Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blog Quiet Until May 2

It's time for some blog silence as I attend to work deadlines, writing deadlines, retreat deadlines.  I expect to return to regular blogging May 2.

May you only be facing labyrinths, not mazes!

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 1, 2011:

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Psalm: Psalm 16

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Gospel: John 20:19-31

Now we enter that interesting post-Easter time, when Jesus has returned, but he's not quite the same as he was before. He can make sudden appearances and come into rooms without opening the door. He vanishes the same way too.

But clearly, he's not gone over completely to the spirit world. This is not a ghost that people are seeing. Jesus still has wounds. And Jesus can still eat. In fact, that's one way that people realize they're in the presence of the Lord, one way that they recognize him (more on that when we get to the Road to Emmaus lesson).

These passages have fueled many a church argument about the kind of man Jesus was, both before his crucifixion and after. You may have had similar arguments with people over Easter week-end, arguments about the nature of the Resurrection. Did Jesus have a bodily resurrection? Or were grief-stricken disciples and followers suffering mass delusions?

Or maybe you haven't had these conversations. I found myself feeling increasingly lonely during Holy Week. At least during Advent, the whole world gets involved in Christmas madness. It's hard to keep a sacred Christmas, but at least people understand. During the past month, I've had lots of conversations to explain Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday to people. Lots of my colleagues seemed surprised that Easter was upon us. I realized what a secular society we've really become, as I slipped away to church again and again in the same week (I thought of monks, who worship several times a day, and wished for a similar community).

In the coming weeks, I plan to take comfort in the stories of Jesus' continuing presence in his followers' lives. Not even death keeps him away from the supper table. I like the fact that many of these appearances seem to have been subtle, especially since people didn't even recognize him at first, in many instances.

I must confess that I like the idea of a subtle appearance, because lately, I haven't been feeling the presence of God in an explosive way. I want to run through the Easter dawn yelling out that the Lord has risen. But most days, I just don't have the energy.

That's O.K. Jesus will wait for me on the beach (a different post-Easter Gospel in a different liturgical cycle) as I go about my daily work. Jesus will build the fire and cook me breakfast. Jesus will walk with me wherever I need to go and talk to me. I don't have to be lit with an Easter energy for Jesus to want to be with me.

These gospels give us an even more wonderful promise. I can be full of doubt, and Jesus will appear and let me touch his wounds, if that's what it takes. I can denounce Jesus, and if I ask for forgiveness, Jesus will grant it. I can fail to recognize Jesus in the garden, and unlike other humans, Jesus will stay with me as long as it takes until I get it. I give up on myself long before Jesus would. Happily, as with the best human relationships, Jesus' faith in me will see me through my dark times when I don't believe in myself and can't see that life can ever get better.

That's part of the Good News that Easter grants us. We're redeemed, and God's kingdom has already begun to break through the grave-dark night.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: "Into the Wound"

I've enjoyed posting a poem on Tuesdays, so I think I'll continue for awhile.  In the tradition of my Wednesday meditations, with these poems, I'll think about the liturgical season we inhabit and the readings for the upcoming Sunday.

I got the inspiration for this poem from this post on Jan Richardson's blog.  The title is hers.  This poem appears here for the first time.

Into the Wound

Thomas approached his Savior’s bloodied side,
Everything for which he longed, yet so feared.
He felt the warm flesh and looked deep inside.
The vision left him changed and scarred and seared.

He saw a series of worlds in that wound.
He saw a future that could be so fine.
He saw a world of absence, so ill tuned.
He saw a table set with bread and wine.

He saw the start of all the universe
And staggered back, but Christ kept him steady.
“Wash your hands,” Christ said, his voice almost tense.
Christ knew the dangers for those unready.

Legend says Thomas walked to India;
What dream prompted him, we always wonder.
But you, too, could hike to outer Asia,
If you had the same vision to ponder.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Resurrection Message in a Culture of Death

Those of us who aren't suffering right now probably had a joyous Easter complete with special foods and time with family and friends.

What do we say to the woman weeping in the back of the church because her sister battles a fierce disease, and she's deeply afraid?

I know what not to say.  I'm not going to say that it's God's will or that everything will work out for the best or if we just pray hard enough, God will make everything OK.

I know that the disadvantage to a free will world is that God cannot just sweep in and make everything OK.

But I also know that the message of Easter, the ultimate Good News, is that Easter promises us that Death will not be the final answer.  We do not know how and when Death will be defeated--at least, I'm not going to try to engineer God that way.  We know the how of the beginning of the defeat of the Death culture:  we have spent days hearing that part of the story.  But we don't know the future part.

The woman weeping probably doesn't find that a comfort.  I sure wouldn't.  I want my sister with me until the day that we've both descended into the kind of decay that makes death seem merciful.  Don't give me pablum about how Heaven is better and my sister will be happier there.

At least, that's how I would feel if my sister was deathly sick, which she isn't.  So, I told the weeping woman that I would pray for her and her sister, and when she asked for a prayer shawl for her sister, I gave her one for herself too.

It's a small gesture, and I certainly don't have the powers to defeat Death myself.  But I believe the Easter promise:  death will be defeated, and all our tears will be wiped away. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Is Risen, Indeed

Yesterday, again, I got that question:  "Why is Good Friday good?"  I gave my friend the answer that I gave my colleague.

She asked, "So what is Easter all about then?"

I wish that I had taken time to answer her more deeply, but it was a mixed group, not all of us interested in these issues, so I didn't want to hijack the conversation.  I also wasn't sure that I wanted to go down the road that this conversation often takes:  do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Or, do you really think Jesus was that concerned about you, insignificant you, to take on the Roman empire and to suffer crucifixion?

I still felt a bit raw from the whole Holy Week experience.  I was afraid that if I had to answer honestly, I might cry.  My friends would likely be OK with this, but I wanted a simpler Holy Saturday, not one with collapsing into weeping.

So, let me take these questions separately.  The one about Jesus being concerned about me is easier for me.  Yes, I do believe that Jesus was that concerned about me, about all humans, that he would come and live among us to show us the best way to live.  I see the whole Bible as one long story about God trying to make deep connection with us.  It's the vision of God that I love, that God will take on all our miseries and all our joys, in an attempt to know us deeply.

God would go through 7th grade again with me, if I was required to travel back in time (my personal vision of the Valley of the Shadow of Death).

Am I worthy of that devotion and care?  Is anyone?  Happily, I'm a Lutheran.  I don't have to be worthy.  Grace is mine, just by virtue of my existence.

Now, for the harder question, the one that asks that I forsake my rational self.  Do I believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  Yes, I do.  I don't believe that Christianity would have had such traction and transformed the world, if the central miracle had not happened.  When I was younger, I played with the idea that it was all some sort of hoax perpetrated by the Disciples to prove that they hadn't wasted the last few years of their lives.  But I don't think Christianity would have lasted, had that been the case.

Can I prove this scientifically?  No.  Is that important to me?  No.  As I keep track of scientific developments from a distance, I realize that the world is full of mysteries that our rational brains don't always understand.  The outer edges of Physics takes on a sort of mysticism as we think about time and space.  The things we believe because scientists can prove them with experiments or equations would seem equally improbable to earlier generations as resurrection might seem to some of us.

But in the end, whether or not the story is fact is just not very interesting to me.  If someone found the bones of Jesus, thus disproving Resurrection once and for all, I would still be a Christian.  For me, the Good News is less about resurrection than it is about this idea of a God coming to earth to eat dinner with me.

The bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, has written a very moving post here.  He talks about the death narratives in our culture, the stories that are so prominent.  He reminds us, "But those realities do not define you, nor are they the resurrection that found and claimed you in baptism. Your story is the one proclaimed by Pastor Josephus Livenson Lauvanus, resurrection messenger and president of the Lutheran Church of Haiti, during my visit in February. He told me, 'We will not be defined by rubble, but by restoration, for we are a people of the resurrection.'"

I have heard Lauvanus speak; no one else has ever persuaded me that the future of Haiti can be bright, but Lauvanus is convincing.  Bishop Hanson reminds us that all our futures are bright; we are set free to live joyfully and generously.  He ends by reminding us of our mission:  "The world yearns for new life and deserves to hear this story: the song, the life of God's liberated people, messengers of resurrection hope and freedom."

The tomb is empty.  All the forces of death cannot defeat us.  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday and Earth Day

Yesterday was Good Friday.  I didn't realize until after I wrote yesterday's post that yesterday was also Earth Day.  Secular holidays move around religious holidays in often intriguing ways, and yesterday's juxtaposition intrigued me all day.

My spouse and I spent part of yesterday re-mulching the labyrinth.  When we first created our labyrinth, we used old roofing tiles.  On Good Friday 2 years ago, the labyrinth suffered its first vandalism attack which resulted in about a quarter of the labyrinth tiles being broken (see this post for more details). During the next year, we had several more visits by the vandals.  We got tired of replacing broken tiles.  We picked them all up, and then we put cedar mulch down where the tiles had been.  We re-mulch periodically.  It's relatively cheap and during the rare times of the year that we need to mow, the mulch doesn't get in the way.

So, yesterday, during a beautiful morning, we re-mulched, and I put the numbers on clay squares so that people could walk the labyrinth and pause to observe the stations of the cross, if they chose to do so.  I went home to get cleaned up, and I returned to be the staff person at the labyrinth.  Even though it's self-directed, I feel it's more welcoming to have someone there.  Plus, it's interesting how many people do not see a labyrinth as self-directed, and it's good to have someone there to answer questions.  So, I sat in the shade and enjoyed the breeze and got some reading done and did a bit of labyrinth directing.

Labyrinths are an interesting intersection where pagan traditions and Christian traditions meet (I have met Wiccans who love labyrinths, and I know Christians with deep connections to labyrinths), so it felt right to spend so much of Earth Day at the labyrinth.  I live in a part of the country that doesn't have much in the way of earth.  In geological time, our point of the continent was under water not too long ago.  Instead of earth, we have sand and ground coral.  And the land that we have has often been buried under concrete.  I love that our labyrinth claims part of our vacant land as spiritual sacred space.  We're not going to sell it to a commercial operation; we're not going to turn it into a parking lot.  We're not even going to turn it into a garden, which would require trucking in soil.  We're going to leave it low maintenance.

After Good Friday service, we helped move the lilies into place.  I love that our worship space changes.  We took down the severe Good Friday drapings and arranged flowers around the sanctuary.  It was a lovely way to end Earth Day.  I know that many of us will take the lilies and flowers home and plant them in our yards, right there by the poinsettias.  Many of us are transplants from other places, and most of us are like my spouse, who will plunk anything in the ground and hope for the best.

So, today we wait for Easter, for the empty tomb.  Some Christians will go to Easter vigils, but I suspect most Christians are like me, getting ready for tomorrow.  I'll have my quilting group coming over, and maybe I'll work on a prayer shawl.  But before that, I need to clean the house a bit, and get started on a bunny cake.  It's not a somber day for me, and I feel a bit weird about that.  Having friends over feels more like Maundy Thursday than post-Good Friday.  Or maybe pre-Easter.

But most of us who are Christians have had alternate calendar cycles in our heads throughout the year, so the fact that my calendars are out of sync isn't that unfamiliar to me.  And perhaps my tasks today won't be as out of sync as I think.  I'll keep my senses tuned.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Mini Meditations

Today, much of Christendom will celebrate Good Friday, the day that remembers the Crucifixion of Christ. This is the day that no bread can be consecrated. Many Christians will fast today. Some, like my dad, will fast until Easter morning.

Last night, on our way home from Maundy Thursday service, my spouse and I talked about how Good Friday was our favorite service, although my ultimate favorite was Christmas Eve--his was Good Friday. We loved the drama, the darkening sanctuary, the slamming of the book. I went to a suburban church where the service never changed much from week to week. What a treat to have these dramatic interruptions. How I wished we could have had more of them.

Yesterday at work, a colleague asked me why it's called "Good Friday," when the Crucifixion was such a terrible thing. I talked about the traditional view of the Crucifixion as being necessary for salvation and redemption, that because of Christ's pain, we get into Heaven. I talked about my view, not as traditional but shared by many, that Heaven is a lovely bonus if it turns out like that, but that Christ really came to show us how to live here. I talked about what Crucifixion meant to the Romans, that it was a punishment reserved for enemies of the state. I talked about the idea that this new way of life that Jesus proposed, a life where we care for each other and for the oppressed, was so radical that he was seen as a threat to the empire, and so he was killed.

I had love on the brain because of Maundy Thursday, and I stressed the love angle. At the end of our talk, my colleague said, "I really like this vision of yours, this God who loves us."

As I drove to Maundy Thursday, I thought how sad it is that this vision of God as a God of love was such a surprising image to her.

Liberation Theology, of course, would stress this idea of Jesus as enemy of the state and that the state saw him as worthy of the supreme capital punishment because of the radical way that Jesus lived. Here are some quotes, which I first found in Nora Gallagher's Things Seen and Unseen: A Year Lived in Faith:

"Both [Marcus] Borg and [John Dominic] Crossan think that as Jesus traveled from town to town, healing and preaching, he lived an itinerant's life. He seems to have deliberately placed himself just outside the reach of the Roman empire. The way he lived spoke. As Harvey Guthrie, the former dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, put it, 'Jesus' life said, You can live like this and it's okay. In fact, this is the kingdom of God.' His life was marked by an activity radical for his day, or for ours.: Jesus sat down with what Crossan calls 'nuisances and nobodies.' To know with whom people eat, Crossan points out, is to be shown a map of social hierarchy." (p. 121)

"The Church has put too much emphasis on personal sins, [Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo] Boff would say and ignored the greater sin of collaboration with the powerful. The poor don't get that way by accident." (p. 119)

"The poor and oppressed live with two dreams says Crossan: 'One is quick revenge--a world in which they might get a turn to put their boots on those other necks. Another is reciprocal justice--a world in which there would never again be any boots on any necks." (p. 121)

Whichever aspect of Good Friday you choose to meditate upon today, may you have a day that reminds you that God chose you and God loves you and the redemption of the world is underway.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our Most Important Commandment

Today is Maundy Thursday, so named because of the mandatum (Latin for commandment) that we receive from Christ:  to love each other.

Most churches will remember this commandment today by offering a communion service.  If I was in charge, I'd include a real meal with that communion service.  If I had plenty of time, I'd offer a version of a Seder meal, which some scholars (supported by at least one Gospel) believe Jesus was eating as his last meal with his disciples.  Eating together is still one of the most common ways we show our love for others, whether we're Christians or not.

In these days of everyone working longer hours, it would be less common for churches to organize works of charitable action or social justice, but that would be in keeping with the commandment and with tradition.  In medieval times, this day was one where beggars could expect to be rewarded.

Some churches will do a foot washing service (for a blog post on foot washing services, go here).  I've only done been part of a foot washing service once.  I felt nervous about it, but I found it meaningful.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus strips and washes the feet of his disciples.  I suspect that most churches don't follow Christ's example for any number of reasons:  needing lots of towels, nervousness about touching, figuring out the water supply, difficulty of clean up.

I suspect that even fewer churches will do anointing with oil, but that seems appropriate too.

The memory that I most associate with this day is the stripping of the altar at the end of the service.  I was always moved by this event, and always surprised by the elegance of the altar, which we usually keep covered with any number of linens.  Some days, I wish we just kept the altar stripped.

So, in whatever ways you observe this day, may you find some moments to retreat from the hubbub of the world, even if only in your head.  May you remember Christ's commandment and may you enjoy a meal with those humans that you love (even if only in your head, from a distance).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 24, 2011:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Jeremiah 31:1-6

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

Gospel (Alt.): John 20:1-18

Finally we move through Holy Week to Easter Sunday. At last, our Lenten pilgrimage draws to a close.

But perhaps you still linger back at Ash Wednesday. Perhaps you find the Good Friday texts more evocative than the Easter texts. It's interesting how our emotional lives aren't always in sync with the liturgical seasons or the Lectionary.

This year might be particularly tough with so many of us out of work, and those of us who remain employed in fear of losing our jobs. This year might be the year that the anniversary of a death of a loved one falls right smack on Easter day. This year might be the year that someone we love faces a tough medical diagnosis or recovery. The world offers so many impediments to our joy.

The stories we hear during Holy Week remind us of how to move from lives that have been reduced to ash back to lives full of resurrection. This year, the Maundy Thursday story speaks to me, perhaps because I've just reread Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

She observes, as many theologians have, that the teachings of Jesus revolve around the things we do, not the things we believe. The Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed came much later in Christianity. Long before we had creeds, we had Jesus saying, "Do this. Now do this. Now do this." We are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, protect the widows and orphans. Taylor comments on the Last Supper: "With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do--specific ways of being together in their bodies--that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself" (43). We have "embodied sacraments of bread, wine, water, and feet" (44).

I have an atheist friend who says she envies me my belief. I argue that my beliefs come because of my practice, and that she could enter into spiritual practices, and she would be a different person in a year. She proclaims not to believe me, but she also refuses to try my experiment. Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192). Holy Week reminds us of what we are called to do.

We are called to break bread together, to drink wine together. We are called to invite the outcast to supper with us. We are called to care for each other's bodies--not to sexualize them or mock them or brutalize them, but to wash them tenderly. Thus fortified, we are called to announce that the Kingdom of God is breaking out among us in the world in which we live, and we are called to demand justice for the oppressed.

Of course, Holy Week reminds us of the risk. Jesus was crucified--that was a capital punishment reserved for those who were considered a threat to the state, people who would foment rebellion, for example. The world does not often respond kindly to the call for social justice.

But Easter promises us that our efforts will not be in vain. N. T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, is a great Easter text (I've underlined something on almost every page), and Wright says forcefully, " . . . what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208). We may not understand how God will transform the world. We may not be able to believe that bleakness will be defeated. But Easter shows us God's promise that death is not the final answer.

Spring reminds us that nature commits to resurrection. Easter reminds us of God's promise of resurrection. Now is the time for us to rekindle our resurrection selves.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: "Passion Week"

This morning, I am thinking of that term, "The Passion."  I tend to think of it in love and sex terms, as in to respond with passion.  As an adolescent prone to reading bodice-ripper romances, using that term in conjunction with Christ and the crucifixion confused me to no end.

If only I had read Henri Nouwen earlier.  In today's meditation, I discovered this nugget of wisdom:  "It is important for me to remember that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him.  Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me, and thus is passion.  And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say or do.  I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action, originated by me.  But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action.  Not to recognize this is self-deception and not to embrace my passion with love is self-rejection" (Show Me the Way:  Readings for Each Day of Lent, page 125, taken from Road to Daybreak).

Almost a decade ago, the marriage of two of my very good friends came untwining apart during the Lent and Easter season.  Suddenly, symbols swirled around me in a whole new way.  It was interesting and agonizing to hear their tales of heartbreak while finishing the season of Lent and going through Holy Week.  Out of that experience came many poems.  One of them is below, published here for the very first time.

Passion Week

He decides to remove this cup
from her lips, to rescue
her from this crucifixion
of their marriage. He removes the splinters
from her back as he divides
their possessions. He frees
her from her wardrobe of thorns
and bandages her wounds.

If only he could have lavished
this attention on her earlier,
at the beginning of their marriage, not the end.
How might the prophecy change
had he anointed her head with oil,
cooked her meals magically
made from multiplied loaves and fishes,
if he only he had worked harder to transform
water into wine.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Downward Way of Jesus

Yesterday at my creativity blog, I wrote this post that talks about what Palm/Passion Sunday has to teach poets and writers. 

Today, I found similar thoughts in the Henri Nouwen meditation for today:

"Something in me always wants to turn the way of Jesus into a way that is honorable in the eyes of the world.  I always want the little way to become the big way.  But Jesus' movement toward the places the world wants to move away from cannot be made into a success story" (Show Me the Way:  Readings for Each Day of Lent, page 121, taken from Road to Daybreak).

It's something to ponder in this week that begins with praise and adulation and ends with crucifixion.  Yet this week also reminds us that the story never ends in death.  God works at redeeming the world, and we get to be part of that redemption and resurrection story.  It may not be the narrative that the world would see as a success story, but it's the most important kind of success story we can hope to experience.  Good news!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hurdle into Holy Week

Today, across Christendom, churches will celebrate Palm Sunday; many churches will also celebrate Passion Sunday.  Today, we hurdle into Holy Week--many pastors will be leading as many as 15-20 services between this morning and Easter evening.  Even at my relatively small church (we commune 75-125 on an average Sunday), we will have 2 services this morning, 2 on Maundy Thursday, 2 on Good Friday, and 3 on Easter Sunday--unless my Pastor decides to add a morning service on both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Today, many of us will receive palms.  The leftover palms will be burned and mixed with oil and saved for next year's Ash Wednesday service, where they will be smudged on our foreheads and we will be reminded of our essential dusty nature.

Palm Sunday reminds us that the people who will be our friends today may turn on us tomorrow.  The adoring crowds of today may turn accusatory by the end of the week.  And yet, as we journey through our lives, suffering every sort of betrayal, the Holy Week trajectory reminds us of the joy we will also experience along the way:  good meals with friends, deep conversations, a God who so wants deep connection with us that he will wash our feet.

And the hectic hurry of Holy Week ends in Easter, where we are reminded of the ultimate promise:  no matter how bad it gets, God has a plan.  We may not be able to see it, we may not be able to believe it, but God is hard at the work and play that is the redemption of creation.

Now that's Good News!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Silence Blog Post at Living Lutheran

My latest blog post is up here at the Living Lutheran site.  In the post, I talk about our increasingly amplified world, my experiences with silence at a monastery, and why religious traditions stress silence.

I am aware that churches walk a fine line between too much amplification and not enough--and then, there's always the glitches with the sound system which can lead to amusing/frustrating/annoying experiences.  I was at a non-Lutheran church once which was having such issues with the sound system that the pastor did an exorcism of the sound system right in the middle of the service.  I couldn't tell whether the pastor was serious or not:  it wasn't a church that I associate with exorcisms.  The intriguing thing:  the sound system behaved for the rest of the service.

At a Lutheran church I belonged to years ago, we experimented with a contemplative evening service followed by potluck dinner.  I loved the dimmer sanctuary and the extra candles.  I loved reading/hearing a Bible passage and sitting with it.  No explication, no sermon on it, just the Word sinking into our bones.  It was hard to get everybody on board.  People wanted to talk.  I suspect that if we had continued beyond the Advent season, we might have gotten people used to the process.  Or maybe the people who couldn't get comfortable with silence would have stopped coming.

I know that it's hard for churches to get the amplification just right.  Even the non-hearing impaired often need some amplification.  And then there are those of us who get jangled at all this stimuli.

I'm intrigued by modern/post-modern/emergent churches who use ambient sound and projected images and songs with words going on at the same time.  I haven't experienced the extreme end of that, but I have been to churches with big screens and pictures.  One church projected the hymn we were singing, complete with bouncing ball:  hymn karaoke!  Many churches with projection systems can't resist beaming pictures to the screen.  I've often hated the pictures on the screen and got distracted by wondering who chose such awful photos.  If I wanted to be subjected to a horrible PowerPoint presentation, I'd go to the American workplace.

I think about the monasteries I've seen and their austere, yet beautiful, chapels. When I go to Mepkin Abbey, I'm always intrigued by the way the worship space changes from service to service, with flowers and candles and statues and framed art.  I wish that I lived close enough to see how the space changes with the liturgical seasons.

I have a friend who converted from the Church of England to become a Quaker.  I'd love to attend her church, just to see what it's like.  Even monasteries aren't as committed to silence as the Quakers.

I'm not one of those bloggers who has all the answers and is only too happy to share them with you.  I'm a woman who has experimented a lot with worship, including not going, and has yet to find a completely perfect option.  I suspect there is no perfect option.  Even having more options means that we spread ourselves ever more thinly as a worshipping congregation.

Perhaps we have a contemplative service (one per season?  one per month?).  Perhaps we build more silence into the service.  Perhaps I build more silence into my daily life so I'm not so jangled.  Perhaps we commit to silence before the worship.  If our churches have unused spaces, maybe we could recreate them into small, silent chapels.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Prompt: Craving Resurrection

John 11:1-45

The Death of Lazarus

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,* ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6after having heard that Lazarus* was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16Thomas, who was called the Twin,* said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus* had already been in the tomb for four days. 18Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles* away, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.* Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,* the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’


--Where are you feeling dead and in need of resurrection? Begin by thinking about your life overall.

--Creatively, where do you need some recharging?

--Create an image of the resurrection you'd like to experience in the remainder of the year. You might do the same five years out, ten years out, and so on. Or maybe you'd like to focus on smaller parts of time. What resurrection do you need to experience each day? In the coming week? The coming month? This season and next?

Since next Friday is Good Friday, I will not be doing Creative Prompts for Lent anymore.  Perhaps after Lent.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The God Who Winks at Us

Last night, I was part of a phone interview with the poets Luisa Igloria and Dave Bonta.  The interview meandered around to spiritual topics.  I noted that her poems seem haunted by any number of things:  regrets, lost children, ancestors.

She talked about the religion of her younger years; she was raised Catholic, but it was the kind of Catholicism that mingled with the native spiritualities of the indigenous people of the Philippines.  We talked about the animist tendencies of those religions.  Dave, who self-identified as an agnostic, asked me what I thought.

I felt like I stumbled a bit through the answer.  I am not one of those Christians who believes that everyone else is going to Hell.  I'm also not one of those Christians who believes that all religions are doing the same thing; while I believe that there are many different pathways to the Divine, I'm uncomfortable with the reductionist view that we're just all searching for the same God (and notice how often that God is a blissed-out God).  I think Brian McLaren said it best, in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy:  "Now, contrary to public opinion, it is not true that all religions say basically the same things.  They have much in common, but there are notable contradictions and incompatibilities, many of which become more significant as they go deeper.  But in many cases (again, not all), at any given moment, different religions are not always saying different things about the same subjects; rather they are often talking about different subjects entirely" (p. 255). 

Luisa talked about mystical experiences of being aware of the presence of ancestors.  I said that I hadn't had any of those kind of experiences, perhaps because I haven't lost very many loved ones to death yet.  I talked about the experiences of a friend who experienced the presence of her dead father during one of the monastery worship services and how comforting it was.

I said that I did believe in an incarnational world, one where God was often present right there with us, winking at us, trying to get our attention, trying to remind us of what a wonderful world we inhabit.  And if I believe in that vision, perhaps it isn't inconceivable that our loved ones could also return in transcendental ways to be with us again, to remind us of our heritage and that we are loved.

I don't think I was quite that clear during the interview; when the podcast becomes available, I'll let you know, and you can judge for yourself.  In the meantime, you can read my review of Luisa's Trill and Mordent here and Dave Bonta's here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 17, 2011:

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Gospel: Matthew 26:14--27:66

Gospel (Alt.): Matthew 27:11-54

The verses above don't include the readings that recently have come to be read at the beginning of the service, the Palm Sunday story. Those of you who have been going to church for awhile may have noticed that Palm Sunday sometimes stretches for a longer time than Easter Sunday. There's so much we cover these days. We start with the Palm Sunday story--some churches actually have their congregants start out seated, then they rise and march around the church, either inside or outside, and then they sit down again. And then, when they get to the readings, they hear the whole story of the Passion. We get Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday all in one Sunday. It's almost a relief to show up on Easter and only have to deal with one part of the story.

I know that churches stay with this approach because it's so hard to get people to return to church on weeknights. Part of me thinks that it wouldn't hurt us to hear the Crucifixion story a few more times throughout the year than we currently do. Many of us lose sight of what God suffers for us, and the Crucifixion story makes it very clear. The Crucifixion story should also serve as a warning for us--it may be our fate, if we live our Christian call to the fullest (the history of civilizations shows that governments are very threatened by people who actually want to live their faith all the time--and threatened governments tend to crush the things which make them feel threatened).

Part of me, of course, is sad that people can't make the effort to get to church more often, especially during our highest Holy days. Part of me longs to be part of a more Orthodox tradition, a faith stream that demands more of me. The Eastern Orthodox worshiper observes Lent in a way that most of us never will, with more and longer church services and fasting and other strictures.

Let me also admit that most years, I've had to work during the evenings of Holy Week, so I've been one of those people who couldn't make it back in the evenings. I've made an effort to find services elsewhere, but it's not always easy. Most churches have curtailed their Holy Week offerings precisely because of dwindling attendance.

Part of me gets surly during Palm Sunday service, too, because it's long and familiar and I start to feel like I've heard it before--which makes it interesting when pastors or readers lose their place in the reading, and suddenly, we're in new territory--I've even been to a service where the Pastor read the Good Friday lesson in place of the Palm Sunday section, so we got to hear the Crucifixion story twice. Part of me is surly because I haven't done a very good job with my Lenten disciplines this year. It started off so well: I made a prayer shawl, and I did some meditating with the camera. But now, I'm lucky to get a chance to read my special Henri Nouwen meditation each morning.

But instead of feeling like a failure as Lent ends, instead of feeling grumpy because the lessons are familiar, maybe we should take advantage of these long Passion Sunday readings. Maybe we should meditate on the journey of Jesus and the metaphor of our own journey.

Palm Sunday, which is now called Passion Sunday, reminds us of life's journey. No one gets to live the triumphal entry into Jerusalem day in and day out. If we're lucky, there will be those high water mark periods; we'll be hailed as heroes and people will appreciate our work. All the transportation and dinner details will work out like we want them to. Our friends will be by our side.

Yet the Passion story reminds us that those same appreciative people can turn on us just as quickly. The cheering crowd today can be the one calling for our blood next week. If we're lucky, we'll have friends who stand by us, but we're also likely to suffer all kinds of betrayals (from our friends, from our governments, from any number of societal institutions, and ultimately from our bodies, our all too fragile flesh).

So, if you're feeling like an utter failure, take heart. And if you've had a meaningful Lent, then you've got a good base on which to build.

Soon we enter the long season of post-Pentecost. It's a long time until Advent, when the Church traditionally turns again to the idea of marking a season (either by special disciplines or special observances). But that doesn't mean that we can't work on our own.

A year from now, when you look back at your journey from Easter to Easter, what do you hope you will see? What path can you follow now that will lead to the changes that you seek?

Perhaps these questions make you tired. Start small. A Trappist monk once suggested that we'd all be better if we prayed the Lord's Prayer once a day and read one chapter from the Bible once a day, we'd see amazing changes.

That seems doable. I can turn away from all the worldly distractions for as long as it takes to read a Bible chapter. It takes less than a minute to pray the Lord's Prayer.

And this Sunday, while we're hearing the story of Jesus' journey, I'll think about the other possibilities of paths I could follow to transform my life so that it's more like Christ's. Maybe if I'm contemplating this question, I'll hear the story in new ways.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: "Modern Abolitionist"

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired on Ft. Sumter, which began the Civil War, still, one of the deadliest wars in U.S. history.  Since I have lived in the U.S. South for most of my life, this event creeps into my poems occasionally.

So, in light of this anniversary, I'll post my poem "Modern Abolitionist," which was first published in the South Carolina Review and was part of my larger chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.  To order my latest chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents, at special pre-publication prices, go here.

Modern Abolitionist

Two hundred years ago, we would have stitched
cloth, hung our quilts on the line to give guidance.
We would have sung songs, whispered directions,
left lamps burning in strategic windows.
Then, as now, we would have helped with the herding north.

Now we hang flags of blue plastic
above water stations in the desert. We patrol
these tanks to make sure they never run dry.
Dryness means quick death for those who make the daily
dashes towards freedom. We position
these water stations in national parks
under telephone poles that stretch high above, a sure sign
even during dehydration induced hallucinations. The flags whip
in the wind, a dry rustle above the rattlesnakes.

I keep extra food and water in the truck. When I see
parched refugees, dusty and sunburned, I offer
these meager rations. I’m not above
giving folks a ride. There’s no Fugitive
Slave Act to make me cower in fear.

Some mornings I find a few of them in the fields
or huddled against the garage, the barn.
Unlike my neighbors, I don’t threaten
them with my gun or call the law.
I’ve learned enough broken
Spanish to invite them to breakfast.
Eggs and toast translate to any language.

I wish I could fully claim my Abolitionist
heritage, instead of just dancing on the edge of lawlessness.
But I am no Harriet Tubman to safely lead
people out of slavery, no John Brown
to plot uprisings and raid munitions bunkers.
Alas, I don’t have the eloquence of Frederick Douglass.
All I can offer is a glass of water, a bite
of food, substandard shelter, and a ride north.

You might say, well, that's all nice and good, but what does it have to do with Biblical interpretation, the ostensible purpose of this Tuesday series?  As we head towards Holy Week, you'll notice that much of the Gospel seems to hearken back to the Old Testament, much like this poem tries to root the events in current life back to the Civil War happenings.  We tend to go back and read the Old Testament as if it is the prophecy that predicts Jesus.

I doubt that the writer of the Psalm that we'll hear on Good Friday had a vision and meant to predict the crucifixion of Jesus.  No, the Gospel writers looked back to the Old Testament and used imagery from the Psalms when they wrote as an attempt to give their testimony some deep roots.

Those of you who take the Bible literally (I emphatically do not) will protest.  I don't read the Bible as history.  I have friends who get into a fit of shaking anger at the idea that the Gospels weren't actually written by Jesus or by people who were close to Jesus.  My friends will protest, "How can those writers be expected to KNOW anything?  They weren't there!!!"

To which I reply, "They weren't writing a literal truth.  They were getting at the spiritual truth of the narrative of Jesus, to shed light on his life that way."  Did they care whether or not Jesus went to this place on that exact date and met the Samaritan woman there on that very date?  Does it matter that the story happened exactly like they said?  No, because that's not what they were doing.  It's a testimony, not a document.  And linking it back to the Psalms that would have been known by heart by many of the audience members is a shorthand way to quickly get to the truth.

Likewise, my poem isn't a historical account of either past or present.  But by linking a current movement (helping illegal immigrants in the desert Southwest) to a past moment in U.S. history (the events around the Fugitive Slave Act) serves as a quick way to make all sorts of statements, just the way the Gospel writers did.

Monday, April 11, 2011


In some churches, we now call Palm Sunday Passion Sunday, but once upon a time Passion Sunday was the 5th Sunday in Lent, not the 6th.  Once upon a time, we had 2 weeks that led up to Easter, 2 weeks that we called Passiontide.  Now we try to cram everything into what used to be Palm Sunday.  I've written about this before, my weariness with getting Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday all into one long Sunday service.

Yes, I know people can't make it back to church for weeknight services.  Oh well.   If you can't make it back, you're going to miss a few things.

This morning, I'm back to my thinkings about silence and about how we try to cram too many things into a Sunday.  This morning, I'm wondering if how our experience of Holy Week might change if we stretched it out, rather than trying to contain it all into one Sunday morning.  Two weeks to spend with one of the central events of our faith:  how might we change?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Silence and Sunday

I'm taking a break from writing my next blog post for Living Lutheran website.  My spouse needed to be at church early to work with the youth choir, and he needs to stay after to practice with the handchime choir.  Ordinarily, I would have gone early and stayed late, but today, I decided we would go in 2 cars.  The thought of having some extra writing time during these months of many deadlines was just too tempting.

I'm writing about silence and finding the silence we need to hear the still, small voice of God in our noisy world.  I'll work a bit more on this blog post, and then I'll go to a church service which will undoubtably be too noisy for me.  And then there's the knowledge of the upcoming bustle of Holy Week.  I'm tired and headachy already.

What would happen if we had more silence on Sundays?  Most Protestants I know would probably implode if forced to sit in silence.  In most churches, I've noticed we have trouble building in a few minutes of silence as part of prayer time.

And let me be clear--I'm as guilty as everyone else.  When I'm the Assistant Minister, who in our church often leads part of the Prayer of the Church (which by now, we may be calling something different), I force myself to count during the time when people are supposed to offer up their prayers silently or out loud.  Otherwise, people will have all of ten seconds before I go rushing along.

Why is silence so scary?  Why must everything be so amplified?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday Prompt: Getting Creative with Dirt and Spit

The Readings for this Past Sunday:

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Gospel: John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4WeI');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* must work the works of him who sent meus');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus him');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* to be the Messiah the Christ');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ 25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’the Son of God');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?Sir and Lord translate the same Greek word');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord,Sir and Lord translate the same Greek word');" onmouseout="return nd();" href="javascript:void(0);"* I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

Some prompts:

--How are you feeling blind this week?

--What do you need to be able to see?

--Jesus takes dirt and spit and uses them as a creative force to make a miracle. What common elements could you be using in your creative process? How can your creativity transform something common into something miraculous?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Praying for Ouselves

Beth Adams over at The Cassandra Pages has done a marvelous series of posts on her recent silent retreat (part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here).  They're all well worth reading.  Part 1 has 2 gorgeous photos, one in black and white and one in color.  In fact, each post has excellent visuals (photos, Beth's sketches, and her color drawing).  If you've ever wondered what a silent retreat would be like, these posts take us along.

Once upon a time, I couldn't stand silence.  I filled silence with loud music.  Now, I feel increasingly jangled in a world that's increasingly amplified.  I say that my current church might propel me into becoming a Quaker, and it's not because of the theology.  It's because the music is so amplified that I often go home with a headache.  And yes, I've let people know, and no, it's not gotten better.  Each Sunday, the idea of sitting in a silent community appeals more and more.

I'll be writing a blog post on silence for Living Lutheran (which is set to post there April 15), so I don't want to write at too much length on that today.  Instead, I want to think about a different thread in Beth's post, a thread about prayer.

In part 2, Beth talks about her experience:  "At the time set aside for intercessions, he (the leader) asks us to take the card at each of our places, and, if we wish, write on it our thanks, or people's names, thoughts or concerns; then to place the sealed envelopes on the floor near the altar. Don't worry, he says, no human eye will see what you've written!" 

She complies, even with some hesitation:  "Usually I find these sorts of things impossibly hokey, but as I think about what to write, it's names that come into my head - the people closest to me, including those two who've died. And so I write my short list. I read it over, hesitate, and then add, "and me," and tears start running out of my eyes."

Her story reminded me of my own story.  I wrote a comment:  "Reading this post took me back to a year (2004? 2005?), a high stress year, when everyone was in deep trouble of some kind, a year with lots of Florida hurricane landfalls. I used to run 4-6 miles in the morning and pray for everyone, and some mornings it would take the whole run to get through my mental list of people to pray for. And then one morning, I asked God to help me too, and I immediately started sobbing. It's difficult to sob and run! Luckily, it was before dawn so I could just weep for a bit and pull myself together and nobody saw my tears.  Why can I calmly pray for everyone else, but praying for myself makes me cry? I have yet to answer that. Should I worry that I don't weep for others? Hmm."

I continued to think about this post, about my memory, and about why it's hard to pray for myself.  I have no problem praying for people in trouble.  I pray for local, state, and national leaders, even if I don't like them--I pray for God to be with them.  I pray for everyone at work, even the atheists who might wish I wouldn't. 

But to ask God to help me?  That feels frivolous, somehow.  My problems are so insignificant, compared to say, the people who suffered the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Or is it a variant of pride?  Perhaps.  It's not the kind of pride that can't admit I have problems, failings, and the need for help.  Oh no, I can give you a long list of my faults.  Instead, it's the kind of pride that keeps me from asking for help of all kinds, the kind of pride that says I want to be seen as a sturdy, capable adult, the dependable one, the good girl, the one you can count on.  Not the one in the corner, quivering with anxiety, nauseated by my own fear.

So, why does praying for myself make me sob?  It comes from the same place that leaves me weeping when I read Jesus say "I shall not leave you orphaned" (John 14:18).  My younger self would have scoffed at the idea of a God that had time for us as individuals.  My younger, insufferable self would have said, "Doesn't God have bigger problems to solve?  Look at the carnage in Central America!"  On and on my 19 year old self would have railed.

Happily, my 45 year old self believes in a God much vaster than the one my younger self thought she knew.  I think of my grown up life, where I have time to console the toddler who is afraid of the lawnmower, while at the same time problem solving for my department at work and donating money to Lutheran World Relief, and serving dinner to homeless men--I see God in a similar way.

And the idea of a God who actually takes time for each of us--that's the idea that makes me yearn and weep with longing.  I live in a world where making a lunch date can take a month of coordinating calendars.  But God always has a free spot for me in the calendar.  God would be happy to meet me for lunch or coffee or a morning jog.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, April 10, 2011
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm: Psalm 130
Second Reading: Romans 8:6-11
Gospel: John 11:1-45

What a strange picture of Jesus in this Gospel.  Remember the Jesus of several miracles ago?  The one who instructed people to go and tell no one?

Here we see a Jesus who seems overly aware of the impact of his actions.  It's as if we're seeing a man who is aware of his legacy and how he'll be seen--a man who is trying to control the story.  And of course, we see foreshadowing in this story, foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Christ, which we'll be celebrating in two weeks.

Notice that Jesus waits until Lazarus is good and dead before he appears to comfort the sisters and perform a miracle.  It's as if he wants no dispute about the miracle.  Unlike the past few miracles when he raised people who had only been dead for a few hours, here he waits 4 days.  There's no doubt about what he's done once he's raised Lazarus from the dead.  We can't easily imagine that Lazarus has been faking his death for 4 days.  Even if Lazarus wanted to help Jesus fake a miracle and put on a good show, it's hard to imagine that he'd willingly submit to being sealed in a tomb for 4 days.

As we watch the world around us gear up for Easter, we'll see a certain number of Jesus detractors.  We'll see people who want to explain away the resurrection.  The liturgical calendar gives us this story of Lazarus to return us to one of the main themes of our religion--we believe in (and are called to practice) resurrection.

And why is the idea of resurrection so hard in our fallen world?  Do we not know enough people who have turned their lives around?  Think of all the people who have risen again out of the ashes of drug addiction, madness, or domestic turmoil.  Why are we so hesitant to believe in miracles?

Although writing about a different miracle, Wendell Berry has said expressed my idea more eloquently than I can today.  In his essay, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation," he says, "Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine--which was, after all, a very small miracle.  We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes" (this wonderful essay appears in his wonderful book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community).

The world has far too many cynics.  Christians are called to be different.  Choose your favorite metaphor:  we're to be leaven in the loaf, the light of the world, the city on a hill, the salt (or other seasoning) that provides flavor, the seed that pushes against the dirt.  Each day, practice hope.  Each day, practice resurrection.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Poetry Tuesday: "Eucharist"

I wrote this poem as I was thinking about Passover, thinking about Holy Week, and going to a quilting session with such a variety of women from such a variety of backgrounds.  I took some poetic liberties:  I wasn't really a lapsed Lutheran at the time, but I liked the alliteration, all those Ls (lapsed, Lutheran, longing, liturgy).  It was eventually published in Ruminate, and I'm happy to share it with you here:


I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

I like this poem, and other works like it, because they point us to the sacramental in everyday life.  The Bible, too, points us towards the sacramental in the every day.  Think about our Gospel lesson from last Sunday, where Jesus takes spit and dirt and transforms a blind man into man with sight (and perhaps, vision?!).  Think about the elements of Baptism (water and word), the elements of Communion (words, wine, bread).

For today, I'm not going to recommend additional poetry, but instead a very lyrical prose work, Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.  The book talks about discovering the Divine outside of church buildings.  It's beautifully written.  Taylor says things like,"Sabbath is the great equalizer, the great reminder that we do not live on this earth but in it, and that everything we do under the warming tent of this planet's atmosphere affects all who are woven into this web with us. Just because the land and the livestock cannot hire lawyers does not mean they have not been violated" (page 132). Don't you love that alliteration (Ls again!)? I'm always such a sucker for thrilling alliteration.

For the in-depth review of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, go here.  To buy my forthcoming chapbook of poems, go here

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Henri Nouwen Quote to Start Your Week Right

Sunday's reading from Henri Nouwen's Show Me the Way:  Readings for Each Day of Lent really spoke to me.  I thought it might speak to you too:

"Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu.  The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions.  'Compulsive' is indeed the best adjective for the false self.  It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.  Who am I?  I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated, or despised.  . . .  The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same--more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life:  anger and greed.  They are the inner side of a secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies." (p. 81; quote originally appeared in Nouwen's Way of the Heart).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Midway Through Lent: Schedule Disruptions and Despair

So, here we are, midway through Lent. How is your Lenten discipline going? I thought my Lenten disciplines would be so simple. I'd read my way through the Nouwen text, Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent. I'd crochet prayer shawls instead of just mindlessly watching television. Not hard, right?

It always starts so well, and I always think, hey, this is easy. And then come the schedule disruptions and despair. Now is the time to resist the seduction of despair.

So, like me, you've gotten off schedule? Are you filled with self-loathing? Do you berate yourself by saying, "Really, why can't you just keep a simple commitment? What's wrong with you?"

Stop that line of thought right now. We have lived in the land of self-loathing long enough. Hopefully, we chose our Lenten disciplines because we wanted to become closer to God. We didn't choose them so that we'd have additional reasons to hate ourselves. That's not the emotion that God desires to see.

Take time to rest and regroup. Reassemble your plans. Rethink. Were you too ambitious? Has your schedule changed? What changes should you make as we head into the countdown to Easter?

And now, recommit.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Prompt: Thirsting

Exodus 17:1-7
17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Is the Lord among us or not?" questioned the thirsty Israelites. God commanded Moses to "strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Are there times when you have questioned whether the Lord is among us or not? Write or create something visual/artistic about one of those times in your life.

John 4:5-42
5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)* 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,* can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving* wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’

Jesus said that "those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." What do you thirst for--spiritually? How can you quench that thirst? Respond prayerfully and creatively.