Julia Child and Celebration of Discipline

A couple of weeks ago, when Rachel and I were hunkered down in a foot of snow in Charlottesville, reveling in our weekend of solitude, one of the movies we watched was Julie and Julia.  It’s adapted from two books--Julia Child’s autobiographical My Life in France and Julie Powell’s memoir of her daily attempt to cook a different recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child is played by Meryl Streep.  It’s probably cliché to love Meryl Streep, but I do anyway.  She’s just as amazing in this as she is in everything else.  I love what AO Scott says about her in his review of the film: "By now this actress has exhausted every superlative that exists and to suggest that she has outdone herself is only to say that she’s done it again.” Streep captures Child’s lust for life so well.  In one scene, she springs out of bed early in the morning [I can’t recall, but I don’t think an alarm even goes off] so she can set about doing what she loves—cooking great food. I have since wondered, “When is the last time I sprang out of bed in the morning?”  And why don’t I?  In the interest of keeping it short, I’ve decided that it has a lot to do with how I feel about what I have to do.  Did you get that?  What I have to do.  When Julia Child jumps out of bed, it’s because she’s found something that she gets to do.  Isn’t it easier to get more excited about a privilege than an obligation?  And so I’ve noticed lately that it helps to remember what a privilege it is to care for my kids and get them to school and come to work at our church.  I’m still not popping out of bed, but my attitude is a little better. I think the same thing happens with meditation.  That’s the spiritual discipline we’ll be talking about on Wednesday night as we begin talking about Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  The most common reaction I get from people who try meditating on scripture or on their relationship with God is, “This is hard work.”  Yup.  It’s not easy for a lot of reasons.  We’re going to talk about that on Wednesday night.  But one reason is because it’s often more of an obligation than a privilege.  It’s hard to meditate on God’s presence when it’s something I do out of obligation and there’s something else I would like to be doing.  Or, more importantly, there’s something else I feel like I should be doing. It’s the difference between presenting a report to God and resting in the presence of God.  It’s the difference between making myself get out of bed in the morning and falling into bed at the end of the day.  Which sounds more appealing to you? Anyway.  There’s a lot more to be said about meditation, and we’ll be talking about it tomorrow night.  But more than just talking about it, I’ll be encouraging you to practice it--maybe not during class, but sometime during the week.  If you come to class and listen to me talk about the spiritual disciplines, you’ll get something out of it.  But not nearly as much as if you actually practice them yourself.  And I know I’ll learn a lot more than I would just hearing the sound of my own voice. In the meantime, I hope you’ll stop running around and take a moment to practice being in the presence of God. “The Light of God surrounds me.  The Love of God enfolds me.  The Power of God protects me.  The Wisdom of God guides and directs me.  Wherever I go, God is.” 1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. 5 You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. --Psalm 139

Contemplation and Good Friday

I’ve been wanting to dwell on art that depicts Christ lately. There’s something about it that helps me focus. It helps me leave wherever I am sitting, usually at a desk in front of a computer, and place myself somewhere else. It allows me to stand before Jesus in a new way. For the most part, the only way I’ve ever been taught to come into Jesus’ presence is through prayer—a certain type of prayer, the kind of prayer that is dominated by words. I encounter Christ by going through everything like a list: “Lord, help me with this;” “Jesus, forgive me for that;” “Lord, please be with ________.”  And that kind of prayer does have an important place.

But if I think about my relationship with my wife, some of the most important moments in our relationship have been beyond words. They have taken place in silence. They have happened with glances, with held hands, with smiles, and sometimes through tears. Whatever they were, those moments defied words. And in those moments Rachel became more real to me.

I guess I’m seeking out some of those moments in my relationship with Jesus. I want him to become more real to me just by sitting with him. I think John would call that “abiding” in him (see John 15:4 in the King James Version). I also think (though I’m not sure) that this is partly what is meant by “contemplation.”

Likewise I’ve found that I can, if I’m not careful, go too long without noticing Rachel. Life becomes all about accomplishing tasks. We move from one chore to another--getting kids ready for school, figuring out what to do for dinner, scheduling events. And before long I have failed to pay much attention to her.

I think I’ve done this even more with Jesus. My relationship with Him has become (has always been, really) so task-oriented. But to work beside someone is just one way of getting to know them. The other way is to sit with them and look them in the eyes.

So today I would challenge you to sit with these images from Good Friday. Click hereClick here.  Click here.   Finally, click here.  Just a warning, though--they are not very comforting.  Especially the last one.  I find them challenging because they remind me of the severe ramifications of the cross. Like I said last Sunday, we move too quickly from Jesus’ crucifixion to his resurrection. But isn’t it possible that, in doing so, we somehow temper the joy of Easter? I’ll let you react to them in your way. But to me they are reminders of the death, the very real death, of the Son of God. May we have the courage to face the awful consequences of our sin, and then celebrate all the more God's immeasurable grace.