Rhythmic Jesus: Lenten Reflection (32)

Scripture for Today: Feeding the Thousands

My friend Julian and I recently had a conversation about how thinking about time as rhythm rather than structure loosens our adherence to the clock and deepens our connection to the needs of the moment.

For me, this means letting go of a schedule that siphons activities into thirty-minute blocks and instead remaining mindful of how I fit prioritized activities into the day. It requires an attention to my energy level, the needs of those around me, and the ever-changing context of the world.

Perhaps because of my conversation with Julian, I was particularly drawn to the way Jesus intuits his way through the feeding of the thousands in every Gospel account. He knows that he and his disciples are tired so he plans on them spending time alone and, according to some of the versions of the story, he gets a little quiet time but it is soon interrupted by a crowd who has come to be with him.

Rather than sending them away because “it’s not time for that sort of ministry,” Jesus’ open-hearted nature conjures up compassion within him. This attention to the needs of the situation rather than to the confines of a schedule is the same impulse that motivates Jesus to feed the crowd when it was time to eat.

I am inspired by Jesus’ prioritization of moment over fixed structure, whole over parts, and relationship over preference. His choice illustrates not only his deep identification with people but also his disregard for the proper structures of time that we “should” adhere to in our world. Those are structures that, when unexamined, support dominant ways of being. One example might be choosing to arrive on time rather than having a valuable conversation with someone or ignoring the needs of someone living on the street to get to a work meeting.

On the other hand, the rhythmic way of living invites us into a deeper sense of what brings about right-relationship with ourselves, one another, and the world around us.

Prayer: May I have the wisdom to follow God’s rhythm.

Reflection: When have I allowed structure prevent me from being present with myself or others? How might I loosen my connection to a schedule to deepen my connection to current needs?

Art: Eric Feather, from Growing in Grace

AttributionOur conversation about time as rhythm was inspired by the Mystic Soul Project rule of life.



Sermon on the Mount by Laura James - https://society6.com/laurajamesartshop/s?q=popular+sermon-on-the-mount_print#1=45

Heart of Relationship: Lenten Reflection (31)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 5-7

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King

We tend to define relationship as an interpersonal object that begins and ends at our will. In reality, relationship is more of a principle than a noun: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are constantly in relationship with one another. Our choices, ideas, and attitudes impact those around us, and in some cases, those thousands of miles away. The question is not whether we want to be in relationship with one another, but how will we be in relationship with one another?

Jesus’ entire ministry was to foster right-relationship with people: Relationships that honored God’s dream for equity and justice. Relationships that tore down structures of oppression. Relationships that lifted up the disenfranchised and challenged the powerful. Relationships that fostered our ability to know, claim, and own that we are the Beloved of God. Relationships that invited us into liberating love.

Knowing this, it makes sense that Jesus would begin his ministry by speaking to how, in all types of relationships (marriages, disagreements, keeping oaths, public prayer, and judgement of others), we are to be mindful of the mutuality that exists between us all. If our sibling is hurting, we hurt too, so we need to try and heal the situation. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we only perpetuate hatred. Therefore, we are instructed to address the situation non-violently in a way that exposes the pain others inflict upon the world.

By addressing injustice and exposing pain, we end cycles of violence and indifference and develop a heart of compassion that causes us to mourn with those who mourn, hunger for justice, and suffer with those who are persecuted. We become those Jesus honored in the Beatitudes — we enter the heart of relationship.

Prayer: Increase my hunger for righteousness.

Reflect: Consider one or two particular relationships. How are you honoring the belovedness of people in how you treat them? What might you change to further acknowledge their belovedness through your relationship?

Art: Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

Worship-6-26-11: http://www.jconradimages.com/?project=dry-bones

Collective Restoration – Lenten Reflection (20)

Scripture for Today: Ezekiel 16, 36-37

Today’s reading begins with the same complicated metaphor of yesterday, an unfaithful bride. However, it pivots quickly to talk about a vision for restoration. This vision expands past a scorned lover to include healing between God and the land, between God and individuals, and among the people.

Ezekiel writes in the same manner as Hosea, using metaphor and image to describe this holistic healing.  Through the images of dry bones and stone hearts turned to vulnerable fleshly beings, the prophet reminds us that restoration isn’t about a specific aspect or action; it’s about claiming an entirely new way of being.  Instead of symbolic sacrifices, we offer to God our very essence. In doing so, we gain a heightened sense of intimacy with God.

The image of two formerly-split sticks being attached teaches us that restoration extends past ourselves and God to making right relationships among the community. Ezekiel is speaking specifically about the relationship between the Northern and Southern parts of Israel (split after the reign of Solomon), but this idea of collective restoration continues to appear in the New Testament when Jesus prays that “They may be One” (John 17). In Ezekiel, along with the unification of peoples, the land is also deeply blessed by restoration: “The land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden” (36:35).

When I think about harm and healing it is easy to get fixated on how conflict impacts me, the person I am conflicting with, and sometimes God. It takes intentionality to notice the effect I am having on my wider community or the environment. It is difficult to consider how my guilty pleasures reinforce communal values, to notice how my tone with my partner impacts the people around us, and to consider the environmental impact of our purchases.

Ezekiel’s vision challenges the idea that healing is two-dimensional and invites us into a wider understanding of restoration. This invitation will undoubtedly require that we raise our consciousness, but in return promises a more vibrant and rich life for all.

Prayer: Deepen my understanding of restoration.

Reflection: How can I be more conscious of my impact?

Art: Worship-6-26-11

Elena Hopsyu - Psalm 147 http://www.elenahopsu.com/spiritual.html

The Public Heart – Lenten Reflection (16)

Scripture for Today: Psalm 146, 147

Yesterday we sought to understand God more deeply by reflecting on David’s prayer to God. Today we turn our attention to the public arena of Israel’s liturgical service. Similar to David’s praise, we can further our understanding  of God by exploring what this liturgy reveals about Israel’s communal understanding of God.

Psalm 146 praises God’s commitment to bring justice to the oppressed: two-thirds of the verses praise God for being with the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the prisoner. In this hymn of praise people celebrate God’s constant upheaval of power structures.

Alternatively, Psalm 147 focuses on the praise of God for strength, order, and understanding. The last half of the hymn claims how God has blessed Israel, and, in effect, enabled their current power structure.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier prophetic theologians of our time, insists that we recognize these distinct types of praise, as they have drastically different impacts on our relationship with God.

If we offer praise to God that recognizes God’s commitment to lift up the lowly and to care for those who have been forgotten, we develop a readiness for everything (including ourselves) to change. We can see this readiness at work in the raw vulnerability of 12-Step programs, which capture this abandonment and trust in God’s healing by centering recovery stories in their liturgy.

However, singing to a God who has established us as a great nation and will maintain a sense of order in our midst makes us reticent to disturb this order. A hyper-example of this sort of liturgy happens in “prosperity gospel” churches where the liturgy revolves around the idea that God will bless you wildly if you only obey and trust in God’s power. This culture can lead to an unwillingness to question any authority, clerical or political.

Brueggemann encourages us to avoid this type of complacency by keeping stories of renewal and rescue at the center of our worship services. Let us preach and sing of the ways God has healed us and is working to heal our world today. Let us tell of a God that is always making things new. Let us stir our hearts to be open to what such a God might do in our world today.

Prayer: God you are always moving; keep us open to what you might do.

Reflection: Reflect on the worship services you attend. Do the songs and teachings lift up God’s ongoing transformation of our world, or reminders to trust in God’s provision?  How could you incorporate the telling of redemption stories into shared worship?

Art: Elena Hopsyu – Psalm 147

Psalm 25 by Yoram Raanan http://www.yoramraanan.com/

The Secret Heart – Lenten Reflection (15)

Psalms 25 & 51

I imagine many of us know the frustration that follows the questions “What is God?” and “How would you explain God?”  It is nearly impossible to define or describe God with even the most well thought-out arguments.

The Psalms address this challenge by approaching the nature of God through individual and communal relationship with God rather than philosophical proofs. Our psalms for today, 25 and 51, are prayers that David articulated to God in moments of pain and need. This glimpse of David’s relationship with God enable us to see some of the ways David understood God:

  • He understood God to be steadfast in nature. In his prayers, David expresses a bold confidence in God’s everlasting love for David. In both psalms, his entire petition and prayer are based on the fact that God’s love will motivate God to help David.
  • He believed his sin created a sense of separation between him and God. David’s actions of sin, though they aren’t described in detail, are causing him to feel distant from God’s presence. David believes that he deserves punishment and judgement.
  • He has a physical and tangible understanding of God. The language David uses in his prayers connote a relationship that can be felt, not only in the heart, but in a sense of location. This way of knowing God is aligned with the value Israel placed on the temple.

These reflections by David are spurred out of his own connection and engagement with God. They are not the result of deep study, and it would be irresponsible to form our complete theological frame from David’s individual reflection. For example, David’s sentiment that he was born from sin in his mother’s womb is not justification for the idea that children are born sinners.

Rather, David’s prayers offer us a sounding board: we can respond by exploring how our understanding of God does or does not align with David’s. These prayers also model a way to develop a profound intimacy with God. We can articulate back to God our understanding of steadfast love, confess feelings of separation, and request a return to intimacy.

Prayer and Reflection: Practice deepening your prayer by telling God the moments you’ve experienced steadfast love, and ask God to relieve any sense of separation from God.

Art: “Psalm 25” by Yoram Raanan



1000 Years in 60 Minutes – A Lecture on Joshua to Malachi

On Sunday I attempted to do half the Bible justice during a one-hour lecture on Joshua to Malachi. I’d love to know what your think — please listen and leave comments below. If you’re more of a visual learner, the lecture notes can be found here: Joshua to Malachi – Printed Handout.



The lecture attempts to teach a brief “history” of this portion of the Bible. In addition, we talk about how to read the various types of books thematically rather than factually. Finally, I talk about how the following themes of the Hebrew bible heavily influenced the Christian understanding of God. That is not to say that the Christian tradition carried over all of these themes directly but it is to say that Christianity shaped its theological understanding as a response to these roots.

Key Themes in this Portion of the Hebrew Bible

  • God’s Faithfulness: The Promised Land is a sign of God’s faithfulness to Israel and governing and caring for the land justly is of utmost importance.
  • Our Expected Response to God: We demonstrate gratitude to God by honoring God, one another, and the land though obeying God’s laws.
  • How We Worship:  The value of the establishment of The Temple as the most holy place in which God’s essence resides.
  • Relationship with God: Our ability to obey God directly impacts the level of protection and favor we receive from God.
  • Justice:  God fights for those who are oppressed by society and likewise asks us to be righteous, merciful and just.
  • God’s Commitment to Us: God desires to be in relationship with us and continually invites us back through judges, prophets and eventually Jesus.
Art found on Vete a La Verga by Vincent D. Cervante http://religiousresponse.us/2016/12/13/vete-a-la-verga/"A Christian Response"

Companions in Grief – Lenten Reflection (14)

Scripture: Job 1-3, 40-42

The story of Job is the first of the wisdom texts. These texts are full of beautiful prose and poetry, a writing style markedly different from the historical texts. They were written at the same time as historical and prophetic texts, and offer a human lens into the experience of the people of God. Job, written around the time of Moses, is a story of the very human struggle to trust in God’s covenant to protect and guide us in times of grief as well as in times of ease.

Job’s story, although extreme in example, offers me a sense of comfort that frothy  epithets fail to provide. When I hear words such as, ‘Don’t worry, just trust God,’ or ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle,’ I feel enraged. I want to shout, “You cannot even begin to understand what I’m going through!”

Job’s story comforts us by revealing the complexity of grief: our desire to trust God, the temptation to blame ourselves, frustration with inept friends, and our longing for relief. Job unlocks the hopelessness of depression I experienced in college, the anger I felt when betrayed by a mentor, and the emptiness I felt when one of my beloveds died from suicide. Job brings me back to the utter despair of those moments in ways I never had to experience.

Job brings me to an authentic place of pain that I must experience to know the healing promised in Job’s redemption. At the story’s end when God and Job converse about God’s steadfastness during Job’s suffering, I am transported to moments of relief I can appreciate in retrospect. I can see the people who supported me, the ways doors were opened, and the promise of love that extends past death.

Our scripture is full of stories that enable us to connect at the core levels of human experience. We must develop the vulnerability necessary to share our own stories with one another because they offer us a strength rooted in something far deeper than the idea that “everything will be okay.” A strength that reminds us that we are not alone in that moment. A strength that enables me to say boldly, “I had heard about you before, but now my eyes see you.”

Prayer: May I know the power of companionship.

Reflection: What holds me back from sharing my stories of grief and loss? How might I open up to others to offer spiritual companionship?

Art:  Found on Vete a La Verga by Vincent D. Cervante a powerful entry on grief and rage published on the blog “Religious Response.”


Mordechai and Esther - http://www.yoramraanan.com/between-us-c1ov

Unprecedented Times – Lenten Reflection (13)

Scripture for Today: Esther 2-4, 8

“We are living in unprecedented times.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Nobody knows how to respond to the current situation.”
“I cannot keep up with the tragedies.”

I hear these refrains often as people grapple to make sense of the constant onslaught of violence in the United States today.  It seems like every day there is news of a physical or legal attack on people’s safety. Yes, it is overwhelming.

That said, immense suffering is not a new phenomenon. We have witnessed genocide in Rwanda, the ongoing occupation in Palestine, the Holocaust, the existence of slavery and apartheid, gang warfare in Central America — and these are just my quickest of thoughts. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of immense suffering or “unprecedented times.”

Our heroine for today, Esther, lived an unprecedented story. As an orphan and a Jew she was an unlikely candidate to become queen. However, due to her beauty and the generosity of her uncle Mordecai, Esther is chosen to be part of an ancient version of The Bachelor where women audition for the role of queen. She performs very well during her time with the king; she “won his favor and devotion so he set the royal crown on her head (2:17).”

As queen, Esther deals with an unimaginable situation. Out of loyalty to the Jewish God, her beloved uncle Mordecai refuses to bow to the king, sparking the decree for the entire Jewish people to be murdered.

Esther’s first instinct is to use the protection of her crown to hide from the murder of the Jews. And, rightfully so: if she reveals her Jewish identity it is likely she will die. However, Esther’s uncle reminds her that she is still yoked to her people. She will not escape violence just because she lives in the palace. Mordecai goes on to say that perhaps Esther was called for just such a time as this.

It seems to me that three truths inspired by Esther’s story apply to us today:

  • we are yoked to one another
  • despite privilege, we cannot escape violence
  • perhaps we were called to a time such as this

Yes, the times are unprecedented. But why were born if not to shape our times? Why were we created if not to follow in Esther’s example by offering ourselves as a voice of intercession and pleading for justice and mercy? Why were we created if not to give our voices and resources to stop the violence of this very time?

Prayer: Grant me the courage of Esther.

Reflection: In what ways am I offering my voice towards ending violence? Are there places where I’m reticent to act? How might I begin acting?

Art: Mordechai and Esther” – by Yoram Raanan

If you are looking for ways to work towards the end of senseless gun violence, here are a few suggestions I adapted from this post by Danican Allen. 

  • Join the March for Our Lives Movement by supporting students in the March 14th National Walkout or attending the March for Our Lives, locally or in D.C. on March 24th. For more about these two actions email: natalie@episcopalcitymission.org.
  • Act on information teenagers are providing about their own, or a friend’s, mental illness.
  • Mentoring, tutoring, fostering, adopting, volunteering on a suicide prevention line.
  • Serving in any arena where under-reached youth are crying out for help.
  • Lobby for stricter laws, or broader healthcare, or greater awareness.
  • Donate towards school resources and equipment that may prevent another tragedy.
  • Donate time to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, or violent tendencies, or the resources available to report potential threats.
  • Respond when there are warning signs on social media, or concerns posted by classmates.
  • Reach out to the family members and offer financial or emotional support.
  • Connect with groups, like the Sandyhook Promise, that work tirelessly for safer schools.