Friday, May 31, 2019

The Feast Day of the Visitation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth. Both are miraculously pregnant. As they approach each other, they recognize each other, as mothers, as miracles--even the babies in their wombs understand what's happening.

I'm a good Lutheran girl, so growing up, we never celebrated these feast days. As I've gotten older and explored monasticism, and to be honest, as I've blogged more and needed more to write about, I've been doing all sorts of research into feast days.

Some feast days leave me shaking my head and wondering what modern folks are to do with them. Some feast days, like today's, make me wish I'd known about them earlier. I think about my younger self who was enraged that so much femaleness seemed to be erased from Christianity. What would my raging feminist self have done with this festival?

I'm not sure she'd have been appeased. I was also in the process of trying to assert that biology isn't destiny, while also acknowledging that I was one of the first generations to be able to assert that idea.

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, although not in the womb-centric way that the phrase is often bandied about. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.

Now that I am at midlife, I love this story of two women from two generations coming together to support each other. I love this story of new life being held in unlikely wombs. I am fondly remembering female members of my own extended family and offering thanks for their support. I remember the family stories they told and the ways they included me in family gatherings. I remember the rides to the airport, and memorably, one time that my cousin Barbara (my mom's first cousin) came to Augusta, 60 miles away, at night, to help me out of a jam caused by the breakdown of a car. I remember that she treated it as a grand adventure. No castigating, no lecturing.

So on this day when we remember two women of two generations supporting each other, let's say a special prayer of thanks for all who have nurtured us when the larger society could not or would not. Let's make a special effort to support those coming after us.

Today is a good day to spend some time in discernment. God called Mary, and she said yes. God called Elizabeth, and she said yes. God had a larger vision for them than they could have imagined for themselves. Imagine that the angel Gabriel appears to you with a special request from God. What is that request?

Remember that you are blessed in so many ways. Remember that the world desperately needs what only you can offer. Remember that God calls you to be that blessing to the world, and that God can find a way where humans would declare there is no way.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, today we offer thanks for Elizabeth and Mary, women who were willing to follow your invitation into adventures that must have seemed impossible. Open our hearts so that we hear the invitations you offer to us. Give us the courage to say yes to you. Plant in us the gifts that the world needs.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Feast of the Ascension

The readings for the Feast of the Ascension:

First Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Psalm: Psalm 47

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 93

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

Gospel: Luke 24:44-53

In today’s reading, we get a summary of the life of Jesus, and then, in a sentence, it’s over. Jesus ascends into Heaven, leaving behind gaping disciples.

They don’t get to stare into the sky very long. They have a task to do. It’s the same task that we have.

Today’s reading gives us the paradox of God’s good news. The kingdom of God is both here, now, already, but it is also not yet fulfilled. Those two conditions seem impossible to reconcile. It seems impossible to live with both conditions existing simultaneously--and yet, it is what we are called to do.

Many of us spend much of our lives as those men of Galilee, gaping into the heavens; we spend time thinking about Heaven, plotting how to get there, anticipating the time when all our tears will be wiped away.

But the coming Sundays of the Pentecost season remind us that we’re not put on Earth to wait to die. We are here to help God in the ultimate redemption of creation. Jesus began that work of that redemption. We are here to further it along, at least as much as we can during our very short time here.

And how do we do that? The possible answers to that question are as varied as humanity. Some of us will pray without ceasing. Some of us will fight for social justice. Some of us will create works that point others to God. Some of us will visit the lonely and the sick. Some of us will give away our money so that others have the resources to do the creation redeeming work that needs to be done.

Whatever we choose, it’s important that we get to work. We don’t want to get to the end of our time here, only to be asked, “Why did you stand there gaping, when there was so much work to do?”

Prayer for the Feast of the Ascension:

Ascending God, you understand our desire to escape our earthly bonds, to hover above it all, to head to Heaven now instead of later. Remind us of our earthly purpose. Reassure us that we have gifts and talents that are equal to the tasks that you need us to do. Help us close our gaping mouths and get to work.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 2, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 16:16-34

Psalm: Psalm 97

Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

Gospel: John 17:20-26

In this Gospel reading, we get a glimpse of the prayer life of Christ.  I find it deeply moving to think of Christ praying for me. I think of him praying for those that will come later (in our case, much later, 2000 years later) and want to weep in amazement. To the very end, Christ prays for his followers, for those that have been and those that will be. In these last prayers, he continues to focus on his central message of showing God's love to the world.

Christ also reminds God that he wants to share the glory that God has given him. He wants to give that glory to his followers. Think on that for a minute. What if you actually were capable of being like Jesus?

Here, too, we get a vision of success the way that Jesus defines it.  It's not about claiming all the glory for himself and translating that glory into wealth or ruling the Roman empire or beauty.  It's about glory that spills over to those who come later.  It's a sharing economy that we don't often see in our human-made world.  

It's a radical vision of love.  But how do regular humans, who often operate from a space of greed or loss, how do we move towards that space of love?  The good news: the more we practice being Christlike vessels of radical love, the better we'll become at it.

Here, as with any change, it's better to start with the tiniest of baby steps. Maybe this summer is a good time to increase your charitable giving. Maybe you want to donate some time to work with the poor and the oppressed. Maybe you want to remember to pray for those who aren't as fortunate as you are. Maybe you want to clean out your closets and give your surplus to those who have little. Maybe you want to adopt an artistic practice that will help you notice the presence of God.

Maybe you don't want to add an additional task, but you want some quiet time, a time without the constant blaring of the sorts of media that feed our space of separation and hate.

Christ's prayer that we may all be as one resonates even more in these days of deep division.  How can we be part of the healing mission of Jesus.

We are surrounded by people who are poor in spirit, people who are suffering terrible blows. You could be there for them. You could be the person in the office who always has a smile and a kind word and reassurance that all will be well and all manner of things will be well (to use mystic Julian of Norwich's words). You could sow the seeds of hope and help fight despair. You could be the person that makes people wonder and whisper, "I wonder what his secret is? What makes her so capable of being happy?" Maybe they'll ask and they'll really want to know, and you can talk about your faith. Maybe they'll just be drawn to you and hang out with you, and you can minister that way.

Theologian Richard Rohr had these words of wisdom in Tuesday's daily meditation:  "Rather than consuming spiritual gifts for yourself alone, you must receive all words of God so that you can speak them to others tenderly and with subtlety."

Begin today.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Holy Hospitality and the Dusk of Indecision

Some of us carry our homes on our backs:

Others need shelves to hold what is most precious:

What shows holy hospitality?  Is it a good reading light?

Or an abundance of mugs?

We wish for a clear path, for all the gates to open:

But some years, a clear path requires a time to dwell in the dusk of indecision:

Even in those times, grace abounds, if we have eyes to see:

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Memories and Prayers

Memorial Day looks to be bright and calm down here on one of the southernmost tips of the U.S.  We will have cooler temperatures than many in the Southeast.

I'm thinking of past Memorial Days.  Once we would have spent the week-end in Jacksonville with old college friends. During some of those years, we had to leave on Sunday, because I taught in South Carolina, a state which didn’t have Memorial Day as a state holiday. Memorial Day began as a day to honor the Union dead, so many southern states had an alternate Confederate Memorial Day.  And my school didn't have many of the federal holidays off at all.

But I digress.

That tradition ended when one friend's marriage ended.  In more recent years, we've stayed down here and not done much special--although we often meet up with friends at least once during the week-end.

I do find myself missing the places I've lived that had a longer history, even as I've learned all the troublesome aspects of that history.  As we've traveled from place to place,  

Air Force dad made sure we understood that our freedom came at a real cost, a lesson that too many people seem to have skipped.

Nothing drives home the cost of war more than a visit to the Vietnam Memorial and seeing those 58,000 or so names carved into a black scar of granite.

How might our thinking about war change if we also added the names of all the maimed war veterans? What a cost.

And then there are the civilians. And the family members. So much wreckage on so many sides.

I'm thinking of the 2005 trip to France I took with my mom and dad and our stops at a variety of WWI cemeteries.  That effect, too, is similar to the one that the Vietnam Memorial--those graves, stretching on as far as we could see.

So, on this day which has become for so many of us just an excuse to have a barbecue, let us pause to reflect and remember. If we're safe right now, let us say a prayer of gratitude. Let us remember that we've still got lots of military people serving in dangerous places.

Let us remember how often the world zooms into war. Let us pray to be preserved from those horrors.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Memorial Day:

God of comfort, on this Memorial Day, we remember those souls whom we have lost to war. We pray for those who mourn. We pray for military members who have died and been forgotten. We pray for all those sites where human blood has soaked the soil. God of Peace, on this Memorial Day, please renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this Memorial Day,we offer a prayer of hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Planning Forty Days of Prayer

Months ago, my pastor asked me if I wanted to be in charge of 40 days of prayer as my church discerns a way forward.  I said yes, as long as it didn't have to happen during Lent.  We decided that a post-Pentecost time made the most sense.

It occurs to me that we are almost to Pentecost, and thus, it is time to think about 40 days of prayer.  What makes the most sense?

I am certain that we cannot gather in person every day to pray together.  Our church will also be having house meetings during that time, so it's even more unlikely that we can have daily prayer times at the church.

But it might make sense to have several prayer sessions at church, since we are discerning God's vision for the property.  Maybe we should have a morning session one week, an evening session another week, and a session at lunch one week.

Should we also have different types of prayer?  I don't know how much our congregation knows about different kinds of prayer.  For that matter, I could use a review myself.

I have a vision of an e-mail that goes out each day, an e-mail that not only reminds people to pray but gives them a prayer prompt.  Occasionally, that prompt should suggest a different way of prayer.

Let me keep pondering--but let me also start planning.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Spiritual Journaling: The Need to Return

One of the delightful parts of the online journaling class that I took last fall has been the continuation of the relationships.  I am now Facebook friends with most of the participants, and as with most of my Facebook friends, I'm always interested to see what they're up to.

Earlier this week, one of them posted some art that reminded me of the art that she'd created for the journaling class.  I went back to the closed Facebook page that was created for our class, and I spent some wonderful time scrolling back through our posts.  We did some amazing work.  It's no wonder that I've found myself missing the energy of that time.

That class was so amazing in so many ways, both expected and unexpected.  I was struck by the insights that we shared--struck at the time that we shared them, and then again, six months later, as I read back through them this week.

At some point soon, I want to write up something more formal that talks about why an online retreat can be so powerful--in similar ways to meeting onground, and in profoundly different, but no less important, ways.

But more immediately, I want to get back to this kind of journaling on a more regular basis.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Spiritual Lives of TV Characters

In the past few weeks, we've occasionally watched reruns of M*A*S*H; we've watched about 8 episodes.  I have been struck by the religious themes in the show that I didn't notice when I first watched those re-runs and originals years ago in the early 80's.

I watch the shows in a haphazard fashion, so it's hard for me to support this theory:  Father Mulcahy becomes a more major character as the show progresses, and therefore, more of the shows have a spiritual undercurrent.  The first few seasons of the show had a much more coarse tone, with much more unlikable characters.  I much prefer the later episodes.

This week, we watched the episode where the unit finds an abandoned baby and has to decide what to do.  They wrestle with several unattractive choices.  Father Mulcahy has a connection with a local monastery, and in the end, that choice seems best for the baby.  I liked the nod to ecumenism, and I know that in other episodes, Father Mulcahy works on a variety of projects with the local religious communities in Korea.

My favorite episode of the last few weeks was the Christmas episode that ends with the whole cast singing "Dona Nobis Pacem"; you can watch it here.  Father Mulcahy talks about singing it every night before sleep--it's a great practice.  I wish I could remember to sing/hum it every time I feel anxious.

I love that the show deals with the doubts that even the most religious people can have.  I love that it doesn't see these doubts as something that needs to be wrapped up in the 22 minute story arc of an episode.  It's a very realistic depiction of life, both the life of faith and the life of doubt.

I also like the depiction of the community that the medical unit has developed.  There's an acceptance of the priest that is part a feature of the forced nature of the community, part a feature of the time period of the Korean war, and partly because of the characters themselves.  Father Mulcahy is likable, after all.  He could have been a very different kind of priest.

I like that the community supports him, even as they aren't going to make lifestyle changes to make him happy.  I like that the priest doesn't reject the members of the community who behave in ways that might offend him.  I like that the priest offers a prayerful presence.

As I watch these shows, I'm struck again and again by how masterful they are:  great storytelling, marvelous character development, wonderful dialogue, skilled acting, and amazing TV.  I remember watching the movie years after I fell in love with the later episodes of the TV show, and I was so disappointed.  The TV show is much better.

As I watch the reruns and then switch to TV being created now, the twenty-first century shows (the ones created for network channels) seem much flatter.  The characters could use more of everything, and one of the things I most crave is more of a depiction of inner life.  I'm not demanding that the shows explore the spiritual lives of characters.  Surely these TV characters must have some yearnings.  I'm struck by how seldom we see characters with a thirst for social justice or a craving for a creative life or a spark of seeing the Divine in some aspect of modern life.


Happily, we're in a time period where all sorts of filmed narrative is available to us.  But often, I want the older material that's stood the test of time.  Happily, M*A*S*H is still widely available.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Of Bucket Lists and Monasteries

This morning, I was thinking about retreat centers on the west coast of the U.S. and how going there seems a bit more doable, since my trip to Portland.  I thought about what I'd do this summer if I won the lottery and didn't have to work:  I'd go spend time at the Grunewald Guild and while I was in the neighborhood (i.e., the state of Washington), I'd head to Holden Village.

I was thinking about ecotourism and the kind of tourism where people go to do good deeds.  I thought about my kind of tourism, going to retreat centers and cathedrals and places of spiritual intentional living.  I felt a brief moment of sorrow thinking about how I'd love to go to Iona with my mom--but Iona is so isolated that it might not be a good idea.  She has some medical issues with her heart which don't usually affect her ability to live her normal life, but traveling to a place that's far from good medical care might not be wise. 

Is Iona far from good medical care?

I lay in bed, thinking, note to self:  do that international travel before old age makes it impossible.  My work responsibilities make a long trip across oceans/time zones less easy, and when I am older without work responsibilities, old age might interfere.

Or maybe I'll be that feisty old lady who inspires everyone to live their best life.

And then I realized that my bucket list at this point consists mainly of trips to monasteries and retreat centers.  I suspect when I am that feisty old lady, I may make time for the occasional trip to an international city that has an interesting art retrospective or food festival.  But if I never get around to seeing Rome, I may not be sad.

If I don't get to see Iona, I will be sad.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The lessons for Sunday, May 26, 2019:

Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67 (4)

Revelation 21:10, 22--22:5

John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

I find these post-Easter, pre-Ascension, pre-Pentecost lessons poignant. I feel this ache for both the disciples and Jesus. They've suffered an almost inconceivable trauma, a wrenching death--and now, some time for them to be together again, to have barbecues on the beach and a few last instructions. But Jesus must know that soon he'll be gone again. The older I get, the more this seems one of life's central lessons: our loved ones will soon enough be ripped away.

This Gospel lesson addresses that dilemma of being a biological being. Jesus promises us a Holy Spirit, a Counselor. He promises us His peace. He tells us that it is not peace as the world understands it, but a different kind of peace.

Of course, that's the central message of Christianity. The world offers us many false comforts. Feeling like someone's ripped a hole in your life? Buy more stuff. Feeling so rushed that you can't hear yourself think? All you need is a new cellphone that costs several hundred dollars to keep you more in touch. Hurry, hurry, busy, busy--all to keep earning money so that we can keep buying more stuff that doesn't fill our deep emptiness.

Christ came to show us the way to deal with the pain, loss, and emptiness of being human. Fix food for each other and then eat together. Again and again and again. Invite people who don't have enough food. Share our goods. Don't hoard our money for the future, but invest in community. Don't save up treasures on earth. Trust in God, who will not leave you orphaned and alone. Instead of hiding from pain, face the pain of our own lives and sit with the pain of others.

Jesus tells us plainly: "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." That's a tough commandment for most of us these days. But Christ clearly tells us not to give in to our anxiety, to resist fear-based thinking, to cultivate a consciousness of abundance, instead of focusing on scarcity. There's enough for us all, and we will not be abandoned. Act like you believe Christ's words, and eventually you won't have to work so hard to believe it.

Jesus doesn't give us a view of a God who waves a magic wand to get rid of all our troubles. Jesus shows us a God that wants to be there with us, through all of life's events, both joyous and sad. Jesus shows us a God that will help us in our troubles if we ask, but not necessarily make them go away. Jesus shows us the idea of God as a partner, a partner with tremendous resources so that we need not be afraid or troubled.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: "Salty Soup"

While the rest of the nation discusses ever more draconian abortion bills that seem to be zooming through various statehouses, I am still thinking of climate change.  I am concerned about these bills, to be sure, but I suspect that the Supreme Court will not overturn Roe v. Wade.

I think that climate change will shortly command all of our attention, in a way that a cancer diagnosis makes the other daily problems fade.  I'm not sure what I'm expecting first, but the weather report last week of higher daytime temperatures at the Arctic than here in South Florida did grab my attention.

I'm also thinking of some of my friends' Facebook pictures of beautiful beaches and lovely trips in boats.  One day, we'll tell our children about the times when we didn't fear the sea.

I've written about this idea numerous times.  Here's one of my favorite poems that I've written about this idea:

Salty Soup 

Once upon a time, before 
the sea became so enswamped 
with jellyfish, we swam 
in water so clear you could see 
the sandy floor and the salty 
shores beyond the horizon. 

We swam with fish that meant 
us no harm, fish striped 
with jewel-true colors. We swam 
with tanks on our backs 
and an assortment of bulky 
equipment which weighed 
us down on land but helped 
us stay submerged 
in the marine cosmos. 

A strange homecoming, 
even though we couldn’t stay 
without our heavy encapsulations. 
We felt our fluids expand beneath our skin. 
We sank like stones, 
our exhalations bubbling to the surface. 

Once we swam, I tell you, we did. 
We could live by the coast, harvest 
the oceans’ riches, venture 
forth on boats. Once we did not fear 
the sea. Once we swam in such peace 
that we longed to return to the salty 
soup from which we evolved.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Esther and Octavia Butler and My Sermon

On our way home from church yesterday, my spouse observed that it's not every day that you hear a sermon that mentions both Octavia Butler and Esther.  He thinks that it's one of my strengths, that my sermons use elements of popular culture that not everyone would use.

My sermon used both the Gospel text, where Jesus tells the disciples that they'll be known as followers of Jesus by how well they love each other, and the text from Acts, where Peter has the dream about all the forbidden foods he should eat and has a conversation about eating with uncircumcised Christians.  I talked about the idea from Octavia Butler where a space alien notes that humans have a lot going for them, but what will doom them is their need for hierarchy.

I talked about the need to expand our love outside of our immediate social groups, that we're called not to love just our fellow Christians, not just the outcast of society, but even those in power.  I talked about how the Roman empire was much more brutal than our own time, and that's when I brought in Esther--maybe we are all here for such a time as this, this time when it seems like the forces of disruption are proceeding faster than we can stitch it all back together again.

My spouse also talked about my skills in teaching and extemporaneous speaking, after I confessed that once again, I had an outline of a sermon, but I wanted to leave the ending open, in case the Holy Spirit had something to say and wanted to lead me there.  I'm also fortunate in that I've spent a lot of time doing reading and writing on these subjects, so I can come to a sermon without it written out, and still trust that I'll have something to say.

It was a good Sunday at church, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  Our pastor has been gone away at the Festival of Homiletics, and I expected a low turnout yesterday.  But we had similar attendance, which is gratifying, since they knew in advance he wouldn't be here.  Our choir was missing some key members, but that allowed a different duet than usual.  Our organist was gone, and our other key musician had issues with his keyboards, but we had a lovely, guitar-led service.

Since Friday, I had been fighting something (cold?  sinus infection?) that left me tired and achy and irritable, but I was able to lead the service with a lower energy kind of day than is usual for me.  I'm glad we all made the effort, because I'm aware that many of us are facing days of ebbing energy, even as the daylight lingers longer. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fever Dreams

I am not quite back to normal yet, but I'm feeling a bit better.  It's been a strange few days of feeling off--a headache that doesn't respond to meds, sinus pressure resulting in a face that hurts, and lots of sleeping.

Despite my feeling off, we did get a bit done yesterday, mainly in the form of errands.  We also got our automatic pool vacuum cleaner repaired.  I had planned to do more, of course.  I have always planned to do more.

Today I am in charge at church, and then this afternoon, we have a South Florida family gathering:  my spouse's brother, his wife, and his sister's grown daughter.  In short, once again, I don't have much writing time.

But let me record a dream from my fevered sleep last night:  I was walking around a campus and saying, "I didn't realize we had a Lutheran college down here."  It looked like a more modernized version of my undergraduate Lutheran School, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina.  People told me about the exciting programs happening there--and then I realized it was a Missouri Synod school, which means it would be a lot more conservative than my Lutheran ELCA tradition.  I woke up as I was puzzling what to do.  In my dream, I was talking to my Admissions-colleague-in-real-life saying, "It's really not as bad as it might be."

Hmm.  This dream could have so many meanings.  If I think that God speaks to us in dreams, and I do, what is God saying?

But now, I must get ready for church.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

To sleep, perchance . . .

Last night, instead of going to an after-work happy hour, I came home and tucked myself into bed.  Last night, while a dear friend's daughter took part in law school graduation activities, I slept.  While Facebook friends went to concerts, I slept.  I watched no news shows while I slept.  My spouse came home from his Friday evening teaching class, and still I slept.  I often wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, but last night, I slept.  I slept about 12 hours when it was all done.

I had no firm plans to go to any of these events, so it's not like I let anyone down.  But it's strange nonetheless.  I usually function on 6-8 hours of sleep, and last night I got double that.  I had felt off all day--with a headache that aspirin didn't touch.  I still have the headache.  I also have lots of drainage and my sinuses ache.  I have some sinus medication that I'll take later this morning when I'm done running errands .  It's got a message about drowsiness and driving.  I suspect I would be fine, but why take chances.

I had thought about running those errands last night, but I wanted to take it easy.  I thought I'd take a nap and wake up when my spouse came back from teaching, but I didn't.  It's strange to feel rested but still kind of off (headache, slight dizziness, face ache, lots of gunkiness in my throat).

Let me see if I can hook up the printer to this laptop, which will be new to the printer.  Let me print the coupons I need.  Let me run my errands so that I can get started on getting rid of this sinus pain and pressure.

Let me also acknowledge what my body is telling me--let me take it a bit eaiser today.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Fears and a Prayer

Another week of adjustments in many ways, which has led to disrupted sleep.  My spouse began his classes this week, and I began the online classes that I teach--that's been an adjustment.  I've been trying to get back to making sure I get 10,000 steps in a day, so two nights this week, I've done a short walk when I've gotten home from work.

I am feeling that frustration with myself for not getting more done, while also feeling overwhelmed at the thought of making any progress.  The remaining projects still seem huge.  I am feeling sorrow at my lack of publishing progress, especially with bigger projects.  I have made the mistake of looking at past blog posts and wondering what happened to the bigger projects I was writing about years ago.

I am feeling distress about the health of my friends.  Two weeks ago, one of my friends went to the hospital with an obstructed bowel, and even though she didn't have to have surgery, her recovery has been slower than expected.  Another friend has decided not to go forward with radiation for her latest brain tumor.

And of course, that leads me to my fears about my own health.  This week I've been trying to return to healthier habits, like making sure to get my 10,000 steps in a day.  While I'm happy about this return, I also feel a bit of sorrow:  why do I always let my good habits slip away?  I know I should rejoice in my ability to come back to good habits after a slip, but why is permanent change not possible for me?

Maybe my expectations are out of whack.  Maybe most people make progress in just this way:  chug towards the change we want to be, slide back, chug some more, experience a serious set back, regroup, chug again, slide some more . . . and on and on we go.

It's also an unsettling time in politics, as it has been for years now.  This has been a week of ghastly news about new state laws around abortion.  I'm more queasy about abortions than I once was, but I am still a firm believer in choice.  I don't think that women have abortions casually.  I've known a lot of women, and I've never met any woman who was using abortion as birth control.

We also heard the news yesterday that 500 immigrants (here illegally?) will be shipped to South Florida each month, Palm Beach and Broward county.  I heard a newscaster talk about how this will strain the social safety net--news flash--we don't have much of a social safety net down here.

I have had more headaches this week than I usually do.  As I write this blog post, I think about all the headache inducing events of the week.

Let me think about the self-care that I want to include this week-end.  Let me write a poem so that I focus on the joy of creation, not the difficulties of publication.  Let me make some healthy food--that's something I can control.  Let me take a walk or two so that I remember we live in a beautiful place.  Let me pray, so that I remember that I am not the Messiah--not the savior of the world or even of my little patch of world.

Creator God, I come to you this morning as a whimpering, tired, stressed out creature in need of restoration.  Let me remember our commitment to resurrection, both your commitment and mine.  Let me remember that I am loved.  Let me love others the way that you love your creation.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Julian of Norwich: A Photo Essay Appreciation

In May, my thoughts turn to Julian of Norwich on her feast day.  I think of Julian of Norwich and her tiny cell:

I think of my own spaces, all of them likely larger than hers.  I think of all the surfaces which have held my writing:

I think of her writing, her mystical, radical views of God:

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I think of her assurance that all will be well:

I repeat her assurances throughout the day, a monastic prayer to call me back to my better self:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 19, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Psalm: Psalm 148

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Gospel: John 13:31-35

When I was a child, I wished that my family was part of a more rigorous religion. I wanted to go to Confession every week. I wanted to do more penance than just saying I was sorry. I thought it would be neat to be a kosher Jew, with lots of laws to keep. The Lutheran concept of grace didn't thrill me very much. It just seemed so easy.

Ah, youth, when everything seems easy!

In today's Gospel, we get our marching orders, the most important commandment, the one that now seems not as easy as I once thought: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (verses 34-35). When I was a child, I would have rolled my eyes and asked for a harder assignment. 

Now that I am older, I think that loving each other is plenty hard enough. As a grown up, I think that following dietary laws would be an easier command. I think of all the other things Jesus could have required of us, and some part of me wishes for one of those.

Why is it so hard to love each other? Why are we so unlike Thomas, so unable to thrust our hands into each other's wounds? We don't want to get involved. We don't know what to say. We don't know how to act. So, we take the easier route and lose ourselves in our busy routines. We get so frantic with our schedules that we don't have time for ourselves, much less each other, much less God.

But Jesus tells us firmly that we are to love each other. He doesn't tell us how, but he shows us. This Gospel lesson comes after the washing of the disciples' feet and a leisurely dinner.

If we don't know how to love each other, we might start by sharing meals together. We have to eat, no matter how fast-paced our lives. Why not take some time to slow down as we nourish ourselves? Why not take some time to nourish ourselves in other ways? By sharing meals, we open up the door to love.

We might engage in other behaviors that open our hearts to love. We might try not saying negative things about each other. It's so easy to gossip. It's so easy to make ourselves feel good by pointing out the faults of others. But why do that? Why not focus on the good of our fellow travelers with us on our journeys?

Refusing to bash others verbally could be our modern equivalent of foot washing. We could show our care not by lavishing attention on physical bodies, but by lavishing our attention on the good qualities of others.

We live in a culture that prefers to argue, to fight, to tear down. Focusing on the good qualities of others seems as intimate in our current climate as foot washing must have seemed in the time of Jesus.

Of course, to focus on those good qualities, we have to get to know each other well enough to know what those good qualities are. Back to the dinner table!

I've only focused on two ways of loving each other; the ways to love are infinite. Choose the one that calls to you and decide that this will be your ministry. Know that you will have to gently refocus your efforts time and time again, as you move along. Fortify your efforts by asking God to help you, so that you can glorify God, so that everyone will know the God you serve by the efforts you make to serve others.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sermon Notes: Tabitha

My pastor is away at the Festival of Homiletics, so he asked me to preach.  I always say yes if I'm going to be in town.  This past Sunday, we looked at the story in Acts about Peter raising Tabitha from the dead.

I don't write out my sermons before the service.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to say, and I rehearse it in my mind.  Part of it is laziness.  Part of it is me wanting to give the Holy Spirit room to speak.

I didn't expect the ending that I delivered on Sunday.  I knew I would talk about asking for what we want and need--that God needs us to speak, that in a universe built on the principals of free will, God can't intervene unless we ask.

But then I talked about resurrection, and not the going-to-Heaven kind of resurrection.  I talked about the death-in-life feeling.  I talked about the promise of resurrection not just in the future, but about leaving all in life that makes us dead:  the losses, the grief, the addictions.

I talked about listening for the voice that says, "Get up!"  I talked about needing to hear that voice that calls us to leave our deadening behavior behind.

I said, "God is calling us to get up.  May we have ears to hear."

I heard a few amens, which is always a good sign to me.  I also got an e-mail from a member who had brought her grown daughter to church.  The daughter had never seen a woman preach before, and she was amazed.  Hurrah.

The line from my sermon that most struck the mother of the grown daughter was the need to ask God to be involved in our lives.

My spouse and I have spent some time since the sermon discussing other angles that might have been stressed.  We're both intrigued by the idea of Peter, a regular mortal, being able to resurrect the dead.  Does that mean we should be able to do that too?

Every time I preach I wonder what the congregation has heard. I was glad to get the e-mail and also to hear from my spouse.

I know mine was not the great sermon type that my pastor is hearing at the Festival of Homiletics.  But I'm happy to have had the opportunity.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

May 8 is the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church; in the Catholic church, it's May 13.

Ah, Julian of Norwich! What an amazing woman she was. She was a 14th century anchoress, a woman who lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation. She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon. She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

And what a book it is, what visions she had. She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move! After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender. She also stressed God is both mother and father. Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

She is probably most famous for this quote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her. It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

Although she was a medival mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later. How many writers can make such a claim?

I find myself thinking of her more and more frequently these days. In my 20’s, I saw her as bizarre and strange. Who would willingly shut herself away in a small cell?

Now I find the idea attractive: a small room in complete stillness with meals slid through a slot in the door, very little in the way of human interaction. My yearning probably speaks to the chaotic nature of life in my own cell.

My office is likely not much bigger than Julian’s cell, but it’s much more chaotic, people coming and going with a wide variety of problems, humans reacting to stress in a variety of agonizing ways. My office is certainly not connected to a cathedral, which would lend a sense of peace, especially these days when cathedrals aren’t community centers, the way they would have been in medieval times.

I also comfort myself by reminding myself that Julian of Norwich would be astonished if she came back today and saw the importance that people like me have accorded her. She likely had no idea that her writings would survive. She was certainly not writing and saying, "I will be one of the earliest female writers in English history. I will depict a feminine face of God. I will create a theology that will still be important centuries after I'm dead."

That's the frustration for people like me: we cannot know which work is going to be most important. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

I think of Julian of Norwich’s most famous quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Would Julian of Norwich be pleased that so many of us derive comfort by repeating those words? Or would she shake her head and be annoyed that we have missed what she considered to be the most important ideas?

I remind myself that she would have such a different outlook than I do. She was a medieval woman who served God; she likely would not even view her ideas as her own, but as visitations from the Divine. If I could adopt more of that kind of attitude, it could serve me well on some of my more stressful days at work when divesting situations of my ego could be the most helpful thing that I could do.

And maybe I could do that by adopting more of the habits of the anchoress in my own modern cell. I can’t keep people from coming to my office, but when I don’t have people there, I could pray. Even when I do have people in my office, I could pray.

I don’t have cathedral bells nearby, but I could use the tools of the modern office to remind me to pray. I could use my calendar dings to remind me. I could even insert reminders into my electronic calendars to call me back to prayer and my better self.

Today, I shall try.  And tomorrow too.  And by this trying, I will embody the Julian of Norwich quote about all being well.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Thinking about Nurturing on Mother's Day

I spent the night dreaming of crumbling buildings and forgetting to feed the dog.  Now I don't have a dog.  The dog in my dream was my childhood dog who has been dead for over 30 years.

Still, these dreams have left me unsettled.  Who am I to write about Mother's Day?  I can't even remember to feed my dead dog.  It's not that the dead dog asks that much of me, after all.

And yet, here we are at Mother's Day.  I feel I should say something, even though I'm not a mom.  Perhaps I should talk about how we all nurture.  And yet, some of us do more nurturing than others.

I've thought of posting a picture of my favorite moms.  Here's one of my mom and sister, who is also a great mom:

I think of all the other moms I know, and how few pictures I have in my files of moms with their daughters.  I'm thinking of the Create in Me retreat and how many of us bring our moms--to me that's a sign of a successful retreat.

I should have written a blog post earlier this month recommending that we buy our moms the gift of a retreat, instead of flowers or brunch.  Ah well--next year.

Of course, what most moms need is not this kind of gift.  Most moms of younger children need better policies so that families can have better work-life balance, so that moms don't have to make such wrenching choices.

Perhaps I should issue a call for us to support more moms, through policy and legislation.  On the federal level, right now we should save our efforts.  Hopefully the day will come when we have politicians who want to make those kinds of positive changes, but right now, I don't see it.

I think of my political science teachers who would tell us that we'll be more effective working on the local level anyway.  So let's think of our individual lives--how can we make it easier for people to do the nurturing that needs to be done?

Regardless of our gender, I'd urge us all to nurture all of creation. We live in a broken world, a world in desperate need of  care. Some of us are good at caring for children. Some of us are better at caring for animals. Others of us are mourning the larger picture, as we see our planet in perils of every sort.  The world is not short of opportunities to nurture.

So on this mother's day, as we think of all the people who have nurtured us, let us resolve to return that gift, in whatever way best fits our skills, talents, and gifts.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Songs for a Time of Transition

A few hours ago, I listened to Pastor Megan Rohrer sing "Till We Meet Again" with lyrics she created to support transgender people (go here to listen).  Not for the first time, I reflected upon what an amazing age we live in.  I wonder what historians will make of it, hundreds of years from now.

Will historians see this time period as one where we finally started to understand what makes a person transgendered?  Will they see our time period as a transitional time, a shift from a time of discrimination to one of understanding?  Or are we on a different path, one that I can't see from my limited viewpoint?

Will historians wonder why we tore ourselves into pieces over issues of gender (as expressed in body parts) and didn't pay attention to what was truly important?  If so, what would those important issues be?  Climate change?  The retreat of democracy?  Rising seas?  The need to restrict our work with altering genes?  The need to control artificial intelligence?  The increasing toll of gun violence?

I am happy to be part of a church that explores what it means to be truly open and welcoming, even as I realize that not all members of the larger Church are willing to take this journey.  But I also wonder what the larger Church is neglecting.  What other transitions should we be celebrating?  Who needs our support?

These days, I am thinking about the spirituality of midlife.  I am thinking about midlife (which I am defining as age 45-50+) as a time of profound transition, but often in ways that we don't see or understand.

I see a lot of work on midlife that celebrates this time as one where people finally feel free to be the self they've always wanted to be.  But I wonder if this work sets many of us up to feel like failures.

We can't always take the steps to be our true self, at least not right away.  Many of us at midlife still have children who need us to be the self they've depended on.  Many of us at midlife have made commitments (to other adults or to mortgages or to workplaces or to family members) which mean that we face some constraints.

Maybe the spirituality of midlife that encourages us to become our true selves is more about a mindset than a career change or another type of life change.  But a mindset change can send us down the path of a major life change.  What does our theology say about that?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, and Me

Jean Vanier died this week at the age of 90.  Would I have been aware of the work of Jean Vanier if I hadn't read the work of Henri Nouwen?  Probably.  But it was the work of Henri Nouwen that made me first appreciate what Vanier accomplished.

I went through a period where I devoured the journals of Nouwen and returned to them for sustenance again and again.  I read The Road to Daybreak first, and it remains my favorite.  It's the one that chronicles Nouwen's developing relationship with the L'Arche community.  And later, when I heard about Jean Vanier and the work he had done, I thought, hey, he's the guy who created the communities that would come to mean so much to Henri Nouwen.

I had been reading Nouwen for years before I found the journals.  I checked out The Road to Daybreak from the public library, and I loved it so much that I bought a hardbound collection of that journal and two previous ones, The Genesee Diary and Gracias.  The journals quickly became my favorite works.

The journals have been important to me for a variety of reasons.  I was interested in what brought Nouwen to an intentional community, since intentional communities of all kinds have always fascinated me.  I was also interested in the ways his journals illuminated his writing practices.

I was also intrigued by the honesty of the journals.  Here's a man who has so many honors bestowed on him, and yet he's almost disabled at times by his insecurities.    Here's a man who has taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, and yet he still wonders if he's good enough.  He wrestles with vocation--is he doing what God put him on earth to do?

What finally brings him peace (of a sort) and purpose is his involvement with and commitment to the L'Arche communities.  Would he have found it in another sort of community if Vanier had never created the L'Arche communities?  It's impossible to know.

This morning, as I'm thinking about Nouwen, I'm realizing (and not for the first time) that Nouwen was 53 when he went to L'Arche.  As a 53 year old woman, I'm comforted by the fact that it took Nouwen some time to find his true home and purpose.  I also realize that the home and purpose that one needs as one gets older may change.  I do wonder if Nouwen had found the L'Arche community earlier, would he have been able to avoid the suffering of his younger insecurities?

Vanier will be remembered for a much larger good that he did, by giving people with profound disabilities a way to live in intentional community instead of in a colder community offered by hospitals and mental institutions.  But I have also said a prayer of thanks for the way that he was able to be a guide to Nouwen--and by way of Nouwen's writings, to me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 12, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Psalm: Psalm 23

Second Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Gospel: John 10:22-30

This week's Gospel reading takes us back to the metaphor of the sheep. Those of us living post-agricultural lives probably don't know how stupid sheep are. The idea that we are sheep is not attractive. And yet we have a shepherd who loves us and calls to us, no matter how many times we wander away and get into scrapes.

What would a more modern metaphor be? That of the clueless student, who nonetheless can respond to a specific voice? That of a computer that is just a dumb box of electronics until the right programmer comes along? The electrical circuits that are mute until electricity flows from the power plant?

We might also ponder the nature of the questioners in this passage. They say to Jesus, "If you're the Messiah, we wish that you would just say so."

This moment must be one of those that would drive Jesus to thoughts of taking up a really bad habit to deal with the pain of these people who just don't get it. Jesus must have considered just giving up on the whole salvation project since he was undergoing so much to save such clueless people. How many more ways did he have to say/demonstrate/show that he was the Messiah before people could understand?

Before we spend too much time congratulating ourselves for recognizing the voice of our shepherd, we might consider all the ways that Christ calls to us and we refuse to hear. Christ tells us to give away our wealth, and we rationalize: surely he didn't mean all of it. Jesus tells us to care for the sick, and we do a good job of that, some of us, as long as we liked the sick person back when that person was well. Jesus tells us to visit those in prison. I haven't done that--have you? In short, Jesus tells us to care for the poor and oppressed and to work for a more just society. How many of us do that?

This idea that we should focus on the poor and the oppressed is revolutionary.  Jesus knows that if we do that, we can change the world.  But even if that change takes awhile (and it does), in the process, we change ourselves in essential ways.

Jesus reminds us again and again that we're not just doing charity work, but we're also trying to create a more just world.  We don't share our food just to fill the hungry stomachs, although that's important.  We should also work to transform the social structure that keeps people hungry.

We have many opportunities to work for justice. Most of us don't because we lead lives that leave us tired. But often, a group that works for good in the world can energize us. Find a group that works to alleviate a social injustice that particularly pains you and join it. Write letters to your elected officials. Help build a Habitat house. At the very least, you can give food (real food, not just the castaways from your pantry) to a food bank. At the very least, you can clean out your closets and give your perfectly good clothes to the poor.

In this way, we can help God, who is making a new creation. In this way, we respond to the call of our shepherd.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Poetry Tuesday: "Life in the Holocene Extinction"

Yesterday, the U.N. released a report that tells us what many of us already knew:  we're killing species on this planet at an alarming rate.  In many ways, the U.N. report isn't a new report at all, but a work that connects the implications of all of these findings that have been released over the last 10+ years.  This NPR story does a good job of summarizing.

Much of my creative work has also thought about the implications of what it means to be alive during this time of transformation of the natural world.   Here's one of my favorites, which is the title poem of my 3rd chapbook:

Life in the Holocene Extinction
I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that's paired with the poem.

I am already missing the planet we used to have.  And yet, I understand that the planet has never been in a state of stasis.  I realize that we can count on nothing but change.

I wonder how our societal institutions will change in a time of climate chaos.  There are the obvious examples of providing help.  Institutions will also be needed to provide other kinds of comfort--and courage, along with the comfort.  Our deepest ideas and ideals will be tested.

As institutions, are there ways we can prepare for those challenges now?  Are we ready as individual humans?

And how can we be doing more now to prepare for the chaos that waits in the wings?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Social Media and a Place Apart

I want to record this moment from the Create in Me retreat before we get further away, and it slides from my memory.  The first night, Pastor Mary introduced the planning team.  I was last, the social media coordinator.  I stood up, and a section of the retreat population clapped.  They hadn't clapped for anyone else.

So, in this time of discernment, let me ponder:  I am good at some types of social media, like creating Facebook posts and e-mails that inspire people.  But here, as in many aspects of my life, I believe that if I'm enjoying it and/or it comes naturally/effortlessly to me, it doesn't count somehow.  Or I think that I must be doing it wrong.

I focus on all the social media stuff that I'm not doing for the Create in Me retreat.  I don't have a smart phone, so I can't make Instagram posts.  I know that all the cool kids left Facebook long ago, and I feel somewhat guilty about not being able to follow them to Instagram.

Of course, at the Create in Me retreat, so far we're predominantly an older population.  These are the people who appreciate my weekly Facebook post that reminds us to keep being creative.  For some of our retreat members who aren't on Facebook, I should probably create a paper newsletter that arrives via the U.S. Mail, not worry about Instagram.

These thoughts also lead me to my dream of being an online retreat coordinator, with occasional in-person duties.  As I created the Lenten Journaling group for my church, the members told me how much they enjoyed the prompts that I sent out by way of e-mail.

I think about church camps and how some of my favorites proclaim themselves to be a place apart.  But what about the people who can't get there?

Or maybe we need to think about the places where we now spend so much time, the online sites and online duties.  Maybe we need a place apart there--a place that is both part of our online lives and a way to escape those lives.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Week of Losses

This has been a week of loss.  On Monday, I heard about the death of John Singleton, director of Boyz in the Hood and other important films.  I was struck by how young the director was--50, just a few years younger than my age of 53.  The death of someone in my age neighborhood always spooks me a bit, but especially when they've done important work and could have done more important work, if given the time.

It spooks me even more when a younger person dies.  The news of the death of Rachel Held Evans hit me hard yesterday.

She had been in medical trouble for a few weeks, but because she was 37, I thought she'd pull through.  She had flu, got antibiotics, and her brain started having seizures.  She was put into a medically induced coma, and on Friday, her condition worsened.  She died yesterday.

I first became aware of her through her blog, and her blog was always my favorite of her writing.  I read Searching for Sunday, underlined a few spots, but ended up passing the book along, as I knew I wouldn't reread it.  I've been trying to remember if I read her book about Biblical womanhood--I feel like I might have.

But I'm sad about the work she won't be able to do now.  I know that her work gave many people hope in the face of doubt, and I thought it would be interesting to see how she weathered the storms that come with mid-life and old age.  She had already shown refreshing honesty in the face of serious questions and opposition.

I'm also stunned that she was in the hospital, but died anyway.  I tend to see the hospital as a place to avoid at all costs, so I'm surprised at my surprise.  I'm also fretful because a friend of mine is in the hospital with some sort of intestinal blockage.  I'm spooked here too.

It's been the kind of week with all sorts of reminders of our mortality, along with other losses.  I've had lots of weeks of stress at work, and my spouse found out this week that he will not even be interviewed for the Philosophy position that was open at his favorite campus. 

In many ways, so many of our dreams and fervent hopes have come true, like this house.  But this week reminded me, again and again, that time is short, and it could come crashing to a halt all too soon.

We ended the day by listening to the Chanticleer CD How Sweet the Sound: Spirituals & Traditional Gospel Music; I am listening to my spouse sing along on "Amazing Grace," his beautiful voice merging with the awe-inspiring voices on the CD. It was appropriate for a day when we lost Rachel Held Evans, an amazing voice gone too soon, and a week of other losses.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

What Our Limitations Teach Us

It's been the kind of week/month/lifetime of thinking about leadership and the competing directives that come into the lives of most leaders.  It's been the kind of week/month/lifetime where I feel like I can meet the needs/wants of no one.  Often I can meet the needs/wants of one population at the expense of neglecting the needs/wants of other groups.  For example, I can schedule classes onground, but they may be smaller and thus cost more--so students are happy but higher ups would be happier with students shuttled to online classes or put off indefinitely.

It's been the kind of week where I think about the skills I lack.  If I had gone to Business school, I might have a different perspective.  But do I want to have that kind of perspective?

This morning, I came across this essay that reminded me that these kinds of weeks/months/lifetimes can be an opportunity for growth, including spiritual growth:  "Leadership is a spiritual journey for me as I repeatedly bump into my limitations. I’ve learned to see these bumps as invitations to turn to God and grow in awareness and love."

Still, it's hard to know when the limitations are invitations to grow and when the limitations point a different way.  I've been seeing this Facebook meme this week:  "True self-care is not soft baths and chocolate cake.  It is making the choice to build a life you don't need to regularly escape from."

It's been the kind of week where I haven't gotten good sleep or enough sleep.  It's always tough to come back from a retreat, but this week has been particularly grueling.  And it's the end of the term for my online classes--always the end of a marathon feeling too. 

In short, it's been a week where lots of wearying aspects coagulate at once.  I'm looking forward to some downtime this week-end, even though I have lots of grading today.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Habits to Keep Us Staying Present

A few weeks ago, I read Justin Whitmel Earley's The Common Rule:   Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.  In some ways, it's similar to many articles and books I've been reading, with the main point that we need to do more to be present.  But it comes at the topic from a theological angle, so it's intriguing.

Here's a passage that in many ways sums up the book:  "Calling habits liturgies may seem odd, but we need language to emphasize the non-neutrality of our day-to-day routines.  Our habits often obscure what we're really worshiping, but that doesn't mean we're not worshiping something.  The question is, what are we worshiping?" (p. 9).

Earley prescribes 4 daily habits and 4 weekly habits to help keep us focused on God.  Those of us who have been thinking about these issues won't be surprised at his choices for daily habits:  praying at morning, midday and bedtime (he tells us to get on our knees), eating a meal with others, turning off our phones for an hour, and reading the Bible before we look at our phones in the morning (or when we wake up).  For weekly habits, he prescribes one hour of conversation with a friend, curating media to 4 hours, fasting from something for 24 hours, and sabbath time.

As with many books like this, I didn't learn much that I didn't already know.  But it was good to have a reminder.

I've been noticing something with these books lately:  they all assume that we're carrying our smart phones with us everywhere.  I realize that I'm an oddity in that I don't have a smart phone.  So a book like this one that assumes I'm a slave to my phone isn't as useful as it could be.

Of course, I'm never far from a computer, and those are distracting enough.  But they are easy to ignore when I'm away from my office.

In many ways, Earley's system seems a bit rigid.  But that shouldn't surprise me.  After all, the author tells us where he stands early in the book:  "Actually, by barraging ourselves with so many choices, we get so decision-fatigued that we're unable to choose anything well" (p. 11).  He says, "What if true freedom comes from choosing the right limitations, not avoiding all limitations?" (italics are the author's, p. 11).

At times I feel exhausted by any regime, and I'm reminded of all the times I've failed.  He talks about a moment of honesty when he had failed:  "This was the morning I realized that failure is not the enemy of formation; it is the liturgy of formation.  How we deal with failure says volumes about who we really believe we are.  Who we really believe God is.  When we trip on failure, do we fall into ourselves?  Or do we fall into grace?" (p. 162).

So yes, let us try again--ever and always.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Singing Game for Your Next Gathering

As part of my retreat documentation--and saving good ideas that might be useful later--let me record an activity that my mom and dad really liked.  It could be used as entertainment or game when that's needed, but I think it might make a good getting-to-know-you exercise too--or team building.

On Saturday night, we were already separated into groups of 6-8 sitting around tables.  We had the fruits of the spirit on the screen (from Galatians 5):  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  We had 5 minutes to generate a list of songs that had love in the title or the lyrics.  It could be any song, from hymns to camp songs to pop songs.  We had to be able to sing it.  If someone else sang your song before your turn, you had to choose another song.  We went from table to table.

Then we went on to joy and peace.  And then we went on to a different game.  Most of us got into this game, but I could see there would be a point of diminishing returns.

It's a neat game, because all ages can play, so it works for mixed groups.  And the whole group has to sing, so it's fine for the non-singing among us.  We were a group of people who grew up singing in church, at camp, and in school--would this game work as well for folks who hadn't?

We also changed groups midway through, which kept us working with other people, and no one group had an advantage for very long.

I want to keep my eyes open for other Bible passages that would work well.  If we had spent the week-end doing a different kind of Bible study, this game wouldn't be as effortless--but I imagine that it's very tweakable.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 5, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Psalm: Psalm 30

Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Gospel: John 21:1-19

Here we have another mystical encounter with the risen Christ. Notice that it's mystical and yet grounded in earthiness. Jesus makes a barbecue breakfast, and Simon Peter gets wet. It's mystical, yet rooted in second chances. It's mystical and yet a bit whimsical too. The men have fished all night and caught nothing. What does Jesus cook for breakfast? Fish.

This Gospel reading also has a lovely symmetry. It ends the ministry of Jesus in the way that it began, on the shore, with Jesus calling his disciples to mission. This Gospel story gives Peter a chance to redeem himself. He declares his love for Jesus three times, just the way he had previously denied Jesus three times.

The Gospel reading for Sunday reminds us of some of the essential messages Jesus gave us. We are to let down our nets, again and again, even when we have fished all night and caught nothing. Our rational brains would protest, "What's the point? We know there are no fish!" But Christ tells us to try again.

Even when we can't see the results, even when our nets are empty, there might be activity going on beneath the surfaces, in the deep depths of creation, where our senses can't perceive any action. We might need to repeat our actions, despite our being sure that it will be useless. We aren't allowed to give up. We aren't allowed to say, "Well, I tried. Nothing going on here. I'm going to return to the solitude of my room and not engage in the world anymore." No, we cast our nets again and again.

What do those nets represent? What do the fish represent? The answers will be different for each of us. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts at community building. For some of us, casting our nets might be our efforts to reach the unchurched. For some of us, we cast our nets into the depths of a creative process. We cast again and again, because we can't be sure of what we'll catch. Some days and years, we'll drag empty nets back to the shore. Some days and years, we'll catch more fish than we can handle.

The Gospel also reminds us that we're redeemable. I love the story of Jesus and Peter. Peter would have reason to expect that Jesus would be mad at him. But Jesus doesn't reject him. Jesus gives him an opportunity to affirm what he had denied in the past.

Jesus gives Peter a mission, and this mission is our mission: "Feed my sheep." There are plenty of sheep that need feeding and tending. We have our work cut out for us.

This Gospel shows us the way that it can all be done: we must work together, and we must take time to nourish ourselves. The men work together all night, and in the end, Jesus makes them a meal. Think about how much of Jesus' mission involved a meal. Jesus didn't just tend to the souls of those around him. He fed them, with real food. In doing so, he fed their souls and renewed his own ability to keep healing the world.

We must do the same.