Monday, March 19, 2007

Silence and Sabbath

Silence is scarce.

As I start to write this, wanting to write on our congregational experience during Lent of sitting in increasing amounts (a minute increasing by a half minute each week) of silence, my daughter is in the room next to me watching a re-run episode of "The Lucy Show." Somehow it seems like a fitting dose of reality. How hard it is to find quiet time, time to sit in silence. This Sunday, it seemed to me as if people were sinking into the silence. There didn't seem to be the shuffling and rustling that we've had in previous weeks. Note to self: don't announce the amount of time that we'll have and then people don't wonder when it's supposed to be up. But there was a power, an enfolding or upholding of the gathered community as the silence deepened. I think we were making space for God.

Even early in the morning, in my supposed quiet time, it's hard to find silence or space for silence. The kettle whistles, the furnace clanks, refrigerator whirs, the computer hums and cars swish by. Even now, although it is quieter since my daughter went upstairs, my chair squeaks and I hear the clock ticking as my fingers are tapping. Why is it easier to find God in the silence than in the busy-ness and noise? I'm not denying that it is—I'm just wondering why we're not wired to find God in rush of everyday?

I read somewhere recently that Sabbath is the most radical contribution of Judaism to the world, or maybe it was the most radical contribution of any religion to the world in 4000 years. Not that Sabbath is always silence, but it is holy time, and it seems to me that we were achieving holy time on Sunday in our silence. Somehow in my mind I equate the spaciousness of Sabbath with the quality of silence we had.

My calendar popup reminders intrude as I try to sit in silence again. And I suspect that if I close my eyes to sit in silence now, I may be asleep—restless night from aching shoveling muscles last night.

If we lost scents and ritual in the reformation, it was a much bigger loss to have lost Sabbath keeping, whenever it was that we did. Blue laws, that remnant of Puritanism, really didn't ensure Sabbath, although the laws helped to control the options. How hard would it be to buck the tide and keep a day of Sabbath in a Christian tradition? How hard is it to find 3-4 minutes of intentional silence? Yet, what an absolute blessing it is when we do.

I tried yet again to sit in silence, and my mind has too much chatter just now. So, there it is. Yesterday I felt enfolded by others around, like being wrapped in a communal blanket of silence. My mind was not nearly so noisy.

I'll miss the silence during service when Lent is over. I'm not sure that I've made enough space for God, but it's been a special part of the season, not a giving up, but a getting.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The scent of God?

I've been mulling about the sermon I'll be preaching on March 25. I have been thinking that I'll be improvising the sermon—that is, not writing it down, or at least not standing at the pulpit reading it, but one of the things that has drawn me about the gospel text, which is the woman anointing Jesus, is the fragrance.

Last night I found a place on-line (after looking unsuccessfully in several places locally) that sells essential oils and I ordered some spikenard, as well as frankincense and myrrh, among others. I'll hope it's here by March 25. I went rummaging through my drawers and crafts bags for fragrances this weekend. My daughter's Christmas gifts several years ago were potpourri boxes and sachets, and we had fragrance oils for those, and I had gotten some fragrances to add to massage oils, so I have quite a few essential oils around for one reason or another. I'm thinking that this might be a fragrant service. I have a lot of smells captured in bottles. The children will enjoy that...

Smell is the sense that is most primal and I'm wondering why we don't make more use of it in worship. Other than the smell of the coffee brewing—which actually isn't very strong, we don't do smells in Protestant churches. Is this another thing, like ritual, that we lost/threw away during the reformation?

Nard or spikenard was used in preparing a body for burial. I figure that's a coded way of saying that it's a potent enough scent to cover up the scent of a decaying, no—let's be blunt—a rotting body. If so, what primal associations would nard have? Yet, it's referred to as well in Song of Solomon: "While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance." It's originally from India, and we know from the gospel that it was costly then. Was it a scent the poor would have known? Currently it's not as expensive as myrrh, and it's recommended for rashes, wounds, and tension, and is known as a very spiritual fragrance, apparently just from its historic association with the anointing of Jesus. Is that cause or effect now? If I didn't know it was nard, would I be affected spiritually?

So am trying to think of how to use fragrances in a sermon, especially since we have a hospitality theme going on… Bring my bread machine—baking bread is a current fragrance of hospitality. But apparently nard had an association with welcoming guests as well…

Where is God in all this? What is the scent of God? The scent of redemption? The scents of love and welcome and acceptance and hospitality? How can/do we think of those? If we make worship more sensual, with more subconscious or primal connections, what might happen? There are ways to have anointing as movement as a part of the service, because it wasn't just that the fragrance was there, but that it was lavishly used, and anointing was a limited act—by priests for kings, for example. So what radical notion is it for a woman to anoint an itinerant teacher/prophet/social reformer? But it was also love and recognition, captured in the scent and in the act. How might that be translated into worship/a sermon and for this particular congregation? And we are told in Matthew and Mark that wherever the good news is told, her story will always be a part of it in remembrance of her … should we re-enact it? There is an interesting echo "in remembrance of her" with communion …

Maybe when I actually get the nard and smell it, I'll decide that there's a different way to go for this…. In the meantime, thinking of the unusual sparks creative possibility.

What is the scent of God? I asked my girlfriend as I was writing this: My answer: the smell after a rainstorm on a freshly plowed field. Her answer: the way the house smells when you are cooking, preparing for company. What's your answer?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

What is Creativity?

Creativity is us.

We are creative, creating beings, almost by definition: the Creator created us in the image of the Creator.

Creativity is as natural as breathing. We block our creativity in the same way we become toxic or in the same way we sin: not having space or time or beauty or care for ourselves or care for the rest of creation. If I'm not feeling creative, it's because I'm tired and I am not eating well, exercising, making love, being present/mindful, laughing—and finding things to laugh about and people to laugh and play with, or seeing or hearing or making beauty through art or movement or music or nature. Or I'm doing things that are soul sapping: work that does not bring me joy, or I've let my life and space get cluttered with junk.

Sort of like what happened this week. Finally had time to sit and play some music and pray, but before then it was about wanting to drop kick the computer at work into the bay while it was tied to all of the people who were being especially irritating.

Thank God for music and prayer, and the end of the workweek.