Posts Tagged With: hope

Enter the Lenten Wilderness: Remain and Be Transformed

Wilderness, desert, place apart.  Lent invites us to embark on a journey that removes us from the multiplicity of distractions and involvements – even in brief snatches.  Through the practices of diving deep into prayer, committing to a fasting that removes the superfluous and reminds us of the central, and reaching out in love and alms without condition or counting to others, we willingly embark on the path.  We sign our consent to keep company with Jesus, to be transformed.

A couple of weeks ago, reflecting on the book of Hosea with a group, we looked together at the active words in a section of Hosea 2/3.  There God allures, leads, speaks, gives, removes idols, makes covenant, espouses-espouses-espouses, sows, has pity, names.  We respond and we call, and we respond again.  It is God who acts, who unerringly finds places and spaces in our life experiences where we can better hear and respond: often wild places, dry places, remote places.  These become, as in Hosea, doors of hope.

Lent is a calendar place and space, and one we collaborate with by entering.  We are allured, but we also compose and dispose ourselves to presence by the practices Ash Wednesday traces.  Like the early disciples, we show up.  Like those who companioned Jesus on the roads of Palestine, we are often clueless as to the curriculum, the transformation, the path we are on.  Still, our remaining with him matters.  And that is Lent.  We choose to come and to remain, as we are.  Wonders can then occur, beyond our reckoning, our recognizing, even our sight in this lifetime.

Though spring seems still far off in the mid-Atlantic of late,  hope does not disappoint, for there is an unerring pull toward life and growth that SAMSUNGis part and parcel of this world, this universe we inhabit.  The smallest seed holds potential for something amazing to emerge that is not evident in its small encasing.

God brings us, allures us, to wildernesses and deserts so that we can recover our first loves, our enthusiasms, our joy, as disciples and loved ones.  God invites us so that we can remember what is core and release our desperate grasping at what was never ours to hold onto to begin with.  God wakes us to our sisters and brothers – on the verge of war, on the streets we pass, in the house next door, sitting at our tables and workplaces – with needs we can and must attend to, if we truly believe we are all one, are all God’s, are all amazing stardust, are all beloved ones.  Resurrection impulse leads to life, and we are all to not just believe in, but practice resurrection, as poet Wendell Barry told us.

As Lent begins, we are well reminded today (Ash Wednesday) by Pope Francis that “in the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God, in order to experience his tenderness.”  It is God’s tenderness which surrounds us and which is transformative.  Our job is to show up and to stay put in God’s presence, and to imitate the love and tenderness we meet there in our interactions with each other, most especially with those in need.  Our remaining matters.  So, what to do for Lent?

Enter, remain, collaborate.  Respond, call, respond.  Wake, remember, release.  Allow, be embraced, be open.  Imitate, give, serve.  Turn, repent, rethink.  Practice, quiet, pray.  We can trust the process we enter, the path we’re on, and the One who works our transformation – whether or not we understand, perhaps even better when we do not and cannot.  Let us come to Lent, stay put, encounter faithfulness (our God), learn to love, and be shaped further into love in the ways our Lord knows best.

Mayhap you’ve seen these words of Catherine of Siena recently on social media:  “We’ve been deceived by the thought that we would be more pleasing to God in our own way than in the way God has given us.”  They strike as true.  Trust your transformation and your path to our good God, the shape and pattern of your growth to Christ’s safekeeping, but keep collaborating and watching.  God guides all paths, and will guide these 40 days.  Celebrate the work of grace – the Spirit’s creativity – in you and in the world…  and pray, fast, give.


Categories: Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Last Judgement – A Story Telling

This All Souls Day, I am reminded of a powerful image passed along to me, oh, about 25 years ago.  It seems appropriate to re-gift it today.

A volunteer catechist for high school youth that was working with me at a parish at the time gave me a reflection on the Last Judgement.  It didn’t have a source, but was a favorite of hers.  I was pleased to receive it, and have never forgotten it.  Over the years, I have, of course, embellished it!  And so what follows is a combination of the original, and subsequent thought and prayer.

For this judgement after death, you crawl into God’s lap and tell him the story of your life… all of it.  This takes a LONG time.  Tears, of course, ensue… and whatever else you might imagine to be fitting for you.

Hours later, exhausted, still in those arms, God looks deeply into your eyes and asks if it might be El’s* turn.  You nod, pinned and held in El’s gaze.  God then tells you the story of your life with great love, truth, humor, compassion.  There are more tears, yes, but also laughter, deep joy, wonder, wholeness, humility, grace, healing, compassion, connection, forgiveness, celebration, communion and community, wisdom, understanding, surrender, and an intense sense of being safe and sheltered, while receiving even more energy to love, as you unite with the One whose life in love always flows outward.  Imagine it.

I hope that encounter for all we love this day, surrounded by clouds of saints and souls, hoping and loving for and with us.  They are anxious that all those now living would share in the mission to communicate about the tenderness of God’s wondrous action in lives.  Trusting God with each chapter of our mixed up and wondrous story, mended with mercies and lavished with love, we are sent to tell others of this grounded way of living and hoping.  May we all, part of ALL souls, support and pray for each other’s journeys and lean on and in the Love that created and draws all of us, all the time.

I’ll meet you there.

*  Long ago, in reading Madeleine L’Engle’s works, I discovered that she solved the problem of an appropriate pronoun for God by using “El”.  El is short for Elohim – a Hebrew name for God, found throughout scripture.  I have claimed its use here, happily. 
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A Good Friday Prayer

We coSAMSUNGme to be with you, Lord.
We will remain,
inviting Spirit to hold us here and with.
Whatever we feel or think matters little.
We know what suffering and dying is,
and we honor yours with attending-tending-listening
as witnesses and companions.
We do not understand, grasp, capture.
We breathe with you.
And would hold you tenderly, stroke your forehead,
tell you our heart, look deeply into your eyes,
protect you from every harm.
And yet, as happens, we cannot protect you (or anyone).
As Risen One,
teach us/transform us SAMSUNG
with Trinity love as we remain here,
by your side, with your dying.
It is not easy.
May the beauty of creation and spring
hearten us with hope that dances, even today,
joy that is birthed deeper than death,
and love that embraces your ‘givenness’
and finds courage to commit
to being entirely given ourselves.
We remember.  We celebrate. We believe.
Categories: Easter, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Facing the Tomb – Heart Broken Open

“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.”  (Matt. 27:61)  Holy Saturday is the day of grief, the stunned silence of despair-tinged loss, the “I must be with him – I can’t leave him” movement of hearts who need to be with the one who has died.  Wakes in modern times emerge partially from the tradition of watching and guarding the dead.  And the women who stay facing the tomb are guards for Jesus.  They mirror God’s own presence, celebrated in the psalm:

From where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord…  The Lord will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life.  The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever.  (Ps. 121)

They must have wondered why help did not come.  And no doubt their thoughts were incomplete and incoherent, as the just-now bereaved experience.  But their presence is everything.  Courage, love, abiding, poverty, need, grief, grace.  They honor Jesus’ coming and going – and in this sacred companioning of the One they love are, no doubt, joined by his Abba too, who also watches and guards, grieves and waits, within time and beyond it.

Leonard Bowman in A Retreat with St. Bonaventure (quoted in Good Friday focused post) notes of Magdalen:  “Hope… she clings there, waiting – stunned by the silence of God, her heart suspended in that stillness beyond despair where hope still lingers without any tangible shape or assurance.”

Bowman’s reflection on this Holy Saturday experience continues with a dialogue between the believer – who is hearing and experiencing the sacred story – and his guide.  On Good Friday, this believer found himself in terror, falling, and in darkness.  Now:

Believer:  “My heart is spinning in darkness… And yet, while there is nowhere to stand and nothing to cling to, still the feeling of falling has softened, the terror of the dark has receded.  Now I seem to be… it is a little like floating, as if I am borne up somehow in this whirling darkness.  The terror of falling and the fear of darkness yield as the ‘I’ falls away and the heart is broken open, without claims and without defenses.”

Guide:  “It is a gift of God that your heart may enter into these stories, touch and be touched.”

Believer:  “I thought I was lost when the whirlwind tore me loose…”     [NOTE: reference to experience of Good Friday]

Guide:  “You were lost.  How else do you expect you are now being borne upward…?”

Believer:  “Is that what is happening?  It feels rather like floating in emptiness.”

Guide:  “Wait.”

With Magdalene and the other Mary, that is what we do.  Heart broken open, we wait and guard and watch and ache.  We know the next moment’s story, but our presence to this longing and pain and ache which is about how much we love — this will hollow out our hearts.  The invitation to remain facing the tomb is one that will form us in ways we cannot even imagine.

There are life seasons that are this Holy Saturday experience, and many (perhaps some of us) who live in them now.  They are difficult times where courage is just in remaining and pouring out our hearts like water in the presence of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19a).  Let us pray for those living this season.  As we approach the next moment, let us pray too for those in the spinning darkness and perhaps terror that is the Good Friday moment; and for those in any life/faith/spirit moment of the Triduum.  Wherever they and we are, our Lord has and is already there.  United with him, we and those we care about are safe.  This is where it is wonderful that our God’s name is WITH – Emmanuel – God WITH us.  Hope will not disappoint, we are told (Romans 5).  Face whatever tomb, with heart broken open, and know the invitation from God to be exactly who you are exactly where you are with him — and may this moment of yours be a place of holy encounter and tender grace.

Magdalene and Mary, remain-ers and guards, teach us and be with us.  Lord who lies entombed, give us hope in the midst of all death/s.  We hold on and wait for what the next moment will show us.  You have entered all our tombs to not only heal, but die with us and for us, and before us.   Wake us to you with us.  Amen.

This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner…” (Hebrews 6: 19-20a)

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Vigil of Presence: Holy Thursday Reflections

Soon I will go, as so many will, to a celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.  It is good to be pray and listen and be tutored in the context of community – especially on this night of meal and footwashing, and more.  But there is something about the time when the community continues its prayer after the Mass this night that has always been particularly sacred to me.

In this silent vigil, when all the hymns have been sung:  We are together, and we are separate.  We are individual, and we are community.  We are sad, and we are happy.  We are pleading, and we are thanking.  We are fearful, and we are at peace.  We are vulnerable, and we are sheltered.  We are praying, and we are crying.  We are alone, and we are together.  Whatever makes up the ‘now’ for each member of the ‘we’ that stays in silent prayer after the liturgy, there is a comaraderie in this vigil.

Years back I would take this time to be with the last discourse of the Johannine Gospel – John 14-17.  I would listen for what particularly seemed to be a word for me to hear as I read through it slowly.  At times I have replayed the passion narrative imaginatively from the meal through the garden and the arrest.  I have tried to be with the Beloved One, as I’d listen for the way the Beloved One wanted to be with me.  Whatever the ‘content’ of the time – it inevitably moves just to silence and a vigil of presence.  And I will inevitably notice the other pray-ers and vigil-keepers, wondering about their journeys and how this Holy Week finds them; and I will pray for them.

In the Eucharist we will have celebrated, we will have remembered that somehow Jesus has decided to put all of who he is in the hands of the disciples who soon abandon him, betray him, deny him, or just run in fear leaving him in isolation.  (The Tenebrae service I attended last night highlights this in the dousing of the 12 candles and the darkening of the worship space, in representation of the leaving of the disciples.)  In utter contrast, Jesus decides to always be with them.  He does not abandon them — he abandons himself, surrenders himself, to them (and to us) with no condition or expectation of “I will only give you all of me if…”   There is never an “if” to God’s unending self-emptying in love, which Jesus shows us.

The Johannine Gospel (ch. 13) tells us this night that if we do not allow Jesus to serve us and wash us, we cannot be with him.  From Peter’s questioning of Jesus’ foot-washing servant love we learn that our job is to allow God’s humility and vulnerability to touch our own weakness and dustiness and need.  Such intimacy!

And the Jesus that moves from table to garden knows that there is something unspeakable coming, and he cannot avoid it.  He is terrified, and his “soul is sorrowful unto death”.  He weeps and prays.  In our own terrors and tears, we have a companion, this seems to say.  He knows.  He knows.  He wants the thing to play out differently, and his prayer leads him in circles, while those he would have in vigil with him fall asleep.  I would be hesistant to believe that he feels peace at his prayer of God’s will being done.  The accounts seem to imply he still suffers as this time of painful prayer ends, but the next moment comes, as next moments will.  And in it he must live and act and speak or be silent.  In his prayer there is the acceptance of “this is coming, I know… I don’t want it… it is… you must be here in it Abba”.  I can imagine, again, Jesus prayer of strong demand echoing the Susan Boyle “You Have to Be There” song with which I have been entranced this Lent.

You have to be there, you have to.  My life I have placed in thy keep.

 And without you I am drifting on a dark and stormy sea.

 You have to be there, you have to. Without you I’d drown in the deep.

 Too far, too far from land, the waters drag me down.

 I reach for your hand.

Jesus’ living of these last hours and days is as holy and precious as we can humanly name.  He demands God to be there:  he tells God his utter need and shares his pain.  He reaches for Abba’s hand.  He puts himself in ours.  He humbly, vulnerably loves and washes.  He prays and waits, harrowed and hollowed by sobs, and he acts and walks ahead.

Most of us have life moments in our experience when time changes.  Perhaps it’s at a birth, or at a death, of one we love.  Perhaps it’s in a moment of great transition, a natural disaster, an amazing star shower, an achievement of a loved one.  Time slows and seems to move in miniscule ticks, as if the seconds are as long as hours.

As we are vigil keepers from tonight through the holy days of the Triduum, may we be tutored in this sacred time.  May we find healing where we are broken, wisdom where we are lost, hope where there is despair.  But – if I have just one wish for us all – it would be that we allow the Spirit to rouse our hearts and open our ears and eyes to a new encounter with the Beloved One of God.  May we see and touch and know this Jesus who journeyed and lived the milli-seconds of these days of the week we commemorate, and the realities of all of human living and dying.   He longs to live with us now, to fill our open hands, to heal our hearts and histories, to embrace the emptiness within us that longs for meaning and love and God.  He will teach us how to live and, ultimately, how to die.  And tell us all of what it means to hope, to be true, to be who we are created bo be, with courage and love.  And amaze us with resurrection, now and in another then.

So tonight, during the vigil of silence however we may be with it, may we support each other there, knowing God’s presence and leaning on one another’s.

A blessed Holy Thursday, one and all.

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Jean Vanier: Do Not Run Away – Be Transformed

The following is excerpted entirely from the introduction of Jean Vanier’s Befriending the Stranger.  The book packages six reflections (for a six day retreat) Jean presented to members of the community of L’Arche in the Dominican Republic.  I provide it for our reflection here because it has much to do with the invitation not to run away.  It speaks of pain and fear and hope and the Gospel.  The reflections seem appropriate for the holy week we are in…  and so I offer them to you.

[I also had the great good fortune to hear Jean Vanier speak to the assembled academic community – faculty, staff, students – at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago when I was a student there.  His is a holy presence,  informed and formed by the Gospel, especially shaped by the way he has shared his life and journeyed with women and men with disabilities.  His words bear repeating because of what they say, but also because of who he is and how his own response to God’s invitation has impacted so many.] 

Vanier introduces the retreat quoting for each individual present the prophet Hosea’s promise that God “will allure” and “bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her heart” (2:14).  “I will give her back her vineyards…” which Jean says means that God will show her how fruitful her life is, “and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  See if you find your heart spoken to while reading his words below.

Yes, our lives are called to bear much fruit because Jesus wants to give life to others.  We find it difficult to give life, to hold and carry people in their weakness.  We are often frightened of reality because reality can be painful and a source of disappointment.  We tend to escape into a world of illusions and to seek refuge in dreams.  We bury ourselves in ideas and theories or fill our days with distractions.

We run away from our “Valley of Achor”, which is the place of our greatest and most intimate pain.  Yet that is the very place that God calls us to enter so that it may be transformed into a door of hope.

The Valley of Achor was situated near Jericho.  It was a dangerous place, filled with snakes, scorpions and all kinds of wild beasts; it was a place of fear that people tried to avoid.  Yet God declares that this valley of misfortunie will become a coor of hope.  What a mystery; a mystery filled with hope!

There is a “Valley of Achor” in each one of us: for each of us there are events or hurts we do not want to remember, look at or come close to; there are people and experiences that we try to avoid because they bring up too much pain in us and we are frightened of pain.  Certain people disturb us; they are “strange”, “different”; we cannot bear their pain or the pain they evoke in us.  Yet God tells us that if we enter into these places of pain and welcome these people they will become for us a “door of hope”.

If we become close to the people our societies reject, exclude and crush, people who are hidden away in asylums, we will discover that they can become a “door of hope”.  So too if we accept the things inside our own selves that we reject: the blockages, the bitterness, the fears, all that we may be ashamed of; if we dare to penetrate into our inner “Valley of Achor” it will indeed become a door of hope for us.

But we cannot do it alone.  We need to walk hand in hand with Jesus, to let him guide us and reveal to us the heart of the Gospel.

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I Will Not Run Away

It’s Holy Week.  And there’s so much…  so, I’ll just add some reflections as we go that have crossed my awareness hoping they enter the dialogue with yours and that together we assist each other on the journey.

At yesterday’s Palm Sunday liturgy, I heard this blog post’s title words “I WILL NOT RUN AWAY”.  They were proclaimed in the midst of the first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 50:5b specifically, a translation I am still trying to track down!).  I am accustomed to hearing, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back”  in that verse.  As I turn the words around in my head and on my tongue now, I’m not sure that there’s much difference really in the meaning:  not turned back, not run away.  Still, when I heard it, the words rang out for me when I heard it as if an emergency vehicle was instantaneously on my back bumper blaring its siren.  I WILL NOT RUN AWAY.  They seemed to shout, and almost made me jump.  So, I paid attention.  How could I not?

It seems to me that we all run away from many things, but especially from pain and what we know is or will be intimate suffering.  We do this in a million extremely creative ways, distinct to our histories, habits, and temperaments.  And, all in all, most of us become pretty good at it.  We get a lot of practice.  We like to forget we are poor, contingent, mortal, subject to loss, fragile and vulnerable, frequently clueless and confused.  We seek fixes and moments when we will eventually ‘have it all together’ and ‘arrive’ at some place that looks a bit like Cinderella’s palace or Camelot.  We might deny that we think this is possible, but part of us seeks with something akin to desperation a ‘peace’ that is an arrival at what we think might answer all our questions, soothe all our hurts,  complete all our incompleteness, and make us invulnerable to significant upheaval.

But… I WILL NOT RUN AWAY.  I imagine this is what Jesus chooses and says.  Not that he will not hurt, but that he will not run.

Part of me wants to be a bit silly and quote Star Trek’s Borg — “Escape is futile!”  I mean, even if we do run, can we hide from our own life’s dying and rising?  I don’t think so.  But I do think that I and others can make an art form of avoidance… and for long stretches of time.  For some of us, we do it all our lives.  How sad.  Jesus’ words invite us, I believe, to remain – to stay fast and stay put with him – to know that what we most fear may not be the worst – that our fear might be.

This week it seems to me I might hear Jesus say:  I did not run away from pain, from hunger, from incompleteness, from mortality, from suffering.  I entered all of what it means to be human by being all of what it is to be human.  Joy and sorrow, birth and death, family and community, worship and weeping, woodcraft and wedding celebrations, time’s limits and time’s gifts, waking and sleeping, hunger and filling meals, friends and isolation, great loves and great betrayals, longing and peace, prayer and questions, vocation and doubt, excitement and exhaustion, wonderful beauty and crushing ugliness.  The point is – whatever it means to be human, in every and any moment of my life – I did not run away.   You don’t have to either.  Mark’s story of my passion says I was “sorrowful even unto death” – and I was.  But I walked into the next moment, and you can too.  I cried out, feeling utterly forsaken and abandoned.  And I lived and died with Abba.  And now I am with you always.

The words that follow this Isaiah 50:5 include assurances that “the Lord God is my help” (v. 7, 9) and, in chapter 51, that “the Lord shall comfort… and have pity on all… ruins” (v. 3).  Just, “Be attentive to me, my people; my folk, give ear to me” (v. 4) for “it is I who comfort you” (v.12) and I “have shielded you in the shadow of my hand” (v.16).  So, “Awake, awake!  Put on your strength” (52:1).

Our hearts may quake, but there is a different place we can arrive that is not about being protected from being impacted by life, the world and relationships.  This is a new land, a new way of being, that only grace and the One who has been there before (Jesus) can show us.  In this sacred space we can put on strength for we KNOW it is safe to commend our spirits to God, and we choose to, regardless of a moment’s or a season’s pain or fear.  We dwell with other friends of God there, hoping together and helping each other; celebrating the joys and supporting each other through the struggles.  We are shaped there into the community of faith, a communion for which God longs, with our hearts set on the way that Jesus shows us.  It can become no necessary to run away.  Here is where salvation is worked out for and in and through us.  Life and hope will not disappoint us, for we have a companion stronger and more dependable than our largest fears, and all the monsters under our beds.  And this companion-Lord can knit together the many places in our lives where we are hurt or disabled, where we are wounded or have wounded others, where we lack integrity or have been without hope.  We have only to run towards the one who does not run away, and stand with him. 

In a contemporary Christian song by Steven Curtis Chapman (Believe Me Now) Chapman has God saying to us these powerful words:  “I know all the fears you’re feeling now – but do you remember who I am?”  Really, do we remember our Companion-Lord and pay more attention to him than to our fears?  The song goes on: “I never have, I never will, abandon you…. I am with you, I am for you, so believe me, now.”

As we look this week at Jesus, the One who does not run away, let us remember that he shows us who God is – One who never has and never will abandon us.   May we know Jesus’ company with us in whatever is our now, as we believe him, now.

Check out this link to the Chapman song and video, if you like:



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Something Shattered, Something Gained

The dogwood tree at the side of the house has branches that look like claws.  They seem to squeeze tight, holding without compromise the small pods and nubs that will be more.  Given 70 and even 80 degree temperatures in Maryland these days, it’s becoming obvious that the claws will soon burst, and the something more will arrive.  And though I’ve watched this particular tree for nearly 40 years (oh my!), and know what will explode soon, it is always a new seeing.  But I feel for the branch-claws who are losing ground.  They understand the present, but will be overcome soon with different life.  The now must be shattered for the then to be gained.

Of late I have either been in or around living stories that parallel this natural phenomenon.  Spring is full of these metaphors in real time.  The seed shells must burst for the amazing impetus to life and color to move through dirt and to sun and fullness.  The soon to come robin eggs will need to crack their strong-vulnerable containers for the little peep within to have the chance to squeak and fly.  In spring, new life opens and discards previous containers almost heedlessly, running headlong for new incarnations.  And the inbetween stages of growth are just that – inbetween.  Fullness and fruitfulness and maturity do not arrive with first bud or burst – but must be come to through the ways consistent with the being of the life in question, and the boldness of attempts and paths and seeming errors that mark the often mixed-up-ness of the journey.

When we humans experience big changes or bursting-shattering moments on our journeys, we are perhaps more mindful of, and less than thrilled with, the losses.  So comes my empathy for the dogwood claws!

Sometimes we see change coming, but cannot avoid it.  Sometimes we are caught off guard by a huge shift.  Sometimes the change is an add of something or someone in our life or context.  Sometimes it is a loss of someone or something.  At times the room we’re in just enlarges suddenly, or loses walls entirely!  Other times it seems the space we’re in constricts and squeezes.  Or it pops us out another door, as if we’ve moved down a birth canal without knowing it!  Now and then change reconfigures key relationships and community for us.

The thing about change is that – even as it gives – it also takes away.  Something we knew is gone.  Given that change is a given, what are we to do?

First, I believe we humans need to tell ourselves the truth.  We are forever going to be experiencing these moments;  we are forever going to be seeing something shattered and something gained.  There will never be a time when ‘settled’ means unmoving or untouched.  We don’t grow up to settle down and reach a point of stasis.  We have to learn another way to talk about life, another way to envision adulthood, peace, happiness.  Movement is.  Blood circulates.  Cells divide.  Hearts beat.  Synapses fire.  Stillness is rather a balance in the movement perhaps, not a capturing of a desired moment or set of circumstances like putting a lightning bug (firefly) in a jar.  Such fireflies die.  Change sustains even as it shatters.

Long ago, when I was regularly doing workshops and training in adolescent development and youth ministry, I would often note that part of what we (adult community) need to provide to young people is the secret and the joy of being en route, incomplete, dusty, unknowing, not having arrived yet.  This is hard to provide to adolescents when we personally and culturally hold on to myths of some moment to come when we’ll arrive and all will make sense and we’ll be finished and change will have happened, been successfully navigated, and never come our way again.  When we unconsciously live in a way that we hope for that myth, we are as silly as my dogwood branches refusing the life running through them to new birth, and as impotent in our resistance to how life works!

There is something about speaking about ourselves as pilgrims, and pilgrim church, that is just true.  We were there, are now here.  We were this high, and now are this high.  We walked with them, and now we walk with these.  The scenery held this, and now it holds that.  We skipped and ran, and now we limp and stumble.  We crawled and dragged, and now we sing and rejoice.  We walked in silence, and now there’s noise.  There was no traffic, and now we hardly move.  The hands we hold have changed, the vistas we pass, the signs on the road are even different.

All of us spend such time wrestling with reality, as if we were in a rodeo, trying to trap it into manageable (by us, of course!) packages.  And we each have favored ways of trying to control the uncontrollable, playing with mirages.  (These might be addictions of various sorts.)  If we dare to see clearly how life unfolds and approach it with the wisdom of tender acceptance, adding a gentleness with ourselves and others in the process, we might come to no longer need to fight against an unreal projection of what we think life is or how it should work.   No doubt, many of us have questions we’d ask God and life in the category of ‘how come x’, but spending all our energy spinning there is an abject waste of this moment – the only one you and I have and are ever in.  Change and transformation – regardless of our experience of and interpretations of these as good and ill – simply are going to be.  In my book, the better place to focus energy and time is here: what is a spirituality, perhaps psychology, that supports the best of living in this reality?

My two cents worth!  I don’t know enough to give you a full dollar’s wisdom!

I believe we must become audacious explorers, curious pilgrims, intrepid adventurers.  We must travel light – in goods and in expectations.  We can come to love the road and the process, even or especially when we do not understand it.  Traveling boldly – even in the dark –  comes to we folks-on-the-way when we realize this life-style is a gift from the Creator who knows much more than we about what is best for us.  And so we can trust how we are shaped by the journey, develop trust and endurance (staying power!), for the God of the Way uses everything.

As we go, we must develop practices that keep us in shape for the road – stretches and disciplines, prayers and mantras, symbols and rituals – that wake and sensitize us to learnings.  We must learn the art of grounding ourselves as we move, with compasses set to consistent points along the horizon marked by the mysteries and messages of the life of Jesus, who was also a way-walker.  Our security can be reinforced in the embrace of our Creator, who plants such beauty along our way.  Some beautiful moments on our journey we may want to grasp and hold in stasis – but we can’t.  Still, the gift of awareness and of memory helps us treasure them and continue to be nurtured by them.

We must come to know our own littleness and need as pilgrims, and the delight of companions in all the diversity that gives us joy and makes us itch!  Respecting each wayfarer as God’s loved one, we must learn to hold each other gently and lightly, celebrating the gift and shaping of one another’s presence, yet mindful of life’s limits in energy and years.

We can tell stories on the road of other travelers and how they handled disappointment and joy, terror and triumph, loss and gain… and we can make companions of them.  We can have festivals and funerals, weddings and christenings, meals and singing… all as we travel.  We can help each other through the emotions that just happen with change and loss, for good or ill – mindful of who on our part of the road is presently limping along and can use an arm or shoulder or an embrace.  We can challenge each other when we want to ‘build tents’ as the three disciples wanted to at the Transfiguration, and help each other know that ‘it is good for us to be here’ means on the way.  We can risk honesty with a pilgrim’s vulnerability, perhaps crying out in painful loss and terror at impending or experienced change.  And even in tears, we might walk or be carried along with song and prayer around us on the road, reminded of the hope which flourishes with each new spring.  Something shattered, something gained: whatever our feelings, we can pray to believe in the gained even when the shattered is our present view.

We are reminded in Romans 5 that “Hope will not leave us disappointed.”  Our hope is not in ourselves, in answers, in arriving.  Our hope is a person – Jesus.  The Word was made flesh and set up his tent (dwelt) among us.  God didn’t set up a stone temple, but a tent that is easily struck and packed for the way.  God journeys with us and, in Jesus, knows all we know of the sunrises, sunsets, twists, hills, thirst, dust, joy, and vagaries of the way.

The surety of our walking all seasons of change is in our acceptance of the shattered/gained, death/resurrection rhythm that is not optional to the disciple.  The rhythm is writ in our lives, not in some conceptual theological treatise – and it is our turn now to learn how to be with it and even dance it with a God who loves and guides us.  We may sometimes want to escape a way that has such upheaval, and so my compassion for the dogwood branches.  Wouldn’t it be fine to just stay put in the midst of what is and breathe, and let things just STOP?  Why must we dance through pain or tears?

We believe in a God who is Love who knows how best to bring all forward – us, creation, all things and people we know, and all we don’t.  We just don’t know how it all works, anymore than we can expect as creatures of great dignity – but creatures of a Creator.

We can cultivate compassion for ourselves and care for others in the sometimes painful shattering process of change and growth.  We can do more – living in audacious hope, with a courage and confidence based on setting our hearts on a truth centered in God that Julian of Norwich framed so well.  Regardless of our emotion or experience or interpretation or suffering (or many other ors) on the Blessed Way….  “All will be well.  All will be well.  And all manner of thing will be well.”  (Showings)

If I were St. Francis of Assisi, I might say “Sister Shattering” serves a purpose and wakes us – individually and corporately – to new life we never might have engaged otherwise.  Sibling to “Sister Death”, she breaks something in us or around us.  Who knows of gain?  And who can claim to see it?  But we believe.  We set our hearts on what and who we believe.  And breathe.

May we all be sheltered when we shatter, and find the hand of God and the love of community to support us in light or dark, so that whatever is new and coming forth has time to mature.  Patience to us each and all.  All will be well.  May we dance the roads with heavy or light heart – but with a leaning spirit on the One who holds us on the Way.

The dogwood branches cannot be expected to know what wonder and beauty will shortly arrive and fill their hands with soft petals of life that make visible cross and resurrection.  We, on the other hand, can allow the Spirit to teach us to trust the work of God in process which will always be more than we can ask or imagine.

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You Have To Be There. You Have To.

If you have not yet heard Susan Boyle’s rendition of the song with the blog post’s title, PLEASE invest the time for a very reflective listening through (or two or three).  Quite fitting for Lent, and perhaps Good Friday especially, it speaks strongly to those in the midst of questions or trembling or wonder or grief.  The lyrics approach life’s moments of darkness or drowning confusion with passion, honesty and a firm insistence to God:  YOU HAVE TO BE THERE. 

Though I love the often quoted Rilke lines of advice about being patient about what is unresolved in our hearts and the need to “learn to live the questions” of life with expectation and hope, this pray-er might not be as well served by those words yet.  She/he is clearly thrust in the midst of need, all a-tremble.  Patience is drowned out by the insistence borne of need.  Susan Boyle’s voice quality so well captures this need, this calling out in truth-pain-hope, and the nakedness of a faith-filled cry.  It brings to mind some of what would be in Jesus’ calling out to the Father in Gethsemane and on the cross.  You HAVE to be there, God.  Who else would be there, if not you?

So, listen and watch the YouTube video link provided below.  Perhaps you too will be driven to prayer, as Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the desert.  With the singer, and with Jesus, we might find ourselves saying, “You HAVE to be there. You have to.  My life I have placed in your keep. .. I  reach for your hand.”   Perhaps you may find comfort simply because it indicates that others have been or are in this very stark place, and there is beauty and majesty in the honest prayer and reaching as there is in Susan’s passionate performance.

If this type of life moment and need of faith is not the season you are in, listen and pray the words and passion for those who are there this day, and let your heart cry out in faith for and with them. 

So, pause.  Click below.  Listen.  View.  Notice what the song touches in you, as I do in me.  And let us choose to be vulnerable and available to whatever in it that might be God’s invitation to us.  I wish you peace in the reaching for God’s hand:  I’ll meet you there.

Categories: General, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Afraid of Freedom? Or Truth?

We are funny creatures.  We long for so much.  We are afraid of so much.  And sometimes they are the same things.

“We’re afraid of that truth which Jesus promised would make us free.”  These words echo from the pen of a favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle.  As I muse over this, I wonder if we fear freedom or truth…?  Perhaps both.

Is the truth we are afraid of the real truth?  Ephesians invites us to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth”  (Eph. 4).   

What is this moment’s truth for me?  That I am tired?  Joyful?  Frail?  Celebrating?  Ashamed?  Safe?  Successful?  Failing?  Well?  Ill?  Grace-filled?  In sync?  Out of whack?  In panic?  At peace?  What is yesterday’s truth?  My failures and limitations and sins?  My gifts given, burdens carried, service offered in joy?  My achievements?  My prayer?  My creativity?  My doldrums?  Truth so explored may be just a matter of emphasis.  Which memory or moment’s reality do I claim or focus on as that which is true?  To dwell on one or the other only is not the whole, and we are all and each such complex mixes.  

L’Engle says,  “The basic truth for me, the freeing truth, is God’s love, God’s total unequivocal love.”   

We find truth speakers in scripture in the prophets.  The salary they received for sharing truth was being stoned or discredited, ignored or deemed crazy, classified as beyond the pale or as demanding too much, or a long stay in the nearest cistern. 

Jesus comes and is not only a truth speaker, but we say he is the truth.  As his coming among us is the expression of how deeply the Divine/the Creator/God/The Holy Presence wants to be with us and wants us to see how we are loved…. he is indeed truth.  With this amazing Truth, why would we hold to what confines us in smaller prisons?

Perhaps it is the freedom that this truth offers us that scares us.  How would we measure, understand, control or deal with a life that is not bounded by scarcity or small framings?  It doesn’t matter that the world of comparison making is not the world of the Spirit (as John Shea so well points out in his writings), we get and keep a hold on things by keeping them in our constructs/boxes/perceptions. 

It is God’s joy to blow up our small grasp of certainties, so that we can encounter the real and wild God of creation and grace.  Without our familiar slaveries to what we grasp and hold on to, we find ourselves humbled.  But it is this very humility – this nakedness, if you will – that saints like Francis of Assisi found to be the source of true joy.  To be stripped of what we know or thought we knew makes us absolutely dependant, which we were anyway, truth be told!  And then, and only then, can we grow into the freedom that is the amazing wonder of who we are really in this holiness of truth, and what difference we are and can make in the world!

Perhaps you’ve seen the quote below often attributed to Nelson Mandela.  He actually used the words of Marianne Williamson in an address, and many have thought they were his:

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It’s the being liberated that we seem to object to.  We each have strong blocks, found in our patterns of making sense of and managing life.  When we would encounter the unequivocal love of God, we may find ourselves without the reins any longer, or the hold on the bars to our own prisons.  Our prisons served a purpose in our past perhaps, but God’s love invites something new.  And freedom is the way of being of the one about whom it is written:  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”  (2 Cor. 3: 17)

I know the shapes and forms of some of my own fears and resistances to the truth of love.  Today I wish you knowledge enough of yours.  But, for us all, this knowledge is not to be dwelt on.  There is somewhere much more exciting to go!  And it is an adventure, a drawing, a creating, a life!

The place to find a way to freedom and truth – past fear – is in the encounter with Jesus.  Sit with him – sit before him.  Look into his eyes through whatever means is your path of contemplation and action.  With him as our friend, our brother, our spiritual director, our physician, our therapist, our intimate partner – in that encounter is the possibility to no longer worry about the ramifications of truth or our agoraphobia before freedom.  We can learn what Barbara Fiand has termed “releasement”.  All we need is to be with.  God will bring us into light and truth and freedom that we may better shine and share glory.  We need not worry about our responsibility to recreate our own lives singlehandedly, as the new creation is God’s new creation.  We are “God’s work of art” after all, not our own. 

Strive only to be, and to be with.  And watch as much more unravels and unfolds that we might ask for or imagine.   And pray for all of us who are also so engaged in this process of growing and believing, being freed and coming to truth, encounter and fear, hesitancy and hope.

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