Welcome to another episode of my podcast.
Beauty surrounds me, yet I am not satisfied without the companionship of the Lord. Mary Oliver, stanza six, “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
Our deepest longing is to know God in the awe-filled wonder of Creation and most especially God’s nearness in our own hearts. At the conclusion of “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” Mary Oliver names companionship with Jesus Christ as key. The beauty of creation, the delights we see do not bring wholeness absent accepting a deep intimacy with Jesus in the heart, making space to be filled with God.
We know too well the places where we seek satisfaction in wealth, accolades for achievement, a certain type of bodily beauty; all these leave us more empty than full.
The sun is shining, ready to melt winter’s (last?) snow and ice and finally I hear birds in the morning. Beauty surrounds me in God’s transcendence in the morning and at night with the brilliant full “snow” moon.
Yet, Lent is around the corner. Curiously one word for Spring in Dutch is Lente. In spring in this hemisphere we observe a season of bringing forward, clearing out, and making space for the companionship of the Lord. Carrying our love of things, praise, or power we are hindered in our walk with Christ. Prepare to let them go.
In our older church calendar we had Sundays, the “gesimas” that counted down the days before Lent, a preparation for the Preparation to Easter. This week I invite us to prepare for the Preparation and seek out companionship of the Lord, taking time to begin pulling out all we are carrying in our hearts. Take a look at what we find and discard anything that blocks our presence before Jesus. Remember the children’s creed: I believe in Jesus who lives in our hearts by faith. Make space for life.
May we open and bare our whole hearts, absent extraneous baggage, to the Source of Love, to the beauty of creation, to the satisfaction in companionship with the Lord.
God, fill me with wonder for your Creation. Help me to hear and to hold those words of Jesus dear: Follow me. Stanza 5, “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” Mary Oliver
Slow down, breathe deeply. Stop, look, listen as we learned as children. Touch, feel. Be filled with the wonder of Creation.
In a rush from task to task or task to pleasure, one loses so easily awe, wonder, and connection with the entire universe that is ours in God. I know; I am too often in a hurry. Today, a day we are pressed to show love to those closest to us, may we each simply make space in our hearts. No worries about chocolate, flowers or cards. Breathe, make space, notice how marvelously made is this world, each human, each created being. Life.
The LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. Psalm 33:6
The wonders of Creation go from the heavens to the seas.
Here is the sea, vast and wide, teeming with creatures beyond number, living things both great and small. There the ships pass, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. Psalm 104:25-26
In Job 41, God reminds Job that humankind is but a part of creation and cannot control or fully conquer the Leviathan or God’s plans. Humankind is part of the web of that is all creation. We are invited to take part in God’s work and know the wonder of all that is around us. What we do matters as every piece of the web is wondrously made and wholly connected.
It is to this wonder Jesus invites us. Through accepting Jesus’s invitation to humans he encountered, many marginalized, an invitation to sumptuous meals, to sights all around while walking, we, too, can come to see the Divine revealed in all Creation.
Follow me, calls Jesus, to the path of wonder, love, and connection. Follow me and know you are a beautiful part of all that is made but not its center. Enjoy the freedom of caring for creation as but a part and not the whole. And as a part help heal the whole.
On this day, may we savor all that is around us and in us, the gifts of and connection to the Divine. Follow Jesus on this path of Love.
I have always known you are present in everything. But you are also present in the body: listening, teaching. Rather than touching. We have so grown accustomed to touch and feeling that we gradually come to an appreciative response to your Presence. We arrive at the part of our lives that is beyond understanding. It is mystery. It is love of God. It is obedience.
Mary Oliver, fourth stanza of “Six Recognitions of the Lord.”
Most of us are not fully comfortable in our bodies and certainly are not often seeking God’s presence there. Well, perhaps in our hearts. Yet God is in the lungs, the arms, the brain, the feet, all of our body. “I have come to cherish my body’s wisdom in all its dimensions,” writes Christine Paintner in The Wisdom of the Body.
As we learn to listen to our body, we learn to listen more deeply to God. I hear God’s wisdom in my body, through other people, the Word and worship. The body is a special grace for God embodied the Word by becoming Incarnate (made flesh) in Jesus.
As I listen more and more to my body, I begin, too, to enter “the part of our lives that is beyond understanding.” Our faith is about our willingness to enter into the mystery of Jesus Christ, living deeply connected to God within and God present in all creation. From this place of mystery our experience of God’s love can deepen.
In hearing the wisdom we come to obedience. I admit the word “obedience” remains difficult for me. How many of us want to obey someone else, even God? Yet God’s wisdom is like my mother over many years until her death reminding me to rest. Near the end of her life this wisdom began to sink in, and I laughingly told her I might now obey. I am still trying. It is obedience to our inner integrity which may call us like Jesus to obedience unto death, “even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8). We live love in this life to life beyond.
As we allow ourselves to know our bodies which God gave us, to listen well, we feel the wisdom deep in our bones. From this we can come to obey the One who made us and knows the path of freedom and love and what it is to be fully alive for ever and always. This is mystery, beauty and grace – and we embody all three. Thanks be to God.
I lie in the grass until I enter the place of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-wanting. I hear a noise and return to the world. But I go back to the free world. Constantly moving between the two. When I rise I feel as though I was sleeping, then I return to life. Third stanza of “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” Mary Oliver.
We enter the space of resting in God entirely open to God’s presence during centering prayer. In this prayer one goes to “the place of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-wanting.” One simply is. This is a place of perfect freedom and peace. I highly commend seeking the Lord in this space.
If you have tried centering prayer, you know that a noise or a racing thought or the to-do list can return you to the world of distraction that is all around us. It is not easy getting to the place of not-thinking, but it always is worth going back and letting one’s thoughts drift past until there is no more thinking, no more remembering what is on the list. This is freedom.
The beauty is one carries this freedom within even once one returns to the world of busyness and wants and racing thoughts. The more one goes to the place of not-thinking, the more openness and freedom enters one’s heart and mind, and the world changes within one.
In the days of polar vortex and snow on the ground, it is pleasant but not realistic to imagine lying on the grass giving oneself over to God. In the space of winter, I invite us all to centering prayer in the warmth indoors.
Prayer: Sit in a favorite chair by the fireplace if you have one, and allow the feet to be grounded on the floor sensing the earth beneath the floor. Close the eyes, breathe slowly in and out, paying attention for now to the breath. Let any thoughts that drift in, drift right back out. Let them go. In a minute or more you enter the place of not-thinking, not even noticing the breath. Remain there for some time (perhaps you can set a timer for 5 – 20 minutes). And yes, you will most likely in that time return to the world, but you can go back to the “free world” as Oliver calls it, probably moving between the two. When you stop and rise from the chair, pause briefly before moving on. Let the freedom settle in.
With every blessing in seeking this recognition of the Lord,
I know a lot of fancy words. I tear them from my heart and my tongue. Then I pray. Mary Oliver, section 1 of “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
Episcopalians know a lot of fancy words, especially in the many beautiful prayers we use from The Book of Common Prayer. “We humbly beseech thee, O Heavenly Father, so to assist us with Thy grace,” we pray after communion in our Rite 1 service. Yes, with humility we ask God to help us serve God in this world. On our own, absent grace, it is much harder to love our neighbors as ourselves, let alone our enemies.
If one wants to set off debate or disturb people in worship, suggest another version of the Lord’s Prayer. Shift “trespasses” to “debts” or to “sins” or use our alternative which begins: Our Father in heaven. The words of this prayer are dear to our hearts and learned when we were very young.
The fancy words on our tongues and the prayers we know by heart are gifts in our life with God, but these can become shields over our hearts and selves which prevent us from a deeper relationship with God.
Prayer is creating space for God in our lives as a flower opens to the sun. Setting aside – or as Oliver puts it – tearing our fancy words from heart and tongue offers the opportunity to expose our full selves to God intentionally. Yes, God knows us, but we come to know God and ourselves when we allow both God and ourselves an unobstructed path to the soul, or our trues selves.
During this season after Epiphany and before Lent, I will explore Mary Oliver’s “Six Recognitions of the Lord”. This week I invite each one of us to rip off, set aside the fancy words and prayers we know and offer up at least one desire or pain which we hold right now, today. Share it with God. Wait. Listen.
What an exciting time to be watching the heavens. We now have images of Ultima Thule, the farthest away object in the universe we have seen — and how fitting it looks like a snowman. Then earlier today the Chinese landed on the far side of the moon, and for the first time we see pictures of from that perspective. Expanded moon exploration will help us know more about our own planet even as the view of Ultima Thule shows us more of the broad universe.
As we come to join the Magi this Sunday on Epiphany in following the Star to Jesus, we again have the opportunity to explore more deeply within our own hearts and see the wider perspective of an entire world – or even universe – connected in God’s love. The journey the Magi took to find the special child indicated by the star, took focus, perseverance and help from others.
So it is with our own spiritual journeys. Our focus is the star of our life: Jesus.*
In the midst of uncertainty in the world, consequences of selfishness and wrong use of power, we are to keep our eyes on Jesus and to persevere in loving God and neighbor as the primary purpose of our lives. To help us along the way we have the communion of saints, including those from other regions and faiths, just as the Magi came from a different tradition and relied on others.
The Star illuminates God’s great love for all creation, all peoples, this planet and the universe. All of it is connected and woven together in God’s Love, God the Source of all Life. When we turn toward, welcome and acknowledge Christ in all human beings, and the Creator in all life, we have found our destination, the place where the Star has led us.
Sunday we shall again receive Star Words, those words which the Holy Spirit has prepared for us. Mine was guidance and what a rich experience I have had, with many lessons learned about guidance. I wonder what is in store for me and for you in the year ahead.
Sunday, too, we have the chance to join the Magi in following the Star. May we reach our destination.
With every blessing,
*Hymn “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”