Power & Transformation

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43 | Psalm 84 | Ephesians 6:10-20 | John 6:56-69

We arrive at the height of King Solomon’s reign today, as we hear how he offers his prayer of dedication for the Temple he was destined to build. We skip over the chapters that offer exquisite detail (in archaic architectural terms) the dimensions of the temple and other things that he has built, but this . . . this is the dwelling place for God–even if it can’t fully contain God–this is going to be the place that all the faithful will come to experience the presence of God. I mentioned last week that this is why anybody goes to temple or to church: to encounter God. The ark is there, containing nothing but the two stone tablets that Moses had put in it at Horeb (1 Kings 8:9). Even as Solomon offers blessing over all the assembly of Israel, it is God who has made covenant with Solomon and all the people: so long as they are obedient and keep God’s statutes and commandments and worship no other God but God Almighty, all shall be well. Keep in mind that we are getting sight of King Solomon at his height. His prayers of dedication don’t just include petitions for the foreigners; he prays that God will hear the prayers of all the people who come to the Temple–heed their prayers and grant forgiveness. Hear the foreigners and any who would convert, but also those who sin against a neighbor, those who anger God and get defeated in battle, those begging for the heavens to open up and rain upon the Promised Land; hear them when there’s plague or famine and when they go to battle against their enemy and if they get captured. This Temple is a place for the presence of God not for God but for the people.

Psalm 84 gives us a sense of the joyful expectation they have in approaching the Temple. The pilgrims approaching the presence of God are happy and joyful. They may not know exactly what they will experience in the presence of the Almighty, but they are glad in heart to have this opportunity after have been distanced for so long. They’ve gotten what they’ve been promised, and all seems pretty good.

It’s pretty good if you’re doing everything right. For me, it all seems very transactional. If we’re good, we’re in; if we’re not, we’re out. How many times of being shut out or kept out before we’re done? You don’t want me in? Fine. I’m out.

I wonder how many people were out before Jesus entered the scene to offer the bread of life.

Jesus has an affinity for those pushed to the outside, to the margins. To the marginalized and to those in power, he invited them to eat his flesh and drink his blood to abide in him and in God the Father. It’s an equal opportunity offer.

Is this teaching difficult? The disciples are complaining. The people in power don’t get it. Jesus knows the hearts of everyone. He’s moved from a transactional mode of just filling the bellies of those who are hungry–as he did with the 5,000–to speaking of the spiritual and eternal life. The flesh, though he’s fed it, is useless.

Does he offend? Of course he does! He’s downplaying the salvation of the ancient Hebrews who were delivered in the desert by the manna from heaven. They were saved, but Jesus just emphasizes the fact that they died–in their flesh. As if being condescending about the exodus weren’t enough, Jesus is pretty offensive in his cannibalistic language (and imagery). Nobody really wants to engage in this.

Want to walk away? Yes. Jesus doesn’t associate with the best people. His concepts are radical and off the wall, if not downright offensive. To follow him is going to draw mostly likely negative attention, and any credibility, honor, or dignity we’ve accumulated in our lives is probably going to be thrown out the window. Any hope or vision of power or grandeur is gone. Nothing about what Jesus says promises the easy life, leisure or comfort. No, it’s easier to stay in our comfort zone than follow Jesus.

But after encountering Jesus Christ, if it’s something that we’ve experienced, most of us can’t deny the experience . . . or the transformation.

Jerry Blassingame was one of the speakers of the “After the Arrest Summit” on Saturday at the NWA Community College. The summit was all about different people and organizations “embracing individuals during incarceration and upon release”; it was all about reentry. Jerry didn’t have an easy life, and when he ended up in prison, he found himself hating life, hating Jesus, and just mad at the world. His sister, a recovering heroin addict, told him that if he ever needed to talk to give her a call. One day he called her. He says she had found Jesus in her life, and she was trying to get him to find Jesus, too. He didn’t want anything to do with it. But soon thereafter, he had someone come by asking if there was anyone who wanted to talk to a minister or if anyone wanted to do a Bible study. Whatever the situation was, there ended up being a minister in his same cell or pod for 10 days (because the minister had been in contempt of court while advocating for someone). In those 10 days, he engaged in Scripture and prayed with this minister. When the minister left, he continued to get up at 6:00 in the morning to study the Bible and to journal, visioning what it was that the Holy Spirit was giving him to do. He said that the whole idea for the program that he now runs was envisioned in the three and a half years of his incarceration. When he got out, he put his entrepreneurial skills to work. He said he was business savvy. Someone brought him $10 worth of dope, he split it to make $20 and kept dividing and multiplying it. At one point, he had people dropping $10k on his table as his cut of sales without him ever having to do anything. He sold dope for 10 years, and as a friend at my table said, he had to be good and smart to do it for 10 years and still be alive. All he said was, people coming out of prison have skills, too. We just have to tap into their savvy to unlock their power.

So what do we do with an encounter with God? After having experienced Christ? Do we hide it under a bushel? Do we let all the ways we’ve gone wrong in our life let us diminish the abilities we have to do good? After our mountain top experience, we might find that the long haul is hard and uncomfortable, and maybe we would rather walk away. But, we’ve tasted and seen that God is good. We’ve experienced the presence of Christ and the peace that washes over us when we’re on our knees in doubt and despair. Or maybe we’ve encountered God even in the midst of a horrific death or maybe in the most holy of deaths. In moments of grace and generosity and hospitality, maybe we’ve witnessed a love that knows no bounds, and we can’t explain how or why, but we know that the presence of God, the love of Christ, is all entwined in that very moment.

Having experienced those moments, we’re like Peter. Jesus might ask us if we’d like to walk away, but we’re like: “Where would we go? To whom would we turn?”

The power of Spirit compels us to hold our ground, to do the unimaginable thing — whatever it is. Right now it looks like maybe we’ve reached a tipping point in the  community ethic because right now more than every, we are working together as one Body to benefit the common good. The “After the Arrest Summit” was a collaborative effort of many organizations, people, and organizations, and the faith traditions of the people–though Christian–spanned the spectrum. Coming up on Sept. 6th, HARK is holding an all-faiths summit to spread information on how we can all work together to benefit our neighbors. I was talking to the warden from Fayetteville, and she said this was the first event in Arkansas that we’ve held but that now was the time. I wondered with her if maybe we’ve just reached a tipping point. When 11,000 people are being released from jail or prison in Arkansas each year, we have a critical mass at play. When 53% of those end up being incarcerated again, I’d say we have a failing system that needs to change. Something’s not working.

Some might say that the evil powers that be are winning, that the forces of good can’t keep up. I disagree. We’re still standing, those of us who put on the armor of God and do our best to do the good work, to stand for our neighbors and to give glory to God. We might not be glamorous, but we’re not dead yet . . . nor will we ever be so long as we keep coming back to Christ, like Jerry feeding on the Word every morning or every day. All the time we remember that whatever we face is not our battle alone.

We don’t rely on the wisdom of Solomon or any one person to see us through this life and into eternity. We seek out the peace and love that passes all understanding in the presence of God. We take it in in the only way we know how: through the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. We tap into the power given to us through the water of our baptism to claim the power the Holy Spirit has given us. We don’t realize how strong we are, how powerful we are, until we rise to the challenges before us and pray that God lead us through. There’s no place we’ll go that God hasn’t already seen a way through. And if, like Peter, we’ve come to believe and know that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God, then who else would we rather follow to lead us along our way? No matter how little we feel we understand, how offended we get with our fragile egos, how much we want to call it quits, we know the power of a life transformed by the presence of Christ. With that, where else would we go but toward the light and love of Christ.

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Storms & Peace / Las Tormentas y la Paz

1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16 | Psalm 133 | 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 | Mark 4:35-41

After a long day of work, whether it is in the home with the family or outside the home at our job, most of the time we are ready to relax, be still, and rest a while. Maybe you are ready to go to a party every night, I don’t know, but for me, I need lots of quiet time. I hope you get some quiet time, too.

After a long day of being with the crowds, Jesus said it was time to go to the other side, to go across the sea. I imagine his disciples and companions breathing a sigh of relief and willingly boarding the boats to go across to rest even though it is evening time and they have not made preparations, going just as they are. These are good and faithful disciples. They are giving up everything to follow Jesus. They willingly go.

Though the Sea of Galilee is not huge–it is more like a lake, really–when you are in the middle of it, you are vulnerable. On my trip to the Holy Land, we took a boat ride onto the sea, in a boat thought to be somewhat similar to the ones the disciples would have had. It was a windy day. My friends had told me the last time they were there that a strong wind had blown up when they got out to the middle of the sea. Those in charge told them that just happens sometimes, particularly in that place. Fortunately for us, all I had to do was hold on to my hat. Those on the boat with Jesus were getting pounded by the waves, the water at risk of capsizing the boat. It was a great storm, and they were afraid. They were probably shouting at each other, and all the while, Jesus slept on his cushion at the stern.

When we are in the storms of life, when we are worried about finances or concerned for our children, when we fear that our livelihood is at risk or our safety is threatened, when we are really sick–physically or in our hearts–and don’t know if we’ll make it to another day, we might feel like God is not listening to our prayers. It might feel like Jesus is asleep in the middle of our stormy life and not listening to our cries.

But he does hear us. He never leaves us alone. He never leaves us without peace and comfort.

The storm rages until the disciples finally call upon him to wake him up, it seems. Maybe Jesus was waiting until they asked him for help. Maybe they thought they could handle this raging storm on their own. But they could not.

In our baptism, each of us is given power of the Holy Spirit to do great things in our lives. Each of us has been created to fulfill God’s will in this place, in this world. We are perfectly loved by God so that we might share that love with everyone we encounter. But we do not do it on our own.

David, as a young man, did not defeat Goliath on his own. Without God he would not have won. He grows into a great king and does amazing things, having God’s blessing with him. But when he follows his own will, he gets into troubled waters and has to repent and return to the LORD. We might not be kings, but we also know when we go wrong, when we have to correct our ways, and we do so thanks to the grace and mercy of God.

Paul also lists some of the characteristics of what we face as servants of God. The church in Corinth is going through hard times. Paul reminds them that following Jesus is not always easy. They may have to endure affliction, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger. My heart is heavy as I read this list because we know that there are faithful souls who are enduring this even today–not just in Syria or Sudan but also at our border. We have to show endurance, and we–as they–endure with purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God. In God, these are eternal. They are as bright and new today as they were at Creation, as they were at the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. We have hope through the storms because we are not defenseless. Our greatest weapons are righteousness, honor, goodness, truth, life, joy, abundance, and eternal life.

When the waves are crashing in, and we fear for our lives, we are at risk of closing in upon ourselves. Fear has a way of shrinking us and sinking us into darkness.

But what does Paul tell the Corinthians to do? He speaks to them as if to children and tells them to

“open wide your hearts also.”

Do not be afraid. Open wide your heart in love of God. Open wide your heart in love of Jesus, and be not afraid to call upon him for help in the middle of the storms. With your heart open wide for love of God, it is easier to open wide your heart to love of neighbor, even those for whom it is not so easy to like; we can love them, too, with God’s help. God’s love knows no boundaries. It is especially when we are about to cross over the boundaries that storms may rise. When we cross over those boundaries and troubles arise, we especially need the presence of God in our midst, and we need the calm and peace that only Jesus Christ can give.

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Después de un largo día de trabajo, ya sea en el hogar con la familia o fuera del hogar  en nuestro trabajo, la mayoría del tiempo estamos listos para relajarnos, estar quietos y descansar un rato. Tal vez estés listo para ir a una fiesta todas las noches, no sé, pero para mí, necesito mucho tiempo tranquila o en silencio. Espero que tengas un tiempo tranquilo o silencioso, también.

Después de un largo día de estar con la multitud, Jesús dijo que era hora de ir al otro lado, cruzar el mar. Me imagino a sus discípulos y compañeros dando un suspiro de alivio y abordando con gusto los botes para ir a descansar a pesar de que ya era tarde y no se habían preparado, ellos se van así como están. Estos son buenos y fieles discípulos.  Están abandonando todo para seguir a Jesús. Ellos van voluntariamente.

Aunque  el Mar de  Galilea no es enorme,  en realidad se parece más  a un lago, cuando estás en  medio de él, eres vulnerable. En  mi viaje a Tierra Santa, tomamos un paseo en bote hacia el mar, en un bote que se pensaba que era similar a los que tendrían los discípulos. Fue un día de mucho  viento. Mis amigos me dijeron la última vez que estuvieron allí que hubo un fuerte viento sobre ellos cuando fueron en medio del mar. Los que están a cargo les dijeron  que eso sucede a veces, particularmente en ese lugar. Afortunadamente para nosotros, todo lo que tenía que hacer era sostener mi sombrero. Los que estaban en el bote con Jesús eran golpeados por las olas, el agua que corría era un  riesgo que podía volcar el bote. Fue una gran tormenta, y tenían miedo. Probablemente se estaban gritando el uno al otro, y todo el tiempo, Jesús dormía sobre su almohada en la parte d atrás del Bote.

Cuando  estamos en  medio de las tormentas de la vida, cuando nos preocupan las  finanzas o nos preocupamos por nuestros hijos, cuando tememos  que nuestro sustento esté en peligro o nuestra seguridad se vea amenazada,  cuando estamos realmente enfermos, físicamente o en  nuestros corazones, y no sabemos si llegaremos a otro día, podríamos sentir que Dios  no está escuchando nuestras oraciones. Podríamos sentir que Jesús está dormido en  medio de nuestra vida tormentosa y no escucha nuestros gritos.

Pero él lo hace. Él nunca nos deja solos.  Él nunca nos deja sin paz y sin comodidad.

La  tormenta  arrecia hasta  que los discípulos finalmente lo llaman para que se despierte, al parecer. Tal vez Jesús estaba esperando hasta que le pidieran ayuda. Tal vez  pensaron que podrían manejar esta tormenta furiosa por su cuenta. Pero no pudieron.

En  nuestro  bautismo,  cada uno de nosotros recibe el poder del Espíritu Santo para hacer grandes cosas en nuestras vidas. Cada uno de nosotros ha sido creado para cumplir la voluntad de Dios en este lugar, en   este mundo. Dios nos ama perfectamente para que podamos compartir ese  amor con todos los que nos encontramos.  Pero no lo podemos  hacer solo con nuestra propia fuerza.

David,  como un  hombre joven,  no derrotó a Goliat  con sus propias fuerzas. Sin Dios, no hubiera ganado. Se convierte en  un gran rey y hace cosas increíbles, teniendo la bendición de Dios con él. Pero cuando David sigue su propia voluntad, se mete  en aguas turbulentas y tiene que arrepentirse y volver al SEÑOR. Puede que no seamos reyes, pero también sabemos cuándo nos equivocamos, cuando tenemos que  corregir nuestros caminos, y lo hacemos gracias a la gracia y la misericordia de Dios.

Pablo  también  enumera algunas  de las características  de lo que enfrentamos como  servidores  de Dios. La  iglesia en Corinto está pasando por tiempos difíciles. Pablo les  recuerda que seguir a Jesús no siempre es fácil. Es posible que tengan que soportar aflicciones, dificultades, calamidades, palizas, encarcelamientos, disturbios, trabajos,  noches sin dormir y hambre. Mi corazón está pesado al leer esta lista porque sabemos que hay almas fieles que están soportando esto incluso hoy, no solo  en Siria o Sudán, sino también en nuestra frontera. Tenemos que mostrar resistencia, y nosotros, como ellos, soportamos con pureza, conocimiento, paciencia,  bondad, santidad de espíritu, amor genuino, palabras veraces y el poder de Dios. En Dios, estos son eternos. Son tan brillantes y nuevos hoy como lo fueron en la Creación, como  lo fueron en la Transfiguración y la Resurrección. Tenemos esperanza a través de las tormentas porque no estamos indefensos. Nuestras mejores armas son la justicia, el honor,  la bondad, la verdad, la vida, la alegría, la abundancia y la vida eterna.

Cuando  las olas  se estrellan  en nosotros y  tememos por nuestras  vidas, corremos el riesgo  de encerrarnos en nosotros mismos. El miedo tiene una forma de encogernos y hundirnos en la oscuridad.

Pero qué les dice Pablo a los corintios que hagan? Él les habla a ellos como a niños y les dice que

“abran también sus corazones”.

No tengas miedo. Abra de par en par su corazón en  amor de Dios. Abra de par en par su corazón en amor por Jesús, y no tenga miedo de pedirle ayuda en medio de las tormentas. Con el corazón abierto para el amor de Dios, es más fácil abrir de par en  par su corazón al amor al prójimo, incluso a aquellos a quienes no es fácil amar, también podemos amarlos con la ayuda de Dios. El amor de Dios no conoce fronteras. Es especialmente cuando estamos a punto de cruzar los límites es cuando las tormentas   pueden aparecer. Cuando cruzamos esos límites y surgen problemas, es cuando especialmente necesitamos la presencia de Dios en medio de nosotros, y necesitamos la calma y la paz que solo Jesucristo puede dar.

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Stories & Light

Exodus 34:29-35 | Psalm 99 | 2 Peter 1:13-21 | Luke 9:28-36

Wherever our lives have taken us, our paths have led us here, to this moment on the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord, a feast that marks the occasion of Jesus being transfigured from an ordinary, praying man to the radiant and dazzling Son of God. It will always be significant to me when we baptize someone new and renew our vows because it reminds us that our roots are grounded deep within our tradition. Today, especially, we are reminded that our trajectory is oriented toward the glory of God, our ears attuned toward Christ. We are reminded through story.

We start with our Bible stories because these are our past, even as we bring them to the present. We intelligent folk might get a little tangled up in the verification of facts from fiction in our Holy Scripture. My Old Testament professor, who read her Hebrew as we read our English study Bibles to illuminate discrepancies in translation, pointed out to us time and time again that we were missing the point of our Holy Texts if we were caught up in what was fact or fiction. She said we needed to be concerned with what is True because it could be True and not a fact, and that it is through these holy stories that God reveals the Truth to us. Stories like bearing witness to the glory of God.

We’re given a preview, aren’t we, of the power of the glory of God, from Moses’ encounter at Mt. Sinai? This part of the story is where he was so radiant from being in the presence of the LORD that he scared the people at the bottom of the mountain. After he shared what the LORD our God had told him, he covered his face with a veil and remained covered, presumably, until he was back in the presence of the LORD. Moses’ face was radiant; his face shone with the glory of God from God passing over him. Was it hope? Was it assurance? Was it the perfect combination of grace, mercy, love, and light that illuminated his whole face that he was scary to people who thought they knew who he was? God had changed Moses somehow, but Moses continues unapologetically to do the work God has given him to do.

The highlight of today is our gospel story of Jesus’s transfiguration. Mind you, religiously we understand that a transfiguration is “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state” (per Google definition). Not only does it have a physical component, but there is also something of the Spirit about it that gives it an “exalting” or “glorifying” component (per Merriam-Webster). It was true of Moses, and now we have it in Jesus. But we don’t just have an account. We have a story.

Jesus chose his three fellows–Peter, James, and John–to go up the mountain with him to pray. Were they watchmen or companions or fellow pray-ers, it doesn’t say. But while Jesus was praying–and probably while the disciples were praying, too–they were distracted. They probably felt a disturbance while they were of course bowing with their heads down and eyes closed, but they couldn’t close their eyes again as they saw Jesus’s countenance transfigured, his clothes no longer desert-dingy but dazzling white. They saw blessed Moses and Elijah talking with him, heard them talking about his forthcoming departure that Jesus had mentioned but no one really wanted to comprehend. The three disciples had been so tired, but now they were awake, one might say they were rewarded for their wakefulness to witness this great sight, a sight that Peter wanted to commemorate. But then a great cloud overshadowed them, right . . . like at Sinai with Moses. And they were afraid in this cloud that had a voice that told them, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Then all returns as it was before–except that they had experienced this, hadn’t they? We are told they kept silent and in those days told no one of what they had seen.

(Of course, it’s a great irony that they told no one when we have this story archived in our Holy Scripture.)

They had just seen something truly incredible. How many of us, if we had seen that, would have been able to keep it quiet? How many of us, having experienced something great tell no one?

How many of us, having experienced the grace and love of God, know it in our heart and soul yet keep the good news to ourselves?

Maybe it was easy for Peter, James, and John to keep quiet because they didn’t want to sound crazy or have everyone else judging them. Or maybe they didn’t want incite chaos because it was said that Moses and Elijah would appear before the Messiah. Maybe they were still terrified at the cloud-voice they heard, and they were being quiet themselves until they had explicit instructions from Jesus on what to say and do. He had taken them up the mountain to pray.

Maybe the best prayer advice we can get is to listen.

But they experienced something amazing. Whether they knew it or not, day in and day out they were with Jesus, and he was transfiguring their lives. What they saw happen to Jesus was happening to them, only they had not the eyes and ears to understand. We still don’t understand. But following Jesus changes us, exalts us, glorifies us because when we encounter Truth and Love in the stories we share, we discover more and more of the Light our lives have to bear. Those whose lives had been touched, healed, restored, transformed by the life of Jesus Christ bore a mark to the soul of having been touched by God, just as all of us who have been baptized and sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

This notion of being elevated to or into the glory of God is not new. Our church mission “is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, 855). Jesus showed us the way during his life as he went around healing others, welcoming the other, hanging out in the margins, not clinging to stuff or buying into the status quo. His whole life story was about showing us how to find our way back to God. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Sounds so simple: kind of like just going up a mountain to pray.

But here’s another story.

I’m reading Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, and I find myself rejuvenated by her words and the stories she shares. Mostly, the book is a sharing of stories from people she’s interviewed in her career, particularly through On Being. Early in the book, she mentions Rachel Naomi Remen, “a wise woman and physician” who “first began to challenge the nature of cancer treatment . . . with her realization that every illness has a story attached.” Her understanding that “the details of a person’s life make every cancer or diabetes or heart disease different and every course of healing unique” may have first taken root in her fourth birthday present, given to her by her Hasidic rabbi grandfather: the Birthday of the World (24). The story begins in the holy darkness at the source of life where eventually a great ray of light emerges. Only an accident happens, and the light is broke, shattered and scattered and hidden to this very day. The task of humanity, of course, is to restore the fragmented, hidden light of the world to its wholeness. “We are all healers of the world,” Rachel says, and “It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.” This story from her grandfather touched her in a poignant way and challenged her to consider that not only she herself but all of us are exactly what’s needed to heal the world, not all at once in one fell swoop, but one fragment at a time, one by one.

We understand who we are, in our brokenness and in our restored wholeness, through our stories. We tell our birth stories, as Christians, as human children. We tell our stories of transitions–when and where we went to school, moving across state or countries. We tell stories of hardship, grief, and trauma when we can, usually when we’ve gotten to the other side of them or at least have a little more understanding of them or more support in their midst…when we have more love than fear in place to see with eyes open and a courageous spirit.

So often in these stories, while they are filled with all the who’s, what’s, when’s, and where’s, and probably a good dose of humor or suspense and lots of emotion, where do we see God? Do we point out what is True? What have we learned, what have we gleaned? What has been revealed to us about God that uncovered a fragment of Light that was buried near us?

It could be that we’ve grown accustomed to thinking we had to climb some spiritual–or physical–mountain to achieve enlightenment or the glory of God. But really we have the multi-dimensional here and now to mine. In every direction, who is there to be restored to health? What is broken and needs to be made whole? Like our precious possessions in our home, like our friends, family, and neighbors, everything and everyone has a story. If we listen well enough, we’ll see the Truth and Light revealed. That revelation will change us, if we let it. Whether we say a word or not, others can know in the countenance of our being that “the morning star has risen in our hearts,” that we, too, have been transfigured by the Glory of God.

 

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Synchronicities

Just when it seems like everything’s hitting the fan, grace shows up and grants the gift of perspective. For me that means taking a breath. Taking a step back. Looking around with compassionate eyes and a gentler heart . . . especially toward myself.

“Take it one day, one step at a time,” I hear myself say to people nearly every day. If we take everything in all at once, we are easily overwhelmed and succumb to the “craziness” instead of naming what it is that we actually don’t want to deal with. (Reality: I call myself out for using “busy” and “crazy” too much; there are better, truer words to use. Why am I using them to begin with? What do I need to hold myself accountable for?)

Once I remember to slow my breath, love myself and family more, and try not to be so perfect, I think grace has even more room to work her magic, which translates into my seeing more readily how God is at work in the world about me. Synchronicities appear. Things seem to fall into place. And when I get off track again, something like a migraine might reappear to slow me down and help me regain perspective.

While I’m slowed down, I might realize that lovely stories keep popping into my head; brilliant writers are sharing their words; beautiful people keep coming into my life; love just fills the air I breathe, even when things are hard.

So I remind myself to slow down, to write even when it doesn’t make sense, and to keep giving room for Grace to do Her work.

Give yourself a treat. Tend the flowers or the pretty weeds. Go to the music festival nearby. Enjoy a meal with friends at home or out and about–the company is the important thing. Just love, and allow space for life to happen. As my next best friend Kaitlin says (we haven’t met…yet…, but I love her words),

“If we hold space for each other, we learn how to truly be alive with one another, as we cast off judgment and wait for the grace of God to journey with us into unknown and sacred places.”

I’ll meet you in those sacred spaces, following the breadcrumbs of all the synchronicities along the way.

Peace and love to you.

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On the Edge of Knowing

 

Acts 7:55-60 | Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 | 1 Peter 2:2-10 | John 14:1-14


That this Sunday is Mother’s Day here in the states and that we have chosen today to celebrate those graduating with their various accomplishments make me keenly aware both of my motherhood and of my firstborn graduating from high school. It probably doesn’t take much to imagine the vulnerability I feel in this place and time as a mother generally and as parent of a child who–at 18–is (we hope above all hopes!) prepared for the next stage of her adult life. This is a vulnerable place because it feels like being at the precipice of knowledge, on the edge of what is known and unknown, and like setting out on a journey with no idea what the traveling conditions or the final destination will be.

Marie Howe, former poet laureate of New York, said in an interview in 2013 that we often turn to metaphor when describing something that’s real because “to actually endure the thing itself, … hurts us for some reason.” We want to compare whatever “it” is to something else more readily known rather than take time to really see something as it is, endure it for all its worth until we realize that there is nothing more valuable or comparable than the thing itself. It’s easier to look away. She speaks with the authority of a writer/poet and professor who has her students start class by writing ten observations of the actual world. She said the students have such a hard time with this. If they can recall something–say toast, for example, they would rather say the toast is like sandpaper rather than describing it as dry, brown, and crumbly.

Howe theorizes our inability to make honest, aware observations comes from our constant distractions in the speed and chaos of life in the digital age. We spend more time gazing into the screen of our phones, computers, and televisions than into the eyes of one another. One could say we get accustomed to our hectic, over-filled, preoccupied lives, especially if we’re in the child-raising or career phase of life, and it easily just becomes the way it is, how life works. So even when we’re out of the “busy” phase, we perpetuate busy-ness in other stages of life. What we know is the perpetual busy-ness; we rely on our phones, calendars, and reminders. We get stuck in the roundabout of daily chaos. But if we keep doing the same thing, we’re relatively certain we’re going to get similar results. It’s called predictability, and most of us like the security of predictability. I’ll keep doing a good job, pay my bills on time, tuck the kids into bed with love, and wake to repeat the same things the next day. I know what to expect, and it gives me a sense of security. The same is true even if what I’m doing isn’t good by any standard. Perpetuating cycles of poverty, abuse, addiction, dysfunction–you name it–bring with it the same comfort of familiarity, even if it’s “the devil you know.” Our “roundabout” life doesn’t ever really take us anywhere, though . . . and certainly not to everlasting life.

After about four weeks of making concrete observations, Professor Howe says she has to put a cap on the amount of writing time the students have. She hears the scritch-scratching of their writing as they rush to get it all down, knowing their time is almost up. And when she changes the assignment, telling them to switch to using metaphors for their observations, they ask, “Why?

What brings about this switch? How do we move from not noticing our surroundings in all their value and sensuality to being at a place where we can’t imagine not noticing them and giving them full account?

Something happens to get us out of the roundabout: we can choose to set a different pace or to evaluate life more closely. We can retreat, quite literally backing away from the regular program. We can take the scenic route instead, maybe even bike or walk. One of my many fond Sewanee memories is riding my bike to school with the kids (even if Casey told me I looked like the Wicked Witch of the West in my black clothes and a basket on the back of my bike). Riding a bike lets us set the pace, especially if we’re with kids. We feel the wind in our face, note the smell of spring or rain. We notice even the slightest incline and rejoice in the euphoria of speeding downhill. We can also listen to and follow new directions, like when Professor Howe tells us to notice the smell of the air or the face of a stranger and then holds us accountable to recount the experience. We can pause or stop in illness or pain and listen anew to the demands of our body.

But what if I get a roadblock in my little roundabout life that I don’t choose or see coming, like a pink slip, a collect call from jail, or a diagnosis from the doctor? The flow stops abruptly. The unexpected has suddenly arrived, and my discomfort is off the charts. Rather than doing something destructive, at the end of the stressful day, I might think, “It’s been a while since I’ve prayed before going to sleep. Compline’s usually comforting (and predictable), so…I’ll give it a go.” When I get to page 129 in our Book of Common Prayer, I read the words of Psalm 31, the same words we said today, and I pray for our Lord to “be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe.” In this time of uncertainty, the prayers for God to see me through this night illuminate the unknown not only of the night to come but of my uncertain future and my eventual death. I realize that in the rush of my daily round, prayers have fallen to the wayside, church is just another thing to do, and only if it’s a good day do I have some sense that God is in the midst of it all. But how striking are the words “Into your hands I commend my spirit” when I stand at the edge of life as I know it and the unknown of life to come, whether it’s tomorrow or the hereafter.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says in John 14, which also happens to be one of the gospel readings often used in our burial rite. How meaningful to read this before our death. Jesus assures us that we are provided for, that he is the way, the truth, and the life, that through him, we know God the Father and everlasting life. In these simple words, there’s such peace and clarity. Jesus is the way, the path we follow. Jesus is the truth, everlasting and certain. Jesus is the life, vibrant and radiant. When I’m standing on the edge and feeling the world as I know it falling apart, Jesus reminds me that he has prepared a way and even has a place for me, for everyone. I honestly don’t imagine heaven as a bunch of houses, but I know that wherever Jesus is, there I will be also. When I question the validity of Jesus’ truth, he reminds me that my doubts are within the bounds of normal but are not necessary. Thank God for clueless apostles! Not only Thomas but Philip also needed a bit more proof for the outlandish claims Jesus made, and Jesus understood, knowing our hearts as he does. Jesus didn’t need signs or miracles to prove his divinity; those works were provided for you and me. And, when I fear change or death itself, Jesus reminds me of the triumph of life, the light overcoming the darkness, even if we have to go through the darkness first.

So often what is unknown is portrayed as darkness–shadowy, cloudy, or obscured. Jesus, let alone God, seem so far away. And yet, so often we say one’s future looks bright. We don’t know anything more, but looking into the faces of our graduates, it seems so easy to see the light and be sure of the presence of Christ with them, to see the Holy Spirit at work through their gifts and talents. Looking forward with faith brings a bit of light, which fuels our hope, making it even brighter. Add to that the joy of love, and we look into the face of uncertainty with a spirit of adventure. This is how we break open our hearts to love with all that we have. This is how we Christians walk the way of Christ, the way of love, to see our neighbors not as a statistic but as people doing their best with what they have. This is how we continue to learn and grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, even though that knowledge will inevitably open us to more pain, responsibility, and greater awareness of the unknown.

It’s what we do know of goodness and love that bolsters our faith and strengthens our belief, even when it’s hard and hurts our hearts. When we’ve stopped to notice the smell of a newly bathed infant; when we’ve lost ourselves in uncontrollable laughter; when we’ve opened our arms as wide as we can to give and receive a hug from a beloved; when we’ve clenched our throats against a sob as we smiled and assured a love it was okay to go . . . at these times and so many more, we have, indeed, tasted that the Lord is good. And we know that the only way we have the strength to endure anything at all is because of God’s mercy and grace. With that blessed assurance, found mostly in those moments when time stands still as we stand on the edge, we love fiercely, lean into the unknown, and step toward eternal life through Christ.

 

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Life-changing Water

 

Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 95 | Romans 5:1-11 | John 4:5-42

We know this Jesus showing up at the well, exhausted and parched, completely willing to take a shortcut. This human Jesus has dusty feet, sand and sweat in his eyes, hair, and beard, and the weight of the world heavy on his heart. It had to be a relief for the disciples to offer to run into town to find some food. “No, you go ahead. I’ll just wait here for you.” Haven’t we all said that, hoping for a bit of rest?

The woman at the well- acrylic, mix media- David Bondt, 2016

We know this woman at the well. She’s outcast but proud. Eloquent and intelligent. She knows her place in the margins of society and has crafted her armor well to handle the torment . . . the persistent sexism, discrimination, and oppression.

And we know the expected social script. Then as now, the script would have them ignore one another, pass each other by without interaction or engagement and look the other way. Jesus would rest. She would get her water–transactions complete without complication.

But Jesus has a way of complicating things.

He’s always writing a new script. Before we even know why, Jesus knows that this woman’s heart has been broken and a fortress built around it to protect her vulnerability. Before we even know that there’s a harvest ripe and ready, Jesus knows that this woman has the potential to sound the call that now is the time for the world to be turned upside down, for the world as we know it to give way, for all we’ve ever hoped for to be manifest. He knows the potential in each of us, and the necessity for each and every one of us to experience His transformational love so that we, too, can turn the world upside down.

In his commentary on The Gospel of John, William Barclay says,

“There are two revelations in Christianity: the revelation of God and the revelation of ourselves. We never really see ourselves until we see ourselves in the presence of Christ; and then we are appalled at the sight.”

Maybe this is one reason we get this reading of the woman at the well in the midst of Lent. How long can we carry on with our defenses up? It’s not that hard to do if we play along with society’s script, maintaining propriety and expectations. The majority of our society isn’t observing a holy Lent. The majority isn’t turning away from self-sufficiency, giving intentional thought toward dependency upon God. But we’ve already taken that precarious step out of the rut. When we got our crosses on Ash Wednesday, we reoriented ourselves, opening our awareness to seek with our heart, mind, and soul where God is in our lives. It’s a heart- and gut-wrenching revelation when we see that God isn’t manifest fully in our lives because of who we are. We are “appalled” because the truth is that we inhibit God from being revealed by the choices we make, but it’s our next step after our self-revelation that makes all the difference.

Our woman at the well carries herself in the heat of day to draw water. She responds to Jesus when he speaks to her; she even banters with him, gets a little sarcastic. As soon as Jesus indicates he knows the pain beneath her facade, the exchange becomes serious. Whereas the woman acted as if she had nothing more to lose, Jesus seemingly peels back her armor and holds a mirror to show her the wounds left by five husbands. Maybe they had died; maybe they had beaten her; maybe they had used her and left her. Maybe the man she was with now was nothing more to her than shelter and protection. His eyes see her as the wounded woman she is, as only the two of them fully know. By seeing her as a wounded child of God, Jesus reminds her of her humanity, her value and worth, the shreds of which she had to box up and stow away because to hold it close to the surface served as a reminder of her constant pain and put on display her vulnerability, her need for care and love and healing. Under that blazing noonday sun and in the clear gaze of Jesus, the woman discovers herself as God sees her. She stays with Jesus long enough to let her heart and mind open to the Truth before her, the Truth that is as available as the water from the well but even more abundant, more pure, and available to all–no well or bucket required for the living water Christ offers.

Barclay also says that “Christianity begins with a sense of sin. It begins with the sudden realization that life as we are living it will not do. We awake to ourselves and we awake to our need of God.”

Our sense of sin, however we express it, is us living our lives turned away from God, in a sense, leaving a stone covering the well of living water. The longer we leave it covered, the longer it accumulates layers of debris and excuses and rationalizations. The longer we let ourselves go without tasting the fresh, living water, the more we normalize our thirst and allow ourselves to be falsely satisfied with stagnant substitutes. The longer we go without sharing the truths behind our hurts and fears, the longer we isolate ourselves from everyone else lest they, too, inflict more wounds. In our pain and fear, we pile more dirt over the mound that we’re fairly certain is a deep dark hole we should be afraid of . . . because we’ve forgotten what living water is, what life it gives, and from whence it comes. We must remember the importance of sharing our stories so we don’t forget what is True.

Our greatest revelation and discovery is that

Jesus is who He is for us all.

It is Jesus’ immeasurably powerful love that strips away the layers of guilt and shame until He sees the naked truth of the sinners we have been because we projected our selfish judgment onto God. We feel awful for what we’ve done, and rather than turn with penitent hearts to God, we run away, ashamed and afraid. Who but Jesus can seen us in our brokenness and say, “I know. Come to me. See for yourself that you are forgiven.” It’s that transformative experience of grace, of mercy, of forgiveness, of unconditional love that blasts away a lifetime of wrongdoing so that the living water can spring forth and rejuvenate our parched souls.

Jesus had to go through Samaria, and he sat by the well because he was tired. And everything he did was according to God’s will. Touching one life at a time was the way in which to reach thousands. Only when we’ve experienced God’s grace can we bear witness to God’s power. We don’t evangelize by shoving our experience of Christ’s salvation into another person’s heart or by pounding Bible verses into another person’s head. We reveal to them our personal transformation. The Samaritan woman who had gone out of her way not to encroach upon others in the town now goes running into their midst, proclaiming to all to “come and see!” the one who knew her heart, the one who very well could be the Messiah. What a vivid image of evangelism.

How are we like the woman at the well? Where were we when Jesus broke down our defenses, and we realized that we couldn’t do this thing called life on our own any more? Maybe it was a definitive moment in our life, and like a born-again Christian in prison, we can testify to giving everything to God in complete surrender. But maybe our life fully lived in Christ is a slowly dawning revelation. Maybe our life of faith has given way more and more to the realization of the grandeur of God in all of Creation, and each day takes us deeper into our existing relationships, where it’s more about God’s will than our will.

Because it is more about God’s will than our will.

As Christians, we sign up to proclaim the transformative love of Christ for all the world. We sign up to stay woke, and when we fall asleep or fall into ignorance or complacency, we get back up again however many times it takes. It’s uncomfortable when our world gets turned upside down, when revelations give us new or renewed responsibilities, and when we are to be the Body of Christ in the world. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or tired. Sit. Have a rest. Drink up that living water, and then go tell the story about how it changed your life.

 

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(Not) Another Gumption Trap

If ever I thought that gumption traps were only for those things that I loathed to do . . . I may have been on to something.

For a moment I thought my current state of discombobulation resulted from a procrastination of that which I am thoroughly excited about and looking forward to.  Alas, getting to the end involves some steps in between, little steps that must be made like outlines and timelines and trips to the store.  Then there’s also the messy phases (where the lack of knowledge is discovered or the dust is revealed) before everything is neatly packed and ready for the next phase.

I am holding on and find myself in another trap.

Not all traps are unpleasant, mind you, just as not all ruts are mucky.  There’s something to be said for comfortable routines, predictable leisure, familiar surroundings.  Then Change comes along, perhaps accompanied by Opportunity, and suddenly nothing is as it “should” be.  Heaven forbid we try to straighten everything while the very foundation continues to shake.  Again, there’s that rumble in my gut.

Even my subconscious knows growth is happening.  At my core, I know it to be good.  There just seems to be another layer to be cracked, even if it’s just a little membrane to split open, before the genuine excitement and sheer enthusiasm can kick in, before the roots grow deep and the branches flower.

Of course, it may not happen soon.  There may be much to hold the layer firm.  Eventually, though, it will.  I’m not one to hold back for long.  Nature will have its way.

So, be still, my beating heart.  Sigh deeply.  Smile.  Let the work begin.  There never was a trap, just a choice to be made.

 

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Time to Be Grateful

Truly I believe that there is a season for everything, but I also believe that every day calls for time for gratitude.  After an intense season of waiting (oh, and we’re not done yet!), there are more and more signs that I need to pause and give thanks at least daily.

Often, I have to admit, my thanks don’t come until I finally lay in bed, offering my genuine prayers from a tired body.  The gratitude, the thanks with which I begin my prayers, surrounds me.  I am comforted and renewed, and in this calm and peaceful state, I drift to sleep before I know it.

More often than I probably realize, I am aware enough in my waking hours to realize just how many gifts surround me.  For my senior year in high school, I gave my closest friends a poster with 365 of my favorite things written around a picture of me with the recipient.  I made one for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, too.  The blessings of this life are not lost on me, but I could certainly be more aware.

A friend recently recommended a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Ann has a blog, A Holy Experience, that got her started, I believe.  Her story is rich with her faith and ties into scripture.  Her poetic writing and sense of awareness speaks to a side of me that sometimes feels and gets neglected.  She’s unabashedly intense and devoted.  A kindred I haven’t even met.

Whatever our faith tradition, gratitude speaks deeply and as sweetly as the five-year-old speaking “I love you, Mom” into my ear.

Oh, let me count the ways.

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Day . . .

I don’t know what Day it is in my effort to create a habit of prayer.  I have about three handwritten ones I’ve written before now and will add those to my count soon, purely for my own benefit, of course.

While ironing tonight I realized that I feel extraordinarily tired.  A full weekend to be sure, but it didn’t seem to include much time to rest in mindful, prayerful, and attentive silence.  As ever, most of my prayers occur on the go, in between activities, or mid-thought.

I cannot imagine You much appreciate the prevalence of the sayings these days, but “Really?!?” and “Seriously?!?” come to mind quite often and are said just as much.  We seem to be walking around in a state of surprise at the reality that surrounds us.  Could things really be this way?  Do others truly believe what they say?  Is this life just getting ridiculous?

I realize that it’s probably our attachment to a certain view or way of being that limits a greater understanding and results in our being “shocked.”  It usually reflects moments of condescension and/or judgment, neither of which are flattering characteristics.

I am a weak creature; I realize this.  Surely when I think I’m getting stronger, something happens to change my view.  I am not self-sufficient in any manner of speaking, and this is a harsh reality.  There are hurdles in my life, puzzles to figure out (and a box with the bigger picture would be tremendously helpful), and kids to raise in the meantime.  There are friends to love and support, family to maintain connection with, and bills that have to be paid.  Whose idea was it to add more to the mix?

God, I trust that you wouldn’t have rang unless there was a message to be left.  You call; we answer, as I understand it.  We do our best.

I pray for guidance and understanding.  I give thanks to all who enrich my life so much, creating such a sense of abundance, and to all who are so patient with me.

You’re churning the soil, it feels like, and right now I need to keep both feet on solid ground.  May the roots run deep.

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21 Days of Prayer

Does it still take 21 days to create a habit?  If so, I need to make one.  It almost worked from Lent a few years ago, but the only thing that remained from making prayer my Lenten practice was my prayer list.  It’s time to get serious now.  Let’s see what I can do in 21 days.  I trust you to help hold me accountable.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you; for the community I live in, for the children who love me unconditionally, for the husband who upholds me, and for the home we share.  Thank you for your Grace.

Thank you for giving me the faith to ride through all that which I don’t understand.  I don’t know why some people get sick, get diagnosed with stage 3 or 4 cancer, their life turned upside down and those they love thrown into the ensuing chaos.  I don’t understand mental illness and why it’s so hard for our society to allow these people a place.  I don’t understand why some have so much and others nearly nothing at all.

What I know of Life and Love, though, are that nothing is so sure except these.  The world around me teems with life.  In this comfortable morning hour, when the sun promises us a scorching day; the birds are busy, the butterflies about, and the children, cat, and dog waking.  Even the trees and plants seem more at ease, and we are all alive, save for the scorched plants that couldn’t survive the summer heat.  Death is as sure as life — part of the cycle.

So Love, then, is the foundation of my being, the rock of my faith.  Why does it take so long to get there?  Love sees us through the impossible, takes us through the darkness.  Even when it seems like we don’t succeed, if we have walked in the way of Love, at least no one else was harmed and Christ’s example upheld.  Thank you for giving us such an example, showing us our full potential.

Help us, O God, to walk in the way of Love.  Help me to continue to trust, even when Life doesn’t make sense.  And thank you, again, for the beautiful people you have surrounded me with to share in my journey and I in theirs.

Give me strength to delight in your will and walk in your way, to the glory of your name.

Amen

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