Tag Archives: Prayer

The Wild Goose’s First Lesson

Image                I’ve never been one who finds it easy to follow the rules. Pretty much any rules but especially church rules. I’m a preacher’s kid but my dad was not one who laid religion on too heavy. I do remember one Sunday, though, when for some reason we had a lay speaker who was preaching on the correct way to pray. He instructed that the proper way to pray was to go into your bedroom ad close the door. Then kneel, really: get down on both knees by your bed. Clasp your hands and put them on the bed in front of you in a semblance of the pose of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Close your eyes tightly. Then pray these words… I don’t remember the words I was supposed to pray because I quit listening at that point. I just knew that even at age eight or ten or whatever I was that I did not experience God in that way. It might have worked for that guy, but not for me.

                Fast forward quite a few years. I had discovered the paintings of Mark Rothko in college. In art history classes I saw pictures of his paintings in text books and in slide lectures. I found them compelling and breath-taking. A few years after college I got to visit the National Gallery in D.C. After wandering through the hallways of Old Masters I found my way to the new wing, the building designed by I. M. Pei. Rounding a corner I entered a room that was filled only with the paintings of Mark Rothko. I was reminded that Rothko was for me absolutely breath-taking. Literally. I had to sit on the bench in the center of the room until I could breathe again. The friends I was with (not particularly fans of abstract expressionism) didn’t know what was up. But I was gripped by the energy and presence of the paintings.

                I am attending the Wild Goose Festival this week. We’ve only had the first evening and things are still cranking up. But we’ve already had a variety of musicians play, and I’ve spent some time with a friend who is curating “The Imaginarium,” a micro gallery. I attended an episode of “Darkwood Brew Live,” featuring Eric Elnes and Frank Schaeffer talking about Convergence Christianity. And I was reminded of something. Something that ties these three paragraphs together. I remembered that I experience the holy aesthetically.

                While I have some experience with contemplative silence I knew from that early age that I would not experience God by following that speaker’s strict rules of prayer. I experienced the National Gallery as a place of mystical, spiritual presence. And now at Wild Goose the Spirit swoops in taking the forms of music and art.

                I hope that one of the foci I bring to spirituality and religion is the encouragement to discover and reclaim the ways that each of us apprehend the Holy. Or better yet, the ways each of us are apprehended by the Holy. And to be a constant reminder that beauty and holiness are kissing cousins. The ancient abbeys created unmatched beauty in illuminated manuscript and icon and frontispiece and vestments and altars. I see the Urban Abbey as a way and a place to reconnect this devotion to beauty and holiness. Art reminds us that the world is at its core a place of beauty, and that beauty reminds us that since its very beginning The Spirit loves the deep, complicated beauty of this world and all of us in it. Image

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Giving Bearings in a Fearful Forest

Image     Pieces of our lives come together in fascinating ways; lines of a web intersect, gears we haven’t even imagined fit into cogs we take for granted.

Those living in the abbeys years ago stopped whatever they were doing (even sleeping) to worship at regular intervals, eight times a day. Not having cell phones (how’s that for a pun!) or alarm clocks, a bell was rung to call the inhabitants of the abbey to prayer. Eight times a day the bells was rung, day and night.

A story is told of a young woman who for whatever reason found herself lost on a day’s traveling. Being alone, she afraid of who she might meet on the road, so she took off through the woods, thinking that she could cut through as the crow flies and arrive at her destination. Once off the trail and into the trees she soon lost her sense of direction. The sun began to set and in the fading light her fears began to dawn. She was convinced that every sound was a wolf hunting her or a bear stalking after her. She ran, not knowing what direction, having lost all her wits and wisdom. Finally she stopped, realizing her mad dash was doing nothing to save her. She closed her eyes and prayed for guidance. In the gloaming light she heard the gentle peel of a bell. The residents of a nearby abbey were being called to their vesper prayers. She was able to follow the sound of the bell to their abbey and to safety.

We live in an age where wolves of prejudice and bears of hatred stalk us constantly. While we may not practice the Liturgy of the Hours (as that ancient practice is known), we must regularly ring the bell of unconditional love for LGBTQ travelers who have been ostracized and vilified by the traditional church. We must ring the bell of a spirituality that loves and cares for life on this earth in all its richness, despite years of church teaching that says this life doesn’t matter because the next one is what counts. We must ring the bell that Jesus’ life and teaching are just as important (and maybe more so) than his death. When we ring the bell for our own patterns and practices we never who might be lost in the metaphorical woods hoping for a sense of direction to safety.

We don’t have an actual bell in the Urban Abbey, but when we speak of creating a safe and sacred community in the midst of a fearful and intolerant society, we ring a bell that others can follow home. The Urban Abbey is being created to sound exactly that kind of bell. What peels is your heart longing to hear?