Saturday
February 6

Perceptions of Prayer

By iquillen

In our Marsh Associates meeting on Monday, I was asked to write down and share a few things about what praying meant to me, along with my fellow Marsh Associates. As we went around and shared what prayer was for us, the variety of practices struck me greatly. One person prayed in singing, in holding hands in a circle; another prayed through personal conversations with the Divine; another through silence, scripture, and reflection; another in unstructured, spontaneous interactions with God.

I must admit, I don’t consciously think about prayer very often. When I sat through worship services as a child, I remember just sitting in silence and waiting during the sections when we were supposed to pray. Sometimes I would think out some sentences, and I thought that these constituted a prayer. But something about the experience didn’t quite ring true with me. I felt like I was just throwing words out into the void, and I was supposed to hear a voice in reply that everyone else somehow could hear.

When my turn to share came, I mentioned the role music and singing has played in my life. An incredible connection can be felt in the swell of voices joined in harmony when we sing. Music has provided a way for me to feel closer with some sensation that I would associate with a Divine presence. When I first attended a service at Marsh Chapel, I was immediately taken aback with awe when the choir began singing from the upper balcony behind me. It is moments like these that I think I experience closeness to the Holy Spirit most vividly.

But does this experience constitute prayer? It certainly is a little different from the structured experience during service from my childhood. For me, prayer involves being deeply present in the current moment. Singing is one practice which allows me to reach this state. Occasionally I can also find it when in motion, walking around on my own or in silence. At other times, I reach this state when I have deep conversation with another individual, or when I share fellowship with a community of people. I don’t know if any or all of these things are prayers. But I believe that they do connect me with a deeper current, one that connects me to the world around me, and ultimately to the Divine, whatever and wherever the Divine may be.

I’ll end this post with a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. I find its simplicity and earnestness touching, and it beautifully captures that I believe a prayer entails. Maybe you see prayer differently; perhaps you yourself experience something different entirely from prayer. Whatever your experience may be, I invite you to meditate upon her words as you encounter and experience this grounding presence in your everyday life.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
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?

Thursday
February 4

Rhetoric

By Matthew Cron

Today’s society revolves around individual’s ability to communicate their beliefs and ideals with others. Rhetoric is a class that is required as part of the College of General Studies’ core curriculum (a curriculum in which I am required to take this semester). Rhetoric is the act of using speech or written language in order to persuade another person. it allows us to convey our own opinions and to intelligently propose arguments and ideas we believe in.

My professor once said: “If people are good at rhetoric they do not say what they want to say; they say what other people need to hear.” Parallelling this concept, God, in many different ways, tells us what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. It is very easy for us to ask and receive; but, it is not easy for us to continue to ask even when we do not receive.

We should use this model in our own lives as well. Instead of pusillanimously telling half-truths or sugarcoating information, we should be forthright. It is our duty as congregation under the leadership of God to help those who need help around us; the greatest way for us to be able to do this is through the use of our words. We have a God given ability to conjure coherent and intellectual sentences. We need to use this ability to help those around us; and to stand up for whatever we believe is correct.

Rhetoric at it’s purest form is more complex than just black and white issues; however, the debates sprung from this rhetoric have a lasting impact on those around us. God has given us free choice, and the government has given us the right to freedom of speech. We must use this freedom to pick sides in important issues, and to share our opinions openly (even if others disagree with them). This is our civic duty both as a member of society and a member of God’s congregation.

Saturday
January 30

Sabbath

By iquillen

One of my professors once told me a saying: “You can do seven days’ worth of work in six days, but you can’t do it in seven.” I was a freshman then, and at the time his words didn’t make much sense to me. How can you do more days’ work in less time? As efficient as that sounds, it also seems almost impossible. It wasn’t until last semester that I began to appreciate a different interpretation of this saying. This statement is mores about rest than it is about efficiency.

When I began working as an intern at Marsh Chapel with the other Marsh Associates, my supervisors encouraged us to take up a sabbath practice. The idea was to devote at least 24 hours of our week to something that we found restful. As simple as it sounds, this is surprisingly difficult to do. In the past, I’ve rarely been able to intentionally set aside a day to not do work. Classes, jobs, and extracurricular impose a significant demand on time and energy. A sabbath practice doesn’t seem to be an easy thing to add on in addition to everything else.

But I suppose that’s not the point of a sabbath practice. The intention is not to accomplish more, but to do less. If many of the regular activities and commitments that we do each day impose on our time and energy, then a sabbath practice is supposed to impose less on oneself. After taking five classes and dealing with some very stressful situations last semester, being more deliberate about this would certainly be helpful.

This semester, I’d like to try to take up something that I can call a sabbath practice. I don’t have a clear idea of what that will look like yet. Ideally, there would be a day in the week that I would set aside to devote to my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Given how unpredictable a semester in college can be, that expectation may not be realistic. But at the very least, I can start with a practice that I usually do to help me feel centered and content. A nutritionist once told me that it is much easier to build a habit on an existing one than to start from scratch. Perhaps taking on a new practice will simply involve taking more time for something that I already enjoy outside of my regular activities. Or maybe it will involve exploring something new altogether. Who knows? But as we enter into a new month of a new year, I invite you to reflect upon the practices that make you feel rested and lightened. What practices make you feel restored, and more whole as a person? Whatever those practices may be, I encourage you to dedicate time to them, so that you may be fulfilled from and take heart in the regular rhythms of your life’s activity.

Wednesday
January 27

Trying to Savor the moments

By cbjones8

This is my last semester at Boston University. With that in mind, I am actively trying to enjoy each moment.  I cherish the music at Marsh now more than ever.  I hold on to lunches and conversations with friends.  I will miss this place, but now is not the time for missing.  Now is the time for laughing and enjoying.  I want it to snow a lot this year because I want to remember all of the joy I’ve have experienced in Boston Winters.  Snow ball fights and trudging down the esplanade in boots.  I am going to miss searching for books in the seemingly never ending shelves of Mugar.  I will hold onto each of those moments the best I can as I prepare to move forward in my education and in my life and ministry.  I thank God that I was brought to this place so full of wonder, challenges, and new ideas.  I see the younger students beginning to really find themselves and find their places at this wonderful institutions.  I know this place will continue to bless and inspire.  I am proud to be able to share in this experience with the future students to come, and those who came before me. Amen.

Wednesday
December 9

Small moments

By iquillen

I began this semester with a reflection on what loving oneself meant, tying it to the myth of Narcissus and a metaphor a friend once told me. That reflection ended with an intention to redefine this principle for myself, and to apply it to my relationships with those around me. That was in mid-September. It’s been almost three months since then, and the semester has reached a point where classes are almost done and finals have almost begun.

When I set out with this intention at the beginning of the semester, I didn’t have a clear idea of what the process of loving oneself would look like, but I had a sense of what it would involve. This semester exceeded my expectations in these regards, both in its unpredictability and in what it demanded of me. Looking back, it continues to amaze me that despite intense periods of stress, I somehow managed to make it through in one piece.

This semester has taught me that change within oneself doesn’t follow a linear trajectory. During the times when classes, work, and social relationships were a significant source of anxiety, I didn’t wake up one day and suddenly feel better. Nor did the stress consistently disappear over time. Some days were much easier to get through than others; sometimes, single moments would cause the day to shift in mood and energy from bright to gloomy, and vice versa. I can’t identify a single turning point in the semester because there were several instances when life began to change for the better.

Many of these moments were not major breakthroughs, sudden revelations, or great flashes of insight. They weren’t as clear or as striking as the chorus of angels that appeared to the shepherds in their fields, or the bright star that appeared to the Magi in the sky. The transitions from this past semester often came in small things, simple things: an email or a text, a picture, a fragment of a song, a brief conversation, a warm smile, or a kind gesture. These small things allowed me to acknowledge both the challenges and the joys from this semester as valid, and to embrace the fluctuations in daily rhythms that seemed to accompany them. These were the moments that, in the end, allowed me to find love for myself when I wasn’t able to create it on my own.

As I wait until finals and the end of the semester, I am reminded of Advent as a season waiting for a significant event. While I’m not sure if final exams and winter break are comparable to the arrival of Christ in the world, I do know that the periods before them signal a major shift that is looming on the horizon. I also know that being able to love oneself and practice self-care is especially important for dealing with stress in general, let alone the last week of classes and the exams, papers, and projects that accompany them. As we wait for the end of the semester and encounter significant periods in our lives, I invite us to appreciate the smaller moments that we may often overlook, so that we may sustain ourselves through them.

Wednesday
December 9

Almost there

By cbjones8

With exactly a week and two days until my plane leaves and takes me home to BWI, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  In anticipation of the holidays and adventuring with family I find the stamina to make it through the last week of this semester.  Maybe 24 credits was ambitious, and maybe it got really hard for a while.  However, with the semester drawing to a close I am proud of my performance academically this semester, and I am proud of the skills I have acquired in this adventure.  I have learned that I can actually do what I set my mind to.  I learned my limits.  I learned to say “no” even if I want to do something.  Perhaps most importantly I have learned the critical importance of self care.  No other semester has challenged me quite like this before.  I learned that there are times when it is necessary to take a break, go for a run, breathe a little bit, and maybe take a nap. It is okay that there is a laundry list of things to do, because that list will still be there four miles, or two hours later.  I learned to depend on God in a new way.  I found praying about motivation, and focus allowed me to actually find those things.  Prayer has given me patience with myself, perspective on what my priorities need to be, and given me calm even in the face of Chaos.  I may not be quite done yet, but I have made it this far, and I know now with confidence that I will make it to the end.  Amen.

Thursday
December 3

Do No Harm

By iquillen

In a small group that I attend every few weeks, we’ve been learning about John Wesley’s General Rules of Methodism. The first of these rules is to do no harm. Wesley defines this rule by listing several practices that should be avoided. Some of them seem intuitive, such as  “Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.” Some are much more practical, dealing with economic issues that were highly relevant at the time that Wesley was writing. Others I have more trouble agreeing with. For instance, “The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.” I have some difficulty seeing how singing songs or reading books that aren’t directly related to the Divine is a practice that does harm.

This leads me to ask a few questions, the first of which being: what constitutes harm? And importantly, harm to whom or what? As we discussed John Wesley’s writings, we came up with a few other practices to do no harm that we felt were relevant today. One of these was taking care of the environment. Another was to practice self-care, especially relating to matters of mental and physical health. The third was being respectful toward others, in our words and in our actions.

While all of these practices would seem intuitive to many, they can be surprisingly difficult to follow. It takes awareness commitment, both financial and personal,  to consistently do environmentally sustainable practices. I continue to struggle with effective self-care, as I still have to learn to recognize when I’m feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, or when I need to take some space and time for myself. Perhaps one of the most challenging ones is to be respectful toward people we dislike, or people with whom we don’t get along.

Learning how to perform these practices on a regular basis takes time, energy, and a lot of mindfulness. Someone once told me something that brought me  comfort, though: “You can do no harm by simply being.” As we rapidly approach the end of the semester and periods of stress, I encourage us to be mindful of practices which tend to the creation of the Divine, and those that cause injury to it.

Wednesday
December 2

Hope to Get Me Through the Headlines

By kmshultz

Sometimes, it feels like the world is ending. Over the past few weeks as the bad news piled up every day, it certainly felt as if the world was devolving into chaos—massacres in Paris, bombings in Beirut and Baghdad, shootings at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs and a health center in San Bernadino, refugees continuing to flee war and poverty, messages of hate and fear flooding the airwaves, worries about HIV/AIDS, Volkswagen choosing immediate rewards over the future of the planet as the Marshall Islands slowly disappear into the sea.

It is so hard to find light in the midst of so much darkness. It is so hard to find hope in the midst of so much hate. And yet this is what Advent is—it is a season of light amidst darkness, of growing hope amidst fear and doubt. It is a season of anticipation. But even though it emphasizes the light and the hope, the doubt and the darkness are still very much present. Many of the scripture passages for this season are actually rather ominous. The Gospel for the first week of Advent from Luke 21 starts out by saying “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” And the Gospel for the third week of Advent talks of winnowing forks and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. These images of judgment are not the type of anticipation I associate with Advent but they feel all too real right now as the ‘distress among the nations’ seems to grow everyday.

It’s easy to forget that the reason why the Advent messages of hope and light are so powerful is because they emerge from a mass of fear and darkness. The Christmas story is not always a pretty one—people refuse to open their doors to a pregnant woman, Herod massacres hundreds of infants in a crazed effort to protect his throne, Mary and Joseph become refugees and flee to Egypt. And yet Jesus—the child of a teen mother, the child of refugees, a child born in the darkness of a crowded stable—is the one who has come to save the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. At this point, Charlie Brown is extremely discouraged and can’t find a version of Christmas that feels true to him. He cries out with frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Then Linus says in his simple voice, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.” He steps out into the middle of the stage and lays out the story: there were shepherds in the field and an angel came to them. They were terrified but the angel says, “Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Linus finishes with the chorus of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all.” He says all this without fanfare and leaves the stage, saying simply, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Every time I see this scene, no matter where I am or when I watch it, my breath catches in my throat whenever Linus begins his speech. Part of it is the familiarity of the words but it’s also because prior to this scene, everything feels like it’s falling apart but then Linus steps out on the stage and a fragile silence blooms up around his small voice as he patches us back together with the message of hope at the heart of it all.

Right now, I think this scene impacts me so much because when Linus cuts through the frustrations and chaos of the scene, it also feels like he’s breaking through the crushing load of bad news that’s been smothering me. The shootings and hate, the waves of refugees and fear, the pollution and the lies—they all still pull me down but now I have something to hang onto, I have a ray of light to focus on in the darkness, I have a hope that gets me through the headlines. That’s what I cling to in this season of expectant waiting. I wait for the hope to grow, for wars to cease, for people—all people—to have a place to call their own, a place where they feel safe. I wait with expectant hope for justice, for closure, for dialogue that builds up instead of tears down. I wait for solutions, for hands that are outstretched in welcome instead of clenched in anger, for smiles instead of tears. I wait for peace on earth and goodwill toward all. I wait for what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday
December 2

Tis The Season!

By cbjones8

Advent is here!  My favorite time of year, and a welcome distraction from the stresses of the end of the semester.

I love advent.  I love the hymns, the joy, the excitement, the Christmas gatherings, all of it!

I love decorating, and lights, and snow (well that may not happen this year..).

More importantly the Christmas story is my favorite.  The bravery of Mary, the goodness of Joseph, the wonder of the shepherds.  How can anyone not love Christmas?

While Lent is often the time when I grow deeper and closer to God, Advent for me as a season of renewed enthusiasm about my faith.

Glory to the New Born King!  It fills my soul with warmth, and love, and it pushes me to give, and to love more and more each year.  I can not wait for Christmas eve services.

Advent fills my heart with such joy and excitement it is hard for me to contain it.

Preparing my heart for the coming of the King fills me with a joy like no other.  I hope to learn how I can better spread that joy through ministry in the coming years. Amen.

Thursday
November 19

Washing

By iquillen

When I came to Marsh Chapel during my freshman year, I quickly became known for being the person who was always cleaning up after community dinner. It didn’t matter how many dishes were involved, nor the amount of effort needed to clean everything. At some point during the meal I would get up, head over to the kitchen, grab a sponge and some soap, and start running water.

When most people ask, “What do you like doing in your spare time?”, I imagine cleaning isn’t a frequently-heard answer. To be honest, I don’t recall ever answering this myself. The acts of washing, straightening, tidying, vacuuming, and reorganizing can be chores, things that are not pleasant to do but are more or less necessary, depending on what people find tolerable in a living space.

And yet, I find something incredibly satisfying in the simple act of washing. Perhaps the satisfaction comes from watching effort produce visible results: if you scrub hard enough, usually the food and residue will go away. I say usually because the one time I had to clean a rice cooker was, for lack of a better word, involved. Or maybe it’s because in order to clean something, you almost always have to be willing to get dirty in the process. If only all problems were that easy to solve.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the events that have happened worldwide, in the U.S., and on campus this past week. It is also disheartening to acknowledge that there isn’t a lot I can do, as an individual, to heal the pain and suffering that has arisen from them. And so often, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the tragedy and grief that the world and one’s peers are experiencing.

One of the most challenging things I’ve had to accept about ministry is that sometimes, the most we can do to help is be present. As much as I can wash the grime away from dishes, I can’t wash away the marks left behind by violence and tragedy, no matter how much water and soap I use. But I can bear witness to the tragedy and not be complacent. I can listen to the stories of those around me, and lend support where I am able to. And most importantly, I can tend to myself to make sure I am able to do all of these things. As we move through the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I encourage you to be present for yourself and for others as much as you are able. Let us be present so that with time and healing, the marks that have been left on the world recently will slowly be washed clean.