Meditation

'Greater Works Than Mine'

THE SAGA OF Elijah that we are following in 1 and 2 Kings culminates in a poignant parting as the prophet prepares to be taken up into heaven. His disciple, Elisha, makes a final all-or-nothing request: “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah states a condition for the fulfillment of Elisha’s prayer: “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not” (2:10). It is as if Elisha has to look unblinkingly into the reality of their separation. If he is to inherit the prophetic mantle and spirit of his teacher, he must claim the vocation in its entirety. He is now to be the prophet.

The story is an uncanny pointer to the truth that John the Evangelist highlights in Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you ...” (16:7). John even echoes the “double spirit” theme in 14:12, when he has Jesus assure us that our prophetic endeavors will be more abundant and powerful than Jesus’ own!

The season following Pentecost helps us realize that we are the prophets now, vested with the mandate and endowed with the gifts for enacting the good news of liberation.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ JUNE 2 ]
A Climate of Relativism
1 Kings 18:20-39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

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Yoga As a 'Connection to God'

Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya / Shutterstock.com
Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya / Shutterstock.com

Class began at dusk in a dimly lit studio facing Pacific Coast Highway as the yoga teacher appeared, adjusting the shawl draped around his shoulders, and took his seat on a quilted meditation pillow.

Because the sun was setting behind him, the teacher appeared in silhouette. I could only hear his voice as he guided us through the 90-minute Kundalini yoga class – a series of meditations, chanting, vigorous breathing exercises, and asanas (or postures).

“I want you to know that this is a safe place,” the teacher, Cole “Raahi” Jacobs, told us midway through class. “You can feel whatever you need to feel. You are safe here.”

I did. I was.

At the beginning of the year, I embarked on a two-month sabbatical to recover from a rough 2012. I needed to recharge, and resolved to rest, spend time with the people I love most, and find some kind of physical practice that would be restorative.

Why I Return to Bikram Yoga, and the Church

Photo courtesy Vladimir Jotov/shutterstock.com

As I waited in the room heated to 105 degrees, my friend Molly looked for a sliver of floor space for her yoga mat. “I probably need a more relaxing type of yoga,” I whispered, almost apologizing for bringing my type-A body to the crowded Bikram class, known for its intense heat and addictive practitioners.

At exactly 10 a.m., the yoga teacher entered the room: I stood in unison with the other students, much like I rise for the procession at my church on Sundays. Surprisingly, much of what draws me to Bikram yoga also brings me back each week to the Episcopal church.

The Scales of Rejoicing

"THIS IS THE LORD'S DOING; it is marvelous in our eyes. On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice in and be glad in it." We will be singing these words from Psalm 118 on Easter Sunday, and they pinpoint a critical issue in our religious witness. Do we have the courage to have God be the subject of sentences, or is God usually the object of our reflections? There is a difference. Do we make ourselves really the subject of our sentences, so that religion is about our doings and ideas and needs? The scriptures insistently talk about what God did and is doing and will do in Christ, the crucified and risen one. Our role is to rejoice in the way God acts upon us, with us, around us, behind us, above us, ahead of us, through us.

Praise is the litmus test. If God is experienced as the one who is acting, the impulse to praise is inevitable. This may help us understand the importance of the psalms in our lectionary. They aren't mere supplementary devotions. As supreme words of praise, they test the authenticity of our reactions to the good news. They test and they can train. The psalter is the church's manual to help practice the "scales of rejoicing," to borrow a phrase from W.H. Auden's "Christmas Oratorio." A phrase on Auden's tombstone comes back to me: "In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise." The psalms come to life only where this teaching is taken seriously.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ March 3 ]
Singled Out for God's Punishment
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

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Top 10 Advent Resources of 2012

All the holiday hustle and bustle—the endless Christmas cards, shopping lists, and gratuitous feasting—can become a less-than-spiritual experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But Donna Schaper’s commentary “Pregnant with Possibility” in the December 2012 issue of Sojourners invites us to celebrate Advent in a way that marinates us with hope and possibility as we prepare to savor Christ’s arrival.

Find your center during this busy holiday season with our top 10 Advent resources:

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When the Bible Reads You (October 2012)

[ online only ]

Our readings from Hebrews yield one of the most intense images for the experience of being addressed by the Holy One: “Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow: It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (12: 4-16). Those who passionately feel convicted by the Word to work for the transformation of the broken and unjust structures of society need to witness to our own continuous religious experience of being penetrated, judged, and aroused in our living conversation through scripture. Otherwise people might mistakenly imagine that this strong language somehow belongs to those who extol the inerrant authority of scripture while finding in it support for reactionary values.

A prison chaplain gave a new inmate a Bible. Asked later what he made of it, the prisoner replied simply, “I didn’t read the book; it read me.” And this isn’t an occult experience. We allow ourselves to be addressed whenever we drop those filters that screen out impressions that threaten upheaval for the status quo. A critic once said of Austrian artist Oscar Kokoschka’s drawings, “We don’t look at them, they look at us, searching, probing, and testing us,” and these words come back to me often when I open the Bible for meditation, and drop my defenses.

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ October 7 ]
Your Hardness of Heart
Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Psalm 8;
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Mark 10:2-16

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In Defense of the Om

Yoga illustration, Tom Wang / Shutterstock.com
Yoga illustration, Tom Wang / Shutterstock.com

I grew up thinking a lot of things were evil: cursing, smoking, Texas A&M, Democrats. 

But one thing that never fell into the “damned” category was yoga. I guess it just didn't come up. So I was more than a little confused when a few years ago, pastors across the religiously affiliated spectrum started condemning my workout class of choice. 

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has said multiple times yoga is evil, concluding, “A faithful Christian can no more say they are practicing yoga for Jesus than they can say they are committing adultery for Jesus.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler said — and was later lambasted for it — that embrace of yoga is contradictory to Christian commitment. Even the guy at the Vatican who does exorcisms said yoga is the “work of the devil.” 

To which my initial response — to quote the Dude — is … well, y’know, that’s just, like your opinion, man. (Er, I mean men. White pastorly men.)

This Is My Body (Day Ten)

Walking on the beach, Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock.com
Walking on the beach, Iakov Kalinin / Shutterstock.com

I hear people “brag” on a fairly regular basis about how little sleep they get, how many hours on end they work or how poorly they eat because of the demands of their schedules. Sorry, but this is not something to be proud of; it’s a sickness.

It’s no wonder, then, that on the rare occasion we actually slow down long enough to pray, worship, reflect or simply be in the moment, we have no idea how to do it. I watch people in church, and it’s clear from the body language that we don’t know how to slow down. I had a friend back in Texas who was so bad about overworking himself that he’d get sick every single time he took a vacation.

Some might argue this is a case for not taking time off in the first place, but that’s ignorant. Just because we can hold off the effects of frantic, disembodied living by pushing harder doesn’t mean we ever outrun the consequences.

Taken further, I think that such living is un-Biblical. 

Ohio Congressman on a Mission to Bring Meditation to the Masses

Meditating silhouette, aragami12345s/Shutterstock.com
Meditating silhouette, aragami12345s/Shutterstock.com

By age 35, Congressman Tim Ryan had been one of Ohio’s youngest state senators, served two terms in the U.S. Congress and hobnobbed with presidents and prime ministers. 

But a different story, full of unmet ambitions and caustic self-criticism, coursed through Ryan's mind, carrying him away from even the most important moments.

“I was so caught up in my story that I missed my life,” the Ohio Democrat writes in his new book, “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.”

Via Dolorosa: A Good Friday Musical Meditation

 

“When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost. When I'm feeling most ghost-like, it is your remembering me that helps remind me that I actually exist. When I'm feeling sad, it's my consolation. When I'm feeling happy, it's part of why I feel that way. If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget, part of who I am will be gone. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." the good thief said from his cross (Luke 23:42). There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well."

~ Frederick Buechner

 

 

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