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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting and Listening

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence — Isaiah 64:1-9

Everybody wants to rush through transition like it’s a bad root canal.  But transition is a threshold. It’s a sacred life appointment—the crossing from one world to another.  There are promises, revelations, and messages during this time. You will not escape yourself here. You will not avoid your deepest questions.  This is a blessing. – Tama Kieves

I’m not sure you’ll find a better description of the season of Advent than the above quote from Tama Kieves. Advent is a time of shedding the old and waiting.  It is a time to embrace dormancy.  It is a time to detach and listen, not so much to the clamor of the world but to the silence in our souls.  The great irony of our culture is that we have turned it into one of the most hectic, pressurized times of the year.  

So, Advent comes around every year to remind us to take time and make room in our lives for the transformative Presence of God.   But how - how do we do this and not become Scrooge-like monks?

Here are three suggestions: 

First, turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, and give the Internet a rest.  Try going at least one day a week, more if you can, without the bombardment of media.  Create some room for your own thoughts and feelings and not everybody else’s.

Next, take fifteen minutes each day to be still and quiet – no Bible verses, no mantras, just listen to your breath.

Finally, if you are in the DC area, I invite you to join me and others at Capitol Hill Presbyterian on Wednesday evenings during Advent at 7:30 p.m. for an hour of music, silence, and reflection – an hour in the middle of the week to pause and pay attention.  Our first gathering is tonight.  If you can’t get to CHPC then set aside a similar time for yourself and even invite others to join you.

These three things seem very simple and they really are, but they won’t be easy. You’ll have to be intentional, you’ll have to give up something else, and you may even have to make yourself do them. 

But, if you do, the heavens just may tear open and you will experience the Presence of God.

(from the sermon “Absence, Apocalypse and Anticipation” given at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church on Nov. 27, 2011.   Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


"Give thanks with a grateful heart…"

This phrase is the beginning of a chorus we sing most Sundays in our congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church.  We sing it as a response to our giving of tithes and offerings.  An underlying assumption in this line of thought may be that one can be thankful without gratitude or vice versa.    

I tend to think and believe that they go together as the old song says, "like a horse and carriage".    We just seem to not give or receive the full benefit of either without both.   To me it's gratitude that gives grounding and particularity to thanksgiving, while thanksgiving rises above the common place of our lives into the mystery of God's abundance.

So, as we all pause this week, and especially tomorrow, to raise our broad prayers of thanks may it be with hearts overflowing with the particulars of genuine gratitude for the people, places and events of our lives.

Have a Happy Grateful Thanksgiving Day! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”     Luke 6:38

For the past several years around this time of year an anonymous donor comes forward in our congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church and hands me a hundred dollars in one dollar bills to be given to the congregation along with the request to use their dollar, along with some of their own if they wish, to help someone else. 

It all started several years ago when I did the a similar thing with the children of our congregation during the children's sermon.  Our anonymous donor thought it would be a good thing for adults as well.  I added a way for people to share their stories on a blog and, as they say, the rest is history.

Last Sunday we again passed the plates and instead of putting money in, those in attendance took out a dollar to be used in helping others. 
The blog is online again and waiting to hear just how much good can begin with one dollar.

So, if you were in worship last Sunday - let's hear from you!   If you weren't, I invite you to join in this wonderful act of generosity by taking a dollar(s) of your own, helping someone else and sharing your story.

Here's the link to tell us your story of generosity.    I hope to hear from you soon!   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Be intent on action
not on the fruits of action;
avoid attraction to the fruits
and attachment to inaction!
    Bhagavad-Gita 2:47

I just finished two classes at the Servant Leadership School of Church of the Savior here in Washington, DC. One class was on bringing God into tough conversations and the other a study of the the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad-Gita.

On the final evening of classes two learnings, one from each class, converged in a way that spoke to me.  In the tough conversations class we learned that one of the seats of anger and resentment in our discourses with one another is our inability to let go of the things we can't control, meaning just about everything except our own thoughts, emotions, and actions.  The other learning is reflected in the above quote from the Bhagavad-Gita, one of many references in the text to relinquishing attachment to the outcome of our desires and actions.  In another place in the text we are told: 

A person who relinquishes attachment
and dedicates actions to the infinite spirit
is not stunned by evil,
like a lotus leaf unstained by water.

Relinquishing attachment,
people of discipline perform action
with body, mind, understanding, and senses
for the purification of the self.
    Bhagavad-Gita  5:10,11

What would happen in the conversations, discourses, and relationships of our lives if we practiced this art of detaching our actions from their results in ways that give those around us the dignity of their own perspectives and us the freedom from the frustration and stress of trying to control things we can't control?

Of course, this makes me remember what Jesus says about letting go of things we can't control, and I'm reminded of his words from the Sermon on the Mount.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? … strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
    Matthew 6:25-34

I use to scoff at the simplicity of that bumper sticker slogans:  "Let God and Let God" However I'm beginning to appreciate the depth and breath of its wisdom.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


When you're smiling
When you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

When you're laughing
When you're laughing
The sun comes shining through

But when you're crying
You bring on the rain
So stop your sighing
Be happy again

Keep on smiling
Cause when you're smiling
The whole world smiles with you

Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin

"Why are you smiling?"  The woman standing next to me on the curb one morning last week asked rather suspiciously.

" I wasn't aware I was smiling. " I said, then continued, "Besides, it's hard not to smile on a beautiful morning like this."

"I guess your right."  she conceded with a shy grin.  "Even  if I do have to work."
And the words were hardly out of her mouth when she added, "But at least I have a job."

"Now there's something to smile about." I added.

A big smile filled her face as the light changed and we walked off on our separate ways.

Smile!  Someone may be watching you!  And it makes you feel better too. 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.           Philippians 4:4-5