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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week Readings, Day Four

Thought-provoking insights from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily regarding reflective prayer:

Prayer is the filter through which we view our worlds. Prayer provokes us to see the life around us in fresh, new ways... Prayer is designed to enable people to realize that God is in the world around them... prayer is meant to call us back to a consciousness of God here and now, not to make God some kind of private getaway from life. 

It is so easy to come to believe that what we do is so much more important that what we are. It is so easy to simply get too busy to grow. 

To pray only when we feel like it is more to seek consolation than to risk conversion. To pray only when it suits us is to want God on our terms... The hard fact is that nobody finds time for prayer. The time must be taken. There will always be something more pressing to do, something more important to be about than the apparently fruitless, empty act of prayer. But when that attitude takes over, we have begun the last trip down a very short road because, without prayer, the energy for the rest of life runs down.

Benedictine prayer [rooted in the Psalms and the Scriptures] pries me out of myself and stretches me beyond myself so that I can come someday, perhaps, to be my best self... Benedictine prayer life, besides being scriptural and regular, is reflective. It is designed to make us take our own lives into account in the light of the gospel.

There is little for me to add to these remarkable words. For several years I was in a Tuesday morning prayer group where we learned and practiced the things described here. Rather than revolving our prayers reactively around our immediate circumstances, we learned to invite scripture and the Spirit to set the tone. In fits and starts, I have applied the wisdom gained from my experience in that group, and today's reading is a gut-punch reminder of those lessons.

So today I will reflect and read and pray through Psalm 86, the psalm that is assigned to my daily Bible reading. I will heed these discerning reflections from Wisdom as I pray through it:

Reflection on the Scriptures is basic to growth in prayer to growth as a person. Prayer is a process of coming to be something new. It is not simply a series of exercises.

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your love toward me;
    you have delivered me from the depths,
    from the realm of the dead.
14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me—
    they have no regard for you.
15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;
    show your strength in behalf of your servant;
save me, because I serve you
    just as my mother did.
17 Give me a sign of your goodness,
    that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,
    for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week Readings, Day Three

Persistence. I am always attracted to stories of people who have overcome incredible odds and accomplished amazing things... Look in my bookshelves and you will find thick books on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Nelson Mandela's fight against apartheid, Sir Ernest Shackleton's leadership of his men when their ship was stranded in the Antarctic, Mother Teresa's mission to the poorest of the poor, you name it.

So of course I love this parable because of the gritty character of the widow in the story:

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, 

     “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 

     And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

I have taught on this passage multiple times. Naturally, as I teach it (or read it on my own), I encourage everyone to insert themselves in the role of the widow. That seems obvious.

But today I wonder if it’s entirely inappropriate to sit in the seat of the judge. Not because I think I’m like God, but I’m not sure the judge is really acting like God anyway — we are told he "neither feared God nor had respect for people." He initially refuses the woman's pleas for justice. He only ends up responding because he's frustrated and impatient with her and hopes she'll leave. Hmm... That doesn’t seem like God to me.

Time and again I have understood this passage to be a remarkable description of what it means to live by faith. And I still think it is. But today I am learning something new. As I keep reading through Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, today's chapter is on listening. And then as I spent time reading and reflecting on my daily Bible reading, I came to Luke 18:1-8. How incredible to read these two side by side. This quote from the book clanged like a bell in my head when I read it:

“Listening has something to do with being willing to change ourselves and change our world.”

Certainly, I want to be like the nagging widow, unrelenting in my prayers because I have faith that God is listening, and that I trust him entirely. But I also do not want to be like the unjust judge. I want to hear the world around me, which includes the people I walk by on the street, the community of people in which I live, and the needs of the world. In other words, I want to listen well. No, I do not think I'm entertaining grandiose notions about myself walking around like some Christian superhero, waving my hands here and there, granting requests. But the Christian life is expressed in being the hands and feet of Jesus. And in my prayers, not only am I to bang on God's door day after day with my complaints and requests for justice, I am also to seek after ways to be the one he calls upon to grant some requests.

It has been popular to celebrate godly women by reflecting the robust character of the woman in Proverbs 31:10-31. But it is far too easy to overlook these two verses tucked in right ahead of that section:

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

May we be the persistent widow and NOT be the unjust judge. May we spur one another on to speak up, to listen well, to express our love and praise for God by loving our neighbor in tangible ways. Amen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Readings, Day Two

Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them—and receive them from others when we are in need.

Parker Palmer

Several of my hours each week are dedicated to conversations, Bible studies or classes with college students. Graduating seniors are in the thick of big questions right now, and I could not begin to calculate how many hundreds of times I have had the "so what should I do with my life?" conversation. 

I try hard to bring fresh eyes to each one of those encounters, firmly avoiding a "been there, done that" attitude. To be sure, I have to work hard at times to suppress an eye roll (or two) when I hear some of them express what they think are original thoughts, but overall, I find their earnest searching to be refreshing.

At the top is a quote by a favorite author of mine that sums up much of what my thoughts are when I share with those students. Determining calling and career are obviously important, but I have come to believe that the community one lives in trumps them all, and is often the one of the main decisions they neglect. 

Certainly, I am not encouraging students to keep "livin' the dream" and bunk down with 8 of their best friends in a two-bedroom apartment, suffering together through mindless barista jobs, drinking wine and sharing deep thoughts every night... But I am also not pressing them to dive right in to the fast-track career trajectory, ignoring questions of faith community and service.

Palmer captures it perfectly, and as I now look back some thirty (gulp!) years after graduating from college, I can say that what has given me the most meaning in my life (and strength, joy, and challenge) has been the community in which I have lived. I'm not talking about the city or town where one resides... I am talking about the group of people one is "doing life with" week after week. 

Though the group has changed over time, in the last five years God has been slowly shaping a very safe, nurturing, thought-provoking group of people in which I get to live and work.  In my reading this morning from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, these words are timely: 

Humility is the glue of our relationships. Humility is the foundation of community and family and friendship and love. Humility comes from understanding my place in the universe.

I encourage graduating seniors (and those muddling through their first year or two after college graduation) to look for (and help to shape) a community that is not held together by affinity (what things do we have in common?) or memories (we were all in this youth group or graduated from this college) but by mission First we are called to Jesus, and second we are called to serve... that is the essence of the Great Command: "'The first is... you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Mark 12:30-31)

We love God by loving our neighbor, but the only way I can really love my neighbor is by loving God. It is a wonderful, interconnected, complicated, compelling, and at times exhausting pursuit. Jesus models all of this to us in the actions of his final week of earthly ministry. May we all contemplate those with fresh eyes and ears in our approach to Easter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Readings, Day One

This week I am reading Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan Chittister. In the last five years I have been inordinately drawn to monastic spiritual practices and how they can be pursued without having to hide out in complete seclusion. Here's a great statement from the first chapter:

The spirituality that emerges from the Rule of Benedict is a spirituality charged with living the ordinary life extraordinarily well...  The problem becomes discovering how to make here and now, right and holy for us. (p. 6)

As you and I enter this final week of Lent, in preparation for Easter celebrations, I ask myself where resurrection is needed most in my life. I found this illustration from the book especially resonant, and a profound roadmap to guide me in that question:

Once upon a time, an ancient monastic tale says, the Elder said the businessperson:

     "As the fish perishes on dry land, so you perish when you get entangled in the world. The fish must return to the water and  you must return to the Spirit."

     And the businessperson was aghast. "Are you saying that I must give up my business and go into a monastery?" the person asked.

     And the Elder said, "Definitely not. I am telling you to hold on to your business and go into your heart."

At our weekly times in the park on the Westside, there is a 4 year-old boy named Ernesto who already has a very distinctive personality. He loves to play with carritos (toy cars) and catch balls. You can hear his voice all the way across the park as he plays and laughs. He is an Energizer bunny, endlessly demanding that one of us play with him. Yet as focused as he is on playing hard, his attention will be completely shifted if he sees a butterfly. "¡Mariposa!" he squeals, and starts chasing it, fruitlessly attempting to catch it. He will follow the butterfly throughout the park, up into bushes, across the field, away from everyone.

In the midst of my full and noisy life, I desire that when the Spirit is prompting me, that my attention would be taken away from the urgent and temporal things around me, instead following the Spirit where He leads.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Dessert of 2014 (so far, anyway)

Old friends (and former students from youth group days) Cassie and Chase had me over for dinner last night and blew me away with a glorious feast of lentil veggie burgers, baked sweet potato fries, onion relish for the burgers, topping it off with this RIDICULOUS dessert.

After taking several bites, Cassie tried to get me to guess the ingredients. Never in a zillion years would I have figured this out. But friends and neighbors, you don't have to be a gluten-free, granola-lovin' vegan who doesn't shave your legs to like this amazingness. JUST. TRY. IT.

(P.S. Cassie got this from a friend, who got it here... just spreading the love through the blogosphere!)

Flourless Chocolate Chip Chickpea Blondies with Sea Salt {vegan, gluten-free & healthy}


Cooking Spray
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup all natural almond butter or peanut butter
1/3 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar (you can also use honey if you’re not vegan)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup vegan (or regular) chocolate chips plus 2 tablespoons
sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray 8×8 inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a food processor, add all ingredients except chocolate chips and process until batter is smooth. Fold in 1/3 cup of chocolate chips, I like to use dark chocolate because it has less sugar but it’s up to you. Note: Batter will be thick and super delicious, so you could actually just eat it on it’s own!

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips on top. (The batter may stick to your spatula, so I like to spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray first.) Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and edges are a tiny bit brown. The batter may look underdone, but you don’t want them to dry out!

Cool pan for 20 minutes on wire rack. Sprinkle with sea salt then cut into squares. Makes 16 blondies.

Adding an egg to the batter will make it more cake-like, but not vegan.
You can use your favorite nut butter, just make sure it’s all natural.
Feel free to add in other things according to your dietary needs like nuts, dried fruit, or other types of chocolate.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kingdom of Joy

I have allowed life to get far too busy this month. Not only have I neglected posting things here, but worse, I have allowed my vision to be colored by immediate circumstances.

Today I was deeply reminded of the right things, through 3 different readings.

First, a lovely poem by George Herbert

Thou that hast giv'n so much to me,
    Give one thing more, a gratefull heart.
    See how thy beggar works on thee
            By art.

    He makes thy gifts occasion more,
    And sayes, if he in this be crost,
    All thou hast giv'n him heretofore
            Is lost.

    But thou didst reckon, when at first
    Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
    What it would come to at the worst
            To save.

    Perpetuall knockings at thy doore,
    Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
    Gift upon gift, much would have more,
        And comes.

    This notwithstanding, thou wentst on,
    And didst allow us all our noise:
    Nay, thou hast made a sigh and grone
            Thy joyes.

    Not that thou hast not still above
    Much better tunes, than grones can make;
    But that these countrey-aires thy love
            Did take.

    Wherefore I crie, and crie again;
    And in no quiet canst thou be,
    Till I a thankfull heart obtain
            Of thee:

    Not thankfull, when it pleaseth me;
    As if thy blessings had spare dayes:
    But such a heart, whose pulse may be
            Thy praise.
    ... George Herbert (1593-1633)

As I allow myself to be overly burdened by the day-to-day, I "sigh and grone" too much. Thanks be to God that he “allows us all our noise” and receives our inadequate words. Bit by bit, mile by mile, year by year, I am trying to learn more about how to be grateful regardless of circumstances, purely because I know my Creator and Lord. I am relieved beyond words that He is patient with me in the meantime.

Next, from Henri Nouwen:
When Jesus speaks about the world, he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations. There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy. 

Again: I cannot let my circumstances govern my perspective. Knowledge of the Holy is more than enough. If I fix my focus on the eternal, on the "kingdom of joy," rather than the here and now, I will be rightly oriented.

Last, Mark 9 -- One of my favorite passages of scripture:

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Indeed, this describes me all too well. I always want to hide away, shut out the world's noise, and be comforted. Yet we cannot remain huddled up, away from the world, only focused on ourselves and what we want. We have been given the insight to know the fullness, in order to remain in the world and share such deeply good news with others.

Thus I am reminded to not get so swept up in my own busyness and to-do's that I lose sight of what matters. Instead, I hope to be a carrier of of hope, love and persistent kindness in a dark and confusing world, anticipating the kingdom of joy that awaits.

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with God. God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.

C. S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What To Do With Hot Temps & Winter Vegetables?

I haven't posted a recipe in a long while, not for lack of cooking. I have enjoyed many of my favorites lately, but was ready to try something new tonight. I ate it as I caught up on the latest episode of Downton Abbey... while I'm still not sure whether I like where this season is going (can we please remove the black cloud from Bates and Anna and get on with it!??), I am sure I will make this recipe again.

Winter Vegetable Medley
I followed most of this recipe, but had to substitute for orzo, since I'm gluten-free. It was still wonderfully full of flavor, and I'm confident it will taste even better tomorrow as all the seasonings deepen. A true keeper.

Serves 4
30 minutes or fewer

Good-quality saffron is the key to this dish. Shop at a reliable source such as a gourmet store or online spice purveyor, and choose brands that indicate where the saffron was harvested. Kashmiri, Persian, and Spanish saffrons are some of the best.

2 ¾ cups low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
½ tsp. saffron threads
1 14.5-oz. can fire-roasted whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved, and tomatoes halved
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 16 pieces
1 cup orzo pasta (I used 1/2c arborio rice and 1/2c buckwheat groats)
¼ cup frozen peas (I used snap peas)
2 cups large cauliflower florets
8 green onions, each cut into thirds
1 cup large broccoli florets (I used brussels sprouts)

1. Bring broth to a simmer in saucepan. Stir in garlic, Italian seasoning, saffron, and tomato liquid. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and keep hot. (This was my favorite part in cooking this dish... the broth was really fragrant.)

2. Coat large skillet or 8-qt. Dutch oven with cooking spray, add oil, and heat over high heat. Add tomatoes, sear 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned and dry, and transfer to plate. Add bell pepper, sear 2 to 3 minutes, and transfer to same plate.

3. Sprinkle orzo (grains) into skillet, and stir 30 seconds. Stir in broth and peas, and reduce heat to medium. Arrange cauliflower florets on top of orzo in pot. Arrange green onions, tomatoes, and bell pepper pieces around cauliflower; cover, and simmer without stirring, 11 minutes. Scatter broccoli over vegetables, remove pot from heat, and let stand, covered, 10 minutes, or until orzo has absorbed all liquid and broccoli is crisp-tender. (This took slightly longer because I used the arborio and buckwheat... it was worth the wait!)

I toasted some walnuts and chopped them up coarsely, sprinkling them on top as the final touch. Quite good.

November 2013 p.30, Vegetarian Times

Other favorites I've made lately
Butternut Squash Risotto
Polenta Pizza
Almost Alfredo
Broccoli Pesto
Thai Peanut Sauce over Noodles

Though hot temperatures in January have me confused, the drought has me worried and Downton is more of a downer than I would prefer, at least I'm eating well! Onward and upward. Happy 2014!