Category Archives: Spirituality

A Christmas Meditation on Peace

 

SEASON’S GREETINGS!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

The scene in which these words were spoken illustrates the extreme contradiction of the Christmas story: A glorious cloud of angels, singing to the poorest of the poor; a powerful man in history, born in a manger.  No matter what our religion, there are some observations that hold true about this story.

FLINCK, Govert Teunisz, Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds
1639, Oil on wood, 160 x 196 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris,
Web Gallery of Art, http://www.wga.hu/support/viewer/z.html

Peace, like Christmas, is counterintuitive. To be at peace with our fellow man requires us to put down our defenses. This makes us vulnerable. (As vulnerable as a baby in a manger?) If I give up something to make peace, do I risk becoming poor? (As poor as a shepherd living in a field?) Might I be asked to give up things I feel I’ve earned the right to have? (Even the fish already in my nets, fish that I’ve worked hard to catch?) Might I be asked to give up the labels I put on people? (Even labels that protect me by defining my tribe and serving to limit my responsibilities outside that tribe?)

When we put aside labels and rights and power, we become open to very different, and creative, possibilities: What if I could be honest with the other person, without them using my honesty against me? What if I could lay down my defenses, emotionally or figuratively, and could put energy into things I want or love? What if the other person would work collaboratively with me, to find ways to have my needs met, without fighting against or hurting me? What if I could find a way to help that other party meet their underlying need, without giving up my own security? What if we can find a way to meet everyone’s true needs?

The path of peace is inextricably tied up with reconciliation and tearing down of barriers that separate us. When we examine the life of Jesus, we see a man who never allowed labels or positions to get in the way of seeing people for who they truly were. He taught radical ideas. He taught us to love others as we love ourselves; he taught us to forgive as we have been forgiven; he demonstrated that we can transform our enemy by seeing them as God sees them and thereby enabling them to see themselves.

This Christmas season, consider: What must we give up, to walk the path of peace? What must we actively do? Even when we have been wronged, why must we forgive our debtors? And, what does it mean to forgive another “as we have been forgiven”?

Does the idea of reconciliation mean that we just move on, that we ignore a wrong? No!  To advocate peace is not to advocate weakness.  Thomas Merton wrote, "Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice.  It demands greater heroism than war.  It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience."

Peace is not passive, either.  Peace is waged, just as war is waged, but peace is a force more powerful than the greatest weapon.  Weapons impose change from the outside in; but peace brings change from the inside out.  Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this force, which he called "soul force".  Like Gandhi and Jesus, King waged peace in a way which transformed those who were engaged with it.

The result of King’s war can be seen today.  Not only has segregation fallen, but the hearts and minds of formerly racist men and women were transformed by their engagement.  Peace wins through conversion of the opponent.

The purpose of peacebuilding — and mediation is a part of peacebuilding — is not to fake a peace. Mediation does not force anyone to agree to terms they don’t want, nor does it put people into circumstances they’d prefer not to endure.  The first task of peacebuilding is to enable communication.  This paves the way for people to listen to each other.  They can then find ways to meet needs and resolve conflict.  When needs are met – when root causes of conflict are addressed – reconciliation can happen.

Peace is a matter of achieving that which we have within us.  C.S. Lewis, speaking in the voice of Aslan, referred to the law of love as the "deep magic".  Peace and reconciliation are not easy; sometimes the trust and openness that is required to achieve great results is as contrary to common sense as is a vision of angels appearing to a ragged band of shepherds on a winter night.  But unless we take the risk, we achieve nothing; and until we achieve peace, we have nothing. What does it gain a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his own soul?

So, this season, my wish for you is, Peace!  Try it!*

_____________________

*For those who live within my geographic area, I am offering a Holiday Special:  Give the gift of peace at Christmas!    Receive one half off any mediation booked prior to January 1st or which is given as a Christmas gift to someone you love.  Please just mention this offer when you book your mediation.  To book a mediation or to discuss whether mediation may be right for you or your friend, contact me here

 

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Thought for the Day

10 December 2009

"It isn’t enough to talk about peace,

one must believe it.

And it isn’t enough to believe it,

one must work for it."

Eleanor Roosevelt

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Pray, TODAY!

TODAY IS THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEACE

 

HOW WILL YOU OBSERVE THIS DAY?

 

Will you help me recruit a million people for the cause of peace?  This will take just three minutes of your time:  

 

  • First Minute:  sign THIS PLEDGE (which will be delivered to the United Nations)
  • Second Minute:  Pause for one minute at NOON TODAY to pray for peace.  Pray for whatever you choose, in any way you choose. 
  • Third Minute:  Pass this link along to ten friends. 

 

Most victims of war are powerless.  Please lend your voice to those who have none.  Here is a message from Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. Remember the horrible events of history that led to the formation of the United Nations.  The Greatest Generation made a pledge, "Never Again".  Let’s help keep their pledge a reality. 

Pray for a world where people can take seriously that the acronym WMD should stand for "We Must Disarm". 

Dare to dream, dare to believe.

Here are some other ideas for ways to observe the International Day of Peace.  These ideas were originally posted HERE by Mark Koenig:

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Shana Tova

This is the week of Rosh Hoshanah.   I didn’t know what this was until a Jewish friend reminded me that she is fasting on the last day of Rosh Hoshanah, which is Yom Kippur. 

Rosh Hoshanah, at the close of the old year, is a time when G-d examines the names in the Book of Life.  We want to make sure our name is inscribed for the coming year.  Thus, it’s an important time to examine ourselves, to correct things we have done wrong during the past year.  It is a time for making peace and for making amends with those whom we have injured or offended, to eliminate anything that might prevent our names from being inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.   

Rosh Hoshanah culminates in Yom Kippur, which is a day of prayer, fasting, and atonement.  Observant Jews adhere to the same rules on Yom Kippur as on the Sabbath, in addition to some other observances which set the day apart.  The fast is the only fast decreed in the Hebrew Bible.  A twenty-five hour fast, it begins before sunset and ends after nightfall on Yom Kippur.  In the year 2008, Yom Kippur falls between about 6:30 PM on Wednesday, October 8th and ends at about 7:30 PM on Thursday, October 9th. 

Here’s one humorous rendering of how the candidates might handle the day of Atonement:

        

Shana Tova is the Hebrew way of saying "New Year Blessings"

    

 

If you want to learn more about Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur, here is one link and a place to start:  Click Here

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Our Response to Failure

March 23, 2008

The first thing I saw when I opened the newspaper yesterday was a photo of the young Japanese figure skater, Mao Asada.  It was not a pretty picture.  She was sprawled on the on the ice, just after falling while directly in front of the panel of judges at the World Figure Skating Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.
At high speed, leaping into a triple axel, it was quite a spectacular fall (a YouTube link to her performance is HERE.) 

According to the newspaper report, “the audience groaned in synch” when Asada crashed during her attempt at a triple axel in early in her short program (http://goldsea.com/803/21pm-mao.html).  The photo, in the International Herald Tribune, showed the 17-year-old just after she “slipped and slid into the boards to the accompaniment of Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu”  (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2008-03/22/content_6557525.htm).  Just behind Asada, the concern on the faces of the judges is evident, their mouths gaping with shock and concern.  Asada herself is quoted by Goldsea as saying,  ”My heart also stopped.”

Imagine if you or I had been the skater in this competition.  If you or I had fallen, what would yours or my reaction have been?  After the initial heart-stopping shock of the fall, how would we have fared through the rest of the program?  How did Asada fare? 

 

From my experience of performing as a musician on stage, I have personal experience with the psychological battle that occurs when a performer makes a highly visible error.  When one is literally in the spotlight in the middle of a performance, it takes every bit of focus that one can muster to put the failure into the past, recover one’s composure, and move on without missing a beat (literally).  How do you do that?   Is the ability to move on after failure a skill that can be learned?  In my view, failure – and how we respond to it — is a topic well worth discussing.  Sooner or later, everyone must deal with failure.  The big issue, I think, is not whether we might fail sometime, but to decide how we will respond to it when it does happen.

 

Indeed, I hope that failure happens!  Is this a strange thing to hope for?  I think not. 


The first psychological battle is to dare to aim high enough in the first place.  I suppose it’s possible to live a life with no failure, but only if one makes a decision never to take risks.  A decision not to risk failure is also a decision not to risk the corresponding chance for achievement.  If a person never acts on their dreams, the saddest risk is that they will end up with a life of regrets and wondering "what if":  What if I had taken that risk to do x (here fill in the blank with your personal dream)  ______________________, what could have been, if only I had tried? 

Yes, Asada missed the triple axel.  On the other hand, she also took the remarkable risk in the first place.  In 2004, at age 14, she was the youngest female in the world to ever perform the triple axel jump in an international competition (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/wire?section=oly&id=2233743). So, first of all, she tried.  She’ll never have to worry or wonder, "what if". 

 

The second psychological battle, in my view, is to conquer fear of failure as one races headlong to take the leap.  It takes courage to propel one’s self to top speed and then take a flying leap that might land one onto the slippery ice of failure, in full public view.  My most acute familiarity with highly visible failure comes from my days, long past, of performing as a soloist on the French horn.  There’s one particular passage I remember, the part of Puck in Till Eulenspeigel.  Puck’s exuberant call, in this case my solo,  goes faster and faster and higher and higher until it ends in a frenzied and ecstatic run up to a high C.  It is only possible to reach the note if one runs confidently and without hesitation, with gusto, up into the heights of what is possible to play on the instrument.  If one hesitates for a moment, being distracted by even a moment of doubt about whether one might reach that one, soaring note, the momentum to get there is lost.  Once momentum is lost, all is lost:  the fear of failure itself becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, for without the acceleration and recklessness to fly for the challenge, the player will never leap into the stratosphere.  If a player fails to risk it all, fails to put everything on the line, failure is guaranteed.  He’ll never reach the mark. 

 

And then there’s the third, and perhaps most crucial, psychological battle when it comes to failure:  how do we respond to failure after it happens.  How does one cope with the humiliation and distraction of a high profile, highly visible failure?  In my own case, I remember such a failure one time during a solo performance.  I still remember how, as I played on after missing a note, I struggled to control self conscious thoughts and fears of doubt — as I continued to play in the performance — about whether I might make another mistake.  Instead of focusing on shaping the musical experience of my audience — hearing in my mind what I wanted the sound to be, aiming for the bar of the high jump, and taking the leap — I found myself far too distracted by focus on details of mechanics and fear of imperfection.  Fear, that self conscious absorption of stage fright and worrying what critics in the audience might think, caused my palms to sweat.  Even this made the brass instrument slippery in my hands.  The resulting insecurity of my grip on the instrument only heightened my fear of missing more notes.  Fortunately in that case the music was easy enough and well enough rehearsed that I could finish with a solid but unremarkable performance.  But that singularly self conscious brush with stage fright undermined my performance to such a degree that I became profoundly aware of the psychological component of performance, whether that performance is in sports, in music, or in life. 

So how did Asada perform, after her spectacular failure on the ice?   Did she collapse under the weight of self consciousness and fear of failure?  No!  It’s reported, “the error was soon forgotten as she completed six triple jumps, a double axel-double loop-double-loop combination and, in the final seconds, a double axel” (http://www.pr-inside.com/asada-wins-women-s-title-despite-big-r496968.htm).  In other words, she didn’t miss a beat.  

Here’s what she told a reporter of her thoughts:  ""Never give up, that’s what I’ve learned," smiled Asada, “This year, I missed my opening triple Axel again, but I learned that if I don’t give up on the rest of the elements, I can make up on the mistakes” (China Daily http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2008-03/22/content_6557525.htm).  Asada, the newspaper reported, “quickly regained her composure and produced an otherwise flawless routine, beating short program winner and European champion Carolina Kostner into second place.”  In spite of the breathtaking crash, she went on to win the gold medal. 

She set her goal, she maintained her focus, and she didn’t give up.  Truly, it’s not failure that matters in life, but how we respond to it.  No wonder, then,  that in World-Class figure skating, Mao Asada is the girl to watch!  


In our own lives, what standards will we set, what focus will we have, and what will our own response be when we fail?  I suggest the proper focus is not on the possibility of failure, but instead that we focus on that which is beyond possible, in order to reach what we otherwise could only dream of.  "For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self control" (2 Timothy 1:7).  Those words had not yet been written on the first Good Friday.  But fortunately for us, someone had a dream that extended beyond that ultimate, public, humilating failure.  HAPPY EASTER! 

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Churches in Guangzhou (Catholic and Protestant, with addresses)

March 2008

Easter 2008 is approaching! 

 
HAPPY EASTER WEEK
 
 
My blog is getting a lot of hits right now from people searching for English language churches in Guangzhou (both protestant and catholic) and for Easter Egg Dye. 
 
Here are addresses for some churches in Guangzhou: 
 
Catholic: 
 
Sacred Heart Cathedral (Seksat Church)
石室圣心大教堂
Address: 56 / 57 Yide Zhong Road (Yat Tak Road)
Yuexiu District, Guangzhou  510120
                 越秀区一德中路
 
Tel 20-8333 6761
Bus: Line No.8, 40, 58, 61, 82, 194. Near the Yide Road Stop.
Sunday English Mass

Opening Hours: 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. every Sunday

Shamian Catholic Church Our Lady of Lourdes
露德圣母堂
Address: 14 Main Street, Shamian Island, Liwan District, Guangzhou
                 广州市沙面大街14号
Bus: Line No.1, 6, 9, 25, 57, 66, 75, 217, 55. Near the Shi Zhongyiyuan (Guangzhou Hospital of Tradition Medicine) Stop. After getting off bus, cross bridge to Shamian Island and look for address.  Main Street is the Street in the center. 

Worship Hours: 9:30 a.m. every Sunday

Protestant Churches: 

 
Protestant Church on Shamian Island
From front (north) door of White Swan hotel, turn left and walk toward
U.S. Consulate Tower.  Church is on right. Meets 10:30 AM sundays
Sunday morning service is bilingual English and Mandarin
Bible studies in afternoon are Mandarin and Cantonese
 
Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship  (GICF)
Meets at Jingxing Hotel (Star Hotel, near East Train Station)
3/F, 89 Linhe Xi Lu, Tianhe District
Guangzhou
Tel 8755-2888
Sunday mornings (9:00 — 11:30)
Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship is only open to expats, spouses and their fiance’s by virtue of PRC laws. 
 
Henan Christian Church
基督教河南堂

Address: No.23, the 5th Lane, Hongde Road, Haizhu District, Guangzhou
                 洪德五巷23号
Bus: Line No. 9, 10, 31, 59, 75, 79, 239. Near the Hongde Road Stop
Tel 20-8442-2935
Service is in Cantonse but visitors are welcome

 Dongshan Christian Church
基督教东山堂
Address: No.9 Sibei Tongjin, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
                 越秀区寺贝通津9号
Worship Hours: 12:30 p.m.  every Saturday, 10:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m.  every Sunday
Service is bilingual in Mandarin and Cantonese (no English)
Visitors are welcome

Christian Church of Our Saviour
广州基督教救主堂

Address: No.184 Wanfu Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
                 万福路184号
Bus: Line No. 7, 36, 188, 194, 264, 519. Near the Wanfu Road Stop
Worship Hours: 9:00 a.m., 7:30 p.m. every Sunday

 

Zion Christian Church
基督教锡安堂

Address: No.392 Renmin Zhong Road, Liwan District, Guangzhou
                 人民中路392号
Bus: Line No.4, 31, 38, 102, 103, 134. Near the Renmin Zhong Road Stop

Worship Hours: 12:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m.  every Sunday

The above photos, Chinese addresses, and opening hours are sourced from :

http://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/node_10/node_35/node_89/node_363/2006/07/27/11539719476036.shtml    

Some of the churches have Good Friday services as well, call in advance to inquire. 
 
___________________
 
If you are looking for Easter Egg dye, I think the best bet is to look at Aussino’s or Corner Deli.  Rarely, Olivers and David’s have it as well.  Metro, Carrefour, Trust Mart, and local stores most often do not have it.  I saw some at City Super in Hong Kong just this weekend.  You will not find the fancier types of egg dyes here (swirl paints etc).   The best you will do is McCormick packets of food coloring.  Use wax crayons on hot eggs to make designs. 
 
David’s at Oakwood usually has some nice chocolates and chocolate bunnies.  Metro likewise usually has seasonal items such as chocolate bunnies.  Corner Deli often has them as well.  Easter Baskets can be obtained at Haizhu wholesale market. 
 
If you are looking for a nice cut of meat for Sunday dinner, many people enjoy the ham from the China Hotel Marriott Deli.  It can be ordered by the kilo.  Metro also has western style hams and other types of meat, albeit very expensive. 
 
Turkeys can be obtained from Aussino’s, Corner Deli, or from wholesale shops near Yide Lu.  Sometimes your houskeeper can be of great assistance in locating these items, particularly if she calls around to other housekeepers employed by expats. 
 
_______________________
 
Different subject
 
Perhaps you are Jewish.  There is at least one congregation in Guangzhou.  Here is the web address:  http://www.chabadgz.org/
 
_______________________
 
There is of course a large Muslim community in Guangzhou.  I read that the oldest Mosque in China is here.  While it is now well inland and does not welcome visitors, it used to abut the banks of the Pearl River.  Traders could sail their ships up to the dock, debark from their boat, and proceed straight to prayer.  Life of Guangzhou web page also links to two Mosques:
 
Huaisheng Mosque
怀圣寺

Address: No.56 Guangta Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
                 越秀区光塔路56号
Bus: Line No. 56, 58. Near the Guangda Road Stop.

Dongying Mosque
东营寺

Address: No.1 Xiaodongying, Yuehua Road, Yuexiu District, Guangzhou
                 越华路小东营1号
Bus: Line No. 6, 193, 264, 265. Near the Yuehua Road Stop.

_____________________ 
 
If you have any particular questions, send me a message or leave a comment.

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Christmas meditation #4: The Alpha and the Omega

 
 
"The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place." — Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
 
 
 
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670
National Gallery of Art
 
In my last Christmas Meditation, I promised to tie in the story of the Prodigal with the story of the Nativity.  At first glance, perhaps they are totally different.  One involves an innocent baby, the other a not-so-naïve son.  Proper writing etiquette for a good comparison – contrast study requires that as part of my analysis I elucidate the many differences between the two stories as well as discussing the similarities.  Yet, I find very few differences. 

 

It could be said that the story of the Prodigal involves a relationship between father and son; but so does the story of the Nativity.  Indeed, the pillar, the same thing that underlies each story, is a God who loves us so much that the grace of that love cannot be measured.  When we, the Prodigals, respond to that love, the result is forgiveness and reconciliation.  This is not to say there will never be consequences from sin.  In both the Prodigal’s world and in the world of the Nativity, there was imperfection and pain.  But separation from the love of God is never the end of the story. 

 

It also could be said that the story of the Prodigal involves redemption in an individual sense whereas the Nativity involves redemption in a collective sense.  But, in fact, the individual reformation of the Prodigal is not distinguishable in kind or degree from the transformation – the commitment – which faith in the Nativity demands of each of us.  The Nativity is the story of the Prodigal multiplied by as many humans as there exist on earth.  In the Nativity, humankind itself is the Prodigal: stained by Adam’s sin, lost, humankind achieves reconciliation with the Father through the victory of the One who leads the way.  Because the bottom line is that as far as each individual is concerned, any amount of sin is unacceptable.  We are all Prodigals, but the hope of the Nativity is offered to each, individually. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raphael, The Madonna of Foligno
(at the Vatican)

 http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g/ghirland/domenico/8spedale/index.html

Thus, as viewed through the lens of comparing what it is that is demonstrated by each story, the differences melt away.  In each story, the one who falls short is offered a cup that overflows with abundance of forgiveness and love, a love whose limits are boundless for the one who accepts the offer.  When we accept this offer, the liberation from sin and death is complete.  We are freed from a life of deprivation and eating slop intended for the pigs.  We can come into the knowledge of who we truly are:  God’s beloved children, liberated by Grace.

 

Hence we celebrate the birth of the One who made it possible.  Just as the father of the Prodigal could see the end, we too know the ending; the victorious triumph over sin and death.  We thus sing:  “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come, Let Earth Receive Her King!”  And we sing:  “Peace on Earth, and Mercy Mild, God and Sinner Reconciled!”   A message of love and reconciliation.  That’s what it’s all about.  A timeless message from an unbounded, timeless God, a God who beckons us with open hands, saying, “Welcome home, beloved Prodigal.” 

 

                             

 

Forgiving Father                          

Frank Wesley                          

http://www.lib.virginia.edu/area-studies/SouthAsia/Misc/Wesley/son5.gif

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Christmas Meditation #3: Return of the Prodigal

In my last blog entry, I suggested lectio divina as a way of spicing up one’s spiritual life.  A most striking example of the fruit this technique can bring is the book Henri Nouwen wrote about his own lectio divina journey in his meditation on the story of the prodigal son.  In Return of the Prodigal:  A Story of Homecoming (see link in my book list), Nouwen shares his reflections that were specifically aided by his meditations on Rembrandt’s painting by the same name, one of Rembrandt’s last works.  Nouwen’s musings on the scripture — and the painting — spanned over several months of time.    

   

(thanks to Web Gallery of Art for this illustration,

http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/r/rembran/painting/biblic3/prodig2.html )

 

It’s a beautiful story.  And a beautiful, deep painting.  But, at first glance, the story of the Prodigal Son – just like the story of the Nativity — seems a bit over-chewed, doesn’t it?  The story is so vivid that it’s the subject of children’s books, and then again tends to be the subject of at least one sermon per year in church.  It’s easy to understand why:  the story is vivid, the characters easy to visualize, the circumstances easy to imagine.  The scene of the Jewish son reduced not only to tending for unclean animals, but to eating slop intended as food for the unclean animals, is pretty dramatic, as is the homecoming itself.  The father running to greet his wayward son is a touching end that illustrates the elder man’s forgiveness in the face of the son’s humility and repentance.  It’s a beautiful illustration of God’s love for us wayward creatures. 

 

Yet, this visual picture actually just skims the surface.  Just as there is another layer to the Nativity, there is another layer to the story of the Prodigal.  The characters in the painting have none of the worldly beauty or cockiness sometimes apparent in Rembrandt’s earlier works.  Why did Rembrandt choose this subject to paint, near the end of his life?  Why did Nouwen choose it?

 

As if peeling an onion, Nouwen reveals layer after layer of complexity.  He notes, for example, the two very different hands of the father which are touching the son, one decidedly masculine and the other decidedly effeminate.  One old and one young.  At some point, his attention turns to the other characters in the scene, each of whom was surely included by Rembrandt for some purpose.  Nouwen ends up dwelling extensively on the unrepentant elder brother, who stands scowling from the sidelines.  In the older brother, Nouwen recognizes his own hardness of heart as a young man; Nouwen also discusses Rembrandt as a younger man, through exposition of Rembrandt’s personal biography. 

 

When the complexity resulting from the elder brother’s jealousy and misunderstanding is added into the tale, the story becomes more than a simple tale of a father and son reunited.  Lifetimes worth of complex relationships must be sorted out.  A hard hearted elder brother becomes the rejecting child, the new prodigal; an indulgent father reaps the consequences of many prior years of parenting decisions. The younger son can repent from his actions, but he cannot erase the fact that he has spent his half of the family inheritance and must therefore live in the future as a servant to his brother.  This family clearly has a lot of work to do before it will achieve peace.  The story isn’t quite as simple as it first appears.   

 

But, in my own meditations, this was not the aspect of the story that I found most striking.  Though inspired by my reading of Nouwen, my own wild revelation came more from my own quest and from my own meandering meditations.  Namely, I was most struck by the father and on what transpired just before the younger son left.  When his snide, young son came to the father demanding his inheritance “up front,” the son’s spiritual state was already clearly evident. It was already clear to the father – painfully clear — that the young man was going to go squander his inheritance living the high life.  It was clearly foreseeable that once the son spent his half of his father’s estate, he would have nothing left.  The end, though perhaps not pre-determined, was already known.  The father knew what would happen.  Because as I dwelt upon this story, it gradually dawned on me that the elderly father was not the fool that the son took him to be.  He knew what the son was about to do; he knew ahead of time that the young man was going to squander his inheritance. 

 

If so, then why did he allow the grand folly to proceed?  Why?   Tomorrow, I will tie this in to the Christmas story. 

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Christmas Meditation #2: Rediscovering Christmas

Yesterday I wrote about the formidible challenge of keeping Christmas from losing all real meaning in a secular world.  But, even assuming that we agree to keep the baby Jesus rather than an orgy of commercialism as the "reason for the season," does it even then sometimes seem as if the story is — well — sometimes a bit rehashed?  I mean, yes, it’s all warm and fuzzy and babies are cute and all.  And we love to welcome babies into our midst.  They are great cause for celebration.  But I mean really, at Christmas, for the umpteenth time, and the same baby?  He never even grows, he’s always just a newborn in a manger!  Do you ever feel that those same old same old sermons sometimes just get a bit, well, worn? 

 

If so, boy do I have a solution for you to spice up your prayer life!  It’s called "lectio divina," which in Latin means (more or less) to ponder the meaning of the word. Though it’s most famously associated with and propounded by St. Benedict, this technique is actually not unique to Christianity.  I believe it is a form of meditation called by many names by thoughtful people all over the world, widely used by most major world religions.  I would like to share it and offer it as a technique that can be used by a person from any religious tradition.  It can even be used to spice up your prayer life where the Nativity is concerned.

 

The technique is to take one verse of scripture and then to meditate on it.  Not just read it.  Meditate.  Dwell on the idea, imagine it, think about it from various aspects and angles.  From the web page of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gertrude, I quote: 

The actual process of lectio is as simple as it can be transforming.  Traditionally lectio is taught as four steps.  The first is lectio or reading.  Take a short passage of Scripture and read it over slowly and carefully.  What word or phrase seems to catch you or make you stop?  Take that word or phrase and repeat it slowly to yourself several times.

The next step is meditatio or meditation.  Ponder the word or phrase that came to you.  How is it speaking to you?  Where does it lead you?  What does it remind you of?  Spend some time listening to where it takes you.

Next, let your meditation become oratio or prayer.  Turn the insights of your meditation into a prayer.  It may be a prayer of thanksgiving, a plea for help, a request for the strength to change.  This prayer is simply offering to God whatever came from your insights in meditation.

Finally, from prayer move to contemplatio or contemplation.  This is a simple, wordless resting in God’s presence.  God knows our needs, our wounds and gifts, words are no longer needed.  Simply spend some resting under God’s loving gaze. 

 

http://www.stgertrudes.org/Ministry/Retreat/Online%20Retreat/Benedict/part_5.htm

 

I have to confess, lectio divina is my favorite prayer technique.  Perhaps that’s because something so simple is all I can manage, or perhaps it’s because it suits me well.  Even as I go about my ordinary routine, washing dishes perhaps, I can still think and meditate. 

 

I also like it because it seems particularly fruitful for me.  When one follows the same passage of scripture mentally, or prayerfully, for many days on end, it’s amazing what different insights emerge.  Sometimes the twists, turns, and eddies that one follow through extended meditation can lead far from where one might have imagined.  The Order of St. Gertrude writes, “[t]his encounter with scripture will not leave us unchanged, in God’s revealed word we receive strength and guidance for our continuing journey.” 

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Christmas Meditation #1: Sing A Song of Christmas

                                                 

 

The house is a mess, the dishes are undone, I’m all alone.  But the stockings are hung with care — on the knobs that hold the stairs — and, for some reason, it feels like Christmas today. 

 

Maybe it’s because today is the first day we’ve had where it is legitimately cold enough to wear a sweat shirt, and thus the first time I can wear any of my clothing that has Christmas themes to it.  Or perhaps it’s that familiar feeling of guilt that I always have during Christmas when there is so much still left undone.  Or, perhaps it’s because I’ve just come home from a school Christmas production.  Munchkin was a mouse in “The Night Before Christmas” (and a very cute one, I might add).  I’d prefer to think it was the Christmas mouse idea that makes me feel like it’s Christmas time, rather than guilt or weather . . . . 

 

                                         

 

The school was careful to be politically correct and only sing secular songs: songs like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  It’s my opinion that Americans in the USA tend to be more sensitive about the “religion” issue than is warranted.  The strength of a multicultural environment is that, living in an international setting, we become knowledgeable about many different traditions.  We deliberately honor our friendships with our multicultural friends by learning about each other’s beliefs and traditions.  For example, since living in China, I’ve learned more about Diwali, Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Ya Sui (Chinese mid winter festival) than I knew in the USA.  Last year, as we strolled along the streets of Guangzhou on the night of Ya Sui, it was so nice when strangers also out strolling in the evening would chime to us, “Merry Christmas!”  Christmas was our celebration, not theirs, but they had the courtesy to learn something about it and I appreciated that.    

 

And so it is with some sense of regret that I see the meaningful part of Christmas – my own religious tradition — being blacked out by the fat, felt tip marker of self censorship, depriving young learners of the opportunity to learn about an important world tradition.  In the name of political correctness, not only traditional Christmas carols but most of the story that underlies Christmas is erased from minds, memories, and vocabularies.  Children who would love to learn about Christmas and what it might stand for, as a matter of natural curiosity about religions of the world, are prevented from acquiring knowledge of a few thousand years worth of western heritage and tradition.  My sister told me of standing next to some people in one of the world famous art museums, gazing at one of the world reknowned works of art, and the people had no clue what the painting was about.  If they had received any instruction whatsoever in the history of their own culture, they would have known the painting as well as its circumstances.  Such is the cost of ignorance:  it only takes lack of education in one generation to wipe out centuries of heritage.   

 

Thus whitewashed, gradually being snuffed from the collective memory of society, the holiday becomes as meaningless and utterly commercial as the seven tiny Santas I once saw waving from the a storefront display at a big, Chinese shopping mall – looking as if all they needed to complete the picture was for Snow White to appear there with them, dressed in her matching Christmas suit and handing out discount cards designed to encourage people to buy even more “stuff” — celebrating a giant binge of consumerism at the height of the winter solstice.  No wonder the rest of the world thinks that rampant consumption and consumerism is what western culture – and American culture in particular — is all about.  Out of fear of causing offense, we utterly fail to communicate the basis for our values, what we hold dear, and the true basis for our traditions.  Sometimes, we fail to communicate our heritage even to our own children. 

 

 

 

As a parting thought then, I suggest that we celebrate a song of Christmas.  Let vibrant voices ring out in the traditional, sacred Christmas carols.  Be honest about the Christmas story.  It’s not about Santa Claus or Father Christmas.  Father Christmas is a spirit of giving, a symbol only of a much deeper, more meaningful gift:  

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but should have eternal life.   (John 3:16) 

 

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby, but not just any baby.  It represents the birth of hope.  This is what we Christians need to show we are excited about:  the fact that there is a place for hope and redemption in a world where there is so much pain and brokenness.  A true cause for celebration.  Forget guilt, forget cold weather.  I’m going to be happy right here where I am, and gonna’ put on a little Christmas music, too!    

 

 

   

Adoration of the Magi for the Spedale degli Innocenti (1488)
by Domenico GHIRLANDAIO. 
Thank you to Web Gallery of Art,

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