Welcoming the Return of Light

by Kenneth McIntosh

All of the great spiritual traditions are connected to the patterns of the cosmos. The Spirit may be invisible, but meaning strives toward incarnation. For Christians, the ultimate incarnation is in the person of Christ, but the Word (Logos, Cosmic Christ) has always been incarnate in nature (John 1:3). So we should expect our experience of the Divine to connect with significant patterns of the Creation. In modernity, humankind strove to declare autonomy from nature (or dominance over it) by means of technology. Light, for example, can be manufactured—so that natural patterns of days shortening and lengthening no longer hold sway over work and sleep.

We do, however, still feel the tug of the seasons and the weather –even if we attempt to override and ignore those impulses. Thus, about this time of year, many of us start feeling a bit of “cabin fever” or “winter blues.” This is true even for those of us who live in the Southwestern United States, where we have amplitude of sunny days. We might not recognize the influence of the season, but it can affect us in subliminal feelings of stress or depression.

As the winter blues seem to drag on, it’s a good idea to celebrate the spiritual celebrations that come around the last day of January and first days of March. This is astronomically a “Cross Quarter” time, which comes at the midpoint between winter Solstice and the Vernal (Spring) equinox.

For the Hopi nation, located in northeastern Arizona, this is the celebration of Powamu, aka the Bean Planting Festival. The Kachinas (spirits of the natural realm) have been dormant in the longest days of winter, but now, in secret kiva ceremonies, the Kachina masks are readied and then the spirit dancers return to the villages, signaling the return of light and fecundity of the soil.

For the Celtic people who occupied most of Europe in the centuries before Christ, the beginning of February was Imbolc—the festival of spring-coming. Fires were lit and preparations made for planting. When Christianity came to rural Europe, Saint Brigid, a fifth-century Irish woman, replaced the veneration of the Goddess Brigid, associate with Imbolc. An eternal flame, first lit by the druids, continued to burn at Brigid’s monastery in Kildare.

There’s a story about Saint Brigid and her crown of lights that also connects with Christ’s nativity and with refugees crossing a border. The tale says that in a visionary experience Brigid traveled across time and space to the Holy Land, where she served the Holy family at Christ’s birth. Then she traveled with Mary, Joseph and Jesus to the Egyptian border for safety. However, Herod had warned soldiers to look out for the refugees and on the road leading to Egypt they ran across these violent men. Brigid quickly gathered up candles, wove them into a crown of sticks on her head, and spun and danced to the amusement of the soldiers, while the holy family skirted the outpost and sneaked safely into the land of their refuge, where Brigid later rejoined them.

To this day many Christian churches celebrate Candlemas on May 2nd. It is the celebration of Jesus coming to the Jerusalem temple and also a day for the blessing of all candles to be used in liturgical rites over the coming year.

As we celebrate the return of the light in the cosmos, and as we recall the ways that various spiritual traditions celebrate this time, we also remember the deeper light in the world. In the Common Lectionary, the Epistle text for January 31st is the famous love passage from 1 Corinthians 13 (which we have all heard at weddings). Indeed Christ’s presentation to the world, celebrated at Candlemas, is the manifestation of “the true light that lights all humans” being revealed (John 1:9). My friend and spiritual mentor George Breed says his vocation is “Spreading radiance around the town”—which he does by walking about and listening to people who need to unburden.

This coming Sunday and Monday, do a little something to celebrate Imbolc / Candlemas. Light candles in your home, sing around a warming fire, tell stories of the returning light. Most of all, pray that the Light of the World will use you at this time, coming into a situation where your neighbor’s life feels cold and grey, then radiating the light of God for them.

Resilience: A Path to Happiness

by Donald Fausel

Resilience - A Path to Happiness by Donald Fausel, Southwest Conference Blog, southwestconferenceblog.org - United Church of Christ

As the title of this blog suggests, resilience is a key to happiness. According to recent research, resilience is ordinary not extraordinary. To be resilient doesn’t mean that you have experienced a major difficulty or unhappiness.  Emotional sorrow or agonies are common in any of us who have suffered from a serious trauma in our lives. Resilience is not something that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. Perhaps a definition would help?

There are as many definitions of resilience as there are websites on the topic. The one I chose is from an article titled The Road to Resilience which is on the website of the American Psychological Association. Their definition is: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.” The good news is that we can learn to be resilient. We just need to learn to “bounce back”.

The fact that there are several major focal points in the research on resilience, suggests the importance that resilience has in both the scientific and happiness movements.  For example: in the  The Penn Positive Psychology Center website they are “ recognized as a leader in state-of-the-art, evidence-based resilience curricular and resilience programs….we teach skills to prevent and reduce stress-related problems such as anxiety, depression, burnout, and attrition, as well as increased persistence, well-being (happiness) and performance.” If you click on the title above you’ll find more information about their training in resilience. One of the things that stood out to me was the fact that Penn has “…trained more than 30,000 individuals to use and teach the resilience skills”. They must be doing something right!

Another website that has an abundance of articles on resilience is not surprisingly named the Resiliency Center . Here’s an article from their website entitled Five Levels of Resiliency by the late Al Siebert, PhD, who had studied highly resilient survivors for over fifty years. He was also the founder of the Resiliency Center and authored the award-winning book, The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back from Setback . Resiliency is described briefly in a review of his book as “…the ability to adapt to life’s changes and crises—is key to a healthy, productive life. Based on the deep knowledge of the science of resiliency…” It also explains how and why “…some people are more resilient than others and how resiliency can be learned at any age.”  At my age, those last words are very comforting.

In addition to Dr. Siebert’s anecdotes, exercises and examples, in his book he specifies a five level program for becoming more resilient.  The same five level program is also in the article   Five Levels of Resiliency .

The five levels of resilience that he recommends are:

1) Maintaining Emotional Stability, Health and Well-Being. This level is essential to sustaining your health and energy.

2) Focus Outward: Good Problem Solving Skills. The second level focuses outward on the challenges that must be handled. It is based on research findings that problem-focused coping leads to resilience better than emotion-focused coping.

3) Focuses Inward on the Roots of Resiliency—strong self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive self-concept.

4)  Covers the Skills Found in Highly Resilient People.

5) It describes “What is Possible at the Highest Level of Resiliency.” It is the talent for serendipity—the ability to convert misfortune into good fortune.

The article goes on to warn us that “…when faced with adversity it is useful to remember the following:

  • Your mind and habit will create either barriers or bridges to a better future.
  • Resiliency can’t be taught, but it can be learned. It comes from working to develop your unique combination of inborn abilities.
  • The struggle to bounce back and recover from setbacks can lead to developing strengths and abilities that you didn’t know were possible.

Here are two TED TALKS that represent typical resilience programs. The first one, the ABCs of Resilience , by Kathy Meisner, PhD is based on the research of the Penn Positive Psychology Center mentioned above.  The second one is Cultivating Resilience  by Dr. Greg Eells, who  outlines exactly what it means to build resilience in our lives.

Returning to the Well: Why Pastors Need the Nurture of Supervision

by Amanda Petersen and Teresa Blythe

Pastors are some of the bravest people we know. As spiritual directors we have the privilege of walking alongside these brave men and women.

In a time when people are in fear of shrinking numbers and budgets, pastors burn with a desire to sit in the fear and preach the Gospel. With fears high, they are often rewarded by being stoned by the crowd.

Pastors are some of the most isolated people. The system is set up for a work week of 50+ hours, where the people you spend the most time with are not and never can be your confidantes. They work in situations where admitting feelings of failure, doubt and challenge in front of a colleague sometimes doesn’t feel safe.

Pastors often put their own faith time on hold for the sake of someone else’s. There is nothing more satisfying that watch a life change because of the grace of God. Yet, churches frequently want a CEO to run the facilities and programs who is on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Pastors are the most passionate people we know. Despite the odds there is this crazy sense that sharing God’s love and message is not optional no matter the circumstances. They will walk through any mine field for the sake of Christ , God’s people, and this inner call.

As the church is changing so also is the expectation that this is a journey the pastor does alone. It’s not enough to gather with other overworked pastors and complain about the issues. One quickly discovers doing that actually leads to more isolation.

It’s time for a new paradigm in which pastors come together to be honest about the extreme challenges and the amazing blessings of a job where the focus is on where God is alive and at work. It’s time for a safe place for pastors to share struggles and celebrations where the focus is on the God journey.

This safe place is called supervision, a reflection process led by experienced facilitators who help the pastors build community and have a safe, confidential place to process the movement of the Spirit through a variety of work and home-related circumstances.

We call this “Returning to the Well: Reflecting Spiritually on Pastoral Experiences,” because scripturally the well is the place where the brave and passionate return to the Source to refresh and remember why they left the well in the first place.

We are inviting all the clergy in the Southwest Conference to consider allowing us to help them “return to the well.”

As experienced spiritual directors and supervisors, Revs. Amanda Petersen and Teresa Blythe offer monthly group meetings in central Phoenix for this supportive environment. We also offer individual sessions of 30 minutes per month by phone or Skype for anyone attending these Phoenix groups or for anyone living outside the Phoenix area who wants this assistance on an individual basis.

It is important to note that Returning to the Well is not therapy. It’s not the typical support group. It’s a contemplative blend of spiritual direction and guided introspection, led by two UCC specialized ministers who have years of experience caring for pastors. Our first cohort found it enormously helpful and life-giving.

We have openings for 2 to 4 pastors for our next session Monday, February 1, 10:00 am – 11:30 am at Pathways of Grace Spiritual Life Center located at 1500 E. Bethany Home Road Suite 101, Phoenix, AZ 85014. Call 602-315-5723 to register.

Cost is $40 per month if paid monthly or $105 for 3 months (a 3 month commitment is recommended).

We plan to have the Phoenix group meet every first Monday of the month, same time and place.

For individual phone sessions, contact Amanda Petersen at 602-315-5723 to Teresa Blythe 480-886-3828.

In order to be sustained, Clergy need constant Living Water. Let’s all work to make sure the well doesn’t run dry.

Amanda Petersen is a UCC minister specializing in spiritual direction and supervision. She is Founder and Director of Pathways of Grace in Phoenix.

Teresa Blythe is also a UCC minister specializing in spiritual direction and discernment. She is Founder and Director of the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction at First UCC Phoenix.

The “Is-ness” of Healing

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

Before you read this, may I ask you to do something? It may be an odd request, may even prevent you from reading this now since you may not be in a space where it would be a good idea to play something on YouTube. It may even be something you choose not to do, but I will ask anyway.

Will you please play this video? Will you then close your eyes and sit with what you hear? Listen as many times as the mood strikes you. It’s good stuff.

Then come on back:

John Denver “All This Joy”


Welcome back…

When I was about 8 years old I remember hating nighttime. There are a variety of reasons for this that increased my sense of vulnerability at night, probably things that would resonate within you as well. My little 8 year old self thought frequently, “Why do we all go to sleep at the same time? Shouldn’t someone be keeping watch?” We are at our most vulnerable when sleeping, completely unaware. We really should have planned this out better as a human race, right?

Going to sleep while everyone else is asleep has a certain strange agreement of trust. We’re pretty much saying, “Hey, I am going to just close my eyes for the night and make myself as vulnerable as can be. I am pretty sure we all are going to wake up on the other side of this day.” When life events, though, challenge that level of trust and belief, sleep becomes harder to come by because vulnerability is harder to come by.

I’ve shared with you before that I am in recovery from drugs and alcohol. As many with that history, I tend to be pain avoidant. It is hard to sit with pain, physical and emotional, palpable and overwhelming. I don’t like it. I actually hate it. I despise it. It frustrates and confounds me that it’s in the mix of life.

That avoidance of pain versus the turning to face it is really the challenge we are faced with most regularly.. Each time we turn to face the reality of the present circumstances or moment, we are being co-creators with Spirit and participants in the flow of life. I forget this a lot. Like all the time. I forget this because pain hurts. You likely do the same because pain hurts. We certainly do this as a community because pain hurts.

I write a lot of subtext to my daily experiences. I make meaning in ways that allow me to understand the world around me. I can act as though that subtext is true, but really, it’s just my thoughts trying to make the world more palatable and less dangerous. Often the subtext that I create separates me from the world around me, separates me from you. Separates you from me. I’m pretty tired of that, aren’t you?

Here are some myths about pain that I’d like for us to consider getting rid of:

-If I feel the loss, the grief, the sadness, it will break me. Forever.
-If I start to feel I will feel this way always. Forever.
-If I leave it alone and not look at any of it, time will just make it go away.
-If I spend time honoring those feelings, I am self indulgent and need to change.
-If I drink this, take this pill, watch this video, it will numb me out and I will not have to worry about it anymore.
-I should compare my pain to what others have to walk through and then shame myself for feeling bad because they have it worse than me.

There is an ebb and flow to pain and healing. It looks like this:
It gets better.
Then it gets worse.
Then it gets better.
Oh great, now it got bad again.
Hey! Guys! Look! It got better again!
Ok it’s getting worse again.
Yay! It’s better…
And the bad days start to neutralize and the wound starts to heal.

There is more space between the times it gets better and when it gets bad again. We are constantly reaching for equilibrium. And, if we let it, it comes. Eventually.

The only way it comes, though, is through a turning to rather than a turning away.

I am not an expert on grief and loss, but I certainly have experienced it. I am not an expert on brokenness, but I can check that box too. I am not an expert on isolation and turning away. Wait, I kinda am. I’m kinda a gold medal contender for that one. Who else would like to join me on the podium?

Your life, my life, our loved ones lives, will experience pain, injury, brokenness. It just is. Your life, my life, our loved ones lives, will experience healing. It just is. My dear friends, this is the work in living. This is the work in relationship. This is the work of the ministry of reconciliation. This is the work of our communities of faith.

Healing comes when we turn to what is.

And that, my friends, is the stuff of life.

It just simply is.

Flint Water Disaster

by Rev. Dr. William (Bill) Lyons

Details of the water disaster in Flint, MI continue almost daily in the national news. Rev. Dr. Campbell Lovett, Michigan’s Conference Minister, offered UCC settings an update on the crisis Thursday morning.

“It is difficult in one email to describe the extent of this tragedy and the decades-long response that will be needed to adequately care for those who have been exposed to lead and other toxic chemicals through the drinking water.” To learn more about the crisis and its roots, Dr. Lovett encourages us to consider Democracy, Disposability, and the Flint Water Crisis, online at The Third Coast Conspiracy.

Woodside Church in Flint is a progressive, ONA, federated American Baptists-United Church of Christ congregation. They’ve begun raising money to install an ‘at source’ water filter so that the church can provide safe drinking water to residents in their neighborhood. Woodside Church is served by Rev. Deb Conrad, who is passionate about issues of social justice. Donations marked WATER can be sent to Woodside Church, 1509 E Court St., Flint, MI 48503. Woodside Church is also partnering with the Michigan Conference UCC, the Michigan Region Disciples of Christ, and Vermont Avenue Christian Church to supply bottled water, water filters, and replacement cartridges to Flint residents.

“Please continue to keep in prayer the residents of Flint, Michigan and Woodside Church that is ministering prophetically in the city,” writes Lovett. “UCC Disaster Ministries personnel have been very responsive to this situation. A Solidarity Grant has been approved by Disaster Ministries that will help provide water and filters, and advocacy for those whose water is shut off for non-payment (non-payment for water that was poisoning them!!).” Contributions may also be made to the UCC’s Emergency USA Fund.

The Michigan Conference partners with Unitarian Universalist Association congregations for advocacy efforts. Together they are urging involvement at both the state and national levels. You can help by calling Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (517-373-3400) and urging him to expedite the process of the State of Michigan for​ delivering safe water to all residents of Flint who need it, to refund all residents who have been required to pay for water that was poisoning them, and to secure state and federal funding for permanent improvements to Flint’s water system. You can also help by calling President Obama (202-456-1111) and urging him to encourage expedited federal agencies’ support to provide Flint residents with safe, affordable water, and to encourage funding for short and long-term improvements to Flint’s water system.

O Living Water, refresh the people in Flint with your powerful healing, especially the children who have been poisoned. Open a plethora of sources for safe drinking water to them. Let justice flow like rivers in their midst. And empower your churches to offer cups of cold water to all who are thirsty. Amen.

United Church…of Christ

by Tyler Connoley

I’m sure you’ve had this happen. Someone asks what church you belong to, and you tell them you go to Such-and-So United Church of Christ. They respond, “Church of Christ. Is that the one that doesn’t have instruments?” Then you try to explain that the United Church of Christ is different. We’re progressive and inclusive. You begin telling them about the history of the UCC, how we we trace ourselves to the Congregationalists, and the Evangelical and Reform, etc. Their eyes glaze over, and they say, “Oh look, there’s Mary, I’ve been meaning to talk to her.”

Ron Buford taught me a trick that made it so this never happens to me anymore. He said to say, “United Church” then pause and say, “of Christ.” Ron has a passion for the UCC and our uniqueness, and he said this way of saying our name emphasizes that uniqueness. (It’s also because of Ron’s influence that our current UCC logo has those two phrases stacked in different fonts.)

As I’ve learned to say United Church . . . of Christ, it’s helped me to think more deeply about our identity in the UCC. We are a united church, and we are of Christ. Both of those things are important to our identity.

As a non-credal church, we value our theological diversity. We embrace gay Christians and Christians who think gay relationships are a sin. We allow for many different ideas about the divinity of Jesus. Even our identity as a Just Peace Church is rooted in our commitment to be a United Church. When General Synod was asked to declare the UCC a pacifist denomination in the 1970s, they commissioned a study. At the end of that study, the General Synod decided that our diversity required us to acknowledge multiple theologies around responses to war. We committed ourselves to working for Peace with Justice, and allowed individual members to decide what was right and wrong for them.

Some people have difficulty with our identity as a United Church. I had a seminary colleague who was troubled by being part of a denomination that ordained clergy to serve as military chaplains. This person ended up becoming Quaker, valuing theological purity on issues of war over the UCC’s diversity.

On the other end of the spectrum, we are also “of Christ.” We celebrate lots of different ways of being Christian, but we still unite in a desire to follow Jesus. Rather than emphasize a diversity of religions, as the Unitarian Universalists do, we have chosen to stand within one particular tradition.

One of my heroes, Huston Smith, is an expert in world religions, but continues to identify as a Christian. To those who like to dabble in lots of different faith traditions, he says, “If you want to find water, stand in one place and dig as deep as you can.” That’s what being UCC is for me. I certainly find wisdom in other religions, and value my interfaith partners. However, I’ve chosen to stand in one place and dig as deep as I can, rather than dig shallow holes in several different religions.

When people ask me what the United Church of Christ is, I don’t say we’re the most-progressive Christian denomination — even though we’ve certainly led the way, on issues from ordaining women to civil rights. Instead, I tell people we’re the most-inclusive Christian denomination. We are as inclusive as one can possibly be, while still holding onto the Christian tradition. We are the United Church . . . of Christ.

Tossed Salad

by Amos Smith

The early church was about the inclusive love of Jesus that broke down walls between people! I think this was the miracle of the early church—that Jews and Gentiles, bonded and free, male and female, all worshiped under the same roof (Galatians 3:28). This was unheard of in the highly stratified society of Jesus’ time!

I have observed newcomers to Church of the Painted Hills, UCC in Tucson, Arizona, where I’m the pastor. They take one look around and get a sense of the diversity. And they either like it or they don’t.

Diversity comes in many different forms. There is diversity in politics, cultural background, length of church membership, ethnicity, economic class, type of family (traditional, blended, adoptive, et cetera), level of education, marital status, gender, age, theology, sexual orientation, musical taste, number of years in Arizona, and the list goes on…

One of the things I most appreciate about Church of the Painted Hills is our diversity. Diversity requires a higher level of maturity than homogeneity. People who genuinely tolerate diversity are comfortable enough in their own skin that they are not threatened by multiplicity. Just the other day someone came to me and disagreed with my point of view. This happens at least once a month from various people at Painted Hills and I find the candor refreshing. I prefer the tossed salad, where the tomato remains a tomato, the lettuce, lettuce, and the walnuts, walnuts. Otherwise everything blends together in a big soup. That’s much less interesting!

Let’s stay close to the tossed salad and to the inclusive love of Jesus!

Who are you listening to when you listen to yourself?

by Karen Richter

A short reflection today – I hope you are able to find something to do for the holiday today that blesses you and the world around you.

I had an interesting and surprising experience recently. I can’t share much about it, because of confidentiality. And honoring confidentiality is helpful to me in this instance, because the recounting of the full anecdote would not be flattering to me. I was asked about what I thought about something, and my first reaction, that knee-jerk, snap decision response reflected a deeply internalized sexism of which I wasn’t fully aware.

And that experience of “What was I thinking? Where did that COME FROM? I can’t believe I almost said that!” got me thinking about the voices in our heads. Our culture prizes the notion of acting on your split second decision… trusting your inner voice… acting on impulse or instinct. But not every voice in our minds is helpful, compassionate, or mature. Our culture is also awash in sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, and other fear-based responses to Otherness. Despite our efforts, these –isms become part of our conscience, one of many inner voices.

Who do we listen to when we listen to ourselves? by Karen Richter, Southwest Conference Blog, www.southwestconferenceblog.org

Sometimes they’re loud, overpowering other voices from other sources. There are voices from our Christian tradition – voices of acceptance, grace, justice, trust, peace, liberation, voices from our faith communities – voices of love and exhortation and encouragement, and voices from our own personal spiritual experience – voices that whisper of mystery and simplicity.

How do we differentiate between these voices? We test and discern. Our Jesuit brother and sister have much to teach us about this process. We pause, building into our decisions and thoughts a holy gap in which we listen a second time. And when we act on the voice of grace and peace, the voice of God, that voice gets a tiny bit louder and easier to hear.


Coffee Shop Conversation: Language, Life, and Lattes

by Kelly Kahlstrom

“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey, but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if we are to ever reach home at last.” – Fredrick Buechner

I would be the first to admit that I have trouble following through with New Year’s resolutions. However, in 2015, I did manage to keep a promise to myself. I had a will drawn up and a medical power of attorney completed. It was not difficult to know whom to ask and my son somewhat hesitantly agreed to this responsibility. Congratulating myself for the follow-through, I failed to realize that more needed to be communicated to him about my wishes; precisely, in the messiness of the moment, the parameters I would like him to use in making what could be a horrific and heart-wrenching decision.

On a recent trip to San Francisco as my son and I were taking in the sights and sounds of the holiday, we stepped into a cozy neighborhood coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up. As we settled in with our lattes, the conversation turned to matters of importance. This was not an unusual event for us. Hours of his high school years were spent in the car together driving to various lessons and church functions. We would listen to music, discuss what we were learning in school, and debate his future. He wanted to pursue music in college, I wanted him to get real about that idea. (For the record, Eric won). Like so many conversations before, this one moved towards that which we held close to our hearts. My son was facing a job change with two divergent but equally appealing prospects, but it was saying goodbye to his current congregation that occupied his thoughts that day. I took this occasion to specifically state my wishes in the event he had to make a medical decision on my behalf. The parameters centered on my expected capacity for language.

For me, I often encounter the mystery of God through language. I wish I were a poet because I am acutely aware that a linear telling of a Pentecost moment does not communicate the depth of the experience well. It is more than an encounter with something bigger than myself. Time stands still. A veil is lifted just long enough for “the God in me to recognize the God in you”. I feel fully alive and acutely aware that “who I am” is not “what I think” or “how I present”.  And while I may not remember exactly what was said, I vividly recall the people present and the environment we were in. And I am left with wanting more of these experiences. If only those “grace chip” moments were up to me…

We have just completed the season of Christmas. In the Prologue to the gospel of John the writer makes anew the case for Jesus as the incarnate Logos, the One through which all things are made as divine.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1.1-5 NRSV)

The marks of Hellenistic Judaism are evident in the need to reconcile imperfect matter with perfect form to address the gap between God and the material world, this time in the form of a person, Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a dazzling Christmas read!!

However, Logos is not a monolithic concept. I want to switch lenses for a moment and look at another interpretation of Word as Logos. First used by Heraclitus in the 6th century BCE and continued through the Classical Greek Era, Philo of Alexandria, St. Augustine and beyond, is the understanding of Logos as speech. In the beginning was Language, and  Language was with God and Language was God….Philosophically, Logos from the Greek verb “to speak” is to reason, to create an account of, discourse, to speak intelligibly, to make a sound argument.  Theologically, for the ancients, Logos as speech is the creative word of God, the Revelation of Divine reason or Wisdom, the mediating principle between God and the world. Speech then is a creative force that imitates God when God spoke the universe into existence.  Arie Uittenbogaard, in his blog Abarim Publications writes:

Writing was, in the ancient world, rightly regarded as a holy enterprise. Writing (and before that: speaking) allowed an unprecedented exchange of ideas and with that a furtherance of mankind’s understanding of creation and its ultimate purpose. But possibly even more important: a speech-based society forces its members into a state of perpetual review of what people are saying, and by wanting to respond, a continuous state of creativity.

The ancients understood Logos as language is a dual process. It’s a collection, both of thoughts in the mind, and the words by which these thoughts are expressed, although St Augustine compares the Word of God, “not to the word spoken by the lips, but to the interior speech of the soul, whereby we may in some measure grasp the Divine mystery.”   Following this understanding, in order for speech to be intelligible, an argument sound, or to engage in discourse, a reverence for communication must first be established. Jesus as Logos, as mediator of the sacred, spent many an hour in contemplative prayer to quiet his heart before God prior to speaking to the gathered crowds. Without this practice, speech is, to use Heidegger’s turn of phrase, nothing more than “idle chatter”.

This is what I explained to my son in the coffee shop over lattes. After a few questions, a few tears, and a fervent hope that he would never need to make such a decision on my behalf, the parameters for Eric were clear. The decision rests upon not the absence of speech per se (I could learn to sign or blink morse code) but the absence of the creative forces for thought that would diminish my relationship with all that is Divine and Holy. And he agreed.

We are in the midst of getting 2016 off the ground, in a particularly divisive election cycle. May we, like Jesus, quiet our hearts before the still-speaking God and contemplate the possibility of letting language use us, so that we create more than idle chatter in a world desperate for God’s hope and love.  Perhaps it is not too late to make this a New Year’s goal we can keep.

A Refreshing Way to Recall Your Baptism

by Kenneth McIntosh

Last Sunday, at First Congregational Flagstaff, several members shared memories and anecdotes concerning their baptisms. One recalled being baptized as an adult in a beautiful river beside red-rock cliffs in Sedona. A middle-aged man shared that his earliest memory in life is his baptism as an infant!

Wherever you were baptized, and however it was done, it is good to ponder its ongoing reality in your life. Like faith itself, the memory and interpretation of the happening may be more important than what occurred in the past.

We commonly think of baptism in its most obvious significance—that of washing away our impurities. That’s certainly an important and abiding perspective; “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). At the same time, there is another Scriptural tradition that might point us in additional directions, regarding the significance of our baptism. Each year in the lectionary cycle, at the start of each new year, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus, and we are called to recall our own baptism. Yet the baptism of Jesus points to something more than forgiveness of sins. In classical Christian theology, Jesus was without sin. Or, in more contemporary terms, Jesus possessed a perfect God-consciousness. Unlike us, Jesus had no need for a ritual of cleansing moral impurities. So what does Jesus’s baptism mean, and what does it mean for us?

In the mid-seventh century an Irish scholar wrote a treatise titled On the Miracles of Holy Scripture. It’s a unique work, seemingly ahead of its time. Covering a huge array of Bible miracles, the author sought to point out that God never works in violation of nature’s laws. By portraying the harmony between miracles and natural order, this author makes Scriptural wonders feasible to a scientific mind while also elevating the ‘miraculous’ aspects of everyday natural events.

Referring to Jesus’s baptism the writer reverses our normal understanding: normally we think of water as cleansing the baptizee (as a normal bath would do). Yet Jesus was in no need of cleansing. Rather, the waters required redemption, because they are held within the confines of the earth, and the earth was cursed by humanity’s fall, as indicated in chapter 3 of Genesis. So Jesus’s baptism had a reverse effect–the baptized One gloriously refreshed polluted creation.

Could you think of your own baptism as being a similar event? Has God not called all believers to labor for the good of all creation–not just for humans, but for all beings and the earth itself?

At Jesus’s baptism he hears a voice from heaven: “You are my child, whom I dearly love: in you I find happiness.” It might be a stretch for you to believe this, but God no doubt said the same thing at your baptism. Our self-doubts, or our lack of awareness, probably prevented us from hearing that loving affirmation—but it was there. Ponder your own baptism vows for a moment. Imagine God saying those same words to you. How does it make you feel?

Jesus, knowing how much God found happiness in him, went forth from his baptism to begin healing the world. You had the same experience! So as you recall your baptism, consider how God has called you to live as a dearly beloved child, and how you can work with God to cleanse our polluted earth.