Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer Sermon Series


Have you ever spent much time thinking about Moses? He is a fascinating character. His story is truly remarkable. Born in a time of genocide and then brought up under the nose of the very individual who ordered the killing.

He witnessed the beating and torture of his own people. He committed murder and then had to flee for his life. Then taken in by a family, marries and then finds himself a shepherd.

I try to imagine what life must have been like for him in those days of tending the flock. Having been brought up in a palace this must have been quite a shock to the system. With all that happened I can imagine that some days must have seemed like a blur. I wonder if he enjoyed the peace, quite and solitude of tending the sheep.

What is important from today’s reading from Exodus and Moses’ story is two verses: There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."

Moses could have easily walked by, I am sure he had a lot on his mind. How many other people had passed the bush by? Not only did he notice but he went to observe, to take it in, to seek its mystery. And with that simple act, the act of awareness or attentiveness, or being present to the moment, whatever you want to call it, Moses witnessed and heard the call of God.

It sounds so simple when we hear in read from scripture. But I wonder how many times he walked past this very bush, alive with the angel of God, beckoning Moses to see what is right there in front of him.

I like to think of it that way, probably for my own piece of mind. I think I walk by opportunities every moment where I could encounter the Holy One. But I get distracted...I become overwhelmed, or worried, preoccupied with what has to be done next. I can even miss what someone is saying who is sitting right across from me, while in the midst of a conversation with them and yet I hope to be able to see God every day.

This is why I think spiritual practices are so important, why I have been focusing on them for the last few weeks. A spiritual practice helps us to keep the spiritual channels open and help keep the heart turned toward God. These disciplines can't save you; they can't even make you a holy person. But they can heighten your desire, awareness, and love of God by stripping down the barriers that you put up within yourself and some that others put up for you.

What makes something a 'spiritual discipline' is that it takes a specific part of your way of life and turns it toward God. A spiritual discipline is, when practiced faithfully and regularly, a habit or regular pattern in your life that repeatedly brings you back to God and opens you up to what God is saying to you.

I have never been the most spiritual of people. Sounds strange to say coming from a minister I know, but I have always thought of faith more as actions – as following God… for me actions speak louder than prayers… But I was young, and well, to much of a head person and less of a heart person. Over the last couple of years I have been seeing that how you feel, that your relationships, that the spiritual side of life is as important, if not more important.

The spiritual life can be profound once you begin to practice it. You begin to take the time to notice what is right in front of you, to see and hear and feel what and where you are. Eckhart Tolle calls it the power of now – being present in this moment. Moses lived it the day he saw the burning bush.

The practice of awareness doesn’t require us to do anything special day, we don’t need to add anything accept our attention. As we do the most mundane activities in our day we can practice awareness.

Here is a story from “Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On”: The Autobiography and Journals of Helen M. Luke edited by Barbara Mowat.

In her autobiography and journals, writer, counselor, and Jungian therapist Helen M. Luke reveals her remarkable ability to observe hints of the inner life. For example, she writes:
"I have recently been more aware, I believe, of the life in things, not only in things of beauty but in the ordinary tools of everyday. Jung used to greet his very saucepans in the mornings at Bollingen! I begin to understand this. In my life-long impatience, how much I have missed. Last night, washing the dishes, I really looked at my iron frying pan in the dishwater. The light made visible for a moment a tiny rainbow — a light through water revealing all the colors of life. It is so easy to miss the tiny symbols. Finding them is something quite different from the business of trying to hatch up big symbolic experiences. It is recognition, not pursuit, of meaning — recognition of the sacramental, of the intersection of the two worlds, breaking through unsought because one is attending."

The poet and doctor William Carlos Williams used to carry a notepad around with him in which he listed "Things I noticed today that I've missed until today."

This spiritual discipline is also known as attention, mindfulness, concentration, and recollection. Although I have saved this for the last sermon, this is probably the primary thing that we can do as a spiritual practice. We must stay alert or we risk missing critical elements of the spiritual life — moments of grace, opportunities for gratitude, evidence of our connections to others, signs of the presence of Spirit. The good news is that attention can be practiced anywhere, anytime, in the daily rounds of our lives.

We can all begin by doing one thing at a time. Keeping our minds focused on whatever we happen to be doing at the moment. It is through the mundane and the familiar that we discover a world of ceaseless wonders. Train yourself to notice details.

The idea is not to become perfect or that you will be aware every moment of every day. But to practice from time to time every day all that goes into being aware so that it becomes easier, and when you need to you can call on those techniques and be aware of what you are encountering.

Think of it like this. If you honestly believe that your spiritual life is a high priority in your life, then regular spiritual practice is essential. Believe me, you are not going to get to the other side of the river unless you get in the boat. The important principle here is to just get started. Don’t plan beyond that. Begin with only five minutes. After a brief time, double it to 10 minutes and eventually work your way up to whatever you believe is right for you.

Awareness is an easy place to start. As you clean the table tonight you can be aware of what is in front of you, the blessings of your life.

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