FOR NOMINATION OF A SAINT ( for St. Marks November 7 worship)

 All Saints Sunday  November 7th

Clearly, this is one of the very important times of worship for the Christian Year, and is done with a special dedication and excellence at Saint Marks.  This is a great time to bring a friend with you to worship on All Saints Sunday.

If you would like to nominate a “Saint” to be remembered (living or deceased), please fill out the form below and email to churchadmin@saintmarkswv.org OR place in the collection plate on Sunday. (October 24th is the deadline for this “nomination.”)

A special saint(s) in my life has/have been:

Alive?  ____ Deceased?________

Alive?  ____ Deceased?________

Alive?  ____ Deceased?________

Alive?  ____ Deceased?________

My Name ________________________________

My phone number __________________________

(in case we have a question about spelling, etc.)

A Labyrinth Instruction/Meditation Booklet

prepared for an October 2013 mini-conference on the usage of a Labyrinth for the WV Annual Conference United Methodist Church.

FOR

WV Conference UMC Spiritual Formation

October 25-26, 2013

(c) October 25, 2013 Monty Brown

THIS IS A MAZE

In a Maze, you have to figure out the right way to go
or you will be lost or at a dead end.

That is not a labyrinth.

THIS IS A LABYRINTH

In a labyrinth, there is only one way to go. 
You do not risk getting lost or at a dead end.

A labyrinth is not a maze.

 GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR WALKING LABYRINTH

  1. Focus: Pause and wait at the entrance. Become quiet and centered. Give acknowledgment through a bow, nod, or other gesture and then enter.
  2. Experience: Walk purposefully. Observe the process. When you reach the center, stay there and focus several moments. Leave when it seems appropriate. Be attentive on the way out.
  3. Exit: Turn and face the entrance. Give an acknowledgement of ending, such as “Amen.”
  4. Reflect:  After walking the labyrinth reflect back on your experience. Use journaling or drawing to capture your experience.
  5. Walk often.

On the following pages are several short Meditation Guides.  These have arisen from workings of the Spirit for folks who have prayer-walked the Labyrinth at Saint Marks United Methodist Church, in Charleston, WV.  These are only suggestive, and, indeed, it is anticipated that many people will have a better Labyrinth Prayer Experience, without usage of any of these Meditation Starters. 

If you would like to share a response of yours to a Labyrinth Prayer Experience, I invite you to send it to SheepdogfortheShepherd@gmail.com

The Labyrinth pictured here is at Saint Marks United Methodist Church, 900 Washington Street, East, Charleston, WV 25301. (I was pastor here from 2003-2018, and am presently retired.) The Labyrinth is open for usage 24/7, without charge, for “walking/praying” unless a church function is scheduled.

This little booklet was prepared for the participants of the October 25-26, 2013 WC AC Spiritual Formation Labyrinth Retreat.  All of the contents herein are copyright 2007, 2008, 2013, Monty Brown.

Suggested Checklist for your walk of the labyrinth:

  1. I felt _________________________________________________ when I began.
  2. I felt _________________________________________________ when I finished.
  3. I walked the labyrinth alone [__] or in the company of others [__]. What difference did that make? _____________________________________________________
  4. Something different about the surface of the labyrinth I noticed this time was _________________________________________________________________.
  5. Something different I noticed about the environment about the labyrinth this time was _____________________________________________________________.
  6. “Thoughts” that occurred to me while walking the labyrinth this time: _________________________________________________________________
  7. “Feelings” that I noticed while on the labyrinth this time: _________________________________________________________________
  8. An idea that interrupted me while on the labyrinth that I did not follow up, but would like to explore later: _________________________________________________________________
  9. Something that I would like to share with someone else (in particular or in general) from the labyrinth experience this time is: _________________________________________________________________
  10. If “nothing” happened to you while making this labyrinth journey, what did that “nothing” mean? _________________________________________________________________
  11. Which of the above questions were never considered by me on this particular labyrinth journey? Why is that? What difference does it make to me to realize that now?  ____________________________________________________________

MEDITATION #1

39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.                  Hebrews 11:39-40  

Not counting the hands, minds, and hearts that prepared the plans and cut the stones and assembled these Labyrinth pieces before they were shipped to this location, more than 40 pairs of hands worked in putting together this Labyrinth in this place.

They stand in succession to the host of folks who have put together, walked, prayed, and meditated on this form of Labyrinth through the centuries.

Each of these stones was lovingly put into its place by someone who wanted it to be here for you in this moment … even though they did not know who you would be or when you would make this walk.

As you feel through your feet the unique placement of each stone beside the one next to it, think upon your unique and special place in God’s heart.

As you have your unique experience on this walk, consider how you stand in a long line of succession with longing spirits that stretch back over centuries. 

You are a unique beloved child of God, precious and beautiful to behold, and you are not alone, but part of a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering you on so that the work begun in them may become complete in you … in this moment and throughout your life.

What does this mean?  Begin your walk thinking on these things, and let your spirit go from there as it will.

MEDITATION #2

26Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.  If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. The Spirit does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27The Spirit knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. Romans 8:26-27  

It’s hardest to pray when we don’t know where to begin.

Sometimes, that’s because the pain or uncertainty in our life just leaves us empty.

Sometimes, the emptiness of what fills our life is too painful.

Sometimes, the whirlwind of voices clamoring around inside us make such a ruckus we don’t know how to get a word in edgewise.

Sometimes, nothing that runs through us seems worthy of prayer.

Sometimes, we’re just too tired.

In your Labyrinth walk, don’t try to put words to your prayer.  Just walk.

Don’t try to force what to think.  Just walk.

Just walk.  And pay attention.  Pay attention to all of your five senses.  And just wait.  Allow the quiet to become pregnant, and allow nothing more than the sighs of the Spirit to fill up the emptiness.

Don’t try.  Just allow. And if you think nothing at all is happening, then just dwell on that nothingness. And, remember: You are a beloved child of God, precious and beautiful to behold.

MEDITATION #3

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”                                                                                     John 3:8    

  • Which way do I go?  What’s my plan?
  • How can I deal with all the different options?
  • Where can I escape from all of these problems?  How can I deal with all the contingencies?
  • Race, run, sprint, O mind, full of questions and plans. 
  • Still, still, my soul, and know that you are not in charge, regardless of all of your plans.
  • Be still, and know that I am God, says the psalmist (Psalm 46:10)
  • Walk silently.  Walk and feel the currents of the air around you.  You cannot see it.  Feel it on your face, in your hair, and in your lungs as you breathe in, breathe out.
  • Walk.  Pay attention.  As the path turns and twists, know that there is certainty, even if you don’t know it.  Allow it to happen.
  • And know this for certain: you are a beloved child of God, precious and beautiful to behold.

MEDITATION #4

O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast,
My soul is quieted within me.
O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth forevermore.          Psalm 131  

The Labyrinth is a simple thing. 

Just one foot in front of the other; stay on the path. 

I cannot get lost.  I can see my destination at any given time.

And yet, in the simplicity, I am surprised.

It’s a powerful thing to simply travel – to not steer, nor map the course, nor plan what might happen.

Just letting it be.  Just letting it happen.

It won’t be the same thing that happened last time, nor the next time.

Can I really allow God to work within me, by paying attention?

Can I simply wait, wait upon the Lord?

Oh, yes — I can just walk away from the path, leave behind this waste of time.  That voice indeed tempts me; but do I dare ignore it and stay the course? 

Can I really recover the still calm of a child upon my mother’s breast?

What might happen if I just let go of the great matters, and wait, wait upon the Lord?

MEDITATION #5

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.  3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. … 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!                                                                                Psalm 139  

  • Think of the Center of the Labyrinth as being your present place in the time line of your life.
  • Allow different seasons, events, and cycles of your life lived thus far to find expression in the various lines, arcs, segments of the Labyrinth.
  • Allow the twists, turns, spatial relationships of the Labyrinth to speak to your heart about past events.
  • Notice how the events of long past are now so very close, in the Labyrinth, to the recent events
  • Arrive at the Center and realize the importance of “Now.”  Realize the relationship “Now” shares with the Past you just walked and the Future on which you are about to embark.
  • As you leave the Center to walk into the Future Unknown, feel its relationship to the Past.  How are your feelings on the winding way out the same or different from your feelings in this same place on the way in?
  • Don’t be reluctant to stop at any point and turn around to look, if you feel like it.
  • As you near the end, or when you reach the end, allow the Center of the Labyrinth to represent the “Something” about which your life has revolved or evolved.
  • In all places, pay careful attention to your feelings.

MEDITATION #6

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.                                                           Philippians 4:4-7, 12-13  

  • . Imagine Jesus Christ is near, welcoming you.
  • He is filling you with a feeling of warmth, of empowerment, of well-being.
  • He beckons you to let go of your worries.
  • He listens to you tell about the people and situations that have hurt you, and then takes those hurts from you.
  • He invites you to share with Him a story of how someone shared love with you and made you feel important.
  • Imagine and rest within this peaceful release and enveloping love.

MEDITATION #7

1    O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

2    So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

3    Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

4    So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

5    My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

8    My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.      Psalms 63:1-8  

MEDITATION #8

Ezekiel 47:6-9, 11-12     6He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?”  Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes.  11But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”

Psalm 46:1-4  1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.  4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

Psalm 1:1-4  1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.  3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.  In all that they do, they prosper.

Revelation 22:1-2  1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

Meditate on the path you follow in the Labyrinth, as a river.  Feel the water that cures all brackishness, that provides healing, that makes glad the City of God.  Flow with it, wherever it takes you.

MEDITATION #9

1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 

 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 

23From there [Isaac] went up to Beer-sheba. 24And that very night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 

1    The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 

29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  …  38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 

 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 

DO NOT BE AFRAID

It’s the same, same story, from the beginning, throughout the Bible, until the end.  God does not want us to be afraid.  What are your fears?  As you walk the Labyrinth, consider how God has dealt with your previous fears … in surprising ways you did not anticipate.  Of what are you afraid now?  What holds you back from accepting God’s promise: Do not be afraid.

MEDITATION #10

WHATEVER HAPPENS IN THE LABYRINTH ….

       If you find that “NOTHING” is happening, ask yourself what that “NOTHING” is.

       Once, it seemed that nothing was happening for me as I walked the Labyrinth.  I was tense and tight, and just walking: one foot in front of the other.  But nothing was happening.

       As I drew near to the center, I asked myself, So what is the ‘nothing’?

       It took me a bit until I realized that that “nothing” really was something, and that something was anger … anger with someone whom I thought had let me down.

       I had unconsciously been nursing that emotion during my whole time walking, and had not left room for anything else to happen.  Nothing happening really was something indeed.

       The words of Psalm 30 came to me.

O Lord, my God, I cried to You for help and You have healed me.  O Lord, You brought up my soul from the Pit of Sheol

(“Sheol” was, in the Jewish mind at the time of the Psalter, a watery grave sort of Pit, to which the dead, and the “as good as dead” went.  There was no return.  It was a dead end.)

       All the way in to the center of the Labyrinth, there seemed to be no end to my smoldering anger.

       All the way out, from the center of the Labyrinth,

              I allowed God to hear my cry,

               and to heal me.

                  By the time I walked out of the Labyrinth,

                        I had been lifted up from the Pit.

The “NOTHING,” was something …
      something I needed to face, and needed to surrender to God.

MEDITATION #11

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

The Way

Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.

Is there another way?
The way is one.

I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.

Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.

Then I’ll make here my place,
(The road leads on),

Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),

Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.

I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.

Oh places I have passed!
That journey’s done.

And what will come at last?
The road leads on.

Edwin Muir ~

MEDITATION #12

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, ….                                                                                          Hebrews 12:1-2a 

I first met Cliff a few years ago.  He is a United Methodist pastor, whose father is Native American, of the Cherokee nation.  Cliff spent a lot of his childhood with his Cherokee grandparents.  He told me a story about a most important event of that childhood.

One night, his Cherokee grandfather took him out into the Okefenofee swamp in the middle of a dark night, (where there are alligators, poisonous snakes and many other unfriendly parts of creation.)  It was a cloudy night – neither the moon nor a single star’s light pierced the shroud of blackness all around.   Cliff’s grandfather sat him down next to a tree, and shoved a large Bowie knife in the ground between his legs – “for his protection.”  Then his grandfather turned and left – left him alone. 

Cliff told me that he was afraid to move, too afraid even to stand up to go to the bathroom. He stayed awake, terrified all night long.  He wasn’t ashamed to admit the time he spent that night crying.  The next morning, at sunrise, he saw his grandfather sitting just 25 yards away.  His grandfather then told him:  

Remember, wherever you go, and whatever you confront in your life, God and the Tribe are never more than 25 yards away from you.

As you walk the Labyrinth, make your turns and turn your walking so that you always keep an eye on the center octagonal stone.  As you walk, remember: Wherever you go, and whatever you confront in your life, God and the Tribe [“so great a cloud of witnesses”] are never more than 25 yards away from you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

MEDITATION #13

Know what is in front of your face, and that which is hidden from you will be revealed unto you.                                                   Gospel of Thomas (Sayings) 5:1

W. Paul Jones writes in his book, Trumpet at Full Moon: An Introduction to Christian Spirituality As Diverse Practice, about a time he was given a Trappist drinking mug.  He explained that the mug has two handles, and is meant for holding with two hands while drinking with one’s eyes closed, so that one is not tempted to do something else while drinking.  While drinking, you are supposed to just drink.  Drink and pay attention.

Multi-tasking is one of the great friends of efficiency in our post-modern world. 

Multi-tasking is one of the great enemies of the paying attention required for spirituality of almost every kind and shape.

I saw an ant while I was walking the Labyrinth.  I stopped and paid attention to her.  She went back and forth, round and round, all on one stone.  It was like she was walking her own Labyrinth – all on one stone.

I don’t know if she paid attention to me, but I did to her.

I wondered if she was able to have any notion of the movement of the molecular particles inside her, in near Labyrinthine fashion (as quantum physics teaches and, in so doing, bursts the bubble of my seventh grade science class teaching.)

And I wondered if some telescope on an extra-terrestial body trained down on this spot would see me, and wonder if I had the capacity to understand what I was doing walking back and forth, round and round, all on one circle.

I stopped and closed my eyes, and drank in this moment.  There was much more here than I had realized.

I breathed in.  I breathed out.  I breathed in.  I breathed out.  And then I walked.  I continued to breathe in and breathe out, as I walked.  I hadn’t noticed that before, either.

MEDITATION #14

You can do this Meditation walking the Labyrinth shod-foot, but it works even better barefoot.

1    I lift up my eyes to the hills—from whence does my help come?

2    My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

3    He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.  4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5    The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. 
6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7    The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8    The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.                                         Psalm 121

God is present with every single foot movement.  (As Psalm 139 says, God hems us in, before and behind; no footstep goes without notice or accompaniment.  Or think of that poem Footprints.)

God will keep our going out and our coming in – right now, yesterday, tomorrow, always.

As you prepare to walk the Labyrinth, realize that you place one foot in front of the other, again, again, and again – like in life, each day, after day.

As you prepare to walk the Labyrinth, realize that you are going out (toward the center) and coming in (back from “the center” into your daily life.) 

You are moving to the center of your being (where God is); there to touch, to be touched, and to return to your daily life.  As your return be assured that you are carrying the touch of God, so to remind you that no place can you go without this Life Partner, even unto eternity.

  • What does that mean?
  • How does that feel?
  • What difference does it make?

MEDITATION #15

 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus Philippians 2:5

Lo, I am with you always … Matthew 28:20

One day when both the weather and the time of day were just right, the Labyrinth was split down the middle between sunlit and shadowed.  The path did not stay in the sunlit area for the first half of the walk in, and then go to the shadowed side for the second half.  Instead, I was on one side for a little bit, and then over to the other, and then back. Back and forth, like the rocking of gentle waves.

It seemed like I was in the sunlight until the heat was almost oppressive, and then I was given the relief of the shadow.  But, being the season that it was, it soon became uncomfortably cool.  And then I would be back on the other side, basking in the warmth of the sun.

The concept of “Yin and Yang” (pictured above) is often associated with eastern religions.  It is often divorced from Christianity, since orthodox Christianity believes that neither Creation nor Life is a constant struggle between forces of evil and forces of good.  However, the drawing of Yin and Yang does remind us that Life gets lived out in ebbs and flows, in seasons and rhythms. 

We post-modern people have tried our hardest to equalize as many variables as we can in life, so there are no longer “seasons” but a “comfortable sameness” all the time (e.g. heat, air condition, etc.) 

Two words prove my point: StrawberriesWatermelons.  No longer do we have to wait until their seasons roll around.  Our affluence makes them available 365 days per year.  Our attempts to tame, equalize, and eliminate waiting, have not been healthy for our spiritual development. 

We have come to expect instant satisfaction.  And when Life doesn’t play that game, we complain that God is unfair.  We complain instead of look for seasons of growth.

I learned from the Labyrinth that life is designed for balance between the seasons and rhythms.  God does not like insipid sameness.  It is in the “other seasons” when we often learn the most.

We are called to have the same mind as was in Christ.  But with that challenge, comes the promise of the other side of the coin, as well: the companionship of Jesus’ Presence.  Also, with the Promise of Jesus’ Friendship comes the obligation: we can’t insist on remaining the same.  

MEDITATION #16

Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord, oh my soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Put not your trust in rulers nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.  When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish.  Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!  Whose hope is in the Lord their God.  Psalm 146  

One of my better devotional disciplines occurs in the shower.  As I wash each part of my body, I pause to consider how that body part was designed to work, and how it does work.  I have been blessed with good health, and I give thanks as I wash each part of my body – thanks for its creation and thanks for its present working condition.

It keeps me mindful of the ordinary splendor of creation, and my obligation of thanksgiving.

But, I also need to remember: right now, I am merely temporarily abled.  This is a passing phenomenon.  Soon, and certainly, I will lay this body down.  And, on that day, as Psalm  146 reminds me, even the workings of my organic brain will cease.  My body will no longer be abled.

I have a good friend who is mostly confined to a wheel chair.  She tells me how her relationship with God has been blessed by this.  I am slowly coming to understand.  In my better moments, I realize that all the works of my physical body are fleeting.  Unless I have nurtured that which will survive the grave, then my eternity will be diminished.

I walk the labyrinth, putting one foot in front of the other, paying attention.  I make the turns and switchbacks.  I give thanks for the gifts of this moment, but am reminded of their fleeting nature.  May I use these gifts to enhance that which will survive.  Or, as missionary martyr Jim Elliott said, He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

MEDITATION #17

The Affirmation of Faith   1  The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

The Ministry Action Plan   4  One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

The Labyrinth Practice   11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path

The Proof is in the Pudding   13  I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14  Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!                                                                                                  Psalm 27

The Affirmation of Faith   This is what I was taught to believe.  But sometimes, as the storms of life are raging, I confess: Lord I believe; help my unbelief.

The Ministry Action Plan  This is the way that we make the affirmation of faith the realization of faith – we work with the Lord.  It is when we live out that tension between Grace and Works.  It is when we seek after that which God alone can give.

      It’s not a hard task.  It just takes diligence.

      Brother Lawrence called it, Practicing the Presence of God.

      In the Labyrinth, we can practice this single-minded intention to behold the beauty of the Lord in every circumstance.  We practice this by simply keeping our gaze upon the CENTER STONE.  As each step is made, as each turn is negotiated, keep your gaze upon the center stone.  But, how can we keep our eye on the path before us?  Practice.  Innocent as a dove, wise as a serpent.

The Labyrinth Practice  I practice in the Labyrinth on the level path in order to keep my gaze upon the Beauty of the Lord in every up and down of daily life.

The Proof is in the Pudding  Indeed, practice. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!  And, indeed, as we set our minds and practice on that which only God can give, we will surely in this life experience the Kingdom of God.  And, as co-heir to that Kingdom I remember: I am a beloved child of God, precious and beautiful to behold.

MEDITATION #18

29 God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.  30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.                               Isaiah 40

I noticed something about the stones set in most of the turns in the Labyrinth.  The darker, dividing stones remind me of an hourglass. 

The hourglass is an icon that many folks are used to seeing on our computers today– we see it turning, turning, turning, while we have to wait for the computer program to work.  While the spinning hourglass is on the computer screen, something is happening in the background that we cannot see.

In life, there are turns and switchbacks and obstacles, which can be painful, frustrating, and wearisome.  We don’t like waiting; we don’t like not being in control.  We don’t like setbacks.  We dislike things not proceeding according to our plan, and not at our anticipated speed.

Ann Lamott suggests that when these distress times happen in our lives, it is because God is doing something really significant in the background.  And in the meanwhile, God gives us stressful thing to keep us occupied, so we will not jump in to and mess up what God is doing, because it doesn’t fit into our perception of what we want to happen … right now.

That may or may not be accurate, or may or not be accurate some of the time.  But it does seem clear that when I allow God to be at work beyond my vision, and in ways that I won’t know about until somewhere down the road, then that faith in God allows me to wait in those times, and to gain strength – as opposed to dissipating it through worry.  I need to remember that all things really do work for good, so long as I am called according to God’s purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

THE LABYRINTH

Walking the Labyrinth has been a spiritual discipline, since days of antiquity and throughout the world.  Not to be confused with a “MAZE,” one can never get lost in a Labyrinth.  Just staying on the path will wind around and around, and back and forth, and always end up at the center, and then the path is repeated from the center back out.

It moves inward and outward, like the relationship between meditation/contemplation and service.  It is a timeline for your whole life; it is metaphor for the sacred and secular.  One can travel inward toward their own center, or inward toward God.

There is no “right way” nor “wrong way” to walk a labyrinth. 

Just enter, as marked in the drawing above, follow the path to the center, and then retrace your steps along the path to the exit.   It takes (on average) approximately 15-25 minutes to walk it (if alone.) 

Your walk can encompass a variety of attitudes. It may be joyous or somber. It might be thoughtful or prayerful.  You may use it as a walking meditation. Adults are often serious in the labyrinth.  Children most often run in and out as fast as they can in a playful manner.

When you walk a labyrinth choose your attitude.  From time to time choose a different attitude.  Make it serious, prayerful, or playful.  Or don’t “make it” anything, but just happen. Play music or sing.  Pray out loud.  Walk alone and with a crowd.  (When more than one person is walking, please shape your conduct to respect their “walk” experience.)  Notice the sky.  Listen to the sounds.  Most of all, pay attention to your experience.

Meetings? Why do we dislike them so much? What is a “good meeting” like?

Wikipedia defines “meeting”:

“when two or more people come together to discuss one or more topics … for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction, such as sharing information or reaching agreement …. [by actual face to face or via digital conferencing.] One Miriam-Webster dictionary defines meeting as ‘an act or process of coming together’….”

I hear people express displeasure at having to attend meetings, but appear to mostly accept their inevitability.

Why do we dislike meetings so much?

  1. There are too many of them. They keep us from actually getting anything done. People confuse “meeting” with actual “ministry” (in my profession.)
  2. They are so inefficient in time usage.
  3. It is so uncomfortable to watch some attendees:
    • monopolize the meeting
    • come to the meeting unprepared
    • are more interested in their personal agenda than in the success of the group or the good of the whole
  4. That pervasive feeling afterwards of what a waste of time it was. (“There’s 60/90/120 minutes of my life that will never be recovered!”)

What are the characteristics of a GOOD MEETING?

I arrived at these characteristics by reflecting on worship committee meetings I used to lead. The format was simple. The scriptures for 4-6 Sundays (2 months away) were given to the participants in advance. The group met twice in one month, for 90 minutes each meeting, to come up with (1) a worship theme for the 4-6 week time period, (2) specific sermon theme sentences, and (3) ways to elucidate/present that specific them each week. The first meeting was almost always chaotic – “popcorning” of ideas. All were recorded and given to the members in written form, shortly after the conclusion of that first meeting. Everyone returned to the second meeting two weeks later, and, somehow, the end result was always reached after 90 minutes. I LOVED these meetings (and I for the most part dislike meetings.) I think everyone else did as well. Why?

  1. Committee membership is self-nominated. No one is there who does not want to be there voluntarily.
  2. The purpose of the meeting is very clear in advance. The end product is not known by anyone in advance.
  3. The purpose has a history of being met. Success is assumed, based upon experience.
  4. The 90 minute time limit is always kept.
  5. There is never any individual competitiveness. There is no “me” versus anyone else. There is no “pride of authorship/ownership.”
  6. Success is recognized as necessarily resulting from mutual collaboration. i.e. Everyone believes that the success depends upon collaboration; it simply can not be done without true sharing and listening.
  7. No one’s idea is ever demeaned, and yet everyone is interested in achieving the best overall result.
  8. Although there is a leader (to facilitate and take notes) there is total equality of authority. No one has a veto. (Oh, I suppose as senior pastor, I had an inherent power to veto, but in all the years we did these meetings, that was never done. The collaborative creativity was better than any single person’s ability, including mine. I learned a lot from that!)

I understand that those kinds of factors cannot be adopted realistically for every type of meeting. When they cannot, is there an alternative mechanism for accomplishing the goal?

I also understand that sometimes the real purpose of a meeting is not the stated goal.  e.g. the real purpose of the meeting might be:

  1. team building
  2. trying to identify people who are desired for leadership in the organization, based on how they act in a meeting:
    • being real team players, more interested in the group than in personal success
    • creativity
    • listening skills
    • not domineering nor need-control people
    • diplomatic
    • empowering, rather than overpowering
    • OR the reverse of all those characteristics, if that is your notion of good leadership

There is also the type of meeting in which the leader (whether in the leader’s chair or not) merely wants to be able to inform and convince others of the beneficence of their pre-ordained plan, and in which that leader feels a deep need to control the outcome and the process. I believe that these types of meeting are the ones that most people (except that leader) really hate to attend, and do so only upon pain of some punishment, and really have no desire to participate, due to their perception of the futility of trying.

I recently heard about an alternative meeting format, which fascinates me, although I’ve not participated in it. It would not work for the collaborative creativity, where a certain time for percolation is required. But it might work for other types of meeting purpose, e.g. exchange of information. I’d love to hear of folks’ experience with such a meeting:

It’s a FIVE MINUTE meeting in which all the participants STAND throughout.
(You can read the linked Wall Street Journal article for more information.)

These are my musings on meetings at this point. Your thoughts?

January 14, 2019 Prayerspitality

The following was posted on the FaceBook page “Prayerspitality – a Marriage of Prayer and Hospitality”  Please feel at ease posting replies here or on the FaceBook page.

.    We live in, what Henri Nouwen called, “‘the continuous state of emergency.’ Our world believes itself to be and in many ways is in a continuous state of emergency.  The needs are deep, the needs are immediate and if seen in the collective, the needs are overwhelming. Even if we close the doors all together, the state of emergency is still there.”
.    What do PRAYER and HOSPITALITY say about this state of continuous emergency?
.    When we open the door to invite someone in, (HOSPITALITY) it is becoming vulnerable. We need some sort of confidence or strength to do such a thing.
.    When we open the door to invite God in, (PRAYER) it is also becoming vulnerable. We need to recognize some sort of need to do this.
.     Prayer and Hospitality are inextricably tied. They involve recognition of need and willingness to accept help beyond ourselves. And then they require a response.
.     Like the dance to which the Trinity calls us to be the fourth partner, the circle of Prayer & Hospitality feed, direct and empower.
.     And this Dance may indeed be the only thing that can release us from Nouwen’s described ‘the continuous state of emergency.’

What are YOUR thought or experiences along these lines? Please share them in a comment below.

Nouwen quote above from a wonderful piece found at
https://churchofthesojourners.org/hospitality-and-prayer/

‘Twas the night after Christmas story

For a number of years, it was my job … and people actually came to hear me do it … to tell a story on the night before Christmas (actually December 24, after sundown is the beginning of Christmas … “and there was evening and there was morning, a first day … and there was evening and there was morning, a second day, …etc. — the day begins in the evening, not in the morning)

Well, I’ve been put out to pasture (they call it retirement) and no one comes around on December 24 to hear me tell a story. But I still had one bubbling up inside of me. So here it is. Perhaps, two nights later, there will be someone with insomnia, in need of a bedtime story:

A Pastoral Call to the Rabbi
© Monty Brown 12/26/2018

         He stopped by my office and seemed upset. “I know I don’t have an appointment, but do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure,” I said. “Come on in. Sit down. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“I’m not sure where to start. It seems like my whole world is falling apart. And I didn’t do anything wrong. I just don’t get it. Why me?”

Joe was not prone to hysterics. In fact, I’ve never seen him anywhere close to his wit’s end. He was always one of the stable people, who could be counted on to be a rock when others seemed to be unraveling. “Why don’t you start at the beginning … or wherever it seems like a good place to jump in. Sometimes the ‘beginning’ is hard to nail down.”

“You’ve got that right. OK, let me start with Mary.”

“Your fiancé?” I asked.

“Right. So, we were out a few nights ago, and she seemed a little strange.”

“How so,” I asked.

“Well, it was just little stuff to begin with. But it seemed, as the evening went on that she was nervous and kind of jumpy, and then she seemed irritable, and she didn’t want me to touch her in any way … she pulled her hand back when I even touched her.

“I decided that she just needed to get to it in her own way, and so I didn’t push her. I asked her some open-ended questions, trying to give her an opening to let me know what was wrong. We had not been having any problems, so I was at a loss.”

“Did she ever tell you,” I primed.

“Finally. It just came out in a rush, like someone pulled the cork out of a bottle that was tipped over, and everything just came pouring out. She got really quiet for a few seconds and I decided to just let the silence do its work. And then her next words were, ‘I think I’m pregnant.’”

I just sat there and let the silence do its work in this situation, because I didn’t really know which way to head with this. And then, after a few seconds, silence did its job and Joe went on.

“I was not sure that I had heard her right, and so I said, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘You heard me; I think I’m pregnant! But before you get the wrong idea, you need to know that I didn’t do anything wrong. I did not cheat on you, Joe. I swear. I didn’t.’

“I didn’t know how to respond to what she just said, because it seemed like an obvious contradiction: ‘I’m engaged … we didn’t have sex … I think I’m pregnant … I didn’t do anything wrong.’ So, I waited, and she didn’t say anything. Finally, I said, ‘Tell me what you mean.’

“I’ve got to confess that my brain was racing way ahead of what I was saying. And what I was feeling was running way past what my lips were saying. I felt stunned, and then angry, and then confused. While I was trying to sort out the contradiction of what she said, she began to explain to me that she had had a visit.”

“From another man?” I interjected.

“Well, kind of. She said his name was Gabriel.”

“Do you know this Gabriel guy?” I asked.

“No, she said he was an angel.”

I didn’t interject. I think I leaned back in my seat. I probably put my fingers together in a steeple fashion. I do that sometimes to demonstrate that I am thinking deeply. It actually means that I’m totally at a loss.

Joe didn’t say anything, so I said, “An angel?”

“Yea. An angel. She said he came to her while she was out pruning some grape vines. She told me that he came up and sort of startled her, because she didn’t hear him approach. And then she went through it all kind of fast – almost like she didn’t believe what she was telling me. She told me that he was an angel named Gabriel and that he stood in the presence of the Lord G-d Almighty, may His Name be praised. And that I was going to bear a son, and that this was going to be God’s son, so God was going to be the father, but I wouldn’t really have sex, but somehow get pregnant through some spiritual intercourse, but it would be a real human baby, and would be the son of God and would be holy and that everyone would call her blessed. And that she didn’t ask for this to happen, but it did, and what can you say when the Lord G-d, may His name be praised, sends His right-hand angel to give you the news. So, she told this Gabriel, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word.’”

“Then what?” I asked.

“Well, what would you do if your fiancé told you this?” Joe answered my question with a question.

I was hoping that this was a rhetorical question and not the one he really came to ask me, because I didn’t have any idea. So, I said, “Well, what did you do?”

“Yea. I didn’t have any idea. So, I just said, ‘Wow! That’s pretty heavy.’ And she said, ‘Don’t you know it! So, what do you think, Joe?’ And I didn’t know what to think, let alone what to say. One thing I have learned in my years of living: when it’s really important and it’s not easy, don’t be in a hurry. Let it sink in. Let it percolate through all the layers. Give it time to sort itself out before saying anything, let alone making an important decision that affects others as well as you. So, I told her, ‘Yes, Dear, it is very heavy. I need to ponder this for a while. Let me sleep on this, OK?’”

“Smart man,” I congratulated him. “And …?”

“And …” he picked up on my question as a conjunction, instead. “And I went home and thought a lot about it. I mean, she could be telling the truth. But it’d be a first. But, another voice inside me said, ‘But, of course, it’s a first; it’s the son of God!  ‘ But, that first voice, the realistic one, told me that she just made a mistake and didn’t know how to tell me the real truth. And you and I both know that under our law, the punishment for that mistake is death by stoning. Well, I still loved her, and I certainly did not want to put her to that. So, round and round I went through most of the night until I finally fell asleep, not having decided what to do.”

“I’m not sure how to answer this one for you, Joe,” said I. “You know that …”

He interrupted my answer, thankfully, because I didn’t have an answer in head when I had started talking. I was hoping one would come to me. But, he did interrupt me, to tell me the rest of the story.

“No, wait,” began the interruption. “That’s not the end of it. After I fell asleep, I had this dream. At first, I thought it was just the voices inside my head continuing the debate while I was asleep. But, no, there was something more than that. This angel came to me in the dream and said that his name was Gabriel. And he confirmed every detail of what Mary had told me. And then he told me that I was to go ahead and take her for my wife, but not to consummate the marriage until after she had borne the child. And the angel told me to call the baby by the name of Joshua. And then …”

“And then?” I asked.

“And then I awoke.”

Silence.

“Hmmm,” I said. “What do you make of that?”

That is the question I came to ask you. What do you make of it?”

“Do you believe an angel really came to visit you in your dreams, Joe.”

“I think I believe it as much as Mary believes an angel visited her in the grape arbor. Do angels ever come in dreams, really?”

“Well ….“ I was pausing. My  fingers were definitely steepled, as I tried to think. “Well yes, there are examples of this in scripture. And in the book of Job, Elihu is the only ones of Job’s friends whose counsel was not contested by anyone. He said that God speaks to us in one way and in two: in our dreams and in our sufferings.”

“Well, this qualifies on both counts.” Joe said. “Do you realize what my family, and her family, and everyone in the community is going to say, let alone think, about her and about me, if we go through with this.”

“Do you really believe it was an angel, Joe?” I repeated myself.

“Who? With her, or with me?”

“You can’t answer for her; you can only know your own experience,” I counseled.

“True that. I really can’t answer for her. But I would have had to have taken just her word for it, if I hadn’t had the angel visit me. Did it really happen? I don’t know, for sure. But it felt real. I’ve never had anything like that happen in all my years. Nothing! So what do you think?”

“I think,” I said here in my best attempt to be wise and hoping to not must be ducking the issue. “I think that just like you can’t know what happened with Mary, but only with yourself, then I can’t know what happened to either one of you. Now, if an angel comes to me tonight and lets me know; I’ll be sure to get in touch with you right away. But, in the meantime …” Here I paused, not to give emphasis to my counsel preceded by a pause, but because I was trying to say the thing that was being birthed in my mind, in the right way.

“I think that sometimes, in the right circumstances, certain people … and maybe all of us at some time in our lives … get into a situation where there comes a feeling upon us, like a dawning of the morning sun in our recognition, that we are involved in something much bigger than us. That we are being caught up into a story that is not about us and is certainly bigger than us, but in which we have a role to play. Do we have a choice as to whether or not to do that which is required by the larger story? The Lord G-d, may His name be praised, is always in charge, but I believe He always allows us to exit out of taking on this role in His story. But, if we allow Him to be the author, and trust in Him to use us to His glory, then we can’t go wrong. And that means, regardless of what anyone else says.

“So what I’m saying is this: if you have that sense down deep in the recesses of your very being that you, and Mary, have been caught up in this larger story that is not about you, but in which you have been nominated to have a starring, or at least best supporting actor or actress, role, then you have to decide if you will trust that.”

Joe just looked at me. Then he said, “Yea. I think that’s it. That’s how it felt. Thanks, Rabbi. That helps.”

And then he left.

I never saw Joseph again. He died several years later, I’m told. I did get a letter from him about a few years after that. It came in a caravan of some traveling merchants from Egypt. It was just a short note. It read like this:

“Rabbi Matthew,

“I just wanted to thank you for that conversation we had. You are indeed a wise man. I took your advice and stayed with Mary. And she had that baby boy that was promised. She never wavered in her story of the baby’s fatherhood. And it seemed to help both of us when I told her about the angel coming in the dream to me. We had to both just go on the basis of our feeling that it was real; that it was part of something much bigger than her or me. But, you know, even with all that, we never were completely sure.

“The night the baby was born, we had gotten caught up in all that census taking that the Emperor had commanded. We were in Bethlehem when the baby was born. Long story short: the night of the birth, a bunch of shepherds came in from the hillside (it was lambing season, so they were not in the fold.) And, somehow, they knew how to find us, and (I wish I could see your face when you read this) they told us that angels came to them and confirmed the whole story that Mary and I both believed angels had told us.

“So, here I am absolutely convinced, on the basis of what some hitherto unknown shepherds told us happened to them, outside of Mary’s and my personal experience. Isn’t that wild? We each have an angel visit us, but what really convinced us was the word of complete strangers?

“Guess what really did it was the confirmation from three entirely independent sources that this definitely was all part of a bigger story, and we were just players in it. Mary and I returned the favor and told the shepherds of our personal angel visit stories to confirm their own experience. You should have seen the look on their faces when we told them!

“I hope that I can see you again. We had to go to Egypt with the baby. But that’s a wholly different story … or, no, maybe it’s not wholly different at all. Anyway …. Thanks for listening. May the blessing of the Lord G-d, may His name be ever praised, follow you every step of your own journey. I think you were part of that bigger story, too. What do you think?

“Joseph, the carpenter.”

 

Was I? Was I part of their story? Of THE story, as Joseph explained it. I don’t know if I had much of a role in that part of the story. I have had a sense, many years later, when I heard stories of this Jesus (the Greek translation of Joshua) that they were all confirmation of a larger story for sure. A story in which all of us might at one time, or another, might feel like we are a part of.

And, Joe was right, it is often only when we pay attention to other people’s stories that we get the confirmation of that much larger story. A story that really is meant for all of us. And a story that includes all of us.

It makes me feel like the details of my own little life might really be important, after all, particularly when fit into the stories of other lives like pieces of a puzzle, in which the big picture is one that only the Lord G-d, may His name be praised, can see. But a story, when we allow, we can actually feel is gathering us in.

 

Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd

I am preparing to lead a group of 21 pilgrims to Ireland, an island of mystery and imagination, to rediscover the Kingdom within us. It was Jesus’ primary message: Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And, no, Jesus was not talking about just the place to which we go after passing through the doorway called “death.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is AT HAND.

A video that I am asking the group of pilgrims to watch before our trip is placed here. Perhaps you would like to view its four and a quarter minutes, and give it some thought, as well. You might even post your thoughts and comments on this blog.

The Unity of the Body of Christ

When will they ever learn … when will they ever learn?

Jane Brown used to sing: “Is not the cup we bless and share the Blood of Christ outpoured? Do not one cup, one loaf, declare our oneness in the Lord?” https://montybrown.files.wordpress .com/…/2006-1006-you-sati…
“You Satisfy the Hungry Heart” (Westendorf, 1991)

Henry H. Tweedy penned these words in 1935 (verse 3 “O Spirit of the Living God” UMH 539)

Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear;
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one family
by whom thy will is done.

“…the language all may understand when love speaks loud and clear … [until all] their creeds blend in one.”

There was a graduation reception recently for women who celebrated their sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Three women in the kitchen were working on the reception for these former “losers” turned “winners.” They came from three remarkably different theology based churches. They noted, as they worked together so well: Isn’t it amazing how much good we can do for the Kingdom of Heaven when we just focus on acts and ministries of love and not deal with all that doctrine stuff over which our churches differ.

“Imagine all the people …” (John Lennon)

 

It does NOT always make sense.

     “Why? Why do I have to make daily journal entries?” he complained again. “I don’t like to do it; I’ve never liked to do it. I don’t see how it does my any good.”

     “So, why don’t you go ask the master, instead of complaining to us?” Jeremy said to Marcus. “The master is the one who gave us the discipline. Our job is to just lovingly hear one another’s confession. And you complain, more than confess, about this part of the master’s prescription every time we gather. Of course, I only say that in love, you know.”

     “Got it,” Marcus replied, with obvious belief in Jeremy’s sincerity. “And, you know, maybe I should. Maybe I should go ask the master why I need to do this. I really don’t see the point of it. Not at all. Not at all.”

     So later in the week, when Marcus had his monthly appointment with the master, he resolved that he would address the issue.

     “Abba,” why do I need to keep a journal each day?”

     “Why do you ask, my son,” queried the Master, who was famous for answering questions with another question.

     “I know that you have given it to us as part of our spiritual discipline. But it is something with which I have always struggled. And, with all due respect, I don’t see the purpose of it for me. It may be good for the others, but I just don’t feel any good coming out of it.”

     “You do it every day, and you find nothing good coming from it?” asked the Master.

     “Oh, well … I don’t do it EVERY day. If I just understood why I was doing it, then maybe I’d do better about keeping the discipline,” answered Marcus, with complete sincerity.

     “Oh. I see. Let me ask you: has it ever hurt you to do this?”

     “No, my lord. It doesn’t hurt me.”

     “Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?” repeated the questioning Abba.

     “Well, of course not. It’s just that ….”

     The Abba cut him off, gently, but firmly, “Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?”

     Somewhat embarrassed now, Marcus tilted his head downward from their eye to eye contact, and somewhat mumbled, “Of course not, good father. It’s not that at all. It’s just that ….”

     “It’s just that you feel like it’s not working for YOU ….”

     This time Marcus unintentionally interrupted, “Exactly!”

     The Master gently made Marcus’ interruption apparent, when he repeated and finished his prior statement: “It’s just hat you feel like it’s not working for YOU … simply because you can’t figure it out ahead of time, and because you haven’t felt the results yet.

     “Let me tell you a story:

     “Once upon a time (as all good stories begin, for they are timeless) my namesake Ananias was working for a rabbi in Jerusalem.

     “Ananias was learning the way of Kabbalah from his master. He did whatever the master told him. At least, he tried to.

     “But there was this one week, where Ananias’ master told him early in the morning to go outside and fill a large jug of water – 20 gallons full – and to walk into the street, turning right, and to carry it to the end of the street. Then he was supposed to set the jug down and rest. Then he was to pick up the jug and retrace it steps and beyond their house until he got to the market place, where the street ended. Then he was to put the jug down and rest again. He was instructed to repeat this pattern all day long, and then come back home in time for supper.

     “Ananias did as his master directed. After midday, he began to wonder why he was doing this. He thought that perhaps he should be praying as he did his walking and carrying. And so he earnestly prayed as he walked and carried, for the next two hours. Then he thought that, instead of praying, maybe he should be paying attention to every detail in his journey up and down the street. He had been told by the master before that if he knew what was in front of his face, then what was hidden from him would be revealed unto him.

     “But, by the end of the day, nothing had happened. The next morning, the master told Ananias to do the same thing again for the duration of that next day. And, again, he did as he was told. But ‘nothing’ happened. That evening, he asked his master why he was doing this.

     “And his master asked Ananias, ‘Has it ever hurt you to do this?’ When Ananias replied, ‘No,’ his master asked him, ‘Have you ever felt like your keeping of this discipline was harmful, in any way, to other beloved children of God?’ Ananias replied, ‘Of course not.’ And then his master asked Ananias, ‘Do you not have faith in the one who gave you the discipline?’”

     At this point, Marcus’ head, which had returned to eye level for his master’s story, felt his gaze began to wander downward again when he recognized these same three questions from just a few moments ago in their own conversation.

     Abba continued: “So the master said to Ananias, ‘Well, I suggest you continue, then, just as you have been instructed, even again today. But, if you should encounter two men, and if they decide to follow you, listen to whatever they may ask of you. If, after they have followed you, these disciples ask where their Teacher may celebrate the Passover, then show them to our upper room, and do whatever they ask to assist them in their preparations.

     “And, so it was. About mid-afternoon, Ananias encountered the two men who asked the question his master had predicted. And Ananias did as he was told. And later that night Ananias was the only one of his household who was invited to be a part of the Passover celebration in that upper room. And Ananias was included in the bread and the cup received by each person there from the very hands of Jesus.”

    With that Marcus’ spiritual father said no more. Silence hung in the air for moments. Then:

     “Yes, Abba. I will keep my journal. Thank you, Abba.”

© March 15, 2013 

     The foregoing is a “midrash” on Mark 14:12-16, in this continuing series of midrashes on the unnamed little people making cameo appearances in the Gospel of Mark. (For definition of midrash, please see January 14, 2103 blog: “An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus”)

 

Mark 14:12-16  The Man with a Jar of Water

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? ’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.