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Lectionary Living

Focus!

A few years ago, I wrote about the Prodigal Son - the blog is available in the archives for March 2019 or just click here https://go.authorsguild.org/sbx/sites/barbaralaymo/blog/archives/2019-03 Looking back, I was focused at the time on the two brothers, and the over-and-under functioning reciprocity between the two of them. What I failed to observe was the father, who seems to me to be a pretty ordinary parent - focusing on one child, expecting the other to understand.

Most of us have seen these patterns somewhere in our lives. What was Jesus trying to tell us? Perhaps that we would do well to step back and observe these processes, without judging each other. That all of us are playing a part, siblings and parents, and doing the best we can. That each of us would do well to look to himself or herself, rather than so much attention on the others. To this point, see more from Jenny Brown at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK5mHJmuXBE&list=PL3KVSk8FQniz-tFltosWYrFCVligVQLZH

 

 

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February update

Winter R&R

Reading: This winter, I've read and re-read Salk's and Salk's (2018)  A New Reality  

I'm savoring – a page or two a day – Scott Cairn's (2020) Love's Immensity.

I've enjoyed the Netflix show Shtisel. It covers many of the challenges of defining oneself in one's family.

 

Research:  I've been working on survey research on living systems constructs in congregations. If you are an ordained or lay leader in your congregation, you can contribute to the research by taking the survey here.  Some background: To test whether concepts rooted in a family systems-based assessment accurately map to congregational life, Jake Morrill, MDiv, faculty at the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family, along with Joseph Stewart-Sicking, faculty at Loyola University, MD, and I have developed a questionnaire approved for research purposes. Results will be used to explore a framework for congregational functioning, useful for leaders facing the challenging years ahead. To assure the anonymity of respondents and congregations, no identifying information will be collected in the survey process. If you're interested in learning more about the research findings, please email smcasurvey@gmail.com to be added to the invitation list for a presentation in late March.

 

Reflection: from Cairn (p. 16), in a line about apprehending scripture, what is required is an honest life, a limpid soul, and... Just a note that I had to look up limpid. Which in itself gave me a lot to think about! 

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Hitting the mute button

Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4  •  Luke 1:68-79  •  Philippians 1:3-11  •  Luke 3:1-6

 

This week's Luke readings offer a sublime pairing for the second Sunday in Advent. The Luke 1 reading contain the words of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Recall that Zechariah was rendered speechless for disbelieving the angel who had come to announce the birth of John. His wife, in stark contrast, was the heroine of the story, noticing her baby move within her when Mary (pregnant with Jesus) comes to visit. However, the forced silence apparently did Zechariah a world of good, for when he opened his mouth to speak, he offered a song of praise still chanted weekly around the world (Canticle 16, Book of Common Prayer).

 

The Luke 3 reading is a different sort. Luke seems to be having a little fun here. He begins the chapter in a very serious voice, as though writing a formal legal description of the places and names of the powers that be. But by verse 3, he's doing the opposite, talking about this guy John, who was without any formal authority, going around the wilderness announcing a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, of all things!

 

Both John and his dad, Zechariah, from the priestly tribe, were part of a long tradition of devoting their energy to their faith. Although approaching their vocation in very different ways, both worked hard to be true to themselves and their callings. Many families pass down processes – sometimes unnamed in the next generations – who nevertheless act according to a family mandate of some kind.

 

As I became interested in family systems theory, I worried that it might be inconsistent with my faith. For three years – beginning with the third Sunday of Advent 2018 – I began a practice of looking for family systems ideas in the Sunday readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. Scripture did not disappoint. Each week, family systems processes were right there within the texts, hidden in plain sight. Each week I've understood more: about family systems theory, the Bible, my family, and myself.

 

Now it's time for me to join Zechariah. I will try to press the mute button, quieting myself and assimilating my thoughts for a while. Thank you for reading my work here. I am forever grateful.

 

Reflections:

Morning: How can I be true to myself today?

Evening: What processes has my family passed down the generations?

 

Luke 1: 78-79 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.         

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Hard times

Jeremiah 33:14-16  •  Psalm 25:1-10  •  1 Thessalonians 3:9-13  •  Luke 21:25-36

 

As Advent begins, the lectionary cycle brings us to words of warning about difficult times ahead for all who live on the face of the whole earth (Luke 21:35). Instead of speculating, though, about what's ahead, which can quickly lead away from reality, I'm going to reflect here about the recent past: the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic, in full swing by March of 2020 and perhaps receding now, is close enough in our memory to think realistically about how the scripture might have been applied. Many other examples – such as the destruction of the temple in 70 BCE, could also be used retrospectively. This world, and all the creatures on it, have endured many stressful times.

 

To begin, Jesus goes on for many verses warning about the dangers ahead, before advising his followers to be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… and that day take you unexpectedly (21:34). I've read these words during Advent for my entire life, but never with the clarity provided by covid-19. Starting at the end, the unexpectedness of the pandemic, the zero-to-ninety nature of the perceived threat, was part of its difficulty. I clearly remember the day we were all told at work to get our laptops, go home, and not come back without checking with someone. The someone of course, had no idea either, of what should happen, and was simply doing the best they could under these extreme circumstances.

 

Jesus warned his followers specifically to be on guard against dissipation or drunkenness or the worries of this life (v. 24). Dissipation – and I had to look this up – combines debauchery (deterioration or lowering of character through sensual indulgence) and surfeiting (desiring no more of something after consuming it to excess). As an example, a mild form of dissipation – binge-watching tv shows – was prevalent for many of us last year. Also as predicted, studies show that drunkenness (in the assorted varieties available in the 21st century) was part of the picture of how time was spent during the pandemic.

 

Harder to measure, though, was the third item Jesus had mentioned to be on guard against: worrying. Worrying! Who didn't worry during the pandemic? The oddest thing was how the worry itself became addictive. If one had nothing to worry about, all that was needed was to turn on one's favorite news channel – from right wing to left wing and even in that tenuous middle – and the latest place to attach one's anxiety could always be found.

 

What all three of these things – debauchery, dissipation, and worry – have in common is the capacity to keep a person from staying alert (21:36). Debauchery and dissipation, working to numb one's anxiety, keep one from facing reality. The worries of this life can lead to an unrealistic understanding of events, as the ruminating mind can exaggerate, minimize, or misunderstand events. In short, excessive worry can flood the brain with emotions, so that the ability to think clearly is lost.

 

Instead of worrying, being alert involves something different: looking at all the facts, being open to different views, seeing broader factors that might add to one's understanding and options for action, and proceeding without undue caution or speed. Whether covid-19 is behind us remains to be seen; whatever the next challenge, Advent readings apply!

 

Reflections:

Morning: Where might I choose to be less worried and more alert?

Evening: Looking back on the pandemic, what can I learn about my own response to challenge? My family's response?

Psalm 25:4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

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