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God of the generations,
when we set our hands to labor,
thinking we work alone,
remind us that we carry
on our lips
the words of prophets,
in our veins
the blood of martyrs,
in our eyes
the mystics’ visions,
in our hands
the strength of thousands.

This prayer by Jan Richardson is from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.

God of the gene…

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Lord,
if this be not your will, frustrate it:
Frustrate it fully and frustrate it quickly,
And move our heart’s desire
closer to the heart of your desire for us.
But if it be of your will,
Then continue to open for us
the generosity of heart, mind, and means
that are needed,
And may this generosity begin with us.

This prayer comes from The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians by Eamon Duffy. What a powerful prayer to pray at the beginning and discerning stage of any project! It is so hard sometimes to know when to keep pushing that door, and when to look instead for the other door which may be opening.

The letter of James in the New Testament reassures us that “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you (James 1:5). If we are attentive, and open, willing to listen, we will be guided. James goes on to warn us to ‘ask in faith, never doubting” (James 1:6). Faith for James isn’t the power of positive thinking, but faithful action. When we have the courage to step out and act upon the wisdom given, not constantly second guess ourselves and the divine leading, when we commit ourselves, our time, our resources to where we sense God at work, we will meet with the incredible generosity of God.

Lord,if this b…

Spiritual Guidance of Children

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Image   I’m starting to read Jerome Berryman’s latest book, The Spiritual Guidance of Children (Morehouse Publishing 2013). While I was waiting for it to become available here, I’d do searches for it using its subtitle – Montessori, Godly Play and the Future. Crazy as it may sound, I only really noticed its title when I read the opening words of the preface:

“This book reframes ‘Christian education’ for children as spiritual guidance. It explores how best to transfer the whole Christian language system, which implies a way of life and spiritual development, from one generation to another.”

What does that reframing entail? No doubt I’ll discover more as I read the book. But right away my spirit responded with a delighted ‘yes!’ to that phrase. Spiritual guidance for children – we cannot operate within that paradigm unless we accept that they are already on the journey, their unique journey with God. On the other hand, we cannot think in terms of guidance unless we truly believe that we have something of value to offer them from the Christian tradition.

‘Spiritual guidance’ sounds like an attentive, respectful practice, one which cannot be done with a heavy hand but which is nonetheless intentional. From what I have already experienced of Godly Play, the method developed by Jerome Berryman, I know it will be both playful and profound. It sounds like something I want to be a part of, something the various generations do together. To quote from the preface again:

“This kind of guidance follows Jesus’ counsel that in order to be spiritually mature, we need to become like children and to become like children we need to welcome them, which in turn reveals him and the one who sent him. The language of the Christian people flows out of Jesus’ life and words, so it makes sense that this language can be used to guide us back to our source as well as toward our ending.”

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The seven gods who rule the world were born when God laughed. …After he had burst out laughing, light appeared. …He burst out laughing a second time: the waters were everywhere. At the third burst of laughter, Hermes appeared; at the fourth, [generation]; at the fifth, destiny; at the sixth, time. Then, before the seventh laugh, God had a tremendous inspiration, but he laughed so hard that he cried, and from his tears the human soul was born.

This is a translation of an Egyptian myth, which I found here, by Stephen Nichols in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. (I’ve changed ‘creation’ to ‘generation’ as the translation of the French “la génération” that he footnotes as his source, because I think ‘generativeness’ is at the heart here, not the static ‘stuff’ of creation.)

Hermes is the god of shepherds, land travel, merchants, weights and measures, oratory, literature, athletics and thieves, and known for his cunning and shrewdness. Most importantly, he is the messenger of the gods. (lifted from here). I like the way Wikipedia puts it: “Hermes is a god of transitions and boundaries.” He stands at the boundaries, not so much to enforce them as to transverse them. He’s the go-between. The boundaries are where play happens, where ‘is’ and ‘as if’ meet, where the sacred touches the ordinary.

I wonder what it felt like to live with this as one’s story of origins, as the story that tells its tellers who they are and what kind of world they find themselves in. If the world is born in laughter, then there is something playfully subversive about it. It doesn’t pay to be too solemn. When confronted with chaos, we laugh. Not the laugh of derision or cynicism, nor the laughter of madness, but a playful laugh. We play, and watch with delight as something new emerges. I love that human beings are an idea of God so ridiculously wonderful that God cries with laughter. We are the result of tears, but not of despair. It reminds me of the words of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter: “I can cry until I laugh or laugh until I cry. So cut the deck right in half, I’ll play from either side.”

It is interesting to compare this to what we find in Genesis 1. There we also have the number 7, and God creating by expelling breath, but there is it a word, not a laugh. There’s also the creation of water, the setting of the boundaries, the marking of time (through the luminaries set in the firmament on the fourth day), the generativity bestowed on earth, plants and animals (let the earth bring forth …. With their seed in them …. Be fruitful and multiply ….) It is much more solemn, though. In Genesis 1 God knows what God is doing, and step by step executes the plan to make order out of chaos and to fill the void with life. In the Egyptian myth the creative process seems much more like we as human being might experience it. Out of delight, something new emerges. The Egyptian myth gives us another model of creativity, one that puts play and discovery and wonder at the heart of the process. It is like reading Genesis 1 through the lens of Proverbs 8, and identifying with Wisdom rather than God (which makes sense, since we are creatures before we are creators.) In Proverbs 8, Wisdom plays at God’s side and in the world, delighting in creation and in human beings. The bridge between the divine and the human realm is Wisdom at play.

The seven gods …

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I recently started working through “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is subtitled “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self”  It’s been around a while (since 1993). A few years back someone who was an enormous help to me through a difficult period introduced me to another of her books – “Walking in this World”. Here are the spiritual principles which she describes as ‘the bedrock on which creative recovery and discovery can be built.”: (I’m quoting directly from The Artist’s Way, page 3)

1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.

2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life – including ourselves.

3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.

4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by becoming creative ourselves.

5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.

6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.

7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.

8. As we open our creative channels to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.

9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.

10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.

I’d prefer to rephrase that last point to refer to the image of God within us instead of ‘divinity’, but that’s maybe just theological semantics. I think that these principles resonate with the story of creation in Genesis 1, where the living God not only creates life, but also imbues the creation with the ability to pro-create and co-create, and blesses, and pronounces ‘It is very good!”

The Artist’s Way

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For play is the laboratory of the possible. To play fully and imaginatively is to step sideways into another reality, between the cracks of ordinary life. Although the ordinary world, so full of cumbersome routines and responsibilities, is still visible to us, its images, strangely, are robbed of their powers. Selectively, players take the objects and ideas of routine life and hold them aloft. Like wilful children, they unscrew reality or rub it on their bodies or toss it across the room. Things are dismantled and built anew.

T.S, Henricks, Play Reconsidered. Sociological Perspectives on Human Expression (University of Illinois Press 2006) p1

For play is the…

Engaging the Old Testament Story

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We all love stories. They entertain us, move us, make us laugh and cry. And they shape us, they tell us who we are. Think of the stories that we want our children or grand-children, our nieces and nephews, to hear. Because they are our children we want them to know the stories of our family, and of our local community. We want them to know the stories of our cultural heritage, and we want them to know the stories of our faith.

I drive my children crazy. One of the ways I do that is the way I watch films with them. I almost never sit through a whole DVD. I pop in and out picking up threads of the story until right near the end when I get absorbed into the drama. Then I sit down and keep asking them – “is that the guy who owned the shop? Am I supposed to like that person? Why’s he saying that? Why’s she crying?” It doesn’t take long before someone tries to shut me up by saying “Watch it from the beginning!” I wonder if that isn’t how we interact with the Christian story? We join part way through. We’re captivated by the climax, where Jesus rises from the dead, and we know the stories of his birth, and his miracles. We also know bits of the earlier story – Moses and the ten commandments, David and his harp, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But those are free-floating images, which we battle to fit into the overall plot, and we’re not quite sure of how we get from there to Jesus. And maybe that’s one reason why its sometimes hard to get from the story of Jesus to our story in the here and now.

The Old Testament is full of all kinds of things – there are weird laws, beautiful psalms (provided we skip through some of the more vindictive sentiments expressed in some of them), confusing prophecies, lots of heroes like Samson and Joshua who do different things. But underlying it all, the Old Testament is the story of the people of God. As an Old Testament scholar, what matters most to me is that story, and how that story is the backdrop and first part of the story of Jesus, and how that story, as it interacts with my story, shapes me as a member of the people of God.

The story is of a world that is given as gift by a Creator who blesses the creation with the ability to co-create, a world which is beautiful, but also fragile and fractured, a world in which we experience both connection and alienation, among ourselves, within our self, and with those who are different from us. God begins the story, and God won’t allow our stubbornness, sinfulness or stupidity to derail it. So God calls one family to journey with God. That one family and their children and children’s children will come to know God, and how to live in a way that promotes the full flourishing of humanity along with the whole of creation, so that they can become a channel through which the gracious, giving God can bless all the families of the earth. 

 And so the journey begins with Abraham. Not too far into the journey, the people of God experience oppression in Egypt, which provides the setting for their experience of the power of God to set them free. This story of the Exodus becomes their foundational story. They are set free from slavery, from the systems of power that dehumanize them in order to live freely as the people of God. The laws that they are given at Sinai are not there to enslave them all over again, but to guide them into a life lived in freedom that respects the freedom of others and that does not result again in the enslavement of the poor by the powerful.

The people of God find it too hard to live in that freedom under God, and so they ask for kings to lead them. There are a few good kings like David, but even good kings play politics and are tempted by power. The story of the people of God becomes the story of a state struggling with issues of social justice and covenant faithfulness, with prophets calling them back to the vision of the Exodus. The people of God live out their story against the backdrop of powerful empires that threaten to engulf them. They find it so hard to life faithfully and trustfully in freedom. Their elite choose to ignore the voice of God’s messengers, and instead play the games of power. They lose, and it looks like they might have lost everything. But in this dark time of loss, they begin to discover again something of the truths of the journey with God that their fathers and mothers knew. The God who led them out of Egypt leads them out of this exile back to their land where they begin to rebuild life out of the ashes of their old life. The story continues, on in to the New Testament, with the coming of Jesus, son of Abraham, son of David. And it continues today in the story of God’s people in their communities throughout the world, in the 21st century, struggling to live faithfully, tempted by power or frustrated by its lack, feeling overwhelmed by economic, political and cultural forces, and yet looking for and finding God’s fingerprints in the details of our lives, learning to trust, to build and rebuild. The journey with God continues.