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….

 

Goodbye, again

So we traveled, my sister and I, to Scotland. We rushed through narrow gorse lined lanes as Miley Cyrus wailed about a wrecking ball, pub hopped in York, and so many, many other things. My children didn’t understand. This wasn’t the exotic land of Florida, but a land so rich with history and meaning (for some of us). I don’t think they felt at once this primal pull that my sister and I feel for England especially, and now the highlands of Scotland too.

We shared a room, she and I. Each claiming our twin beds as we moved in a very delicate and completely remembered dance around endless piles of clothes and suitcases and shoes. I am not equipped to tell you what she means to me or how beloved she is, like the other half of my soul.

You’d like her, seriously.

For me there were many moments, many small and shimmering places, from moss that hung backlit from the trees even as the sun was still setting at 10pm, to the way the waterfall we finally located sounded as we made our way up the dusty track, just down the road from a still and silver loch that we also hadn’t known existed.

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A small loch near where we stayed in Scotland, on the lands of the Chieftan of the Cameron Clan

My favorite though, was sitting astride a padded seat, dressed in what can only be called a survival suit as our small boat sped outward from the coast. The way the light hid behind the clouds over a spit of land that belonged to the MacLeod clan, how clan history was called out to us from the captain of our boat. I remember relaxing into it, thinking, yes. Here. This.

It was the way the salt tasted on my lips, knowing that the unfathomable depth of the sea was just below me, that many of the people I love best in the world were just there, nestled in that boat with me as we gazed at the Inner Hebrides.

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MacCleod Land off the coast of Scotland 

 

And then it was goodbye again. Interminable lines, waiting, last minute changes and long, cramped flights.

This weekend marks the end of my second year at #deaconschool. Bible and Church History = Mischief Managed. We get the month of July off and are back at year three in August.

I’ll tell you though, as hard as the week before the weekend still is, as panicked as I get trying to make sure that everything is just right, that I am PREPARED for any old thing I may have forgotten about – the groceries to be bought and laundry to be done — I wouldn’t trade my community there for all of the chaotic weeks I’ve had over the last two years.

This weekend though, marks not only the end of our second year, but also our first graduation, and the departure of four dear friends. No offense meant to third year or new students, but these four are irreplaceable and it pains me to know that the Midnight Club will never be the same, that Kelly won’t bring her ipad so we can play silly games and make Nancy somersault or Wendy dance.

The necessary intensity of our weekends, so much subject matter and material condensed down into impossibly long days — it has only made the few free hours that we have a time of intense bonding as we come together, all of us finding our way through the very strange and unsettling phenomenon of a call to ordained life. All of us wondering at some point what the plan really is, all of us living through over and over the crushing realization that though there is a plan it will very rarely be what we envisioned for ourselves.

I can hardly hear anyone talk of the graduation without the welling of giant unbidden tears, hardly bear to think of how heart-wrenchingly proud I am to know these people and to call them friends, how SURE I am of their call to proclaim the gospel. So much of these last two years have been a lesson in goodbye, letting go of all the ideas I thought I had, letting go of how I thought this should all work out, letting go of my ideas of what worthy means (as in, who, me?)  as we all struggle to live in obedience.

And if your hours are empty now, who am I to blame? 

And yet another goodbye.

One that has been ongoing, a small rending every day, since Kaia was born 13 years ago. Only when she was in my body could I keep her safe, I have had, every day, to hand her over to the world. To trust that she will be kept safe, that she has a purpose that matches my own selfish desire for a long life for her.

Kaia will fly out Sunday morning with a group from the diocese, all the way to Puerto Plata in the Dominican. She will work there, she will build relationships, she will, I am utterly sure, bring the spirit filled love of Christ that was instilled in her upon her baptism to new friends and communities in ways that only she can, with a huge, huge smile and very kind green eyes.

She just doesn’t seem that far gone from the restless infant I rocked and sang to under a Northern Michigan sky. She seems at times far closer to the goofy tow headed toddler she was, and sometimes she forgets herself and a glimpse of that little imp will peek through at me. My mother says that her children are her very heart outside of her body, and so maybe it makes sense then, the breathtaking array of possibility. The frailty of a car hurtling toward the airport, the gravity defying ride in a tin can to another country.

But it is another small goodbye in a month filled with them; Scotland and England and our family and friends there, Kaia’s trip, school and graduations.

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Photo of Kaia in a train depot at the Highland Folk Museum

Faith has been broken, tears must be cried. But let’s do some living, after we die. 

I’m sure most folks know, but we had just one more goodbye to contend with. As I opened our garage door coming home from Kaia’s last Lacrosse game our little ginger cat {named Sunny Bright Lights by an enthusiastic little girl) ran as he always would when the door started to open. But this time he ran in front of a car and was struck, and was killed.

I waffle between tending a grave and telling myself that he isn’t there. Between thinking about how he hated to be out in the rain that fell on that first night in his grave, and telling myself that its only his body there now, it isn’t HIM. It’s all fine and good to be resurrection people on Easter, to believe that death was undone and hell overcome by what it could not see — all fine to believe that hell grasped a corpse and met GOD – until there is a small orange tabby cat corpse wrapped in a bath towel and under a new mound of beach grass. Until the corpse is one of yours, and not some mystical idea of a Christ who a lot of the time feels pretty unknowable to me, who seems like someone who wants to play hide and seek when all I want to do is get a coffee and talk.

Because I just have so many questions.

I prayed for that little cat, sang the commendation (Kontakion) to him, tried to imagine him crossing that Rainbow Bridge, but that’s the thing with cats, they aren’t pack animals. Try as I might I couldn’t imagine Sunny crossing this bridge and all of the other cats leaping for joy.  They are just contrary enough.

So what I hoped instead was for a bed that looked like mine, just in another room. With that same shaft of sunlight that burns up the grass in the late afternoon of summer. I hoped for a wind chime with a perfect middle C, just like mine. For the sounds of a family in the next room, the smells of food cooking and the lake. I think what I was hoping is that he would know somehow, wherever it is that cats go when they die, how very much he was loved. And then I sat myself down like I have been trained to do and wrote this:

I am a spider in my grief

made mean and selfish, wallowing weaving and spinning a dewy web

hoarding jealously each tear to spin into fine filament

Like glass

His scull sounded like glass when 

it shattered

Give rest, o Christ. 

And Peace.

 

It seems there is a season for everything. (Gasp! The Bible is true!)

And May was a season of goodbye. A season of learning that I cannot hold on as tightly as I may want to, a time of learning that I must let go.

And so, world, I commend my daughter to you, I am unleashing her upon you – warrior child, fierce and passionate and strong. Tall and blonde and so pretty. Very kind, and smart and fabulously emotional. Handle her with care, if you would, I cannot hold her anymore, have not really held her since that cold night in May 13 years ago.

 

So many of you are pieces of my heart. A giant stained glass window that sometimes lets the glory light shine through. I realize now its been shuttered, protected and hiding again.

I love you all.

Still.

Childhood living, its easy to do. The things that you wanted, I bought them for you. 

Graceless lady, you know who I am. You know I can’t let you slip through my hands… I know I’ve dreamed you a sin and a lie. I have my freedom, but I don’t have much time. 

Wild horses, couldn’t drag me away. 

 

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Sunny Bright Lights, may he rest in peace. 

 

 

 

 

Shiva, and other things

Below is the text of my homily from this morning’s Holy Saturday liturgy, with a video link at the bottom.

I love you all, still.

Shiva, and other things

Just hours before Joseph asked if he could take the body of Jesus, all of the disciples, the men whom he loved until the end, they left Jesus. His friends fled, and he was left with his mother and some other women to witness his death. It is interesting that a man who was a secret disciple of Jesus, possibly a stranger, would have his heart moved to take down that precious body. That somehow, with the help of Nicodemus, he was able to remove it from the wood that had soaked up Jesus’ blood.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emerich, a Roman Catholic mystic and Marian visionary who died in the 19th century, had a vision of the removal of Christ’s body from the cross. She wrote, This taking down of Jesus from the cross was inexpressibly touching. Everything was done with so much precaution, so much tenderness, as if fearing to cause the Lord pain. Those engaged in it were penetrated with all the love and reverence for the Sacred Body that they had felt for the Holy of Holies during his life…but no word was uttered. When the blows of the hammer by which the nails were driven out resounded, Mary Magdalene, as well as all that had been present at the crucifixion, were pierced with fresh grief, for the sound reminded them of the most cruel nailing of Jesus to the cross…As soon as the sacred body was taken down, the men wrapped it in linen from the knees to the waist, and laid it on a sheet in his mother’s arms, which, in her anguish and ardent longing, were stretched out to receive him.”

She goes on to describe in tender detail how the body of our Lord was washed by his mother as she held him, marking every wound, as Mary Magdalene wept and washed his feet one last time with her tears. At last they gave the body over to Joseph, the secret follower, the stranger, to place in the tomb.

John’s gospel says the body of Jesus was wrapped with spices and strips of linen, in accordance with Jewish burial customs.

Another Jewish custom, stemming from the story in Genesis of Joseph mourning the death of his father, Jacob, is the practice of sitting shiva. Joseph observed 7, or shiva, days of mourning for his father, and the custom of shiva is still practiced in the Jewish tradition today. As I contemplated this liturgy, I thought of shiva, of the days of mourning that are allowed to a family, of the great mitzvah, or good deed, of visiting a grieving family and sitting shiva with them.

In learning about the custom of shiva I learned that one isn’t supposed to initiate conversation with those in mourning when paying a shiva call. You must wait for the grieved to initiate conversation with you, if they choose, and if they choose not to you must simply sit and bear witness, sit and mourn, sit and pray.

I wonder if Mary sat shiva for Jesus, if she planned to observe those seven days of mourning as friends came and went providing the traditional meals of comfort, if she received the traditional blessings as her visitors departed: May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I think we forget sometimes that Jesus was a person, that he had a mother, that his siblings are specifically referred to in the New Testament, though we don’t seem to know what happened to that brave carpenter who was his father. He was once a mewling infant sheltered in his mother’s arms as they fled to Egypt, a bandy legged toddler with only a few teeth, a growing boy who loved to run and shout and play. A teenager who probably felt awkward at times, and finally a man who was able to ask men to leave their nets and come with him. This was the man that Mary held in her arms in Blessed Anne Catherine’s vision, though bloodied and stabbed, flesh ripped and torn, this was her child. I cannot imagine her grief.

 

The Altar Guild stripped the altar last night of all ornamentation, leaving behind nothing but a wooden cross shrouded in black, like the mirrors in a home observing those seven days of mourning, a family sitting shiva. I watched from the very back of the nave, in a circle of black cassocks, with a cell phone flashlight to see our music as the choir sang.

I came in this morning for my hour of vigil and only traveled about half way down the aisle before the tears welling spilled over, to see the beautiful chancel stripped of ornament, as our Lord was stripped of his clothing and his dignity and nailed to a cross. The stark beauty cold and uncomforting, much like a tomb, there was nothing of us, nothing of our history, nothing of our community left.

And here we are, on the morning after the crucifixion of Jesus, like the women at the base of the cross, the women who washed that sacred body, who sat outside the tomb in the garden. And though our liturgy and tradition does not dictate that we mourn for seven days we are in mourning none the less, all of us the grieved friend, the grieved mother, the grieved sister. All of us feeling the despair and the anguish, as we commemorate the death of our Lord, and bewail and hide all at once our own manifold sins, our own old hurts, our own private sadness.

The stone has been levered in front of the door, and the scent of burial spices tickles our nostrils.

 

We are here together, even if, like Joseph and Nicodemus, we don’t know one another very well. We are sitting this abbreviated shiva, as the women and men who tended to the body of Jesus did, weeping tears that mingle together into the same human stories of shame and pain. Covering the mirrors, removing the beautiful things, respecting the need for silence.

The glimmer of new fire is rushing forward with the end of this day, the stone will begin to move and the sacred body to stir. But for now it is right and good to sit with this grief as the women who bathed his body sat. To feel our tears mingle with the water and spices that anoint him, to see once more the silhouette of Nicodemus against a darkening sky, on a ladder, carefully hammering backward the nails that held that precious body to the hard word of the cross. To feel again the coldness of the new tomb, to choose to mourn.

Amen.

Mapmaking

In this Lenten darkness there are cracks of light, splinters that break through now and again, like unexpected Northern Lights in the sky – beckoning us onward – those who have given up, those who are coasting through, those who mean it all and make it seem to meaningful, so insurmountable and perfect and holy.

As Advent and Christmastide crept up and swept by like a giant wave so has Lent separated around me, cold water flowing through my open fingers, shocking me as it hits the small of my back – but almost gone, nonetheless, before I even knew it was there.

I am working my own way through I think, doing what I am supposed to be doing (or so I tell myself), listening, discerning, taking this opportunity, this time, to build my own theology, to decide what I believe and then go forth and live that out. Going forth and living out are very serious charges, they are big and shining ideals – and so we must, I feel, be certain of the way we are traveling. Though I have a feeling that I will always need to keep the map close, that it will be at times difficult to stay the course.

We talked a lot about Theodicy this weekend, about why bad things happen and where God is in that. We talked about God either not caring, turning up the TV louder over there in that heavenly campground to drown out our pleas, or not all powerful. And I am not sure that these are the only options just as I am not sure what I believe yet.

We talked about the shadow side of God, just as one of my very astute students brought up today in an off track discussion in Confirmation class about inclusive language, he said, well God necessarily means that the flip side is goddess — so aren’t we still leaving someone out? Aren’t we still doing it wrong?

Crazy making as it is that shadow side is there, I think. There is a different side to everything that we think we know and can assume about God, about everything that we bring to the table for discussions about God, there are so many lenses, so many possible ways of coming at God. I wonder if we dare to know, I wonder if we can stand to know, that seems like rather liminal space, like a place where we might take one step too far and just sort of fall of the edge of the world, at the very least fall off the edge of all we think we know.

We were encouraged to be still and to ask God for an experience of God. And there I sat, clenched and ready to bolt, ready to shout, NO! Ready to open my mouth and warn these good church folk, these called to be leaders that when you ask God to show you himself you are wading into very dangerous territory. This is more than burning off  your eyebrows, more than an old man behind a curtain – asking God for an experience lands you sometimes in a places that are not very comfortable and where you feel most of the time like you are massively unprepared.

This weekend I had the chance to work with some beloved friends. We were sitting in a lounge that had the heat set permanently at like 80 degrees and outside the snow swirled down into the dark sky. I asked one friend to show me to how to set the table, this practice altar that we have that has linens and a chalice, we used a lid for a paten and she showed me how to do this holy work. And then another joined, adding his opinions, and another showed me by doing. And I stood there in the semi dark, in this too hot room with unseasonable snow outside and felt the tears stand in my eyes as I looked intently at each of them as they discussed the best way, the way they learned, and finally, what to teach me.

They will leave our little school soon, traveling out into the world and charged with ministering the word and sacraments in what will probably be many different settings and occasions – many ways of doing church. They are all called to be priests and they showed me, the deacon, how to do the work that I am called to do. They’ve shown me over and over again though, shown me through humor, through quiet and through just ridiculous, loud laughter. They’ve shown me that I belong to them, and that they understand this strange journey that we have been called to undertake, the odd magic that takes place when we step closer to knowing God.

They are God’s language, down here, they are the only way that God can be expressed in real time – and I realize as I write this that we all are called to that language, to that ministry of caring for each other. And I realize that God isn’t someone I can know, that as much as I want to turn him upside down, go through his pockets and sniff his clothing – I cannot know him.

I find it interesting that the same lenses we bring to our view of an unknowable God are also brought to our unknowable tribe – interesting how our history bubbles and steeps within us, how it seems to be carried down in our DNA like the color of our eyes or the shape of our fingernails.

Spring is coming, the cracks are growing larger around the rock that seals this tomb and more light is coming in.

The unknowable God is working his strange alchemy, he is making dust and dust come together to live,  to rise up and to go out – bearing his own holy language.

There has been a lot of Lenten grace – and maybe the realization of God’s language is just one more flicker of light, maybe all is not lost after all – or at least maybe I am not. Today there was a small chance to practice listening, to ask questions that encouraged a deeper answer. I held the eyes of a new friend and both our gazes were blurred with tears. I think she was afraid I would be angry with her, and I was anxious to tell her I am not. I think I understand that God is doing weird things to her heart, and I know how much that hurts, how it rips you open and leaves you bleeding and vulnerable.

And I think that becoming ordained is a lot like leaving home, that we will always be  different, we will never be lay people again – we will have extra promises to keep. And I think that nights like the one I had, learning to set a table with a chalice and the lid of a jar — I think those are places on the map that is written inside of me, the map that shows me where home is.

I meant for this to be concise and full of meaning and sense and I find that it is not and not. It is bright pinpoints of light, places for me to make notes and add strange asides. A document that I will come back to over and again to remind myself of who I am.  I see a strange jumble of thoughts and ideas, of theology that is not done baking and a person who is away from home and sending strange postcards back.

I am coming back for you. I will find the way.

I’ve written to you several times and I think you know by now what I am about, I think you know that you can believe me. I think  you know that I love you still.

 

I’d like to know, how difficult is it, to recreate established laws of physics? To dwell inside the confines of a minute, where everything just drones, null and void? And in that instant you are just white noise.

Hair Shirts & One Way Tickets

We’ve been learning, in school, about the difference between sanctification and justification. How we are justified by faith, but how being sanctified is an on going thing, a journey you set out on that is really a one way ticket. It’s made me think, in conjunction with this season of lent, and this mix CD I made for myself (because, see, I’m so old school I have to make myself mix tapes, the rest of the world has moved on from such things), it’s made me think about the one way ticket that we all have. About how there isn’t a return trip, about the absolute fact that no one gets out of here alive.

I don’t mean to be macabre, morbid, I promise you I am not wearing a hair shirt, but really, think about it. Think about this one way trip and what we spend our time doing. I think we spend a lot of our time tending graves, probably our own graves, worrying about all of the things that people will say about us someday, the legacy or wealth we believe we are leaving behind.

I think sometimes its easier for us to tend our graves and to pretend we are already dead. Because when we are dead we don’t have responsibility for the hurt and the broken people in this world, when we are dead we can really not care about what happens in the world as long as our tiny little plot of earth is well tended, our plastic wreaths taken down in the fall and the grass mowed.

There are lots of examples in the bible about life coming after death, there is the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel, where the prophet called those bones up and made them live again, there is Lazarus, be he friend or fiend, we shall never know, but his family had the pleasure of seeing him walk. The little girl Jesus rose in Matthew.

And I’ve had a hard time with the bible, and I’m still not sure where I stand. It’s hard to have this thing that you were taught to believe was magical and divinely inspired and so LITERAL that Eve really really did walk in the garden and eat the fruit — it’s hard to then stop seeing the bible that way, but to also somehow still see it as more than a collection of stories, more than letters to people who are long dead from people who didn’t even know this Jesus that we follow and pretend to know and be like. But the good old b-i-b-l-e tells of the women who go back to the grave of Jesus, and the resurrection they experience there in a stone rolled away, an angel and flowers dripping heavy with dew and bird song.. you get the idea.

So while I am telling you it is a one way ticket, this life, this one shot down here on a globe that spins through space, I am also saying that there is resurrection, that there cannot be life unless death came first.

I had the distinct pleasure of offering ashes to go this year. I stood on a busy corner in our small town in my choir surplice and cassock, with a heavy black sweater on and my hands froze and then my toes, one by one. I spoke Spanglish with Deacon John and we used the words “como dice” many times, trying to explain to each other how we felt, trying to talk about cars, trying to talk about his decades of amazing ministry.

We had a lot of people stop, one very old woman who said she was recovering from pneumonia and couldn’t go to church. She asked me, so sweetly, if it would hurt my feelings to have the priest impose her ashes instead. And it did, but only a little, because I too understand that priestly things seem to carry more weight, more oomph, like they are more and better medicine.

My favorite lady to stop got out of her car and came toward me, and I thought she too would ask for the priest. But she didn’t, and when we read the confession together I noticed that she was crying. And when I said the absolution for us both I noticed she was sobbing. She was wrapped into herself, arms crossed tight across her body, with her bare cheeks exposed to the frigid air in a parking lot at a strip mall, with her heart laid bare to me. I asked to go in peace, to pray for me, a sinner. And then I asked her if I could hug her. And she said yes.

And she reminded me of Ezekiel and his dry bones, his doubt that God through him could make those bones knit together, how they would grow sinew and muscle, how they would rise up again as a mighty army; because those ashes that I smudged on her forehead somehow made her alive again. Because she showed me that she was finally and truly alive with the liquid that ran down her cheeks and wet my sweater, with the arms that held me so tightly.

I think, friends, that contemplating death isn’t the worst thing we could do in these less than 40 days left to us. I think that contemplating how we tend our own graves, how we kill off and entomb parts of ourselves because they hurt too much – I think that is valuable work.

But it’s important that we walk away from our graves once in a while, important that we realize that the future isn’t about us. It’s about a greater reconciliation, a greater call to peace and to justice and to mercy and to what is right and fair for all of God’s people. It can’t be about you and me, because we aren’t going to make it, because we will reach the end of the line long before the world looks very different than it does today. But please don’t be discouraged, because if I don’t make it out of here I am raising up others to lead after me, others to love this world and to love God, and to do justice and love mercy and walk so humbly.

I know this is short.

I have a to do list a mile long, and a family waiting for me, with the TV paused on our favorite show just about six feet from where I sit. And I am no Ezekiel, but I am telling you that our prophetic voices and our faith are what will raise a great army. And that we will overthrow death and again and again. I am telling you that sometimes, even in knee deep in the dirt of the grave that we dug for ourselves something moves, and the light shines and we can see that there is life in this thing too. A one way ticket it may be, but it is a journey toward holiness, and journey where the things we leave behind us, protests and safety pins, hungry folk fed – those are the things that matter on this long trip toward the end of this life. I am telling you that even though it may not seem like, even though the shadow of the stone that stands in the doorway of your tomb may be so large – that there is resurrection.

A friend of mine is traveling with her husband down the hospice road. And the song below makes me think of her, as do the tulips that are even now pushing up out of the dark earth, through the dead leaves and in the shadow of a mighty tree. No matter what we do life will not be held down, there is only this one chance, be sanctified, work at it, I know that it is so hard.

I’m trying too.

I promise you this is true.

I love you, still.

You and me have seen everything to see, from Bangkok to Calgary, and the soles of your shoes are all worn down. The time to sleep is now, but it’s nothing to cry about, because we’ll hold each other soon.