November 24, 2014

To Be Well-Spoken


 Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

• Jeremiah 23:29, NRSV

• • •

One of my personal goals in life is to be well-spoken.

I am tired of “lingo.”

I reject group-imposed boundaries around how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m considering. I want to find a way to say it so that it grabs, sticks, bites, hurts, heals. First, in my own heart. Then, if anyone should listen, in theirs.

Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.

Bounded, insider language is a Christian problem.

Words create worlds. We live in those worlds and they define us. Someone using different words doesn’t fit in our world. We can’t listen to them. We find it hard to take in their foreign phrases, to translate them into something we can grasp. We summon the auto-immune response and reject them out of concern for safety. We watch, we listen to, we read those whose language fits the preconceived notion. We deem them “safe.” They will not disturb our world.

In this world, we get together day after day, week after week, year after year, and say the same damn things to each other! Imaginations atrophy as we sit there safe, sipping our iced tea.

These gated worlds!

I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!

A coworker recently gave me information about a new patient and his family. Baptists, of the independent, fundamental variety. King James Only. White shirt, dark tie. Nothing but the blood Baptists. Straight as an arrow. Locked in a narrow world.

“I can speak that language, ” I said.

I made the visit. I asked the standard introductory questions, using their terms. I inquired. I listened. I showed respect. They allowed me to enter their world because I could verify the passcode. I knew the secret handshake.

bleeding-heartBut once inside, the conversation shifted. I sat in silence where one might have expected a platitude. Then I spoke a single turn of phrase that caught them off guard. Tears welled up. For a brief moment, a slice of raw humanity appeared through a crack in the gate. Their pain bled out a little. I’d like to think a bit of healing took place.

In that moment, no shibboleth was spoken. No Christianese. No lingo. Just a human heart bleeding and a wordless moan.

Many of us are not ready for that. I wasn’t, not for years. Even today, there are times when the reality is too sharp, too uncomfortable, and I blurt out some cliché. And my mouth tastes like dust.

The authors and speakers and friends I love rarely if ever fall into this trap. I never know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to say it. They speak epiphanies. They build metaphorical worlds that carry me away and I am along for the ride: rising and falling on an open sea inhaling sharp salt air one moment, feet sinking into a spongy forest floor the next. It’s fairies and rabbit holes, wardrobes and windswept plains, ball yards and small town backyards, hobbits and desert saints and boarding school wizards, slums and palaces and log cabins and creaky old Victorian mansions.

But it’s not just the pictures they paint, the metaphorical worlds they create, it’s the medicine they give: words fitly spoken. Words that turn my head, that cause my jaw to drop. Words that make me stop and turn around. That make me shiver. That wrap me in a warm sherpa throw. That make my heart bleed ’til it’s whole again.

Not the same old lingo. Not tired trade language. If ever they use such words, they do so only as a foil for that which is clearly genuine.

Don’t let me settle for it, Lord. Put fire and hammers and balm and blankets in my mouth. Heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the brokenhearted. Make the story real and build a new world.

What a gift is language!

Oh, to be well-spoken!

Preparing for the New Church Year (4)


For our final post on preparing for the new Church Year, we will talk about some suggestions for further reading and practice. I’ve divided them into three categories. Some are my own suggestions, others have come from IM readers.

  1. Books that give an overview of the Church Year to help individuals, families, and churches grasp its basic concepts and begin participating in Church Year spirituality.
  2. Books that can aid believers in conforming their daily prayer and devotional lives to the framework of the seasons of the Church Year.
  3. Books and resources that focus specifically on the upcoming Advent season, so that we can get a good start this year.

What criteria did I use in selecting these resources? First, I am recommending books that I myself have found useful. Second, others are on my own “Wish List” because I have seen them and they look intriguing to me. Third, I am suggesting links to other resources because I have used some related materials (but not all) and have found them helpful. These may enable those in different seasons of life (for example, with young children) to find additional resources to meet specific needs.

Each of us is unique, so you will have your favorites and some of mine may not resonate as deeply with you. If any in our iMonk community would like to make additional suggestions, please feel free to do so.

My best recommendation for you would be to join a faith community that practices Church Year spirituality. As I will argue in my next post, this pattern is designed to enable Christians to experience his life, death, and resurrection not only as individuals, but also together with one another in God’s family. If you are part of such a community now, you should take your first counsel from the ministers and mentors in your own tradition, for each stream of the Christian faith has its own emphases and detailed practices. Your local church or denominational publishing house may be able to guide you more specifically than I can here.

Short of that, I recommend starting with incorporating a few simple Advent practices in your personal devotional life and/or with your family. Using an Advent calendar or lighting Advent candles along with prayers for the season has helped many believers enter into the practices of the Church Year.


Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, by Robert Webber

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life – The Ancient Practices Series, by Joan Chittister

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary, by Hoyt Hickman, et al

The Services of the Christian Year (Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol 5), Robert Webber, editor
Copies available through Amazon links to other vendors

Children’s Activities for the Christian Year, by Delia Halverson

Anglican/Episcopal resources:

Book of Common Prayer online

Find other resources at Anglicans Online

Roman Catholic resources from Liturgical Training Publications:

Orthodox resources:

DAILY PRAYER/DEVOTIONS (arranged according to the Church Year)

Treasury of Daily Prayer, by Scot A. Kinnaman

The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle
Various editions available for seasons of the year and occasions.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, by Bobby Gross

Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, by Henri Nouwen

Celtic daily prayer (online)


The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, by Madeline L’Engle

We Light the Candles: Devotions Related to Family Use of the Advent Wreath, by Catharine Brandt

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, by Dean Lambert Smith

Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom, by Walter Wangerin

Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?, by Rick McKinley
Various resources for churches wanting to follow this approach to keeping Advent/Christmas are available at the Advent Conspiracy website.

The Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk Through Advent – Albert Holtz

Living With Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany – John Polkinghorne

Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany – St. Augustine

A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus : Matthew 1 and Luke 1 – Raymond Brown

No Trace of Christmas ? : Discovering Advent in the Old Testament – Christoph Domen

• • •

I hope these resources will give us all a good start at going deeper into understanding and practicing Church Year spirituality.

Saturday Ramblings — Nov. 22, 2014

ChristMarketSaturday Ramblings, Nov. 22, 2014

Greetings from Cincinnati, where Gail and I have rambled this weekend to visit the Germania Society’s Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German outdoor Christmas market featuring German foods, beer and mulled wine, crafts, music, and traditional events such as a lantern parade and a visit from St. Nicholas.

These markets are common in northern Europe, and here’s a site, for example, that explains the history of those that developed in Austria.

Street Christmas markets have been held since the Late Middle Ages throughout Austria, Germany, northern Italy, certain regions in France, and Switzerland. They are well established in historic German-speaking communities in many U.S. cities and regions and are increasing in popularity each year.

While we enjoy a German pastry with our coffee this morning, have fun rambling wherever you are!

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