Archive for Presence

A people prepared

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672 Hermitage Museum Photo: Web Gallery of Art

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672
Hermitage Museum
Photo: Web Gallery of Art


And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

(Gabriel speaking to Zechariah, from Luke 1)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;” he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21: 1-4

I hate to admit it, but about the only times my house is really top-to-bottom clean is when company’s coming. The rest of the time it’s a-lick-and-a-promise clean, with the debris of daily living strewn about, and the recycling waiting for me to take it out. It’s not terrible, but I’m just not one of those people who plans for sudden death by always leaving the house ready for people to come in and see it.

On the other hand, when folks are coming over I pull out the vacuum and scour the sinks and refresh the soap dispensers and put out the good hand towels. I will suddenly see dirt that was invisible for weeks, because I want my guests to be comfortable and to know that I made an effort for them. I don’t want to be trying to do things after they arrive. I want to be ready so I can give the visit my full attention.

If only company came every day….

Advent is a lot of that sort of preparation. We’re cleaning, we’re praying, we’re tidying up our homes and our hearts. Prepare!

If only Jesus came every day…

Perhaps that’s one reason why we say grace at the table:

“Komm, Herr Jesu; sei du unser Gast; und segne, was du uns bescheret hast.” 

“Come, Lord, Jesus, our Guest to be, And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.”

May each year of preparation bring us closer to lives of constant readiness.


Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent

You are the Open Door


Photo credit: elcasfoto

Photo credit: elcasfoto


You are the Open Door
that beckons me in;
peeking around the door frame,
I begin to enter into Your glory.

You move me forward, O Eternal,
to step beyond self-made boundaries:
lift my foot over the threshold
that I might abide with You.

In the house of the Eternal
I found my questions:
waiting to be posed
they filled me with wonder.

Sit with me, Eternal Teacher,
encourage my seeking:
as I fill my hours with Your mitzvot,
so shall I be filled.

Send me through Your door
stretching up to honor Your Name,
sharing out this wonder,
enriching myself in the giving.


Baruch atah, Adonai, notei-a, b’rocheinu chayei olam.
Blessed are you, Adonai, who plants within us eternal life.


from Mishkan T’filah. A Reform Siddur. Central Conference of American Rabbis/CCAR Press, Elyse Frishman, editor, p. 129.

Ecstatic Praise: the Sound of Sacred Steel

I Feel Like Pressing My Way, Ricky Fowler and Robert Randolph on Arhoolie Records’ Train Don’t Leave Me 


They say that confession is good for the soul, so I have a confession: I love the sound of slide guitar.  It’s pretty serious.  Son House, Elmore James, the Allman Brothers–they all thrill me. When I first heard Robert Randolph play and began to learn about Sacred Steel, it was a gift from heaven. Really? God and that sinuous sound? In church? Oh, just take me there.

The Sacred Steel tradition comes out of the House of God, Keith Dominion church, and the Church of the Living God (Jewell Dominion). It’s praise music, it’s loud, and you don’t just sit still and listen.  Like all the best church music, it’s about giving God your whole being. And like liturgy, it’s a way to reenact the drama of the Christian story in worship and experience God’s presence.

Robert Stone has written about the development of sacred steel and directed a documentary film, produced by Arhoolie and the Documentary Arts foundation. You can view the trailer here.

Fighting the urge to go on at length, I will only give you two recordings of Sacred Steel (today), both of which I came to through Robert Randolph–an amazing pedal steel guitarist who’s played with Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Santana, and many others.  Randolph brought together a group of House of God musicians for the recently released Slide Brothers. I’ve never heard anyone play “Wade in the Water” like they do. Think: Deep Purple fronted by Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix.

Hope you enjoy!

A heart bright as a mirror


Thought for a beautiful spring morning…


A heart that would contemplate must be bright as a mirror, shimmer like some still stretch of water crystal clear, so that in it and through it the mind may see itself, as in and through a mirror, an image in the image of God.  The heart that covets the sight of God as in a mirror must keep itself free from cares, from harmful, unnecessary and even necessary ones.  It must keep itself ever alert through reading, meditation and prayer.  Blessed are the pure of heart; they shall see God.  May he grant that we do so. Amen.


Isaac of Stella (d. 1169)
English Cistercian
translated by Hugh McCaffery

From In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, Cistercian Publications, 2000.

Knowing and loving

…Try to understand this point. Rational creatures such as men and angels possess two principal faculties, a knowing power and a loving power. No one can fully comprehend the uncreated God with his knowledge, but each one, in a different way, can grasp him fully through love. Truly this is the unending miracle of love; that one loving person, through his love, can embrace God, whose being fills and transcends the entire creation. And this marvelous work of love goes on forever, for he whom we love is eternal.

                                                    The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 4.


Omnipresent Love

I heard a great sermon this past Sunday (and don’t you love a great sermon) which began with the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and then moved us to consider the intimacy of being present to others.  Being present for others for any length of time can be a daunting, exhausting task–even if you’re not an introvert. If you’re a parent or clergy or the doctor-on-call, you know this.  You can’t just turn off your cell phone and close the door to your room.  There really is no way to say, “I’m sorry. You’re on your own today.” You can, of course, get a babysitter and go out to dinner, and you can go to sleep at night, but if something serious happens, you will be there.

Which got me thinking about God’s presence.  Christians believe that God is omnipresent–always and everywhere (an exhausting thought!)–and I confess I usually thought of omnipresence in terms of oversight–rather like Santa Claus in that “he-sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping-he-knows-when-you’re-awake” kind of way.  But Sunday’s sermon caused me to realize again, that God’s omnipresence is also a promise to be present to us, to be accessible, to allow for a kind of intimacy, to allow himself to be known. God will take care of us, but he will do more than that.  He will be open to us.  He will be present.  Surely this is an act of Love.



A dart of longing love


A brief meditation in a series of daily Lenten videos from the Society of St. John the Evangelist.




A small aside: I love seeing the passion, the smiles, and especially the hands on this page.

God’s presence, continued

When he came to me, he never made known his coming by any signs, not by sight, not by sound, not by touch. It was not by any movement of his that I recognized his coming; it was not by any of my senses that I perceived he had penetrated to the depths of my being. Only by the movement of my heart did I perceive his presence; and I knew the power of his might because my faults were put to flight and my human yearnings brought into subjection. I have marveled at the depth of his wisdom when my secret faults have been revealed and made visible; at the very slightest amendment of my way of life I have experienced his goodness and mercy; in the renewal and remaking of the spirit of my mind, that is of my inmost being, I have perceived the excellence of his glorious beauty, and when I contemplate all these things I am filled with awe and wonder at his manifold greatness.

                                                                     –Bernard of Clairvaux


On the Song of Songs 40:91-92, excerpted in In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO.

How did you know God was there?

You ask then how I knew God was present, when his ways can in no way be traced? He is life and power, and as soon as he enters in, he awakens my slumbering soul; he stirs and soothes and pierces my heart, for before it was hard as stone, and diseased. So he has begun to pluck out and destroy, to build up and to plant, to water dry places and illuminate dark ones; to open what was closed and to warm what was cold; to make the crooked straight and the rough places smooth, so that my soul may bless the Lord, and all that is with me may praise his holy name.

                                                                              –Bernard of Clairvaux


On the Song of Songs 74:6, from In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, OCSO.