Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Deep Calls to Deep

Deep Calls to Deep

These four wise ones from the East, who traveled far, from Boston, Southern Cal, Kentucky, stood in awe before the million gallon tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (with their new hammerhead shark friend) and thanked God for the chance to dive deep into their – preaching?

Yes, three Episcopal priests and my dear UCC colleague Kent Gilbert are a peer group in the sermon enrichment program from Virginia Theological Seminary, called, appropriately, “Deep Calls to Deep.”

In this year long program, “Preachers nourish their passion for preaching through voice and embodiment work and through deepening their connection with the Holy Spirit.
The call to preach comes from the depths of God and meets us in our own depth.  In order to respond from our own depth we need to nurture our body, mind and spirit, revitalizing, in peer groups, the vitality and hope that fueled your preaching ministry when you first began this wonderful yet challenging work of proclamation.”

(These wise preachers could have spent their mid-program retreat in wintery Virginia, but they took their Lilly money and came to Monterey!  Wise ones indeed!)

My job was to take them deep into Blue Theology, the wisdom and wonders to the sea.  Actually the Monterey Bay Aquarium and later the tidepools of Asilomar Beach did all the work – we just dove in! 

Sometimes we volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are told not to be too “preachy” about ocean conservation.   But at the same time they teach and encourage us to tell stories of hope, to be inspiring, and to “make the ask” for how guests might change their behavior to promote ocean health.  Sounds like “vital proclamation” to me!  Preach it brothers and sisters!

In honor of my new deep friends, here’s a piece called “Down and Deep” I wrote a year ago:
Christian language seems to love UP, rising, lift up your hearts.  I want more DOWN. I love my higher power, but I want a deeper power. What's the difference, up or down?  From the sea I have learned to love the down.  From my own female body I have come to cherish the dark and deep.

Many hymns and prayers still assume we live on a flat earth.  Praise God above ye heavenly hosts.  God on high. Hosanna in the highest.  So quaint and so wrong.

God and God's creation are more deep than high.  Deep oceans of course but also deep space.  I mean deep deep deep. I don't think deep space ever ends.  If God is everywhere, then God is deep.

Take a deep breath.  Not a high breath.  In-spir-ation is deep, dark, down.

I prefer people who are deep, wise, profound (literally, deep) to people who are high, and mighty.  Wisdom looks down, not up.

Creation stories are not just in Genesis but in Job: “Have you entered into the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?  Have you seen the gates of deep darkness?” God asks Job.

"They tried to bury us - they didn't know we were seeds." The ocean and my deep dark body teach me that we are seeds, God waits and ferments, foments in the dark.  Growth is hidden.  Yes, we need light but no growth happens without dark depth.

"Lift up your hearts" - "Let your living heart beat deep within you."
"As Christ rose" - "As Christ dove deep."
"Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing his wings"- "Depth and dark with all Christ brings, deep dark healing in his fins.”

“Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest.”
Our Blue Theology Mission Station proclaims all things deep and dark as we walk by the Monterey Bay and learn how to preserve Gods’ deep creation.  Youth service trips and adult pilgrimages.  I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Still Waters

Still Waters

We set out enough glasses for all 35 women, and pitchers of cool, fresh, local water.  We recalled how women in much of the world are the drawers and carriers of water.  We each poured a glass, served each other, stood in a circle, and silently, safely, drank as one, quenching our thirsts.  We prayed together - For what do we thirst?  Many responses: safe, abundant water for all, justice, friendship, solitude, relief from pain.  After each, we prayed, “And let all who thirst, come to the water.”

God leads me beside still waters.  In Hebrew it’s “mai menochot,” literally “restful waters.”  In the pastoral metaphor of the 23rd Psalm, waters that are still are a place to rest, and a safe place (unlike a wadi or a raging stream) to quench our thirst. 

I’ve been writing the past few weeks here about a retreat on “Living Waters” that I recently led with the fabulous women of First Congregational UCC, San Jose.  The first night was about still waters (followed by moving/living and deep waters.)

I shared some of these my ocean devotions on silence, stillness, thirst.  And we pondered the word “still.”  In early German and English, like Stille Nacht, Silent Night, still means quiet, restful.  How still we see thee lie.  But still is also an adverb meaning constant, persisting, I’m still standing.  Words like sty, stool, stall, stable, all come from the same cognate, a place where you put something and want it “still” to be there when you get back. You “install” something like a washing machine or a minister and you likewise hope they’ll stay working with you for a while.

So still means quiet, but it also means continuous.  Seems contradictory, silent and persisting.  But actually they both mean go on without change or ceasing, keep on keeping on. Safe places, quiet people, still waters, still go on, with persistence, faith, trust.

We United Church of Christ folks have a motto, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma - God is Still Speaking.”  Meaning God did not act only in the past – no, creation is ongoing, God just keeps keeping on.  Still. Today.

We women on retreat wondered if we might also put a comma right inside this our favorite phrase.  God is Still, Speaking.  God is still, safe, offering rest, like those still waters.  As well as active, still at it, speaking, never letting us go.

Where do we find restful waters in our lives?  What are the still places where we can quench our many and various thirsts? I am more and more seeking still water in my life, where my soul may be restored, my cup will overflow my thirst, in God’s wet house, forever.

(Pic is of pilgrims walking the still low tide waters to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne.  Safe, restful, and quenching every pilgrim’s thirst.)
I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and at  Our church in Pacific Grove, CA offers adult pilgrimages and youth group service trips on ocean stewardship and spirituality along Monterey Bay.  Come and Sea!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Prayer over Gathered Water

Our “Living Waters” retreat was wet and wonderful.  Here’s the prayer Rev. Ann Lougee said over the gathered water each woman brought and poured.  The water rested “still” for a day on our altar (the muddy one is water from the Dead Sea, the sculpture the woman at the well,) then we carried it “living” outside, and poured it “deep” into the earth around a thirsty tree.  Blessed be water still, living, deep.

“God of earth and sky and sea, God of chaos and creation and cosmos, God of stillness and motion and the deepest depths, we have come to this place thirsting for refreshment of body, mind and spirit. As women, we are constantly and continually pouring out for others, sometimes at risk of emptying our own vessels. So we have come to re-hydrate, and not just to hydrate but to saturate ourselves with this time apart, time together, time with you, our life-giving God.

“We have come bringing real and virtual water from places that we hold dear: from the Dead Sea; from the Sacramento River; from a koi pond at the center of life and relationship for a family and friends; from our homes which are places of refuge;and from this retreat center which is also a place of refuge and safety and calmness and friendship and blessing. Many places! 

“Yet all this water comes ultimately from the same primordial source, moving and taking different forms at different times in different places. So too, God of Mystery, do we all come from different places, yet we come ultimately from the same Source: from Big Bang to stardust, from life-producing primordial waters, from ancient African ancestors, all of which heritage flows in the fluids of our bodies. And we blend ourselves together here, like this blended water, in a sacred, fluid sisterhood.

“We have each come, as woman to the well, seeking a quenching of our own private, individual thirsts in our time here. And as women together, we help to fill one another’s vessels as well. Where one has an upwelling and overflowing of spirit, she may pour out for one whose vessel feels empty or less full, knowing that those roles may be reversed at another time. 

And so we have combined our waters together, all made fuller by our togetherness. From this time of sharing and togetherness may we feel ourselves well and truly saturated in spirit, in love, in stillness and motion and our deepest depths. As we leave this place, may what we have experienced here make us able to pour out from replenished, ever-refilling vessels. Amen.”
______ I post these ocean devotional every Wednesday here and on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Water Still, Living, Deep

Water Still, Living, Deep

“Living Waters” is the theme of a retreat I’m leading this weekend for 35 women from First Congregational Church UCC, San Jose at St. Francis Retreat in San Juan Bautista. 

In preparation I got thinking and praying about the many different ways we experience water, physically and spiritually.  Here’s my rough outline for our time together:

Friday Night
“Still Waters - Safety, Quenching” -Lakes, Pools, Ponds
“God leads me beside still waters” - Psalm 23
“Be still and know I am God” - Psalm 48
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” Isaiah 55:1
Ritual: Simple grateful shared pouring and drinking of water

Saturday Morning
1)”Living Waters - Baptism, Our Own Body’s Water”- Rivers, Creeks, Springs
“The water I give will be a well of water springing up to eternal life.” - John 4:14         (Woman at the well)
“Whoever belongs to me, rivers of living water will flow within them.” -John 7:37
“As soon as Jesus was baptized he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven opened.” - Matt 3:16
Ritual: Gathering of the Waters we have each brought from special places

2) Water-seeking walk/activity outside in small groups

Saturday Night
“Deep Waters - Mystery, Deeper (Not Higher) Power “- Ground Water, the Ocean
“Deep calls to deep.” - Psalm 42:7
“Put out into the deep.”- Luke 5:4
“There was darkness was on the face of the deep.” - Gen 1

Sunday Morning Worship
Deborah Streeter and Ann Lougee

Reflections on “Our Life and Faith as Told by Water”
Blessing of our gathered water and of us

Hold us in your prayers!  I’ll let you know how it went.  Rain is forecast – we might get physically as well as spiritually wet!

(Pic of Point Lobos with harbors seals finding rest beside still waters.)
_______________ We have lots of youth groups coming this spring and summer for Blue Theology stewardship and spirituality service trips beside the living deep waters of Monterey Bay.  Also several clergy renewal groups.  Dive in!  I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook.