Where Is God?

Exodus 12:1-14 | Psalm 149 | Romans 13:8-14 | Matthew 18:15-20

Take a moment to breathe. How are you doing? Because there is a lot going on right now.

Even if everything is wonderful for you, there are people in Houston digging through mold and mud. An earthquake struck South America, and now Florida is being battered by Hurricane Irma. There are people directly affected by the DACA decision, and there are also those being persecuted in Myanmar and refugees fleeing war-torn countries. Thanks be to widespread communications, we are aware of what a mess things are right now, and it is a lot. In the wake of so much that seems like death and destruction, we might ask, “Where is God in all of this?” It’s a faithful question to ask, and how we respond to it says a lot about our theology, our understanding of God.

I have heard some respond that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle, that hurricanes or disasters are either given to help us be the strong people we are, or that are some kind of consequence for being sinners. Given this line of thinking, God is at the hand of destruction. So much like in Exodus, God is the agent behind the angel of death that destroys the firstborn in Egypt, unless they have been signified as households of God. We might gratefully wipe our brow and dismiss this as “not our position,” relegating it as a position of Jewish theology, this view of a wrathful God who hardens hearts and sacrifices the living. We separate our good selves from people who attribute natural disasters to some trite meaning.

It’s okay for us to say and believe that we don’t understand–we don’t know–why these horrible things are happening, especially to the vulnerable, to people who don’t have options or the ability to change their circumstances. As people who can rationalize anything, we can assign meaning to anything, too, but I caution myself when it comes to ascribing attributes to God based on my finite understanding of how things work. I don’t know. I can’t know. (Along this line, there was also this response to God and the disasters at hand.)

But I do know this: when I look for God in situations, I find God in relationship with people who are looking for God.

  • God was there in the midst of Pharaoh and Moses, giving Pharaoh the chance to heed the warnings being given.
  • God was guiding the people in their preparations for their meal.
  • God is with the people crying out for protection, help, guidance, and deliverance . . . ALL the people.
  • And God is with us who have the ability to respond to the needs of our neighbors.

As part of my job, I consider it a perk to visit with people who have questions about the church, and I love when people ask what’s truly on their minds because it means we’re developing a level of trust between us, we’re entering a loving relationship. After general questions about what my collar’s made of and about some “Episcopalianisms” being clarified, somehow the topic came up about how part of my role as a member of the clergy, is to bring the presence of Christ. As much as my clericals say “the priest is in,” so also do they signify that a person is present who believes that when two or three are gathered, Christ is here. She asked me sincerely, “So do you think Christ is present now?” Yes, of course. Not just because we were talking about religious things, but because we were giving attention to one another. We were listening to one another share stories of who we are, where we were in our lives and work. Surely the presence of the Lord was with us.

I attended the public discussion about the Confederate soldier statue on the square, along with about 140 others. In that mediated discussion, a room full of people agreed to hear what others had to say, even if it meant hearing an opinion that differed from their own. I heard things that made me smile and things that gave me pause. At times, it felt like my heart seized a moment as I wondered if a person truly meant what they said or understood its implications, and at other times, my heart swelled at truth–even painful truth–being spoken. It was a room of people that was trying to be in relationship, and it wasn’t without times of tension. Even though it wasn’t a religious gathering, I felt that there, too, God was in our midst.

Driving home from the event, I was kind of rushed because I hadn’t yet had lunch, and the Saturday night service wasn’t far off. I take a sort of short cut to my neighborhood through another one. Right in front of the stop sign, there’s a house that almost always has its garage door open and at least five or six kids playing with an adult or two sitting in the garage. It’s an African American family, and I almost always smile and wave at them because I admire that the kids are actually playing outside (something I struggle to get my kids to do), and I am grateful to see people of color living in Bentonville. The diversity in Bentonville today is much richer than it was 30 years ago. (Out of the 140 people at the forum, only 3 black people were present.) Rather than just be the crazy lady who waves at them, I’ve always wanted to stop and introduce myself, but it never seems like the right time. I’m always just driving by. This time wasn’t any different, but so filled was I in hope of dialogue and relationship, that I turned left instead of right and parked my car on the street in front of their house and went up to introduce myself in the midst of the little dog and playing children. I met the youngest of the adult children who helps with watching the other kids. They shared some of their family story, and I listened. I mentioned the dialogue about the statue and the lack of presence of black folks, and he wasn’t surprised. I mentioned racism and prejudice and discrimination, not all at the same time, but throughout the conversation, and he mentioned that he had “been black all his life.” Before I left, I told him I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself as a neighbor who was glad to meet them, and he told me I was welcome to stop by anytime. At the end of the day, it’s all about being a good neighbor, right? Living into the commandment to love one another?

It’s easy to get caught up in talking about what to do and leaving ideals in the ideological realm, but I’m more of a mind that we don’t have time for just that. It’s not enough to talk about something. It’s not enough to point out how nice something is for others to do or for theories to exist.

What are we doing now?

As a church we’re signing up to serve, so all of you check out the ministry fair today! We actively serve in our church, a church where everyone is a part of our work and worship. It’s not just about what we do as clergy but what we do as a body. But it’s also not just about what we do in here, within church walls, but about what we do outside. So talk to your neighbors if you don’t already. Bring awareness of the presence of Christ to your midst. If I can do it, anyone can; it just takes getting over that initial barrier outside your comfort zone to find what you didn’t know you were missing.

And there’s something to sharing a meal together. We do it every week here. There’s something about setting a table with intention for nourishment. So, starting next month, I’ll host a “Dinner with the Vicar.” It will be a sign up to come join my family and me for a simple meal, nothing fancy. (I have pets, too, so be forewarned!) Over a meal, we can share our lives together more intimately than just a quick greeting at the back. I’ll continue to meet with folks as much as I can over coffee or wine or at your homes, but I consider this opening a path to deeper relationship. I also consider it an invitation for the church to start a “Dinners for 8” model, where we take turns hosting a meal for folks in our congregation, always open for visitors, so we can share our lives together in a meaningful way, share our stories that we don’t otherwise get a chance to share. Not only for our church family, but I’m opening this up even more broadly by signing up for a People’s Supper. There’s a group that set up a model for “healing suppers” and “bridging suppers,” doing what they suggest in bringing together like-minded folks and then broadening to invite others with a different viewpoint–over a meal.

Wherever we find ourselves, in whatever kind of predicament either good or bad, it’s okay to ask “Where is God in this?” It’s a faithful question to ask because we only ever find what we seek. If we want to find God, look at our relationships. Look at how we care for one another. If we want to find God, look for how we love. If there’s not evidence of love there, maybe it’s up to us to bring the presence of Christ.

 

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My Rule

It’s not a rule; it’s a way to measure how I’m doing in life.

I tell myself this so that I don’t panic with all the responsibility or rebel against the “requirements.” Knowing beforehand that I will be imperfect at this is being gracious with myself. Thomas Merton prayed something to this effect: we hope that the desire to please God does, in fact, please God. I believe this wholeheartedly, and I also believe that holding myself accountable is the responsible thing to do good for me. My resistance to post this, to hold it out in the light instead of tucked away in my journal speaks to how truthful this is, what power it can unleash.

I must be feeling brave today. Here goes…

For care of self

Daily: journal/read/write; eat well; sleep; honor healthy boundaries/limits

Weekly: exercise; spend quality time with husband; reflect on what I’m reading in a journal

Seasonally: take a personal retreat; clear clutter in at least one area of my life/home; reflect on new material to read/listen to

For Relationships with Others

Daily: pray; show love; smile; focus on the one I’m with without distraction

Weekly: give individual attention (preferably 30 min) to my family members; enjoy a game night/family activity; serve through outreach ministry

Seasonally: spend a weekend/time with friends/family

For Relationship with Creation

Daily: recycle; keep thermostats at reasonable temperatures; walk when possible; turn lights out (& lights off by 10pm); use washable items (especially water bottles) as much as possible

Weekly: tend a flower bed or place in the yard/garden; if eating at a restaurant, eat someplace environmentally and food-friendly

Seasonally: hike/camp/enjoy the natural environment

For Relationship with God

Daily: pray the Morning Office or participate in the Holy Eucharist; meditate/contemplate 20 minutes

Weekly: practice lectio divina with the lectionary; worship corporately

Seasonally: monthly spiritual direction; spiritual retreat; confession

This is not set in stone, and it will change with time. If the first step is the hardest, I’m on my way, but I’m sure taking the next gazillion steps will require perseverance and love, too.

I told my husband that I will share my rule with him tonight so he can be on board (he’s already been completely supportive with my self-care goals lately). He can’t wait to hear it, he says.

“Want to know my rule?” he asked.

On the phone? Really? I thought. “Sure,” I said out loud.

“It’s easy. Four words.”

I try to guess it before he says anything. He’s always making dramatic pauses. I’m thinking about love and family.

“Don’t be a d*ck,” he says. “It’s simple.” I can tell he’s smiling.

I laugh, because this is perfect for him. I told him I was going to include it in this post, and he said I should make sure to credit Will Wheaton. Thanks, Will, for sharing your Law.

Here’s to the next steps in our lives!

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Blessings

I guess I don’t often think about what a gift it is when we share blessings with one another. Sometimes they are said aloud like on birthdays or holidays, but often it’s just a smile and shiny, teary eyes that say, “Bless you.”  Wrapped with each blessing is a bit of gratitude as well . . . and love . . . and recognition . . . and hope.

We are a blessing to each other when we take the time see one another not only as we hope to see each other but as we really are. In this one day alone, I’ve been privileged to share in conversation with people younger and older than me. I don’t know if they know how much they enrich my life, how much I see the Light of Christ in them.

The younger folks I visited with was through an elementary school mentoring program. This week they’re studying poetry, particularly that of Langston Hughes. In their eagerness to share their work with me, I saw the creative Spirit breaking through the surface, mostly untouched by criticism. A bit of creativity introduced and nurtured, set free to interact with each child–I only hope it catches on and sticks around to grow into the potential I heard and saw.

I hope that these children are able to pursue their dreams without false pretenses, saving themselves the time and energy of putting on guises to present who others want/expect to see. Still a prolific writer, how much more so would Hughes have been if he had been encouraged to follow his creativity at an even earlier age?

How much richer would our society be if we took time to acknowledge the Spirit unleashed in each other, blessing each other and the gifts that we offer? True, we have to know what our gifts are; furthermore, we have to know who we are first. This takes time (and sometimes therapy!), but the more people I meet and get to know, the more certain I am that each of us is a blessing if we choose to be.

As God’s beloved, we are blessed. If we can live into that, we can’t help but be a blessing to others.

Hungry for a spark of creativity from an author of beautiful blessings? I cannot get too much of John O’Donohue.

 

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People Are Beautiful

With this thought, the bell tower rings nearby.  Affirmation, I suppose, of the divine sort.

I’m meeting many new faces these days, learning new stories, discovering new personalities, hearing new laughter.  This also means, of course, that I’m uncovering other aspects of myself.  In particular, I’m noticing how people relate to me, now that I’m in the “professional” realm (for which motherhood has been the best training ground), and also how I relate to them.

Through my world-view, my lenses, I easily see everyone as child, regardless of age, and somehow I feel how to relate to them as fellow child or as mother.  I find myself listening with compassion.  It’s not unusual to see glistening eyes in this other who is not so different from me after all.

I realize people are beautiful, in so many different ways, on so many different levels . . . myself included.

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Letter to My Best Friends

Dear Hearts (yes, this includes you),

I remember the night I sat in a class about the “authentic” journey, making a list of those I admire.  I remember the shock, near horror, of being told that I possess the qualities of those I admire.  How could I possibly possess their qualities, their potential?  But my denial or disbelief doesn’t change what is.

Now it’s a new year, particularly the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and I find myself richly blessed, ready to embrace the present truly as the gift it is.  I give thanks for all the past has brought me.  I read through my gratitude journal from the past year, and I could feel the radiance of love, warmth, and joy.  Looking forward into this year, I know these blessings will continue.  I have an optimistic yet realistic view on what this year brings.  It includes hard work, but it also brings growth and progress in all aspects of my life.  I hope your friendship will endure my work.  Though I may not seem as available as I’ve been, know that your presence abides with me.

I realize that you, too, are on the list among those I admire, and you, too, teach me much about who I can be, who I am.  Your love, companionship, laughter, warmth, appreciation, humor, gratitude, hope, inspiration, gentleness, faith, doubt, will, strength, perseverance and openness are just a few of the things I count among our treasures.  Thank you for teaching me and allowing me to teach you, as the aikido sensei is fond of saying.

It may be a new year, but it is just another day.  Each day the sun rises, we have the opportunity to take yet another cleansing breath, let it all go, and begin again.  Thank you for sharing your journey with me.  I look forward to all that is to come, but mostly, I give thanks for all that is.  You here, now, is a gift.  You have my love and gratitude, now as always.

xoxo,

Sara

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Point of Contact

Walking in public places, do you notice the awkwardness of when to make contact with others?  Should I look into their eyes?  Smile?  What if they look up just as I’m looking away?  Should I send good energy their way or conserve?

Then I think about how ridiculous the whole concept is if, in fact, the energy isn’t mine to give but ours to share.  I sense an obligation to make contact with others who participate in this life with me, as I participate in this life with them.  I offer my smiles, my focus, even if it’s just a moment, as it usually is.  Maybe that moment of contact, of relation, with all its sincerity and lack of expectation, can be like the butterfly in the chaos theory, changing the course of events for the better.

It only takes a moment to let someone know, “I hear you.  I witness you here and now.  You are not alone.”

In our Circle of Trust, during our small group time, we conclude each focus person’s time with “We hear you.  We honor you.  We bless you.  We love you.  We are blessed by you.”  (something like that,  anyway)  And the miraculous thing is we really mean it.  How often do you get to say these words and feel in your heart of hearts the deep connection?  This practice is spreading into the rest of my life, opening my heart so that it’s not just those with whom I work closely that I feel a connection, that I experience a deep, genuine love.  I daresay this practice of compassion is growing into Compassion.

There is no one point of contact, no quantitative measure of when and where to do this or that in society, regarding when to smile and/or make eye contact or not.  It’s just as true to form not to make eye contact, so long as we feel the connection, honor the other and participate in our wholeness.

Your suffering is my suffering.  Your joys are my joys.  Your life is mine, as mine is yours.  I bow to the Buddha in you as you see the Christ in me.  Here we are, as One.

I hear you.  I honor you.  I bless you.  I love you.  I am blessed by you.

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Authentic

adjective : made or done the same way as an original : true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

I don’t take for granted the fact that it is a luxury to do inner work, to find who it is I really am, whom I’ve been created to be.  Surely if I lived in a region where to survive was the daily goal, my focus would entirely be to secure water, shelter, food, safety.  Hopefully I could do so with a content heart, not bitter at my lot in life.

This life I’ve been given, however, is a comfortable one, my basics assured (relatively).  I don’t have to dwell solely in my external life, the physical.  I do have a responsibility to keep a healthy demeanor, to care for my body, but even to that extent, I have been richly blessed.  I have food, sanitation, water and medical care — all things to keep me healthy and lead toward a long life.

experience_drop_water_19147_l.jpgThe very substance of my being, though, the undercurrent of my life, is the steady stream of Spirit, the flow of Love that has been ever-present.  The drop that was given to me to begin this life has continued to grow and swell, and now it is time to release the flood gates, to pour that wealth into the receiving bowls of others.  It’s a beautiful energy to share.  It needs no words, only an open heart.  Of course, as a writer, I will share my experiences through words, as meager as they might seem, to offer to others to read or hear.  In some ways, that will do.

All this comes to mind after starting a new childbirth class last night with parents eager and willing to learn, sitting at dinner with a group of passionate, open, honest women, and sharing coffee, dessert and soulful conversation with a dear friend who, like me, is finding that she’s doing what she’s meant to be doing, even if she doesn’t know exactly how it will work or where it will lead.

There’s a happiness that fills my heart and brings a smile to my face.  Surely this is what it feels like to be authentic, to live connected to, with and through that drop of the Divine.

photo from everystockphoto.com by Katia

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All Things Good

I’m finding it difficult to focus on that which must be done.  I’m caught in the mental quagmire of thinking about those who are faced with life-threatening illness and preparing myself for a weekend retreat.  Some are facing the reality of their mortality, and I am delighting in the vitality of my life, the blessings of my nurturing community and ability.

Life is full of these paradoxes, though.  There is birth and death every day, but this is just what we see with our limited vision.  If we could take our focus away from the blatant physical dimension, perhaps we would be able to sense the divine spark in everything, feel the Presence that is the source of life, imbuing us with the energy and very vitality that we describe as “life.”  Energy is neither created nor destroyed.

One of my responsibilities is to trust that all that unfolds has meaning, that ultimately, everything contributes to the greater good, even if I can’t see how.  My vision and understanding are finite, very limited.  If I allow myself to trust, however, I feel like my understanding is broadened; I feel hope.  One of my other responsibilities might be to help others sense this trust and hope.  Some might call it faith.

Whether our body is overtaken with cancer or if we have years stretched before us, the truth is that in every moment, we may not know the difference.  The truth is that the only thing that truly matters in every moment is that we love and love deeply with reckless abandon.  In that, there are no regrets.  And that is a responsibility we all have.

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Need vs. Want

Today marks Day 4 of my Master Cleanse, the third time I’m trying it, hopefully the first time I actually make it through all 10 days.  I’m not doing it alone, though.  My husband and two other couples are doing it, along with some others.  Were it not for the support, I would have already quit.  My constitution is weak.  I dearly enjoy a good meal and am blessed to have the ability to provide such.

burger.jpgBut do I need lavish meals?  No.  I want them.  I enjoy everything about preparing a meal, no matter how much I might complain.  I especially enjoy when the meal is shared, when I can provide nourishment to others.  During the Journey class I’m taking, we took our spiritual gifts inventory, and hospitality is definitely one of my gifts.

Having elaborate meals is a want, but being in relation to others may very well be a need.  Dinner parties give me the best of both worlds, and my husband and I are deciding to make this a regular part of our lives.  Our goal, however, is to prepare healthy meals.  We just need some more planning.  When I have a list of resources, I promise to share.

What other ways can we consciously see where our needs and wants combine?  What wants can we truly give up, do without?  Are all our needs being met?  We may think we want a space of our own, but isn’t it really a need if it improves the quality of our life?

It’s a difficult topic, determining what is crucial to our “quality of life.”  At the core, our needs are the same.  Our layers, though, begin to differ depending on where we live, our society, our livelihood, etc. 

What are we doing to improve our own quality of life?  What are we doing to improve the lives of others?

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Genuine Connection

Recall the last conversation in which you spoke from the heart.

Think of the last time you listened with so much awareness and presence that you truly felt what the other person conveyed to you through words.

When is the last time you maintained eye contact long enough to glimpse the soul and true feeling of the person across from you, not diverting your gaze out of societal propriety?

Forget the e-mails, the Twitter, the insincere chatter and texts of your day and seek out what is truly meaningful in relationships — we have to genuinely relate.  Our souls need contact.

Our recent ice storms left many without electricity, many without heat.  Neighbors came together and helped each other, visited with each other; they connected.

In our Women’s Leadership Circle curriculum we’re using in our women’s spirituality group at church, the meat of the curriculum comes from the conversation that conveys our experiences, our observations, reflections from our heart.  No book, brochure or digital anything is going to replace the connection of souls sharing in Spirit.

Many lost or man-made electricity, but the current of energy that Spirit provides may have just been given a boost.  I hope your power is restored.

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