Sunday, October 30, 2011

Día de los Muertos

This past Wednesday we celebrated the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with enchiladas, a beautiful altar created by a First Church member, and photos, mementos, and memories of loved ones who have passed away.  Here's a photo of our altar:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Text Study and Meditation: Matthew 25:31-46

This week Tinley led us in a text study of Matthew 25:31-46.  After reading through the passage as a group, we discussed our reactions.  One thing we all noticed is that we usually read the middle of this passage in church, but not the context of judgement on either end.  We also recognized that one the one hand Jesus is giving us a very difficult task, but at the same time, on some level we all both pass and fail this test at different times in our lives.  In reality, it's not so easy to separate every person into the two categories of goats and sheep. 

We discussed the idea of heaven on earth or creating the kingdom of God on earth.  Jesus is describing that kingdom, where we all feed each other, take care of each other, and love each other.  Anytime you're serving someone who is in need, is lonely, or is separated from others, you're ultimately serving Jesus and leading a full life.  This passage offers a more concrete way to interact with Jesus and put the love of God into empty places in the world. 

After our discussion of the passage, Tinley led us in a guided meditation based on medieval mysticism.  One recurring theme in the mystic tradition, especially in convents during the Middle Ages, was rituals surrounding food, the Eucharist, and figuratively consuming the word as food.  In this tradition, Jesus was the word made flesh, so during fasting you would fill up on a word or the word that would sustain you until the end of the fast, which would always be broken with communion.  The entire arc of the fast was looked at as a sustained communion with Jesus, first as a word and then as food.  This mystic tradition produced a lot of visionary poetry from this practice that focuses on the permeability of word, flesh, and spirit in search of union with the divine (like Hildegard of Bingen or Catherine of Siena).  The meditation, reprinted below, is based on this frame of simultaneous fullness and emptiness.

Get comfortable, move around if you need to, close your eyes, and let’s start by just taking some deep breaths together.  

Now as you breathe, direct your breath to fill the different parts of your body, noticing how the breath enters and leaves each part, balancing between fullness and emptiness.  Breathe into your stomach, breathe into your head, breathe through your arms and legs.  Let the breath fill and empty smaller avenues, try to move your breath into your toes.  The hairs on your head.  Imagine each tiny capillary expanding with each molecule of oxygen.  

Now as you breathe, imagine your spirit being inflated and inspired with your body.  Like your heart, beats a little faster each time you breathe in and a little slower each time you breathe out.  Now shift your focus to those parts of your spirit where breath is not moving so freely.  What in your spirit’s body remains unfilled even when you invite life in?  Where is there a hunger?  An emptiness?  Sit with it for a moment, and see if you can put a word to that hunger.  What is your spirit hungry for?  Perhaps you can think of a word or two, or a phrase, or just a wordless feeling.  Keep the word for your hunger with you.  

Now, invite God into your breath, breathe God into your spirit, and direct God’s love into that place that is feeling hungry, sick, imprisoned, thirsty, lonely, or naked.  With each breath, imagine that place holding onto a bit more air, a bit more fullness.  Let the divine spirit, who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, fill up where there is emptiness, feed where there is hunger.  Now if you can, give that breath a word…what is it that fills you?  What sustains you?  What is bread and breath of life to your hungry spirit?  How are you fed?  Let that word or phrase sit in that space, no longer empty, overflowing in fact.  

Imagine the your word bringing so much life that it pours out of your spirit and begins, glowing, to move out into the world.  With each breath, let your fullness fill this room, move through the streets of Berkeley, across the bay and through California.  Direct your spirit to the places in the world, near and far, where God is calling your heart to provide sustainance, both physical and spiritual.  Think of that place, think of that person, think of that need.  In the fullness of God’s love, how do you feed Jesus?  What is the spiritual gift that you have been given to breathe the breath of life into empty places?  Once again, let a word surface, the word that is in you that will sustain one part of the world, no matter how small.  What word is your food to a hungry planet?  Put that word out into the world on a prayer.  

Now, as we begin to come back from the parts of the world our mind has taken us back to this table, this community, gather your words.  Remember where you are hungry, remember how you are filled, and remember how you provide food for others. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Are we spending our time wisely?

In a society that is constantly offering us many things to do and putting competing demands on our time, it can be hard to find time for the rest we need.  We talked about the idea that time is a gift from God, and that he wants us to experience non-active periods - time to be with God, time for renewal, time to let down our guard and just be. It's challenging to find this time in our lives if we aren't conscious about making it happen.  As one way to be more conscious of how we spend our time, we charted the ups and downs of one day from the past week to look at how we felt throughout the day, what was enriching to our spirits, and what experiences were a drain on our mental and physical resources.

For some, spending time with others correlated with "high" points, while for others time alone was more important.  Some found transitions from one space to another the most difficult.  We talked about what we would do with six extra hours in the day, and found it interesting that for most of us, these extra hours wouldn't necessarily improve our quality of life - it's more about taking the time we have and making the most of it.  Finally, we discussed ways that we can make small changes to do just that - perhaps studying in a different place, leaving for class a few minutes earlier, getting to sleep at an earlier hour, or making an effort to connect with friends and loved ones.  What can you do to improve the quality of the hours in your day and find quiet moments to connect with the holy?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taize Service in Loper Chapel

We had a wonderful Taize service in Loper Chapel at First Church last Wednesday.  Students and members of the congregation came together to share in an authentic Taize experience - singing, prayer, silence, and communion.  Our next service will be November 2 (dessert reception at 7 pm and candlelight service at 7:30) - everyone is welcome!  Here's a look at the beautiful altar that Tinley and Meredith created for us.

Jesus our joy, you want us to have hearts that are simple, a kind of springtime of the heart. And then the complications of existence do not paralyze us so much. You tell us: don’t worry; even if you have very little faith, I, Christ, am with you always.