Superpower

Genesis 45:3-11, 15 | 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50 | Luke 6:27-38 | Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42

I can’t help but wonder if, when the lectionary committee was deciding which Old Testament reading to put with today’s gospel, they had to draw straws as to which story was the most gut-wrenching story of forgiving one’s enemy. Because there are loads of stories about people doing wrong by their neighbor but mostly doing wrong by their family, and not every story gives us an illustration of forgiveness, either.

Recall that Joseph, beloved son of Jacob, was thrown into a well and then sold to traders by his brothers, was accused of raping an officer’s wife (because he wouldn’t have an affair with her) and imprisoned, and then because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, was released and rose to power, second only to the Pharaoh himself. It was Joseph’s planning through the seven years of plenty that prepared Egypt for the seven years of famine, that not only made Egypt the breadbasket of the world but also saved the people from starvation, including the very brothers who had cast him away, good as dead.

You’ll have to go back read Genesis 42-44 to get the full story of how the brothers go to Egypt for their stores, experience the dramatic irony of the brothers not realizing that it is their Joseph who is their lord, their saving grace. The recognition between the brothers does not start with our lesson today. Chapter 45 begins:

“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” (vv. 1-2)

And then we begin with today’s reading, when Joseph addresses his brothers, re-introducing himself and inquiring about his father. Is he still alive? But the brothers can’t answer him, “dismayed” at his presence. Dismayed? The Jewish Study Bible contains a more accurate description, I think: “…his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him.”

After all he has been through and all that he has done for them, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and he breaks down. Breaking down doesn’t give Joseph credit, though, and perpetuates the stereotype that to show emotion is a weakness. This man who is second to the Pharaoh sobs before his brothers so loudly that everyone in the vicinity can hear him. The floodgates of emotion–of grief, loneliness, heartbreak, anger, worry, fear, anxiety–all of that and more, I’m sure, are finally released. Of course the brothers are dumbfounded. They tried to kill Joseph, and when they finally meet him again, he’s a great man of power, sobbing, and inquiring about his father’s well-being. They don’t know what to do.

They don’t recognize him. Do you think that’s because if he really was their brother, this isn’t how they expect him to react? Maybe Joseph realizes this might be the case, too, so what does he ask them to do?

“Come closer to me.”

Come closer to him so that they can see into his eyes, recognize the familiarities that persist through time. Listen to him as he says he knows they’re the ones who sold him into slavery. Listen to him as he says that he sees God’s hand at work because in all of this, it is Joseph’s presence in Egypt that has saved them. In fact, he says that it was God who sent him there, ultimately to serve as lord and ruler of the whole land of Egypt. He tells them what to do, essentially to go get their father and all their things and come live in Goshen near him, and he kisses them all, weeping with them, and only then are they able to speak with him, covered in his tears and affection.

This story takes any story we have of sibling rivalry to a whole other level, doesn’t it? And it says something about Joseph’s sense of presence, character, and faith. He could have easily recognized his brothers and had them imprisoned, as he nearly did to a different end. The Pharaoh would have his back, as he did on recognizing the brothers and assisting their move. It could have gone the other way very easily. Some decisions are like that, balanced as they are on the edge of life and death.

In our gospel lesson today, we have a mighty checklist of do’s and don’ts for disciples. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Don’t strike back, give generously, and don’t expect things to be returned. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Be merciful. Don’t judge or condemn, and forgive.

Are these things that only the ancient Joseph, ultimately mighty in power and favored by God, could do? No. They happen every day. Only God knows the extent to which the Golden Rule helps preserve humanity itself, let alone the goodness conveyed in our true love, mercy, generosity, and forgiveness. And only God knows the strength that these actions have in moving us closer to the kingdom of God.

If you listened to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s nearly hour-long sermon from the Yes to Jesus Revival that I posted a couple of weeks ago, you heard him share the story from the documentary about Jackie Robinson called 42. Baseball had been divided into all these different leagues to keep it segregated, but there was one man named Branch Rickey who loved baseball so much that he wanted the best of the best to play together. Now, you’ll have to watch the documentary or listen to the sermon for more details, but essentially, when Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers made the proposition to Robinson, he acknowledged that there were going to be people who would say and maybe even do ugly things because he was a black man and that’s the way the country was in the 40’s. The man also said that he wanted Robinson not to retaliate. At this, Robinson said, “Oh you want a negro who’s afraid to fight back,” and the man said, “No, I want a great ball player who has the courage not to fight back just like our Savior Jesus Christ.” Rickey pulls from his desk a book of sayings of Jesus and reads to Robinson words that include our words from Luke today. When he put the book down, Robinson shook Rickey’s hands, and as Curry summarized, they went on to change baseball and America because they followed the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love. At our best, we have the power to change the world because of our love, because of Jesus’s love, God’s love.

You might still be thinking that all this is fine and good, but these are extraordinary circumstances with heroes from our past. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we don’t hear more about our everyday courageous warriors who fight with love. I’m sorry that our news is filled with anger, division, fear, and violence. I’m sorry because for all the time focused on the evil of the world, there are countless others upholding the Golden Rule, doing right by their neighbors, strangers, and kin, and practicing the Way of Love, even if that’s not what they call it.

And I bet there are times in your life when that’s just your m.o., and I also bet that there’s a time in your life when you felt it more poignantly. When these words of Jesus, that have revealed themselves to be written in your heart, revealed your belief of them in your actions and proved yourself to be a warrior for love, too.

Someone I love dearly was in an abusive relationship, and she had escaped–not her first time to try to get out, but this time it was sticking. (It typically takes 7 times before a woman leaves her abuser.) I received a call from the abuser late one night. He was looking for her. He was saying things, telling me what I thought of him. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had an encounter where you felt like you were facing demons, something truly evil, but my heart was racing. I felt stunned, but I stayed on the phone, words coming out of my mouth that came from a place I didn’t know I had. At one point, I said, “No, I don’t hate you. I love the good person you can be, that you are at your core, but I do not like what you’ve done. And I won’t tell you where she is or help you get in touch with her.” There are other times in my life when I realize how much I love people, especially people I don’t like, and there’s a sadness that washes over me, a lament at the loss of what could be.

The Way of Love, following the Way of Jesus, does not make us passive doormats. It doesn’t mean that we will always be protected from danger, nor does it mean that we see everything as sunshine and roses or always see the silver lining. What it does mean is that we know that love is a powerful thing, that God’s love is our superpower when we find ourselves tapped into it.

God’s love enables us to be wholly in relationship with others, even if that person is so other that we can’t see eye to eye. God’s love enables us to act in ways of justice and mercy, to heal and seek reconciliation rather than bury ourselves in grief or anger or grudges. Most importantly, God’s love transforms us, turning us into Christian superheroes capable of amazing feats that most often won’t make the headlines but make all the difference in someone’s life. I hope this week or even today that you get the chance to share a moment when you tapped into that superpower, when you did something you didn’t think you could do but were keenly aware–if not in the moment then at least in retrospect–that it was God working through you, living through you, loving through you.

Come closer, and recognize the power of God’s love in our lives.

 

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Can You Imagine: Forgiveness & Judgment

Exodus 14:19-31 | Psalm 114 | Romans 14:1-12 | Matthew 18:21-35

We’re going to save Moses and the parting of the sea for another day. It warrants a sermon of its own, given all the implications of the miracle at the beginning of the Exodus, especially that of a God that not only sanctioned the death of the firstborns but now also wiped out the pursuing Egyptian army. Today we’ll address our Gospel and Epistle topics of judgment and forgiveness. At the Continuing the Conversation on Wednesday, where 18 folks gathered to talk about racism– representing at least 5 different Christian denominations–one of the women said that given the need for dialogue and discussion, she didn’t feel like she had the tools to engage with people, the language to use in regards to having conversations regarding privilege and race. How could she give voice to where she’s coming from while respecting whomever she’s in conversation with? If we are filled with an understanding of judgment and well-stocked in forgiveness, aren’t these significant components pertaining to full reconciliation? I believe they are.

We want guidance and instruction, right? Peter asks Jesus: How many times am I to forgive? Is seven enough? (Because surely that’s more than generous.) Like us, Peter wants to make sure he’s doing the right thing and that it’s quantifiable, a transaction. Someone does you a wrong, you forgive them. The parable set forth shows a master who forgives his slave, yet the slave doesn’t show the same forgiveness to another. We can keep track of the forgivings and the withholding of forgiveness. This is what I call human economy: we can keep track of what’s going on, who owes who, and where we stand in relation to what’s expected. But Jesus . . . in response to Peter, Jesus says we’re to forgive 77 times, not that we’re going to actually count that many (if we could even keep track) but because

we’re not supposed to be counting in the first place.

Jesus sees our humanity and knocks it out of the park into God’s economy, where we try to comprehend terms like grace, mercy, unconditional, and infinite. We’re not supposed to keep track; we’re just supposed to keep sharing God’s grace.

But this storyline of the master and slave we have, it’s familiar to us. I can’t help but think of Beauty and the Beast–the Disney versions, of course, how at the end after Gaston has led the charge into the castle and tangled with the beast on the rooftop: the beast is given the opportunity to kill Gaston. He shows an act of mercy, telling Gaston just to go. What is he thinking?!? We’re proud and amazed at the compassion shown by the beast, and when Gaston pulls a gun on him (in the newer version — whole scene around minute 5:00), we see the injustice of it all flare and aren’t exactly disappointed when Gaston falls from the castle roof on his own. We breathe a sigh of relief at the happily ever after. When it comes down to it, it’s hard for us to comprehend forgiving someone who has wronged us. We are the master in the parable when it comes to withholding forgiveness or even taking it back. We make our human judgment calls on who is worthy or not of our forgiveness, forgetting what Jesus tells us and what Paul elaborates on: that it’s not our place to judge.

We joke about judging one another: I’ll ask you not to judge the cleanliness of my house when you come for dinner or my car if I give you a ride. We’ll more seriously ask not to be judged on the basis of our family system, our sexuality, our ethnicity. We’re not to cast judgment, but we make judgments all the time, discerning what to do or say in the next moment. Our decisions reflect the judgments we make. But what Paul tells us is basically: don’t sweat the small stuff and leave ultimate judgment to God. It’s our job to show God’s grace and mercy to others by staying in relationship with them, to the extent that we can. God isn’t telling us to stay in dangerous situations. God certainly isn’t telling us to forget. Forgiving someone does not mean we forget. We learn from our mistakes and know the burden of our sins. The knowledge we glean and the relief we experience are worth the scars we bear, and we can’t forget the stories of why we are better for what we’ve overcome. Even if we can’t stay in relationship with those who have done us wrong, we can stay in relationship with God as we work to let go of what was wrong and move toward life and love.

There’s a song in the Hamilton soundtrack about forgiveness. (Yes, I told you I love the soundtrack!) At the Garland County Jail, in the program I did with the folks there,  I wanted to play this song so we could talk about all the levels of forgiveness. But I realized they wouldn’t have any context if they didn’t know all the stories involved, all the references made. Did they know what Alexander was going through, the significance of this proud man using his wife’s words? Did they know Eliza’s grief of finding out about her husband’s past affair and then shortly thereafter losing her son when he died in a duel? Did they know how trusting and kind Eliza was? How deep the betrayal and how true her love? So, we had to listen to the whole thing. 😉  And when it came to the song about the unimaginable and forgiveness, there was stillness in the room, both times with the men and the women. In this song called “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the relationship unfolds in this confession, of not being afraid to admit what was wrong, and this willingness to be in relationship, to return to relationship. All the while, the company sings the chorus as witness to this beautiful thing unfolding with the words: “Can you imagine? . . . Forgiveness . . . Can you imagine?”

It’s hard for us to imagine forgiveness in the face of the horrible. Such swift judgment affords us the death penalty, just cause, self defense. We are absolutely amazed and in awe when not just in movies but in real life, people show true forgiveness and leave judgment to God. A prime example can be found in the survivors of the families who were killed at the AME church in Charlston in 2015, like the families of the children killed at the Amish school shooting in Lancaster in 2006–people who chose to relinquish the burden of judgment, giving that to God. Whatever their reasonings for doing so, I know that their decisions enable them to  move forward in their grief with a foundation of love. And it is hard to imagine, because it’s not the way of our world.

In the face of another acquittal for a police officer who shot and killed a black man, people in and around St. Louis demonstrate–literally–how difficult it is to stay in relationship with one another. On the way to church this morning, I heard a St. Louis alderman speaking on NPR about the peaceful demonstrations that are happening and the pockets of violence that erupted. His voice portrayed his fatigue, along with his words that said he was extremely frustrated by the same pattern repeating itself and not for the first or second time. What he sees reflected in the outcomes is a reinforcement of the message that black lives don’t matter, that they are not valuable. But he did seem encouraged at the unification of many in the area who were showing their solidarity and support for black lives. Maybe not all hope was lost.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we sit idly by while injustice continues, whether it’s race relations, domestic violence, or any other of our societal maladies. Giving judgment to God doesn’t mean we abandon all responsibility. WE are the hands and feet here on earth sharing the presence of Christ. We don’t have to judge others, but we do have to discern what is right and wrong and choose how to best convey the presence of Jesus to the world around us.

And it often involves taking yet another long look in the mirror and making sure we forgive ourselves. However easy it may be for us to forgive others, sometimes we bear the hubris of not seeing ourselves as worthy of the generosity we extend to others. I’ll be infinitely patient with you and forgive you a million times over, but I don’t cut myself any slack. I have to be very intentional with myself, reminding myself how worthy I am of the love and compassion that others need just as much as I do. I have to remind myself that my relationship to God is only as healthy as I let God’s grace flow through me and others. Can you imagine what our town, our world would look like if we turned to one another with understanding of all our heartaches, all the sufferings, and let ourselves move toward forgiveness, toward reconciliation in safety and love? I can imagine it because I believe in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, which have already accomplished the unimaginable.

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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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Who Listens

More often than not, at the dinner table, someone looks down at their lap, fidgeting with their mobile device of choice.  Someone else has caught their attention.  “Don’t text with your mouth full” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.  Can you count how many times you’ve gone through the checkout line without making eye contact with the cashier?  Many of us opt for automated kiosks.  Is the energy expended in human conversation part of our decision?

We have so many opportunities to connect with one another.  Fortunately, we also have the opportunity to connect with nature, the plants and trees.  Our world can be so beautiful, but we have to be aware.

I venture to say that we are each beautiful, too.  Our souls shine brilliantly with the the Light of Wisdom.  From a twinkle of the eye to a visible aura, we each hold this gift in our being.  We don’t have to do anything; it is there.  It is about our be-ing.  We have to be open, selfless, and vulnerable.  We have to be heard.  We need others to help listen us into this beautiful being, and we need to be good stewards to others and everything around us in return.

Who listens to you?  Who calls your soul forth with the tenderness of a bonded mother with her nursing babe?  With whom can you communicate with a smile or a glance?  Can you gauge how others feel just by being in their presence?  Do you realize you have the power to share compassion with them without saying a word?

I hope you have those who listen to you, that you can check in regularly to see where you really are in this life — who you really are.  May you be one who listens.  Be fully present to those around you.  Be aware.

You are a gift to us all.

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Same Dance, New Music

Given my life story, I realize that I do believe in a Purpose. We all have at least one. I also love viewing this life as a cosmic dance; we all come together at different stages, go through the steps, however awkward they may be, and keep moving, guided by a rhythm we can hear and feel but can’t really see. Some partners we stay with for a long while. Some partners are there only a bit. Sometimes we’re a group dance, all working together in this divine choreography. I’d rather picture an aerial view of an elegant ballroom, but I know that reality is sometimes like the dark and sweaty clubs with the music so loud you can’t hear one another.

My dance right now takes me into a new room, just as large as where I was before. I’m just having to learn new steps, become familiar with my new partners. It’s still dancing. There’s just a different music playing. Fortunately for me, the music permeates from within the University like a ballroom would, I imagine. Walking across campus yesterday, I wondered if all campuses feel that way on warm fall afternoons: still, studious, alive, wise, full of potentiality. A university campus is so full of those so young, most eager, as well as those who have learned so much, most wise. It’s an electric blend, I suppose, palpable.

So we dance with one another. We share our gifts with ease, no matter how difficult the steps may be. We learn our way into cultivating our talents through practice, practice, practice. No matter where we are or what the music, whether we like it or not, we keep dancing.

And we realize that we are in this together.

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On Marriage

In the birthday card I gave my husband this year, I couldn’t help but mention that when we got engaged and then married, he could not have known the people we would grow to be.  Yet here we are thirteen years later, eleven of which have been in marriage (as of tomorrow).

I heard a statistic that if you make it past the first seven years of being married, it’s like making it over the hill.  Then, of course, you hear of all these marriages that crumble into divorce after up-teen years together, even 20 or 30 years.  What makes a marriage stick?

*Warning: These are non-clinical hypotheses, just a lay-woman’s view.*

Marriage takes a constant flow of energy.  Hopefully this energy is given and received, given room for expansion and contraction, and allowing room for growth and change.  Oftentimes, this means we have to work at it, we have to give a little push or pull.  Some of us need lessons, as if learning to dance; each learning how to lead and how to follow.  As long as we’re willing to work together in our relationship, it can thrive amazingly in any circumstance.  It can look beautiful and effortless, even be so.

There are times, however, when the flow is broken.  It can be tragic or necessary.  When I say necessary, I mean as in cases of violence (physical or emotional) or cases of distrust.  Some say time heals all wounds, but some wounds are too vulnerable for constant exposure and need to be out of a situation to be given opportunity to heal.

I consider myself blessed to be in a loving flow of energy with my husband.  Even as we’re growing into who and what we want to be when we “grow up” and feel some of those growing pains, we’re in it together, aware of each other as individuals and as a whole.  We are dancing, however awkwardly.  (Given our height disparity, this is a particularly funny image to me!)

This same philosophy on sacred marriage can be applied to any relationship, however large or small.  If we can be conscientious of the flow of loving energy with others, our capacity of respect and growth is amazing.  But sometimes the seemingly smallest infringement creates a dam to the flow, and sometimes even humility isn’t enough to mend.  Sometimes paths have to diverge, change course — often for the better.

Marriage is work and not work.  Marriage is sacred, and like all sacraments, there is a great underlying Mystery at its core.  What better ground to dance upon and with and through than that of Love?

Here’s to many more years of beautiful music.

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Religious / Spiritual

It was my pleasure to be at a weekend women’s retreat this past weekend, to go away to a mountainside campground, share a cabin with amazing women and experience the presence of Love.  Episcopal women really do have some great times, and I think it’s made even better by the depth of conversation.  We’re really not all that much into small talk.

The term “legalistic” has come into my consciousness these past couple of months, particularly in contrast to “spiritual.”  Why is this so?  What do I have to learn from this distinction?

According to Merriam-Webster, one who is legalistic is one who adheres to moral legalism,  “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.”  Whereas, one who is spiritual is one who is relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit.”  When I looked up the definition of “spirit,” I could not in good faith attribute any of them to my interpretation of Spirit.
seesaw.jpg
When I think of someone who is religious, perhaps it is because their seeming focus tends to be more heavily on the legalistic side of the see-saw.  I believe, however, that a “strict conformity” to anything has a tendency to build a box, to close some in and to keep others out.  I know few who are truly legalistic.  Most on this side are religious, manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity . . . or devoted to religious beliefs or observances.”  This person probably knows creeds and
scripture by heart, can recite what they believe at a moment’s notice,
without hesitation.  Ah, how I admire that knowledge, that assuredness.


When I think of someone who is spiritual, I think of my experience with them, how freely the energy, the Spirit, flows between them and me.  Their very life seems to be caught up in Spirit, ever-present in all they do.  But there can be haze; it is ever-changing.  As with Merriam-Webster, the person experiencing Spirit has a hard time describing what exactly It is but knows without a doubt what the response is to it, whether it be laughter or tears, joy or uncertainty.  Indeed, it compels us forward in all we do.

Of course, I tend to find myself more spiritually inclined.  My see-saw has plunked to the ground on the spiritual side and sits there, perhaps at times stuck in the mud.  Would it be ideal to get a good balance going, to hover in the air as the scales are balanced, enjoying it as if laughing with a friend, knowing that there’s really nothing to do on the stuck see-saw except someone get off, hopefully gently?  Is it better to go back and forth, appreciating the other’s strength and weight, watching closely to technique lest you miss something that might enrich your own experience?

As with everything, we have to be aware.  We have to be open to each other.  We have to learn and grow.  At our core, we are all spiritual beings.  Sometimes we need beliefs to help explain ourselves, but all the time, we need to live with and through the Spirit, the Love. 

Skip the small talk.

(photo by *Claudine from everystockphoto.com)

 

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The Resilience of Trees

maple_tree_green_680881_l.jpgAll the rain we’ve been having reminds us that we are, indeed, in the midst of spring.  And the bounty of greenery, in all its shades and hues, contrasts nicely, magically against the gray skies.  I had wondered what this spring would look like after the tragic ice storm left many of the trees amputees.  I admit my shallow underestimation of nature.

Yes, you can see some of the splintered edges or the awkward, haphazard trimmings.  But the trees continue to stand as tall as they can and put forth new growth with as much determination as ever.  Where the trees were trimmed carefully, with attention, you would hardly notice anything amiss, save for the less dense canopy.  The new growth is amazing.

I might say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be a tree, where all we had to do is grow, go through the seasons, letting go and growing when it’s our determined time.”  But that’s not all a tree does.  No two trees are exactly alike.  No breeze blows without ruffling each leaf in its own way.  Every natural event leaves its mark upon a tree’s trunk, but the tree is ever adapting.  Maybe I should say, “Oh, to have the wisdom of a tree.”

When I was a little girl, I remember going into the woods beyond the pasture of my grandparents farm.  I found a young maple that I sat beside and talked to at length, looking up into its branches, certain that the leaves blowing in the wind were responding just to me.  I promised to be this tree’s friend.  I found a large-ish rock and put it beside the base, so I would be sure to remember which tree I had chosen.

Time passed, though, and when I returned, I wasn’t sure which tree was which. There were rocks all around.  I felt bad.  I had defaulted on a friendship, and I was sure that this tree would certainly remember who I was, was probably watching me circle around and around, aching that I couldn’t hear and feel.

Maybe I had read The Giving Tree too many times.  Maybe I was personifying the tree too much.  But I don’t think so.  Even now, when I need to be grounded, I see myself as a tree.  When I need to disperse extra energy or receive it, I can exchange with the trees.  I’ve not forgotten the relationship one can have with the trees, and I have a special place in my heart for maples.

The trees are beautiful and have much to teach us.

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Unexpected

One of the tricks to unblocking your creativity in Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way is to take yourself out on an artist’s date at least weekly.  This is a practice that takes much courage and dedication but has benefits untold.  The goal is, of course, to help fill the well of your creativity so that you don’t run dry.

One of my recent artist’s dates didn’t start out as such.  It started with rsvp’ing to a friend’s open studio.  But our weekend got crammed with one event after another.  Even when the goings-on are fun, it is tiring to a family of six to coordinate such a circus!  I thought about not going to the studio, but I felt committed.  Deep inside, I really wanted to go; I just didn’t know if we could pull it off.

With a van full of kids and places to be, my husband waited in said van while I went inside – by myself – to look at the photographs and studio, to make my appearance as promised and to hopefully arrange for portraits of the kids.

I wasn’t expecting what I received.

When I closed the door behind me, I let go of the past.  I walked into the present, wide open to possibility.  Gorgeous, indescribable black and white portraits of people I know and don’t know lined the walls.  I visited with friends I treasure and don’t get to visit with nearly often enough.  A morning’s misunderstanding was cleared.  For the first time I realized that this was a treat for me.

I walked around into the studio, and instead of portraits, now I saw what the photographer entitled “Persistence.”  You’ll have to go to him for the story, but I think it speaks for itself.  The mostly floral images and the experimentation with technique and style whispered something to me I still don’t understand.  After a good fill of admiring, I sat and visited with this gifted photographer.

Again, this openness, this connection I wasn’t expecting.  A new friend, yes.  A fellow Scorpio and one appreciative of spirituality and the journey therein (you could tell from the books on the shelves).  As we spoke, an energy resonated from my heart/solar plexus (hard to be sure which), and about that time in our conversation he was saying something to the effect of how he is sensitive to the God within others, that he could sense it within me.

I didn’t ask for this; I didn’t expect it, nor the tears that swelled in my eyes.  I just came to arrange for some photos of my kids, photos taken by someone who could capture the soul of a person in portrait.  The photos will be taken and taken by someone who will recognize the God in my children; I got what I came for.  I also got an experience of Spirit, though.  I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.  I am who I’m supposed to be, if even for a moment.  Perhaps that is Persistence, too. 

The best things in life come when you least expect it, when you’re not looking for them.  The truth is, of course, that they’re there all along.

* * *

what better way to express than in images, preceded by a quote that says it all . . .

Thank you.

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