Out of the silence

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
In the beginning was the Silence,
and the Silence was with God,
and the Silence was God.
All things have come into being
out of the Silence.

Sound waves radiate out from their source,
farther and farther into the distance,
but the Silence
remains at the center.

In sound and words,
and in ideas, the noises of the mind,
you will hear of God,

but only when you return
to the Silence at the center

will you meet God.

         

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Categorized as Reflections

Prayer of the vineyard

         
         
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
         —Matthew 21. 33-39

God, I confess that have seized the vineyard of my soul, as if it were mine, as if I were the one who had dug and planted, and built a fence and a watchtower. But my soul is not “mine,” it is yours. You create me, and give me the growth. You are the one who creates the fertile soil of my being, who plants within me the seed of your Spirit. You grow within me. The fruit of my soul is yours, not mine.

But because you seem distant, and your absence is painful, and because I want to control my life, I have usurped what is truly yours. I have laid claim to your vineyard, and done violence to your trust in me. This is my unending struggle, to let go of my own soul, to let it truly be yours, to overcome my illusion that it ought to be mine, and that I can wrest it from you and have it for myself.

Forgive me, and instill in me a desire to bear fruit for you rather than to control my life. Heal my fear of your absence, my desire for control. Give me faith to meet my fear and grasping with courage and trust. May I be a faithful worker in the vineyard of my own soul, nurturing and gathering what you give, offering to you and not hoarding for myself the fruits of my heart. God grant me a good harvest, and peace. Amen.

         
         

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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The Ten Vows

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
Worship
         Holy One, you who set me free,
         I have no love deeper than you,
         nor is there one I turn to instead of you.

Wonder
         Knowing that you are mystery,
         I hold all my understandings of you lightly,
         lest they become more real to me than you.

Humility
         I love you and will not use you:
         I will not attempt to to claim your power
         or use my relationship with you to my advantage.

Presence
         In time’s rhythms, I practice presence in the moment,
         trusting in your grace alone,
         and resting at times, content in being, not doing.

Gratitude
         Shaped by a community of faith,
         I honor all those who have gone ahead of me
         creating a path of blessing that I may follow.

Compassion
         I extend kindness and compassion to all living beings
         and will do nothing to diminish
         the life or well-being of another.

Faithfulness
         Grateful for your covenant of steadfast love,
         I will live in faithful relationships with all,
         and honor those who trust in me.

Generosity
         Knowing all I have is yours, I give freely;
         I will not take or keep unjustly from others,
         or satisfy myself at another’s expense.

Honesty
         I will speak the truth in love,
         humbly honoring and respecting others,
         and speaking of them only as their belovedness warrants.

Simplicity
         I release myself from my desires,
         from the illusion that I want what others have,
         and instead find delight in what is.

Amen.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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The Ten Commandments

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
Then God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me….”
         — Exodus 20.1-3

Many people want to post the Ten Commandments on courthouse walls because “this is a Christian nation.” But wait— if we were under Old Testament commandments, wouldn’t that make this a Jewish nation? I mean, Christians don’t have Ten Commandments: we have one. Jesus was very explicit about that. We have eight Beatitudes, but only one commandment: to love others as Christ has loved us.

If this were a “Christian nation” one might reasonably expect that some of Jesus’ teachings wold have distinctly shaped the founding, history or character of America. What teaching would that be? “Love your enemies?” “Blessed are the meek?” “Do not judge?” “You must become as a child?” “Sell all you have and give to the poor?” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me?” Hmm. How about Jesus’ practices, like feeding the hungry? Giving away free health care? Practicing extravagant forgiveness, associating with the lowly, or trusting in God’s abundant grace rather than our own effort? I don’t see anything distinctly Jesus-like about America. And hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall won’t change that.

But really, why bother? Of the ten commandments, we actually believe in just two: only murder and stealing are actually illegal; the other eight we don’t even believe in anyway! Idolatry, false witness, taking the Lord’s name in vain, Sabbath, coveting—who are we kidding?—breaking these commandments is part of our social and economic system!

But all this is beside the point. Sacred as they are, the Ten Commandments are not for the purpose of making people change. Listen: we have got to stop expecting other people to live out our faith by obeying our religious principles. We have to do the whole thing ourselves.

The Ten Commandments aren’t meant as secular laws that everybody ought to follow: they’re a religious practice, that sets us apart among all peoples, that makes us different. They do not apply to the whole pluralistic world, but to the people of Israel. The thing is, they are not a legal document; they’re a marriage vow. The context in which they are given is not a legal framework, but a relationship: “I am your God, who brought you out of slavery.” They express how we will be faithful to the One who has given us life and set us free.

I don’t post my marriage vows publicly. They’re not for others to obey; they’re for me, in my marriage with Beth. Similarly, the Ten Commandments don’t apply to others. They apply to us who have entered into God’s Covenant, who want to be close to God.

The commandments—both the ten and the one—are not rules: they’re a way to be faithful. Like marriage vows, they’re not something God imposes upon us, and certainly nothing we can impose on others, but a natural outflowing of our heartfelt commitment to what we care most deeply about. A rich, faithful marriage requires that we at least avoid adultery, murder, coveting, false witness and all that. But following the rules won’t create a loving relationship; it can only describe its outlines. We don’t follow God’s commandments because we “have” to. We do it because we want to stay close to God. We do it out of love.

But of course there are times when our fear threatens to overtake our love and what’s in our heart does not lead us toward God. In those times the rules do give us a starting place. They don’t make us love, but they keep us constrained in a place where we can learn to love. Obedience invites us to grow beyond acquiescence to passion.

This is why the prophets pleaded that instead of inscribing the commandments on our walls, we write them on our hearts. Rather than merely obeying the Ten Commandments, what might it be like for you to really write them on your heart, to live them, to honor the spirit and not just the letter of the law? What if they were the outpouring of your love, or at least your desire to learn to love? What if you didn’t just obey them, but practice them, more deeply every day? It’s something God would love to see.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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In buildings too long

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

In buildings too long
without letting herself out of windows,
without crawling around enough,
she finally escaped
into an untended lot
and began the work
of healing her bond with the earth.
She hunched
and stitched her attention,
thread by thread,
with each pebble, each blade of grass,
each little bundle of dirt and dead roots,
each tendril of weed and nameless bug,
until she had woven a web of tenderness
with a little tumult of soil
and its sky, no wider than her knee.
Despairing of the vastness of it all,
she went to bed that night weary
and a little dubious.
But she should have known:
in the night those threads out in the dark
grew, as they do,
rooting among trees,
conversing knowingly with birds,
until by dawn the whole earth
was woven again into a living whole,
eager to greet her
with the tenderest love.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

______________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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Today

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
Today is the first day of fall, and I’m mourning the end of summer. (Having moved, we went to the hardware store instead of the beach.) And I’m thinking about this new church being my last before I retire, so I’m thinking autumnal thoughts about the end of my career and even the end of life. But it’s also a time of beginning. I’m starting in at a new, exciting church. One son is planning a wedding, another starting grad school; another preparing to graduate from college and start a career. I guess every milestone points at least two ways, doesn’t it?

In fact, this not the first day of fall for some of you. For you folks in Australia and South Africa, it’s the first day of Spring! (And for you folks in Brazil, these seasons might not mean much at all.) And fall means something entirely different to us in New England than it does to you in the Desert Southwest. Or Florida. Or England. Or Vienna.

We’re all in a different place. Today in Texas you’re praying for rain, and in Vermont you’re recovering from floods. Today a friend of mine is sitting at a bedside watching over a death, while another celebrates a birth. One is just beginning chemo; another just finished it. Today in the great pilgrimage of life some of us are making our way into or out of familiar places, or certain seasons, or relationships, or difficulty, or faith, or even life itself. But where we all are is in the present moment. In all of life’s changes and challenges, its gifts and graces, the invitation is to free ourselves from all dread or regret, all desire to be elsewhere, and simply be in the present moment. Life is this, not something else. Be here.

Now this might seem like a way to isolate myself, to separate myself from you who are in a different place. But here’s the miracle: when I am freely and lovingly present in this moment, I meet you there. Because that’s where you are, too. We are all experiencing it differently, but we’re all in the same present moment. When I allow myself to be here, I am here with you.

In prayer, when I am still and fully in the present moment, I don’t have to ”think about” everyone, or call them to mind. You are all here: my family, my friends, all the people I’ve ever known, hundreds of you who read Unfolding Light, and everyone else in the world. We’re all here. Each on our own journeys, in our own landscapes, with our own stories unfolding in their own ways, are all here in the present moment. When I become deeply aware of this, I connect with everybody. And somehow I sense that a greater Someone holds us all in this present moment, this one sacred place. In this grace, every moment is the right place to be.

Whatever milestone you pass today, even if it is death, will not be your last, nor will you pass it alone. Whatever today brings for you, we are all together with you in it. And the Present One holds you, bearing you from this one sacred moment to the next, deeply present with you, and for you, and within you.
         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
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Audacious

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

         —Matthew 21.23

The people thirsted for water. So the Lord said to Moses, “Take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
         —Exodus 17. 5-6

The power of God for life flows in us,
an unpluggable spring.
It asks no permission, follows no rules,
knows no bounds. It’s free.
It makes the flower blossom,
the child survive,
the artist reveal things,
the healer do miracles.
It gives you power to love,
to dare, to forgive.
It makes you shine with God.
People will ask you who you think you are
to do such things.
Never mind them.
People will assume you’re nuts,
walking up to the rock with your stick
like that.
They think you have to know something
about how to strike the rock, but you don’t.

The harder thing is not going up against
those stone-hearted ones who disbelieve.
It’s taking the stick
to the rocks of your own life,
the places you thought were dry and hard.
Inside the rock, I swear,
water gurgles.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

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God weeps

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
I am thinking this morning of a friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and another whose daughter was sexually abused by a family friend. I’m thinking of a friend who is in a faith crisis, not in her relationship with God, but with the church, which wouldn’t be so painful if she weren’t a pastor. I’m sure that you, too, know people who are suffering or struggling, and that at times you yourself feel like life is against you, or at least has let you down.

It just doesn’t help to say, “It will be all right.” Sometimes it isn’t. And it doesn’t help to say, “God will never give you what you can’t handle.” That’s ridiculous. For one thing, God doesn’t “give” you trouble; life does. Your neighbor does. A germ does. A friend who abuses your daughter is not acting according to God’s will. God doesn’t micromanage all our disasters. And furthermore, sometimes we can’t handle it. People crack up, break down, go crazy and commit crimes or suicide all the time. Some disasters wreck things that never get fixed. So where is God in all this, huh?

Well, it’s not as if I know. I haven’t seen heaven, or watched over God’s shoulder, or even suffered enough to have gained wisdom that’s very deep. But, from my own little struggles with life and pain and failure and disappointment, and from my wrestling with scripture, here’s what I do know: that God is the One who weeps with us. That God has “com-passion:” feeling-with. That God does not inflict suffering, but bears it. That God does what Paul tells us to do, to “weep with those who weep.” That the creator of the universe, infinite and unknowable, is somehow tenderly attentive to each of us, present within us, dwelling in our pain and our joy, in ways that we can’t see and seldom even suspect. But there. Even God’s absence is somehow a part of God’s indwelling Presence.

I guess that’s what we mean by “Christ”: the second person of the Holy Trinity, the nature of God that is not infinite and far-off, and not necessarily all-powerful, but is lovingly present, that is not necessarily always working miracles, but is simply with us, even in our suffering. Just there, holding us, not “making it better,” but just being there. The ancient hymn (quoted in Philippians 2.5-11) says that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” He came and sat with us in our pain.

If you ask, “What good goes that do?” I have to say I don’t know. I just know it’s true. And if you say, “Well, God must be weeping a lot,” I say, Yes. And yet somehow God is still joyful. Imagine that.

Whether you are joyful or fearful today, struggling or at ease, needing to give or receive, there is within you the compassion that comes from God. Trust that you are accompanied by the gentle man with blessing in his heart and holes in his hands, hands that know hurt, and that still reach out. Imagine the Spirit of Life within you, gently weeping, dwelling in you with infinite blessing and somehow, even here, infinite joy.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

A blessing for today

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         

Today may the good earth hold you
with the unfailing love of the Steadfast One.

May the sun illumine you
with the loving wisdom of the Holy One.

May the air fill you
with the Spirit of Life.

May the human family surround you
with the Divine Presence.

May birds remind you
of the joy of the Delightful One.

Today may some thing gracious happen
to speak to your heart.

Today may something odd happen
that awakens you.

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections

Without words

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
         
         
         
                  
         

In the deepest love,
in the wordless place
where lovers dwell inside each other,
where a mother holds infant,
where trees root in forests,
I sit in peace and stillness,
not thinking, just being here,
and I root in you,
and you hold me,
and we dwell inside each other,
in the holy silence at the center,
in deepest love.

         
                  
         

         
         
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

__________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Published
Categorized as Reflections