Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, September 23, 2018

At Bishop Susan Bell’s first clergy and lay professional conference, she invited us to take on one spiritual practice that would help renew our relationship with God. I immediately knew my one thing was to engage more deeply with scripture. All I needed was more discipline and structure. So, this blog is an attempt to share—particularly with the spiritual leaders of the Greater St. Catharines area and the Diocese of Niagara—a spiritual formation perspective on the Revised Common Lectionary weekly readings. It is neither comprehensive nor definitive. These posts are simply musings (limited, biased, personal) on scripture from my spiritual formation perspective.  Your comments and further insights would be most welcome! Thank you Bishop Susan for prompting this initiative.

My response to the invitation is: to open my heart to God and prayerfully reflect on the four Sunday scripture readings from the RCL and to share my insights and perspectives from a spiritual formation perspective.  Deo duce.

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Floor tile from St. Barnabas, St. Catharines

MARK 9:30-37

This gospel passage is asking us to consider the question: “Who has value?”

This is the second time Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his death and resurrection, a way of loving sacrifice and self-giving. Meanwhile, his disciples are bickering among themselves about who will be the greatest. It would be laughable if it weren’t so personally convicting!

Spiritual formation is a process of surrender. The ultimate offering will be the ego. A significant sacrifice as we draw closer to God is our underlying assumption about status and worth.

To drive home the point, Jesus picks up a child. Setting safe church issues aside, that is an intimate and female-like gesture, particular for a man of the first century. Can a child be so valuable in God’s eyes? Of course, we would answer. But do we mean it? Children continue to be placed in detention camps in the United States. Children on Canadian reserves still suffer from unclean drinking water. Then there is the reckless destruction of our children’s future because of our pollution, ecosystem extinction and climate change. Are children worth it?

Spiritual practice: I will imagine Jesus sitting beside me, seeing the child within me—my vulnerability, my pain—reducing me and drawing me closer and allowing me to safely feel pain and joy and be healed. I need to feel and heal so I can act. And act I/we must. Each person, young and old is of infinite worth because each is a child of God.

JAMES 3:13-4:3, 7-8A

I am really liking the Book of James. For James, spiritual formation permeates all aspects of  life: our speaking, thinking and doing. 

As with the reading from Mark, this passage turns things around and highlights the importance of humility and gentleness. The line that stood out for me was that one wise virtue is being “willing to yield.” I am sure there is a personal spiritual challenge here for me, but if the #MeToo movement has taught us anything it is that up against injustice and exploitation, sometimes you need to lean in with conviction and speak out. For far too long, a spirit of compliance has been forced on woman which has made vulnerability change into victimhood. Jesus was peaceable, compassionate and gentle but he was also fiery, outspoken and moved by unjust anger. James wants his new followers to live together peaceably. Yes, but sometimes the Spirit moves through conflict. 

The line, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you” suggests a cause and effect relationship with God. But God is always already there. I like the translation from Pulpit Fiction: “Draw near to God who is already drawing near to you.” 

My prayer to God today is: May my words and actions that will ripple into the universe this day be peaceable, gentle, suitably compliant, and may I discern when to speak truth and allow righteous anger to have a voice.

God’s prayer in me: Draw near and I will help you discern the one from the other.

PSALM 1

“Like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season.” Connecting with God—in that deep relational way—is like being quenched by cool waters after a long thirst. Our parched, withered lives seem to grow bright, full and prosperous. St. Ignatius says that we can discern our heart’s desires by paying attention to consolation—that deep sense of quenching joy. Sacrifice and suffering can certainly be part of the spiritual journey, but we sense we are on the right track when our decisions prompt life and abundance rather than meanness and destruction.

Verse 2, “and on his law they meditate day and night.” Søren Kierkegaard felt that meditating was not simply an intellectual pursuit or a mindfulness exercise, but an intentional decision to be ourselves before God. Something to consider, I think.

PROVERBS 31:1–31

This passage describes the characteristics of a desirable woman. (I find I immediately brace myself for what I think may be coming!) However, I am amused to discover that the characteristics include entrepreneurial, industrious, generous, wise, trustworthy, God-fearing and strong. However, the line, she “does not eat the bread of idleness” fed right into my busyness addiction. My struggle has been to only see myself as useful and valuable when I am being productive. In the past this has meant that prayer time was limited because I was not busy doing something.

In an effort to pattern my life after Jesus, I know that taking time for prayer and to be in a relationship with God is essential. “Being” and “doing” must be in a balanced relationship. If I undervalue quiet and prayer time, I become parched and lifeless (Psalm 1).

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