Burial Anthems II & Thin Spaces

Stephen King writes about thin spaces, this phenomenon I’ve heard of in spirituality classes many times since I first read Bag of Bones, nearly 20 years ago. He writes about not turning when we hear what sounds like a footfall in the dark hall behind us, how we immerse ourselves in TV and magazines to keep out or steer clear of the truly unsettling.

I can think of thin spaces; the boat ride up the channel in Scotland, past the Isle of Eigg and the Isle Rhum, the way the light reflected off the water, how the rolling hills and cliffs met the light and seemed to suck it in. I wondered then how deep, and how cold, that water was as my fingers played over the survival suit I’d been robed in.

Today we talked about forgiveness. It sounds like forgiveness of others, but the real message was forgiveness of self, how we can’t love anyone if we can’t love ourselves, how that love of self has to be grounded in forgiveness; in the words my daddy likes to tell me when I’m struggling – that it’s nailed to the cross and it doesn’t hold me anymore. We don’t think about forgiving ourselves very often, I don’t think, our forgiveness is always other focused.

Jared made clear today, asked us to remember and call up those times that we were the terrible friend, the times that we messed up – to remember the people who forgave us as though it was almost nothing. He called us to pass this light, this forgiveness and joy onto those we would encounter, the people who mess up and inconvenience us, or worse.

I wondered then, as the light hit that particular way that it does this time of year, illuminating the Lazarus window, shining down on those beloved people across the chancel –  what things I hold that I haven’t forgiven myself for?  I’ve a feeling there are things I think I’ve put to bed, moved away and on from that will come back to me, wounded places that are still festering that I must make right somehow.

I wondered what things you hold, how those things are tender spots in your armor, places where the steel weave fails? I wondered if I had the strength, really, to bear those things with you.

I am so tired tonight. From a long week wading knee deep in the misery of folks who have lost everything in Texas on the supposed 1,000 year flood plain, from the relief of a smaller than expected hit from Irma as far as my own work is concerned. I am tired from hearing people cry, practicing my pastoral listening skills as I absorb and absorb like a sponge beginning to drip dirty water onto the counter. I am tired of the choked back sob in the “yes Ma’m, no ma’m” of these folks who have lost it all and still find it in themselves to talk that way to me when I bear the worst news.

There is more, almost a hundred more to settle and take care of, and that seems like so much want and need; when I can only play a very small part. I tell myself it matters, I tell myself, in the midst of my own frustration and exhaustion, that I am the hands and feet of Christ and so today I can listen to another story. Today I can listen to more tears.

And yet my own cup overflows with dirty flood water, with water tinged with funerals and grief and unspeakable pain.

I must drink it down.

It had never occurred to me that the words of our burial anthems, even at the grave we make our song, required me to sing. I didn’t realize until I sat in the packed church of my childhood that we were singing over a grave. I never thought that I would be called to faithful belief and song in the midst of such grief and pain. I didn’t know that I could open my mouth and the notes would come out, that I was capable of it.

Sometimes I long to be a child. I long to have every need met, to go to school with my lunch box and my friends, to soak up the last of the sun as autumn comes to the playground, changing the shadows on the long slanted poles that hold up the swings. I long to be protected from life, how bad it can get, how hard it really can be.

Sometimes I have survivors guilt, I looked around at all of this and wonder how it can be, how I was worthy or deserving. I don’t know what the answers are, I can hardly figure out what day of the week it is right now – how do I deserve the warm breath of my children in the next room? The gentle snores of my husband on the couch across from me? The insistent itching of a dog who is at least as old as Methuselah as fall allergies set in?

I tell myself that today there is work for my hands as I click on the kettle in the sacristy and talk with a friend about a South Pacific duet for an event in a few weeks. Today there are endless rounds of dishes to be washed, laundry to be folded and sorted. Today there was a Psalm to be learned, tricky markings and all. Today there was a couple who live on the shores of the lake, and we talked about the water and how it can change in an instant after I said to them, the body of Christ, the bread of heaven, after we shared a cup.

I tell myself what I am called to and why, show myself concrete ways I can help. And at the same time I wonder if I am strong enough to bear the holding of the great ribbon that joins the church and the world – how I can bring you the immense need and brokenness that exists in the world even here and how I can weigh that against your own need and expectations.  I see myself, standing in the middle our our nave, proclaiming the gospel to you, with all of the sorrow pinned onto my robes like notes stuck in the nooks and crannies of the wailing wall.

If you could…

Would you…

Can you mention…

We are hungry/homeless/broke/held down/sick…

And so tonight I am sick to death of being an adult. Sick to death of bearing the tender weight of things lost and needed and searched for.

I suppose that is my cue to go to bed, to sleep on it, to see my own mother’s miracle work again and again as the new day brings fortitude and a better mindset.

I love you still, standing here holding hands inside the sacred and the thin.

And I am so sorry.

And I hope I am enough, that I can be that strong.

(You’ll want to listen to this. She needs a minute to get going. Trust me.)

Only in sleep I see their faces,
Children I played with when I was a child,
Louise comes back with her brown hair braided,
Annie with ringlets warm and wild.

Only in sleep Time is forgotten—
What may have come to them, who can know?
Yet we played last night as long ago,
And the doll-house stood at the turn of the stair.

The years had not sharpened their smooth round faces,
I met their eyes and found them mild—
Do they, too, dream of me, I wonder,
And for them am I too a child?

Sara Teasdale, Only in Sleep

 

 

 

 

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Keys to the Kingdom

Following is the text of my sermon today at the Academy for Vocational Leadership, where I am a 3rd year student and Aspirant to the Sacred Order of Deacons.

(More thoughts on the weekend to come, I am sure).

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year A

Jesus is in the midst of some serious parable telling as we approach the gospel this week. He’s told parables about mustard seeds and about seeds falling upon rocky soil…lots of seed parables. He’s also fed the five thousand, cured the blind and mute man, he’s had the Pharisees call him Beelzebul. He’s even had King Herod believe that he is actually a raised from the dead John the Baptist!  (seriously, it’s right there in Chapter 14!) He’s endured constant questioning and baiting. As he goes about this itinerant ministry of his he tells his disciples in our reading today how to deal with conflict in the communities that they live in, in the churches that would rise up and form and grow after he was gone, even in their own band of 12 community.

 

Now I know that none of us have ever really experienced conflict in a community right? But we can spend a few minutes talking about it anyway.

 

 

Something notable, I think, is that as Jesus addresses his friends he knows already that arguments and disagreements will come. Just a few verses back the disciples were already arguing over who was greatest.

 

Jesus takes contention as a given, he doesn’t seem to expect the sort of Christian behavior he models to really become the reality; I have to say, this is something of a relief! The bar is not already set too high!

 

Jesus knew there would be conflict and strife in our communities because they are made up of beautiful and fallible humans, and that’s why things like Healthy Congregations and all of our workshops on managing conflict exist – because a group of people cannot live together in community and agree all of the time. Think back to the Reformation, conflict. The question of ordaining women, conflict. Politics? Conflict. Possibly those of us right here in this room do not always see eye to eye?

 

Factionalism exists seemingly at every turn, especially in our lives today. North Korea, trade deals, DACA, Charleston, I could go on…  I believe that often times anger with each other stems from miscommunication or a failure to communicate entirely.

 

What Jesus does is set the 12, and us, back on the right path. He addresses that communication component right off, telling us we have to talk to each other.

 

But conflict in Christianity is about so much more than simple communication. And to boil the Gospel down to simply talking to one another misses the great sweep of the Good News of what God is doing in Christ when we find ourselves in places of conflict.

 

Paul brings this Good News to the fore-front in the Epistle reading, where he calls the community to the ethic of love.

 

And it makes sense, because the community in Romans is dealing with… you guessed it, conflict!

 

After persecution in Rome, many of the Jewish Christians fled. They later returned when the persecution subsided, but they returned to find that the Gentile Christians had taken over the churches. In the gap left by the Jewish Christian exodus, the Gentile Christians had stepped up. They led their communities and grew their communities. And though that is good, now the Jewish Christians felt out of place. They don’t know where they belonged because they were used to being on top in the church, used to being in power. After all, they were the first to follow Jesus.

 

So he tells them to wake up. Paul tells them not to argue about whether the Jewish laws of the Torah or the Gentile customs in the new communities should hold precedence. He says all their laws should be governed by the question of love. All their customs should be governed by the commitment not to do wrong to another, but to love fully.

 

It is never enough to communicate well, or clearly, or effectively, it is never enough to follow the best practices in this or that model of conflict management, none of that is   enough if it is not first grounded in a true love for the Christians in the community—in particular, if it is not grounded in YOUR love for those Christians you disagree with the most fiercely.

 

We must love those who have hurt us, those with whom we disagree, if we are to do more than just manage conflict. We must love them if we are to allow the Gospel to liberate us all from what binds us.

 

We hear this in the Gospel, when Jesus goes on from his encouragement to talk to those who have hurt you one on one, laying out a process for healthy communication, but moves deeper by telling the disciples that whatever they bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Most simply stated, he gives the 12, us, indeed the whole church – the power to agree that the laws bind us, or to loose those laws depending on specific situations.

I can only assume the audience of Jesus knew about binding and loosing, I had to do some study. Basically ethical questions would come before the rabbis and they would debate, with the final opinion being recorded in a book called the Misnah.

 

 

Though not a rabbi, Jesus binds and looses in passages just previous to the one we heard today, he looses when he tells the disciples they can pick grain to eat on the Sabbath, he looses again when he heals on the Sabbath. Jesus also binds, in Matthew 5 he takes the “love the law and hate your enemy” to a new level as he says love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. He has bound us with a new law, a new commandment.

 

A scholar once preached a sermon on binding and loosing with a slightly different take. He said that when someone has wronged us and we go tell all our friends without giving that person a chance to make it right, well, we have bound them, like pinning a red ribbon to their backs. But when we allow someone to make it right we loose them, do you see? We give them a chance to be set free from the wrong they have done to us.

 

Here’s the thing though, and this is what Jesus and Paul – and probably not the Psalmist – are telling us to do: they are telling us that we are binding ourselves when we think we are binding someone else.

 

Jesus tells us through the Gospel that when we give someone the opportunity to make something right we free ourselves of the wrong too, we have the chance to forgive or to understand, certainly to move on. We remove what can be a very heavy burden from our shoulders.

 

In the reading from the other lectionary track, the prophet Ezekiel said that our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us – and yet here is Jesus telling us how we can be set free, how we can solve not just smaller matters like someone taking our pew in church, but how we can heal very large wounds too. How we can do more than manage conflict, but instead how we can be filled with divine love as conflict becomes a context for healing, renewal, and rebirth.

 

Jesus has given us the power to set people free, the power to free ourselves. He’s given us the keys to the kingdom in giving us the authority to bind and to loose.

 

Awake, friends! Our salvation is very near, the path is laid out before us, the directions are clear. Unbind yourself, loose those who have hurt you, and be free.

 

 

Amen.

Last Goodbye

Isn’t it exhausting, wanting to be in so many places at the same time? I think I have a small taste now of how our mother feels when we visit, or when she visits us. Like there isn’t time for sleep, the indecision of hearing beloved Jamie and Ave giggling in one room, and my sister and I laughing upstairs…which way to go?

Today I wanted to sit with my grandpa while we sang his favorite song, I wanted to sit next to my mother and feel her soft elbows as I did when I was a little girl in the same church building, I wanted to sit with my cousins, Becky and Sarah, and find something to snigger about. I wanted to sit next to my brother and sister and hear them sing again those old hymns, to spend more time talking to Beth about school, to be with Bob and Elena and Caitlin as they sang Hallelujah, to sing out that soprano line. I wanted to do all of this at the same time.

Today was the last goodbye.

Diseases like Alzheimer’s are a series of goodbyes. I can remember when grandma was whole and coherent and busy, cooking in her kitchen, helping customers at the shoe store, holding a kid (many times an oversized teenage one) on her lap, lamenting her waist line, playing the piano. I remember when she was confused, when she forgot not just my name but my personhood. I wrote then about who will hold these memories, wondered if they even existed now that I was left holding them and the person I shared them with didn’t remember them any more.

Today Glen led singing. Because that was right and good, classic, as my brother said. Glen used to lead singing when I was a little girl not bigger than our Avery.

Today the whole church sang those hymns, every person knew their part, I was immersed, carried on a tide of song that vibrated and snapped and crackled in the air. I imagined that grandma could see us, was watching us from somewhere, I could see her sweet smile to see this family gathering, filling six extra long pews, and that was just family.

I imagined how this old church building absorbed the sound of our singing in her walls, walls that haven’t probably held that many folks on a Sunday in a long time. I imagined that the one empty pew was the one where grandpa and grandma used to sit, and felt dislocated to be on the “wrong” side from where we had always sat. I imagined that we gave her the strength to go on, to keep holding up the ceiling and turning on the lights.

I spent a lot of time on the road today. Peaceful time, time to think and let my imagination roam, and I kept coming back to these images of grandma in her house. Sitting on the bench by the big window, waiting for the car carrying her company to pull down the drive, telling us kids to stop putting things down the laundry shoot, assuring us that grandpa’s exercise bike did not, in fact, come alive in the middle of the night. Of her pleading with grandpa to come downstairs that scary night that we sheltered with Aunt Peggy in the basement as the tornado klaxons screamed. Grandpa said he wasn’t afraid of anything and went to bed. I wish I could show them where the spare key was kept.

Memories and longings and visions filled the day. And feelings, all the feelings.

Remembering sitting with my dad, just over there, across the aisle, and seeing him weep for the first time as we buried that same Aunt Peggy, dead to cancer before she was 18; his little sister. Remembering sitting in the cry room, now named the Training Room, which sits at the back of the church and is glassed in, where you raise up little kids to sit quietly in church. I thought many times that we would all go back to the big house on the hill and on the heels of that thought realized that we can’t go back, that that home doesn’t exist any more.

I long to facilitate a moment, to wake my kids up and march them silently down the hallway at grandma’s so they can crouch as I did in the hallway and listen to grandma sing and play in the deepest hours of the night. I long to have them walk through the saloon doors and hear grandma sing, here she comes! Miss America! as she butters the toast. For them to spend a day in the shoe store playing with calculators and the strange trap door in the store room, for her to finally give them a dollar and send them down the block to the dime store.

Visions. Of my grandpa, bereft, knowing that she is physically gone. Of grandma sitting at a campfire with my grandpa and grandma Cramer, discussing sadly our lowly state down here on earth, knowing now all that can happen, all that can break, but also all that can heal and be made new. They knew each other well, this isn’t such a stretch, to imagine them all in that heavenly campground, that ring of concentric circles that border the island that holds the throne and stronghold of God. Grandpa Cramer has thrown some magic dust on the fire and it dances, and they remember how magical all us kids thought that was, they bicker ever so slightly about how to make potato salad. They sing a bit, softly, almost to themselves. They keep watch over the babies who were lost, sing them tender lullabies.

I am really quite lucky. Quite lucky to be pushing forty and have a grandpa left. One who told my sister and I stories today about driving a candy truck as a salesman, about how he bought the building that now bears his name, how he went into an office and said he didn’t have any money, and how they worked it out and sold it to him anyway. . I am lucky that he is left, that I had all of those years with grandmas and their clinking turquoise jewelry, their stretchy band watches, their love of old hymns sung acapella, their tupperware and smacking screen doors. With grandpas and their big dogs and gardens, with their perpetual coffee drinking and warm hands and big GM rings.

I am coming to grips with some things.

I am realizing that no one will call me Snow White again and mean it in so many layered ways. Realizing that I can’t go back and be that girl who selfishly takes the longer foot rub on the couch in grandma’s living room when we used to rub each other’s feet with Vaseline lotion. I don’t have anymore a person who remembers when she gained another grandbaby and crowed that it was a girl. I can’t go back to that house, not even for an hour, and make an excuse to use the restroom, where you have to open the drawer to block anyone who may want to come in and doesn’t realize its occupied.

There is a lot of I in this. And I see the rest of us, I see Eric, who may be taller even than Casey, I see Danny and Beth and Brian, I see Kevin and his beautiful little boy. I see the friends she had. I see you too, but our memories are distinct, I will leave you to write about yours.

I love you still. So much. I love how we pick up our conversations like we’ve only left the room for a moment. I love the curly hair that even Avery noticed. I love your vulnerability and your talent and your ability to love. The preacher today said that our family is a culture, a life style, and we are.

For now I will wrap myself in the soft lambswool cloak my mother brought me from Edinburgh, it is the Royal Stewart tartan, our plaid. I will work through these strange memories and visions. I will miss you every second you’re gone, even if I’m not good at telling you so.

I know that someday my girls will remember and laugh about “needing a wee”, about a blonde and sassy granny who complained about padded bras and traveled miles and miles to bring a lunch box  from the very northern wilds of Yorkshire to Michigan with a cat face on it. She is building a legacy too.

I hope grandpa Cramer has his guitar out, that he is relishing the voices of his wife and my grandma Stewart, these women he has known for so many years and was happy to welcome to his fire. I hope they know that we are ok. I hope they pray for us.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burial Anthems

In not too many more days we will make the pilgrimage to the other side of the state, back down M-21 to the town of our birth. We will gather, my cousins and I, in the church that housed our Sunday School, the site of many church potlucks, the place where my little brother was accidentally left after church one Sunday- because there were so many people who would have given him a ride to grandma’s that we just couldn’t believe it when it turned out everyone assumed everyone else did.

I have a vague memory of that little boy standing in the parking lot with the brick church and dry grass behind him on a very hot day, bereft. I feel I may see that little boy again rather soon.

I imagine it will be a lot like our former Christmas Eve celebration, everyone taking that snowy sleigh ride to grandma’s, the house on it’s hill lit from within, a beacon of heat and family and love, the driveway full of cars. In the morning there would be a dozen kids in the living room, all of the bedrooms full. How grandma loved these times, when her whole family packed the house, when they showed up for her. She would sit in her chair and just sort of look on at this chaotic and noisy and very alive legacy of hers, usually holding one of the babies; there was almost always a baby, there are, after all, 11 first cousins.

I imagine that there won’t be too many more of the gatherings like we will have on Sunday, all of us coming together for a memorial to this matriarch, this Queen of Vernors soda served in glasses with geese on them, and bread and butter at every meal. We’re all getting too old, we’ve had, mostly, the marriages we were going to have, Christmas Eve has become tricky with other church services, with spouses and other family expectations. I stand rather bleakly at a threshold, in an open door, and see only the funerals that will bring us together now.

And yet, as my favorite burial anthem goes, even at the grave we make our song — and I know that somewhere, perhaps in that heavenly campground, where there isn’t much of a breeze tonight, where the air and the smoke from the campfires hangs rather heavy, I believe she is singing. Our Avery asked me if she remembers now, “does she remember even me mommy?” — And I think the answer to that is a resounding yes.

There have been many other meaningful and beautiful words written about our grandma, and I’m sure there will be more to come, but the thing that grandma gave me was song, words, the ability to sing, the ability to measure your mood to your hymnody, the ability to become utterly lost in the music, the ability to make the music become prayer. I think she was doing more in middle of the night, when she would get up to play her Clavinova under the vaulted ceiling of her living room, I think she was doing more than playing and singing along, I think she was praying.

My brother wrote about her all of the time response to every.single.thing. that ever happened to her. It was to smile, to hug or touch, it was to love and to welcome.

But my very first memories are of looking through her pocket book for mints at church and rubbing the loose skin on her elbow as she sang, me sandwiched between her and my mother.  My memories include sitting in the hallway outside her kitchen, you all remember the saloon doors, right? I liked to sit just outside them in that hallway with all the encyclopedias and listen to her sing to herself as she washed the dishes with her sulphur scented tap water as the sun sank low in the sky and grandpa mowed the lawn,  and the water tower in the meadow with it’s giant and glowering red eye sat as her audience.

When our parents divorced I used to imagine striding into the courtroom and making a disturbance, an entrance, looking something like Punky Brewster. In my imagining there would be my parents on either side, with an old judge wearing a white curled wig. I would announce that I would not live with either of my parents, instead I would live with my grandmother! And I was bringing my brother and sister with me! So there.

I thought I could take the bedroom with the plastic painting that lit up and the large brass bed, and that my siblings could share what us grand kids have always called the Cat bedroom, for the cat sheets that live in my linen closet now. I thought we could work in the store to earn our keep and go to the M21 Church of Christ, we could help out in the store my grandparents owned.

In my later years, after I left home, grandma wrote to me regularly. She would send me stories she had written for me, she very rarely offered unwanted advice. Every single card I received from her was decorated with her drawings, and I used to love to bang away at the typewriter in the room that should have been mine, had that courtroom scene ever really played out. She would write a short list of topics on one of those magnetic pads that hang on the fridge decorated with fruit to get me started. I wish I had some of her ideas now.

It was a dark and stormy night and I heard the frightened meowing of a cat…

The fairy woke inside her flower and decided what to do today…

The princess and the evil queen… how can she defeat her with kindness and love…

My Punky Brewster alter ego is alive and well, I am realizing. I am still that girl with crazy hair and crazier ideas and mismatched socks. I befriend old people. I know it is not a good idea to hide in a refrigerator. I am still that girl looking for home, threatening to leave, hovering on the edge of all that I know, turning the page and realizing that the story is so much more, so different, that I could have dreamed it would be.

I had this lovely vision of grandma last night, amid communique with my brother and sister, our frantic attempts to reach England at 2am (where is a butler when you need one? “mum, I’m afraid there is an urgent call for you from the Americas”). I saw her in a flowered house dress coming down the hallway that bordered the stairs in her home. That hallway has an iron railing and I used to have to race past it because I was so terrified that someone had somehow gotten in and was waiting to grab my ankles in the dark.

The chandelier was lit and the railing was covered with coats as it would have been on Christmas Eve. I could hear the smack of pool balls on the pool table in the basement, the kids banging on the piano down there and rehearsing a play to perform later. She came down that hall into her living room and was so happy to see us all there, like she hadn’t known we were coming. She was a little frantic, as she always was when company began to arrive, the curls at the back of her neck wet from the last minute housekeeping she’d been doing.

She sat down at her piano and she played and she sang and she knew every word.

I saw her coming through the woods on a well worn path, and at the end of it was her destination, the clearing. She lay down on the hard packed earth and she breathed no more but the birds in the trees chittered and sang in our voices, they sang her home.

I wish you could see the sky tonight. I wish you could see how the dark falls so quickly now that fall is come, the way the big dipper lights up the northern sky, a sure sign that my mother is coming. My grandpa is probably alone tonight in the trailer home he bought when he sold the big house on the hill. I can’t imagine how he feels but look forward to kissing his whiskery cheek. He has loved this girl, this woman and mother and grandma and great grandma since 1947 and now this part of the journey is ending.

I hope that she will see, that she will know somehow that we are coming. The plans are laid and the oil changes scheduled, the flights booked, the cars gassed up, as I write this my mother is in the air above the Atlantic Ocean on the loneliest flight she will ever take.

We are coming in our various states of undone, for her, one more time. We will gather and Sarah and Becky, who are much funnier than the rest of us, will make jokes and make us laugh and cry at the same time. Beth will bring her kids and they will dance around mine for a minute, I will get to meet Kevin’s baby and see my Uncle Bob, who I’ve sparred with many times on Facebook and yet not seen in person in many years.

And my beloved sister and brother will be there and I imagine we will sit with our knees pressed together in the pews, and Amy will sing again those songs she knew and Jared will carry the tenor or bass part as our mother basks in our love.

(I am firmly convinced that Episcopalians do not understand congregational singing, so here is what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMu6vy8rODc&list=PL5dNRmExdE0CuhwQvLzVfCBxpaATHN3Vr&index=84 Every person knowing their part).

A generation is passing on, making camp in a place where we can’t be. And the laughter of our kids is a burial anthem. The laughing of cousins together, remembering this strange dance is a burial anthem. Congregational singing that I bet not one of us has forgotten how to do is a burial anthem.

And yet, even at the grave we make our song.

Even at the grave we sing our family songs and tell our stories, the ones that made us who we are.

My words are not adequate, they feel forced, blood beading on the surface of an opened vein. I feel so immersed in the misery of others that I am casting about for my own.

I love you still. I love this clan of Scots and French Canadians, I love your humor and your integrity. I love that you, we, are of her; that that means she cannot die.

See you soon.

 

 

 

Give rest O Christ, to your servant with your saints. Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing but life everlasting. 

You only are immortal. The creator and maker of mankind and we are mortal formed of the earth. And to earth shall we return, for so did you ordain when you created me saying, you are dust and to dust you shall return. All of us go down into the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song — alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. 

 

I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.

 

I believe in the goodness of the Lord in the the land of the living. Wait, I say, wait on the Lord.

 

 

e

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disciple

Fresh off the first weekend of my third (and FINAL!) year of school I am left with hands full, palms up and open and dripping as life giving water runs over them. I am struck anew by the idea of a fountain flowing down and raining Good Words on the world, comfortable words.

Another hour deeper in the night, another mile further down the road…

We talked about this circle of God, how it flows to me, to my own tools and channels, how it flows to those who are calling for what I have, to me giving that, and the changed lives like small campfires across a plain, plumes of smoke rising in thanksgiving to God for lives changed. We talked vocation and the sacrifice that is behind that, the call to lay down ourselves, to let folks think we’re crazy to have had a word from God, to embark on this path that requires us to empty ourselves when the well, the replenishing waters, are not very close at times.

Today we talked about how we can make disciples of all nations. Ok. We talked about how to make disciples in our own ministries, and parishes, how to raise you all up, how to equip you, how to send you forth. In light of the weekend’s news, the Facebook videos and the posts from folks on the scene, we need disciples now more than ever my friends. And I think we might be closer than we know.

I think if we can show our people what it is means to disciple, what it is to dig deep and to be brave and to witness, if we could have workshops where we shine up our courage like silver – I think we could make so many disciples that the kingdom could be realized. I think that you, friends, have to desire for more than sterile news and stories that don’t touch you. I think that you, friends, have to see these folks as yours, as ours. I think you need to realize that we belong to each other, and that a revolution will take every body (I mean that, Every.Body.) to carry out. I think you, friends, need to put your brains to the side for a moment and listen with just your hearts to the call for justice, the call for solace, the call of a people who long to be free.

Because deep down we long to be free too.

I need you to slide back the bolt on the door, unlock the window, to take, brick by brick, down the wall that guards your heart, I need to you to be vulnerable, I need you to feel so deeply. And then I need you to act.  I can show you how, #deaconschool hasn’t been for nothing. I am being equipped to lead an army, but I need that army friends.

You are so needed.

Another tune forms in my head, more harmonies, more empty words… 

I’ve been listening to a lot of Rich Mullins lately. I remember seeing him, just a few feet from his own bare ones as he drank a Diet Coke and paced the stage barefoot in Levis. Sometimes he would go to the piano and play and sing, he would play the dulcimer and the guitar. I came into that situation so unwilling, and came out so filled. And so I’ve been reliving the wisdom and the lyrics of this man and learning at a different point in my life his wisdom, his transparency, his brokenness and his own longing. And I’m so sad that he isn’t with us anymore, but I wonder how many disciples he made.

And I knew today as I hurtled down the highway toward home that I am one.

I learned this weekend that faithfulness has a context, I learned that theologians do too. It seems that there are so many layers to everything, that is there is always something more, which is both discouraging and exciting – all at the same time.

I feel that there is so much more to say. I feel that I should make fliers or t shirts or something, that I should stand somewhere on a street corner and proclaim that the kingdom is SO NEAR…

That it is with the clergy who sang a Sunday School song to drown out the hate speech of white power.

That it is with the black cops who had to protect that same speech.

That it is with the people of color who stood up instead of standing down.

That it is manifesting itself every single day in the laugh of a baby and the dying breath of a person who departs knowing they are forgiven and headed home.

That it is in the friends who were missing the weekend, broken off pieces of the body of Christ that is our community, that is our church and our home. Friends who had to leave as the body must be broken, because to remain intact and at home cannot save anyone; not even ourselves.

The kingdom can be coffee, friends. Fuel for the day. And a whitenoise app that helped you sleep.

It can be a hymn that a professor allowed you to choose, that you don’t, when it comes to it, know. It can be the grace that you find there as a community makes up the tune and sings it gladly.

Thin spaces are all around us. Kingdom spaces.

Maybe fear can vanish before love. 

And I feel as though I have been brushing against one for some time and not realized it until now.

I could play these songs until I was dead, and never approach the sound that I once heard. I remember when I was just a kid, listening in the sky, believing that the wind would stir.

I love a show on PBS called Grantchester. I acknowledge freely my brother’s concerns that the vicar isn’t managing his church as he solves mysteries. And I love it still, especially the parts where he preaches or is actually a minister (few and far between).

A few weeks ago this vicar said to a dying woman,  I believe in the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, wait on the Lord. Be of good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart. Wait, I say wait, on the Lord. And it sounds like Psalm 27.

But sounds like more.

And I couldn’t find that more until today.

Today I rode home with part of my cohort, my people who understand what it is to hear and to obey this ridiculous call to empty with no replenishing fountain in sight. After spending a weekend talking about just that thing. After a weekend of encouragement.

I thought about spending the next week away from home, living in a hotel room that has great toiletries but doesn’t have the frustration and wet heat of my kids. A place that doesn’t have the squeak of the door as Casey comes in, tired and dirty from the miles he has walked to provide for this family. A place that doesn’t have a small black and white kitten who loves Justin Timberlake (suit n tie!) and baths.

And the thing I had asked for, in every open space of intercession all weekend came to me. I stood under a rain shower of peace. I felt it lap against my toes like the big lake down the road. In my heart I heard “be of good courage and wait, wait I say on the Lord.”

And I wept a little. And I sang come thou font of every blessing as I invited this spirit, this kingdom, to come deeper in. To nestle down, to pitty pat like a cat and to make a home.

And I believed that word and I will wait on the Lord. I will wait.

And I just know that something is coming, friends. You guys, I just know it.

I’ve spent a whole weekend talking about how crazy I am to obey a call to servanthood, a call to the logic of the cross, and I am not afraid to tell you what happened.

And I know the river is wide, and I know the currents are strong, and I could lose every dream that I dreamed I  could carry with me. But I will reach the other side. 

Please don’t make me have to wait too long. 

You all, y’all, friends.

I am learning how to equip you.

I am learning how to lead you out.

I am living in thin and uncomfortable spaces where the spirit speaks. I am called to walk to Jesus across the water. I am coming for you, I swear to God that I am. I am coming. It isn’t long now.

Please show up.

Reach out your hand to mine.

Come with me.

I love you still.

I have failed so many times, and you have never let me fall down alone.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today

My fellow classmates and I are working our way through a book called Convictions, by Marcus Borg. I would bet that many of us are reacting in ways as myriad as our number to the posthumous Convictions in the book, and I think it would be really something to leave a humdinger waiting to be published after I was dead, when none of the popular criticism could wound me, when no one could ask me to say more.  When #don’treadthecomments wasn’t a thing.

Alas, that was not the assignment we received. No, we were assigned a paper in which we would write our own convictions, and surprisingly I finished my paper and turned it in last week; and was shocked to see that it is 9 pages long.

What I wonder though, after watching a TED talk on “Being Wrong“, is how many of our convictions are held only because someone told us, a long time ago, or rather recently, that they were true? How much of the answers that we receive do we believe? How much of what we are taught do we ingest and put into practice?

I think I see now that I am not being asked to give up what I believe (via seminary training, AKA indoctrination, ha ha), rather, I am being asked to back that, ahem, shit up. I am being asked to say why. To say more. To have a smart and real answer for the things I say or assert are factual. I am being asked for a bibliography. And in that asking and the searching that comes after, the frantic googling of scripture, reading of bible passages, I’ve found that many things I just can’t support.

I can’t support by factual and historical accounts that on the night Jesus was born the stars in the sky sang, that three kings traveled to the manger where the child lay. I cannot prove that the whole of creation felt an unexpected surge of hope. But I believe it.

I can’t prove that one morning the women who were Jesus to end returned to the tomb and found it empty ,found the stone was rolled away. I can’t prove that the burial garments, still stained with blood and spice and oil were piled on an empty stone table. But I believe it. I believe the small stirrings that took place, the jerked foot, the moving fingers, the fluttering eyelids, the sudden remembrance of a battle waged. The waking, the realization of a promise made true, the garments left behind as that stone started to move.

I believe these things like I believe I can keep my children safe their whole lives. Like I believe that my truck will make as many trips as I need her to make, no matter the distance. I believe these things like I know the sun will rise tomorrow — and all of these things could be wrong.

Even now my children have ridden off on their bikes into a suddenly clear sky to go to the playground. I’m glad we’ve watched Into the Woods, I am glad that the magic of Sondheim has taught them that “nice is different than good”. Even so, they are outside of my realm of control, and yet I believe they will be ok. They will come rollicking through the door shrieking at each other in not too many more minutes, and the madness of the whack a mole bedtime routine will begin.

I wonder if the point of reading this book, Convictions, if the point of having to examine our own, was to see some of the small (or very large) things we are holding on to that don’t make sense any more. I wonder if it was an invitation to let those things go. I have come to believe,  2 years later, that many times our faculty know much more than we believe they do.

 

In the TED talked linked above Kathryn talks about early lessons in what it means to be wrong, how wrong feels. How we will try at any cost to be right. And how that harms those around us, as we hold onto the things someone told us a very long time ago and believe them to be the gospel truth.

I would invite you to examine. Oh, friend. It is painful. Like giving stuffed animals and baby clothes to charity painful. But so necessary, so needed. You can be free.

When I think of that examination, I think of that awful scene in Fried Green Tomatoes, where the character of Kathy Bates goes to a women’s gathering of some sort (I shudder to even remember) and they all get out small compact mirrors and examine their vaginas. Their special parts, as my much younger girls would have said.

Because it’s a lot like that. It is deeply uncomfortable, deeply vulnerable. But when we examine our thoughts, our belief systems in that way we may reach conclusions that are different.

As a friend of mine said today, when all of this is over, maybe you will hear things differently. And she made me cry as she listed my obligations, my own self imposed ways of behaving and committing and showing up. And what I realized, as I drove away, was that they are self imposed. My own ridiculous holiness code told me that I must…… fill in the blank. While the women who walk the red road with me would scoff and snort and toss their heads in indignation.

I told my friend today, through what I thought were very well hidden tears (there I go again, being right!) that I am working through God. I am emptying out his pockets, I am going through his phone while he showers, I am trying to piece together who I am supposed to be.

I am reconciling this punishing and angry God, this God who demands that I lay it ALL down, EVERY. SINGLE. THING. with a God who maybe sees me. A God who maybe hears me when I take my lunchtime “naps”, this place where I float for 20 minutes or so, pleading and talking and praying and asking. Maybe that God hears me, not the God who would have me sacrifice my own children for his call. Because some parts of me believe in that God too, believe that if I were only willing to go to the mountain, to make those plans, God would stay my hand.

I ask, in these floating times, for direction. I make the mistake of saying, show me. Make it so clear. Don’t let me miss it.

Forgetting that the last time I asked that my life fell apart and every thing was taken out of my hands. Be careful what you ask for, that is a cautionary tale for another day. But seriously, be careful.

I guess what I am here to say, what I didn’t even plan on saying, truth be told, is that what we think believe may not be true. That the truth is a relative thing, open to each person and their life experience and their early teaching and learning. I am here to say that your truth is not any better than mine, though I am still working on believing or meaning those words.

I guess I am saying that my overwhelmed tears were ok. That I am working hard on not being ashamed when I cry. How grateful I am for the friends who pretend not to notice.

I am saying that I believe there are unknowable things, mysterious things, and things just not known yet. And that all of those are ok. Just as I believe in that heavenly version of “ding dong merrily on high” I believe in the glorious light that shone into a new hewn tomb and that both of those things are alright.

Is this easy for anyone? Does anyone discern and pursue a path to ordained ministry with not even a hair out of place? I would like to meet that person, have them tell me all they know.

Meanwhile, speaking of tears, we will have a baptism in a just a few weeks, in a community inside the heart of our own community at St. John’s. We will baptize a man who wants to come to the table but has not had the chance to be baptized before. Our bishop will say (in stilting? I don’t know, does he speak Spanish) Spanish, “Juan, quedas sellado por el Espíritu Santo en el Bautismo y marcado como propiedad de Cristo para siempre. Amén.” That he is baptized and marked as Christ’s own. And I know that I will cry when that happens. I already forgave those tears.

I think that it will be alright. I think that we will figure this out, our need to be right juxtaposed against all reason and human tragedy. I think we will figure out that this isn’t about us, that the kingdom will not be realized in our lifetime, but that our work is needed and valuable, that our words will carry weight.

I think I will be ok too, though it gets a little iffy at times.

I love you still. Please don’t be afraid. Life is so messy and hard, but look for the moments that glimmer, moments where you are called into a peace you cannot understand. You can find them too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a Fountain

When I was a little girl my favorite song went, there’s a fountain free ’tis for you and me, let us haste oh haste to it’s brink… I remember being so excited as the song leader (usually a relative of mine) would stand up and announce the hymn number, take out the tuning pipe, blow into it,  and begin to sing.

I still feel that way when I see that a favorite hymn is in the line up, I will hum it myself, see if I can find the starting pitch, if I remember how it goes. Music has fed me for so long, and a huge part of my discernment to ordained ministry included very fat tears that rolled slowly down my cheeks as I realized that I probably could not sing in the choir any more.

I wondered how God could ask me to give music up, I wondered what else I would be called to let go of.

I watched a sermon from “at home” last Sunday. I watched as my brother admonished and called the people to their own ministry, how he gave them one minute to stand up and find a person and to share their experience of love in this parish, of community in this parish. The camera panned back… and lo and behold! they rose. Hands out and faces eager, they rose and they shook hands and they hugged, but more importantly they shared, they evangelized to their own people. I cried watching it, people I can pick out and name and they were DOING IT, they were being the ministers they have been called to be.

I wished that we could all be brave enough to live who we are called to be.

This weekend our last class was with an excellent and eloquent speaker out of the diocese of Texas. She talked to us about the spirituality of the ordained and left us (me?) feeling woefully inadequate.

She talked about how we are clay, how this was never about the academics. Seminary training, however “part time” some folks would call it, is about formation. It is about our instructors being handed lumps of clay and given the task of molding us into the leaders that we were called to be. She referred to her own time in seminary as thin time, like thin spaces, time where the veils between our world and the next seem very thin, where everything seems so very close and present and immediate.

For me thin spaces, thin time, can be painful as well. For me, thin spaces and thin time make me confront the things that are inside of me that I am not particularly proud of, they make me long for places and people and times that are long past. They remind me of my own guaranteed mortality.

We had to make a list (ok, I made a list, she actually said “reflect”) on where we were when we entered school and where we are now. I made my list, and I don’t know if it was a sense of being exhausted, of an introvert being peopled to death, of missing my customary Saturday afternoon free-time nap…I don’t know if it was watching a bishop consecrate and break bread that I made, watching friends be ordained and dressed in their stoles, the way the voices of the choir I gathered bounced around the nave; it could have been any of those things, but the weekend was particularly thin for me.

We turned to a partner after our list making (reflection) and shared. My friend shared with me a sense of being unworthy. And I started to speak and words came out that I hadn’t planned on, my face twisted and I cried and turned away all at once.

Why am I ashamed of my tears? Why do I apologize when I cry?

Our teacher talked about spirituality that is adequate to the task. We are not the folks who show up a few times a month to church. We are not the people who volunteer sometimes. We are the people who have the spirituality and expectations of other folks projected always onto us. We are the folks who, along with the symbols of bread and wine, represent God as ordained and called leaders. All talk of baptismal ministry being the same, we are the ones who have to show up broken and tired and over it. We are the ones who have to show up even when we are empty.

Empty was one of the words I wrote down.

I feel empty.

I feel scared. I feel upsidedown and not ready. I told my friend that I can’t find God and I know that it’s because I am hiding. I know that the walls I have built around myself, this great tower I can imagine and romanticize in my brain… I know that I have put myself there so that I can pretend I don’t hear what is being said. So that I can go forward with MY plan.

Our instructor talked of us being emptied so that we can be filled with the power of Christ, emptied of ego, emptied of our own plans, emptied of our own desires and submitting fully in perfect freedom. But she also warned that we will need to find a thing or a place or a person that fills us again.

I imagined myself again, on that cot in the basement of my church, with the infusion bottle that would fill me with the distillation of my baptismal covenant, of my marriage vows, of all of the things I have promised everyone that I would be. Am I to be chained to my cot? How do I do ministry from there? I actually pictured walking around with an IV pole and a needle stuck in my arm.

Another friend shared an image of the trinity. She said that just as the disciples laid down their lives for and submitted to Christ, he laid down his life and submitted to them. She said that their love overflowed and it covered the whole world. Thus the fountain, thus the need to find this eternal well, this eternal spring of renewal.

I don’t know, friends. I just don’t. I was so sure and over the last few years have had the rug yanked out from under me. Interestingly enough our homework assignment for the summer is a book….and a paper detailing our convictions.

I am not convicted of much. But I know these things are true. Sometimes you can ask for help, and receive it. Sometimes you can be honest, and hope for the best. My children are the best parts of me, evidence of a very true love. I am convicted that there are second chances. Even when they seem undeserved. I know that I am called to lead, yet wonder where and how I will feed my own self. I know that beautiful words can pierce a heart. I know that hard work sometimes pays off. I know that I love the way music bounces off the marble floors of a Catholic church where Episcopal transitional deacons are being ordained, I know the absolute joy I heard in their voices as they dismissed us, Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, they shouted, ecstatic, filled.

I long to be filled.

The air is cool tonight, and a friend who is far away out west will know what I mean when I say the lake smells, it smells of fish, it smells of possibility, it smells of fertility, and it smells of rain. My oldest is petting cats and casting cement blocks in the Dominican, my youngest curled up in her bed with a kitten and a polka dot blanket. My husband has walked miles and miles today and is not home yet.

I long to be filled.

I don’t want to be empty anymore.

Can you tell me where the water is?

 

I love you still.

There’s a rock that’s cleft and no soul is left
That may not its pure waters share;
’Tis for you and me, and its stream I see:
Let us hasten joyfully there….