Tag Archives: uncertainty

Excerpt from “The Book of Monastic Life”

Why am I reaching again for brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.

But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses’ horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I’m all the time seen by you.

The choruses of angels use up all of heaven.
There’s no more room for you
in all that glory. You’re living
in your very last house.

All creation holds its breath, listening within me,
because, to hear you, I keep silent.

–From “The Book of Monastic Life”, by Rainer Maria Rilke.

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In Memoriam: Marcus Borg

It was back in 2008 that I discovered a book that would forever restore my faith in God: Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. I had recently made a rediscovery of my own: church. I had been absent from church for many, many years. I had most recently been in attendance at an evangelical mega church, which I stopped attending when I moved out of my parents’ house. The experiences at that church had left a bad taste in my mouth for organized religion (though, surprisingly, the people at that church reject the term “religion” and any sort of organization, even though it is all the same thing).

I had rediscovered church via my neighborhood Episcopal Church. The new rector (priest in charge) of the church had distributed friendly welcome letters to the neighbors, inviting all who sought a deeper relationship with God to join them for worship in a beautiful historic jewel of a chapel with a magnificent pipe organ and a diverse congregation that welcomed all seekers. It sounded perfect. My life has changed for the better since I walked in to that church.

Soon after I began attending the Episcopal Church, my visits to the local book store started to focus more on the Religion & Spirituality section. I remember finding Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, on one of the feature tables. The subtitle (Rediscovering a Life of Faith) stood out to me. I knew nothing of Marcus Borg, but thought I’d give the book a try.

I am forever grateful for the words Marcus wrote in this book. In the book, Marcus makes it quite clear that you can, indeed, be Christian and not believe in many of the things that made me doubt my faith for years. Things like biblical infallibility, and homosexuality as a sin, and not including women in the ministry. Those things just scratched the surface of so many things that made me lose my faith in God. I didn’t want to claim a faith that taught it laid claim to the ultimate truth, and that one had to believe those things in order to be in right relationship with God and to be a true Christian.

In thumbing through my cherished copy of his book, there is one statement that I underlined and noted on the inside cover as particularly meaningful to me. A statement straight from Marcus’s heart. On page 149, Marcus says:

Though of course I would like you to agree with me, I am less concerned with soliciting agreement than I am with provoking thoughtfulness about the way our life together is, and could be, structured.

I think this one sentence really sums up how Marcus Borg did theology. He did theology in a heartfelt, meaningful, genuine way that was concerned more with the dialogue and the questions and the seeking than with answers and certainty and agreement.

It is my hope that the legacy and spirit of Marcus Borg lives on forever in the lives of those of us whom his writings touch. I, for one, will always be grateful to Borg’s witness to his walk with God, and his unabashedly honest understanding of faith, which was never a certainty, and always a journey. Too many conservative Christians have dismissed Borg because of his radical honesty in living out his faith, his rejection of orthodox theology, and his embrace of doubt as an essential part of a healthy faith.

For my and for others’ benefit, I wanted to share a few other meaningful excerpts from The Heart of Christianity that stood out to me, and that I think show just where Marcus’s heart was. I hope that his understanding of God in these words speaks to you like it did to me.

And if [your vision of Christianity] works for you–if it hasn’t become an obstacle and if it genuinely nourishes your life with God and produces growth and compassion within you—there’s no reason for you to change. Being Christian isn’t about getting our beliefs (or our paradigm) “right.” –p. 18

When [the literal versus metaphorical] debate breaks out in my classroom, I say to my students, “Believe whatever you want about whether it happened this way; now let’s talk about what the story means.” The statement applies to the Genesis stories of creation, the gospel birth stories, and the stories of the Bible generally: a preoccupation with facts can obscure the metaphorical meanings and the truth of the stories as metaphor. –p. 54

The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true—that God loves us already—and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God. –p. 77

When the Christian path is seen as utterly unique, it is suspect. But when Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility. –p. 119

Marcus Borg, thank you for your honest and radical witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Your witness to honest faith saved my faith in God, and showed me that one’s faith is enriched with doubt and uncertainty. Thank you for your bold words that others shunned, and for your showing me that God and ultimate truth cannot be placed inside of any one religion or definition. Your legacy will live on forever in those of us whose lives you touched and whose faith you helped form. May light perpetual shine upon you.

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Lord, for ever at thy side

Lord, for ever at thy side
let my place and portion be,
strip me of the robe of pride,
clothe me with humility.

When I come before thy Word,
quiet my anxiety;
teach me thou alone art Lord,
let my heart find rest in thee.

What thy Spirit doth reveal,
that may I in faith receive;
though my doubts I sorely feel,
thy sure promise I believe.

Israel, now and evermore
in the Lord Almighty trust;
him, in all his ways, adore,
wise and wonderful and just.

Words: Stanzas 1 & 4 – James Montgomery, 1819; stanzas 2 & 3, Charles P. Price (b. 1920)
Music: SONG 13, melody and bass Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

mi579x

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Lord, thou hast searched me

Lord, thou hast searched me and dost know
where’er I rest, where’er I go;
thou knowest all that I have planned,
and all my ways are in thy hand.

My words from thee I cannot hide;
I feel thy power on every side;
oh, wondrous knowledge, awful might,
unfathomed depth, unmeasured height!

Where can I go apart from thee,
or whither from thy presence flee?
In heaven? It is thy dwelling fair;
in death’s abode? Lo, thou art there.

If I the wings of morning take,
and far away my dwelling make,
the hand that leadeth me is thine,
and my support thy power divine.

If deepest darkness cover me,
the darkness hideth not from thee;
to thee both night and day are bright,
the darkness shineth as the light.

–Words: The Psalter Hymnal, 1927; paraphrase of Psalm 139:1-12
–Music: TENDER THOUGHT, from Kentucky Harmony, 1816

From the album Appalachian Sketches:

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Walking the Labyrinth

The spiritual exercise of walking a labyrinth is something I have heard about for years, but never decided to try until today. I’ve visited many, many churches and other spiritual places that have labyrinths, and have stared at them thinking “someday”, but today I actually decided to try it. I am amazed at how focusing it was to my prayer and my spirit.

The labyrinth that I decided to walk was in Jackson, Wyoming at St. John’s Episcopal Church. I’m here on vacation for a few days, and had passed this labyrinth (just off the main street of the town) several times over the last few days. This afternoon, after spending some time with a good book and a cup of cold brew coffee, I decided to divert some time to prayer and to walking the labyrinth.

Before I began my walk, I sat down at a bench on its perimeter. I thought to myself “Hmmm, there are lots of people on the street walking by that might look at me and think I’m nuts.” And I thought, “How long will this take?” The more I sat there and wondered if I should or shouldn’t, the more I thought to myself “Just do it.” I tend to overanalyze everything, and after realizing that, just got up and started.

As I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth, I began with my favorite prayer by Thomas Merton, which begins “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…” And I decided to use one of my favorite Bible verses as a mantra during my walk…I chose Micah 6:8b (What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?). As I began, I quickly noticed how what I expected to be the path (a very straightforward, predictable path) actually wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I continued saying my mantra. A toddler who had been playing in the grass nearby wandered into the labyrinth. I continued saying my mantra. A few passersby approached the labyrinth and looked at me. I continued saying my mantra. A man came into the labyrinth circle and sat down and watched me. I continued saying my mantra. When I reached the center, I paused, stood still, and thanked God for the moment. I turned around and walked the same path back out while simply focusing on my breathing.

The practice was surprisingly calming. As I encountered the slight distractions along my way, I couldn’t help but think of the symbolism in my everyday life. Every day, distractions can pop up, but I can’t let those distractions get to me or hold me down or suppress my spirit. I must continue to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. It is only with God’s help that I can achieve anything in this world. And it is only with God’s mercy that I can love and be loved in this world. As I continue in my life, my prayer continues to be that God lead me by the right path, and for me to acknowledge that God does not let me face my perils alone.

It’s a beautiful thing, what I feel after having walked the labyrinth. I’m not sure why I ever waited so long to give it a try. It was remarkably centering to my spirit. I look forward to my next labyrinth walk!

The labyrinth at St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming.

The labyrinth at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming.

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Holy Wednesday Reflection (Lent 37)

One of my favorite prayers in my Church’s tradition discusses the eternal changelessness of God. The prayer reads:

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours
of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and
chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The fact that God is changless is a hard concept to fathom. We cannot begin to grasp who God is, or what God is like. Our language and thought capacity fail us, though we try. I believe that the closest we may get to understand God is in Jesus Christ, God’s perfect revelation of God’s self to the world. In Christ’s life, passion, death, and rising again, we are made one with God. Thanks be to God!

Sunset to sunrise changes now,
for God doth make his world anew;
on the Redeemer’s thorn-crowned brow
the wonders of that dawn we view.

E’en though the sun withholds its light,
lo! a more heavenly lamp shines here,
and from the cross on Calvary’s height
gleams of eternity appear.

Here in o’er-whelming final strife
the Lord of life hath victory,
and sin is slain, and death brings life,
and earth inherits heaven’s key.

Words: Clement of Alexandria (170?-220?); para. Howard Chandler Robbins (1876-1952)

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Lenten Reflection – Day 30

Peccantem me quotidie, et non me paenitentem, timor mortis conturbat me: Quia in inferno nulla est redemptio, miserere mei, Deus, et salva me. –Choral piece by Cristóbal Morales (c. 1500–1553), video below

While I am sinning every day, and yet do not repent, the fear of death overwhelms me. For in hell there is no redemption. Have mercy on me, God, and save me.

It’s a crazy thing to think about…all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime. All of the beauty for us to experience in God’s creation. Some people live their lives without a second thought of life after death, or about how the decisions they make in this life might affect them, or their neighbor, or the next life. Others live their lives in constant fear, hesitant to go outside of their comfort zones or even to leave their immediate communities. Yet others live with a balance between both of those realities. It is an eery thing to think about all of the opportunities we have in this lifetime…to think that when we die, those opportunities will be gone. What influences how you make your decisions? Do you think about how your decisions affect others, or how things might be in the afterlife?

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