We need help to establish the internal spiritual structures that will serve as guides as we navigate life and seek to restore our souls to the beautiful self that God created us to be.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I am sitting down to write this afternoon without the need of a cup of hot tea and honey, throat drops and anxiety over when the next coughing jag will attack.  My last week has not been quiet when I've tried to talk, when I've tried to sleep.  A late-winter/early spring allergy episode showed up uninvited as snow has melted and temperatures warmed.  What I breathed in was not welcomed by my sinuses.  They, in turn, made a mess of my soft palate.  After a few days of this, a little light-bulb went on in my head.  I got out my seasonal allergy medicine.  I was on the mend within a day.  

I know that I have allergies triggered usually by springtime pollens/molds.  I have a routine of starting to take my allergy medicine in late April so as to be ready for the big onslaught in May.  This year the timing was off.  If I had been paying more attention to what was going on with the weather, and how that was affecting my body, I might have had a moment of revelation earlier to start my defensive routine.  Because of several orbits of busyness, and much noisiness, the information escaped my notice.  

This same thing happened to me several years ago, only it was December that time.  Out of sync with my expectations, it was.  I went to the doctor saying I thought I had a this-or-that.  The doctor did a quick check and said it was allergies.  Sure enough, the doctor was right.

Once again, I tell myself that I need to pay more attention, listen more carefully, be more heedful.  I miss cues and signs.  Quiet attentiveness helps us to notice.

Our theme for this week's reflection is “quiet.”  It is salutary to let quietness embrace and allow for  an informative and nurturing realm to surround us.  Even more than just letting quietness be, intentionally fostering quietness is important.  In quiet, with noise abatement, we are refreshed.

Quiet may be the settling of sound; the settling of sight; the settling of movement; the settling of emotions; the settling of spirit; the settling even of taste.  One of the spiritual disciplines of the Lenten season is to fast.  Fasting from any of the above can bring us into salutuary quiet.

How to enter in to quiet will vary by person and may vary according to what needs to be settled.  Sometimes we need to be physically alone to be quiet.  Sometimes having the presence of a trusted other person helps us to focus and to welcome in the quiet.  What are some ways that you enter into quiet?  Is it a special place that brings you to it?  Is there a significant time?

In this fifth week of Lent and as we move toward Holy Week, we will be going through some regular routines.  Perparing homes, church santuaries, yards and schedules for what we usually do this time of year.  I invite us, though, to be quiet and to watch more deeply.  Routines and rituals are good, but something may have changed as we approach that regular practice again this year.  What might we be able to notice in the intentional quiet of calm, prayer, meditation, stillness?  When practices of quiet are regular, they even operate subconsciously to help us out.

This past week, while my body was awry, there was a time of focused quiet somewhere that helped me to remember an important ally in my medicine.  Somehow, even as I battled physically, through practices of quiet that are in my spirit, I was able to acknowledge a change that needed to take place in my overall wellness.

God's intention for us is to be well, to remember we are beloved.  Quietness is a gift for us to meet anew or one means through which to be restored in that precious identity with Christ Jesus.  

“Be still and know that I am God”  Psalm 46:10

“In quietness and trust shall be your strength”  Isaiah 30:15.

(Colleen Kamke-Neiman)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Restored by love

Many times in life, that which causes our greatest grief and sorrow is also the stimuli for our deepest spiritual growth. It’s a paradox that illness can bring healing, vulnerability can bring security, death can bring new life. 

Paradox is a theme in our chapter this week in our Lenten book, “The Restoration Project” as we consider what it means to be stripped. 

In “The Restoration Project” the author aligns being stripped with deterioration, with the process of reversing the deterioration of DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper by stripping away years of dirt as well as paint from previous attempts at restoration. 

We humans deteriorate too from unhealthy behaviors such as feelings of entitlement, prejudice, and judging. Jesus reminds us that we are not to behave this way; we are not to strip others of their basic human right for dignity and integrity. 

And yet people are stripped all the time. 

People are stripped of life - think of those murdered or under the threat of terrorism and war. 

Stripped of hope, think of those in poverty or war torn regions or deeply depressed. 

One can be stripped of integrity, think of those who are raped, abused or belittled, those who have suffered decades of racism or sexism or genderism. 

One can be stripped of responsibility if one is fired or laid off or in other ways deprived of meaningful work. 

One can be stripped of one’s identity by abuse or oppression or imprisonment. 

One might be stripped of one’s name, sold into marriage or kidnapped or trapped into sex trafficking or human slave labor. 

One might be stripped of one’s knowledge by disease or an accident. 

There are countless ways that one can be stripped. 

On the other hand, stripping can be paradoxical. When one is intentional, one can be stripped of the behaviors that limit our ability to grow in relationship with God. 

Stripped of envy, greed, gossip, complaining, or a failure to embrace our true self-worth as God sees us. 

These may be unconscious; learned behaviors from our family system, or socially reenforced values that emphasize the individual at the expense of everyone else.  

No doubt there are behaviors and values from modern society that we need to be stripped of. Stripped of these so that we can recognize the ways that God is active in our lives. 

When we are able to truly embrace the depth of God’s love for us we find we have no need for envy, for greed, for self-aggrandizement, for belittling others, for belittling self. 

As one develops a sense of self, grounded in God, one also forms within one’s self a deeper level of self-awareness and other awareness, of compassion and acceptance of others for being who they are. 

This is restoration of, and for, the soul. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Image of God

There is no one way to express or explore the Image of God.  Interior, exterior, personal, communal, concrete, virtual, physical, conceptual.  The list is not to be exhausted.  Immensity is a word that maybe tweeks at the breadth and depth of how God's Image may be expressed and discovered.

As a young adult I worked for five summers at a camp in northern Wisconsin.  The name of the camp at that time was Imago Dei – Image of God.  Restoration in that place with some of the vast possibility of God's Image took place.  Restoration occurred in the outdoors, in Christian Community, through rigorous physical times and quiet contemplative times. 

Each week's camp community would begin anew on a Sunday afternoon an continue formation through Saturday morning.  On Saturday morning, the week's community would be dispersed and sent forward to where its individual images were next meant to reflect and reform the Image of God.

Every week at Camp Imago Dei, the Image of God in each Beloved participant had come from somewhere.  The forming of each Beloved into that week's camp community usually didn't start to    become visible until Wednesday.  It took at least that amount of time, from Sunday until Wednesday morning, to let the dust of travel settle and the details of lives from different places be honored or quieted. 

Getting into the rhythm of each week's ever-reforming Image of God would go something like this:

Alpha (beginning, first things of the day)
Omega (closing, last things of the day)

Once the camp week would get to Wednesday through this practice, the remaining days were afforded a fresh energy for entering into worship and recreational experiences that became more meaningful.  An even more physical experience of this mid-way entering into God's Image of community often included an over-night journey.  There was a mid-way point on a path through a swamp between main camp and the place in the forest where cabin groups would go for overnights.

This summer experience was looked forward to each year by many.  In my five summers, I looked forward to the folks I'd see again, who looked forward to their week of restoration.
The season of Lent in the Christian Liturgical Year can bring to us a similar experience.  We are moving into about the “mid-week-of-camp,” if you will.  The middle of this year's Lenten journey is here.

How might your weekly or seasonal Lenten Practice reflect the rhythm found at Camp Imago Dei?

At this time in the season, what dust around your Beloved Image has been able to settle,  or perhaps be brushed away through this year's prayer practices?  

What Image of God in or around you are you seeing for the first time? 

What group experience is beginning to bring you refreshment, restoration to your Holy Image as God's Beloved?

I bid you a continuing Holy Lent.

(Rev. Colleen Kamke-Nieman)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Listening for God

Almost every Sunday between the 8am and the 10am service I join Sean and the choir for their vocal warm-up as they prepare for the worship service. In the actual service I end up either singing with the congregation or singing by myself with the congregation responding. I rarely sing with the choir. I warm up with the choir because it is one way I prepare for worship.

One of the main things Sean works on is helping each choir member hear the voices of those around them and to blend their voices so that no one voice stands out more than another. That is the work of choral music, a blending of voices to a unified whole. It is also the work of orchestras, blending the instruments to create a whole sound. Blending voices is a skill that requires one to be simultaneously aware of one’s own voice and aware of the voices of those around one’s self, and the ability to soften or raise one’s voice so that it becomes part of the mix. This is not necessarily difficult, but it does require one to listen and be intentional about how one is using one’s voice. 

Listening is the theme of our Lenten reflections this week in chapter three of the book,  "The Restoration Project." Listening for God is the primary point of the chapter, but in order to listen for God one must learn to listen to one’s self and to others. Listening for God happens in community and it happens in small groups and occasionally it happens to us as individuals.  The reason we listen for God is because this is one way we do our part to be in relationship with God. We listen for God so that we can be aware of how God is working in our lives, how God is calling us to our most authentic sense of self, and how God is calling us to respond to the needs of the world around us. 

As humans we find our foundation, the core of our being, in God’s relationship with us. As Christians, we have an example in Jesus of how God brings forth one’s most authentic self. One’s authentic self is enlivened when one lives from the values, principles, and beliefs that God inspires, which scripture tells are: love God, love self, love others, do justice, be humble, be mature, forgive others, remove the log from one’s own eye first, stay in relationship, pray, reflect, be aware.

In these times of great suspicion and accusation, of blame and shame, God points us to look first at ourselves. If our efforts are not working toward building up the whole, through acts of loving kindness and justice, we need to re-examine what we are doing. 

In response to the distractions which aim to pull us away from God, God reveals God's self to us in our most vulnerable place. This can feel like we are being asked to deny our selves.  But what we are denying is our inauthenticity that has become bound in the negative messages the world tells us about ourselves, which deny our truest nature founded in God. It is a denying of the self from all the negative messages that world tells us about ourselves, that we are not good enough, not smart enough, not worthy. Denying our inauthentic self is the cross we need to pick up and carry, because it will lead us through our most broken parts of the self and into a wholeness that only God can offer.

Through grace God reveals to us our true nature, our full identity. To recognize who we are we need to listen. Listen deeply in community, and hear how God is resonating through us. Listen deeply in  prayer. Listen deeply to one another, see how God’s love resonates through each one of us, calling us to harmonize in tune with God. Listen to God who has named us and enlivened us to our true selves. Listen to what God is saying within. God says, you are worthy. You are loved.

(Terri C. Pilarski)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Watching for God

I like to share this story I have heard somewhere along and the way.  It is about a tribe of first peoples who wondered where Christopher Columbus and his group came from when they were first seen.  The Europeans tried to explain about the ships on which they had sailed.  The local residents hadn’t ever seen anything like that before.  They did not have a frame of reference for such a way of traveling.  So, the locals only saw the water where the ships were moored, not the ships themselves.  For a good amount of time, the holy man in the tribe stood on the shore and stared out upon the water.  Eventually, in his pondering, he noticed strange ripples in the water.  One day he was able to see the ships that cause the ripples. Then the holy man was able to share with the rest of his people in a way that helped them to see the ships too.

Welcome to the first week of Lent.  In our blog posts we are pondering the restoration of our spiritual selves.  Instead of looking for ships, in Lent we look to our relationship with God and with one another in Christ. There are times when we look and do not have a sense of God’s presence.  We may feel alone or disconnected from community in Christ.

Christopher Martin, in his book The Restoration Project asks the question, “Are you there God?”  Linda Mercandante, in her conversations with people who self-identify as “spiritual but not religious”  shares about people believing in God as transcendent but not imminent—God out there, but not nearby.  Mercandante has written the book Belief without Borders.  Both Martin and Mercandante are akin, I think to the holy man pondering what there was to be seen upon the waters.

So how do you watch for God?  Are you wired in a way similar to the holy man from the story, one who watches and ponders?  Or, is there someone to whom or a resource to which to turn hoping for help in seeing?

Watching for God, or for insights or for guidance sometimes works for me in this way. Through people, the news, or “just because” I’ll feel a lack, or long for something specific.  Sometimes I stare.  This can be prayerful staring.  Focusing my eyes can free up other parts of my thought/spirit for discovery.  I often stare from the green chair near my books.  Sometimes I dream.  Practically speaking, there are day-to-day responsibilities we tend to, yet our subconscious is still at work, and so ideas and insights can show up in sleep.  Also, I just ask, “what about,” or “what do you think?”  I express out loud what I wonder about to the universe, to God, or to a trusted person.  Working a puzzle, like sudoku, crossword or jigsaw can provide a re-boot for otherwise stalled processes inside.  I walk.  I straighten the kitchen counter.  I also take moments and even days to watch purposefully for what God is doing.  Bidden or unbidden, goes the old wisdom, God is near.  So too, watched for and noticed or not, God is active around us.

Pondering faith and life is set forth for us in the worship and life of our churches.  At St. Paul Lutheran and Christ Episcopal churches we are providing different kinds of interaction for spiritual pondering and restoration.  These blog conversations give a dimension to our watching for God.  Conversations in person or on page speak to our spirits, stir utterance, create ripples that may eventually point to something we do not yet see.  I pray many blessings on your watching, and trust the mysteries of faith to be at work in us.

(The Rev. Colleen Kamke-Nieman)


Saturday, February 14, 2015


“I invite you, therefore, to observe a Holy Lent.” These words, spoken by the clergy in the Ash Wednesday service, strike me afresh each time I pray them. Growing up, as I did, in a denomination that did not observe Lent, coming to understand the potential of a Holy Lent has been a learning curve for me. Much more than simply taking on new practices or giving something up, observing a Holy Lent is an invitation to know myself better. 

True, taking on a new practice, like helping others, can be a means by which one comes to know one’s self better. Serving those who are most marginalized in our community can transform us from being too self-focused, helping us to see the world with greater compassion and humility. I may become more aware that my problems are really small by comparison, and my heart may grow with gratitude for the blessings of this life. 

Giving up something is a common practice in Lent. People give up chocolate or wine or caffeine or meat on Fridays. In my household we do give up meat on Fridays. It is a practice my husband, a former Roman Catholic, has observed his entire life. He looks forward to an occasional fried perch supper as it brings back memories of his childhood. For me it is a discipline of intentionality as I plan our weekly meals. For me it is a discipline of intentionality as I consider what it means to eat differently one day of the week because it is Lent. This thought process is at its best when what I am pondering reminds me that I do this, give up something or take something on, because I am working on my relationship with God. How is it that I may experience God in a new or different way because I am observing a Holy Lent? And, how is that what I am or am not doing, enhances my awareness of my experience of God.

Growing in awareness of God’s presence and of my relationship with God is the purpose of living a life of faith. Observing a Holy Lent is like looking at that relationship through a microscope - it becomes more focused on the details which might otherwise go unnoticed. 

Prayer is one of the primary ways I work on growing in my awareness of and sharpening my attention span on God. This season of Lent we will reflect on and learn about the many forms of prayer. These reflections will be grounded in the Rule of St. Benedict as described in the book “The Restoration Project” by Christopher Martin. 

At Christ Church, Dearborn, we will have a variety of opportunities on Sunday morning to engage the book and to consider forms of prayer. Each table in the Fellowship Hall will offer a different opportunity for engagement. Two tables will have jigsaw puzzles for those who like to work on puzzles and have conversation with others. Some tables will have mandalas to color, an act of prayer through color. Some tables will have books available for simply reading, perhaps this is one’s only opportunity for reading. Some tables will have discussion questions from the book to prompt those who may wish to enter into a discussion on the topic of the day. 

At St. Paul Lutheran there will be a weekly soup supper at 6:15 on Wednesday night, beginning Feb. 25. Each supper will include small group discussions on the book, “The Restoration Project.” 

Each week, or perhaps more often, this blog will post reflections on the material so that those who are unable to attend one of the other opportunities can participate on their own. Perhaps people will wish to start their own small group which will meet at the convenience of the members? How ever you wish to engage in the material we hope this Lent is indeed holy.

Ash Wednesday Services, February 18: 

Christ Church, Dearborn - noon, 4:30pm for children, 7:00pm

St. Paul, Dearborn - 1:00pm, 7:00pm