Tuesday
October 28

What’s Your Style?

By jlbishop

Last night, at our weekly Marsh Associates meeting, we discussed the different styles of worship.  We took a quiz with multiple statements that we had to rate from 1-5 with how true it is. For example, a statement like “I feel closest to God when I am surrounded by what God has made- the mountains, the forests, the sea etc.” Then we would rate it with 1 being the least true and 5 being the most.  I was interested in the quiz but didn’t think it would affect me much. I was wrong.

Taking this simple quiz has opened my eyes to the many different types of worship there are. The different styles are:

Naturalist, sensate, caregiver, enthusiast, traditionalist, ascetics, activists, contemplative, and intellectual.

Each of those styles are a different way to worship God. Whether it be through nature, your mind, art, the senses, dance and music etc. I know it sounds silly, but for once I finally understand that going to Church and praying silently are not the only way to worship God. I scored the highest on caregiver, naturalist and enthusiast. I scored the lowest on traditionalist, intellectual, and ascetics. What does that mean? I feel closest to God when I am helping others, in nature, or singing my heart out; and not so much when I’m doing rituals, reading theological books, or praying by myself. The former are the activities that I worship God best in.  This means so much for me! I now understand that it’s ok that sitting by myself silently or trying to read an intellectual book is draining. I never feel refreshed or closer to God after that. But put me in a homeless shelter handing out meals, on a beautiful path in a forest, or jamming out to a worship song in my car, and my soul is soaring!

I think it brings God more glory and honor to worship God in a way that lifts up your heart and soul. God made you that way, and God wants you to embrace that. I feel inspired and excited to get out there and help people, or take walks in nature, or have more impromptu worship jam sessions in my apartment… and not feel guilty that I haven’t sat silently and prayed or read any intellectually stimulating theological books.

God is an exciting God, a God of surprises, and I think God is delighted to be worshiped in all the ways God created us for!  So get out there and worship in a way that makes your soul (and God’s Spirit) to soar!

Monday
October 27

Labyrinth Lives

By kmshultz

Last week, I was asked where I saw myself in five or ten years. Questions like these have always been scary for me partly because I don’t want to miss out on the moment I’m living in right now by dwelling too much on the future, but also because I haven’t yet mustered the courage to acknowledge the edge of uncertainty looming before me; what is God calling me to do? How can I make a difference? Where do I go from here? How am I supposed to live my life?

As we walked a labyrinth last night at vespers, I was thinking about these questions, trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life. At first, I was lost in the slight anxiety that comes with having no idea of what the future holds. But as the gentle swish swish of my jeans against the floor accompanied my careful, methodical steps along the winding path, I was steadily overcome by a gentle calm. I realized that all this time, I’ve been looking at my life as a maze where I must make careful decisions at every crossroad and a wrong turn can ruin everything. I’d seen it as a world where there is one right way to do things and some people are more successful or efficient at living their lives than others. But I’d much rather think of life as a labyrinth where there’s only one path to follow, but people experience it differently depending on where they are along that path. As I walk a labyrinth, I’m not sure exactly where I’ll end up along the way, but I trust the creator of the labyrinth to guide me to the center. No matter how many twists and turns I take or how unlikely it seems that I’ll ever get anywhere, there is always a purpose to the path and it will always lead me to where I’m meant to be—and where I’m meant to be is right where I am. Labyrinths are spaces of moments, where the place I am right now is more important than where I have been or will be, it’s a space without anxiety, of breathing out and breathing in, and a space without notions of progress or achievement. It’s a leveling field that recognizes our individual differences in where we are in our lives, but also brings us together as we walk in parallel, turning at the same moment before going our separate ways. It’s the easiest maze we’ll ever see and that is such a relief.

Of course, the questions I brought to the labyrinth are still hanging there unanswered, but they don’t scare me as much anymore. The journey of finding the answers to those questions is much more important than the answers themselves and I know that this confusing, winding path will lead me where God is calling me to be. I just need to have faith, placing one foot in front of the other, breathing out, and breathing in.

Sunday
October 26

Solace in Discomfort

By iquillen

I rarely feel enthusiastic at the idea of large crowds. The thought of having to move through so many people induces a mix of uneasiness and dread. Last year, I distinctly remember walking to the Museum of Fine Arts with a group of students during on World Series night. The sheer volume of people felt bewildering, and I was extremely glad to finally break out of the wave of people moving toward Fenway Park stadium.

Thinking back on that night, the strangeness of it all stands out vividly to me. Even though I’ve lived near Boston for most of my life, I had not seen such a large amount of people gathered in one place in a very long time. The newness of the situation felt intensely disquieting as I tried to navigate through the crowds.

Discomfort is an emotion I encounter regularly. Usually, it occurs in the context of social situations. At large gatherings, butterflies seem to form in my stomach when I try to socialize or meet people. If I speak in front of a large group of people, my legs start shaking, as if they had gained a mind of their own. My response to uncomfortable situations has generally been to avoid them. Given the choice between mingling with a large group or spending a quiet night at home, I generally choose the latter. When someone asks me a question I feel very awkward answering, I’ve noticed that I tend not to respond–and hope that the conversation somehow carries on.

While this avoidance strategy has made me feel more at ease in the past, I’m beginning to appreciate that this strategy isn’t very viable in the context of ministry. In service last Sunday, on Parents’ weekend, I faltered at one point when I read the psalm. Normally, I would have tried to push aside the unpleasant discomfort of knowing that I misspoke. As other people read during the service, however, I remembered that making a mistake is a learning experience. I had survived, and I even gained a bit of personal feedback for the future.

A close friend once gave me a piece of advice that I value greatly. He told me quite simply, “Always be uncomfortable.” I still have not fully appreciated what he meant, but my meeting with Soren did give me some insight. I was talking to him about reaching out to a student who came to Marsh for the first time. When Soren asked me what my goals were for this conversation, I was initially at a loss for words. I felt nervous, certainly, but the greatest fear came from not knowing where to begin and that the conversation could go badly.

This kind of fear is not one that can be avoided or circumvented like the World Series crowd. The possible discomfort and strangeness of a first encounter is important, especially in Interfaith ministry. For one thing, it prevents us from taking what we are accustomed to for granted. It also exposes our own vulnerability, that we don’t know what to expect. That vulnerability helps maintain an open mind toward other faiths and appreciate their understanding of the divine.

This past Wednesday, I attended an event on Arabic calligraphy. A calligrapher showed several images, explaining each word’s meaning in its intricate designs. Since I never took a course in Arabic, I felt out of place. One picture, though, stood out to me. It was an image of a star and the word for Allah. When the calligrapher explained that the name repeated over and over around the star represented Allah’s oneness, I was amazed. I had no idea how he made sense of the image, nor how other students understood the writing. Yet I could sense the intense beauty of the word and all the deep meaning associated with it. In that instance of discomfort, I felt just a bit closer to the students in that room, the culture conveyed in the word, and the divine embodied in its meaning.

Wednesday
October 22

The Community Flame

By kmshultz

I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately and what it means. What do we mean when we say community? We have home communities, school communities, church or religious communities, work communities, the LGBTQ community, the running community, the Boston community, the global community, and the list goes on. After a while, the word loses its meaning–it’s just something we use to describe ‘us’ vs ‘them’.

But community is a beautiful word. It is both concrete in referring to a group of people and also abstract in referring to the relationships between those people. It shares a root with the word ‘common’, meaning ordinary or general, but also in common, meaning shared and implying togetherness. It’s a word that requires relationships between people and celebrates our commonalities over our differences. It emphasizes the relationships that individuals form over the individuals themselves and, as tired as the word can sometimes feel, I think we need a whole lot more of it in the world.

I like to think of a community as a root system–everything is connected to each other and working together to nourish and support each other. In terms of our ‘home’ community (whatever that may mean), we all come from the same earth and, no matter high we grow up and away from it, we can never break our ties to where we come from.

But we don’t just belong to one community. Life isn’t something that can be fit neatly into boxes and categories–it’s messy and chaotic and beautiful. And so are our communities. We don’t just fit into one community; we spend our lives weaving our way through dozens of them, leaving a tangled web of relationships in our wake. And this web connects to other webs that connect us to every other person on the earth. It’s a pretty incredible root system.

All these thoughts came to a head on Sunday at vespers as I helped lead Holden Evening Prayer, a sung service that was written at and for Holden Village, the community that I call home. As we sang, I looked around and realized how many of my communities had merged in this service–old friends from my Holden community standing next to new friends from my Boston community, members of the Lutheran community, the Marsh Chapel community, the Boston University community, my work community, and my worship community all joining together in one service. We all belonged to different groups, but the act of singing and worshiping together forged us into a new community. I realized that this service of Holden Evening Prayer is another one of those tangled webs connecting me to so many communities across space and time.

In the middle of the service after the readings, the leader says, “the light shines in the darkness” and the congregation replies “and the darkness does not overcome it” or, as my mom and brother like to say, “and the darkness doesn’t get it”. Our communities are lights shining in the darkness that the darkness can never get at. As those lights shine, we flock to them, clustering around and once that community is formed, it is never going to disappear. The members of that community may grow apart or drift away, but they will always be a part of that tangled web and they will always have a few roots that tie them to where they came from. And that gives me great comfort.

I pray that we always put more emphasis on the light that unites us than the darkness that divides us so that we never lose our sense of rootedness and connectedness to each other.

Sunday
October 19

May I be filled with loving kindness

By jdingus

This week was another Sanctuary week, which as always gives me a lot of material to reflect on. Over the past few months since our coordinator left, I have been taking on even more leadership roles within the community.

For this particular week, our music director asked me to lead the congregation in this beautiful arrangement of the Buddhist meta-prayer, “May I be filled with loving kindness.” This is a song that I’ve known for along time and grew up singing, but the problem was, I really struggled to learn the new arrangement. During rehearsal our music director played and sang it with me over and over, and I could barely sing it on my own.

I was really pleased to be picked to lead a song all by myself, and I didn’t want our director to think I couldn’t handle learning a simple song, and I didn’t want to let the community down, so I worked on it. I listened to the recording over, and over. I waited for my roommates to be out of the room and sang it until I knew it. But I was still incredibly nervous and scared.

In the rehearsals before the service, even after a huge amount of practice it still took me a few tries to sing it correctly. Our director even asked if he should just sing it with me. At that point though, I had to prove to myself that I could handle this.

Needless to say, I was nervous during the beginning of worship. But much quicker than I wanted it to, my song came up in the order of worship. I got up and sang it through the first time. Relief! I remembered the melody it sounded ok and I could do this. In that moment, for the first time since I’d started practicing this song, I thought about what I was singing. This song is a prayer for peace, first for myself, and then extending out into the world.

“May I be filled with loving kindness, May I be well,

May I be peaceful and at ease, And May I be happy.”

At that moment I let myself let go of the anxiety, the fear, the trepidation and let myself be peaceful and at ease. I’m not perfect, but I know how to sing the song and what actually matters is praying with my community, not worrying about perfection.

The second verse replaces the “I” with “you” which I dedicated the “you” verse to my music director. I’m typically a little nervous around him, because he is such a talented musician and I don’t want to disappoint him, but all he had done through out the rehearsal process was show me loving kindness.

The subsequent verses, “we” and “all” were my prayer to my community. As a community, we aren’t perfect, our leaders aren’t perfect and things don’t always go smoothly. But I prayed for them to continue to be filled with loving kindness.

My performance was not without flaw. I stumbled on one of the verses forgetting to replace the right words, and I know my voice was a little shakier than usual because of my nerves. But my prayer… that was right on point. I took a moment to remember that even though our community prides itself on having really high quality music, it isn’t about being perfect. It’s about bringing beauty and prayer into the community.

Saturday
October 18

Bridging Understandings

By iquillen

Over the summer, I read part of a book on medical ethnomusicology, the study of how music is used in healing across different cultures. One particular chapter discussed the role religion has in patient health and recovery from illness. The author stated that for many patients, their faith played an important part of their personal healing. Many patients found solace in speaking with a pastor while in a hospital, and some were thrilled to be asked about their faith by an attending physician. One comment from the author struck me in this chapter: when the subject of religion in medicine was brought up with other doctors, several dismissed the idea and would not acknowledge it further.

This remark reminds me now of a divide that I often sense between religion and science. The two so often seem incompatible with each other, and much controversy has erupted when they clash. One example is the contention over teaching students evolution or creationism in schools. I believe some of this conflict stems from the way they attempt to explain and understand the world. Religion is founded on belief, whereas science largely rests on evidence. These two things do not always coincide. However, both of these ideas attempt to unravel and explain what we do not know or understand.

For science and religion to coexist, I believe a mutual respect should be affirmed for the insights that each offers us. A few days ago, a friend asked me what I thought about the religious views (or lack thereof) of some scientists. His question touched on a deeper issue of this separation, one that needs to be addressed. Science and religion should communicate and appreciate each other’s perspective. One cannot value or trivialize what the other sees, because our sense of meaning builds on the knowledge of both.

To give an analogy for this: our knowledge of the brain has grown significantly in recent years. We are beginning to gain a greater understanding of how neurons communicate, which may eventually create a breakthrough in understanding how thoughts, emotions, even how our identity and personality work. Does that make these things be any less significant to us? I don’t believe it does. I realize that this analogy has roots in science. But isn’t it incredible that the human brain allows us to be self-aware, feel, and even contemplate the divine? I value the contributions science has made to our understanding, and I cannot help but think that there was some divine influence that allowed us to explore, question, discover, and think about those contributions.

Wednesday
October 15

What Facebook Doesn’t Tell You

By jlbishop

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. On one hand, I love that I can stay in touch with friends who I don’t see often or are across the world because of study abroad and such. I also really love that I can stalk all the adorable pictures of babies in my friends’ lives (but that’s a whole other story). I also really hate Facebook. I hate that I can be out to dinner with a group of my friends and the table will be silent as everyone is on their phones looking at Facebook. I hate that there can be so much unnecessary drama flung in every direction with dramatic statuses and arguments and hurtful statements in the comments. But there’s something that bothers me the most about Facebook, that I didn’t realize until recently: It warps the idea and meaning of friendship.

Do you remember that ad from Toyota of the teen sitting at her computer telling the camera about her parents who joined Facebook? She laughed and mocked them that they only had 18 friends, and she had 687. Then the scene changes to her parents having the time of their life mountain-biking with said 18 friends, and it flashes back to the teen alone at the table proudly stating that what she was doing was “living” and her parents were lame. That commercial always stuck with me, but now more than ever. I realized that Facebook has warped my idea of friendship. I recently had a falling out with one of my closest friends. Obviously sad about losing her friendship,  I also had a panicked moment where I told myself I was down to only two close friends back home, and sadly, I think that upset me more. Then I asked myself why. Why am I more worried/sad about the number of friends I have. And the answer came to me: Facebook. Facebook is all about how many friends you have and who’s having the best time. It’s like a competition of who has the most adventurous life. And that’s just not realistic.

A wise woman once told me that if I had just one true friend, then I was very blessed. True friendship, she said, is rarer than you think. She told me to fight for the ones who are worth it, and with love let go of those who aren’t. I have to remember that next time Facebook tries to convince me that quantity is more important than quality.

Monday
October 13

Finding Patience

By jdingus

So it’s no secret that occasionally parts of the service at Marsh make me uncomfortable or just clash with what I believe. This week the Gospel reading, which came from Matthew, made me really angry. Here’s the text:

Matthew 25: 1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

 

When I first heard this, I didn’t understand what could possibly be valuable in this passage. It sounds to me like it condemns those who make bad choices. It celebrates people who were unwilling to share what they had with others. And presents a vision of god where god turns away from those who made a mistake. What? My faith is so opposed to all of these ideas. I believe that everyone makes bad choices sometimes, and deserves second chances. I believe that if I have more than I need and someone has too little, I am obligated to help them. And I absolutely believe that there is divinity within each person that can’t go away even if that person makes a mistake. Needless to say, I was hurt by what I read in this passage.

Thankfully Dean Hill did a good job of pulling something valuable out of a verse that seemed so damaging. He emphasized patience and persistence in his sermon, using the metaphor of the bridesmaids waiting patiently and persistently for the bridegroom. (I guess maybe if I’d had a little more patience to begin with, I might have been less upset by this passage.) His sermon spoke to me though because of my work here at Marsh. As a religious educator, I have learned how to be patient with kids. Children need a lot of patience and persistence, but for me it comes naturally to be patient with them. But as a non-Christian intern working at Marsh Chapel, I’m still working on being patient with Christianity. Soren and I have talked a lot about my misconceptions about Christianity, and I know for myself that one of my biggest problems is that I tend to make snap judgments about Christianity particularly when I encounter pieces that make me uncomfortable or feel threatening to me. Deep down though, I know that there is so much of value in this tradition, and even more so there is so much for me to learn in my experience at Marsh. So now I guess I am working to find more patience in my heart. To listen before I judge. And to recognize that the little things that make me uncomfortable are so much smaller than the message of love, generosity, and forgiveness that affirms my work here.

Sunday
October 12

The Absurdity of Trinity

By kmshultz

In my anthropology 101 class, we’ve been talking about trying to make the familiar unfamiliar. In other words, we look at our lives and point out the absurdity or strangeness of the things we take for granted.

So with this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the Trinity a lot this week and was reminded of how strange the concept really is. I mean, how can we have three entities that we call God and still manage to be monotheistic? Even though we say that all parts of the Trinity still only make one God, we also say that each part is divine. To outsiders, I’m sure this smells suspiciously like polytheism.

Trying to explain the Trinity always manages to give me a headache: there is only one God, but there are three persons that make up that one God. Two parts of God are somehow father and son, and in all four gospels, God the Father blesses God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. If that isn’t confusing enough, God the Son dies, which is something you would think would prove that God the Son is an entirely different entity than God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. And yet, among all of this, we still say that these are not three separate gods, but one God. And I love that.

I love that God is so mysterious and unknowable that we can’t ever truly understand God’s nature and I love that God is not personified as a rigid figure ruling from on high, but comes among us in various forms. I love the freedom that comes with having a part of God (the Holy Spirit) that I don’t associate with a gender. I love that I can experience God on multiple levels at once, that I can feel the Holy Spirit moving through me while I pray to God the Father in Jesus’s name. I love that God isn’t something that we can cram into an arbitrary category or pin down with a single label. And I love that our feeble attempt to explain the nature of God needs a lot of explaining of its own. Because in the end, God is beyond explanation, beyond labels, beyond categories, and beyond divisions. No matter how we think of or try to explain God, we will always come up short. I think that’s my favorite part about the Trinity—it never ceases to remind me how little I know about God and how absurd it is that I try to understand God anyway.

So, while the idea of the Trinity may be completely absurd, I think it’s the framework on which my faith is built. It probably has flaws, but it gives me space to pull away from categories, fall into the mystery of God, and grow in faith. And that’s enough for me.

Wednesday
October 8

Letting Go of Time

By iquillen

Over the past week and a half, I was confronted by an incredibly difficult question. It was not as existential as what my purpose in life was, nor as practical as what kind of career I wanted to pursue after college. It was actually a simple one, one that each one of us encounters daily: What do we need to do with the time that we have?

Some context for this question: about a month after the fall semester starts, the first set of midterms and papers of significant length approaches. Like many students, I had a couple of midterms, and I also needed to write an 8-12 page paper in a week. At the same time, I had also agreed to staff a conference for model United Nations. For those who have never been involved in model UN, this involves dedicating the majority of a weekend to ensure the conference runs smoothly. I had committed to this event, months before I learned of any exam dates. The weekend of the conference happened to fall on the same weekend I might have spent studying for an anthropology midterm and writing a history paper. The time crunch of my schedule created by chance was almost overwhelming.

This experience is hardly unique. Everyone has to balance their obligations, from classes and work to activities, socializing, and sleep. In my conversation with Soren last week, I realized that I had very little experience choosing which activities I truly needed to do. The flash of insight came when Soren told me I had listed 17 things I needed to do in one week, and I had lost track of the number a long time ago.

We live in a society that emphasizes productivity, accomplishing as much as we possibly can in a short period of time. For many students, that translates to joining several clubs, working at a job, and possibly taking five classes. It still amazes me that some of my friends can accomplish most of this and still find time to socialize or sleep. Underneath this atmosphere, there is an undercurrent that we need to dedicate ourselves to all of these commitments, and that not going to something means we’ve lost something, perhaps even conveyed some disrespect. For some things, that certainly is true. Extenuating circumstances aside, you really can’t respect a person’s time in a class or an academic setting if you don’t show up. With that said, schedules full of things to do have made us lose sight of what matters most to us.

At an Eid dinner I went to a few weeks ago, a speaker said that if we love something deeply, we become subservient to it. Even though we may love the new experiences we have in joining a club or taking an interesting class, trying to do everything places us under the control and constraint of time. And unfortunately, time isn’t always forgiving.

In preparation for my exams and paper, I had to forgive myself for not going to some commitments that I usually enjoyed. Letting go of time was painful, but it allowed to put effort into what I felt was meaningful for my own spiritual fulfillment. Did my intentions for studying and writing work out as I had planned them to? Not exactly, especially since I did not anticipate writing 6 pages in a single night. Nevertheless, this stressful, blurry period that has just passed encouraged me to take only the few things that I valued most, and focus my mind on them.

The speaker at the Eid dinner opened with a call to worship God in every moment of our lives and not restrict it to only a single day each week. Likewise, we should not limit what is most precious to us to a small fraction of our busy schedules. We must let go of time occasionally to follow the few things we hold are important for us and our spirits. I did not answer the question I asked at the beginning of this post, but I know I will answer it again and again as the year goes on. Now, I leave you with another question, one that the poet Mary Oliver asked:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”