Thursday, November 23, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year B)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

PREFACE:
A little over three years ago I had just finished reading Lowry’s Living with the Lectionary (1992, Abingdon Press) and found this passage warning about quick fix lectionary aids insightful. “The problem is that lectionary preachers often turn to these helpful aids prior to having internalized the texts. When I have inquired of lectionary preachers, how they prepare—the sequence of their work—I find a trend. Often they read the text and immediately turn to the published lectionary commentaries.  They may receive good advice, but altogether prematurely. In short, at the point in sermon preparation when they ought to be internalizing the text and exploring the many questions which might emerge, they are already finding answers to the questions they have not yet raised. The result is a homiletical preparation short-circuit.” (p. 25)

I think Lowry’s warning is reflected in the way I prepare Lectionary Ruminations 2.5. I first read the text and then consider what questions I have or think it is important to ask of the text, perhaps make a few observations and opine about the text, but I DO NOT CONSULT ANY LECTIONARY AIDS as I write. Similarly, I think it would behoove readers of Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 to first read the text and consider what questions they ought to be asking and what questions the text asks of them before reading Lectionary Ruminations 2.5.

This First Sunday of Advent begins the new liturgical year, Year B, the year of Mark. A Reading from Mark, therefore, serves as the Gospel Reading after nearly a year’s worth of Gospel Readings from Matthew.

If you will be using the PCUSA resource GLORY TO GOD: Hymns and Songs for Advent and Christmas over the next several weeks, you might find this Alphabetical Index of Hymns helpful.

ISAIAH 64:1-9
64:1 Must God tear the heavens open to come down? Is God tearing open the heavens anything like a rip in the fabric of space time?
64:2 Who are God’s adversaries
64:3 What awesome deeds does Isaiah have in mind? Is this a reference to the giving of the theophany on Mt. Sinai?
64:4 What does it mean to wait for God?
64:5 Did God hide because the people transgressed or did the people transgress because God hid?
64:6 How can righteous deeds become like a filthy cloth? This reads like a communal confession of sin.
64:7 What does it mean that God has hidden the divine face?
64:8 Why the change of metaphors from storm and fire to potter and clay?
63:9 Please God, be just a little angry and remember our iniquity for just a little while.

PSALM 80:1-7, 17-19
80:1 The verse follows nicely upon the heels of last week’s First Reading. What are cherubim and where are?
80:2 Who or what are Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh? What does it mean for God to stir up the divine might?
80:3 What is the shining face of God or what does it represent or symbolize?
80:4 Is there a difference between being angry with the people and being angry with their prayers?
80:5 This sounds like anti-Eucharistic language.
80:6 Is this an appeal to God’s pride?
80:7 What does God’s shining face represent or symbolize?
80:17 Whom is the Psalmist talking about?
80:18 Is the Psalmist bargaining with God, offer a quid pro quo?
80:19 A repeat of 80:7, suggesting this is a liturgical response.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:3-9
1:3 Is there anything unique about “Grace to you and peace?”
1:4 Why “my” God and not “our” God?
1:5 How are we enriched in speech and knowledge?
1:6 What is “the testimony of Christ?”
1:7 What spiritual gift might we be lacking in? What does it mean for the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed?
1:8 What is “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
1:9 What is “the fellowship of his Son?” Is that something like Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring?

Mark 13:24-37
13:24 In what days? So the sun and moon will no longer give light AFTER suffering? Is this something other than total solar eclipse?
13:25 Do you think the writer was referring to meteors rather than stars? What powers are in the heavens?
13:24-25 If something is being quoted, what?
13:26 Who and/or what is “the Son of Man”? Why does the Son of Man come in clouds? How shall we interpret this, literally or metaphorically?
13:27 Where are the Son of Man’s angels? Does “the four winds” refer to the four cardinal directions?
13:28 How you ever lived around fig trees? What about the parable of the fig tree?
13:29 What things? What gate?
13:30 How do we reconcile this verse with the fact that we are still reading it and waiting nearly two-thousand years later?
13:31 How will heaven and earth pass away but not words? What words?
13:32 So why all the talk about the lesson of the fig tree if no one knows the day or hour?
13:33 In other words, pack your Christian “go bag” and make sure there is gas in the car, milk in the fridge, bread in the bread box, and Charmin in the bathroom.
13:34 Is this a parable? I am being reminded of a couple of parables in Matthew.
13:35 I would rather my master return than a thief come. Is keeping alert in 13: 33 the same as keeping awake in this verse?
13:36 Are we all expected to be doorkeepers? Does “sleep” refer to slumber or death?
13:37 What does it mean to “Keep awake??
                                                                  
ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Alphabetical Index of Hymns in GLORY TO GOD: Hymns and Songs For Advent and Christmas

The congregation I serve as Interim Pastor recently purchased Glory To God: Hymns and Songs For Advent and Christmas. At $5 per copy, this lightweight paperback hymnal containing seventy-five Advent and Christmas Carols is a great resource for congregations that don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford the more expensive hardback Glory To God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. I hope that the congregation will make exclusive use of it during Advent and Christmas. As I have started to plan Advent and Christmas worship, however, my planning would have been made easier if an alphabetical index had been included. Since it wasn’t, I have prepared my own and I share it with you.

Alphabetical Index of Hymns in Glory To God: Hymns and Songs For Advent and Christmas
Prepared by The Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min. and posted on his blog http://summittoshore.blogspot.com/ You have my permission to print, copy, and distribute it with attribution.

All Hail to God’s Anointed……………..…....... 68 (149)
Angels, from the Realms of Glory………….…. 62 (143)
Angels We Have Heard on High……………..... 32 (113)
As with Gladness Men of Old………………..... 69 (150)
Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn…....... 26 (107)
Away in a Manger [Tune: CRADLE SONG]..… 33 (114)
Away in a Manger [Tune: MUELLER]……..…. 34 (115)
Before the Marvel of This Night……………..  . 44 (125)
Blest Be the God of Israel…………………....... 28 (109)
Break Forth, O Beauteous Light………………. 49 (130)
(Canticle of the Turning)……………….…...…. 19 (100)
Come, Come Emmanuel…………………..…... 10 (91)
Come Now, O Prince of Peace……………….... 22 (103)         
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
            [Tune: HYFRYDOL]……………............ 1 (82)
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
            [Tune: STUTTGART]……….…..….…... 2 (83)
Comfort, Comfort, Now My People…….…....… 6 (87)
Creator of the Stars of Night………………….… 3 (84)
For You, O Lord, My Soul in Stillness Waits....... 8 (89)
From Heaven Above…………………………... 30 (111)
Gentle Mary Laid Her Child…………………... 65 (146)
Go, Tell It on the Mountain…………………..... 55 (136)
Good Christian Friends, Rejoice………………. 51 (132)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing……………….... 38 (119)
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
            (Jesus is the Light of the World)……..... 46 (127)
He Came Down…………………...………..….. 56 (136)
In Bethlehem a Newborn Boy ……………...…. 72 (153)
In the Bleak Midwinter……………………….... 63 (144)
In the Heavens Shone a Star………………...…. 50 (131)
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly…………………….... 47 (128)
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear………….…..... 42 (123)
Jesus Entered Egypt…………………..……...… 73 (154)
(Jesus is the Light of the World)…………… …. 46 (127)
Jesus, Jesus, O, What a Wonderful Child…........ 45 (126)
Joy to the World……………………....……...… 53 (134)
Lift Up Your Head, Ye Mighty Gates…….....…. 12 (93)
Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah……..….. 4 (84)
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming……………..…. 48 (129)
Love Has Come……………………….……...… 29 (110)
Mary ans Joseph Came to the Temple………..… 67 (148)
My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout……..….. 19 (100)
My Soul Gives Glory to My God………………. 18 (99)
(My Soul in Stillness Waits)………………......…. 7 (89)
No Wind at the Window…………………..….… 20 (101)
Now the Heavens Start to Whisper………….…. 13 (94)
O Come, All Ye Faithful…………………….…. 52 (133)
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel………………..…. 7 (88)
O Little Town of Bethlehem………………..….. 40 (121)
O Lord, How I Shall I Meet You…………….… 23 (104)
Of the Father’s Love Begotten……………...…. 27 (108)
On Christmas Night All Christians Sing….....… 31 (112)
On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry………....… 15 (96)
On This Day Earth Shall Ring…………..…….. 60 (141)
Once in Royal David’s City……………….…... 59 (140)
People Look East…………………………....… 24 (105)
Prepare the Way, O Zion………………....…..... 25 (106)
Prepare the Way of the Lord………………...… 14 (95)
(Psalm 27)……………………………......……... 9 (90)
(Psalm 72)…………………………..…………. 68 (149)
Raise a Song of Gladness…………….……...… 74 (155)
(Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow)……….…...… 54 (135)
Savior of the Nations Come…………….….….. 21 (102)
Silent Night, Holy Night……………….……… 41 (122)
Sing of God Made Manifest…………….………75 (156)          
(Song of Mary)……………………...……….… 18 (99)
(Song of Zechariah)……………………....……. 28 (109)
Still, Still, Still……………………..……….….. 43 (124)
That Boy-Child of Mary…………………..…… 58 (139)
The First Nowell…………………….…….....… 66 (147)
The People Who Walked in Darkness ……...…... 5 (86)
The Snow Lay on the Ground…………......…... 35 (116)
There’s a Star in the East………………….....….64 (135)
To a Maid Whose Name Was Mary………....… 17 (98)
‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime…………..…. 61 (142)
Wait for the Lord………………….……….……  9 (90)
Watchman, Tell Us of the Night………….……. 16 (97)
We Three Kings of Orient Are…………….…... 70 (151)
What Child Is This……………………….……. 64 (145)
What Star Is This, with beams So Bright…….... 71 (152)
Where Shepherds Lately Knelt…………..….… 39 (120)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
            [Tune: WINCHESTER OLD]……….… 36 (117)
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks        
            [Tune: CHRISTMAS]……………….… 37 (118)
While We Are Waiting, Come………………..... 11 (92)
Who Would Think That What Was Needed........ 57 (138) 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review of Earl Shaffer's "Walking With Spring"

            Earl Shaffer was both the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and to write about it. He completed his south-to-north (NOBO or North Bound in Appalachian Trail lingo) trip in 124 days, averaging over sixteen miles a day, backpacking every day and never taking a day off for rest. As he himself noted, “Three years were to go by before Gene Espy duplicated [his] south-to-north trip, and Chester Dziengielewski and Martin Papendick completed the trip north-to-south (SOBO of South Bound in AT ling) the same year. That year was 1951, years before “NOBO”, “SOBO”, and “thru-hiker” became part of the AT nomenclature.

            Shaffer completed his second thru-hike, SOBO, in ninety-days in 1965. “The story that inspired thousands of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers,” about his 1948 thru-hike but with the hindsight of 1965 thru-hike, was privately printed in 1981. He entitled it Walking With Spring because “he had come to the woods to walk with spring” and followed spring’s arrival in the Appalachians as he hiked NOBO from Georgia to Maine.

            The first AT thru-hiker hoped to average twenty miles a day but was willing to settle for fifteen. While backpacking, he calculated that it took him about two thousand steps to cover a mile, or a stride of a little over two and a half feet. He once backpacked four miles in fifty-five minutes, an incredible pace I would be challenged to emulate as my best pace is a mere three miles an hour and I average far less even without a full pack.

            Shaffer was ahead of his time. Just as The National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) was pioneering and perfecting minimum impact camping, which later morphed into Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and practices, Shaffer reflected on his 1948 thru-hike by writing, “When I left, the signs of my presence were so slight that the next rain would remove them. Like the Indians, I say ‘Where I go I leave no sign.’ P. 130.” It would be decades before others would consciously adopt such practices and principles.

            The author was also somewhat prescient, opining in 1981 about development along the AT and writing, “The encroachment that once seemed overwhelming must be stopped if the Appalachian Trail is to survive. P. 110” Here we are, nearly seventy years after Shaffer’s first thru-hike and more than thirty-five years after he published Walking With Spring, and we are still struggling to stop encroachments such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

            Reading the 2004 fourth printing of a facsimile reprint of the 1981 edition of Walking With Spring, published by the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1983, was a humbling experience. Shaffer hiked with a heavy and bulky Mountain Troop rucksack weighing an average of forty pounds fully packed, increasing to sixty pounds for the final stretch through the Maine wilderness.  Yet decades before “ultralight backpacking” became a modern mantra, Shaffer’s motto was, “Carry as little as possible but choose that little with care. p. 9.” He later opined, “a long distance hiker must choose between traveling light and not traveling at all. p. 27.” I doubt forty, and certainly not sixty pounds would qualify “as little as possible” by today’s ultralight standards. Yet Shaffer persevered. I doubt I would have fared as well.

Along the C & O Canal Towpath
that also serves as a stretch
of the AT through Maryland
            I would be hard pressed to keep up with Shaffer’s pace even if I did not average in days spent resting, which he did not take. I would be equally challenged to do what he did with the gear available to him, relying instead on aluminum, nylon, and other light weight gear easily available today but not in 1948.
           
           At 152 pages long, Shaffer’s writing pace is a little over 13 miles a page. Evan at that brisk pace, however, I was able to enjoy the Native American legends and lore, local history, and references to American woodsmen such as Boone, Crockett, Carson, Wetzel, and others that he sprinkled throughout his work. Even though sections of the AT have been rerouted since Shaffer’s first thru-hike, and I have never thru-hiked the AT, I have backpacked enough of it to enjoy his descriptions of locations I have myself visited, such as Fontana Dam, OId Rag, The Chesapeake and OhioCanal, Swatara Gap, Hawk Mountain, the Delaware Water Gap, Tammany Mountain, Sunfish Pond, North Conway and Pinkham Notch.
At Old Rag many years ago
            Shaffer’s book is a memoir about his first AT thru-hike, not a detailed section-by-section description of the trail or a technical “how to” guide to thru-hiking the AT. His prose is easy going, not flowery or forced. I am glad I finally got around to reading it and recommend it anyone who loves hiking, especially backpacking the AT.

            My original review was originally published on The Trek and was edited before I posted it here on my own blog.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Christ the King / Reign of Christ (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

EZEKIEL 34:11-16, 20-24
34:11 How did God lose these sheep in the first place? Why might God be doing the searching rather than entrusting the searching to a representative?
34:12 Why do sheep scatter and why do shepherds allow them to scatter? Was the scattering caused by the day of clouds and thick darkness, or was the day of clouds and thick darkness a result of the scattering?
34:13 How can one not read this and be a Zionist?
34:14-15 Why am I thinking of Psalm 23?
34:16 What is the difference between the lost and the strayed? Does it seem that God will search out and rescue the 99% while punishing the 1%?
34:20 I am glad to be eating better, exercising more, and to have dropped a few pounds.
34:21 To whom is this addressed?
34:22 Note that God will judge between sheep and sheep, not sheep and goats.
34:23-24 David, King of the 99%!

PSALM 100
100:1 Is “all the earth” a poetic reference to all people or an invitation to rocks and trees as well?
100:2 If we are to worship God with gladness, why do so many worship services feel like a funeral and so many worshipers act like they are mourners?
100:3 How many people in the pew understand the nuance of “LORD” and “God”? Does this verse justify this Psalm being paired with the Ezekiel Reading?  What and where is the LORD’s pasture?
100:4 To what does “gates” refer, the gates of the temple, the gates of the city, or something else? To what does “courts” refer?
100:5 Is it redundant to say his steadfast love endures forever? What does it mean for the LORD to be faithful?

EPHESIANS 1:15-23
1:15 How might Paul have heard of the Ephesians faith and love? Who are the saints?
1:16 I would love to hear Paul praying.
1:17 What is “a spirit of wisdom and revelation?”
1:18-19 Our heart has eyes? I love the phrases “the riches of his glorious inheritance” and “the immeasurable greatness of his power.”
1:20 Is this a reference to the Resurrection as well as the Ascension?
1:21 Yes, this Sunday is Christ the King!
1:22 What does “for the church” mean?
1:23 What does “fills all in all” mean?

MATTHEW 25:31-46
25:31 Who is speaking? How much do we need to know about the theologically loaded title “Son of Man” to responsibly interpret this passage?  Does the mention of a throne justify this being the Gospel Reading for Christ the King? Does this Reading and the Reading from Ephesians offer differing chronologies about the enthronement of Christ?
25:32-33 The Gospel’s “sheep and goats” juxtaposed with the “sheep and sheep” of the Ezekiel Reading seems to offer us a mixed or confused metaphor.
25:33 Is this an example of right-handed prejudice?
25:34 Is the king the same as the Son of Man?
25:35-36 When was the king like this?
25:37 What does it mean to be righteous?
25:38-39 Is this an example of childlike innocence?
25:40 The king identifies with the inhabitants of the kingdom.
25:41 The devil has angels? The Son of Man has angels! (See Matthew 25:31)
25:35-45 How do members of the Tea Party and the 1% read these verses? How might these verses inform any Christian ethical contributions to current debates about tax reform and The Affordable Care Act?
25:46 Must there be eternal punishment?
                                                                  
ADDENDUM
This Sunday is the final Sunday of Liturgical Year A. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent of Liturgical Year B.

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 28 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

JUDGES 4:1-7
4:1 Here we go again.  This is beginning to remind me of déjà vu all over again. How many times did the Israelites do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?  How many times do we? What was, and is, evil in the sight of the LORD?
4:2 Do the names of rulers, commanders, and place names add or detract from the narrative?
4:3 This is beginning to sound like a broken record.  How many times do we cry out to the LORD, asking the LORD to get us out of trouble we have gotten ourselves into?
4:4 What blasphemy, a female prophet!  With regard to any male prophet, how often are we told who their wife was?
4:5 Do you think the Palm of Deborah was known by that name in Deborah’s day? Too bad it was not a Bodhi tree. Why would the Israelites come to her for judgement?
4:6 How dare Deborah speak for God! I wonder how Barak felt taking orders from when those orders were given through a woman.
4:7 What is a Wadi and why does it matter?

PSALM 123
123:1 I thought God was enthroned on the cherubim.  Are the cherubim in heaven or in the Temple?
123:2 So God is a master and maid while we are servants and mistresses.  While the Israelites in the Judges passage cry to the LORD, the psalmist simply looks to the LORD.  Maybe those eyes were sad, droopy puppy dog eyes that the LORD simply could not resist.
123:3 To what contempt is the Psalmist referring? Is their neighbor’s contempt enough to elicit God’s mercy upon Israel?
123:4 To what scorn is the Psalmist referring? Are contempt and scorn synonymous?

1 THESSALONIANS 5:1-11
5:1 What times and seasons? If nothing needs to be written to the Thessalonians about times and seasons then why does Paul bring it up?
5:2 Is this an example of chiastic structure:  “day lord / thief night”? What does Paul mean by “day of the Lord?”
5:3 Since I am of the male persuasion, I chose not to comment on this verse.  If there is anyone of the female persuasion out there who would like to comment, please do so.
5:4-5 There is a lot of “light” and “darkness” to keep track of in these verses. Beware of racial stereotypes. Can the Dead Sea scrolls help us put this passage into context?
5:6 Since the overriding metaphor is staying awake, why does Paul add “sober”?
5:7 What point is Paul trying to make? It must be night somewhere.
5:8 Does the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation, change the metaphor?  Note that a breastplate and a helmet are entirely defensive rather than offensive. Have you ever heard of a type of prayer known in the Celtic tradition as a Lorica?
5:9 Why do my Reformed/Presbyterian ears perk up when I hear this verse?
5:10 Is Paul confusing his “sleep” metaphor and using it to mean more than one thing?
5:11 In other words, keep on keeping on.

MATTHEW 25:14-30
25:14 “It is as if” makes this what, a parable? Why do I have a problem with slave language?
25:15 What is a talent?  Does our English translation help us or leas us astray? Ability to do what?
25:16 This slave should have been a stock broker or banker.
25:17 A 100% return! Not bad.
25:18 What were the abilities of the first and second slaves?  What was the ability of the third slave? Had the man going on a journey misjudged the abilities of his slaves?
25:19 What is a long time and does it matter?
25:20, 22 What if he had made bad business decisions and lost some or all of the five talents?
25:21, 23 What does it mean to enter into the joy of a master?
25:24 Maybe the third slave said too much in addition to not doubling the talent.
25:25 How do we sometimes allow fear to cripple us?
25:26 Was the slave really wicked and lazy or just overly careful?
25:27 If we take this too literally, it begins to break down and seems illogical. After all, the man could have invested his money with bankers to begin with rather than entrusting it to his slaves.
25:28-29 Does the growing disparity between the rich and the poor impact how we might read and interpret these verses?
25:30 Have we heard anything like this before? Where?
                                                                  
ADDENDUM
I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Riding Solo Or With A Group


            Riding solo allows me to cycle when and where I want without having to modify my plans to fit the schedules of others. Solo cycling also means I can ride as fast or slow as I want without adjusting my speed so as not to pull ahead or lag behind another cyclist or group of riders. Almost all my rides when I first started cycling a few years ago were solo because, new the area where I was living, I did not know any other cyclists nor was aware of any cycling groups in the area.  Early last year, however, I learned about a nearby cycling group that rode together one Saturday a month and I started joining in on their rides.

            I participated in my first group ride with a bit of apprehension because I did not know if I would fit in and be able to keep up. The first few times I felt like an outsider but soon learned that I was one of the stronger riders in the group. I eventually came to know other cyclists in the group and the social aspects of group rides, from talking with others while riding next to them, to enjoying mid-ride or after ride meals together, became as much of the cycling experience as the actual riding. By the end of last year I felt so much a part of the group that I attended a pot-luck meal hosted by a couple of the organizers following the last group ride of the season and felt like I fit right in.

            At the beginning of this year, I began riding with another but smaller cycling group that rides every Wednesday. While a few in the weekly cycling group are also part of the monthly group, there is not a lot of overlap and the two groups have very different feels while offering many of the same benefits.

            On two separate occasions I have had to rely on others in one group or the other for help and support. Once when I flirted with heat exhaustion during a very warm and humid ride, a fellow rider stayed with me and watched over me until we arrived back at our cars. Another time, when my rear derailleur was ripped off my bike, rendering it inoperable, a couple fellow riders picked me up in their car and drove me and my bike several miles back to my car.

            I still do not hesitate to cycle solo, and I appreciate the quiet solitude of solo cycling but have also come to appreciate and enjoy the comradery offered by both my cycling groups. They have become part of my larger social fabric and a sort of cycling support group. My life has been enriched by riding with these other cyclists and I would miss them and their fellowship if I were to no longer ride with them.

Here is the link to a previous and related post entitled "Cycling In The Zone."

You might also be interested in a series of posts about my cycling trip from DC to Pittsburgh along the C & O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Cycling In The Zone

           While one form of contemplative prayer or another has been part of my spiritual life for almost as long as I can remember, a few years before I started cycling I more intentionally explored and started to practice a contemplative form of prayer that I consider a mishmash of Centering Prayer and Mindfulness Meditation informed in part by the writings of Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and Thomas Merton. Now that I have been cycling for a few years I have discovered that contemplative prayer’s focus on the breath and clearing the mind as a gateway to solitude is akin to some of my cycling experiences.

            For example, one day I was riding along a rather wild section of a rail trail when all of a sudden I realized there was a thick branch sticking out onto the trail just a foot or two in front of my face. I did not have time to steer around it or stop. I simply ducked my head and let nature take its course. I ended up on my side in the bushes with a cracked helmet, a healthy head, and no damage to my bike.

            Reflecting on what had happened, I realized that for the first time while cycling I must have entered a meditative state. I had become so mindful of my repetitive peddling and steady, deep, rhythmic breathing that I become one with the bike and the trail and unaware of what was around me. I was “in the zone,” an “expression used to describe a state of consciousness where actual skills match the perceived performance requirements perfectly” and implying an “increased focus and attention which allow for higher levels of performance. Athletes, musicians, and anybody that totally owns a challenge of physical and mental performance can be in the zone.”[1]

            “In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”[2] For me, this experience of being “In the Zone” while cycling was as a mystical experience, a loss of the ego in which I was more mindful of the flow of the internal momentary here and now rather than the external of what was coming or what has passed.

            The concept of “flow” or being “in the zone” has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions.  “For millennia, practitioners of Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and later in Sufism have honed the discipline of overcoming the duality of self and object as a central feature of spiritual development. Eastern spiritual practitioners have developed a very thorough and holistic set of theories around overcoming duality of self and object, tested and refined through spiritual practice instead of the systematic rigor and controls of modern science.”[3] I think this is what Merton, Pennington, and Keating were talking about when they wrote about contemplative prayer.

            I have discovered that the attentiveness to breathing that I have cultivated through contemplative prayer aids my breathing while cycling. I have also discovered the deep breathing that comes with riding for a good pace for over an hour or more has contributed to my practice of contemplative prayer. As Esther De Waal has observed, “breath is life itself. To be aware of my breathing is to be aware of life.  . . .  Then, as I stay consciously with my breath, I may begin to see this gentle rhythm of breathing in and out again as a microcosm of my whole life:”[4] After riding a few miles at a fast pace, my breathing deep and rhythmic but not labored, I feel particularly alive and mindful of the life within and around me.

            I do not find myself “in the zone” every time I cycle. There have been instances since that first time, however, that I have experienced a flow but am aware of it only after the fact, never during. As soon as I become aware that I was experiencing the flow I am no longer “in the zone.” Similarly, I do not experience a truly meditative state every time I engage in contemplative prayer. I feel blessed when I enter a “the sacrament of the present moment” even if only for a brief time, but once I am aware that I have entered it, I am no longer experiencing it. De Wall writes ‘Living in the present with total attention is gift given to the artist and the poet, but it can equally well belong to any of us,”[5] including, I would argue, the cyclist.

            After a long ride, which for me now is thirty five to fifty miles, I will come home physically tired and sometimes sore but mentally and spiritually refreshed, even if I have not been in the zone. The repetitive motion of peddling, the rhythmic breathing, feeling the air blow across my face, arms and legs, and occasionally being surprised by a deer running out in front of me, wildflowers along the trail, or a particularly stunning view of a pastoral scene feeds my spirit and soul, renewing my awareness of being a creature in the midst of God’s awesome cosmos.


You might also be interested in a more recent post, Riding Solo Or With A Group.




[3] Ibid.
[4] Esther De Wall, Lost in Wonder; Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical press, 2003), Esther De Wall, p. 39.
[5] Ibid., 61.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 27 (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

JOSHUA 24:1-3a, 14-25
24:1 What do you know about Shechem? The listing of “elders, heads, judges, and the officers” suggests a rather organized society, just forty years after the Exodus.
24:2 Why does Joshua point back one generation to Terah rather than to Abraham?
24:3a Why isn’t Sarah mentioned?
24:14 What is this talk about putting away other gods all about? What other God were the people worshiping? Had the people worshipped the gods of Egypt while enslaved there?
24:15 Joshua presents three choices: Serve the gods ancestors worshiped before God called Abraham, serve the local gods of the Amorites, or serve the LORD. What choices are people presented with today?
24:16 But hadn’t the people forsaken the LORD time and time again while they were in the wilderness?
24:17 Joshua seems to suggest that we worship not because of what the LORDwill do but what the LORD has already done.
24:18 We serve the LORD because the LORD is our God. The LORD is not our God because we serve the LORD.
24:14-18 Are these verses about monotheism, or about recognizing that of all the gods, only one, the LORD, is the one who has saved us? Take another look at Exodus 20:1-3.
24:19 “You cannot serve the LORD”? What is Joshua doing here? Is Johua employing reverse psychology?
24:20 The LORD sounds like a jealous God.
24:21 Is this a confession of faith?
24:22 What does it mean, in this context, to be a witness?
24:23 Did the people actually have statues, physical representations of foreign gods, and idols, or is this a metaphorical “put away”?
24:24 Is this also a confession of faith?
24:25 Is this a third covenant? Is the covenant between Joshua and the people or between the LORD and the people? What statutes and ordinances are being referred to?

PSALM 78:1-7
78:1 Who is the speaking?
78:2 Apparently Jesus was not the only person in the Bible to speak in parables. What are “dark sayings from of old?”
78:3 This sounds like a reference to the oral tradition.
78:4 Why might you want to hide dark sayings from children? What are the Lord’s glorious deeds and wonders? Is this a reference to a early form of religious instruction?
78:5 Is the speaker not a child of his/her ancestors?
78:6 This is really thinking far ahead, to future generations.
78:7 What is the relation between works and commandments?
78:1-7 This Psalm reads like a call to educational ministry and mission.  What would this psalmist say about the state of Biblical literacy, or lack of, in today’s church?

1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18
4:13 How might we be uninformed?
4:14 What does Paul mean “God will bring with him”? Why “again?”
4:15 What is this all about?
4:16-17 Who is the archangel? Why are there so many trumpets sounding in Scripture?
Does this presuppose a pre-Copernican three tiered universe?  How do we translate this into modern cosmological terms?
4:18 How are these words encouraging?  See item #16 on page 914 in the PC(USA) Book of Common Worship.  See also page 949.

MATTHEW 25:1-13
25:1 Is this a kingdom parable? Is there anything special about the number ten? Is there anything special about bridesmaids? Who might the bride be? Who might the groom be?
25:2 Why five foolish and five wise? What if it were six and four, or three and seven?
25:3-4 Does the oil represent anything or is this just about being prepared?
25:5 What is this about “delay?” Note that both the wise and the foolish become drowsy and fall asleep. Was “delay” the real issue? You might want to juxtapose this verse and passage with the Thessalonians 5:1-11 Reading.
25:6 Why midnight?  Who shouted?
25:7 Why trim a lamp?
25:8 What about those who today are unprepared?
25:9 Were the wise being selfish? Why not share lamps even if the oil could not be shared?
25:10 I wonder how much oil the wise had brought with them. I wonder how long their oil would have lasted if the groom had not come when he did.
25:11 Late is the same as never.
25:12 This sounds curt. What does it mean to be known?
25:13 This point does not fit.  Based on what precedes, the point ought to have been “Be prepared.  Keep a supply of oil.”  Otherwise, the wise bridesmaids should not have slept while the foolish bridesmaids slept.

ADDENDUM

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.