Entry Into Jerusalem By Morgner Wilhelm

Holy Week as Seat at the Table

During Lent we considered the Songs of our Deconstruction . . . and the result is likely that we have let go of some of the things we previously gripped tightly as “certainty” and “god-making” replaced our life with God.  Now, during Holy Week, we begin to re-build.  Let Easter be an invitation to nearness, an open seat at the table . . . leaving our sheltered certainties and familiar “gods” for the untamed, uncontrolled, but life-filled relationship.

A Song for Easter

Psalm 14

Come, all you who have wandered far from the path,
who have separated yourselves from Love;
A banquet is prepared for you in the heart’s Secret Room.

There you will find the way home;
a welcome ever awaits you!
Even as you acknowledge the times you have erred,
the forgiveness of the Beloved will envelop you.

Call upon the Beloved when fear arises,
when you feel overwhelmed;
The Eternal Listener will heed your cry;
you will find strength to face the shadows.

Befriend all that is within you,
discover the Secret Room in your heart.
Then will abundant blessings enter your home; and,
you will welcome the Divine Guest who is ever with you.  

– from Psalms For Praying, An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill

 

READINGS

MONDAY • John 12:1-11
TUESDAY • John 12:20-36
WEDNESDAY • John 13:21-32
THURSDAY • John 13:1-17, 31b-35
FRIDAY •  John 18:1-19:42
SATURDAY • John 19:38-42

 

[ART] Entry Into Jerusalem By Morgner Wilhelm

Mathematical_formulas

Deconstructing our Formulas WK5

Songs of Our Deconstruction

Psalm 73

Truly God is good to His people, Israel,
to those with pure hearts.
Though I know this is true, I almost lost my footing;
yes, my steps were on slippery ground.
You see, there was a time when I envied arrogant men
and thought, “The wicked look pretty happy to me.”

For they seem to live carefree lives, free of suffering;
their bodies are strong and healthy.
They don’t know trouble as we do;
they are not plagued with problems as the rest of us are.
They’ve got pearls of pride strung around their necks;
they clothe their bodies with violence.
They have so much more than enough.
Their eyes bulge because they are so fat with possessions.
They have more than their hearts could have ever imagined.
There is nothing sacred, and no one is safe.
Vicious sarcasm drips from their lips;
they bully and threaten to crush their enemies.
They even mock God as if He were not above;
their arrogant tongues boast throughout the earth; they feel invincible.

Even God’s people turn and are carried away by them;
they watch and listen, yet find no fault in them.
You will hear them say, “How can the True God possibly know anyway? He’s not even here.
So how can the Most High have any knowledge of what happens here?”
Let me tell you what I know about the wicked:
they are comfortably at rest while their wealth is growing and growing.
Oh, let this not be me! It seems I have scrubbed my heart to keep it clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
And for what? Nothing.
For all day long, I am being punished,
each day awakening to stern chastisement.

If I had said to others these kinds of things about the plight of God’s good people,
then I know I would have betrayed the next generation.
Trying to solve this mystery on my own exhausted me;
I couldn’t bear to look at it any further.
So I took my questions to the True God,
and in His sanctuary I realized something so chilling and final: their lives have a deadly end.
Because You have certainly set the wicked upon a slippery slope,
You’ve set them up to slide to their destruction.
And they won’t see it coming. It will happen so fast:
first, a flash of terror, and then desolation.
It is like a dream from which someone awakes.
You will wake up, Lord, and loathe what has become of them.
You see, my heart overflowed with bitterness and cynicism;
I felt as if someone stabbed me in the back.
But I didn’t know the truth;
I have been acting like a stupid animal toward You.
But look at this: You are still holding my right hand;
You have been all along.
Even though I was angry and hard-hearted, You gave me good advice;
when it’s all over, You will receive me into Your glory.
For all my wanting, I don’t have anyone but You in heaven.
There is nothing on earth that I desire other than You.
I admit how broken I am in body and spirit,
but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever.

It will happen: whoever shuns You will be silenced forever;
You will bring an end to all who refuse to be true to You.
But the closer I am to You, my God, the better because life with You is good.
O Lord, the Eternal, You keep me safe—
I will tell everyone what You have done.

 

Moving from Transactional toward Relational

The writer seems to know one thing to be true, while experiencing an entire other reality. Formulas and doctrines and beliefs are nice and helpful, but they can also lead to a stunting of growth.

  • In what ways have you found a rigid posture to be confining and unhelpful?
  • What formulas have you lived by, and eventually found that they limited your experience of life?
  • What formulaic promises of God have reduced your life with God to transactional rather than relationship?

Trust may be a better word than belief at this point. Belief can (it doesn’t have to) sound so final. Trust gives more of a sense that whatever is happening—one can remain—while not seeing the bigger picture. I think trust speaks to a willingness for things to feel chaotic and shaky—while still willing to roll with it.
Trust has some pitfalls too, though. Sometimes we may say, “I trust that everything works together for good.” And Scripture even attests to such. But, I think it’s our version of “good” and even the shallowness of such language can be harmful. Trust is not a lack of questioning. Trust is not a grit-our-teeth-and-bare-it-without-any-emotion-pushback-or-struggle. Trust is saying, I don’t get it. I’m frustrated or devastated, or pissed off. Because trust, ultimately, is engaging in relationship. The psalms seems to provide language for such relationship,

But the closer I am to You, my God, the better because life with You is good.

Good may not be meet your expectation. In fact, life may even bring some pretty tragic and horrific experiences your way. We must not make light of such things—or gloss over them with “good” language. However, maybe we can make room for relationship above our expectations. Maybe our formulas for what life should fit into, will fall – and we will experience life as nearness.

 

 

 

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Our Anti-Psalms

As a community – we responded to Psalm 22 and Alicia Ostricker’s “Anti-Psalm” in our own words.  As we sat together around tables, first-individually writing our psalm, then combining them into a collective work, we realized the honesty and vulnerability offers not an “anti-psalm” but a psalm.  Their can be no anti-psalm if we are transparent.

Here are our offerings . . .

 

Community Psalm One

I can’t do it.
My brain is in knots.
What am I missing?

I can’t do it.
I am surrounded by the wrath of loneliness and silence.

I can’t do it.
I know why life is full of, sadness, happiness, joy, and fear.
But why does it mean to live with you, Lord?

I can’t do it.
You are good, but I don’t see it.
So I begin again.

I can’t do it.  I feel as if I can’t be close to you.
I have only been with you a short period of time.
But it feels like forever.

I can’t do it.
You are here and there.
But you don’t always help.

I can’t do it.
We can’t help but feel a sense of guilt every time we pray together.

I can’t do it.
I always hold on to you.
I toss a ball into the air and catch it.
It falls sometimes.  Do you?

But You, O Eternal, Stay Close.

– from our preteen/teen table

 

Community Psalm Two

Why?

Beauty looking up at me,
I can’t gaze in beauty’s eyes-
can’t muster the strength.

Short of breath and one day closer to death.

Is God an absentee Father?

Why won’t you show us yourself?
All my friends are leaving,
I’ve defended You!
and yet I feel their pain.
I don’t think I’d be that different.

How could you have allowed this to be so hard?
Ugh! Whatever, I don’t care.
However, I know you were there but you were
not rescuing me, like I needed you to.

Yet somehow I see the Redemption
and I am watching beauty rise from the ashes.

 

Community Psalm Three

Why do you,
the God who heals,
choose not to heal me?

How do I overcome the
disease of fear
that has infested every part of me?

Where is peace?

Not empty, but not full.

Waiting to be pulled back in.

 

Consider your own, “Anti-Psalm”

  • Write a psalm about being disappointed in God.
  • Write about a time you felt abandoned.
  • Write a psalm about when you were scared, hurt, angry, or hopeless.
  • Write about when you were confused and full of doubt.
  • Write about your cynicism, your going through the motions, your scars.
  • Write whatever comes to mind.

 

The key to the process, more than anything else, is honesty.  How honest are you willing to be with the One who knows you best?

“Everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.” — Walter Brueggemann

 

 

 

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Deconstructing Relationship WK4

^ the above artwork is entitled, Monk By the Sea

Songs of Our Deconstruction

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?
    Your ears are deaf to my groans.
O my God, I cry all day and You are silent;
    my tears in the night bring no relief.

Still, You are holy;
    You make Your home on the praises of Israel.
Our mothers and fathers trusted in You;
    they trusted, and You rescued them.
They cried out to You for help and were spared;
    they trusted in You and were vindicated.

But I am a worm and not a human being,
    a disgrace and an object of scorn.
Everyone who sees me laughs at me;
    they whisper to one another I’m a loser; they sneer and mock me, saying,
“He relies on the Eternal; let the Eternal rescue him
    and keep him safe because He is happy with him.”

But You are the One who granted me life;
    You endowed me with trust as I nursed at my mother’s breast.  I was dedicated to You at birth;
    You’ve been my God from my mother’s womb.
Stay close to me—trouble is at my door;
    no one else can help me.

I’m surrounded by many tormenters; like strong bulls of Bashan, they circle around me with their taunts.
They open their mouths wide at me like ravenous lions.

My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones have slipped out of joint.
My heart melts like wax inside me.
My strength is gone, dried up like shards of pottery;
    my dry tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
    You lay me in the dust of death.

A throng of evil ones has surrounded me
    like a pack of wild dogs;
They pierced my hands and ripped a hole in my feet.
I count all my bones; people gawk and stare at me.
They make a game out of dividing my clothes among themselves; they cast lots for the clothes on my back.

But You, O Eternal, stay close;
    O You, my help, hurry to my side.
Save my life from violence,
    my sweet life from the teeth of the wild dog.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.
    From the horns of the wild oxen, You responded to my plea.  I will speak Your Name to my brothers and sisters
when I praise You in the midst of the community. (an excerpt)

The Setting for Psalm 22

Let’s gain a little context, and to do that, let’s let the theologian-rockstar-activist share some the environment for such a dark psalm. Bono writes,

At the age of 12, I was a fan of David. He felt familiar, like a pop star could feel familiar. The words of the psalms were as poetic as they were religious, and he was a star. Before David could fulfil the prophecy and become the king of Israel, he had to take quite a beating. He was forced into exile and ended up in a cave in some no-name border town facing the collapse of his ego and abandonment by God. But this is where the soap opera got interesting. This is where David was said to have composed his first psalm — a blues. That’s what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?” (Psalm 22).

 

Acknowledging a Change in Our Relationship to God

This is a heart wrenching song. From the opening words, we can image anguish so great that Jesus chooses this psalm to give language to his suffering on the cross.

“My God, my God, why have You turned Your back on me?”

More agony continues,

“My heart melts like wax inside me.”

David is obviously drawing from a dark place to write lyrics as disturbing as these. What is your reaction to such lines?Do you identify with his passionate tone or his desperation? I find the most hopeful words to be a subtle plea that is easily missed in all the bigger language of abandonment and rescue. David petitions God,

But You, O Eternal, stay close;

Earlier in the song David warmly imagines God being with him as he’s conceived, developed in the womb, and as a nursing baby. David is recounting more than rescue, more than abandonment, but the nearness—the relationship with God. “Stay close” David writes.  I have prayed for rescue and seen no action (that meets my expectation). I have pled for intervention and felt abandoned (at least as I expected to hear). But, how often have I cried out—not for action, but for presence? By no means am I saying that we should stop praying and pleading and asking for action. But, what if our relationship to God looked less like rubbing a genie’s bottle for three wishes and more like a desire for the companionship of God? In fact, what if those around us—was the answer to such companionship? What if God’s nearness was coming in the way of friendship with others?

Have you ever taken assessment of your prayers?

How honest are your words?

How rote? How relational?

Psalm 22 deconstructs my expectations. The poem deconstruction my relationship with God. Do I have a relationship—or is God simply fielding my requests. What would it even look like to reshape my requests (or lack of) into the simple and honest prayer, stay close.

ANTI-PSALMS

To stay close—on our end—might very well mean that we need to get more honest in our prayers. If we wrote and compiled a book of poems and lyric to God, how lively would it actually be? Would it look like the wild ups and downs —- from the heart —- uncalculated — unedited —- language of David? Recently reading a collection of writings from poets about their process, I came across the work of Alicia Ostriker. She writes about what she images are “Anti-Psalms.” Alicia Ostriker writes,

My poems wrestle with the need of God, the violence of god. I should rather say that I let these matters attack and wrestle with my poems. In 1999 I was working on a manuscript provisionally entitled “the space of this dialogue,” after a sentence of Paul Celan, “Only in the space of this dialogue does that which is addressed take form and gather around the I who is addressing it.” The experience was not so much of writing as of receiving. The poems arrived intermittently, and I had undertaken not to tell them what to say. They often addressed God, not expecting a response. Early in the process I wrote down some lines and called them “psalm.” They are more like an anti-psalm. They say this:

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me

What I recognize in the poem is my resistance to a God who deals cruelly with us and demands our praise. What the final line tells me is that I want to stop resisting. Perhaps I am like one of those abused women who keeps forgiving her abuser. You read about them. They phone the police and then hide their bruises and refuse to press charges. Another poem ventriloquizes a pious voice that could emerge from any of the monotheistic faiths, and concludes with a last line that is, alas, a vast understatement:

One of these days
oh one of these days
will be a festival and a judgment

and our enemies will be thrown
into the pit while we rejoice
and sing hymns

Some people actually think this way

I share Ostriker’s words, not to offend, but to inspire. What would your life with God be like if you began to be truly honest? Use the area on this page to try your own ANTI-PSALM. And that’s the funny thing—right? I cannot think of a psalm that could be written that would be ANTI— ; well, actually, maybe the only ANTI-PSALM is the one we write or speak that has nothing of us in it.

“Everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.” — Walter Brueggemann

Another  current example of the Anti-Psalm is from the House of Cards season one.  I had chills after watching this — and yet, I think it can open us up to own some of the language we’ve shuttered to speak.

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  • Write a psalm about being disappointed in God.
  • Write about a time you felt abandoned.
  • Write a psalm about when you were scared, hurt, angry, or hopeless.
  • Write about when you were confused and full of doubt.
  • Write about your cynicism, your going through the motions, your scars.
  • Write whatever comes to mind.

 

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Deconstructing Production WK3

Our Song of Deconstruction

Psalm 40

I waited a long time for the Eternal;
He finally knelt down to hear me.
He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.
As if that were not enough,
because of Him my mind is clearing up.
Now I have a new song to sing—
a song of praise to the One who saved me.
Because of what He’s done, many people will see
and come to trust in the Eternal.

Surely those who trust the Eternal—
who don’t trust in proud, powerful people
Or in people who care little for reality, chasing false gods—
surely they are happy, as I have become.
You have done so many wonderful things,
had so many tender thoughts toward us, Eternal my God,  that go on and on, ever increasing.
Who can compare with You?

 

“What do you do?” Culture

What we produce and our value as a human being are almost always linked.  “What do you do?” is often at the top of the questions that begin small talk.  Who we are is about what we do.  But something feels broken about this.  It’s not that who we are can be completely disconnected from what we do—certainly that’s an extreme on the other end.  But, we must be more than our produce—more than our careers—more than our output.  Joblessness or physical limitations may be two of most obvious exposures to such a limited way of valuing our lives.  If we find ourselves laid off for any amount of time—we no doubt realize we are more than our career.  If we find ourselves in a season or permanent state of limitation physically, we realize we must be more than the things we could accomplish.  But, we can also find a exposing of this limited way of valuing when we make our giftedness into all that we are.  Everyone praises us for our talents, but we are more than the talent too.  We must be more.  Our talents can dry up, they can be our curse, they can become what we hate when we are burned out.

Sabbath teaches us that weekly that we still exist in beauty and fullness even when we resist production.  It’s within Sabbath that God reminds us to be—not do.  Sabbath is a weekly reminder that our lives cannot be reduced.

The Psalmist finds an end to the proficiency of self-actualization.  Now, in a hole, the poet realizes that helplessness doesn’t strip of value—but enhances it somehow.  Humility.  Needing others.  This does no harm to our value when we’ve seen a bigger picture of who we are.  We are more than our doing.  We are being—and in our being, we are not an island of self-sufficiency.  Cry out in the words of the Psalm—if you’ve ever felt the end of your self-reliance.  We need others.  Find the new song of Sabbath.

 

A Practice in Non-Production

Centering Prayer

PREPARE by choosing a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.  It would be fitting to use, REST for this exercise.

SIT COMFORTABLY with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.

REPEAT REST when engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.  Your thoughts may also include body sensations, feelings, images, and the need to be doing.  Whisper your sacred word until silence resumes.

BE SILENT and continue to sit in silence for 5 to 10 mins.

RELEASE the need for this time to produce anything.  Maybe you will sense something from God but maybe you will not.  The point isn’t for revelation, but renewal.  It is a conditioning of sorts to relearn a sense of emptiness—and to find God in our non-producing, restful, quiet, peaceful moments.
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