A Pause

A typo almost dictated the title to be “A Oa..”, which made me think of “an oasis.” What is a true pause but an oasis in our day? At least, this pause is for me. This pause is at the end of a comfortably full day, when I got home before dinner was already late, while the sun is still out, and the house still quiet since the fam isn’t yet back from after-school activities. Moms and dads of all sorts know this kind of pause, a sort of calm before the storm.

And in this pause I choose to write because it’s been a while since I’ve journaled or blogged or written anything other than sermons. While sermons are a treasured part of my ministry, there’s so much unsaid in a sermon, even as I hope to have said enough, trusting Spirit to fill in the gaps.

Pausing for a moment to write grants me the opportunity to see, to open my eyes and gaze with wonder what’s going on around me, let alone what’s going on within me. Pausing for a moment to write helps me realize where my prayers manifest, especially the prayers left unsaid.

This Lent has been a time of prayer: long and intentional, short and rushed, whispered, sung, listened to, promised, and hoped for. My breath prayer this Lent has been

Let me abide in you, O God.

One night driving home it took on the tune to the Taize hymn “Bless the Lord my soul,” and it has stayed with me since then–not that I’m ready to let it go.

If Lent is about realizing our dependency upon God and increasing our awareness of God’s presence, I believe this Lent I learned more about the opposite. I find myself returning to my breath prayer as an escape from all the constraints I put on myself, mostly, and all the anxieties I hold onto when I know full well it’s out of my control. I have seen how much more I depend upon my timing and my management (even though I know how horribly that works out most times!) and see just how messed up things are in the world through our microcosm of a community, rather than trusting in God’s perfect timing and dream for us all.

Preparing for Holy Week, this insight is rather perfect, for once we know something, it’s hard to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist. (I’ll try to be sincere in my gratitude for this knowledge as I keep thinking, “Those to whom much is given, much is required.”) What has God revealed to me in the desert that I can take into the Easter season? What have I learn that, gilded with Resurrection, illuminates not only my ministry but even more importantly, God’s presence in the world?

I think I need more pauses to decipher the answers to those questions, but I know that Easter has much to say about God’s timing and God’s dream for us. In this pause, I can almost feel it in the anticipatory silence surrounding me.

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O God, You are my God

Exodus 3:1-15 | Psalm 63:1-8 | 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 | Luke 13:1-9

You may have heard about Trinity Cathedral’s new offering Insights, a series of lectures and talks highlighting some of America’s leading religious writers and theologians. There are two more coming up in April that I hope to make it to, but I was able to go to the one on February 18th when Diana Butler Bass was the speaker. Bass has written nine books on American religion, and after holding positions at universities and as a columnist, her bio at the back of the book describes her now as an “independent scholar.” She’s gone rogue, I guess you could say, not because she’s any less grounded in her faith but I’m guessing it’s because how she understands religion and spirituality today isn’t necessarily fitting into a tidy, traditional category in the academy. In fact, her most recent book Grounded is subtitled Finding God in the World / A Spiritual Revolution because she thinks there is a spiritual revolution afoot. That revolution is intricately tied to finding God in the world, and the God we encounter in the world might be quite different from the God we have been taught to believe in.

Maybe she’s preaching somewhere this Sunday or maybe it is, as she said, her favorite Old Testament story, but Bass specifically spoke about Moses and the burning bush. I hate to reduce all of what she said to one takeaway, but a point she emphasized about Moses’ encounter with God was that even though Moses met God on holy ground, Moses’ understanding of where a deity was located was very much based on an understanding of a world where heaven is above, separate from earth. Whatever Moses’ awe and wonder and curiosity, there is fear because God came down to earth. While Moses does question God’s instruction and shows a reluctance to do what God is telling him to do, there’s not really any question about the fact that Moses is going to do what the great I AM is telling him to do. There is a sense of understood obedience, and it’s no wonder that he was obedient, given the show of power and might God provided and the dire consequences God subsequently showed for those who did not cooperate. There’s a sort of do-things-God’s-way-or-else understanding of God.

Paul in First Corinthians affirms such an understanding of God, reminding the Corinthians that “God was not pleased with most of (their ancestors)” who were following Moses and that “they were struck down in the wilderness.” Trying to bring a sense of order to his church plants, it makes perfect sense that Paul would appeal to the authority of tradition and the power of fear. A top-down theology, like a hierarchy, is pretty easy to understand, and it’s easy to maintain so long as everyone falls into their place. If they step out of line, they might get struck down, or they could be cast out. The consolation that the believers will not be tested beyond their strength can still come across as a bit of warning. To be safe, all should be upright and blameless.

If we have grown up with religion telling us what to believe about God and what to do based on those beliefs or else suffer punishment and/or eternal damnation, there is no wonder that our understanding of God is tightly woven with fear and judgment.

So when I read and hear Jesus’s parable about a man telling his gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” what I hear is the litany of my own shortcomings, a lifetime of criticisms real and imagined. My inner critic or what Brené Brown calls the “gremlins” seize the opportunity to remind me how unworthy I am. I’ll never amount to much. I’m just as bad as the worst of the sinners, destined to perish. I’ll just get my handbasket, and you’ll probably need one, too, for where we’re going, where we deserve to go.

This tape I have playing in my head about my unworthiness and my inability to do anything good enough is based upon a judgmental, conditionally loving God. My striving for perfection is a fear of disapproval, that not everyone and especially not God will be pleased. But God’s love is unconditional. “God is faithful,” Paul repeats more than once, and I believe he says it with sincerity.

God is faithful and steadfast. God keeps the covenant. God has given us this wild and beautiful life, has been with us all the while, and we are good.

With life, God has given us choice. Yes, we will all perish; our mortality is certain. Yes, we get off track from God’s will and don’t make the best choices. We perish and die like everyone else, as Jesus said, unless we repent. Whether or not we perish in our life in Christ is up to us.

Repenting does not mean that we call to God and God turns toward us. When we repent, we turn toward God who has been perfectly God all along. When we repent, we see our shortcomings perhaps as God sees them: how they did not celebrate life, did not share in love, and did not glorify God. Most often we are sorry and ashamed, but God sees our repentance as well and good and looks forward to what we will make from our time of fertilization and toward the fruits we will bear. Our very repentance affirms hope and goodness in the world and ourselves, let alone our eternal life in God. This God tending to me is close and personal and knows the intense, intimate joy of mutual love: the psalm we read today conveys a thing or two about such a relationship.

The fastest growing sector in America’s religious landscape is the non-religiously affiliated folks, but it does not mean that these people do not believe in something greater than themselves. They might encounter their “higher power”–whom we call God–while sitting in a kayak on Lake Ouchita, while watching the sun set over the golf course, or while holding the washcloth on their loved one’s feverish forehead. These can be powerful Spirit-filled experiences. I think we would agree that God is very much present at those times, and we can affirm such spiritual experiences within our religious tradition.

But there are those who have no context for a religion that incorporates their spirituality, their personal experiences of God.

Rather than have to “buy in” to a particular religion, especially one that is going to tell them how to encounter God, they prefer to go rogue and encounter Spirit on their own terms. These folks often identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

I understand this perspective, especially as one who broke away from the tradition of my upbringing. What I know of God is greatly shaped by my experiences. I consider myself fortunate to have found a religious tradition in The Episcopal Church that makes sense to me both religiously and spiritually, a tradition that encourages me to continue to ask questions to learn and grow, drawing from a long history of tradition and the deep well of Scripture.

What I also know is the struggle of digging deep and the stench of manure flung far and wide as I grow in faith. There have been parts of me that have died in the wilderness, branches that have been cut down by choices I have made. I take for granted that I am here at all until something happens, like a man looking at me through tired eyes and tears, telling me God has saved his life twice in the past week from being cut down. He looks at me and cries, “Why?” We keep talking, and he’s sure that God has a purpose for him because God won’t just let him die. I pray with him, and he raises his hands in prayer, turning his head up toward God, I presume. I bow my head in reverence. This is a holy moment. Here and now. The man left in hope, in hope that he still has fruit to bear.

We have the tremendous challenge, responsibility, and opportunity to proclaim God’s presence in the world. This might mean each of us has to go rogue in some sense, too, departing from existing norms to break into the freedom of a life lived for and with God. Living into our relationship with God through the Body of Christ, it is up to us not only to recognize God in the unsung glories and small miracles of everyday life but also to recognize and call out when we turn away from God individually and corporately. It is up to us to give witness to the presence of God in our sufferings, when that manure is hitting the fan, when we’re still deep in the wilderness, and the hope of resurrection seems far off. It is up to us to teach what we have learned about life in this world when lived in relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

What I’ve learned and what you’ve learned in the ongoing story of our faith enlivens our religious tradition and breathes life into the church. The revolution is that our understanding of God is coming from the ground of our being, from our experiences, rather than us understanding God solely from what we’ve been told. God only knows where it leads us, but as long as we keep turning toward God and seeking God, as long as we grow in the way of Jesus, the only baskets we’ll need are those to harvest our fruit.

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Navigating the Wilderness

A return to journaling reminds me how much time it takes to sort through the mundane and the chatter to hear what really needs to be heard. I suppose it’s not unlike sitting to talk with someone for an hour or more and the most important topic of conversation coming up as you’re headed for the door. We have to take time with ourselves. We have to take time with one another.

Journaling during Lent inevitably includes reflections on “wilderness,” what it means, where it is, what it’s teaching me or has already taught me. As I talk with and relate to more and more people, I realize that whatever our differences or seemingly polar opposite existence, our humanity is our common ground. Our choices–and the choices made by others–determine our place in the world and create for us our personal wilderness(es). We may go through one over and over again, but chances are there are many iterations. Details change, but we’re not so different after all.

Regardless of what kind of wilderness we’re going through, as humans, we can relate to one another. It’s not a competition to see who has survived the worst circumstances, though it’s easy to get drawn into the drama energy of comparing tragic, seemingly unimaginable horrors. Relating to others means listening to other people share their story, hearing what they are giving witness to, and understanding even more deeply what they are not saying that is truest of all.

Whatever our wilderness, the place/circumstance is not conducive to a sustainable life. A wilderness is a place where wild animals roam, where there is no social order, where one has no sense of direction and becomes easily lost. If we have someone alongside us who affirms us in goodness and gives witness to the love of God, it’s easier to find our way out of the wilderness.

For some of us, our faith is that constant companion. For some, it’s that soul friend or relative who helps maintain our way in truth and light. Some need whole communities to keep them bolstered. Some are wandering, caught in the bramble and choked by fear that wilderness can fuel and ignite, hoping with fading hope that someone will find them.

But how do we know who’s in a wilderness time/place? Your wilderness could be my everyday existence, my normal, even if to you it seems like a nightmare. The truth is, we don’t know if we never connect, and we won’t know if we make judgments and decisions before our paths have even met.

If we relate with one another, if we listen deeply and truly to one another, imagine what kind of experience it would be to navigate the wilderness together, not comparing our experiences but walking alongside one another.

An image of school children comes to mind: one fallen in the dirt, hurt physically and in pride, and another catching sight of her peer. She could leave her down and alone and considers for a moment pretending she didn’t see. But their eyes meet for just a split second. The injured one looks quickly away, preferring to look at the dust and the blood. Surely there is no hope. But the girl walks toward her and offers her hand. Not a word, not a tissue, but herself. Together they go forward and find something they didn’t even know that they needed or wanted.

Thank God we don’t have to navigate the wilderness alone. We can, but we don’t have to. There is joy to be had, but we have to be willing to look for it, to see it, to hope for it. Sometimes we have to be willing to offer our hand. Sometimes we have to take the hand that is offered. Love works like that, even in the wilderness.

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Ready or Not

The daffodils that bloomed in full glory these past few weeks are already starting to die.  I actually started to sweat yesterday, simply walking across campus in the afternoon.  Sun blazing, birds singing, tulips flaring, spring has arrived, even if slightly ahead of the equinox (or maybe more like a month ahead!).

This Lent for me hasn’t felt very dormant.  I’ve been reading my Sacred Space for Lent 2012 and Rev. Kate Moorehead’s Get Over Yourself; God’s Here.  This has been tremendous in helping me develop my daily practice.  On an internal level I hope it is stirring something, too.  I keep thinking that I shouldn’t complain that the weather in our region at least has been so pleasant this winter; maybe it saved many from seasonal depression.  Maybe it saved me.

My life is in a state of flux right now.  To a friend recently I likened it to confetti being thrown into the air.  Either we’re still flying up into the sky, or we’re caught in a freeze-frame.  I’m praying for a soft landing, a safe settling.  Transitions are what they are, and no one says they’re easy.

So, we carry on, moving forward, greeting each new day for what it is, what we hope it to be, hopefully without setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Some words from St. Ignatius have caught my attention more than once, so much so that I’ve flagged the page so I can re-read often.  I dare myself to live so courageously.

“There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.”        ~ St. Ignatius

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Washing Beans

That familiar sense of presence sneaks up on me now and again.  Late Sunday afternoon, I stood at the kitchen sink, rinsing the pinto beans beneath the running water.  Washing away any grit, picking out the stones and half-beans, I made preparations for our meager dinner, and it would be enough.  The love swelled from the depth of my being, and I smiled in recognition.  This is good, I thought.

When so much of our time is spent running, working, chauffeuring, planning (and trying not to worry), and buying (mostly groceries), what a sweet relief it is to breathe into a moment and feel that sense of calm and loving goodness.  For me, it’s one of those tender mercies, a gentle grace, that fuels my faith and restores my hope.

In this time of Lent, I am keenly aware that the wilderness doesn’t always present as a barren, dry wilderness.  One can be absolutely swallowed, lost, and alone in a dense forest wilderness where the vegetation has run wild; a sense of Self can be lost merely by the need for survival.  Likewise, in an overly busy life, whether it’s in a big city or a rural town, the well-spring of Spirit that fuels us with goodness, faith, and hope, can dry up and become buried by our lists, errands, and good intentions.  Now is the time to evaluate our surroundings.  Sit in the darkness.  Listen to that which scares us.  Observe what fills our days and perhaps steals our nights.

Moving toward the Easter light, I’m reminded of the moments when I know my now is good.  That’s what the Light is for, to help remove the shadow of doubt.

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Water in the Desert

“Forty days and forty nights, thou wast fasting in the wild . . .”

This song keeps playing in my head this morning.  (The fact that my kindergartner sings it through the house probably contributes to the fact.)  But a journey through the desert isn’t necessarily without reward.  When the oasis is on the horizon, a renewed sense of hope and goodness floods throughout one’s body.   We take nothing for granted.  Every gift has with it a new appreciation.  Sometimes just a trickle works, too, to sustain us until we reach the oasis, giving us enough — enough of whatever it is we need to make it.

Hopefully you, too, are among the fortunate to have a sense of what your purpose in life is.  We know what our gifts are.  We know how we might help others.  Often before the call is realized, however, circumstances would have it that we have to be patient.  We have to learn more, grow and wait.  We have to live and love through good times and bad, and we have to wait.  When a wisdom beyond ourselves knows that we are ripe for our call, circumstances pave the way for us to do what we are meant to do.  But there is lots of waiting, exercises in patience and persistence.

In the desert this year, I didn’t realize I was seeking clarity of purpose, but while sitting in the quiet, focusing on mental clarity, a clear sense of purpose spoke to me.  While the waiting might be dehydrating, testing one’s endurance, questioning that which is thought to be known, a moment’s clarity is that trickle of water in the desert, enough to sustain us for the rest of the journey.

Parker Palmer speaks of the soul as a wild animal that cannot be coaxed into the open by force.  One has to be still, quiet, and open.  Only in the silence and stillness can the animal feel safe enough to make itself known, seen and heard.  If we are still and present enough, we can catch a glimpse of its beauty, its nature, its needs and desires.  I would like to think that this is what I heard stirring in the stillness.  Rather than my ego speaking, it was my Self declaring that “I am called.”

Knowing this within, I continue on my way, listening to circumstances, watching my path unfold not by force but as it should be. And I know that all is well.  May all be well with you, too.

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Promises, Promises

When I tell my kids we’re going to do something, I might as well be forging it into stone or making a blood bond.  In their opinion, I’ve promised them something will be, and they’re counting on it to be done.  I remember those days in my youth.  I looked forward to something, usually doing something out of the ordinary, and felt the anticipation, excitement, and adrenaline mixing up a cocktail within me.  Heaven forbid plans change at the last minute.  I wouldn’t always (if ever) cry about it, but my children go for an Oscar with their dramatic displays of disappointment.   Inevitably, plans do change, and, I’m sorry, but a “maybe” is not a promise.

But let me not pretend that I don’t get that childhood anticipation cocktail these days, too.  It’s just not as frequent.  Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism as we get older so that our hopes aren’t always let down.  Honestly, though, hope and anticipation are not the same thing.  Can’t you feel the difference?

Our days here have been warmer.  I’ve seen daffodil buds and blossoming crocuses.  I re-potted most my houseplants and have spent two afternoons tidying up the yard, assessing what trimming needs to be done.  The forsythias’ buds are swelling, and I know it won’t be long before they burst into brilliant yellow, sunshine reflected.  Spring has been promised, and I know it will come.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be a few more frosts before then, though.  I may have to weather a few more gray days.

We’re also nearing the end of Lent.  Holy Week is just around the corner.  My practices this Lent have been a little out of the ordinary, and I made promises with myself that I have to keep to help me grow.  I also know the meaning of this time of year in my tradition.  Promises were made and continue to be kept.  Upon those promises, we ground a great faith and hope and Love.  Through these we live our days with a great compassion.

If I trust in the assurances of the greater promises, such as Spring and Rebirth, and enjoy the sprinkle of the “smaller” promises made and kept without great attachment, it would seem that being fully present in the moment would come naturally.  Another promise?  More practice.

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Religion Revealed

What better day than Ash Wednesday to mention an outward expression of your personal faith?

At music time this morning, I wondered what it was on a woman’s forehead.  Ah, her cross.  We have plans to attend service this evening, as we usually do, where we will receive our mark, our identification as Christians.

But it’s not an easy thing, revealing your belief and interpretation of Spirit.  Just because I identify with Christianity doesn’t mean I’m exactly like all other Christians, or vice versa.  Indeed, I imagine I’m pretty far to the left of the norm.  It takes a special gift to be one who regularly proclaims one’s faith out loud, sharing with others, encouraging others to embody the faith they share.

I admit I have a hard time labeling myself Christian, in light of all the things that have been done and are done in the name of Christianity.  But tonight I’ll accept my cross and with it the commitments I plan to keep for all of Lent (giving up carbonated beverages and alcohol, taking on devoted journaling of meditations, gratitude and dreams).

At the core of all religions, as I see it, is Love, pure Compassion, and with that I can identify.  I can strive to follow Christ’s example.  I can try to be more Christ-like.

Who is your example of Love?  What could you do to embody unconditional Love?  It is quite simple, really. It’s letting go of the ego that’s the hard part.

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Changing Tides

In my dream the other night, the tide was receding.  I can’t remember much else except for standing on the revealed sandy shore, much lower than those who were standing on the beach of the high tide.  I wondered how much lower the water would go and if I would be ready for when the water returned.

There’s definitely much moving about in my inner world as I continue my discernment process.  As an outward expression of that, naturally I want to rearrange everything in my house, clear all unnecessary items/clutter, and clean everything to the core.  It is (almost) time for spring cleaning.

It’s difficult to live in a way that truly honors our inner being if we are concerned about what others think and worry about superficial consequences.  Blessed are those of us with the faith to believe that all will be well, that as long as we’re following our heart, then in the long run, it will work out, and we will have no regrets.

What better way to honor your Divine than to create something . . . anything.  Honor those thoughts; honor all of them to keep the flow open and alive.  Do something today for you.  Take it a step further and either give it away or make something else to give to someone.  Love is best when given and received.

With it being Mardi Gras, it’s a good time to think of the inner work we need to do or are already doing.  The discipline I’m taking on is to journal daily (my writing, dreams and gratitude).  What I’m giving up is carbonated beverages and alcohol for sure, food that does not nourish my body positively at best; all these things can contribute to energy being blocked, inhibiting the flow.  One friend of mine is actually adopting a raw food diet for Lent, but that’s not my calling this year.

May acts of kindness be our practice daily, and may your mind be clear as you travel through the desert.  May we remember our dreams and the clues they give us to the unconscious for our spiritual growth.

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