Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Give Thanks for Life"

This week our church sang a very moving hymn for All Saints Day that seemed equally appropriate for either the Thanksgiving or Easter seasons, as well:

Give thanks for life, the measure of our days;
mortal, we pass through beauty that decays, 
yet sing to God our hope, our love, our praise:
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

Give thanks for those who made their life a light
caught from the Christ-flame, bursting through the night,
who touched the truth, who burned for what is right:
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

And for our own, our living and our dead,
thanks for the love by which our life is fed,
a love not changed by time or death or dread:
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

Give thanks for hope, that like the wheat, the grain
lying in the darkness does its life retain
in resurrection to grow green again:
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

(© 2005 Hope Publishing
Text: Shirley Erena Murray 
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams)

Unfortunately, I've been unable to find a decent recording of the hymn that really shows how beautiful it is, but you can listen to a midi file of it on the Hymnary website here.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thoughts on Contemporary Atheism and Christianity

In case you missed it, I've recently posted a series of blogs over at Near Emmaus reflecting on the state of affairs between contemporary atheism and Christianity. There has been some good conversation in the comment sections of each post. If that kind of thing is your jam, go check 'em out:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anthony Le Donne on Modern Reconstructions of Jesus' Sexuality

I'm currently a little more than halfway through Anthony Le Donne's The Wife of Jesus, and let me tell you: it's good. Like, really good. Le Donne deserves to be on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Why not? They let all those other yahoos on their shows; it would be great to have a real live Jesus historian on there for once. I am especially impressed at how well balanced Le Donne's book is, particularly in its consideration of the biases we all bring to the text as readers shaped by our culture. Take, for example, the following excerpt from Chapter 5, "Smithing Jesus":
For most of us, spotting the agendas and ideologies at work in others seems easy. Many people have probably never considered the notion that Jesus had multiple wives or that he was gay, and so they will be cautious about these sexualized portraits from the beginning. But recognizing our own agendas and ideological projections onto Jesus is more difficult. If we are to be honest and avoid the arrogance of creating Jesus in our own image, a healthy suspicion of ourselves is warranted. The challenge for us, therefore, is to examine the agendas and ideologies that we unwittingly project onto Jesus. (p.90)
I hope to have a brief review—either here or at Near Emmaus—up sometime next week, followed by a full review through Review & Expositor. Many thanks to the good folks at Oneworld for the free review copy.

Buy this book. Do it. Now.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morning Prayer, Part Two: Erasmus

Since my last post on my morning prayer routine, I have added a prayer included in Stookey's This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer. It's credited to 15th century Dutch reformer Erasmus of Rotterdam. I appreciate the poetry of the prayer, as well as the paradoxical—mystical, even—depiction of Jesus as the "sun that always rises but never sets." Perfectly appropriate for the morning:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you are the sun that always rises but never sets.
You are the source of all life,
creating and sustaining every living thing.
You are the source of all food, material and spiritual,
nourishing us in both body and soul.
You are the light that dispels the clouds of error and doubt,
and goes before me every hour of the day,
guiding my thoughts and actions.
May I walk in your light,
be sustained by your mercy,
and be warmed by your love. Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Early Church and Trinitarian Theology

I stumbled upon this cartoon by David Hayward the other day. I am currently taking a course on early Christian worship, and this cartoon struck me as a succinct summary of the development of ancient Christianity and Trinitarian theology, as well as an honest assessment of the contemporary Church in light of the power afforded us by the Spirit.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Morning Prayer

My prayer room altar, complete w/incense.
My wife Alyssa is currently in Kenya for two weeks attending a training event for teachers of nonviolent conflict mediation. Needless to say, with no one else in the house, I’ve had a lot of free time on my hands, and have experienced periods of stir-craziness. In the meantime, I've started praying a little more often than usual. This has been partly inspired by a longtime love affair with both private and communal liturgical prayer, but also partly because I was moved to pick up the practice again after reading Richard Beck’s posts on praying the Anglican rosary over at his blog, Experimental Theology. I used to enjoy communal prayer much more than personal prayer, but over the last year or two I have begun to appreciate my alone time with God much more. This is due in part to experience with trial, error, and persistence in my own personal prayer life, and in part to the fact that the vast majority of the people I know aren't that into the idea of waking up in the wee hours of the morning for liturgical prayer.

I converted my tiny 9’x15’ home office—which I never used as an office, anyway—into a prayer room, and set up a small altar with candles and a cross in front of my wall of icons. Taking cues from Beck, last week I went out and purchased the materials to make my own set of prayer beads. I now use them for my centering prayer routine (see below). For the crucifix I chose the San Damiano Cross, which inspired and initiated the ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. It is an iconic (in the sense that it is an icon) crucifix that depicts a poor, humble, broken Christ, surrounded by figures from the Gospel narratives.

The set of prayer beads I made last week.
For prayer and lectio divina I have used various books in the past, including Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and Okoro's Common Prayer, Isaac Everett's The Emergent Psalter, and Joan Chittister's The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (see my review on this particular book here). I'm currently using This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, by Laurence Hull Stookey (a throwback to my days as a United Methodist), but I am also expecting my copy of the two-volume Take Our Moments And Our Days: An Anabaptist Prayer Book to come in the mail any day now, and I'm looking forward to trying it out when it arrives.

After sitting down and lighting a charcoal of resin frankincense, this is the current layout of my morning prayer routine (based in part on Stookey's prayer book mentioned above):

1)    Gloria Patri
2)    Introductory Reflection—this reading is included in Stookey’s material.
3)    Opening Prayer
4)    Centering Prayer—for this, I use my rosary. My adapted rosary prayer follows this format:
a.     Invitatory Bead: Gloria Patri
b.     Cruciform Beads: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”
c.     Weeks Beads: Deut. 6:5 + Lev. 19:18 + Matt. 5:44
5)  Prayer for Illumination
6)  Psalm—for the psalm I use The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter, by Abbot Gregory J. Polan, OSB. Gregory is the Abbot of Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery just a couple hours north of Kansas City. I have visited the abbey a few times, and have always enjoyed my stays there, particularly the way the brothers and fathers chant the Psalter. My particular edition of this book features the musical notation devised for chanting by the monks at Conception.
7)   OT, Epistle, and Gospel Readings—these usually follow the lectionary.
8)   Silent contemplation—a time for reflection on the readings and prayer for others.
9)   Acts Appropriate to the Day of the Week—this is a short reflective prayer that is specific to the current day of the week.
 10)   Lord’s Prayer
 11)   Gloria Patri

The whole endeavor takes about 30 minutes from start to finish (or roughly the time it takes to burn through one charcoal’s worth of incense).

I know many folks think it unusual for a Mennonite to be such an avid liturgical pray-er, but I find the liturgy itself to be (potentially) incredibly freeing. And the Anabaptists are all about freedom, right?

Do you have a prayer routine? Have you developed your own form of prayer, or do you use someone else’s?