Unveiled

Exodus 34:29-35 | Psalm 99 |  2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 | Luke 9:28-36-43a

When we think about talking with God, we usually mean through prayer, and we trust that by offering our words out loud or in our heart and mind, that God receives them and “hears” them, in whatever way works for God. Because we don’t know. Prayer is one of our constant actions done in faith, and it is one of the building blocks of our discipleship, how we live as faithful Christians. Especially in times of trial, the words of Paul to pray without ceasing come to mind, but I know I’m not the only one who finds the thoughts in my head on an average day filled with a one-sided conversation with the Almighty. Probably more often than I’d like to admit, it’s filled with me telling God how I think things should go. On better days, it’s filled with “Your will be done.” On truly hard days, it’s filled with surrender, acknowledgment that I need God’s help.

But in all of this praying, I don’t think about actually meeting God face to face. Maybe I don’t think about it because it just doesn’t happen. Sure, it happened for Moses, and, sure, it happened for the disciples with Jesus. But it doesn’t happen for us. Look what happened to Moses, anyway. His face had some divine perma-glow that terrified his people, even his brother Aaron. He wore a veil to help others feel more comfortable. Yet Moses continued to be an intermediary between God and the people. Moses went from seeing God in the burning bush, to seeing the backside of God from the cleft in the mountain, to talking with God face to face, so to speak. And Moses was a changed man. Not only was he a leader of the people, but he was one who had survived being in the presence of God. And he shone for it, even if it was off-putting to others. Intimidating, maybe? Moses was physically changed by his encounter with God.

We’re more comfortable with our way of praying, aren’t we? We’d rather whisper or think our prayers or say them together comfortably and predictably than experience what Moses went through because we understand Aaron’s and the other’s terror. What if that happens to us? We certainly don’t want to alienate ourselves. What would it mean for our lives?

It might mean that people know our relationship with God has changed our lives. It might mean that we share our stories because we can’t hide the fact that we have lived through encounters with God in our lives. It might mean that we’re like a friend of mine whom I met in Hot Springs. She was living in a tent at the time with her dog. She came to the church because she needed some more blankets. We talked a while, and she came back a time or two. Eventually she was able to lease a place, and we helped with furniture. Mostly when we talked, though, it was about her accomplishments, her determination, and her recovery. I would know when she wasn’t doing so well, when she’d smell of alcohol or when I met her in the detention center. She was both embarrassed and grateful to see me then. We struck up conversation, same as we would if we had seen each other in the church or out and about. “Will you be okay?” I’d ask. She had faith. She was praying. She was reading the Bible, finding verses that inspired her and kept her going. Even now I see her on Facebook, not just her pictures of her highlighted Bible verses but pictures of her face, a life-worn face that smiles through hardship and smiles with grace, shining in its own way for knowing the love of God, experiencing it in her life.

I know I keep harkening back to diocesan convention, but there was a statement Jerusalem made that I want to make sure we all hear again: We have to use our words to share the Good News of Christ. We can give all the tents, blankets, and food there is, but if we don’t share WHY we’re doing it, how will they know we’re not just part of a charitable or service organization? “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” We typically attribute this quote to St. Francis. Jerusalem says that today, it’s necessary.

And Paul, he says that because of Christ, our veil is removed. We don’t need to hide from the light. It’s not terrifying . . . it’s glorious, and we’re meant to share it. Don’t get me wrong, to live in the Light is terrifying at times, uncomfortable to us and to others. Why? Because it threatens to change the way things are. If we are mirroring the image of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are bringing into this world evidence of God’s mercy, experiences of transformation. But if we practice over and over again, it becomes less scary, changing into glory can become our expectation, if not a norm.

But what do we practice?

People like my friend from Hot Springs know what it is to hit rock bottom and have little left to lose. But she found a thread of hope which was intimately linked to her dog, through her love of another, that empowered her to act with great boldness. And as she grew to understand more and more that the love of God was hers, that God wasn’t punishing her, she began to act more boldly for herself. And along this journey she was sharing that she had love of God, that God was working through her to live better, and maybe her witness could help others live better, too. She didn’t get to a place of sharing publicly overnight.

Like Peter, we might experience something truly marvelous and make a claim to capture it then and there, freeze it in time and place. In this action, we, too, might not know what we say or what we mean. In our belief, Jesus wasn’t just a man who lived and died in ancient Israel, doing really great things, many of which are accounted in the season of Epiphany that we conclude today. With his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ continued the story for us. The Transfiguration during his lifetime, when he was radiant as ever and in the presence of figures who had gone before him, gave us a glimpse that in our lives lived in God, amazing things can happen, surpassing human understanding. These experiences happen not just in one time and place but everywhere we go bringing with us the Light of Christ.

In our baptism we are given a candle as a symbol of that light of Christ, that it would go with us into the world. It’s a symbol of the light within because I don’t know anyone who carries that candle with them everywhere. It’s a physical thing that doesn’t have enough wax to last out the day. But that light of Christ, which comes from the glory of God, that’s eternal and everlasting.

So what, exactly do we do? Start small, which is really starting big because we have to train our way of thinking. Do we want to do good? Are we already doing good work? Why? Because we’re supposed to? Because we don’t want to be hard-hearted? We do good because we love. We love because we are loved, and if we believe that, the rest stems from there.

What in our lives has been hard but we lived through? What kept us going? We don’t always or even often start with love of God. Maybe, like me, you had a loving family and lived a pretty sheltered life and have continued to live a good life, given a few trials and tribulations but nothing insurmountable. But we don’t take that for granted. Great religious figures of the past, even when surrounded in comfort and/of luxury, went among the suffering and had empathy, had compassion for them, and it changed their worldview, guiding others to shape their perspective, too.

One time of doing something does not make a practice. My kids wouldn’t be great swimmers or musicians if they just jumped in and swam a lap or picked up an instrument every once in a blue moon. We have to practice our skills, and that includes living a life in Christ without fear. Fear to me is embodied in that unclean spirit from the gospel lesson today. Fear with thrash about and throw us to our knees rather than go boldly into the light of God. But with God’s help through Jesus Christ, we can be healed of our fears, return to the Way of Love, and astound others with the greatness of God, rather than scare them.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and I will share a practice every week that will encourage you to find words to share your story as a child of God. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t experienced God either knowingly or because you seek God in your life. Maybe all we need to do is remove the veil to see clearly that God is already at work.

 

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Ask. Search. Knock.

Hosea 1:2-10 | Psalm 85 | Colossians 2:6-19 | Luke 11:1-13


Many years ago, a disciple waited for Jesus to finish praying that he might beg of him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I wonder if Jesus looked around at his followers, sort of bewildered, and thought, “What have we been doing all this time that they don’t know how to pray?” But Jesus gives a simple yet profound prayer, topped off with a little parable speaking to the payoffs of persistence and a not-so-subtle reminder of how great and gracious the heavenly Father is when it comes to responding to His children. As much as I would like to elaborate on each line of the Lord’s Prayer and swap stories about perseverance and answered prayers, these chairs are only comfortable for so long.

For our time in the Parish Hall, Lynn has very cleverly snuck in not only one of my favorite hymns but also a key to our message today: “Seek ye first.” (Now, for 8 o’clock, we don’t get to sing it, but hopefully you know it well.  Hymn 711, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”) It’s one of my favorites because it’s one of the first songs in The CampMitchellChapel-evening2016Episcopal Church that got into my heart and mind. I learned it at Camp Mitchell on retreat. No matter where I sing it, I imagine the echo of women’s voices singing it in the round, some voices breaking into parts. It has a Taizé-like quality to it: a simple hymn, easily repeated. The hymn draws from verse 9 of today’s reading, the second verse echoing what Jesus said to the disciples, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Then we sing our refrain of Alleluias.

As far as I can tell, we’re flat-out being told that we’ll get what we ask for and find what we’re looking for, and if we just keep knocking, we’re going to get the door open. According to St. Bede, it’s the door to the Kingdom of God we’re striving to enter. Our asking is our prayer. Our searching is our proper living. Our knocking is our perseverance in our life and prayer. These three things help grant us entrance to the Kingdom of God, alleluia!

I think Bede’s onto something, and I certainly don’t question what Jesus says to his disciples. I do wonder, however, at how we think of asking, seeking, and knocking. We might get so caught up in asking and seeking and making sure we’re knocking at the right door that we get a little preoccupied with our self-righteousness and piety. In such cases, we end up playing the part of the hypocrite, our prayers false and our lives full of pretense but no depth. Or what of the faithful who pray devotedly, live righteously, and persevere mightily and who cannot seem to get a break? Maybe we know a few in that category, too.

As we look to Jesus for guidance in our praying, it’s important to think of how we ask of God.

Here I say “God” so freely, but Jesus instructs us in our prayer that we address the almighty as “Father,” perhaps because the name is so holy and revered, so hallowed, that we dare not presume to address the Most High directly . . . except as the most beloved Father we share through Christ. Before we ask the Father for anything, we acknowledge that it is God’s kingdom we wish to be manifest. Here the Matthean addition of “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mtw 6:10) elaborates on the priority of God’s will over our own. The foundation before we ask for anything is that we acknowledge our God in holiness and our God in relationship to us. We also surrender ourselves as obedient children of God. Our surrender is to a good and loving God of whom we don’t necessarily have to ask, we sort of state to God: “Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” In our petitions, we are asking of God but also reminding ourselves of what God provides. We ask that God’s will be done and that we have the sustenance, forgiveness, and perseverance to be a part of the kingdom. So, how do we ask of God? Humbly and expectantly. No matter how old we are, we are but a child addressing our heavenly Father, and as such we do expect to receive, though we might not understand how the Holy Spirit is at work in God’s will or how God’s will is at work in us.

Our understanding can be improved, however, when we persist in our searching. It’s important to consider how we search for God.

Honestly, I wanted to say that it’s important to consider how we “look” for God, but we “look” for our keys when we’ve lost them. When we have asked something of God and are searching for where Spirit is at work in our lives, we aren’t just looking for signs, though we do hope to see them. In our searching, there is hope and yearning. In our searching, there is commitment. Maybe it plays on the psychology of intention, but when we focus our search on something, we become more aware, more likely to notice whatever it is we are searching for. We needn’t look any farther than ourselves. Rowan Williams says, “Prayer is the life of Jesus coming alive in you, so it is hardly surprising if it is absolutely bound up with a certain way of being human which is about reconciliation, mercy, and freely extending welcome and the love of God to others.” One of the best examples of this kind of Jesus-becoming is told in our book of saints, Holy Women, Holy Men. This past Wednesday, we honored Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Reading their incredible bios, Sojourner Truth at one point took to the streets as an evangelist, proclaiming the Word. What she found on the streets, however, were people cold and hungry and homeless and unemployed. No doubt they needed the Word, but they needed daily bread and coats. They needed a place to live, so Sojourner established a home for them. What better way to preach the Gospel? What better way to discover God in the midst of the people? When we are living our lives as prayer, we can find God even when we think we aren’t searching. Finally for this morning,

 it’s important to consider where we think of God.

Where we think of God hinges on a fairly simple premise: is God here or in a great beyond? Are we praying to some far off God whose door to the kingdom is in some nearly mythical “heaven” that we’ll only know in death? Or, do we believe that the Holy One is closer than the air we breathe? Where is the door we need to knock on to let the kingdom come? Maybe it’s no farther than our mind and hearts. We have asked for it and sought it, why wouldn’t it be here for us to enter into? As comforting to us as it might be that the kingdom can be found in the here and now, there is great responsibility in choosing to knock and enter into the graciousness of God’s kingdom. It means returning to prayer again and again, discerning moment to moment. But it also means doing so in fullness of Spirit, as a revealed child of God, and for that glory, we heartily sing our alleluias before we get back to work, asking, seeking, and knocking.

 

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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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imPerfection

We read a poem this weekend that had to be written by a kindred.  Her words spoke in my language, spoke in truth.  I cannot find her complete poem on-line, though there are partial reprints.  Elizabeth Carlson’s “Imperfections” can be found in this book, however.  I dare not repost the perfect little poem in its entirety, what with copyright laws and all.

What I can post is my own writing, though.  After listening to and with Carlson’s poem a bit, we got to go our solitary ways.  I listen well when I am writing, when I am doing nearly anything.  To listen for my own imperfections at a deeper level, I sat.  I wrote.  This is what surfaced.  (I apologize in advance that I cannot get the spacing to change, so pardon the stanza run-on! I tried.)

“imPerfection”

I can sit with the ants in the dappled light

On this, another awe-inspiring autumn morning.

What mysteries might the breeze whisper in my ear?

What chatter does that strange creature

echo from my monkey brain?

Usually I listen for the wisdom I stumble upon,

Doing the tasks that need be done.

For once, at least,

I let myself

discover

my Self.

May the pen be my trowel

And my busy-ness the weeds

I remove from the soil.

The soil is rich and fertile.

Or maybe I fold the distractions

Away

With each shirt, pants, and sock.

Some thoughts need to dry in

Their own time.

No dirty nails this time to

Show for my effort.

Digging deep.

What are the treasures?

I cannot be rid of the roots from the species

Too invasive.

This is hard,

too hard.

But the longer I ignore them, the harder it gets

To let the soil be rich,

To appreciate the beauty

That is there if only

It, too, could obtain the resources

Stolen

by that which needs the

Persistent practice,

The daily tending.

It helps to name the

bermuda grasses of my being.

I cannot ignore the

Reality of money,

The need to connect with my family,

The limits of time.

I have to give up this idea of

Stagnant Perfection.

A garden is not a photograph.

It teems with

Life and Intention,

with Persistent Practice.

Blood and sweat, surely,

From the thorns and twigs of

Truth

Running

Deep.

I didn’t plant the oak tree there

Or the rose there.

Gifts of vulnerable strength and

Fragile beauty.

Timeless, both, and full of

Grace.

The mosquito offers its own poison

As it draws my blood,

Leaving the stinging itch

That will gnaw like the

Censor to challenge any

Gift I may unearth and

Lay claim to.

But it, too, will fade.

And even after my blood

Is dried and gone,

The earth remains to

Receive again

That which it gave.

Live into this cycle,

every moment.

Practice persistence with

Compassion

and

Gratitude,

whether with the harvest of the Earth

or the

Fruits of our wombs.

All is still and alive.

All is well.

This I am told.

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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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Try, Try, Try . . . and Try Again

The proverb says if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, right?  Well, I did, and I wasted at least two pounds of clay.

With the kids out of town and the littlest one sleeping, I decided to revisit the ol’ pottery wheel.  It’s an electric, so I feel like it’s just a machine.  The clay, on the other hand, comes from the earth, so I feel like it can have a mind of its own.  At least, that’s what I’m going with.  I tried with at least three helpings of clay and at least a dozen times to get it centered today so I could make a vase or even just a small bowl.  It wasn’t happening, and I could feel my temperament sinking, even with my now awake daughter watching me.

Thoughts going through my mind:  Perhaps I am not a potter.  Of course I’m not a potter; I’m a writer.  But everyone can write.  Can’t everyone wield some clay?  I’d just like to make something nice for someone.

Why won’t this center?  Am I not centered?  Are my arms that weak? My husband says that it’s not about your upper body strength.  You don’t have to strong-arm this.  Then why the hell is it knocking me around???

I’m not a quitter, but I know when I need to stop and get a new perspective.  I cleaned everything so that it will be nice for my husband when he decides to use our last bit of clay.

How many times do you not succeed before you give yourself permission not to do something?  (I’m trying to keep this as optimistic as possible; pardon the double negative.)  My thinking is that the answer is not simple.

Rather than try to make a concrete decision as to whether or not I’ll accept my fate as a non-potter, I’ll take the lesson that I have more to learn and more practice to do.  It’s a hard lesson to take, but our number of practices is determined by how well we can accept the current moment for what it is, no matter what we are doing or want to do.

I need to exercise my patience better.  I’ll stop by the clay studio and ask for a reminder lesson.  And I’ll practice more, if I can make myself take the time.  Some lessons take a while to sink in.  I am grateful for my time to grow.  No, really, I am!

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