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, 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