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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Focus: A God Bothering

A God Bothering: Matthew 15: 10 - 28

[Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon]. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."  But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly.

Dear Friends,

“God bothering:” that’s what Rumpole author John Mortimer cynically called prayer. But the term almost seems apropos in this colloquy between the Canaanite woman and Jesus. She’s a nudge. She won’t take no for an answer. In response, I think Christ is “messing with her head.” He knows where he wants to go with this dialogue. He knows the lesson he wants to teach. He knows how very far he has to bring his chosen people.

Jesus is the embodiment of the new covenant, preaching to the faithful of the old covenant. Their image of God is tribal and vengeful. Their relationship with God is shaped by ritualistic adherence to regulations governing virtually every aspect of life. Among those regulations is a prohibition against speaking with an unrelated woman and a codified contempt for gentiles.

Jesus breaches both rules by engaging the Canaanite woman. And here is a point contested by theologians for years. Was this the human nature of Jesus, raised within the strictures of his people, reflexively dismissive and then won over by the woman’s persistent faith? Or was it the divine nature of Jesus, preaching to a wider audience, dramatizing the coming of the new covenant?

Whatever the interpretation, the results are the same. Christ hears and answers her prayer. And more significantly, he opens the door of salvation a little wider, engaging more and different people than envisioned by Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The faith of the Canaanite woman is part of a continuum of converted outsiders and outcasts along with the Roman centurion, the Samaritan, the woman taken in adultery, the lepers… appropriately, all documented by Matthew, the contemptible collector of taxes

Obviously this is a gospel about the power of prayer. But beyond that, it is a gospel of God’s love available for the asking to every single one of his children --- every tribe, every race, every hue, every sex, every sexual orientation, the young, the old, the saints and the sinners, the lowly and the exalted.

Lord, help me. It says it all, both to God and to ourselves. It acknowledges our total dependence on God – our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. Our loving God invites you and me to “bother” him anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Far and Wide!

This article from ENS certainly caught my eye!  It is written by the Rev. Deacon Lori Erickson of Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, IA.  Lori is an experienced, entertaining author.  Her blog is titled "The Holy Rover"; she also contributes to  Thanks so much, Lori!

Prayers in the Wind

My home church in Iowa City, Iowa, will soon have an addition to its grounds: a kiosk that invites passersby to leave a prayer request in a notebook and tie a ribbon around a nearby tree as a symbol of their petition. Because our church stands next to a well-traveled sidewalk, we hope that the little shrine will catch the attention of those walking by, an invitation to enter into sacred space and time in the midst of a busy city.

Our rector had the idea for the kiosk on a sabbatical trip to Wales, where similar prayer stations are common in places where Celtic Christian traditions remain strong. But this practice of symbolizing prayers with bits of cloth exists in other faiths as well. One of my favorite sacred sites, Bear Butte in South Dakota, has many pine trees that bear strips of cloth tied around their branches. Weathered by the strong prairie sun and wind, they bear witness to the prayers of those who placed them there while taking part in vision quests and other ceremonies.

I was reminded of my church's new prayer shrine on a recent visit to a place that on the surface seems very different from my spiritual home: Deer Park, a Tibetan Buddhist center near Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1975, the complex is one of the nation's leading centers for this tradition-in-exile, home to a community of monks and nuns and visited numerous times by the Dalai Lama. Its central temple is a gilded marvel, full of the ornate iconography and brilliantly colored paintings that are a hallmark of the branch of Buddhism that flourished in Tibet before the Chinese invasion of the 1950s.

While the temple is beautiful, I was most taken by the prayer flags that encircled its stupa, a sacred tower that symbolizes the Buddha's enlightenment. I'd seen such flags before, for they've become a relatively common sight in my hometown, but I'd never given much thought to their significance. Watching them flutter in the wind, I realized how similar they are to the prayer ribbons that will soon grace my own Episcopal church.

A kindly Tibetan monk explained that the symbols and mantras on the flags are meant to broadcast blessings to the surrounding countryside. The slightest movement of the wind carries the prayers far and wide, he said, spreading Buddhist teachings on peace and compassion.

It is intriguing to compare the Tibetan prayer flags with our Christian prayer ribbons. There are differences in how they are viewed, certainly, for Tibetan Buddhists believe the flags are primarily for the benefit of the world, while in Christian use the ribbons symbolize the prayer of an individual.

But seeing those bright flags waving in the wind, I think our two traditions have much in common. Whether we tie these bits of cloth outside a church, on a sacred mountain in South Dakota, or in a Tibetan temple, these outward symbols reflect our inner yearnings. They are quiet reminders that the world contains more than the ephemera of daily life, the endless flow of worries and distractions.

I don't know what will happen with our little prayer kiosk on the corner of College and Gilbert Streets. I fear it might be vandalized. I hope it won't simply be ignored. But I think there is a chance that it will be used, and that the tree next to it will gradually fill with brightly colored strips of cloth. I can imagine a worried university student pausing for a moment to tie a ribbon and say a prayer for an upcoming exam, or an elderly man stopping on his way to the library to place a ribbon on a branch in memory of a beloved wife.

No matter where these fluttering pieces of cloth are tied, it is the same wind and the same spirit that stirs them, bearing witness and broadcasting blessings.

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