Saturday, October 24, 2015

QOTM…*: Thomas à Kempis -- Imitating Christ, Discipleship through Nature

(*Quote of the Month)

If indeed thy heart is right, then 
every creature be to thee a mirror 
of life and a book of holy doctrine.
                    ~~ Thomas à Kempis, 15th C.      

Thomas à Kempis (Thomas of Kempen) was a German monk, priest and scholar, author of The Imitation of Christ, who lived from 1380 to 1471. Devout from a very young age and schooled in a monastery of which his older brother was prior, he entered the monastery of Mount St. Agnes in Holland as a nineteen-year-old, living there for seventy-two years until his death. Members of his monastic order, the Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life, were devoted to love for God, prayer and simplicity; they were also forbidden to beg and required to earn a living with their hands. Thomas’ pursuit of support as a tutor of the young and a copyist, an extremely tedious and disciplined profession, was typical of the clerics of the house. Yet in these things he not only excelled above his peers, but the study it all required guided his commitment to devotional writings on issues of basic, whole-hearted Christian discipleship.

Imitation is considered one of the most popular and treasured of devotional books in all Christian history, second in translation numbers only to the Bible itself. It is actually a very brief work consisting of several ‘booklets’ he wrote for students over the course of seven years in the 1420’s, and then compiled into the larger book, the title being derived from the first chapter of the first booklet. Its simple, winsome focus? How to love God. Devoid of scholarly language and pretensions, it reads like fireside advice from a Godly grandparent. Another quote worth remembering – “Without the Way, there is no going; without the Truth, there is no knowing; without the Life, there is no living,” derived, of course, from John 14:6. The book is in the public domain, so may be freely downloaded or read online at this link.

Numerous other writers of devotional classics, as I have written before, make reference to nature as the book of God, a ‘book’ often used by Christ himself. I enjoyed coming across this quote this week, and pray you do, too.

~~ RGM, October 23, 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015

POTM...*: Pictures on the Rocks

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

Gail and I had the good pleasure of spending a couple days with my brother John and sister-in-law Cathy recently in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and we spent one of those days doing something I’ve long wanted to do: see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore from the water. We had been there twice before, once when the kids were all quite young and once since, but the opportunity had never lent itself to see it the way it was meant to be seen.

Pictured Rocks is one of the least-visited units in the National Park System, with just over a half million sightseers, hikers and kayakers per year. The fact that many might say it is ‘not on your way to anywhere’ is responsible for most of this, as the astonishing beauties of Michigan’s U.P. are unknown to most who even travel widely. To set it in context, it lies between the metropolises of Munising and Grand Marais. Oh, haven’t heard of those? Let’s expand it a bit: how about between Marquette, home of Northern Michigan University, and Sault Ste. Marie (home of
Lake Superior State University, and twin cities with Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada). Haven’t heard of those either? Well, I can’t help you then, except to say, “Get there!” It’s only a single but lovely day’s drive for Detroiters, Chicagoans, Milwaukeeans and Minneapolitans/St. Paulites.

Hugging forty-two miles of rugged Lake Superior shoreline yet barely six miles wide at its broadest, PRNL was the first designated National Lakeshore among the National Parks (1966). And Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, is itself one of the founders of the feast – the relentless crash and howl of its breakers and winds against two-hundred foot sandstone cliffs have shaped the formation of the park’s
sea caves, arches, dunes and agate-strewn beaches. And then the minerals held within the sandstone have done the rest, leeching along with groundwater out through the rock layers and, over time, painting the rock face a myriad of colors – red (iron), yellow and brown (limonite), black and white (manganese), and pink and green (copper), among others. One cannot see many views of the rock face without getting on the water; the Miner’s Castle overlook is one, pictured here, so it’s really a lake cruise or kayak trip you’ll want to experience to be able to fully enjoy it, or at least a hike down to one of its beaches. Yes, there are beauties in the interior as well, falls and primeval forests, wildflowers and wildlife, particularly pleasing in early spring and autumn dress; but it’s the waterfront rock cliffs for which the park is set aside as a U.S. citizen-owned marvel, and I am glad we were finally able to see them.

Color. I’ve often thought about the detail given in the Old Testament of the Bible regarding the tabernacle and temple in which the people of Israel worshiped. It gets right down even to particulars about the colors of hangings, linens and priestly clothing (Exodus 35-39, 2 Chronicles 2-3). I guess it’s only fitting that such attention be given; after all, the colorful glories of nature were God’s original temple, and they remain so.

RGM ~~ October 16, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Blowin’ in the Wind: Guest Columnist John Kiemele and “Selah Reflections”

("Blowin’ in the Wind" is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me or have given me joy. I trust they will do the same for you.)

Many of us are weather watchers, though I confess mild puzzlement with those who can watch Weather Channel all day long. When Gail and I are in the Northwoods with very little radio reception, no internet access or television signal, and even limited cellphone coverage, we are glad for faithful access to a trusty little weather radio my sister gave us that tunes in without fail to NOAA whenever we want it. And though we joke about the three computerized voices on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s station, whom we lovingly call Oley, Lena and George (one male and one female voice sound amazingly Scandinavian), we’re always grateful we can know routine weather for our possible outdoor activities, let alone be apprised of stormy or dangerous weather conditions headed our way.

But in addition to that, we also pay fairly close attention to the weather in about ten places around the country where family and other loved ones live, one of which is Seattle. We often heard this summer from our kids and other friends who live there, or nearby, that it was hot and dry yet again, with the Washington state motto “The Evergreen State” feeling more and more a misnomer. Even without the personal connections, though, no one who keeps track of the news could have missed knowing of the incredible dry spell experienced in the Pacific Northwest this past season, or of the dozens of fires that were spawned among those lovely western trees blistering in tinder dry conditions. Midwest sunsets, heavy with dispersed smoke and deeply red, constantly told their version of the story as well.

In the midst of it, I received a brief, group email greeting from a friend, John Kiemele, who directs a ministry called Selah Center in the greater Puget Sound area. Selah Center is an intentional community of diverse, contemplative Christians, dedicated to the development of Christlikeness through such things as events, retreats, spiritual direction, courses and prayer experiences. John wrote of the scorching, choking heat as compared to the extravagant, refreshing love of our good God. I desired immediately to share it with you as a part of my “Blowin’ in the Wind” feature. And so, with this post, I’d like to begin to feature from time to time guest columnists who have allowed me to share their writing in this way. John Kiemele, Selah Center, writing to his network:

Dear Companions and Friends,

It’s dry.  Brittle, crunching, flammable dry.

It’s serious dry.  It’s dangerous dry.

A few months ago we scratched our heads as those desperate for rainfall watched neighboring states try to navigate and survive torrential flooding.  Dark, promising clouds gather and yet drift on their drop-less way at the sun’s persistence.  From sea level to mountain top, from coast to coast, it’s dry.

And then there is God’s love.  No matter the season, God’s love is.  Ever-present.  Constant. Thorough. Incarnational. Torrential. And truth be told… Dangerous. It’s God’s love. 

One of our expressed values as the Selah community is that “We affirm God’s initiating love, expressed profoundly in Christ Jesus.”

We recognize that God does not and cannot turn off or cease loving.  Each breath comes from Love and bursts with Love.  All that is is because of God’s Love.  The beloved apostle writes that without Love nothing was made that has been made.

Aaaahh…God’s Love…always initiating, always flowing, always drenching my life with expression and invitation.

Recalling an image from a poem I heard long ago, my prayer today is that I come into this day, stepping into the constant flow of God’s Love, carrying not a thimble but buckets!!

So be it.

Peace and love to you in this good day.

Thank you, John!

(John writes regularly and inspirationally in a group email he calls Selah Reflections. Contact the website via the bolded link above for further information about this ministry.)

~~ RGM, October 8 2015