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.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 26 (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 3:7-17
3:7 Moses’ body is barely cold in the grave and God is already promoting Joshua. How might we apply this to pastoral transitions and pastoral authenticity? Who really needs to know that God is with Joshua, Joshua or the people?
3:8 Indiana Jones, where are you? Why should Joshua stand still in the Jordan?
3:9 How might this verse be used liturgically?
3:10 “By this” refers to what? Joshua seems to tell the people something a little different than what God told him. Who will do the driving out?
3:11 “the LORD of all the earth” is an interesting phrase.  What about “heaven?” Listen for a refrain in verse 13. It sounds like the ark will lead the way and the people will follow.
3:12 I wonder how these men were selected. Why were only men selected?
3:13 How will this be different than the parting of the sea?
3:14-17 Is the Ark taking the place of Moses’ rod?  Is the purpose of this narrative to establish Joshua being equal to Moses? How could the people cross on dry ground if the water had only recently stopped flowing? Wouldn’t the bottom of the Jordan not be muddy? I wonder how deep and wide the Jordan would have been at the place of crossing.
3:16 It sounds like the waters were heaped up far off in the distance. Does this make a difference?
3:17 It sounds like the ark first led the way, then took up position in the middle,  and finally brought up the rear.

PSALM 107:1-7, 33-37
107:1 Is it not redundant to say that steadfast love endures forever?  Then again, this is poetry.
107:2 This is sounding like a call and response.
107:3 Note the four cardinal directions. When where the people gathered in?
107:4 If “some” wandered in desert wastes, what did others do?  Is this a reference to the Exodus, or something else?
107:5 I wonder if this verse influenced any New Testament authors, such as the author of John?
107:6 I think there are many Psalms that express this sentiment.
107:7 Is the “straight way” always the most direct and best way?
107:33-37 Is this an example of the first being last and the last being first, or rather the topsy-turvy world of Divine judgment and grace.
107:35 This is sounding antithetical to the imagery of the First Reading.

1 THESSALONIANS 2:9-13
2:9 Is Paul bragging? Do you think the Thessalonians really remembered?  Would they have remembered without Paul reminding them? By the way, I have never charged you a single cent, or asked you for any donation to help support Lectionary Ruminations 2.5.
2:10 Would Paul be defending his conduct if they had not been some accusation(s)?
2:11 In what other letters does Paul seem to take upon himself the parental function?
2:12 What does a life worthy of God look like?
2:13 Is “constantly” hyperbole? How can one discern the difference between a human word God’s word?

MATTHEW 23:1-12
23:1 What does it mean when a Gospel tells us that Jesus is speaking to both the crowds and to his disciples?
23:2 What and where is “Moses’ seat”?
23:3 Can you think of any current day examples of people whose teachings we should follow but not follow their actions?
23:4 What do you know about phylacteries and fringe?  Are there any Christian comparisons? What burdens do preachers, pastors, and minister types place on others?
23:5 Would a current example be the size of the cross one wears? The Christian bumper stickers on one’s vehicle? The Christian tats on one’s body?
23:6 Where the best seats in Synagogues in the back? Where are the best seats today? Where is the place of honor at banquets?
23:7 If you happen to be ordained and/or serving in a pastoral position, how do people address you and how do you want them to address you?
23:8 I am glad the PC(USA) has abandoned the terminology of  “Teaching Elder” and gone back to “Minister of Word and Sacrament.”
23:9 What can Hallmark do with this on Father’s Day? Has this ever been used against Roman Catholics?
23:10 Ouch! There goes my six years as an adjunct faculty “instructor” of Theology, Religion, and Philosophy down the toilet.
23:11-12 Where have we heard this before? See my rumination on Psalm 107:33-37.

ADDENDUM
I am a Minister of the Word and Sacrament 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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 25 (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.

DEUTERONOMY 34:1-12
34:1-3 Why all the geographical references? Do we know today where all these places are?
34:4 Once again, the women are not mentioned. Why would God allow Moses to see this land, even show him this land, if he were not going to be allowed to enter it?
34:5 Did Moses die on Mount Nebo or on the plains of Moab?
34:6 We know the vicinity of where he was buried but not the actual place.  Why not?
34:7 Is there any sexual connotation here?
34:8 Why mourn thirty days?
34:9 Was Joshua ordained by Moses?  What is so special about the laying on of hands? Why? What do you know about Reiki and body work?
34:10 It was true then but is it still true today? The LORD may have known Moses face to face but did Moses know the LORD face to face?
34:11 What signs and wonders?
34:12 What mighty deeds and terrifying displays of power? Is this verse simply reiterating the preceding verse for emphasis and linguistic effect?

PSALM 90:1-6, 13-17
90:1 How can the Lord be a dwelling place?  What does it mean to dwell in the Lord?
90:2 God was God even before the big bang.
90:3 Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, or in a more modern cosmology, ashes to ashes, star-dust to star-dust.
90:4 I know this is metaphor, but do the metaphorical math.  1000years = 1 day. What is a watch in the night? What might Einstein say about this verse?
90:5 What does “them” refer to, to mortals or to 1000 years? How are dreams like grass renewed in the morning?
90:6 Is this a comment about the human lifespan?
90:13 Is the Psalmist asking the LORD to repent?
90:14 I think this verses harkens back to 90:5b.  As the grass is renewed in the morning, God’s steadfast love renews us daily.
90:15 How many days has the Psalmist’s community been afflicted? How many years have they seen evil?
90:16 Is the Psalmist asking the LORD to show some results?
90:17 What work?
90:1-6,13-17 Does this psalm reflect the pre-Exodus or post-Exodus period? God is timeless but we are not. May our labor, our work, not be in vain.

1 THESSALONIANS 2:1-8
2:1 Were some claiming that it was in vain?
2:2 Shame on those Philippians. What was the nature of the great opposition? What do we do with this “gospel of God” when we usually use the terminology “Gospel of Jesus Christ”?
2:3 Were some claiming that Paul and his companions were engaging in deceit, impure motives, or trickery? Are any contemporary religious leaders similarly accused, true or falsely?
2:4 Is this a biblical warrant for being faithful over being popular or successful?
2:5 I am hearing a refrain.  “As you know” here and “You yourselves know” in 2:1
2:6 What religious leader does not occasionally appreciate praise, especially during Clergy Appreciation Month?
2:7 What sort of demands?  What might the imagery of a “nurse tenderly caring for her own children” suggest?
2:8 How does Paul and his colleagues share their own selves?

MATTHEW 22:34-46
22:34 Is the Gospel writer playing on some rivalry here? What is the difference between Pharisees and Sadducees?
22:35 What is the meaning of “test”?
22:36 Was he asking about the Decalogue or the entire Levitical law code? Was this anything like a presbytery’s examination of a candidate seeking ordination?
22:37 What is Jesus quoting? Is this from The Shema?
22:38-39 If this is the first and greatest, how can there be anything like it?
22:39 What is Jesus quoting?
22:40 Why does Jesus add the prophets to the law?
22:41 This is becoming a dialogue.  Is this question also a test, a tit for tat? Is Jesus attempting to turn the tables?
22:42 Were not all male Jews “sons of David?”
22:43 Why does Jesus say “by the Spirit”?
22:44 What is Jesus quoting?
22:45 Jesus and I are still waiting for the Pharisees to answer. How would you answer the question?
22:46 As a practitioner of the Socratic Method, I think questions are good.  Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than any answer we might receive. Why would the Pharisees no longer ask Jesus and questions?

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, October 10, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time / Proper 24 (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.

EXODUS 33:12-23
33:12-23 How would you categorize the conversation between Mosses and the LORD?
33:12 Why does Moses think the LORD will send someone with him? It sounds like Moses is reminding the Lord of what the LORD has promised. Does the LORD need reminded?
33:13 Do you think Moses has found favor in the LORD’s sight? Have you found favor in the LORD’s sight? I find it interesting that Moses referes to the people as a nation when they do not have a homeland.
33:14 What is the LORD’s “presence?”  Is this the answer Moses was expecting?
33:15 Is Moses challenging The LORD or putting the LORD on notice?
33:16 Where is the LORD’s presence today? How is the LORD present today?
33:17 It seems Moses gets his way! What does it mean that the LORD knows the name of Moses? Does the LORD know your name?
33:18 What is the LORD’s “glory?”
33:19 Once again it seems like Moses is going to get what he asked for.
33:20 Why can no one look upon the face of the LORD and live? In Scripture, have there been any exceptions to this?
33:21 Why are many holy places rocks, rocky, or associated with rocks?
33:22 Why will the LORD put Moses in a cleft of the rock and cover the face of Moses?
33:23 If I am reading this correctly, the LORD is literally planning to “moon” Moses?

PSALM 99
99:1 Why would the peoples tremble? What and where are cherubim and how does God sit enthroned upon them?
99:2 What and where is Zion?
99:3 How does one praise the LORD’s name when the LORD’s name is never pronounced? See Exodus 33:19. What does it mean to be “Holy?”
99:4 What is this righteousness?
99:5 How does one extol the LORD? What and where is the LORD’s footstool? 
99:6 Is this Psalm as much about Moses, Aaron, and Samuel as it is The LORD?
99:7 Why does the LORD not speak like this anymore?
99:8 How can the LORD be both forgiving and avenging?
99:9 What and where is the LORD’s holy mountain?

1 THESSALONIANS 1:1-10
1:1 It appears three people are writing this letter.  What else do we know about Silvanus and Timothy?
1:2 Always?  Constantly? Is this hyperbole?
1:3 What work and labor might the authors be referring to?
1:4 Who is “he”? What does it mean to be chosen? Is being “chosen” the same as being called or predestined?
1:5 What do power, the Holy Spirit, and full conviction add to the word?
1:6 How did the Thessalonians imitate Paul, Silvanus, Timothy and Jesus?
1:7 Where are Macedonia and Achaia and how did the Thessalonians become examples to people in those places?
1:8 How has the faith of the Thessalonians become known in other places?
1:9 How would the people in Macedonia and Achaia know this?
1:10 Note that “rescues” is in the present, not the future tense.

MATTHEW 22:15-22
22:15 Who and what were the Pharisees? Can you smell a conspiracy?
22:16 Who were the Herodians and why were they conspiring with the Pharisees? Where these people speaking the truth even though they sought to entrap Jesus?
22:17 What is the trap that is being set? What sort of taxes were paid to the emperor and with what were they paid?
22:18 What was their malice?  Why are they hypocrites? How was Jesus aware of their malice?
22:19 What do you know about the denarius? Whose image was on the denarius? What sort of images were on Jewish coins? What and where is the irony in what is happening here?
22:20 I suggest you consult some other translations of this verse.  What are other options for the Greek translated in the NRSV as “head?”
22:21 What bore the image of the emperor? What bears the image of God? What things then, are the Emperor’s and what things are God’s? Consider Genesis 1:27.
22:22 Why were the Herodians and the disciples of the Pharisees amazed? Are you ever amazed by the words of Jesus?

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.