Camino de Santiago~ May 10, 2017 morning

Camino de Santiago~ May 10, 2017 morning

As we, some 240 pilgrims, leave the hostel from last night we will start to travel at much different speeds. I am not in a rush as I will not be able to do all 800 kilometers to Santiago. In addition it just started to rain, so I am taking my time. Today in order to allow my body to recover I think I will only do about 12 kilometers. The cafe in which I am having breakfast has good wi fi, my new friend from Croatia just left after our joint breakfast, so I am using the time to share a few pictures from yesterday. Later I will make a little film of some of them. For now, enjoy these beautiful views of the Pyrenees Mountains. Did I mention 27 kilometers and 1,400 meters high? 🙂

(Yes, those are horses running free, but with big bells, on the mountain top)

Camino de Santiago ~ Let the Fun Begin!

Camino de Santiago ~ Let the Fun Begin!

The ancients of Europe simply walked out of their front doors to make a pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, the place where it is believed the ashes of the Apostle James (the greater) are buried. This path has been travelled from all over Europe since the Middle Ages. 

For my pilgrimage, I walked out of the front door of my girlfriend’s house, her husband took me to the train station, and I am waiting here for the train that will eventually get me to St. Jean Pied de Port. 

This is where the journey begins, but it actually began long ago. What journey are you on? Where is God taking you? 

Today Oswald Chamber’s writing on faith states, “The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we will take this view, life will become one great romance— a glorious opportunity of seeing wonderful things all the time.”

I am not sure where  his journey is going, but I am excited for the adventure that lies ahead!

Spiritual Renewal ~ Taize ~Icons and other visuals. 

Spiritual Renewal ~ Taize ~Icons and other visuals. 

Here is a little one minute video that I put together about my time at Taize. I will add a few more pictures below. I particularly wanted to give a very brief description of icons. 

Taize has done a wonderful job of bringing together all Christian traditions. Some of those ancient traditions were one of several causes for the church to first be divided. Icons fall into that category. 

The Eastern (Orthodox) church uses icons, or paintings that follow very stringent rules in order to enable people to visualize scenes from the biblical witness and portraits of saints. The western church (Roman Catholic) was against the use of these paintings saying that the pictures themselves were becoming an erroneous source of worship. The great split of the church, the first of many, was really over the wording of the Creed, but icons also played a role in this split. 

Worship at Taize has brought back icons as an enhancement to our worship of Jesus Christ. Taize uses icons, stained glass windows, candles and light to stimulate our sense of the visual. In addition, around their small lake they have a series of wooden carved “prayer stations” depicting the life of Jesus. 

Below are a few visuals used at Taize. What visuals do you use to stimulate your thoughts towards Jesus, the Savior of the world?

Spiritual Renewal~Taize ~ Why are you here?

Spiritual Renewal~Taize ~ Why are you here?

So why are you here? That is the question I have been asking  the adults that I meet. This morning I ate breakfast with a group of Germans from Berlin. They know that Taize is the one place in France where you do not come for the good food.  (In fact they brought some extra breakfast items and kindly shared their pate and cheese with me.) There are 12 of them and they all sing in an ecumenical choir, some are Catholic and others Protestant, they came together to sing and learn. 

As is my custom, I rarely sit with the same people and never sit in the same spot. (No, I do not have “my pew.”) This way I can meet more folks and learn from them. There are about 200 adults here and at least three or four times as many young people. To speak to someone you test out a language until it works. (My German vocabulary is very limited.) Until today I was the only American. Today a small group of college students from Cincinnati University arrived accompanied by two adults. 

Most of the pastors that I have met, one from England (Anglican), one from Holland (Reformed), and my roommate from Sweden,(Lutheran) have come for a time of retreat. Today I also met a British pastor also on sabbatical who is going to walk the Camino next, just like me. He will begin about three days before I begin. He too began here on retreat. I have come for retreat too, but I have also come to spend significant time in prayer. 

Every afternoon I spend in intercession. I go to the main church, usually they are having choir practice (which adds lovely background music, and is open to all), and I pray. Two years ago I had just learned that I had been reappointed. I came to pray for the church I was leaving and the church to which I was appointed. This time, once again armed with directories of both churches, I came to pray for the people I have served and  the ones I am currently serving by name. The difference is that this time I know the names and faces at MUMC, last time they were names that God knew, and I had not yet met. 

I have also spent significant time praying for the staff at MUMC, praying for family, friends, country, world, France’s upcoming elections, and the greater United Methodist Church that has significant obstacles before it. 

There is something powerful about praying in community, even if you are raising petitions on your own in the midst of community. There is power in prayer. Oswald Chambers wrote that, “prayer is the greater work.” Our prayers do not go unheard, but they are honored by God in ways that we can never fully understand. So here, in this holy site, my prayers are released and the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf when our words are not enough (Romans 8)

While I have been spending much time in prayer petition, I have also spent time in repentance, praising God and thanking God. (I have witnessed many miracles this past year to include the miracle of my sister’s recovery, our office administrator’s life spared, our praise team leader’s life spared, and grand babies born, to name a few.) So, this has also been a time of praise and listening to whatever God might want to say. (That is always a dangerous thing.) it is sacred space and sacred time. 

Where do you find sacred space in which to lift up concerns and thanks and praise to God? Do you spend significant time in prayer, even in the midst of the chaos of life? What habits might you like to develop in order to spend more time listening and talking to God in prayer?

(P.S. I like to add links in the blog, but it is too hard as I am writing all of this from my phone. Hopefully I can add links and correct spelling upon my return. Thanks for the grace.)

Spiritual Renewal ~Taize- Worship

Worship in the Taize community is unique. They intentionally set out their own rhythm that is built around a few things: Scripture, Taize songs, silence, light and icons. 

If you are not familiar with songs of Taize, you might be surprised to learn that you might know a few. Any time you see the author named Jaques Berthier that is a Taize song. Usually they are based on a short verse of Scripture; and they are more classical in musical style, designed to sing in 4 part harmony, and designed to have a variety of musical instruments accompanying or none at all. At Middletown UMC we offer some Taize style worship services during both Lent and Advent. The services are designed to be contemplative. If you need some quiet time in your life, this provides good opportunity for some sacred space. 

Services here happen three times a day: Before breakfast, before lunch and after dinner. We are called to worship by the great bells that toll for at least a good ten minutes. Worship begins directly with song. There are three electronic boards that display the page number in the song book that you pick up at the entrance. There are no announcements, no welcoming, they simply begin with song. The song has a simple melody and is sung many times to allow the words to sink into your very soul. If done well, you might be singing them in your sleep. 

The brothers all come in during the tolling of the bell. They sit in the center, dressed in white albs. There are about 100 brothers in all. Outside of worship they are dressed as ordinary men. We pilgrims sit around them in the great big Church of the Resurrection. The church can hold several thousand, but the atmosphere is intimate. 

The seating is less comfortable for us older folk. It is on the floor, on worn carpet. There are a few kneeling benches to be used, and some folks bring their own benches. There are a few higher benches against one particular wall. I have frequently found myself seated there. 

After the first two songs Scripture is read. It is usually read in at least two languages and you receive a piece of paper upon coming in with the Scripture in more languages. 

After Scripture there is a Gloria, maybe a petition prayer, and then silence for about 8 minutes. It reminds me of the silence in the heavenly realms in the book of Revelation. Silent prayer time then moves to more songs. Communion is shared in the morning. The entire service is about 45 minutes to an hour. In the evening some of the brothers are stationed around at the end of service in case you need a short individual time of prayer or spiritual encouragement. 

The church is dimly lit with candles providing color from the front area (see above picture) and light coming in from stained glass windows around the sides of the church. In addition, icons are in many places to remind us of the events of the life of Jesus. Icons are a kind of painting, done in a particular way, once again depicting scenes from the gospels. All this is designed to give space for the Holy Spirit to work in the life of those who are worshipping. Taize worship opens up space for the sacred. 

So how do you give space for the sacred, or for the Holy Spirit to work in your life? Where do you go, what practices do you have in place to allow God to speak to you? Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Spiritual Renewal ~ Taize ~ Community

The community of Taize was designed by Brother Roger to be a place of Christian spiritual renewal-specifically for young people. While it might have a Catholic feel, it is a Protestant community, but all Christian traditions participate to include Eastern Orthodox. While there are programs for those of us over 30, the emphasis is for young people, especially in the summer. 

The picture above is a lake that has a waterfall feeding it. This is a quiet place of solitude and contemplation. In addition there are stations along the path with carved wooden pictures from scenes of the life of Jesus. 

Spiritual renewal is the primary focus and it is realized in both worship and forming community. The brothers of Taize form important community; as a monastic community, for those who visit for the week (or summer), and in the world. There are literally people from all over the world here. This week there is a large group from Russia, Germany and Sweden. Many languages are spoken. Teaching is translated into several languages and Taize songs are sung in many languages. 

As community we worship together three times a day, have meals together ( they are very simple meals), and participate in chores together. 

Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of community life is worshipping Jesus together in so many languages. Many languages are spoken and sung. Each says the Lord’s Prayer in their own language. It is truly ecumenical in nature. 

Yesterday I learned that my Swedish roommate is also a Pastor in the Lutheran Church in Sweden. We have much to talk about! She is the equivalent of a district superintendent. This morning I ate breakfast with a pastor from Holland from the Reformed church. While most of the adults are not pastors, I just happen to find some pastors. ( Is it the Holy Spirit drawing us together?)

Gathering together as the body of Christ, from the ends of the earth is a powerful experience. Where do you feel most connected to the greater body of Christ? “I can worship Jesus by myself without community” is unbiblical. Jesus came to form community, as together we stand more powerful than as individuals. What does community life with the body of Christ look like for you? How do you live into that community on a regular basis?

Spiritual Renewal ~ Taize, France

Taize is a place of spiritual renewal. This morning when I left my girlfriend’s house I was as not sure where I would sleep this night. My hope was to stay at Taize, but they do not often take in “strays” for part of the week. They like you to stay the entire week. God is good and I have been allowed to stay until Friday, as was my hope. 

While I almost missed my train in Paris, there were friends there from Strasbourg whom I have not seen in many years. (We will catch up together soon.) They were cheering me on to catch the train to Macon. It reminded me of Hebrews 11 where the Saints who have gone before are cheering those who are still here. It was a beautiful gesture on their part.

So now I am settled in Taize. The dorm room holds six, but since I came late, this last room of adult women is not full. My roommate is from Sweden. This is her fifth time at Taize. She is a chaperone on a bus trip with students, but has said that she is on vacation. I will get to know her better as I did promise the brother who allowed me to stay that I would participate in the morning Bible study. 

Meanwhile, they have a lovely spring and pond at the end of a little fifteen minute walk where I spent much of the afternoon reading  the book of James. 

Brother Roger, who founded this community after World War II, based his community on three things: simplicity, joy and mercy. This is the year studying simplicity at Taize. I,too, am trying to live into simplicity as I attempt to live out of a packback that has very few things in it. 

So meanwhile, James says, beginning in 4:13, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,’ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

This morning I did not know where I would sleep or what I would eat. It is my feeble attempt to live into simplicity. The next step for me is to figure out how to sustain simplicity. What allows you to live a more simplistic life?

Spiritual Renewal~Just Fun(and a little bit of Joan of Arc)

Spiritual Renewal~Just Fun(and a little bit of Joan of Arc)

Every pastor needs some fun in their lives. Pastors are not very good at that. We all need times when we can put aside daily life and just “be” in the moment for relaxation and just plain fun. This weekend was “That” for me.

In the picture you will see Lancelot trying to extract the Excalibur sword from the stone. Lancelot is my young friend Amaury Pouteau who first came to visit me when he was two, and later attended Camp Manidokan when he was 12. He is the oldest son of one of my twin girlfriends, this is his second year working at the French Theme park at Puy Du Fou.

Puy Du Fou is a three hour drive south of Paris. The best way to describe it is vingnettes of historical times from European culture. It is very unique in the world.  These vignettes are all in big stadium seating kinds of arenas, with live actors, chariots, sword fights, Vikings, Roman legionnaires, and lions and tigers. The entire weekend was very impressive, but best of all was seeing this young man whom I have watched grow up, doing something he loves to do!

As an added bonus the castle on the premis, as of last year, has the actual ring from Joan of Arc, and they tell some of her story. (It was carbon dated to verify the authenticity.)

The weekend was filled with fun, and at times we were Roman citizens and Vikings. What do you do to just have some nice clean fun, and learn a little bit too? When is the last time you enjoyed that activity?

Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

I was 16 when my eyes first saw the magestic spires, one roman and one gothic, of Chârtres. Chârtres made a huge impression on me, even at that tender age. It was a birthday gift to be able to travel to France with my beloved high school French teacher. A love for France and its people has remained with me. But somehow in that first trip, I missed the labyrinth and the importance it would eventually make in my life. Walking a labyrinth would eventually become an important part of my regular spiritual renewal plan.

I have returned to Chârtres several times, but the labyrinth was never empty of chairs, until today. Today I had done my research, and I had the honor and privilege of walking and praying through the oldest inlaid labyrinth in France. It dates from around the 1200’s.

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. (We will put one up again a few days this summer at Middletown UMC). They come in different shapes and sizes, many are copies of the pattern found at Chârtres.

As one walks, one can use the experience for several things, one of the most “popular” is to enter into the presence of God, the middle representing being in the center with God, or being in the center of what you are seeking. Sometimes one might repeat the words “Come Holy Spirit” or “Come Lord Jesus.” Sometimes one might pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As it has been said, “Pay attention to your experience, without judging it. It can serve as a mirror for what you are experiencing elsewhere .”

Today, I was one of the few who took my shoes off. Since it was inlaid stone taking your shoes off was not a requirement, but for me, if we are trying to walk into the presence of The Holy One then we should show respect by taking off our shoes. After all, Moses was told to take off his shoes when God spoke to him through the burning bush as he was on “holy ground.”

Some impressions from today’s labyrinth prayer walk: The stone was cold to the foot. That had never been part of my previous experiences. Some folks, from many nations, came in to see the cathedral and were oblivious to the fact that many were walking the labyrinth. (Even though it was blocked off with chairs) Perhaps many go through life in the same manner, oblivious to the fact that there is something more and we are called to be all that God created us to be; Each person goes at their own pace, and we pass many on the journey; interacting with some, not necessarily with all, but we are always trying to show kindness; Some intentionally changed the atmosphere. There was a wonderful group of women visiting who stood in a corner and sang a capela. One such chant was “Kyrie Eleison,” Lord have mercy on me. It was a lovely enhancement for my journey of prayer; Someone else had gathered some tiny leaves from an outside bush and had dropped them along the path of the labyrinth. While I thought that it was probably meaningful for them to leave those leaves on their journey, whoever has to clean them off and get them out of the old cracks and crevices of the stone might not think so. (The story of Hansel and Gretel did cross my mind.) Finally, since I have walked this pattern of Chârtres in other places, I sort of know the way. Yet even in knowing the way, there is an inner yearning for the center and in coming out, you know the end is near, yet what are you going to do about the end looming near? How does this walk correlate with our daily life journey?

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. Google will show you where one is located near you. In Mariottesville, Md the sisters of Bon Secour have a lovely outdoor labyrinth that you can use anytime. May you be able to experience this journey too, and may your labyrinth journey bring you closer to God!

Spiritual renewal continued 

Planes to new destinations! Renewal with very few responsibilities! It seems like a dream come true. It has been a very long time since I did not have a gazillion daily responsibilities. Moving into a moment by moment thought pattern is hard for me. I am always thinking of the next things that have to be done-yes, I am a classic “J” on the Meyers-Briggs scale. As I attempt to move into a new pattern of journeying in life during this next month, I am trying to discern what that pattern might look like in order to be intentional in spiritual renewal. Part of that new pattern might be giving thanks for every little detail of blessing during the next month. Giving thanks is already a part of my routine, but usually I am too busy running to be thankful in the smaller details. This day I am thankful for details, big and small; for space to “be,” for The MUMC family and Pastor Beth who have allowed space for the journey. I am thankful for good food on airplanes (Air France rocks), for the little sleep that I got on the flight, (as opposed to being miserable for not much sleep), for exciting destinations and friends who live there who have travelled this journey of life with me for over 35 years. I am grateful for different cultures that allow us to see the world through fresh eyes. In addition I am filled with gratitude to all the folks who are praying with me on this journey, family and friends, and grateful for the empty tomb that reminds us that we can all be transformed in less than 30 days. All things are possible with Jesus! How do you practice gratitude? Are there patterns that you would like to change in your next 30 days?