Posts Tagged With: resurrection

Aslan’s Resurrection Romp and Roar

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all the colours and shadows were changed – that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing.  Then they did.  The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Oh, oh, oh!” cried the two girls rushing back to the Table.

“Oh, it’s too bad,” sobbed Lucy; “they might have left the body alone.”

“Whose done it?” cried Susan.  “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice behind their backs.  “It is more magic.”  They looked round.  There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

 

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.

“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.

“Not now,” said Aslan.

“You’re not a – not a -?” asked Susan in a shaky voice.  She couldn’t bring herself to say the word ghost.

Aslan stooped his golden head and licked her forehead.  The warmth of his breath and a rich sort of smell that seemed to hang about his hair came all over her.

“Do I look it?” he said.

“Oh, you’re real, you’re real!  Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have know that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.  And now – “

“Oh yes.  Now?” said Lucy jumping up and clapping her hands.

aslan-resurrection“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me.  Oh, children, catch me if you can!”  He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail.  Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table.  Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him.  Aslan leaped again.  A mad chase began.  Round and round the hill-top he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs.  It was such a romp as no one has ever had in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.  And the funny thing was then when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty.

“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business.  I feel I am going to roar.  You had better put your fingers in your ears.”

And they did.  And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare look at it…

“We have a long journey to go.  You must ride on me.”

Excerpted from  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Macmillan Publishing, 1950, 131-134.

THANKS to C.S. Lewis for this Narnian window into the truth and joy of this day!  I don’t know about you, but the romp and the excitement and the laughter and velveted paws and landing topsy turvy — these all seem SO fitting.  I’d love such an Easter experience – and hope for one, one day!  And I hope to see you there – with all of creation – in the celebrating, romping  joy!  Unending, including everyone and everything – amazing wondrous magical mysterious laughing rescued embraced love and delight!  Blessed Easter, one and all!

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Categories: Easter, Triduum | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

SAMSUNG

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

Polarization in Ecclesial Conversations: We Know Where We Stand, We Know Who We Belong To

In recent weeks I’ve been reading lots of articles, blog posts, official and unofficial statements, and even status updates that describe (and exhibit) how at odds various perspectives and voices are within the Church.  I find some of the polarizing arguments and the enmity expressed disturbing.  Understand that it is never surprising to me that there are differences, conflict, tension, various points on differing continuums.  What saddens me in ecclesial conversations is the occasional tone and/or attack  encountered.  Even in the printed word, one can read a raised voice! – and disrespect or sarcasm are even easier to spot.  There is a toxicity too when misrepresentations or smooth – almost poisonously polite – dismissals and challenges to others’ integrity, commitment or faith journey are the delivery system.

In the last week alone I withdrew from two LinkedIn groups that exhibited some of these ways of communicating.  At first, I tried to stay particularly with one group, so that I could really understand better where folks were coming from.  Eventually I found it too destructive to do so.  I did not want to be counted a ‘member’ of such a discussion, as if I agreed with the mode of communication.  I’m honest enough to tell you though that I was tempted to enter the fray a few times, in response to content in one or another discussion thread.  NO!  Though I managed to hold back, I very much understand the temptation and the danger.

The draw to enter the fight is almost seductive, and most of us know how to fight this way pretty well.  For my part, I certainly hold a perspective and a position… but there’s a primary one I wish we all would spend more energy on.  More on that in a bit.

Again, it’s not that the polarization in communicating is particularly surprising.  It seems when we humans dig in to a position we have a tendency to exhibit little patience, not enough listening.  When the position taking is heightened, we may exhibit an unwillingness to believe the best of the other, a too simplistic negative characterization of others’ takes on items of significance, and a poverty of appreciation for the gifts and the struggles of the other (individual or group).  We also may look for others who are “on our side” and “awful-ize” about the other/s.

In ministerial and ecclesial dialogues, such behavior flies in the face of what we would teach…  planks in our own eyes, not throwing stones, cases in point!  As I look at things from a human and spiritual formation perspective, I wonder at what the learning is that we have not focused on, not appropriated as our own, or that we deliberately shirk that leads us as Church to such (from my perspective) lows.  What does the other threaten in us?  If our reaction says more of us than it says of the other, what can we learn about ourselves from these reactions?  And we each need to determine these answers as “I statements” – though it’s more fun to name what others are threatened by!

If this was viewed as a “temptation in the desert” type of experience for the Church, what would Jesus’ own responses in the desert teach us about what misperceptions we are counting as truth when we behave in this manner?  We need his help, I believe, to contradict the untruths we are acting from, to help us release what we are clinging to.  And when dialogue is more like public dueling, it seems we can approach this desert-taught Jesus with an entreaty that all sides’ distortions be revealed, righted and healed – by God, not us.

It’s the Easter season, and I’ve been reading today a 2006 Easter homily from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.*  His words and images have spoken to me as I reflect on the above, and it has reminded me of what is most important that we stand in and proclaim this season TOGETHER in our holy communion as one body:  He is Risen!  And so I am taking the liberty here to offer whole segments of Archbishop William’s homily for your consideration.   Focus on his message and the example he uses, and see if you find insight.

For the Church does not exist just to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that arbitrarily lays down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary.  This sacrament of Holy Communion that we gather to perform here is not the memorial of a dead leader, conducted by one of his duly authorized successors who controls access to his legacy; it is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter Day….  Everything the Church does — is meant to be in the service of this contemporary encounter.  It all ought to be transparent to Jesus, not holding back or veiling his presence.

All we do is to be about encounter with Jesus, and bringing one another into communion with him today.  For those with document interests, this mirrors the Catechism of the Catholic Church #426 which quotes On Catechesis in Our Time #5, and the General Directory for Catechesis #80.

But stay tuned.  There’s more!

The Archbishop goes on to tell the story of an Anglican religious order known as the Melanesian Brotherhood who lost seven of their members to murder by a rebel group during the bloody civil war in the Solomon Islands in 2003.  This community…

…of local men [are] committed to a common discipline of praying and teaching and spreading the gospel as they travel around the villages, by drama and song and preaching…. The shock of that act of gratuitous butchery [the bloody murder of the brothers] jolted amost everyone involved into beginning a peace process; the brothers continued to be involved in every level in that work.  Last summer, a number of the brothers visited England, taking their songs and dramas into churches and schools.  One of the things they did was to perform a Passion play, and this is what one of them wrote about it:

“This Passion was our own testimony to our seven brothers who were murdered in 2003.  For Christlike they became the innocent victims of the violence they had worked so hard to stop.  They were beaten and mocked and tortured…  put to death.  And they live on.  Our story of the Passion of Christ took place 2000 years ago, but it is still taking place throughout our world today.  But we have been changed.  We did not travel from the other side of the world to preach a death but to preach a resurrection.  For we know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  And we believe there is a choice in all this, a choice to belong to the life giver.”

We know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  Beyond all the history of confusion and betrayal that surrounds a lot of the Church’s history, beyond the power games that we still play in the churches, this one rocklike conviction remains, the conviction that drove the writing of every word of the New Testament.  Nothing to do with conspiracies, with the agenda of the powerful; everything to do with how the powerless, praying, risking their lives for the sake of Christ and his peace, are the ones who understand the word of God.  And to accept that is not to sign up to the agenda of a troubled, fussy human society of worried prelates and squabbling factions.  It is to choose life, to choose to belong to the life giver.

I long for our dialogues and our passions as disciples and ministers to focus with all of our diverse gifts and significant energy on the rocklike conviction on which we stand, the one to whom we all belong, and our mission to empty ourselves in service to one another as we go about making visible the same kind of love the Trinity loves us with.

As we evangelize – inviting others into this contemporary encounter with Jesus – perhaps we need to approach him humbly too with all our intrachurch arguments embarrassingly in our outstretched palms.  Take them, Risen Lord, and send us back effectively to the vineyard!

As Church we must center – in all our members from every continent, age, position, authority, vocation, education, culture, lifestyle – back on this mission as primary.  Our world is in need of witness, and our public choosing for the life giver, as one body in Christ.

What can it mean to act from that choice, and that urgent need for witness?  And how can we deal with the present tensions and conflicts in the way the God who loves us all would invite?  I do not know that I know the answers to these questions, but I believe in the urgency of the questions.  Our ability to engage our mission faithfully and with great impact in a world, a creation, and in lives with great needs depends on it.

  • As you send me into the world, so I send them into the world.  (John 17:18)
  • The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary  (Ad Gentes Divinitus, #2)
  • To say Church is to say mission (To the Ends of the Earth, #16)
  • Church –  Having been born out of being sent… It is his (Christ’s) mission she is called upon to continue.  For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself.   (Evangelization in the Modern World, #15)

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*  Archbishop Rowan Williams is the primate of the Anglican church.  He is bishop, poet, theologian.  The text of this homily can be found in Best of Catholic Writing 2007, published by Loyola Press.

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“So Much Life,” says the Bumblebee. Is Easter Sinking In?

So much life, so much color, so much sweetness, so much pink!  Where does one little bumblebee start?  Looks like Easter to me!

It makes perfect sense to me that the Easter season is even longer than Lent.  It’s sometimes harder for we humans to take in the magnitude of abundance and good and life than it is to dwell on limits and pain and the difficult.  Sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but I believe it to be true.  All those blossoms are there these days.  Will we let ourselves be blown away by them?

Jesus’ resurrection appearances in the Gospels are so many moments of “can you hear me yet?” “can you get it yet?” “do you see there’s really life, peace, hope yet?” “can you let go of your fear yet?”  “can you dare to trust yet?”  It seems that, in light of the disciples’ slowness to really get it, we should be patient with our own hesitancy to put both feet in the “all is always well” basket.  Stronger than that patience though, we must also be strong in resolve, willing to remain wide open to abundance and Easter and redemption and new life.  Even if we hide in closed rooms, as the disciples did, we should keep our eyes open for God who walks through obstacles to wish us peace and let us know it is alright to rejoice… as God does in raising Jesus, as Jesus does in being with us, as the Spirit does in dancing-praying-guiding from within our hearts.  We are to be, as the old banners used to read, Easter people.  We read reality through the total of the paschal mystery – through death and resurrection.  And we hold the hand of the One whose wounds are oh-so-real and oh-so-amazingly-transformed!

So today I offer the image of the bumblebee facing all those gorgeous azalea blossoms on just one section of one bush.  There are hundreds of bushes like this on the street on which I live.  Hundreds of thousands of blossoms.  Easter is so far beyond our ability to hold – and yet its reality is so much more abundant than anything this small buzzing insect faces.  And it’s our reality – and all of creation’s reality.  Rejoice!

May we consent to be blown away by life, by resurrection, by all we continue to learn of what God is up to in our mind-blowingly huge and microcosm-small universe… and in each of our hearts and lives.

Blessed Easter Season!

 

Categories: Easter, General | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dazed to Dancing: Depending Disciples

United with the moment by moment story of Holy Week, today an empty tomb and a Jesus transformed turns we dazed disciples to dancing delighters.  Jesus is raised!  Abba has raised him!  Some have seen, others believed, many have witnessed – and we rejoice!  Hearts just broken are invited to soar!

“You changed my mourning into dancing!” (Ps. 30:12) 

In the midst of the Easter Vigil last evening, a few verses (of so many) particularly caught me.  In Exodus 14, Moses instructs the complaining freed and fearful Israelites, who are thinking it might have been better for them to be slaves in Egypt:  “Fear not!  Stand your ground, and you will see the vistory the Lord will win for you today.  These Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again.  The Lord himself will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”

So many places in scripture remind us that it is God who acts.  Our job is to know ourselves as little, dependant, blessed, cared for, provided for, precious, called, chosen – and to not get in the way.  Remain.  Be still.  Keep still.  Watch.  Wait.  Be Awake.  In the midst of the holy night we have just commemorated, the mystery shows Jesus in wait.  It is Abba who comes to the tomb.  It is God who raised Jesus from the dead.  God’s name is faithfulness, presence, life, love, hope.

Therese of Lisieux comes to mind here.  She knew herself as little, and that littleness was great, as it highlighted the greatness of God who cared for her.  It made her a child who ran to the arms of Jesus whenever she needed to be lifted, calling his arms her elevator, as she had no way to climb any height of perfection.  Her perfection was in trust and leaning, depending and hoping, and in knowing it was God’s desire that would make her whole and holy.  “All is grace.”

Yesterday we noted the women who remained by the tomb, feeling what they felt, being near the One they loved.  Loss has stilled them.  And Jesus, with all human life poured out, had been carried and closed in that tomb, more than stilled.  Past the point of waiting, in death the utter emptiness of the house of his body cries out:  Where has he gone?  Where are you hiding?  And the one Jesus named Abba answers first with ripped curtain and thunder clap – and then with rolled stone and empty burial cloths.  He is NOT here!  He has been raised!  He goes before you!  Do not look for him among the dead.  Go!  He will come to you!

Jesus ever goes before us.  His living and dying and rising are his own – and they are ours.  United with him, we disciples live too these mysteries.  And we remember that dancing is the proper response to what God does in our lives.  Leaping and spinning are in order (see last year’s Easter blog post at https://inspirited.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/leap-and-spin/ or Northumbria Community’s reading for Easter).  Emotionally the change is a quick one, and we sputter and breathe to catch up.  All the pain of Friday (Jesus’ and ours – and all the world’s and creation’s) is more than real, but the real-est real, the truest true, the surest sure is the glory of this day, the amazement of God’s action and life, the eternal of the Creator of the Universe’s specific invitation to union with the Trinity in love and forever.

All chains break.  All tears shared, held precious, and resolved in laughter.  All ruptures healed.  All limping mended.  All lacks filled.  All thirst quenched.  All hunger satisfied.  All darkness enlightened.  All longing filled.  And because this is all provided by a lavish God whose very identity is an extravagant insanely committed love, the abundance is WAY over the top.  (Like 5 loaves and 2 fish making TONS of leftovers!).  And we can collaborate with it!  That is our mission and call!  Alleluia!

Can we touch this amazement today?  Perhaps we can be reassured by Moses’ words.  “These Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again.”  Whatever makes us each fear re-capture by what hounds us, and tempts us to despair and to settle for a known enslavement  – this we are rescued from.  Depend on the God who acts in raising Jesus, who whirls and dances with and over our coming to him with his Beloved son.  And dance your way to serve and tend and care for – his sheep, the earth, the poor, your family, the annoying, the hurting, the old, the young.

“Fear not…be not discouraged!  The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness and renew you in his love.  He will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals…  At that time I will bring you home…  when I bring about your restoration beofre your very eyes, says the Lord.”  (Zephaniah 3: 16b-20 excerpts)

God brings about our restoration, our rescue, our redemption.  We may not even know what that means.  And that’s alright.  Regardless, we can learn to lean and remain and be still.  We can put on our dancing shoes and kick up some joy!  We can pray to depend when we’re dazed, to trust when we feel tried, and to look for the evidence of the loving gathering raising action of the Creator of all.  And we can tend to one another in this confidence.

Happy Easter one and all!  And may the season bless you with new ways to be, a new joy, and a closeness and peace in the presence of the Risen Jesus.  Measuring the mystery is useless.  Dancing the delight as disciples – this can lighten our hearts and be witness of a something more we still are learning about.  Blessed Easter journeyings.

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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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Mystery versus Surety: NCIS!

Ah, well, mystery sounds to be a wonderful thing.  There is in the concept a lovely mist, a suggestion of breadth, a hint of wholeness – holiness even.  There is a beyond and a greater, a more and a majestic.  But surety… well, it’s just much more practical.  And let’s face it, it can be depended upon.  We can stand on it, and it’s not going anywhere.

Given a choice between mystery and surety, most of us would likely choose what’s sure.  Western culture is committed to the pragmatic, the solution-oriented, the idiot’s guide to you-name-it, to arriving at our pre-determined destination – with our GPS or accurate GoogleMap or MapsOnUs printout that showed each step of the way. 

Mystery?  Well, it doesn’t just show up in the grand.  It’s a part of every day life – and it’s sometimes darn uncomfortable.  We go to workshops to learn how to manage it.  We speedread a grief book to get past it.  We take a shot or a pill, or put down a bet, to be rid of it.  We take relational indicators for online dating to define a compatibility before risking it.  We fill schedules and keep sound going in our homes to avoid it.  We buy organizing closets and consultants to straighten it.  We oversleep or overmedia to anesthetize from it.  We read medical websites to be amateur experts on it.  We color or collagen to forget it.  We get degrees, get consultants, get a plan, get ahead, get a lead, get ANYTHING to have something in our hands that we’ve GOTTEN that makes sense of things or puts things in place.

NCIS is one of my all time favorite television shows.  At the end of an hour, I’m pretty sure of what’s happened in a case.  Ah, but the characters – Tony, Gibbs, Abby, Tim, Ducky, Ziva, oh – and Jimmy and Leon – they are familiar (well-loved!), and yet they are mysteries.  And they are mysteries to themselves at least as much as they are to one another.  That’s one of the things that brings me back to see the show week after week, at least as much as the story lines: the fun of watching the communication between all these mysteries in process as the mystery they work on is wrestled with, strategized and revealed.  Their work confronts the unknown and often uncomfortable – violence, death, human motivation, great commitment, evil, good, subterfuge, truth, deception, power, powerlessness.  In the hour they come to some – pleasant or not – outcomes.  But what about  they themselves?  What outcomes do they reach?  And anyway, what is outcome in a life?  It’s a walking in mystery step by step.  We come to see each cast member over time – in and out of relationships, aging, finding their way, seeking meaning, engaging in commitments that define them, and seeking commitments they want to define them.  And we like who they are, though they are characters in a show.  We care about how they live out who they are, and the step by step journey, especially when it is difficult or dark.  We’ve seen them emerge, be shaped by their experiences, and give differently to their next moment because of the last ones.  We can see that the mystery of their lives is really okay… and we root for them.

It’s easier to be at ease with mystery and where it takes us when we look at someone else’s life, or at NCIS!  Inside our own lives, mysteries can feel scary or overwhelming, out of control or just annoying.  Large transitions, big successes, terrible losses – these bring us face to face with mystery in life.  Death, joy, love, children, commitment, betrayal, birth, passion, vocation, ecstactic moments, the quick-slow flow of time, creating, releasing – in all of these we find ourselves encountering a more, a mystery.

The fact is, regardless of whether we prefer surety or not, and regardless of what amount of energy and money we spend seeking it, mystery finds us.  How can we ever come to be at home with it?

I’m convinced that escaping it is the wrong move.  First, it’s not possible.  This makes it not just the wrong move, but a kind of dumb one!  (Not that I don’t take – and haven’t taken – it many times myself!).  Second, it makes of our life a fleeing from what is, instead of a standing in what is. 

I believe learning to live at home with mystery takes practice and practice and more practice… done simply and peacefully.  It takes standing in a moment that is mystery and breathing.  It takes not running, but being in it – whatever the emotions it engenders – and just noticing what arises.  The emotions are reactions – the thoughts too.  The mystery is the truth we encounter. 

At this time, before Lent quite lands in our living, I think about the paschal MYSTERY.  Of course, death and resurrection in the life of Jesus are mystery.  And isn’t it in our lives as well?  We live in the same pattern of dying and rising, ebb and flow.  Christian faith tells us it is good to live there.  What?  Really?  Are you SERIOUS?  Good to live DEATH and resurrection?  This is a mystery that we come to know in fall and spring, death and birth, endings and beginnings.  Notice, I didn’t say I entirely ‘get it’ or am comfortable with the pattern either.  It just IS the pattern.  It’s one embraced by God who lived it fully in Jesus.  Get it?  No.  Living it?  Yeah.  With him.  Yeah, how else?  I am still practicing too! 

It may be good to remember that we are trained culturally to maximize our focus on the solution, the strategy, the rising, what we think is the good.  We try to minimize or avoid the unknowing, the costs, the cluelessness, the unpredictable, what looks like ultimate endings from our limited view.  No wonder we often have such problems with life as it is.  We are not doing life wrong somehow if we experience ebbs and flows, if we know mountains and valleys, death and resurrection… we are experiencing life.  If we think to experience life only as flow or highs or understandable graspable joys, we are apt to be projecting what we want life to be like on the wall and trying to jump into our own projection!  It isn’t real.  Joy can only be here – in where we are.  And God with us here.

So, enjoy surety when it arises.  Find the perfect recipe, the perfect route to Grandma’s house, the best mechanical anything (I don’t do mechanical!), a really good tech practice.  But expect mystery to show up everywhere.  And, if we can, let’s think of the learnings of NCIS!  Perhaps if we can learn, as an exercise, to watch our lives from the outside a little, we may be able to accomodate more and value more the mysteries that we are, the mysteries we encounter, and the mysteries of one another.  And even enjoy them… smile at them… laugh knowingly at them (a great Abby look!).

Don’t go play CLUE after reading this.  It has an answer.  Go, be clueless for awhile.  Happily.

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