The Song of the Bird

(scroll down to the date of my latest post)

Challenges for the thinking Christian: “Why does the bird sing?” …This is my contemplative page. To set the tone I’ve shared Anthony DeMello’s “The Song of the Bird” to stimulate your contemplative thought. Below this I will post periodic “Quips,Quotes,& Prayers” to stimulate the exercise of contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is mankind to God communication involving “dwelling in the space of the question” in deep reflection and meditation.

Instead of springing reflexively to the answer mode, one meditates at length on the question or commentary at hand allowing God to engage us in a journey. FYI: It took me five years of meditation to arrive at MY solution to this question. It was a beautiful journey… Go find YOUR answer…You’ll find my solution hidden somewhere on this website. (LOL)

 

The Song of the Bird

(a contemplative brain teaser)

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the master, “God is the unknown and the unknowable.

Every statement about Him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.”

The disciples were bewildered. “Then why do you speak of Him at all?”

“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

An ancient koan(riddle) shared by Anthony DeMello, Jesuit thinker

Quips, Quotes, & Prayers

Tuesday, July 30,2018    These words from Meister Eckhart, a German mystical theologian from the 14th century, are a lovely invitation to us:We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.”

Thursday, June 14,2018, Flag Day Reflections from James Howell, Pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte::

Today is Flag Day, conjuring up old schooldays recollections of Betsy Ross, the Star Spangled Banner, and those six soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima. Today is also my sister-in-law’s birthday; as a little girl she felt great delight and honor that so many people put out flags to celebrate her day.
   And then, like all good things, flags become a source of contention, strife, even intimidation. Refusals to pledge to or honor the flag feel like unpatriotic deviousness to some, and like patriotic courageousness to others. The Rebel flag evidently is a source of pride to some, but a symbol of hatred to so many others. I’m one who gets annoyed by flag bikinis and beer mugs, which violate the U.S. Flag code and trivialize a valued symbol.
   Perhaps you know the cute children’s hymn, “His banner over me is love.” If Jesus raised a flag for his movement, it would be love. Jesus’ flag would be tattered, like the one that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Jesus’ flag would be, not a flag of triumph, but a white flag of surrender, as he didn’t fight but gave himself peacefully and sacrificially. Christian warriors emblazoned crosses on their flags and armor when they marched off to slaughter Muslims and Jews in the Crusades – and Jesus shuddered in grief.
   In a way, a flag is a declaration of identity, and maybe a prayer. Lisa used to sew these cool flags for various occasions, which we’d perch on the front of the house: a big pencil for the first day of school, a cake and candle for one of the kids’ birthday, and of course a dark blue field with big white letters, DUKE, on the day of a big game. If you bother putting out a flag, you’re saying We have a kid in school, or We root for Duke, or We’re Americans and proud of it. High Point University boasts a colonnade of flags from all over the world, celebrating their internationally-diverse student body and that learning is about a very large, wonderful world.
   So then it’s a prayer too, right? The American flag might invite, not strident pride, but a humble prayerfulness that our country might be good, and fulfill the dreams of its people and the world. A First-day-of-school flag might be a prayer for children to learn and thrive. Maybe when we see flags, the decorative ones, our national flags today, or the flags of other nations, we might look deeply enough to notice the dreams and aspirations of people for what, at the end of the day, only Jesus can deliver, the love, the purpose, the belonging, the goodness.

Saturday, April 28,2018:   Finding the Gold within ourselves:

Until we have discovered our own identity and gifts, we tend to idolize and imitate others and put them on a pedestal. It’s a kind of infatuation that eventually will disappoint and disillusion us. We also fall in love with the people who hold the power that we ourselves want: physical attractiveness, money, power, position, talent, or influence.

We worship others for what they do for us temporarily, and in doing that we miss the value and foundation that we ourselves possess. Sooner or later we will have to withdraw OUR gold from this unstable security box. If not we will remain permanently poor. ….Richard Rohr in On the Threshold of Transformation.

Thursday, April 19: This from Rev Jas Howell, Myers Park UMC, Charlotte, NC:

There is a marvelous statue on the shore of the Sea of Galilee that commemorates a remarkable moment recorded in John 21. The disciples have been out fishing all night, catching nothing at all. Then, “just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach.” But they didn’t recognize him. He hollered across the water for them to pitch their nets in one more time but on the other side of the boat – and they hauled in 153 fish! Then Jesus cooked breakfast for them. I love that detail and try to envision it in my mind.
After breakfast, Jesus pulled Simon Peter aside and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Peter responded, “Lord, you know that I love you” – three times. How merciful, how insightful of Jesus to give Peter this opportunity to rectify his three denials just a few nights earlier! Peter could honestly say he loved Jesus, even though under pressure he had denied even knowing him. Jesus understood. Jesus didn’t retaliate. He brought healing.
   Perhaps at the end of the day, this is prayer: simply saying to God, “You know that I love you.” This is what God wants, and yearns for. What did Jesus pinpoint as the greatest verse in Scripture? “You shall love the Lord your God.” We live in God’s love by… loving God.
   We Americans get mixed up about love, thinking it’s a mood or a swelling emotion that flares up or doesn’t. But love is more real, more solid. It’s like the realization a child might have of the substantial, consistent sacrificial love of a parent, or the steady sharing over many years through joys and sorrows of a deep friendship. Or even more – as God made us and the whole world, gives us breath and sustenance and meaning and hope.
   How do we love Jesus? Prayer is big. We want to talk with those we love. Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” We love Jesus by loving the people Jesus loves. And that’s not just the obvious people or way of living. Mysteriously, and with an intense challenge, Jesus tells Peter (and us), “When you were young, you girded yourself and went where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Sounds like old age… but it’s also following Jesus’ call, doing God’s will.
I like to phrase it this way: it’s not about what I want to do, or even what I want to do for God. It’s what God wants me to do. That may well and probably will take me somewhere I didn’t wish to go. But God is already there – like Jesus on the beach that morning.
   Thomas Merton once prayed, “Let this be my only consolation, that wherever I am, You, my Lord, are loved.” I might bungle a great many things. I might have much or little; I might thrive or suffer; I might go here, or there. But wherever I am, whatever is going on, if I can say “Lord, you know that I love you,” all will be well.

April 10,2018  Quote from Annie Dillard:  On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.Annie Dillard

It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”

 

04/05/2018 Rev James Howell is one my favorite Christian bloggers in the Country. I’m sharing his post Easter blog.titled Prayer:Uprising :

A few days before Easter, I was on the phone to a clergy friend who asked What are you preaching on Easter morning? I asked him, and he mentioned the idea I hadn’t pondered for some time: the Greek word we translate as “resurrection,” anastasis, literally meaning “rising up” or “uprising.” Jesus rose up. It was quite an uprising – especially since Pilate had posted guards at his tomb to guarantee that nothing upsetting or revolutionary happened. The powers of this world – foiled again.
This notion of Jesus leading an uprising is intriguing. I’ve seen medieval depictions of Easter in which Jesus doesn’t rise alone, but leading a host of people out of the grave, out of the depths of hell and despair (picking up on the idea that Jesus “descended into hell”). Jesus was never a loner; he was always joining hands with people, especially the ones everybody else had given up on or just plain didn’t like. Surely in his resurrection, Jesus was a leader, not just a solo act.
When my friend mentioned the “uprising,” I remembered and shared with him what Karl Barth once wrote: “Prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Prayer isn’t a quiet, inconsequential time with God, or a currying of God’s favor for stuff I want. Prayer is joining ourselves to what God is doing in the world. Prayer is offering myself, signing up for duty. Easter isn’t just me and you getting eternal life. It is what N.T. Wright called “The Day the Revolution Began.” God’s kingdom, so alien, so out of sync with “normal” in our world, is breaking in on us. Ours is to be open to it, to join our forces to God’s, to busy ourselves with implementing God’s kingdom.
Mind you, conservatives and liberals disagree over what should be done for God, and how – but the option to sit back and do nothing was taken from us when Jesus rose from the dead, when he rose up. You can’t just live the way you wish, with a few pious thoughts and activities pasted on an otherwise unchanged life, and pretend you get the resurrection, the uprising of Jesus. 
I love the wonderful Christmas poem (set to choral music by Dan Forrest and sung by our choir!) by Howard Thurman, The Work of Christmas. One day I want to translate it into an even more urgent poem I’ll call The Work of Easter. Something like this: “When the angels go home from the tomb, when the lilies are gathered and gone, when the disciples have gathered in the Upper Room, the work of Easter begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart, to forgive, to be forgiven, to be holy, to love with immense compassion.” The uprising has begun. The work of Easter begins… now.

03/17/2018 Another segment from Rev James Howell’s blog:  “from judgment toward mercy to Joy”  I think these are intimately related to one another. If we get fixated on judgment, being judged, judging others, even ourselves, then we wallow in guilt, or we afflict others with guilt. In such a mood, there is no mercy – and where there is no mercy, there is no joy…. Somehow I suspect a judgmental spirit is a desire to get things under control. You criticize government, or a stranger, or your boss, or a loved one – and in trying to size the other up, and jam the other into a box you can manage, you miss out on the wonderful reality of the other person. Mercy is the antithesis of control. If I have mercy on you, I fling control to the wind and just let you be who you are; I’m not forcing you to do or be what I want, I can let you be who you already are in God’s eyes.

   If we can be merciful, on others and on ourselves, then we have a crack at joy. Joy can’t be controlled, or achieved. Happiness is something you pursue, you make it come to be – maybe. Joy just happens. It’s not really about me; it’s about being caught up, however briefly, into eternity, into beauty, into God. Joy is a gift of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) or it’s nothing at all. You can’t control a gift, and you sure won’t judge a gift.

03/08/2018 I got this blog share today from Rev. James Howell, pastor, Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte,NC,titled Love God,love Neighbor: “The German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg offered a keen insight into what it means to pray for others: “By prayer, love of neighbor is integrated into the believer’s relationship to God as participation in God’s love for the world. Prayer prevents the practice of neighborly love from becoming simply our own moral work.” 

…James Howell’s commentary:   “When asked which was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus answered with two: Love God, and Love Neighbor – but not because he couldn’t settle on just one and thus gave two. Jesus understood fully how the two are really one, and left it to us to puzzle out how they are one. Pannenberg’s thought helps. Prayer is quite simply the expression of our relationship with God (although we forget, and trivialize prayer by treating it like some kind of gizmo to get God to do us favors). God loves the world, including the neighbor. When we pray for someone, anyone, we join our hearts to God’s heart in God’s love for that someone. These two loves become one. They are as indistinguishable as the love a dad has when he sees his wife cradling his child, her child; dad’s love is for her, for the child, for them – and if he then thanks God, dad’s love is for God, and for them, love flying around everywhere, embracing everyone in that charmed circle.”

 

02/27/2018:A VERY IMPORTANT DISCUSSION FOR ALL PARENTS OF BOYS CONCERNING SO-CALLED “Toxic Masculinity”:   by Dr. Jordan Peterson  renowned Canadian clinical psychologist,cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology.with a particular interest in the psychology of religion and ideology of belief and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance.

Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci7iM7c3VB4

 

02/06/2018 Our ego….can we keep it restrained to let God guide us? In God, our self is no longer its own center. There is a death of the self-centered and self-sufficient ego. In its place is awakened a new and liberated self which loves and acts in the Spirit. 
—Richard Rohr, “Mirror and Mask”

02/02/2018.  Appropriate for February: “Heartsick, heartbroken—To know love is to know pain.What could be more common? Even so, each broken heart is so singular That with it we probe the divine.” –Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

12/29/2017.  When Things Fall Apart, a contemplative thought for the New Year compliments of my mentor, Richard Rohr:

When Things Fall Apart
Friday, December 29, 2017

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.

This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12).

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.

In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.

Love wins over guilt any day. It is sad that we settle for the short-run effectiveness of shaming people instead of the long-term life benefits of grace-filled transformation. But we are a culture of progress and efficiency, impatient with gradual growth. God’s way of restoring things interiorly is much more patient—and finally more effective. God lets Jonah run in the wrong direction, until this reluctant prophet finds a long, painful, circuitous path to get back where he needs to be—in spite of himself! Looking in your own “rear-view mirror” can fill you with gratitude for God’s work in your life.

Gateway to Silence:
You make all things new.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2002), 69.

We wish you a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year! 

 

12/22/2017, This Christmas I am reading an important book: “The First Christmas, What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Birth” ,by Marcus J. Borg (deceased) and John Dominic Crossan, perhaps two of the most important Jesus scholars of the last century. I chose this book obviously because it is the Christmas season but also because it shines a light on a process that I am initiating called “Ground Zero Gospel, a focus on the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ parables”. It is a teaching and storytelling ministry that I am developing to share with churches

.Please listen to  the following YouTube interview with an open, contemplative mind since I present everything in this space, not as answers, but as questions and challenges to the thinking Christian. It  might be helpful to re-read my above description of “dwelling in the space of the question”. The commentary below has important things to say about Jesus’ use of parabolic teaching and its value to today’s culture.

Click to hear commentary on this important book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fk90WDo90_0

12/12/2017, this from Thomas Merton: “Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”

12/10/2017 Kenosis: In Christian theology, kenosis (Greek: κένωσις, kénōsis, lit. [the act of emptying]) is the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.

“We cannot love God unless we love God’s world. Christians [should] have always known this, because an incarnate God is a world-loving God; but now it takes on new meaning and depth as we realize the radical interrelationship and interdependence of all forms of life. . . . In sum, we are not called to love God or the world. Rather, we are called to love God in the world. We love God by loving the world. We love God through and with the world. But this turns out to be a kenotic, a sacrificial love”—Sallie McFague

The key to kenosis is knowing that your life is not about you. Everything—each breath, heartbeat, morsel of food, seeming success—is gift. We are entirely dependent upon God’s loving us into being, and keeping us in being, interdependent with all other beings. Your life does not really belong to you, as countercultural and difficult as that is to understand in our individualistic, competitive, consumer culture. As the Trinity reveals, life and love are poured into us that we may pour into others. “It is in giving that we receive.” This is precisely what Jesus modeled for us through his life, death, and resurrection.--Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr

09/24/2017;  Prayer does not produce “Weak resignation to the evils we deplore”(Fosdick), but strenuous battle against the powers of destruction. God does not lead us to bow our heads quietly in submission; he invigorates us to moral battle. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”.Phillipians 4:13 (Eugene Peterson’s Praying with the Psalms)

 

 

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