I too depend on human love.
The kindness of others sustains my soul.
The gifts of others sustain my body.
Every person depends on others' love.
Let no one be ashamed of their needs.
To depend on others is to imitate Christ.

Back home in Goshen in the weeks to come, remembering this window, maybe I can also remember this poem. Imitating Christ. It's a goal not possible to reach, of course, but even trying will make the window worthwhile.

Everything that is, is holy

On the way to Molsheim from Strasbourg, just 20k by the bike path, I pass this statue of Christ. Reminds me of what I read from Thomas Merton this morning in his New Seeds for Contemplation. He says there isn't evil in anything created by God, and if we treat the good things of God as if they are evils, we're no different than Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent in Eden, woman has tempted me, wine has tempted me. And Merton says its not true that the saints never loved created things, had no understanding of the world. Says Merton, "Do you think that their love for God was compatible with hatred for things that reflected him?" Back from Molsheim, I'm agreeing with Merton as I pour myself a glass of wine...

Friday, May 14, 2010

The kingdom of God is justice and
peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open to us
the gates of the kingdom

- Taize song (May 2010)