Posts Tagged With: Trinity

Give Your Life Away, So You Don’t Lose You

What?!  Well, that’s what I heard in the Gospel reading for Thursday.

“whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”  (Luke 9)

You have to lose your life to save it.  If you lose your life, you don’t forfeit yourself.  Again, huh?  Won’t you have lost yourself if you lost your life?  As I consider this, two nuances on losing emerge for me.

(1) “Losing” your life is not a losing – it is a deliberate choosing and, sometimes difficult, releasing of what seems to be mine or fair or about my prestige, achievement, putting myself forward.  Yes, it is a denying myself the limelight or the best seat or the time or treat I’d hoped for or promised myself – for another’s sake, for love, or just to wean myself from the lack of self discipline we all often fall into, and exercise other muscles.  But denying myself is not denying my self.  In fact, it is a re-finding of my true self (read Thomas Merton, or James Finley on Thomas Merton, or John of the Cross, or some of Richard Rohr).

SAMSUNG(2)  “Losing” your life may also be reframed as giving your life away.  Like Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at – rather, he emptied himself” (Phil 2).  God – in the Trinity – gives life away. Each person pours all of their life into the other: Father to Son to Spirit to Father to Spirit to Son to Spirit to Father… on and on. Like a water wheel, they pour themselves entirely out into one another, reserving nothing.  And so love is.  And so creation came to be. And then Jesus entering this world is another giving all away to come to a womb, to a stable, to live a life with and for others, to pour out all in deeds, in words, in healings, in tenderness, in praying, in feet washing, in bread breaking, on the cross, and in hope and peace giving.  And the Spirit is given entirely to us and for us to remind us of all we have been taught by Jesus’ giving  (see John’s Gospel).  Of course we will be happiest when we live in the pattern in which we are created and give our lives entirely away too, as we lay down our lives freely.  Meantime we receive over and over again God’s life and grace in us as we give. We are hardly impoverished.  Our emptying makes room for more richness of life.

To give our lives away we find our true self.  And this is a truth to hold on to.  A truth that brings life.  Because this is so, we are encouraged:

Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you…  (Deut. 30)

Importantly, if we don’t find a way to give our lives away, we run thSAMSUNGe risk of losing our very selves.  Why?  Because we’d never grow into who we are!  It would be like a fish refusing to learn to swim, or a tree somehow refusing to reach very far out with its branches, or an artist refusing to enact their art.

We are patterned to give, to pour out, to love.  We don’t have to fear the cost of doing so. The cost of not doing so is much much greater.  Joy and peace and the celebration of being who we are created to be lie in the losing, the giving, the practicing, the releasing, the reaching, the loving, and – through all this – the true living.  May Jesus’ life and, even more, his close companionship with us this Lent help us to learn and relearn this truth, and have the heart (by grace) to enact it in our moments and days.

Find your self.  Give your life.

And, as we wander through these Lenten learning days, let’s hold fast to him, for that will mean life for you and for me.

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Wake Up? Do I Have To?

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Our new rescue pup, MayBelle, is a delight and a handful. Although she’s supposedly 4 years old, she is in many ways experiencing puppyhood with us. Like a puppy, she goes from wild to zonked out. The pic here caught her sincere question: “Do I really have to wake up now?”

I wonder if that’s a question for all of us, along our way.  Do I really have to wake up now?  Can’t I sleep through this?  Sometimes in our lives, for many reasons, we may deliberately elect to keep sleeping.  Perhaps more often, we may have habits which anesthesize us:  mindless activity, lots of TV or video, looping and repetitive thought patterns, addictions of various types, aggression in word or deed, even relationships where we’ve given over our freedom and simply echo another.

Every major world religion speaks of waking up (in some form) as entry to spiritual practice and fullness, integrity of vision and action.  Most of us who name ourselves disciples don’t wake up just once.  We are going along – really committed to our journey, to deepening faith, to living what we profess – and discover, often to our chagrin, that we have stumbled upon yet another way we resist or zone out or shirk freedom or live less than we truly desire. Whether it is due to fear, pain, lukewarmness, laziness, pride, regret,or listening to voices that lie to us about who we truly are…. We are nodding off – again.

The waking up we are invited to requires our persistence, certainly, but more – a huge helping of grace accepted and leaned upon. And a looking and listening in the right direction.

If we truly want to stay awake (hmmm…didn’t Jesus advise that?), the best way is to take a shortcut.  Look to Jesus. Remember the Creator of all is in relationship with us personally.  Listen to the Spirit, Companion-Dweller, wondrously living and forming us and praying for and with us from within.  And lean on this Trinity to be our alarm clock.  Stop doing it on our own steam.  Let God be our ongoing wake up call, just by confiding always,  leaning heavily, asking for the love and help always available to all of us.

St.  Therese of Lisieux referred to Jesus as her elevator who lifted her, as she was unable. She – like many saints – rejoiced in being small.  It showed God’s tender faithfulness in reaching into their littleness. (“For God has looked with favor on his lowly servant” – Luke, Magnificat.) If we acknowledge our attachment to sleepiness, our fears, our paralysis, our littleness, God will meet us there.  In fact God already does, we just forget and need to be re-minded (metanoia – no worries, also God’s work in us). 

Do I really have to wake up now?  Absolutely not.  But if we do ask this grace to wake and stay awake – and let God’s great love (grace) help us in the middle of our patterns and experiences and thoughts that keep us captive sleepers – our perspective, words, values, decisions may change. We will find the courage directly from the source of our life and love, letting go of our inabilities and leaning in to God’s great sufficiency. Then, a prayer typed up for me by a young student decades ago will not only make sense, but have the wings to carry us.

Lord, I am at the end of all my resources. Child, you are just at the beginning of mine!

What joy and comfort! Believing and KNOWING this to be true, we can be in each moment awake, happily humble, with abundance to share.

These words will not only make sense, but circle us with truth we can live in and from:

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things.
– Mechtild of Magdeburg

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And yes, MayBelle loves living “awake” too!

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Trinity Love – in Jesus – Beckons, Waits

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O soul, return, for Jesus Christ is calling you with hands outstretched on the cross; return, for the whole abyss of the Trinity stands ready for your coming.

See how patiently He waited – oh how long He waited for you!….He was mercifully expecting your return!…
Return, O soul: Christ is waiting for you on the cross. His head is inclined for a kiss, His arms are spread out for an embrace, and His hands open in a gesture of giving. His body is stretched in a position of total offering; His feet are attached so that He will remain with you; His side is open to let you in.

[Bonaventure, “Soliloquy on the Four Spiritual Exercises”  I:4-38, 39. Engl. trans. Jose de Vinck, Works of Bonaventure, Vol. III – Patterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1966, 69.]

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Brushstrokes of the Spirit – Day One

I find delight in the companion, tutor, gardener, whole-er, healer, pray-er, weaver, friend, playful one, formator, artist, counselor, therapist, integrator, fruit-producer, gift-giver, embrace, draw-er in to relationship with the Trinity who is the Spirit.  And her* feast of Pentecost approaches in a few days.  My delight in her and dependence on her in the work that I do (through In-Spirited!  Hmmm… wonder who its patron is!) is prompting a few reflections over the next days that I’ll call brushstrokes.

I am not an artist with paint, but I have watched others reverently or courageously or hesitantly or boldly choose color and make first strokes on blank canvas.  The first strokes are not the picture, but they are part of the beginning.  That’s all I seek to do here.  There is no capturing the Spirit – nailing wind or fire down is a ridiculous endeavor.  And yet…  she draws me, she draws us… and this feast provides an excuse to look at her directly in the midst of the Trinity’s relational dance (and perichoresis – intimate indwelling of each other) and celebrate her love-living, especially as she does it in us these days of our lives!

And so, an initial brushstroke and image for your reflection:

Many years ago, in my VERY early young adulthood, I spent four years in a religious community.  You know how memories are some combination of what actually happened, what you remember of what happened, what you have associated with it since, and subsequent learnings and integrations?  Well, I have an amusing memory from my seminary days (that’s what we called the 18 months of novitiate).  And it’s one of those combinations – but I think mostly accurate.

SAMSUNGIn the midst of what we experienced as rather intense formation processes, and what we knew to be the Spirit’s collaboration with our personal/human/spiritual growth, someone expressed well what was felt at times.  “Bird — get off my shoulder!”  It was addressed to the Holy Spirit, and was a comic way to express a very human plea: “I’m on overload.  I’m learning enough about me right now, thanks.  I can’t integrate any more.  And I don’t want more awareness of what seems to be off kilter in my ways of being.”  It might have said something too about how we understood growth, and perhaps that we had to “fix ourselves” by ourselves, but that’s another story, and one that risks an off-target compulsion that leaves little room for grace.

An on-target truth that my sisters and I were experiencing deeply and trying to name was that the Spirit is very VERY involved with us – intimately and constantly.  We just weren’t sure it was a friendly involvement – at least our image captured some of that hesitancy.

Today I am absolutely certain that the Spirit’s involvement in the work of our lives is entirely to be trusted — much more than my own perspective!  And that the Spirit’s methodologies are always good.  If we but open our eyes and ears – partially with the Spirit’s help – we will see so many ways that God is communicating specifically with us and to us, shaping and forming us inwardly and outwardly with invitations.  We will find in our daily experiences opportunities to see and to respond, to learn and to develop.  We will locate the place where the Spirit prays deeply within us, for we do not know how to pray or what to pray.  We can trust that we will experience from the Spirit strength and gentleness, firmness and tenderness; and rest knowing that we are utterly safe in her tutelage.  Jesus has sent the Spirit to us to teach and remind us, to dwell in and with us, to guide and journey with us.  We are never alone – within or without.

SAMSUNGSt. Basil of Caesarea used the image of the Spirit as ‘brooding’, as a mother bird over the eggs in her nest.  It is true that her warmth causes the eventual cracking of the eggs.  And perhaps the eggs, and the baby birds within, might prefer to remain encased and not be ‘cracked up’.  So it is with us.  But the Spirit broods over us, providing heat and safety, and makes us restless within.  Her presence cracks us open from without and within, if we allow it: and she will be there to feed us, as a mother bird remains.  She will help us encounter Christ who feeds us with his very self, and teach us to leap and fly and sing and be who we are, within the love of the Trinity in the world the Trinity loves.

“A bird does not sing because she has an answer, but because she has a song.”  Heard that one before?  The Spirit has a song of relationship and unending love in the mystery of the three/Trinity.  She sings in us and around us.  As we come, over and over again, to new birth with her help… we too learn to sing.  And our singing is a witness to the delight of knowing the Creator, the Son, the Spirit.  It is an invitation to others to take part in the flight, the dance, the growing, the enterprise that is God’s wonderful desire for us, the world, the cosmos – participating in a love that is extending and outreaching, in-gathering and embracing.  Let us sing with the Spirit, not chase her off our shoulders in fear!  The Spirit loves us too.  Speak with her today.

*  I’ve used the feminine pronoun for the Spirit, with no intention of limiting the Spirit to any gender.  There are no limits on God, on the Spirit.  Still, pronouns are helpful in prose, and only come in his/her/it. Given St. Basil’s image (see later in the blog) of a brooding mother bird, I have chosen to utilize “her” here.  I actually love the work of Madeleine L’Engle where she used “el”  as a created pronoun to refer to God (connecting with Elohim).   

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Christ Alive! Burst Into Explosive Songs of Joy!

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Christ behind us in all our yesterdays.
Christ with us in our today.
Christ before us in all of our tomorrows.
Alpha and Omega, Christ, Lord of all!

Leap and spin, you powers of heaven!
Burst into explosive songs of joy,
all you companies of angels.
Let the throne of God be surrounded
with the praises of all that has life.

The earth glories in her Maker.
Now mountain and valley glow in splendor;
The sea on the shore whispers the praises of Jesus.

Rivers stream through thirsty soil,
bringing news of gladness –
the Redeemer is risen!
His glory fills the earth!
The trees thunder their praises,
And loudly clap their hands.

Sound a trumpet throughout all the earth.
Our Morning Star is alive!
Risen in splendor, He is among us;
the darkness is driven back.
We, His people, join in the dance of all creation.

[excerpt from Exultet in Celtic Daily Prayer, Northumbria Community]
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And an Easter Prayer for you, friends/fellow journeyers/disciples:
 

May Christ alive, raised by His Abba,
give us peace and light in every darkness,
song and joy and dance that inspires us to see as He sees;

foolish exuberant wonder in the beauty of moments,
the extravagance of creation – in microcosm and macrocosm,
and a partnership in praise with creation’s voice.
 
 
May we grow – with grace – a committed humble love,

patterned on Christ’s,
that serves and celebrates;

committing to real presence

with those he would have us love as he loves us –
fragile, beautiful, frustrating, beautiful people –
the focus of Trinity-Love and deepest delight.

Christ alive, our love,
guide and tutor us.
But this Easter day, we dance!

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While We Know Joy, God Discovers Tears: WITH-ness this Lent

In a stable Mary holds her infant son, and wonders at his crying.  The story tells of shepherds, of wise men/kings, of angels and Glorias, the Star, and of celebrating on the part of all the human witnesses.  And Jesus cries, as all babes do – and Mary must have listened – aware of her son, aware of this son – and pondered the mystery.  God takes on human flesh.   “Mary… is stunned at what the exchange is meaning: while [man] is getting to know joy, God is discovering tears.” *

What has this to do with Lent?  It’s the Christmas story.  But we know that incarnation and self-donation and presence and cross and resurrection are all of a piece.  As one Advent hymn lyrically captures 2 Corinthians 8:  “He became poor, that we might be rich: Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone”.  God’s great desire to be one with us creates the salvation we so long for, and the way home.  God’s desire for us and this salvation are quite literally way and truth and life to us in the here and now.  God, willing to enter tears and joy and all humanity, redefines love.  With Gospel eyes, we can’t miss this love in Jesus.  If only we take off our too-familiar-with-the-stories presuppositions and perspectives.  This is where seeing like children (as Jesus often encourages), with fresh wonder, is essential. 

What if we ask to have the scales fall from our older eyes so that we might truly see the following? 

Faith means literally to set one’s heart by (as has been explored in pre-Lent posts): and we are not the only or the first ones to set our hearts.  God is faithfulness, God doesn’t do faithfulness.  God’s heart is always being set.  In Trinity, we know the Father, Son and Spirit set their hearts on one another and pour out all unceasingly.  This Trinitarian God desires the same kind of communion with us.  It is God, therefore, who “faiths” first: God sets God’s heart on us!  God believes in us.  Why?  That question makes no sense to love, which needs no reason – it is in essence always free. 

God enters all of our reality to save us from the inside out.  WITH is then not only Emmanuel’s translation (God is with us), but our greatest peace.  We are never ever alone, whatever our circumstances and the feelings and thoughts that connect with them.  We can, in trust, cast all our cares on God who cares for us (1 Peter 5).  Why?  Again, because our very identity is found in being God’s Beloved Ones who have God WITH, always:  a loving, humble God who finds it delightful to accompany us at every moment of our journey. 

This Lent, perhaps what bears reflection is this WITH-ness of God, who always sets his heart first on us.  All we do is response and grace.  In response, you and I who know ourselves as desired disciples can follow the One – Jesus.  He showed us what love really is in his WITH-ness with us.  This Lent, we can practice and claim more as our own the disciple’s discipline of WITH-ness too.  God’s WITH-ness, born of love, is witness to us!  🙂 

When you and I practice WITH, we have come in church documents to call it solidarity  – a presence with another or others that is acting according to our connection one with each other.  It is a living in response to the fact that we are all one community, one body, one communion.  There is a special quality of God’s presence to us, as seen in the life of Jesus, that we might practice most deliberately in our own circumstances this Lent. 

Let me describe it with an image.  If my arm hurts, as it has the last few days, the rest of me is compensating.  I make adjustments, reach and twist and sleep and even walk differently.  Something has been pulled and needs perhaps rest, perhaps good stretching.  I am mindful of it. 

In the Gospels we see that Jesus walked among hills, near the sea, in villages and through crowds.  And his attention was often drawn to the “hurting limb”:  the paralytic lifted through the ceiling, the blind man on the side of the road, the woman with a long debilitating hemmorhage, the lepers who knew no home, the bent over woman living on the edges of the temple, the widow who had lost her son, the Samaritan, the Canaanite, the sinner, the poor.  As naturally as my attention goes to my arm due to its soreness, Jesus was drawn to be especially WITH individuals most in need.   

We learn from Jesus’ living that God delights in being WITH all of us, but particularly chooses to be WITH those of us, and those parts of us, most hurting – whether that hurt is seen by others or not.  Since such vulnerability merits God’s special presence and nurturing, healing attention; it merits ours.  Is this the preferential option for whoever is poor?  Perhaps.  And why wouldn’t we want to be WITH in love in the same way the One who saves us shows us?  The way the One who loves us has and is WITH us. 

Therese of Lisieux said at the end of her life that she would spend heaven doing good upon the earth.  She had great desire for other souls’ good during her life, and she wished to keep up this work after her death.  In this, she was very interested in the same things that interest her Love, the One who desired and saved her and was WITH her.  But this was a way she grew into.  She, more than many, told us through her autobiography of her struggles to look beyond herself to be servant and companion to those she found difficult.  Her ‘little sacrifices’ were nothing other than disciplines that helped her get out from her own thinking about her and into the ability to be WITH the other.  She did not assume she knew the heart of another, nor did she need to.  She simply served and chose the discipline to see the other and act in gentleness and compassion, with much prayer, and in small ways, as she could.  These small disciplines, her “little way”, changed her, shaping her desires.  We call her saint.  More importantly, they were expressions of love in the same pattern as Jesus’ love, and so they were life-giving to the other.     

The being present to the part of the body that hurts, to the person who annoys, to the challenge that discomforts us – these are not easy things.  In each of our lives these movements may be expressed differently (and different days offer different opportunities – even different hours or moments!).  But what if you and I attempted to do this to be united with a loving, desiring God who wants all to know joy?  What if we practiced choosing in moments a union with a God who chooses to discover tears in entering humanity — and will choose so much more of our limits and struggles too? 

This is not an invitation to beat ourselves up over our own struggles to love.  Practicing makes perfect.  It’s about bringing a willingness and a hope to be WITH, and trusting grace to help us see and act bit by bit.  It is an invitation to plant small seeds, to follow little ways (like Therese), to see with Gospel fresh eyes, and to count on God’s mercy to help us as we depend on others to support our growing too.

What of acting for the hurting this Lent in some way?  Political action on behalf of the vulnerable?  Looking out for children without sufficient adult support in your circle?  Serving the homeless, or the out of work neighbor, with kindness and respect as well as physical support?  Volunteering at a hotline?  Training with your pet to visit the elderly?  Planting flowers for an elderly relative or neighbor?  Being mindful of those in your circle with decreased mobility who may need driving to appointments or shopping?  Looking into the eyes with an intention of good of those we don’t know how to serve who ask for money?  Carrying granola or fruit bars in our car to give out instead of money at city street corners?  Contributing our unique skills for someone else’s good?  The HOW of this is limited only by our imaginations, let’s broaden them and brainstorm possibilities – perhaps with each other here, or with friends or family, or in small faith communities!

What we choose may not be large or take much time.  But it is a choosing to act in accord with the FACT that we are WITH others with needs in the communion of love that God establishes because we are family in him.  It may be a hospitality too to some hurting part of ourselves, and seeking the care and mercy and support and forgiveness and gentleness we need on our own journeys. 

Whatever you and I do, it is good to remember that it is not to earn or achieve some illusion of ‘now we’re being good people’.  It is as simple as my attention to my overworked arm.  It is appropriate care to a need in our family/in our communion, and we are inspired to it by the life of Jesus which expresses the love and desire of God for us. 

Let us again learn to set our hearts.  And perhaps we can pray and consider our call to be faithful as God is faithful.  In this is a living in our true identity, not a spiritual fix-it project to be a better person this Lent. 

Let our eyes see your willing entering of our tears, O Lord.   Comfort us.  And train us as we choose to practice loving as you love, in being WITH.  Care for those most in need, O God, and make us partners in this presence that is healing and saving and life.    

 * Iaian Matthew on John of the Cross, Ballad seven in The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross

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I Place My Life into Your Hands

Holy Thursday.  This is my body.  Yours.  All of me, I give you. 

Good Friday.  This is my all.  Yours, Abba.   

There’s a pattern here; a pattern of handing over, pouring out, giving, abandoning – whether or not others understand or value the gift. 

Jesus lived life, and lived his anguish and his death.  And whatever he was in any moment, he gave and offered.  He poured it out without stinting.  This is a lesson about living and dying it seems we all need to learn.  It is not an easy one.  It has nothing to do with giving “in order to” — create a need for others to give back to me, to look good, to benefit, to get the answers I need, to feel complete, to have reached some achievement, to settle something, to be better than, to earn love (which, by the way, we can’t!).  Pouring oneself out in love is a way of being, not a strategy.

Trinity – God who are (as opposed to ‘is’ in singular) – are the persons who are this love in constant dynamic pouring.  Jesus’ living was an ‘earthing’* of this way of being, and a way in which we could see it, and trace the pattern ’til we learn it for our own lives’ implementation. 

A lifetime ago, a wise high school religion teacher I had (as a student!) said that if we remove Jesus from his humanity then we will easily find reasons not to follow in his footsteps.  “How can I be like him?  He’s God!  I’m not God.  I can’t be like him.  No one can.” Instead, in Jesus we find the user’s manual for the way to live a meaningful human life.  Live in accord with our hard wiring.  Learn to be the love that is constantly outpouring in compassion and care and self gift.  This is not to say be a wimp or have no boundaries.  But it is to say that in this moment – the only one we have – give all to whatever and whoever is before you.  It’s the only real way to live and to love.

The cross has always brought me to silence.  It does so even more now, in light of my own experiences of grief and loss.  At death, human life and consciousness drains out of the physical body which has, in some way, broken or tired or worn out.  We can see the person ebbing, like a wave pulled back in to the ocean’s vastness. 

I have learned, under the tutelage particularly of Franciscan theology and spirituality, to see Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s ultimate outpouring in love without reserve.  St. Clare of Assisi would have us gaze, consider, contemplate, and imitate the one on the cross – and so become transformed and beautiful in the light of such love.  She would have us be confident in the one “in Whose embrace we are already caught up” (Clare of Assisi’s letters to Agnes of Prague).  St. Francis, her dear friend, focuses on following in the footsteps of Christ.   We are all invited to live and to die as Jesus lived and died.  And to love each other, creation, the universe – ALL – as we live, by giving all we are to whatever and whoever is in our specific vocational and daily path. 

Jesus indeed may be heard praying today, “I place my life in your hands.”  May he teach us, each and all, the way to living self giving love.  May we find the joy in living and giving this way – as it is what we are created to be and do.  And, in little and big moments, may we draw strength from our relationship with the one who lived this in his human life too and who told us he would be with us always.  With him, and in the courage of the Spirit, perhaps may we learn to pray too “I place my life in your hands” over and over, until the day we too are the ebbing tide on the way to the vast ocean.   That moment’s ability to hand over life will be informed by all these others.  And we will have learned by then, with Jesus, to hand it over to friends, to God, to ministry, to mission, to healing, to compassion, to making a difference, to showing God’s presence in the world. 

This Good Friday may we know how deep is God’s love for us, and receive it deeply that it may transform us (as Clare advises).  And may we look at the cross and the one there, and allow ourselves to see, to witness, perhaps to mourn, to wait.  His life and love are not lost, but we must stay by the tombs often in order to come to a new place.  I’ll meet you in vigil there, with the women who knew nowhere else to go.  Honor the mystery of today, and let it settle about and within you, between and among us.   

[* Anthony Gittins speaks of Jesus as the “earthing” of the Missio Dei – God’s mission.  I love this way of naming the Incarnation’s reality as God “earthed”.] 

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