Celebration

There are two marks of true celebration: a complete and utter release from a feeling of care and concern and a sense of joy that bubbles up and bursts from our hearts. In the Bible God actually commands that the Israelites gather to celebrate communally every year and that the congregate to throw a huge celebration for the Year of Jubilee every seven years. This idea that celebration can be a command and can be a discipline is strange. It seems odd at first to thing about forcing ourselves to celebrate, to put effort into experiencing joy. 

Richard J. Foster explains that real celebration can not be forced. When it is, the result is not God honoring and not life giving. It must flow from our connection to Christ and our experience of living in His will. This is why celebration is a discipline, it requires us to follow Paul’s admonition to set our minds on the things of Christ: things that are good, lovely, just and true. Forster writers that “[celebration] is the result of a consciously chosen way of thinking and living.” When we are trusting God, when we know we are in God’s will we are freer to live, to think and to experience the joy in life around us.

God’s commands to celebrate in scripture are never demanded in a vacuum. They are coupled with reasons to trust in God’s provision and to live fully in God’s will. The Israelites celebrated God’s liberation from Egypt, God’s providence and salvation through Mordecai and Esther (in the book of Esther), they celebrated God’s presence with them in the desert and God’s incredible restoration through the Year of Jubilee when every slave was freed, every debt was forgiven and every inheritance was restored every seven years.

Our celebration can also come from stopping to remember the good things God has done and the gifts that God has given us. It can come from recognizing how we have experienced God’s salvation or freedom. It can also come from catching a glimpse of the way God has provided for us physically, mentally and spiritually. We can dance and revel in our God given ability to move, we can sing and praise God’s love, we can also laugh at the beautiful and ridiculous gifts of art and humor God has given us through other people’s intellects and imaginations, we can gather with friends or family and find small ways to cherish the gifts of life and community God has lavished on us. 

It is these practices that we build our ability to experience God’s joy. In turn, the experience of God’s joy builds our faith and strengthens us to live more fully in God’s will. It becomes a feedback loop of ever expanding trust and celebration.

Exercise for today: 

Choose something to celebrate today. Whether it is calling a good friend for chat and spending time remembering your best times together, watching your favorite comedy movie to laugh at the brilliance of the writers and actors or singing or playing along to your favorite music – find a way to connect to your joy through engaging in a thankful celebration of the good things God has created.

Worship

“Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of [God]” (Foster). This is the premise and truth that Richard J. Foster begins with in his chapter on worship in “Celebration of Discipline.” Worship is more than singing songs, coming together and hearing God’s word read and taught. It is an activity of our heart and a posture that shapes our lives. Foster writes that scripture teaches this deeper significance of worship: 

A striking feature of worship in the Bible is the people gathered in what we could only call “holy expectancy.” They believed they would actually hear the Kol Yahweh, the voice of God…[t]hey were coming into the awful, glorious, gracious presence of the Living God. They gathered with anticipation, knowing that Christ was present among them and would teach them and touch them with his living power.” (Foster)

God’s people gathered to hear the very voice of God, and they expected to leave changed. 

Gathering in worship is important. When we gather as a God’s people, with an expectancy of Christ’s presence, our gathering is transformed. Our spirits and minds are “lifted upward” (Foster). Foster admits there is psychology to this, but as people of faith we also know there is something more. When we witness the Spirit’s work in others lives, when we communally seek God, we share with one another in the greater and deeper call to connection with the very Body of Christ. We become one with Christ and one with one another. 

But even when we are not able to gather collectively, we can still enter into a posture of worship that we can carry with us into communal spaces. As Foster stated, worship is simply responding to God’s love. You can do that as you lay in bed in the morning, wash the dishes, dig through piles of data or research or even as you wander through the aisle at the grocery store and marvel at the variety of items and brands there are to choose from. It can start with a simple act of “stilling” our thoughts and activities and allowing ourselves to focus on God’s goodness, God’s character or God’s gifts to us. 

However, Foster reminds us that worship is a discipline. It can be learned and we can grow in our ability to worship God. He lists a handful of ways to pursue this growth: taking time to seek God quietly each day, exploring different types of worship, taking time to enter into corporate worship, allowing ourselves to unified through prayer and worship with others, learning to absorb distractions with graciousness and recognizing that worship is a sacrifice – a gift we give to God. 

Exercise for today: 

Set aside time to listen to a worship song. Before you begin, find a spot where you can focus, and shut off your other distractions. Dedicate the length of the song to thinking about who God is and the ways your life has been blessed and shaped by God. See if you can take that feeling of gratitude or hope that results with you out into the rest of the day. You may not be perfect at it at first, but give yourself time – it is a discipline after all. 

Here are some songs to use if you need a suggestion: 

“Psalm 34” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfW2mkkMTAg&list=RDMM&start_radio=1&rv=8kvFtXphmMU or Shane and Shane – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOzf0VrDNGU

“Voice of Blood” by Hildegard Von Bingen ://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS28jyW1bLY

Baba Yatu, The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili by the Alex Boyé, BYU Men’s Chorus/ Philharmonic

 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsINANZ6Riw

Prayer

“Praying for you.” It is something we say to one another and often do for one another. And frankly, it means a lot to hear that from someone. It encourages us and strengthens us in our faith and as a community. 

Prayer can seem really complicated, but I think that is why Jesus reminded the disciples that it could be simple – as simple as the ten lines of the Lord’s prayer. The disciples asked for a lengthy teaching on prayer. They said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Most Rabbi’s of Jesus’s day spent days and weeks teaching their disciples to pray. Jesus simply gave them a summary. He told them to come to God like children – open, eager and expecting God to answer, and to pray for God’s will to permeate their lives and the world.  

In approaching prayer it helps to listen and learn from those who have engaged with it deeply. In fact, Richard Foster writes about prayer as a learning exercise in and of itself. He writes, “[i]t was liberating for me to understand that prayer involved a learning process. I was free to question, to experiment, even to fail, for I knew I was learning” (Celebration of Discipline). He described how he started with small prayers, for a cold to dissipate or earache to heal, not the big things like cancer or life and death matters. Then he waited to see God work. He also noted that in those prayers he learned to pray with confidence. That posture of confidence came from first seeking God’s heart. Foster looked back to writers like Teresa of Avila and King David and realized that they first sought to understand God’s will, to enter into God’s presence, before seeking to lay their concerns and desires before God. And Jesus taught the same thing, the Lord’s prayer starts with “…thy kingdom come” and ends with supplication and requests. Foster learned that as he sought God, and saw the fruits of his small prayers, his confidence in prayer grew and his connection to God deepened. 

Seeking God’s will, God’s heart, places us in the proper posture for prayer. It reminds us of God’s love for us. Tim Keller write that we experience God’s love through prayer, “[p]rayer is the way to sense and appropriate this access [to God] and fatherly love, and to experience the calm and strength in one’s life that results from such assurance of being cared for.” We can come to God with confidence because God promises that what we seek we will find. When we truly seek to do God’s will, God will answer those prayers in mighty and surprising ways. 

InterVarsity recently shared this prayer Robert J. Foster from his book entitled “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.” It is a great reminder to recenter ourselves in God and in God’s will. 

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.

May Your will be my delight today.

May You have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.

Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.

I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Through prayer we connect with the heart of God – for us and for others. It allows our prayers to be grounded in love and allows God’s love to flow through us and into the world around us. 

Exercise for today: 

Find a quiet spot and position yourself in a space and in a way that will not distract you. Re-read the prayer above as your prayer today, reading slowly one line at a time. If you feel a need to pray more deeply, pause after each line and listen for God’s voice. If distracting thoughts pop in, talk to God about what is surfacing in your heart and mind, and then proceed to the next line. End with a minute or two of silence (whatever is comfortable) and listen for God to speak to you.

Meditation

Meditation

A couple of months ago a friend introduced me to a meditation app on my phone called, “Calm.” It has hundreds of meditation lessons and some bedtime stories for adults (G rated) that can help you fall asleep. The app has exercises for stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness – and more breathing exercises than you can possibly imagine. Most people think of apps like “Calm” or books from the self-help section of a bookstore when it comes to meditation. Meditation as presented in those resources promises that with practice you can calm your anxiety, lower your blood pressure or even elevate your mood.

The meditation written about in the Bible and performed by Christians for centuries is simpler than most of the practices you will encounter on-line or in a bookstore. Richard J. Foster writes that “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey [God’s] word” (Celebration of Discipline, 15). When we meditate we create space in our lives and hearts, so that Christ can enter, and God can speak. The skill of Christian meditation, and the ability to connect with God through it, improves with time and practice. 

Meditation can be as simple as finding a place to sit (or stand) that is quiet, and then listening purposely to what God is saying to you. Christian meditation can also involve nature, taking time to look carefully at a tree, listening to birds singing or watching a squirrel as it digs in the earth. The goal is seeking God’s voice and stilling our own thoughts long enough to be open to “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that speaks through our personal whirlwinds. Meditation can also involve scripture, a practice called “meditatio Scripturarum” in which the reader reads a word, verse, or a passage and then waits to hear what God is saying to them through God’s word. This type of meditation can also involve imagination, not to make up meanings or interpretations, but to think about what it would be like to be present in the story. The idea is to think about what it would be like to be in the upper room with Christ during the last supper – the sounds that would have been heard, the food that would have been eaten, and the tension that built up in the room when Jesus named Judas as His betrayer. 

Regardless of the form of meditation we choose, the practice of meditation can bring us closer to the heart of God. It allows us to slow down and re-order our lives. It reminds us that God’s presence surrounds us and uplifts us. Through it, God will give us insight into both the mundane and the divine. God will show us how to love our friends, and what it means to step into God’s presence. And it is a practice. When we first start out we might need to set aside time to meditate, to find a specific chair or room to sit in. But as we practice it will get easier to hear God’s voice. And as St. Teresa of Avila wrote during her years-long quest to enter God’s presence more fully through prayer and meditation, “God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” 

Exercise for today: 

Meditate on Luke 8:22-25

Choose a place to sit and read that is quiet, and where you will not get interrupted. Pray before you get started and ask God to open your heart and mind to the Spirit’s leading as you read. Then find the passage in your Bible. The passage tells the story about Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. 

Before you begin to read the passage, take a few deep breaths and allow your mind and heart to settle. Then take a minute to think about the context of the story: Jesus had been teaching the crowds and healing people along the edge of the sea of Galilee, the disciples had been with Him. At the beginning of Luke 8:22-25 Jesus and the disciples left the crowds behind them and stepped into a boat which would take them across the Sea of Galilee. See if you can picture the crowds and shoreline, and then begin to read. Read slowly, picturing the boat, the disciples and the storm as it begins to rise. When you have finished reading, spend a few moments (or minutes) in silence listening, and then end in prayer to God. Talk to God about what you felt, what you are wondering about, and what you learned – about God and about yourself.

The Disciplines

Every summer I find myself looking for ways to relax, disconnect and recharge. Summer sunshine, long days of light and the slower pace demanded by the heat and humanity of Michigan summers, coupled with vacation time with friends, does wonders for my soul. Those lengthened days and easier rhythms of life often open up more time to reflect and do some actual soul searching. These past few weeks I have had a growing desire to pause and determine what practices I want to take into the coming year. Getting up earlier, taking more time to read scripture, adding a few more helpings of vegetables into my diet are all on the list. 

But I also know that I want to go deeper. The fatigue and tension of the past year is still lingering, and I know that I need to connect to God and connect to others in lifegiving and heart strengthening ways. I long to catch a glimpse of God’s shalom – God’s full-bodied, all-encompassing, world healing peace this summer. So, I decided I needed to take a journey through some of the spiritual disciplines found in Richard J. Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.” And I would like to invite you with me on that journey. 

Beginning next Tuesday, I am going to be posting a short reflection on a different discipline each week, for the next five weeks, with a short exercise connected to the discipline. The reflections will cover: Meditation, Prayer, Worship, Celebration and Fellowship. All of these disciplines are “disciplines of engagement,” actions and activities that invite us to engage with God and with one another. They help us build habits that move us toward deeper lasting connection and love for God and with another.  

There is no exercise tied to a discipline today, but I have include an exercise as a sample of the types of exercises you will see each week (this one would be for meditation): 

Exercise for today:

Read Psalm 1 three times slowly. 

  • The first time you read the passage consider: what does it tell you about God? 
  • The second time you read the passage consider: what does it tell you about God’s love and care for God’s people? 
  • The third time you read the passage consider: what is the passage telling you about the way God loves and cares for you? 

Then take some time to talk to God in prayer about what you have heard and or what you are feeling. 

Where Do We Go From Here? 

This coming Saturday, Campus Edge Fellowship is hosting an event entitled: Where Do We Go From Here? A Conversation on Calling and Vocation for Graduate and Professional Students. It is open to all current MSU graduate and professional students – and to recent graduates as well. It centers around finding our calling as Christ followers in our individual contexts and careers. Here is the description of the event if you or someone you know might be interested in attending:

Where Do We Go From Here? A Conversation on Calling and Vocation for Graduate and Professional Students

Date: April 10

Time: 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Where: On-line via Zoom

Are you questioning your plans for graduate school or your post-graduation plans? Do you wonder if there might be more to life than the plans you already have in place? Are you losing sight of what you were meant to do because you are so busy pursuing what you think you should do?

In his book “Let Your Life Speak,” Parker Palmer addresses the idea of vocation, suggesting that we listen for the calling God has put on each of our lives in order to recognize the work that God has uniquely gifted us to do: 

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

Campus Edge Fellowship invites you to an evening dedicated to exploring these questions of calling and vocation. This interactive event will feature a short talk about vocation by Lorelei Blackburn, guided reflective exercises, breakout room discussions, and a roundtable panel featuring five discussants who will help us consider the ways God may call us after graduate school–sometimes in unexpected directions and sometimes to the very places we planned to go. 

Email info@campusedge.com to register for the event. We’ll send you a Zoom link the day of the event. 

Lenten Reflections Week 7: Rest and Sabbath

Scripture: Genesis 2:1-3

Reflection: Often we look at humankind as the final and most important work of creation. After all, when God finished creating humankind, God looked at the whole world and called it “very good.” However, the scriptural account of creation does not end there. In his book “Living the Sabbath”, Norman Wirzba argues that the final act of creation was truly the creation of the Sabbath, the “rest, tranquility, serenity and peace of God” that all of creation is invited into. Passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy echo this idea by reminding God’s people to “keep the Sabbath holy,” to refrain from work and to give their animals and land respite each week and every seven years. 

The Old Testament emphasizes the importance of Sabbath as a rhythm of life. It is included in the ten commandments, and honoring it sets God’s people up as examples to the nations. But Jesus helps us truly understand God’s intention for the Sabbath. When the disciples are chided for picking grain to eat Jesus tells the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath is not about a prescriptive act. It is not meant as a limitation, but a gift. It is a reminder to cease our busyness and to pause and contemplate God’s world in its vast array of beauty. Honoring Sabbath reminds us to set aside time to experience God’s life giving peace and to extend it to all of creation. 

Suggested action: As we head to Easter and the resurrection of life it represents, take some time to think about which of the suggested actions brought the most life into your week and prayerfully consider adding it to your daily or monthly routines. And because part of this exercise is about connection, to God, to creation and to others – consider inviting friends or family into the exercise with you. 

Suggested resources:  “To the Ends of the Earth” (Vimeo) and “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” and “An Inconvenient Truth” (both on Prime) and the books “Don’t Even Think About It” by George Marshall and “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas.

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Artist and title unknown

Lenten Reflections Week 6: Humans and the Earth

Scripture: Genesis 1:24-31

Reflection: The word “created” is used sparingly in scripture with it most often referring to God’s work in creating the world. However, the first chapter of Genesis uses it five times. The chapter opens with a statement that God “created the heavens and the earth.” The birds and the fish get that special designation as “God created” as well. And finally, when the text talks about the creation of humankind it uses the word “created” three times. 

It is always important to look out for repetition in scripture. It means something. It always asks us to take a deeper look at what is being said. There is deep repetition in the verses that describe God’s creation of humanity. These verses remind us that God made us, that we are made in God’s image and that God chose to create humans in different sexes (plural) that reflect that image. But the repetition also does something more, it reminds us that we are in fact created beings. 

That “created-ness” should give us pause when we think of God’s mandate for us “to rule” over the other parts of God’s created world. It reminds us that like the earth and the sky, like the fish and the birds, we were created by God for a purpose. Our rulership is a positional one, not one of materiality. We are made of the same building blocks and atoms as the world around us and our origins all begin with the same Originator. But we are special because we are called to reflect our creator’s heart for the world, to care for and rejoice in everything that God declares “good.”


Suggested action: Buy fair-trade chocolate and coffee, and purchase sustainably-raised meat. Plan a garden that will provide habitat for birds and insects around your home: pollinator flowers or shrubs for shelter. If you are able, make a donation to an organization that works for justice for God’s creation such as A Rocha (https://www.arocha.org/en/) or choose one of the actions from the Climate Caretakers website (https://climatecaretakers.org/take-action).

Image: Katsushika Hokusai, “Peasants and Travelers in Autumn Landscape

Lenten Reflections Week 5: Birds, Sea Creatures

Scripture: Genesis 1:20-23

The image of God filling the sky and the waters with owls, flamingos, sparrows, tadpoles, starfish, whales, sea urchins and swans is a beautiful one. It is as if God looked at the blank canvas of the world and spread life and color across it, and called it good. 

The variety God created is so vast that we are still discovering new birds and new sea creatures on a yearly basis. In fact scientists estimate we have only discovered 20% of the world’s life forms, and have only explored 5% of the sea. But the reality is that we are losing species faster than we are finding them – in fact some of the newly discovered species went directly on the endangered species lists. Knowing about them helps scientists preserve them, but we can be a part of that preservation process by lessening our impact on the environment around us. 

The book of Matthew tells us about how much God cares about everything God created. Jesus reminds his disciples of God’s care for them by reminding them of God’s love for His creation. He says to them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29).

The truth is that we are all in God’s care, as are the birds, insects, amphibians and fish. We are all woven into the fabric and splendor of God’s world and with each strand we lose we miss out on a glimpse of God’s handiwork and the beauty and whimsy of the diversity of the world we live in. God cares for all of it and calls for us to do the same.

Suggested action: This week use reusable bags, try making your own cleaning products with vinegar, water and baking soda, and try using cotton cloths instead of paper towels. Avoid take-out food. Plan to purchase ecostrips for your laundry, and shampoo and soap in bars rather than liquid soaps and shampoo. Consider alternatives for coffee, tea and snacks that use a lot of packaging.

Suggested resources: Two films –  “Black Fish” (Netflix) and “The Memory of Fish” (Prime) and check out these two links for examples of fish and birds that have been recently discovered: 

https://www.audubon.org/news/10-new-birds-described-biggest-avia-discovery-more-century

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/22202733/2020-new-species

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: M.C. Escher, “5th Day of Creation”

Lenten Reflections Week 4: Sun, Moon and Stars

Scripture: Genesis 1:14-19

On the fourth day of creation God created the sun, moon and stars. With that act, God also created our means of tracking days, staying warm and feeling a sense of wonder when we look at the night sky. In most early cultures the sun, moon and stars were worshiped. They were given names, festivals and sacrifices. But the book of Genesis points to a different truth – that God created and controls the lights in the sky and that those lights do not control us, at least not in the way early cultures understood them. They still play a huge role in our lives. The moon controls the tides, the stars help us navigate and understand the vastness of the galaxy and the sun warms our planet and causes things to grow…by God’s design. 

In our day to day lives it is easy to believe that we are no longer as dependent on those heavenly bodies, and therefore less dependent on their creator. Electricity has reduced our need to pattern our days on the sun and moon’s movements. It has also in some ways pulled our eyes from the wonder of the heavens by giving us flashing screens and new worlds to contemplate on our phones, TV’s, tablets and computers. We are less likely to “consider the heavens” as Psalm 8 suggests that we do. We are less likely to remember the glory of the God that created us, created the galaxy – and who called it good. If you have time this week, read through Psalm 8 and take a walk outside in sunshine and look up at the starry night sky. Let the heavens remind you of God’s love and care.

Suggested action: During this week, try to eliminate as much electricity from your life as possible. Light only the area in a room that you need for your activities, and only the room that you are in. Try a week with no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, television, or Youtube cat videos…instead try candlelit dinners, use your phone only at a set time each day, use a drying rack instead of your dryer, unplug appliances when not in use, and turn off lights when not in the room. Instead of TV or social media, take a walk, play a board game with a housemate or family member, have a virtual “coffee time” with a friend on the phone, read a book, plant something, or start a new hobby. 

Suggested film: “To the Ends of the Earth” (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/endsofearthfilm) and “The Future of Energy: Lateral Power of the People” (Amazon Prime)

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Edvard Munch, “The Sun”