Monday, February 25, 2013

Joyful Silence

“I … meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:6)

The Jewish people had three overnight watches, from sundown to about 10:00, from 10 until 2, and from 2:00 until sunrise. (Later, under Roman rule, there were four watches overnight, as listed in Mark 13:35.) By mentioning watches, plural, the Psalmist is indicating that the meditation is an all-night long experience.

Have you ever “pulled an all-nighter?”

I can remember a few in college, either studying for exams or writing papers. I would stock up on high caffeine content beverages and snacky foods, you know, the really healthy stuff. Then sit at my desk struggling to stay focused on my work while all the time my brain was all up in my grill like, “Um, excuse me. This is supposed to be sleeping time. What the heck are you doing?”

Needless to say, the results of those “all-nighters” were not the best work of my academic career.

I have pulled three spiritual all-nighters in my life, all of them on Saturday nights before Easter. These Easter Vigils were very difficult for me; to sit still, stay quiet, and meditate on God for hours and hours … oh, and by the way: stay awake, too! My brain was a bit nonplussed on those nights, as well.

I wonder if those “all-nighters” were my best spiritual work.

The larger point is, happiness that comes from God does not have to be noisy. It doesn’t have to be in continual motion. Happiness in God is felt in the darkness, in the stillness, in the calm of the night, as well. I wonder if silence allows the mind and body to rest, which somehow allows the spirit to come to life in new and joyful ways.

There are times for us to make joyful noises; there are times for joyful silence, too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Listen to Your Church

In the church, there is a place for noisy.

Scripture tells us over and over again to shout, to sing, to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Bells and lyres and harps and flutes and drums and shofars are among the several instruments mentioned in the Bible, often used in the context of praising God in a worship setting. Singing is mentioned in many different places throughout scripture, including when Jesus and his disciples sang together during their last Passover meal (See Mark 14:26 or Matthew 26:30).

Are we happy together? During Lent, we are considering the idea of “happiness,” in a series of services called “So Happy Together” here at Campbell UMC. There are times when happiness is just too much to contain, and it emerges in joyful expressions of noise - laughing, cheering, singing, shouting, and any of a myriad of sounds.

Are we happy together? On an upcoming Sunday morning, stop and listen to Fellowship Hall in between services. I’ll tell you what, it is buzzing with noise! People who are happy together tend to be a pretty noisy bunch, and that means Campbell tends to be a pretty noisy place on Sunday! There’s laughter and conversation and even singing here and there; it is a holy noisiness that surely delights the ears of the Lord.

Are we happy together? When you get to stand in the front of the sanctuary like I do, you hear the full sound of a congregation singing praise to God. I’ve said it a number of times, “You all sing like Methodists!” It is a joy to hear Campbell UMC gathered for worship, singing praise with reckless abandon, lifting voices young and old, making a truly joyful noise in worship of almighty God.

There is a place for noisy in the church, and it comes from being truly happy in God.

Wherever you worship, take a listen to your congregation this Sunday. What do you hear? Is there a buzz? Is there a joyful noise? Are you happy together?

Of course there is a place for stillness, too. There is a quietness that also comes from deep and abiding joy in God. That will be next week’s topic. For now -

Let’s sing it, shout it, walk it, talk it! There’s a higher power!
Lay down your soul ‘cause Jesus bought it! There’s a higher power!

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Ashy Motivations

It has always been curious to me that Ash Wednesday traditionally includes a scripture (Matthew 6) that tells us to do all this stuff in secret, giving money, praying, fasting, and then we put a big black mark on our foreheads so show we belong to Jesus, a very non-secret thing to do, it seems.

It even says that we are supposed to wash our face so no one will know we’re fasting, then we actually make our face dirty, which seems to me to be pretty much the opposite.

Which is it? Are we supposed to be some kind of “secret Christians,” or are we supposed to wear it on our sleeve, or rather, on our face?

I think the answer lies in the text itself. It is the “so that” part of Jesus’ words that we need to pay attention to. It’s about our motivation for doing what we do. If we are doing good stuff so that others will notice it and think we’re so cool, then that’s not okay.

Jesus is saying, Giving money to those in need so that someone will see it and say, “Oh isn’t she so generous!” isn’t a good reason to give. Praying out in public so that others will notice and think, “Oh isn’t he so pious!” is not a good reason to pray. Looking hungry while fasting so that someone will say, “Wow, look how hungry he is, he must really love God!” is not a good reason to fast.

So maybe we can expand that to ashes on the forehead in order to say, wearing ash on your forehead so that others will see it and be impressed by your piety is not a good reason to wear ash on your forehead.

When it comes to motivation, only the individual knows. You can say that you are motivated by any number of things, but when it really comes down to it, only you know what motivates you.

So really the only thing I can do is tell you why I wear ash on my forehead on Ash Wednesday. I do it because I need a tangible reminder of how fragile life is. And though I cannot see the mark, I am aware that it is there. It means that I am dust, I am comprised of the earth, my life withers and fades, and the best that I can do is to live this short, insignificant, fleeting life in a way that is pleasing to God, in a way that spreads love, offers grace, and works for justice. The best I can do is to live in such a way that things are better off than they were when I arrived on the scene.

That’s just me. Maybe you have a different reason. That’s cool. Or maybe it’s just not something you need to do at all. That’s also cool. Ashy foreheads are certainly not a prerequisite for heaven.

Next Wednesday evening Melissa will put some ash on my head and tell me that I am dust. I’ll do the same for her. Then together we’ll invite anyone who wants to come forward so that we can put some ash on their heads, too.

And we won’t ask a single one why they’re doing it.