Sunday, July 24, 2011

“Prayer: Our Portable Sabbath” by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

A couple of my friends have a wall in their offices where they have sketches or photographs of their heroes and she-roes -- people they admire. They have these pictures of people they look to for inspiration and encouragement. Some are the usual characters you might expect: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy. There are some others that are not quite so well known, Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, or Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel to the NAACP and later a Supreme Court justice. If you had such a gallery hanging in your home or workplace, whose picture would you hang there? Who inspires you to be a better person?

One of the people I really admire is Judy Craig, a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, one of the first women bishops in the United Methodist Church. There are many reasons to admire Judy. But today, I want to focus on one. Judy prays. More than that, Judy knows when it is time to STOP her work, and pray. She knows when it is time to stop doing and just take a moment to BE with God.

When she came to the West Ohio Conference as our bishop, we had a session where she met with pastors and someone asked her what she does when she gets really stressed out at work, or discouraged, or does not know what to do in a tough situation. She said that she pushes her chair back from her desk, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and just listens to God. She clears her head, she STOPS, and puts her trust in God. The life of a Jesus follower is just that simple -- even for a bishop – we simply pray. We always have enough time to pray.

Wayne Muller, author of the book, Sabbath, says that prayer is like a portable Sabbath. When we close our eyes for just a moment and let the mind rest in the heart. Like the Muslims, who stop to pray five times a day, like the Roman Catholic practice of prayer at noon, we can be stopped by a bell, a sunset, a meal, and we can pray. We can begin slowly with a simple prayer, like a pebble dropped into the middle of our day, rippling out over the surface of our life.” (Source:

Do you pray? Often people confess to me they don’t really know how to pray. They tell me they think they need a class, or some instruction on how to pray. Or they tell me they do pray but they aren’t getting any answers. Well, here is the thing. We get answers to our prayers, and sometimes the answer is “yes,” but sometimes it’s “no.” Sometimes the answer is my least favorite: “WAIT!” And sometimes the answer this: “I’m not going to give you an answer; you are going to have to work this one out for yourself.”

My oldest sister once told me that she is not really a very spiritual person. Not like me. I think she was trying to say that she thinks prayer and spiritual things might be easier for someone like me, and not so easy for someone like her. But I would have to respectfully disagree. You see, I believe we are all spiritual creatures. We are all created by God. We all have a spirit, because you see, we are all made in the image of God and God is spirit. It’s just that the spiritual life comes more easily for some of us. We are all wired differently. But we all experience mystery. We all have those moments of something that is beyond our comprehension. We all experience wonder and awe at SOMETHING!

Today’s scripture tries, with the inadequacy of language, to describe this sense of mystery, when it comes to our longing to connect with God in prayer. Listen to the scripture again:

If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. God does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. (Romans 8:26-28)

God makes prayer out of our wordless sighs. I had a friend who used to say, she did not really understand why we needed to pray, because God knows all our thoughts. She had a point. But here is why we pray, even if our prayer is just “wordless sighs” -- because WE need to connect to God. We need to remember that we belong to God, and that God wants to listen to us.

Think about it, how many times have you been struggling with a decision, or some hurt feelings, and you went and took a walk, to clear your head, or you went to bed, and just gave it over to God with a prayer before you went to sleep, and at the end of the walk, or after a night’s sleep, you had a new insight, or clarity, or sense of calm? Why would we not think that is the Spirit of God working in us, in our wordless sighs? I, for one, believe that is God.

If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. God does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. God knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God.

Friends, the call to each of us is a simple one today. Will we pray?

Will we pray more? Will you consider this idea of prayer as your portable Sabbath? If Sabbath is the tool we have, to help us recover balance in our lives, to have a rhythm, so that we do not let the chaos of the world win, then will we make use of this tool?

Will you pray? Will you make a decision to pray more this week than you prayed last week? One way to pray more often is to have a reminder to do it, or to make a commitment to pray a certain time:

- when you wake up, even before you get out of bed

- when you get into bed at night

- When you hear your clock chime, or an alarm on your phone goes off

- When you stop at a stop light

- When you hear a certain word every day, like good bye

- When the commercials come on the TV or the radio

- At meal times

- Every time you get stressed.

- When you get angry (Kurt prays a little blessing on those who cut him off in traffic for their safety. He figures it’s a more Christian response than what he used to do).

I think am going to pray this week, every time I notice how hot it is. I am going to stop and ask God, do you have something to say to me in this heat? Maybe the bright sun is some sort of gift. If I don’t hear anything, I’m just going to say ‘thank you God.’

We can never pray too much. Pray with me this week. It’s a simple invitation. We have enough time to pray. So let’s just do it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Holy Groud by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

Take off your shoes. I mean it. If you are willing. Just take off your shoes and socks right here and now for the rest of the service today. This is a religious practice, that we simply don’t practice much in our tradition, but let’s try it today. I’ve been walking around with my shoes off all morning.

Take off your shoes, and realize as you rest your feet on the carpeted floor, that somewhere beneath the flooring is the earth. DIRT. GROUND. HOLY GROUND. The creation of God.

Imagine in this moment that you are connected to every other child of God who has ever walked on this same planet Earth. This one spherical mass of water and mineral is all connected, and we are all touching it with our feet. Holy Ground.

As the story goes in Exodus, God spoke to Moses and told him to take off his shoes. God said, “You are standing on Holy Ground.” Out of humility and respect for God, in that moment, Moses took off his shoes.

In some religions, the people take off their shoes to enter their Holy places of prayer every time. I have a pastor friend who takes off her shoes every Sunday to preach – much to the dismay of some of her more traditional congregations! I don’t know why they would prefer her to wear high heels. You see, bare feet are also a sign of poverty, and putting our materialism behind. I’d like that in a pastor.

So, we take off our shoes, to connect to our Creator, and the creation. We take off our shoes as an act of humility and respect for God, and to let go of material hungers.

Taking off our shoes, is a Sabbath ritual. It’s another way to STOP, and pay attention to God. Do you find it easy to find time and space to STOP and pay attention to God? About twenty of us were on a retreat yesterday at Swan Creek. In the morning, Sr. Breta and Sr. Sandy gave us some printed guides for reflection and sent us out for walks in the park. They asked us to reflect on one of these things: plants, trees, sky, or water. But for many of us the hardest thing was first just to STOP, to still our minds from all the other things we do in a day. Several in our group talked about needing to organize ourselves first, because that’s how we work every day. It was hard just to BE, because most of us are people who DO.

But Kristen shared a great story of how once she was finally able to sit still and just be, that she looked up and saw a small herd of five deer in Swan Creek. It was Gods sabbath gift of beauty in the moment. It was a Sabbath gift, something she never would have seen at work, or at home, busy DOING. She had to STOP her regular routine and be in God’s creation in order to receive this gift. She was still smiling Sunday morning about it.

We stretched ourselves on the retreat. Some of us danced a little dance out there in the park. We looked a little silly. But it was fun, for some of us, just do dance in the sun and be free; to allow our bodies to move, uninhibited for a few moments, like children. . . children of God.

Sabbath moments, are about STOPPING our regular routine, and opening ourselves to God. One of the best scriptures I know, about “stopping,” is the one that says: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Is it easy for you to be still, and just listen to God? For most people, who have never practiced quiet, listening prayer, it is a hard practice to begin. I suggest starting with a minute or two and then adding one minute a day, until you get up to 15 or 20 minutes. But this kind of quiet meditative prayer is something that takes practice, just like any other new thing in our lives.

But here is one good thing: meditative prayer is free, and you don’t need any special equipment, or any membership to an expensive health club to do it. You can practice quiet listening prayer anytime, anywhere. You just sit, you are still, clear your mind of any other thoughts, and listen to God. The STOPPING, of everything else is the biggest challenge. It something we can learn. I love to help people stop and practice this. Just ask me.

Well, let’s turn to our scripture for today, now, and see how God got Moses’ attention. This is a wonderful story, of God stopping Moses in his tracks. Just as God got Kristen’s attention yesterday with the small herd of deer, God gets Moses’ attention with a bush.

In today’s story, Moses was simply minding his own business. He was having a normal work day. He was a shepherd, working for his father-in-law Jethro. You may remember the story of Moses. He was a Hebrew baby, but he was raised in the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt. But when Moses saw the Hebrew slaves being mistreated he got into a fight, and killed one of the overseers of the slaves. He had to flee the nearby country. He married Zipporah, and worked there for her father Jethro.

But God had much more in mind for Moses, than the quiet life of a shepherd. And so on the day in question, God got Moses’ attention with a burning bush. This was not just any burning bush, it burned but it was not consumed. When Moses saw the bush, he STOPPED, dead in his tracks. God told him to take off his shoes because he was standing on Holy Ground. Then God proceeded to tell Moses that God had a plan, a big job for Moses to do. Moses would go to the new Pharaoh (the old one had died by this time). And Moses would tell Pharaoh to set the slaves free!

But here is the part of the story I want us to focus on today. God got Moses’ attention, out there on the hillside, where Moses had been every day for year. It was the same boring routine. Now I don’t know much about taking care of sheep but I can’t imagine it’s very glamorous work: hard, work, yes, but not very exciting. I imagine it would be similar to the monotony to working in a factory in Toledo. Or maybe sitting behind the counter in a gas station where most people pump their own gas, on the midnight to six a.m. shift. Pretty boring work.

I am sure Moses did not expect to meet God that day. But he did. And here is why. Because God came looking for Moses, and Moses paid attention. When God set that bush on fire, Moses STOPPED! He took off his shoes in humility and respect, and he listened to God. How often do we just walk on by a burning bush of our own?

And in that moment, Moses’ life was changed, and the lives of countless other people where changed. They were set free from slavery because Moses said YES to God’s call upon his life.

How about you? When God sends you a burning bush, are you going to see it and STOP? Are you going to take off your shoes, in humility and respect and LISTEN to God? Are you going to be ready?

We have been talking for a few weeks now about Sabbath, and the idea of Sabbath rest. Last week, we took the long view of Sabbath rest and the idea of taking an every seven year Sabbatical, and the value of vacations to have some rhythm to rest in our lives.

But you don’t have to take a trip or a year off from work or even a week or a whole day to experience Sabbath. Sabbath can come in a moment too. Another way to think about Sabbath is this: to experience Sabbath means simply to STOP and pay attention to God. STOP!

Writer Wayne Muller, in his book, Sabbath, describes it this way, as he encourages us to use our senses to reconnect with God:

“The Sabbath prohibitions restrict those things that would impede our sensuality. Walk leisurely, don’t drive; walk in the garden, don’t answer the phone, turn off the television and the radio, forget the CD and the computer. Quiet the insidious technology, and remember we live in bodies that, through a feast of the senses, appreciate the beauty of the world. Walk under the stars and moon. Knock on the door, don’t ring the bell. Sing at the table. Eat, drink, touch, smell, and remember who you are.”

Many people who have a regular practice of prayer and reconnecting with God, say they do this best in nature. That’s why we usually do our retreats in parks. We take prayer walks. Other people take time on the weekend to go out somewhere in nature. There is something about being in the beautiful creation of God that pulls us outside ourselves.

Some people garden to connect with God, or stare at the stars at night, or go to a nearby stream and take of their shoes and wade in the water, like we all did when we were kids. There is something basic in connecting with the Earth, that soothes us.

We just need to STOP, sometimes, in order to calm and center, and rest in God. Some people take a nice hot bath to wash away the stress of the world and rest in the warm embrace of God.

You see. It’s not that complicated. Sabbath rest is not rocket science. It is time and space – set aside for God. It’s a change of pace.

Sabbath is as simple, as taking off your shoes, where you are, to be humble and remember that the earth is a creation of God. And to connect our bodies to this creation of God, and to remember that we are God’s creation too.

So I invite you this week, to carve out your own time and space for Sabbath. Consider right now how you will do that. What is one Sabbath ritual you will practice this week, and when will you do it? Make yourself a promise right now to do it. Take your shoes off like your crazy pastor. Do it right now, find your Sabbath this week.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SABBATH IS FILLING OUR WELL by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I love summer time! I just got back from vacation. I love to go to the beach. Our family is not going to make it to the beach this year, but we did go swimming a lot on our vacation. I wonder what your favorite summer activities are. Not just for vacation, but even just around home, in your free time? What do you love about the summer?

One of the things I love going to outdoor concerts, and play that silly game where we toss around a beach ball, so I thought for fun we would re-create that right here in the Village Commons. It’s summer, right? So why not do something crazy?

So we played "Wade in the Water" and played with a beach ball, right there, in the middle of our worship celebration, right there in the Village Commons (a few coffee mugs got jostled, but no causalities). From time to time we stopped the music a few times and when the music stopped, the person holding the ball, (or hitting the ball) had to tell us one thing we love to do in the summer. We got great responses, camping, going to flea markets, swimming, going to concerts, etc.

I’m glad to be back with you. I was out of town for 12 days, mostly vacation. Becca will tell you a little bit of it was “church stuff.” We went to this Christian festival of music and art and justice called the “Wild Goose Festival” down in North Carolina. Kelly Rye and her husband Jamie were there too, along with about 1500 other people, camping! I did a workshop about church planting in urban settings with progressives. I heard some great speakers talk about how they live out their faith in the world. I met some interesting folks, and had some fun conversations.

There were many young adults at this event. It was so exciting seeing so many young people there talking about the environment, and poverty and other justice issues. People talked about following Jesus and changing the world. There were lots of folks who grew up evangelical and have now become more progressive in their theology. Do you remember those TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker? Their son Jay Bakker is now an amazing young tattoo covered preacher in NYC with a passion for people who are living on the streets. He preaches in a bar, not a former bar like ours. His story was inspiring. I met others who are excited about planting progressive churches like we are here at The Village. And I spent time with friends, my friend Joy Wallis who I met back in 1985 when I had a year of study in England. Becca and I camped with my friend Karyn Wiseman with whom I have been friends since I was 15 years old.

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I fill my spiritual well, is to be with old friends who have known me for a long time. We tell old stories. We compare notes about raising pre-teens. We encourage one another. It helps restore my soul to spend time with friends who have been with me through thick and thin. We connect on the phone or on Facebook, but face to face is the best. I don’t really need to go to exotic places for summer vacation. Visiting dear friends and reconnecting seems to be enough for me, to center myself, fill my well for another season of work.

After the Wild Goose Festival, Becca and I took a mother-daughter road trip. We had a few days to kill and a few miles to cross because there was a family wedding the next weekend in NYC. She had a goal of trying to swim every day. We visited friends in Durham, and she went swimming in their neighborhood pool. Then we visited friends from Toledo who had moved to a Maryland suburb of DC. Their new house has a pool so she went swimming there two days. We went in to the city of DC one day to do some site seeing, but it was REALLY hot, so we did a little people watching, and then went to visit a friend who lives in a high rise condo with a small pool on the rooftop. You get the theme here, right? Becca, like her mom, gets rejuvenated by water.

Then we went to NYC, where Kurt, Jamie and my mom met us for the big summer family wedding. Sadly, the hotel where we stayed in Brooklyn had no pool. The kids did not quite understand that we could not afford a hotel in NYC with a pool! But we had a great time in NYC, visiting the Statue of Liberty, the biggest toy store in the world on Times Square, and being with our family for the wedding festivities.

The kids had not seen one of their cousins in several years; Jamie did not even remember his cousin Sara. Family is important to us, so it was important for us to spend time with the cousins who are literally spread from coast to coast. Being with family, fills my well too. It gives us all a sense of belonging. I want my kids to have that sense of family. It’s important.

I came home rested and ready to get back to work. I saw lots of people I love. I got some time away from The Village, a needed to break to ponder some things, got some advice from friends who love the Village & support us from afar, and consider some next steps as we move forward. It was just what a vacation is supposed to be.

It was SABBATH. My 12 days away, was part of the truth of what I like to call “Sabbath Summer.” It’s that change of pace – that refueling – that thing we plan to do to keep our lives in balance. You see, we can’t wait until we need a break to take a break. We have to plan these little breaks, these vacations, these days off, these week-end get aways, these spa days, days trips, whatever, it takes for you. We have to set a schedule for ourselves, that sets balance in our lives. Because you see, if we do not SCHEDULE some balance, then our lives will spiral out of control.

We will get sick, or have accidents. Some folks, you know, are accident prone, and it’s often folks who do not know how to keep their lives in balance. They (or we, because I have been there at times) don’t keep our lives in a manageable rhythm, and so our bodies either get sick, or we have accidents. SOMETHING HAPPENS to slow us down (e.g. Kurt had to take a few days off due to overdoing it for a Village event).

Sabbath, is sort of the old, religious term. The new-fangled term for it is “self care.” Hmm… It’s funny. God created “self care” right there from the beginning of creation. In our text for today, (Leviticus 25:1-12 for those of you who are following along from afar) we read not about the seven days of creation and the seventh day being a day of rest, but we hear about a longer term view of this rhythm of Sabbath.

God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai: "Speak to the People of Israel. Tell them, When you enter the land which I am going to give you, the land will observe a Sabbath to God. Sow your fields, prune your vineyards, and take in your harvests for six years. But the seventh year the land will take a Sabbath of complete and total rest, a Sabbath to God; you will not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Don't reap what grows of itself; don't harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land gets a year of complete and total rest. But you can eat from what the land volunteers during the Sabbath year—you and your men and women servants, your hired hands, and the foreigners who live in the country, and, of course, also your livestock and the wild animals in the land can eat from it. Whatever the land volunteers of itself can be eaten (Leviticus 25:1-12).

Even the land gets to rest!

Now that is a comprehensive plan for Sabbath. Here is why Sabbath is so important. We have to plan ahead for rest. We have to plan ahead for time to be still and put ourselves in God’s hands.

We human beings, you see, are prone to think that we are in control. Sabbath is a time to rest, and to remember that we are not in control. When you don’t plant seeds in the ground, you have to just rely on what naturally comes up from the ground, then you have to trust God, don’t you? You have to rely on God to give you food.

If we, could find a way not to work, one year out of seven, and just trust God to provide for our needs, wouldn’t that be amazing? Of course, for most of us, our lives are too complicated for that. We have way too many on-going financial obligations, to just take a year off work. Some professions, like university professors, and actually pastors, have some provisions, for a sabbatical from work every seven years, but it’s rare.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live out this biblical imperative and just rest from our labors one year out of seven and really just trust God to meet our material needs? That’s an ideal that is a pretty far reach for most of us. But here is something we can do.

We can still find Sabbath days. We can plan a rhythm to our lives, so that our spiritual wells can be filled. We can take our days off from work. We can take our vacation days, and use them, to rest. Not just to do more work, to shop, or make more money, but to have fun and do whatever it takes to restore our souls.

My former brother in law Larry, dazzled the oil company he was working for many years ago, by creating a planned maintenance program for the drilling rigs, for American companies in other countries. Until Larry became the person in charge of maintenance this is what they would do - they would run the drilling rigs, some off-shore platforms, and some on land, in this other countries like Peru. When something would break, they would have to order a part, usually from another country, and it would take a few days to get the rig up and running. That was lost days of production and lost money. Larry came in and had one of those new-fangled computers. He set up a schedule for replacing parts before they wore out. Sort of like you do scheduled maintenance on your car with your brakes and your tires. So the rigs never broke down. The executives in the office thought Larry was a genius! (We love Larry, but he thinks of himself as a good old boy from Texas, who listens to wisdom).

This is what God wants us to do with our spiritual lives. Take care of ourselves before we fall apart. You see, when a tragedy comes, if our spiritual well is empty, then it is too late to try to fill it up. You can’t start praying, after your partner comes to you and says: “I want a divorce,” or after the doctor says: “You have cancer.” We have to have an on-going maintenance program for our souls, so that when the crisis comes, we are not on our last ounce of spiritual oxygen. When I came back from vacation this week, to face the fact that we don’t really have any musicians lined up for most of the rest of the summer, I took it in stride. I was feeling pretty run down before vacation, but I came back ready to change the world with our ministry at The Village. I have been calling musicians all week. Mary (Shapiro our friend from Washington, DC) even called me while I was on vacation and ASKED if she could come here and play!

From the very beginning, God created a world with the rhythm of Sabbath rest. Jesus modeled this rhythm in his life and work. There are so many stories of him taking a break from the crowd to go to the other side of the lake to rest and pray. There are also great stories of him sitting by the well to talk to a woman or going to the home of Mary and Martha for a visit, much like I visited my friends this summer. I imagine Jesus sitting and talking to a friend like he had all the time in the world, not in a rush like most of us are when we are in work mode, but more in a Sabbath vacation mode, just sitting and chatting, and lingering over a second cup of coffee. He didn’t have a wrist watch or a smart phone or Ipad with calendars and alarms.

Our Sabbath Summer here at The Village is an invitation to stop and take a breath. We have a retreat next Saturday which is an invitation to stop for a few hours, in Swan Creek, to catch some Glimpses of God. The world is full of opportunities for us to claim our Sabbath. I hope you will. Sabbath is God’s gift to us. I hope we will all find ways to receive this gift of Sabbath.

Come join us next Saturday (please sign up if you can by contacting the church) to get a little of this Sabbath rest. If not, think about joining us, or another faith community like ours, and learn how to get that peace and rejuvenation from God.