Lately I’ve been involved in a couple of different discussions about vocation. I also think a lot about my own vocation, as in I wonder what it is. To clarify, by vocation, I mean work that I feel called to do for the kingdom of God. This does NOT always mean typical ministry work for a church or parachurch organization, nor does it necessarily mean working for a non-profit or things like that. There’s a guy who went to the same seminary I did and he feels his vocation is running a burger joint in Toronto and doing that really well. He’s made the news. A book excerpt in Christianity Today online also talks about vocation in a non-ministry context really well. So I’m intrigued by this. I’m also being asked to think about this by people who are thinking about or who have left their ministry jobs. I’m just going to throw a bunch of questions out there and maybe they’ll prompt some response. Or just prompt thought.
– is vocation for life?
– how does vocation relate to one’s job (work that one is paid to do)?
– how do you know what your vocation is? What kind of questions help you find direction for a particular time or place?
– how does vocation relate to spiritual gifts? How does vocation relate to training?
I spent the afternoon listening to a presentation on spiritual warfare given by one of my seminary NT profs. It is a bit long, but worth a listen. Dr. Matheson is a baptist pastor who reads mysteries for fun (if I recall class anecdotes correctly) and seems an unlikely person to have a widely renowned deliverance ministry. But that’s what he does. Why think about spiritual warfare during Holy Week? Because our true identity in Christ is crucial to being able to participate in spiritual warfare, and our identity in Christ is founded upon the redemptive work of Jesus, which is what Passion Week or Holy Week is all about.
Lately I’ve been looking at images of the Tree of Life. Here are a couple that I’ve found:
Interesting stuff. Not quite what I picture when I think about the tree of life. I’ve been finding images of the tree of life because said tree showed up in an unexpected place almost two months ago. I found the tree of life all over wisdom literature, starting with Proverbs 15:4 “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life…” I realized after thinking for a bit that I should have known that the tree of life shows up in wisdom literature because there is a whole book called — wait for it — The Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature by Roland E. Murphy. I’d actually had my eye on the book because I’ve appreciated things I’ve read by Murphy on wisdom literature. So I looked up some images. I’ve not yet thought too hard about the tree of life imagery in wisdom literature, just noted that it is there, and is a yet-to-be-explored area of interest for me. We’ll see what comes of it. Why the tree of life in Holy Week? Some of the images that pop up in a google search are of crosses. Really? I thought. Then I said ok, I kind of get that. Cross, made of a tree, Jesus’s cross often called a Tree, Jesus’s cross brings life. But it feels like a stretch to me, like people are trying too hard for a connection. Is this an over reaction? What do you think?
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, which begins Holy Week. To all my friends who are Anglican priests, I hope your week goes smoothly and the great long gospel readings do not wear you out too much. Just think, you get to say the A-word after the vigil next Saturday!
I work in a bookshop that serves a theological school, and that school has its final week of classes this coming week. That means exams are the week after Easter. The cycle of the academic year means I’m usually exhausted by Easter weekend. The academic cycle doesn’t make the spiritual focus of Lent any easier either. I wonder about that and how to adjust things so I don’t end up a crisp piece of toast ready to sleep for a week straight by this time of year. I’m pretty sure that Lent and slowing things down to be spiritually focussed should help with that. So far I haven’t figured that one out very well.
Maybe, on the other hand, this whole tired thing is appropriate for Holy Week. It is an emotionally draining week with the Hosannas of Sunday turning into the Crucifys of Friday. The silence of the vigil on Saturday is broken by the excitement of the good news and feast-day of Sunday. The very thought is exhausting. So maybe it is a good spiritual thing, this tiredness. Maybe. But I’m not sure.
I planned to read a bit more non-fiction during Lent. I had some devotional sorts of books in my to-be-read pile. I’ve read some of them. You may recall that I mentioned a book on virtues that I was reading right around Ash Wednesday. The only other book I’ve read that I’ve got anything to say about is Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read Mudhouse Sabbath, but it is the first time I’ve read a copy of the book that I own, not just the library copy. I enjoyed the book a lot the first time I read it, and the second reading did not disappoint. In Mudhouse Sabbath, Winner reflects on spiritual practices, particularly Jewish spiritual practices that she stopped or changed when she became a Christian. The book begins with a discussion of the Sabbath and ends with a reflection on doorposts. Winner notes that there are aspects of Jewish spiritual practice she misses. What she has attempted to do in this book is highlight some of the essence of some Jewish spiritual practice and describe ways she has found of continuing the essential aspects of the practice in her own life.
Mudhouse Sabbath is a quick read. I found it helpful as a reminder to move toward intentional living, toward making choices for how I shape my days, weeks, months, and years, choices that reflect spiritual reality.
In other news, you may remember that I was thinking about The Women on Monday. My colleague Ian wrote a blog post giving his perspective on the theology pub night that prompted those musings.
One should never give up friends for lent.
Possibly this should be rephrased: Spending time with friends can be a positive Lenten discipline. Friends can point us to God in ways that solitary disciplines cannot. Friends remind us of the grace and mercy of God. Friends are evidence of things unseen. They remind us of the ways faith really works in the world every day.
I’ve said before that one cannot be a Christian alone. Christianity is a faith of individuals who are called to live in community. There are a number of ways of describing this community of faith with “the body of Christ” and “the communion of saints” being two very common phrases. “The body of Christ” is a biblical phrase — look in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 for more about the body of Christ. The communion of saints is a phrase from the apostles’ creed. Both the body of Christ and the communion of saints extend through space and time. This large community of faith does not only include people we count as friends, but also people we don’t like much. And while I think spending time with friends can be a positive Lenten discipline, it seems that spending quality, life-giving time with any member of the body of Christ can be a positive Lenten discipline. We need each other. Community is not optional.
Since Ash Wednesday I’ve been to a wedding reception and two funerals. Yesterday another family member died and this weekend I’m attending another wedding. Death is winning this lenten season, but there’s some celebration mixed in.
I’m still figuring out this whole grief thing. It is different every time someone dies, because each person had a different relationship with me and with others around me. The three deaths in the past four weeks have all touched me differently. None of them were completely unexpected deaths, but even those can be tough to take. Sometimes the most expected death can be most difficult. Every death is an ending. A life is concluded. Retrospectives and evaluations happen. Things left unfinished are mourned. Places are empty around the table.
Yet, through the history of the church, death has been understood as the final healing. So we grieve for those missing from our lives, but we also rejoice that they are finally healed. I rejoice in the final healing of David, Buff, and Frank.
And we look for the resurrection of the dead.
In all this sorrow there is also joy, the rejoicing that comes in celebrating a wedding. The Constant Reader is taking a break from books and getting married tomorrow. I’m sure it will be a good party and I’m looking forward to it. Oh and the Peace Pastor’s (jubilee) birthday is today! Another reason to celebrate.
On Sunday at church the guy who preached took a risk. He spoke on 1 Kings 19, where Elijah runs away from Jezebel to the Mountain of God and encounters God there. The Lord appeared not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in silence. Preacher guy announced that we don’t like silence and that we are always trying to fill silence with noise. Then he walked off the stage. The rest of his message came via powerpoint as we sat in silence. We could hear the silence. Pews creaked. That electrical/mechanical background hum that is always present in powered buildings became obvious. He gave us more than 5 minutes of silence sometimes without words on the screen. I didn’t time it. I kind of liked it.
I like silence, audio silence, as I’m noise-sensitive. But I realized in the silence Sunday morning that, as much as I seek soundless silence, I fill the soundlessness with something else. I fill it with words or pictures. The voice in my head doesn’t shut up.
Also, I like silence, but I like to be alone in silence, or at least with comfortable friends. Being with a lot of people at church in silence was odd.
I’ve been wondering what other people fill silences with. Upstairs, my landlady fills silence with random noise. She makes noise as she works at things. She doesn’t use words, just makes audible sighs. I don’t know how else to describe what she does. It drives me crazy. I want to yell SHUT UP! But I don’t think she even realizes what she’s doing. She’s just filling silence.
I talked about the filling of silence with my spiritual director. She suggested, and I think that she is right, that even if we like exterior silence, it takes a lot of time and practice to shut down the interior noise so that we can hear God. Being truly silent is hard work even if we can shut down the exterior noise, the sounds all around us of music, chat, machines, the city. Internal silence is much more challenging for me to practice than external silence.
Wait, what? Seriously? What has BSG (new series) to do with Lent? Quite a lot I think. Read on.
The premise of “Battlestar Galactica” is the threatened extinction of the human race by human-created robots called Cylons. The humans in BSG have lost everything — their homes, families, and easy access to resources. They are on a permanent fast of sorts. Sometimes this fast becomes more apparent, in episodes that feature acute lack of food (food processing ship got contaminated) or water. The fleet of space ships then becomes very focussed on finding supplies of food or water or fuel. An early episode features an acute lack of rest. The Cylon fleet keeps finding and attacking the human fleet every 33 minutes. The humans fast from sleep in order to resist each new attack.
OK, you might say, there’s fasting in BSG. But fasting and Lent are not synonymous. Further, the fasts on BSG are not voluntary fasts, like lenten fasts. True. But there are elements to the BSG fasts that are voluntary. People decide to continue to work together under extraordinary circumstances to evade the cylons as they attempt to find a new planet to call home. Discipline and self-control are valued in the show. Also fasting in BSG leads to some interesting spiritual questions and reflections. Humans ask if the human race is really worth saving. Moral and spiritual arguments about the worth of humanity are often discussed. Cylons have their own spirituality. In an interesting twist, humans worship the many Gods of the Greek pantheon and cylons worship the One True God. Both humans and cylons have believers and non-believers among them, and this leads to some interesting discussions.
Fasting in Lent should sharpen our focus on God. It should send us to prayer. It should give us a longing for the resurrection. It should remind us what hope is.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to watching BSG for more spiritual insights. It’s the beginning of season 4 — Jesus is about to show up.
Psalm 143 is a penitential psalm, a David-psalm that comes just before the set of hallelujah psalms that end the Psalter. Both the final two penitential psalms are placed in a context of praise and worship. Repentance is part of the worship of God. Psalm 143 contains wisdom-related words and phrase such as “teach”and “way.” At least two of the penitential psalms have this sort of wisdom language. Psalm 32 is the other place I noticed the language in this series.
The contrast between the penitent’s spirit and God’s Spirit in Psalm 143 is interesting. The penitent’s spirit grows faint and fails. The penitent asks that God’s good Spirit lead him or her on level ground. This is paralleled with the penitent’s request for God’s teaching. God’s Spirit is thus linked with the wisdom language of the psalm.
In the end the penitent asks God to save his or her life for the sake of the Name. “For your name’s sake, LORD, preserve my life.” The preservation of the penitent’s life would bring honour to the Name of God. The penitent’s plea for mercy was based on the name of the Lord. For Christians, our plea for mercy is based on the name of Jesus.
Psalm 130 is a song of ascent, one of a cluster found in Psalms 120-134. Ascent songs are festival songs, songs for pilgrims to sing on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem. This cluster of Psalms are mostly about worship and celebration, but it does make sense for a penitential Psalm to be in the group. Why? Because people going up to celebrate a festival at the Temple would probably need to confess their sins in order to celebrate before the Lord. Confession restores good relations with God for a proper celebration. This is a helpful reminder during Lent. We are heading toward a huge celebration at Easter, the biggest celebration of the Christian year. Before this great feast, we have a season of repentance. We acknowledge our sins. We do what is required on our end to stay in a proper relationship with God, realizing that Easter celebrates what God in Christ did to reconcile us to God.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to talk theology with people learning about baptism and leadership. These conversations have reminded me what fun it is to teach, particularly motivated students, eager to learn, eager to grow in faith. It is a happy reminder.