Friday, February 23, 2018

God is Not Done

With me. With us.  With God's creation

I ponder that this morning as I read today's scriptures and Richard Rohr's meditation and reflect on my life.

God is never done with me, with us, with God's creation.

The scriptures today include the story of Sarai, Abram and Hagar.  The first thing I noticed was the names - not Sarah and Abraham - but Sarai and Abram.  They are still just in the begining part of this journey.  They hear the promise of God's blessing - glorious impossible promise of a baby - and don't quite trust it.  They manage and maneuver on their own to make something happen now.  So, Sarai brings her handmaiden Hagar to Abram and he impregnates her.  And this brings out the worst in everyone - Abraham seems weak and deflecting responsibility, Hagar becomes taunting and cruel, Sarai is vindictive and cruel.

The accompanying scripture from Romans makes clear that this is not a story about the people - but about God and God's trustworthiness.  Hagar is banished and yet protected by God and her son Ishmael is the forefather of the Muslim religion.  Sarai does conceive and her child carries the promise of the Judeo Christian religion.

In Romans Paul writes (Romans 4: 1-12 - the Message)  "Abraham is father of all people who embrace what God does for them while they are still on the "outs."  "  He is "willing to live in the risky faith embrace."

I love this picture of Abram and Sarai because I - like them at times - trust but don't trust in God's work in my life.  There are times when I am waiting, waiting, waiting that I try to make something happen on my own.  And yet God is ultimately faithful.  God is never done with me, with us, with God's creation.

We have an ever creating God in an evercreating universe.  Richard Rohr writes:"Creativity itself is what is evolving in the cosmos, and we are the growing edge..."  He writes this has 2 effects
1. it makes the whole thing intensely meaningful.
2. we bear some responsibility.  we have to take part in the work.

And so today  - even though I see the pain and suffering and evil that is present in our world - I remember that God is not done.  I am called to bring light, hope, healing and love in my small way to my little corner of the world.  And trust. as I enter into that risky faith embrace.

PS - as addendum to this:  an hour after I wrote this, I went to Reagan's high school to drop off some clothes she needed.  As I stood outside the school waiting to be buzzed in - I watched them go on lockdown.  There is a juvenile with a gun in the area.  There are so many ways that we can feel like we are in the dark .......

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sitting with all of it

Today is the second day of Lent and I sit with all of it:
 - the blessings and the curses
 - the hope and the despair
 - the life and the death
 - the goodness and the corruption
 - the joy and the sorrow

I sit with the horror of another mass shooting, another school shooting.
I listened this morning to a reporter asking the school superintendent how he was going to lead through the coming days of 17 funerals and it just makes me weep.  I cannot imagine the long term effects of this shooting in the lives of the student,s teachers, parent, community.

And I ponder again the mystery of mental illness and the terrible isolation of so many lives.

I consider again this often violent, sexualized, dehumanizing culture that we live in and then I think about the frustrating, confounding topic of gun control.  I keep learning about the hold that the NRA has on the law makers who could make some changes in background checks and the availability of assault rifles.  And I think surely something can be done.  Surely.

And then I come back to the peace of my life.  I grieve at a distance and feel frustrated, powerless and angry.

This morning I read the daily scriptures and was struck by these verses from 1 John

 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 
If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

And so I confess today - that I have often see evil and accepted it as I live in my own bubble and tell myself there is nothing I can do.
I confess today my indifference, complacency and sloth.

And will take a step today into action - not just thoughts, prayers and facebook posts.  Letters will be written and my congress people will be urged to do something to bring change.  And I am open to other actions that will be revealed to me in this journey.

This seems like a good step during Lent

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday

I am sitting in a beauty salon with my hair full of dye and it is " processing" and so am I.  Processing the beginning of this holy season of preparation.

The processing on my hair will take 45 minutes and the processing of my life's journey and purpose is truly eternal.

I got an email from Susan suggesting we blog together for the next 40 days and I am definitely interested. Interested in what will transpire. In how God is working in my life still. The processing is never never over.

I began this day with the scriptures in the daily lectionary. Most are very familiar: create in me a new heart" and pray in private, etc. what struck me this morning was this verse from Isaiah:
If you remove the yoke from among you,
 the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
 and your gloom be like the noonday

There is a yoke that i am so used to that I don't even recognize it at times: the yoke of judgment, evaluation, criticism. Pointing fingers" it causes so much heaviness between people, it sullied my soul, it leads to depression and inner and outer conflict.

As I read these texts today, I was struck by the descriptions of God in Joel:
Return to the Lord, your God,
 for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
 and relents from punishing

So maybe as I begin Lent , as I tonight receive the ashes on my forehead, my first practice might be to remove the yolk of finger pointing and receive and try to model the grace, mercy, and steadfast love of God.

That might be a very good first step 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Home From Retreat

I arrived home last night from a week in Phoenix and feel refreshed and ready to do more than “slog through” the winter here in central Ohio.  As I flew there – ostensibly to visit my friend Susan – I had this thought that I was really going to be on a retreat – because I really needed it.
For me the definition of a retreat is time away from the ordinary and familiar and routine  practices to rest, breathe, reflect and reset.  The image that comes to me is that I become like a ship with barnacles that are the thoughts and behaviors that creep in and start to weigh me down.

So I sit at my computer today back in snowy Columbus supremely grateful for the opportunity to get away.  There were several parts to this trip that were helpful.

-          It is always good to be with Susan and Ken and in their beautiful home and enjoying their hospitality.  Susan is one who loves cooking and I get to sit in the kitchen and talk and drink coffee or wine as she prepares or cleans up a meal.  It is good and comfortable and feels warm and wonderful.
-          I started every day early and made coffee and sat with my now – 2 journals!  I am starting a new practice.  The first journal is for daily reflection as I look back and literally recount the events of the past day.  What is helpful about this is that it affords me time to linger over feelings and recognize moments of awe and wonder.  Throughout my day.  I knew when I was pastoring that I moved so fast – just because of circumstances – from activity to activity to activity.   In retreat (and retirement!) I have an opportunity to really ponder the ordinary moments which are extraordinary.
-          My second journal is the one in which I read and reflect on the readings of the day from the daily lectionary.  My old mentor Vonie did this – she would read the scriptures and write in her journal maybe a verse or a word from each one and then sit with them.  I am finding this to be a real gift as I seek  a deeper relationship with God. (This is instead of starting my day with "Morning Joe" and CBS News and Donald Trump)
-          Today’s readings, for example, contained these verses:  Psalm 86 was about being surrounded by bullies and our God who “gently and powerfully” puts us back on our feet.
-                                 Genesis 14:  Was about Sarai and Hagar who hurt each other and Hagar’s statement: You’re the God who sees me.
-                                    Luke 18:  Jesus speaks to his disciples who want to exclude the children: “Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
-          There is so much here about vulnerability and trust that I need to chew on.  It really gives me a thought that will resonate all day long.
-          Our daily activities together were also part of my retreat as we ran errands, visited grandchildren, tutored on Wednesday afternoon, attended her book club, went out to eat, played games,  watched movies and TV and had many, many many important conversations about life and love and family and spirit.   It felt like we were in the flow and giving and receiving the blessings of life. It was the stuff of ordinary life and I savored it there and hopefully I will savor it here as I return.

-           Finally, there are the plane rides that are  part of the whole experience and provide a time for preparation for coming and going. There were some glitches with delays each way  - but even still - it is a wondrous experience to get in a plane and go up in the air thousands of feet and travel halfway across the country.  I love the solitude in the midst of the crowds of people and each way I read an entire book.  But more than that, I love looking out the window at the city, the neighborhoods, the mountains and deserts, the clouds and just marveling at it all.  It reminds me of Psalm 8  and "what are human beings that you are mindful of them?"   After a retreat like this the “reset” is that I want to stay and re connect with the source of all life and at the same time, I know that I am just one of millions of creatures and creations loved by God. 

There are many ways to do retreat.  I have enjoyed weeks at camp or a weeklong silent retreat. I think this was different from just a "vacstion" because I  started the day with God and I intentionally declared this time to be  "a retreat."   Sunday, I preached at Susan's church and she introduced me - as she always does - as he "oldeet and dearest friend,"  She said something that was absolutely true - that what has kept this 50 year friendship alive has been sharing our spiritual journeys with each other.  It is a gift to have a friend who "speaks my language" and is willing to companion  me  on this sometimes confusing, always intriguing and ultimately satisfying life as a follower of Jesus.  

I am ending this blog with Psalm 8 from the Message:

    God, brilliant Lord,
    yours is a household name.
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
    toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
    and silence atheist babble.
3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
    your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
    Why take a second look our way?
5-8 Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
    bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
    repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
    even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
    whales singing in the ocean deeps.
God, brilliant Lord,
    your name echoes around the world.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Year of Epiphany

I had read on facebook that some people selected a WORD for the year 2018 and I have been pondering that myself.  This morning as I was sitting in my version of "Morning Prayer" I had an epiphany - that my word for this year is EPIPHANY.

That is the season of the church year that we are in - the season of epiphany.  When I looked up "Epiphany" online to see the dictionary definition there were three"

1.  a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day. appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity.
3.a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
I continue to reflect on the retreat last Saturday on "Divine Intervention" and one of the insights was that it is often only recognized in retrospect.  This morning I found myself reviewing some of the events of yesterday and had some awareness of God's movement in my life in very small - but real ways.  And that realization is so good for my spirit - gives me a sense of peace, hope and anticipation on a cold and frozen January morning.  Otherwise, I find myself living in a "same-old, same-old" mentality.
Epiphanies for me are are many and varied and lived out in some "simple, homely or commonplace occurrences or experiences". An epiphany can be recognition in the moment of God's presence or "nudging" and it can also be the seeing God in reflection. The reflection that comes later in the day, or the next day or week.  God is doing something here!  An epiphany can be like a lightening flash on a dark night, a spotlight or the sunrise.  It is that experience of sudden illumination.
My intention this year is to live life with a greater attentiveness to God's signs and to commit myself to daily reflection.  What I know to be true is that the epiphanies give me hope and trust in myself, God, and the future.I hope that this blog  in 2018 will be a record of some of the ways I experience God's guidance, comfort, and grace in my life. 

In the church year Epiphany is associated with the traveling Magi who seek the child as they follow the star.   And so, may we all look up and seek the Holy One - each in our own way.

Give us, O God,
the wisdom that comes from being willing to take risks,
to follow intuitions
and to travel in strange company
to that place where the ultimate wisdom lies revealed,
even Jesus Christ our Lord.

(from A Procession of Prayers)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to me and to all as we begin a new year.  It is always a time to look back and look ahead.  We look ahead with the dubious practice of making resolutions.

After years and years of trying with limited success I think today about the retreat I led on Saturday.  I was the keynote speaker for the winter retreat for Advance Conference - a weekend retreat for young adults aged 19-29.  The subject I was given was "Divine Intervention."  They wanted to explore what that looked like.

Last summer it was real clear that so many of the young people are in a variety of different places in terms of their faith - some were Christians, others SBNR (spiritual but not religious), many agnostics and some declaring themselves to be athiests.  Camp provides a loving community that does not require "faith in God" just a loving spirit.

With this interesting and somewhat daunting audience I decided to have the morning session be essentially conversations in small groups about the big quesitons. Here are the questions that I had them answer - first individually - and then discuss in a group of five and return back to the the large group with three "headlines" from their conversation.

·      .   Does God Answer prayer?  (yes, no, not yet)  Thank God for unanswered Prayer
   Have you heard stories  about answered prayer?
   Have you experienced
·        Does God Give direction – speak, nudges, thoughts, synchronicity
   Have you heard about
   Have you experienced
·        Does God Heal persons
    Have you heard about
   Have you experienced
·        Does God save persons?  Accidents, wars
    Have you heard about?
    Have you experienced
·        Does God Change minds and hearts – ex: friend prayed to quit smoking
    Have you heard about?
    Have you experienced
·        What do you believe about the necessity of our cooperation?
    “God will not heal unless I believe?”
                        Will whatever happen, happen anyway

So, those are the big questions and they wrestled with them.  Afterwards there were questions about the essential mystery - why are some healed and not others?  why do we usually only notice God's  "intervention"  in troubled times?  How much of this is about our paying attention?

In the afternoon I led them in some exercised that help us to "cooperate" with God - reflection, silence and intercessory prayer.  I then shared a little bit about my story and ended this parable by Anthony De Mello.

True Spirituality
The master was asked  What is spirituality?
He said “Spirituality is that which succeeds in bringing one to inner transformation.”
“But if I apply the traditional methods handed down by the masters, is that not spirituality?
“It is not spirituality if it does not perform its function for you.  A blanket is no longer a blanket if it does not keep you warm.”
So spirituality does change?”
“People change and needs change. So what was spirituality once is spirituality no more.  What generally goes under the name of spirituality is merely the record of past methods.”

This speaks to me on this new year's morning.  My resolution - such as it is - in 2018 - is to do whatever I can do to cooperate with God's "divine intervention."  Be used as a vehicle it, see it, and trust it.  

And this parable reminds me that a new year might bring new spiritual practices.  What once "worked" may not be as meaningful as I get older and change myself.  My hope and prayer for a NEW year is openness to new ways of being Margot, being in relationship with others and with God. 

Here is a prayer for a year of blessings
May this  year
be a  year of blessings:
blessings of goodness,
blessings of joy,
peace and kindness,
friendship and love,
creativity, strength,
fulfilling work
and dignity,
satisfaction, success,
and sustenance,
physical health
and radiance.

May truth and justice
guide our acts,
and compassion
temper our lives
that we may blossom
as we age
and become
our sweetest selves.
May it be so.”

Marsha Falk