Posts in Pastoral Reflections
Pay Attention to the Present Moment

He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to pay attention to the present moment?”   —Luke 12. 54-56

In this 500-channel, multi-sensory, hyperactive world, what do you give your attention to? Do you follow your favorite team? Watch the weather? Track the stock market? Keep tabs on movie stars? Or are these things you ignore for other matters? 

Do you fasten your attention on fear and anxiety, or do you keep your eyes peeled for grace? Is your radar tuned to people's judgments, or do you attend to the love of God within you? Do you fill your consciousness with past mistakes, fears of the future, things you regret or dread or the way you wish things were—especially the way you wish things were— or do you pay attention to the present moment? 

What do you see? What is true in you and around you right now? What is happening this moment? How is your breathing? Start there. Stay there. Pay attention to the present moment. Be available to the grace of God that is hidden in what is around you. Simply be present. You'll be surprised how lovely it is.

 

Grace and peace,

 

Anita Sorenson

Pastor for Spiritual Formation

“Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us shallow and complicated.”

Fred Rogers said that. As in Mister. As in the fire engine red cardigan and the songs about neighbors. I’ve been ruminating on those words this past month.  Complicated. How often do I use that word in my daily life? How often do I run through my days living “busy,” living “complicated”? I’m thinking about deep simplicity versus shallow complexity. What does it mean to cultivate a deep and simple life, to weed out the things that—in their seeming importance—seduce me into believing their complications are necessary? What is deep? What is simple? The answer to those questions almost always points toward what is good. I want to cultivate the simple and the deep in my ordinary life. I want to be present for real people in my physical life. I want to serve my church and community. I want to be a good friend, a person who isn’t constantly busy, constantly distracted.

“How can you live with the terrifying thought that the hurricane has become human, that the fire has become flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst? Christianity either means that, or it means nothing. It is either the more devastating disclosure of the deepest reality in the world, or it’s a sham, a nonsense, a bit of deceitful play-acting. Most of us, unable to cope with saying either of those things, condemn ourselves to live in the shallow world in between.” N T Wright  All God’s Worth

There’s the word again: shallow. As humans, we most often train ourselves to choose the shallow. It hurts less. And in order to make ourselves feel valuable, we shape the shallow to look important, complicated. Shallow lives are dangerous things.

And then there’s Jesus. We who believe in him are the people who believe in the hurricane turned human, in the fire become flesh. How far are we willing to walk into this faith of ours? Are we willing to trust in the deep reality that leads us out of shallow complications and into the rich simplicity of Jesus?

Grace and peace,

 

Anita Sorenson

Pastor for Spiritual Formation

'Yet'

It’s a tiny word in the English language, but the word “yet” is so powerful. 

In Isaiah 64:8, the sentence starts with “Yet.” This is fundamental, in the Old Testament and even today, to a Hebrew view of spirituality. Sometimes you’ll see in Hebrew, “But now.” This “yet” or “but now” was always at the heart of Jewish spirituality, because it meant hope was always possible even when logic and circumstances seemed to point to a bad outcome. This “yet” tells us that Yahweh is always our Father or our Potter. Against all odds, he makes a different outcome possible. Through the Hebrew Old Testament, we see the verb “to form.” You could think of it as a father forming a daughter or son, or a potter forming clay in his hands. 

The idea is that we are the people of God’s hands. We come from God and are completely dependent on God. Both Father and Potter convey to us close personal connections. God’s hands are actually on our squishy little misshapen lives. Our role is to remain malleable in God’s hands, opening our lives and hearts and souls with active anticipation and hope. We might doubt that a “yet” or “but now” is possible for us. If so, we pray that we may remain ready to see, to always have an active anticipation and hope for God’s surprising, gracious and powerful deliverance.    (inspiration from Todd Hunter)

Grace and peace,

 

Anita Sorenson

Pastor for Spiritual Formation

The Christian with depth is the person who has failed and who has learned to live with it. Brennan Manning

As we pivot in our sermon series from the faith-filled legacy story of Ruth, to the life of David in 1 Samuel, surely Manning's words could describe this man of God who stumbled his way into faithful living. David faced critical choices all across his life, building his character as he rose and fell with his many decisions. David learned to live with the complexity of his life with God, the highlights (and the lowlights).

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Bread of Life

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. —Matthew 14.19-20

Alone and struggling, I came to hear him. I stood in front and took it in. I heard a word of grace. I gave him my heart as he spoke.
I saw him break some bread, bless it and give it in baskets to his helpers. They gave me some. It tasted like freedom.

And then a hush fell, the others silent. I didn't see why, couldn't imagine why: I wanted to sing and shout, to praise loudly, to tell my story: there in the bread, my whole life poured into the bread, my whole life rose before me, like bread rising, full and very special, touched by God. Why not sing a song?

Only when I turned around did I see why the spreading hush, the awed silence, as the gift was passed from hand to hand: his helpers kept going among the people, bearing baskets of bread, giving it away. The bread did not end. He did not just feed me. He fed everybody. All of them. Here was a miracle: not me, but 5000. I was not alone. We were as one. A community, drawn together as if we were one body, one loaf of bread. The miracle was not the bread but the sharing, not that he made bread, but that he made a community, not that he gave me a gift, but that he gave the same gift to others, that he drew my “I” into a “we. I was saved, not by being made special, but by being included.
I imagine the miracle happens again and again, not by making bread appear, but by making it disappear, into the hands of the hungry.

I wonder what it was like to be one of those people helping him, following him, carrying those baskets out into the crowd, seeing the miracle in the unending bread, among the people. I think I could spend my life doing that.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

On the side of the vulnerable

I’ve been reflecting on Matt Robbins’ sermon last Sunday, based on Ruth 2 where God’s righteousness to the “quartet of the vulnerable” (poor, foreigners, widows and orphans) is enacted by Boaz to Ruth, who is allowed and assisted to generously glean in his fields. If you play word association with the average secular person and say "righteousness," most people are going to think "buzzkill." The word seems irrelevant to them, tied to religiosity long left behind or scorned.

But do you know who longs for righteousness? The vulnerable and weak, because sins are committed against them. The woman who is being verbally, emotionally, sexually, or physically abused by her spouse longs for righteousness. She longs to not be treated that way. The guy at work who is used and misused and cast out when he’s not needed longs for righteousness and justice on earth. Victims of discrimination, made hopeless by systemic injustice that seems to them undeviating and perpetual, long for righteousness.

These people need to hear and see that old wounds can be healed, that the world can become more just. What seems impossible to change IS being changed in the faithful people of God. The world that seems to coldly reject them is giving way to a new world in which the last shall be first. God’s righteousness WILL be fully realized in His Kingdom. May we be abounding in love and kindness, always looking for opportunities to bring good tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, and pronounce liberty to the captives.

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Listening

When I was young, I never understood when someone would tell me that I had to listen to God. No matter how hard I tried I could not hear any voice. Why did the characters in the Bible hear God’s voice but I couldn’t? As I grew into a more mature spiritual life I discovered that God’s voice manifests in so many ways: in Scripture, in other people, in my experiences, in my feelings, and in my gifts and talents.

In 1 Samuel 3 we read the story of Samuel who hears a voice call out to him in the night. He mistakes it for Eli’s call and goes to Eli saying, “Here I am.” This happens two more times and eventually Eli realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel. The scripture says that Samuel was not familiar with the Lord. He had not prayed before and he did not know anything about how God communicates. Eli tells Samuel that the next time he hears God call him he should respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel’s first experience of prayer is listening.

For most of us, our first experience of prayer is speaking words. Growing up we are told to say our prayers. We learn specific prayers like the Lord’s Prayer or we are encouraged to ask God for this or that. Seldom are children encouraged to listen. Though Samuel was a child, he was encouraged to listen to God. It took a long time for me to learn how to listen to God, but I wonder if it would have come earlier had I been taught how to listen in prayer as a child.
Prayerful listening occurs in the everyday, too. Keep a lookout for God through your day. Ask yourself questions like these: Where did God appear this week? What have I learned about myself and God through this experience? What set my heart on fire? What are the deep desires within me? What am I longing for? How does God feel when God looks upon me? What does God desire for me?

Grace and peace,

Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation

Eagles Nests
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I learned something new this week. Eagles return to the same nest year after year–a steadfast marriage of life long partners and domicile that is both touching and practical.  Generations of offspring are raised in the same tree, hatched upon the same branches lined with the same dirt and down and moss and foliage, then the soiled lining is removed by the parents after the fledglings fly.  After being washed clean in the winter rains, the parents return in the spring to replace the soft bedding for the next crop of eggs.  It is a cycle of comfort, of familiarity, and of commitment.
 
Churches sort of function like eagles nests also. Our home nest is Pasadena Covenant and these days it feels like our nest has been emptied a bit, as multiple staff members have moved on to follow the voice of the Spirit. We are experiencing their absence, feel the emptiness in the nest, yet also have begun to anticipate the next season that is to come. Search teams will do their discerning work, those who remain will hold the space until our ranks are filled out and we have a full leadership team. This rhythm of filling and emptying the nest is a familiar cycle in churches, at the staff level and in the congregation. As we ‘ready our bedding’ and prepare for the new life to come, our call is to stay committed and take good care of each other. There is a lot of work involved in sustaining ministry and caring well for those in our church family. All hands on deck! Listen for the Spirit who may be prompting you to say yes to leaning in to tend to our nest. 
 
Grace and peace,


Anita Sorenson
Pastor for Spiritual Formation