For many, earbuds are becoming an extension of our physical body. Whether we are on a Zoom call, exercising to music at the gym, or watching a video while traveling, technology offers us multiple ways to engage in learning as well as spiritual practices. I haven’t been an easy adopter to the practice of listening to podcasts or audio-books; as a visual learner my mind wanders when my eyes aren’t involved or hands aren’t doing something.
Since public entertainment arenas (sports, movies, theatre) are being curtailed and in-person worship services are being moved to online platforms, podcasts may be a new mode of engagement and learning for adults of several generations. Below are some that you may find helpful to add your personal spiritual practices for learning new things and strengthening your faith.
“Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.” Isaiah 41:10
Throughout scripture, time and time again the people of God are admonished not to live in fear. As the world enters a time that most generations alive have never experienced it is a time to be wise and follow the advice of the experts. Remember that we are all held by God and are called to reach out to neighbor in time of need.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” I John 4:18
Now is a time for prayer. Prayer for those who care for others and those who are vulnerable. Prayer for all in the medical field and those who seek to find solutions. Prayer that our leaders make wise decisions on behalf of all God’s people.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020 marks the first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday. For the next forty days (excluding Sundays) the people of God are called to self-denial and discipline, a solemn preparation for Easter. In the Early Church, Lent was a time of preparation for the Easter baptism of converts to the faith. Persons who were to receive the sacrament of baptism – “new birth,” “death to sin” – were expected to fast and prepare during these weeks. Candidates for baptism (catechumens) were led through the stories of the Bible that helped them examine the nature of the life they were about to enter. Through experience of fasting, self-denial, and acknowledgment of their need to repent and turn to God, they began to live out Paul’s vision of offering oneself to God:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Ash Wednesday is a time of confession that carries a spirit of sorrow and contrition over sins that permeates the Lenten season. For this reason, the word alleluia is omitted from all liturgies during Lent and restored again during the celebration of Easter.
If your church or family plans on participating in a Mardi Gras (the Carnival – “Carnem, vale” = farewell to meat) celebration in the tradition of Venice, New Orleans, or Rio de Janeiro or a Shrove Tuesday (shriven from sins) with the eating of pancakes (to remove all the butter, milk, eggs, and fat from the pantry), consider creating an Alleluia Banner and then ceremoniously burying it. This can be done the Sunday before Ash Wednesday also.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since (reportedly) 1,300 Episcopalians and friends met in Atlanta, Georgia for what was subversively called Episcopalooza or “General Convention with workshops, but no legislation.” The brainchild of Bill Campbell, former Executive Director of Forma: The Network for Christian Formation this conference brought together various cohorts within the Episcopal Church (and beyond) to explore formation, evangelism, preaching, leadership, mission, stewardship, and communications. A massive undertaking with a lot of behind the scenes work from many individuals, it was the Church at its best. Worship was extraordinary, workshops were inspiring and informative, creativity was abundant, and Jesus was proclaimed. Even the hotel staff got in on the action and “rooted for Jesus.”
It was too much to digest and while I got to see LOTS of friends and colleagues, I missed many opportunities to network or attend presentations because I couldn’t be at two (or three) places at once. Thankfully, many presentations were live-streamed via Forma’s Facebook page and many were recorded so that even those unable to be present could be fed by the experience. My take-aways and learnings:
There is an old tale (which also shows up in early maps) describing Jerusalem as the center of the world, a city visit by kings and prophets, pilgrims and mystics, rulers and conquerors. Today we know it as a city claimed by three faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Physically, it is a divided city into four quarters that somewhat blend into each other as you cross from one quarter to the next: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. All areas are a mix of secular and religious. More than 4,000 years old, its walls were rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah following the Babylonian captivity, the Romans (1st century), Diocletian and Aelia Eudocia (Byzantine 4th century), and Crusaders (11th century). The actual “cardo” from Roman times is actually about 15 feet below the cobblestones we walked on today.
On our various days visiting the Old City, we entered through a variety of gates. The current walls around the Old City (which have spread out since Jesus’ time) were built by Sulieman the Magnificent in 1542. Most of the gates we entered were built by Siran, an Ottoman-Turkish architect who lived in the 16th century.
Entering the Damascus Gate (Nablus Gate) is a different experience depending on the time of day. At 7:00 in the morning it is quiet with shops boarded up, trash being collected, and cats everywhere scurrying to find the last scrap to eat. By mid-morning and throughout the afternoon the gate (as well as the “main street”) is a bustling enterprise of merchants selling their wares from grape leaves, bread, spices, t-shirts, Disney knock-offs, and within the city we even came upon a shop for University of Alabama fans. We used this particular gate frequently, built upon an older gate built in Roman times. The gate’s name in Hebrew is “Sha’ar Shkem” since one travels away from this gate southwards; in Jesus’ time one would have passed through the city of Shkhem (North/Nablus) north to Damascus (Zion Gate). The street was designed by the Romans in the 2nd century CE after the city was established and rebuilt by Hadrian, which razed the city following the failed Bar-Kochva’s revolt in 136 CE. Another route split from the north gate from this main street to the Valley Cardo, which ended near the dung gate.