One of our family traditions is to say grace before dinner. It's a simple thing. Early on we settled on a grace and even as our children have gotten older, it has not changed. It seems a little thing, to pause before we eat and thank God that there is food on the table. Yet, it is important to take the time to pause and know that what is normal and average is a great gift. Food, clothing, a snug place to live, people who love us and care for us, all these things are great gifts. Taking to time to say "Thank you" changes the way to live in the world. It can change to way we treat each other. So, if you don't have a table grace I offer you these, pick one, learn it and make it a practice to pause and say Thank you. -Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who causes the earth to produce food. Amen. -Bless this food, and those we hold dear, in Jesus' Name, Amen. -Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen -Blessed be God, who is our bread. May all the world be clothed and fed. Amen -For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen by Linnae Peterson
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Meditations on Spiritual Development
The most peaceful people I know are those who are able to live with paradox and remain open to the whispers of God that may be heard in very unexpected places. Understanding the limits of logic opens up new possibilities and the chance to recapture and reinterpret some of the stories, images and practices of our own spirituality that we may have found problematic in the past. A new appreciation for the mystery and majesty of God are paired with a greater passion for bringing justice and compassion for those around us. "Loving God and loving your neighbor" take on a new meaning and depth that often moves beyond any theological system.
As we move out of our parents homes and strike out on our own, young adults try on many hats. Views on politics, life style, and what kind of coffee they like can change with the wind. New experience and relationships give an opportunity to look at the world through new eyes. As we forge friendships with those of other faiths and of no faith, we can see our own faith through different eyes. Questioning, doubt, and reflection become part and parcel of our spiritual lives. This can be disturbing. No longer are we content to believe what we have been taught, we need to come to our own understanding of God. As unsettling as this can be, it is also an opportunity to allow Christ to engage with us in a new way. Doubt is no longer the opposite of faith, but part of being a spiritual person. To question, to challenge, to seek understanding and wrestle with God, deepens our relationship with Jesus.
I'm a sporadic writer. As the mood strikes I will sit down and write, snippets of stories, description, poems and observations will find their way into my writing. It's a great way to gather my thoughts. Looking back it is also a way to see how I have grown. As adults, we often think of ourselves as "all grown up", yet that is, hopefully, far from true. We always have the opportunity to continue to gain understanding, wisdom and become more of the person God desires us to be. Just as our children pass through stages in their development, both physically and spiritually, adults go through stages as we continue to deepen our faith. Spiritual development is rarely linear. This is especially true with adult faith. Unlike physical development, many people stop along the way, spending more or less time in one stage or another as their personality or situation requires. Some spiritual directors liken the spiritual life to a spiral, where we revisit similar themes and issues throughout our lives from a different perspective. In these spirals, we move both outward into community with those around us and deeper toward Christ who is the center of our being.
In a recent article in the Christian Century Magazine, the author asked a number of prominent authors and theologians to sum up Christianity in 7 words or less. Tackling this daunting task they came out with a number of interesting phrases, Martin E. Marty came up with "God, through Jesus Christ, welcomes you anyhow", and Beverly Roberts Gaventa with "In Christ, God's yes defeats our no", Walter Brueggemann's gospel is dense: "Israel's God's bodied love continues world-making.". Perhaps my favorite was one be Scott Cairns which echos Eastern Orthodox theology, "Christ's humanity occasions our divinity". As you can tell there are no hard and fast answers and each one reflects the experience of those writing them. So here is your challenge, in 15 words or less, tell me what you think Christianity is all about. I'll give you a hint, if you ask your kids they will help you figure out what is most important to you. Just to get your started here's mine, Jesus draws us into the Heart of God, to bring God's love to all. (with one to spare! But it took a number of tries.)
As the days get shorter and the nights longer, we become more aware of the light. Light from street lights, porch lights, flashlights and candles in the windows. Dusk seems to come in the middle of the afternoon, but now we have the opportunity to see the stars. The Bible has a lot to say about stars. In Genesis, God creates them (Gen. 1:16), in Job (Job 38:7) the stars sing in praise of God and in the Psalms (Ps. 136:9) the stars are signs of God's everlasting love, and of course there is the star of Bethlehem that leads the Wiseman to the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:9). Take some time this week to see the stars. Plan an outing to your backyard armed with blankets, hot cocoa and a star map to try to find the pictures in the sky or make up your own dot to dot with the stars, or just wonder at these amazing symbols of God's incredible and everlasting love for you. (Note: there are a number of apps that provide star maps or look up one here, http://www.kidscosmos.org/cosmos/cosmos_star_maps.php#dec. If it's too cold or cloudy to see the stars go to www.nasa.gov and look at them through the Hubble telescope. )
The calendar page had turned. The days are getting shorter, darker and colder. The church calendar has changed as well. We are at the beginning of a new year. The gospel readings have moved from Mark (which my middle schooler refers to as the gossip gospel because Mark constantly refers to Jesus secret and then proceeds to tell us all about it.) Now we are listening to Luke, with his constant reference to all the outsiders, women and children, foreigners and the poor. New Year, new readings, and time for a change, it is Advent. The time for a change, for preparation, we are getting ready for the coming of Christ. While you are getting ready for Christmas, buying presents, and decorating your home, and celebrating with friends and family, put aside some time for some other activities. Here are a couple you might consider. There is something for everyone! 1) Do a secret act of kindness for someone in your house that will make the next day easier for them. (Pick up the toys of your brother or sister, do the dishes without being asked, make a picture and hide in under a pillow) 2) Smile at everyone you meet today, store clerks, toll takers, crossing guards, teachers, teenagers and little kids. (Preschoolers might enjoy counting the number of smiles they get in return.) 3) Learn the words to "Joy to the World" or other Christmas carol. See who can sing it the loudest! 4) Bake a special treat from your family's heritage or from a place you are interested in. Find that country on the map and learn how to say "Merry Christmas" in that language. 5) Take a walk after dark and see how nature has changed with the seasons. 6) Write a family prayer to say when you light your Advent wreath. Say it every night. 7) Create a gift basket with ingredients for one of your family's favorite recipes. Write up the recipe and give the basket to Goffstown Network food pantry. Have the whole family work on a recipe that would work.
Church was not part of my childhood. I stumbled onto Jesus in my early teens and went looking for others who knew something about God. Gratefully and graciously, I wandered into a community that was willing to take in an enthusiastic teen. As much as I've come to love the stained glass and the hymns and the organ music, the heart and soul of church are those who gather to seek God. We are seekers on the way. The wonderful thing is that as we are looking for God, God is looking for us, coaxing us, cajoling us into God's embrace. The gathering together of those seeking God enables us to learn from each other, support each other, laugh together and cry together and vent the inevitable frustrations that life gives us. We have the opportunity to give that gift of community to our children as well. Not only be going to church on a Sunday morning but by spending time with others who are seeking to know God. So take some time to come to worship on Sunday morning, and take some time to get to know another family on Sunday afternoon. Take time to talk to someone you do not know well at coffee hour. Be brave and share part of your journey with Christ. For wherever two or three are gathered, God is there.
I'm not much of a gardener, or if you ask my friends, any kind of a gardener. Plants on my watch, turn up their toes as quickly as possible. Yet, I love to observe them. I admire their tenacity and ingenious ways of surviving against all odds. I find myself admiring the oddest types of plants, the raspberry vines that are waging a battle to take over the lawn, the fungus doing its best to turn the old branches into soil, even the poison ivy. Now, I'm no fan of poison ivy, I'm very allergic to it and do my best to steer clear of it, but, think about it. The roots of the poison ivy can snake for meters sending out shoots anywhere it can find sun and moisture. The leaves can be beautiful and the oil can protect it from most any animal that might think it is an amazing snack. So if you stop and look, take a step back, you can see the wonders of creation in just about any corner of the world. Perhaps this weekend would be a good time to take your kids for a walk and see if you can find the treasure's God has hidden in your neighborhood. Gnats? Dandelions? Maybe even poison ivy? Just don't touch it!
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, one of my first stops was the bookstore. I was looking for a book to guide me through the next 9 months, and another one to give me some idea of what I needed to know about this new life I was responsible for. There were books, dozens of them, but none of them addressed the development of my child's spirituality. What books I did find on the subject were dense academic tomes, so here I will boil down some of their information. Most researchers find that children pass through 4 or 5 "stages of faith," beginning in infancy and continuing through adulthood. Unlike physical development, many people stop along the way, spending more or less time in one stage or another as their personality or situation requires. Some spiritual directors liken the spiritual life to a spiral, where we revisit similar themes and issues throughout our lives from a different perspective. Part III The Community of Faith One of the hallmarks of a healthy church is the friendships that form. This is one of the critical elements in the third stage of faith development. "Church friends" provide a community where tweens and teens can begin to explore what it means to belong to this community of faith. In this context they can explore all the questions that are floating around: What do I really believe? How should I respond when people are mean? What should I do about the things that I see in the world that are not right? Where is God in this world? Will everyone still like me on a bad hair day? Belonging, no matter what is going on, is a critical part of being in the community of faith, so keep trying to bring your kids to church, even when they have purple hair. It will make a difference to them when an adult comes up to them and says, "Cool hair". (I will continue with the Adult stages IV and V at a later time)