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.

A beating heart

I’ve spent the last several hours in my kitchen. I successfully connected my phone to Kaia’s speaker (this was a major win, by the way) and played some random Adele playlist and marveled at her low notes and her longing made bare, by notes on paper. I’ve made dozens of mini muffins for our annual meeting tomorrow, and I’d like you to believe, and I’d like to believe, that it was an entirely selfless pursuit, that something inside of me shines so brightly that it just needs to make muffins for a meeting. But the real truth is that I can hide in my kitchen, with Adele singing out through the speakers. The real truth is that this somewhat shabby room, with it’s old brown cupboards and scratched Formica and not matching appliances, its a sort of oasis for me.

The news is overwhelming. I can’t be the only person who wonders what to believe, who is almost suspending belief pending further evidence and fact checking. But then I wonder who is out there to do that fact checking and to gather that evidence, and I feel a slick and greasy ball in my stomach turn faster and faster, because I realize that I don’t know what is true any more, I don’t have a reliable source.

In times like these I have to finger the things that I know, I have to take them out and make them tangible in some way, even if that way is only a song in my head, words on my lips. I’ve chanted over and over to myself, what does the Lord require of me? The do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly — and I sort of get tripped up there, where I should say, walk humbly with my God. I’m not sure that I’m walking with God, not sure where he is, if he’s turned up the TV real loud in the caretakers lodge in the heavenly campground to drown out what is happening over here or what. I picture his wife, Wisdom, making him a patty melt in the kitchen, the way the grease pops when her tears strike, the way she knew and called out to us. The warnings she’s made known.

I’m left to walk humbly instead, and hoping to encounter God somewhere on the path.

Last weekend one of the three bishop’s of our state visited school, he shared with us the difference between awareness and action, the stopping place of discernment, of thinking about what we know, what we can see, what we can hear, and the pausing to listen before we act and go forward. He laughed ironically and said he could pick from his hand the small mistakes we will make because we did not discern, because maybe we didn’t even ask. He also read poetry to us, just enough to leave us feeling open and raw and then he let us go to lunch.

I wish I knew what the answers were to the absolute absence of sense, the spreading of rumors about our refugee vetting process, the folks who toss their two cents like stones into a conversation and say, well we have to do something. When we ARE doing something.

I read a story today about a family who was scheduled to arrive at O’Hare on Monday with their one year old daughter, how the vetting has been done, the paperwork completed and the things that occupied their place in a refugee camp packed up. I thought of the sense of anticipation I have about a trip to see my very own mother in 98 days and how excited the woman must be to lay eyes on her family, to show them their infant daughter, to be safe again.

But they are turned back.

They are left, at the eleventh hour, in a refugee camp, unpacking those bags through their tears, trying to communicate with family settled here last fall, trying to find the words to say, we can’t make it. We won’t be there. I’m sorry.

A friend of mine leaked tears all through our small group last weekend. And I told her that I looked at her, listened to her, that I had this image of the same desert she said she was walking through, a sandy and dry place with walls all about her. I saw how she longed for rest, how she longed for an oasis.

And so there she is, in the center of a pool in a place covered by the blue damask sky, pin points of light illuminating her as her tears drip endlessly down and fill the pool at her feet. And we come and we lap at her tears, taking small swallows of her sorrow in a lobby on a Friday night.

I’ve been saying for a while that a battle is coming. We’ve been on this road together, making camp at night and kicking dirt over the embers of our fires in the morning, setting out again. We’ve had hot days where all we could do was put one foot in front of another, and we’ve had fair days singing old Church of Christ rounds, Lord I lift your name on high, where we’ve fairly scampered down the path, rushing headlong toward what comes next.

Now we’ve reached a place where the doors and windows are covered, where the bodies are smoking in a mass grave and not a person remains. Now we’ve seen the pennants of the others unfurling in the wind and snapping to and fro. The easy thing now is to go back, to find another road. The easy way is to say we’re tired, we are so tired, of the fighting and the political posts and the arguments with people we don’t even know. The easy thing is to shrug and say, well, there isn’t anything I can do about this anyway.

But there has to be something we can do. Three million people marched with us last weekend. All of those people believing that their voices mattered. Our voices matter, what happens next is largely up to us.

 

As we wandered to lunch after the poems on Sunday I imagined myself in a wood carpeted with pine needles, in a white shift. It was foggy and cold, and I was hauling on the rope over a well, bringing up a bucket. I pulled and pulled, and the bucket surfaced finally, and in the bucket was my beating heart, blue and glistening in the misty light.

I wish that for you.

I wish you the sticky resin on your feet, the smell of pine in your nostrils, the goosebumps on your arms and the sick fear as you push forward through the fog. I wish that you would haul up your own beating heart, find a way to put it back inside of you.

Every heart will be needed, and soon the woods will fill with pilgrims in search of their own.

Because I’ve been saying that a battle is coming, the other camp is moving closer, but the example of one who wept at the grave of his friend, who forgave the people who hung him on a cross, who went down into hell and defeated it – we have that before us, our standard and our hope. This isn’t over. Please don’t give up. Rest when you must, nourish your body, I’ve a feeling this is only the first test, that this is only the beginning.

Go and find your heart, so that you can join our pilgrim band on the road. So that we can dream up ways of finding and animating with flesh the reconciling love we know is out there, the mercy we have experienced, the bravery that is down inside of us somewhere that needs only to be dusted off and shined up a bit.

Take heart.

I love you still.

 

I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.

THE AFTERLIFE

by Billy Collins

They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals–eagles and leopards–and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

 

 

 

 

Trivia

I’ve been off work since last week and am thinking maybe I won’t go back. There is much to be said for staying up binge watching shows and sleeping late, our children are old enough to forage for food now, and to use the potty and turn on the TV all by themselves. I’ve read and colored too, and I’ve googled. My search history is strangely entertaining, how to counter the salt in ham soup, where is M1, how tall is Vince Vaughn…. fairy pools on the Isle of Skye, any new Doc Martin episodes?

I have another sort of trivia to contend with however, and of course I will go back to work– but not until Tuesday next.

I can’t figure out when Christmas lost it’s magic and became several days off work. I can’t figure out why I stopped looking to see how the lights shine through the stained glass onto the parking lot and the drifted snow, why the descant on the third verse of O come, all ye faithful didn’t make me cry this year. Why the image of a dark skinned and naked infant crying in a cattle shed didn’t really make me want to cry, why I have hardened my heart, again.

I stop, with my hands wrapped around a brick as the snow drifts down, catching in my eyelashes and settling like a crown on my hair,  and realize that I am rebuilding my wall.

It’s unsettling, to say the least, to have your wall come down, all in one go. It’s hard to sort through the rubble and to confront different versions of yourself shining back at you from the rubbish and the dust; harder still to decide which ones are real.

To have my wall come back up is not something I expected to happen. I thought I could live wide open and feeling everything so acutely, I thought I had expertly turned the knobs and tuned the dials to accept the pain a swallow, a sip at a time. And then to discover that my jaw was locked closed, my goodness. I remember countless Christmases, how they were another day, just like Sundays. And then all at once there was magic again, and now I seem to have dropped the jar and had the magic spill out, only I don’t remember it happening.

I can’t think what to do, I’ve been casting about for ideas, for ways to salvage the wonder, for ways to bare my own heart again, straining to hear on the winter wind the songs that make me want to sing.

I wonder at this late sadness, as all things have come round and settled. I wonder at my own contrary and grasping heart, at my lack of contentment in this small and warm and comfortable place. I am disappointed in my own self.

I wonder if the meaning is maybe revealed, if I have arched this way, traveled the path and not even realized the trajectory. Maybe this is an understanding that God incarnate is less about sparkling snow and stained glass and descants, and more about discontent, wondering and seeking, about holding on. Maybe Jesus wondered sometimes too, maybe he wondered if there was a point to all of it, if there was really a reason to keep going on the path that he could see, a destiny laid out for him like stars in a constellation over the Sea of Galilee.

The fairy pools of Skye offer glimmering hope, mist on the bens of Scotland, standing stones in a circle and the cobbled streets of Inverness call to me with the song of the North Sea and the echoing ruins of chantrys and abbeys.. The arms of my mother wait.

In the meantime, I read a prayer the other day and it made me think of all these things that I have laid out, spread out before you. It said, yet in all of the pain, and around it, there are crazy shimmerings of grace, tiny pin-points of hope that leave me breathless, guilty and skeptical, as I scramble to gather them up, unbelievingly holding them close to my heart.

Trivia.

The how and the why, the what it means, who it is for, what it foreshadows and what it sees. When it will come right again and how I can make it so.

I know that I can make it so.

I love you still. I hold you, unbelieving, guilty and skeptical, but close to my heart.