Monday, October 29, 2012

Spiritual Awakening - Step 12

I have a sense of completion this morning.
Yesterday was my final sermon on the series on the 12 steps and we also had our last meeting of the small group that has met on Sunday evenings.

It has been a really good experience - both the preparation for the preaching, the sermons and the small group. I have watched several people have real AHA moments as they have begun to live into the grace of God. A spiritual awakening for some, I suppose.

The last step of the 12 steps is:
"Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message (to alcoholics) and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

What struck me about this was the realization that the great spiritual awakening are not from a small group discussion, a book or a worship service. They tend to come from experiences of failure and suffering. It all reminds me of Richard Rohr's great book - Falling Upward - about the second half of life. You have to live long enough to know that you are powerless and then experience the presence of the Holy One to have a spiritual awakening.

Step 12 is really about being alive. Keith Miller wrote:

“One of the paradoxical bedrock truths of the 12 step program - and the Christian message - is that we stay spiritually alive only by giving away what we are receiving."

Richard Rohr talks about our need to breathe out and breath in.
Inhalation and exhalation - a person will suffocate if she just keeps breathing in. I hear people's resistance to going deeper in their spiritual journey because they name it "Navel Gazing" and then they stop there. But the message is really to look inward and to see what you need to see - and eventually when we go deep enough we experience the unconditional grace of God. And then give that to others. Breathing in and Out! And it is not first one and then the other - because it is in giving the message of grace to others that we understand and appreciate it ourselves. It is "Both And"

But finally Step 12 reminds us that it is all a process - a journey and it all takes time as we continue to work the steps. Spirituality and spiritual awakening is not magic, or technique or formula- it is miracle and it is mystery. It is a life of gradually giving up control and trusting our God.

As we finished the book - "Breathing Under Water" the group wants to keep meeting. I think in Advent I am going to put together a group for contemplation and creativity for the season. There is definitely a hunger within us all for meaning, purpose and authentic community.

I have certainly been blessed this fall by this study together.

God is good - All the time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Mystery

Or should I say - "Living in the Mystery"

This morning I stood by a man's bedside and prayed as he passed away.
There is such a mystery there - passed to where? What happened after that moment when the breathing definitively stopped.

He passed. Over.

I have been with several families - and with my own mother - in that moment and it is always strange. Because there is uncertainty - is he or she gone? Yes. And then the "Now what?"

After the hugs and the tears and the platitudes and the prayers there are the details to be considered. About calling hospice and funeral home and notifying people.

And then there are the details about travel arrangements and calling hours and the service and the cemetary.

But eventually there is the Now what - about how to live into life on earth without this person present. Because everything has changed and you are just now starting to learn that.

Which reminds me of the other mystery - not the end of life but the beginning. One of the most special blessings of my life was that I was able to be in the delivery room with Marnie when both Reagan and Addie were born.

Birth has a lot of the same dynamics as death. There is the waiting, there is the wonder of that moment of seeing a baby take its first breath and there are now what questions?

There are details about birth certificates and bottles and diapers.
There are the notifications about the arrival of this miracle and the visits from friends and family.

But eventually there is the NOW What - of how we are going to live our lives with this new person present. Because everything has changed and we are just now starting to learn that.

And so the mystery of life - is really the mystery of living through the inevitable changes of arrivals and departures. The mystery of who you become when you are a mother or a widow. Because people in our lives change us when they come into our lives and when they leave.

And so today I pray for Ruth whose life changed radically this morning. I know that she is surrounded by the love of family today, but that she will have some hard times ahead adjusting to her new life.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 46 - because it speaks of these times:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging


He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress

My prayers are with her today.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Keeping Vigil

I just returned from the home of one of my parishioners who is dying.

And the family is keeping vigil.

As I walked toward the condo I passed a beautiful pale yellow butterfly. It seemed like a sign from God. This is a holy place.

And it is. Those times and places of waiting for a person to pass over.
To be with God.

The home is not dark but light and painted a light green. The wife sits on the couch next to her grandson's wife. Another grandson sits nearby reading the notebook from hospice. A great granddaughter plays outside with her grandpa.

Monique - a young woman who works for hospice sits beside the bed.
And he lays in the hospital bed in the middle of the living room - peacefully sleeping. He is no longer talking - just resting. He has a morphine drip and we believe that he is not in pain. He is just waiting to literally pass away.

We sit and talk about our own experiences of keeping vigil - as Monique talks about her father's dying and I share about my mother. We encourage
his wife to sleep - I say "how about a power nap?" She is afraid that she is going to miss something. But she is tired and resigned and sad and ready. She is waiting. Keeping vigil.

I have been with many families at this time and always there is a unique peace about it. We are no longer talking about healing and operations and medication. Just waiting and wondering when.

But being together as a family. That is what is so important and wonderful about all of this.

I am the pastor who comes and stays for a while and listens and prays. Sometimes I say or read scripture. When I pray - thanking God for the peace of this time and the blessing of our faith - there are tears.
It is hard and it is holy.

It is a glorious autumn day and as I drive back to church I marvel at the beauty of the trees. And see blessing in all of it - the butterfly, the people of hospice, the caring family, and the gift of faith.

And the peace that passes understanding.

End with a quote from John 14

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

how glorious the trees look -

Monday, October 15, 2012

Improving our Conscious Contact

Continuing in the 12 step series - the way to freedom.

And we are on step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
and step 11 - sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.

And my emphasis this week has been on the "Improving our Conscious Contact."

Every week when I see what is the theme for the week, I start to live it out in bold relief in my own life. And this week was like that - recognizing how far I am from living consciously, in awareness, prayerfully.

The heart of my sermon was a story that I first heard about watching "Morning Joe" and then read online. It was the cover story on Newsweek - Heaven is Real. A neurosurgeon wrote about his experience when he was in a coma for 7 days in 2008. He has a certain kind of authority as a scientist that gave the narrative authenticity and power.

What strikes me about all of these kinds of after death experiences is that too often we use them to give us comfort about dying and fail to see the gift that is available to us in the present. And the gift is the "conscious contact" we can have with God.
Those moments of clarity, strength, knowledge, and awareness that come throughout our lives.

I think the born again stories that people tell are always interesting - but just a beginning and too often we stop there. And just don't understand that our choices in life can help us to get a glimpse, hear a voice and truly get a sense of the holy EVERY day. I believe this with all of my heart and find hope and a sense of anticipation and expectation as a person who values the spiritual life.

And so - to quote Richard Rohr - "the rational mind is good for things like science, math and turning left or right - but it is at a complete loss with the big 5 - God death, suffering, love and infinity" He also writes that how you pray determines how you live.

I know that prayer is really an stance of openness throughout our lives. It is more than sitting quietly in a room by yourself and together holding hands in a prayer circle. But those things are important. There is value in personal prayer time, reading, journaling. And there is power in prayer together in community. But I also know that prayer is living with our eyes wide open and seeing God at work in our lives, in the lives of others, in the beauty of creation, in everything!

As we continue on this 12 step journey, the 12 steps really do help us to identify the things that stop us from being connected - we can call it addiction, sin, noise, busyness, compulsion. Lots of things. But they are real and they prevent us from living the best life.

And so, on this Monday morning I am blessed to have time to process this, to read a book for book group, to take a walk at Sharon Woods, to have lunch with my husband and to know that - potentially - all of this activities can be prayer. A way of improving my contact with God.

May it be so today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Storage Wars?

I don't watch the show but I am now living it - sort of.

I remember living in Bowling Green, coming home from work and seeing the garage open and thinking "I am married to Fred Sanford"
That was a joke at the time - but now it is true.

Chuck has discovered the auctions around Columbus that sell the contents of storage units. And, unlike on TV, they sell some of them cheap!!
So, in the last 10 days he has purchased the contents of 5 units - paying from $5 to $15 for each one. Cheap.

And he is really having fun. The garage is full and he is constantly sorting things and sending things in various places. Some of the goodies have included: a george foreman grill, two rocking chairs, beds, cabinets, an Ipod, and lots of toys and clothes and books. He has taken books to half priced books, clothes to goodwill, and lots of stuff given to friends. He is going to sell some things on craigs list and at a craft and vendor fair at church.

I am writing about this today because I have so many thoughts about it all. It speaks to the fact that we all have too much stuff. I don't have a storage unit - I have two closets in my bedroom and a basement with too much of my stuff.

It also reminds me of how hard life is for so many people. It is possible that this storage is here because someone was evicted or foreclosed on and had to move to a smaller space.

What I know is that we are the recipients of someone else's loss. It is strange to go through things and find pictures, baptismal certificates, diplomas, court orders, etc. And you wonder what is the story behind the circumstance that had these people put their treasures in storage and then not pay the rent. It is for the most part, a mystery and there is a real sadness about this for me.

And on the other hand, I do love to see my husband so happy and he is doing what he does - giving things away and recycling if he can.

Chuck is a man of many interests and they do come and go. This one is here for a while and I am enjoying his passion!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reconciliation - Or Making Amends

It gets harder and goes deeper every week as we continue with this series on the 12 steps.

This week we ended up going through 4 steps at once because they were so interconnected.

Step 6 - Ready to have God remove all these defects of character
Step 7 - Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings
Step 8 - Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them
Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

What I learned as I reflected on this was that reconciliation and making amends is a lot more than saying "I'm sorry" (or "My Bad!) It really seems like these 12 steps link to the Christian message as they really call us into spiritual maturity.

And so my sermon was essentially about the way we have to grow in our character in order to become people who can make amends - or build bridges back - as relationships go through difficult times. And I spoke about how we have to grow in: honesty, humility, courage, compassion and vulnerability.

There are a couple of things that stay with me after this weekend.

1. How long this all can take - to recognize that we have hurt another person and then be willing to make amends. God reveals our sins to us over time.

2. We have a God who forgives - but the "karma" of our mistakes remains and we must still go back and repair the bonds that we have broken.

3. We cannot do this work on our own. The book reference Jesus wonderful parable about the wheat and the weeds and this is what Rohr wrote:
if you try ot pull out the weeds, you might pull out the wheat along with it. Ask God to remove - don't dare go after your faults yourselves or you will go after the wrong thing or more commonly a clever substitute for the real thing."

The small group I am leading is really enjoying this book and our discussions. Every week someone else seems to have a breakdown or a breakthrough or something. It is hard to describe - but all in all I am glad we are doing this book and I am doing this series.

What I continue to recognize is that culturally we are encouraged to be strong, and move on, and not dwell on mistakes of the past. But, of course, they don't go away and relationships suffer because of our inability to ask for and receive forgiveness.

The 12 steps are about two things - making amends and keeping ourselves from hurting others further. is that all? That is everything.

And so we continue!

Monday, October 1, 2012


I continue this journey through the 12 steps and it challenges me.

This week I preached on 2 steps -
Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
Step 6 Was entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

In my sermon I essentially made three points and told three stories.
The points were
1. We live in a world in need of forgiveness
2. Confession is good for the soul
3. We are called to be a community of forgiveness.

All of which is true and hard.
The hardest part of confession is first seeing within yourself what you need to confess and it is often not what it appears on the surface.
In fact, the surface stuff - like smoking and drinking and overeating - hardly need to be confessed since everyone can see it.
The hardest parts is facing the way our fears or our ego gets us into that place of taking control way to much (or trying anyway!) The hardest part is facing our immaturity that keeps us wanting what we want with no concern for others. The hardest part is facing our judgmental nature or our sloth or our self centeredness. As I write this I realize that there are a lot of hardest parts - no wonder we rarely do this confession thing.

When I went to the workshop by Richard Rohr he said that the #1 confession from Catholics to their priests - confessing that they missed mass. Nobody wants to go too deep, do they? Not me.

But I gave us all homework in our small group this week - that we would find a soul friend to whom we can confess one character defect or sin. Jesus said - "The truth shall make you free" and it is also true that the truth can be very hard to speak and to hear.

And so, I guess I should do it too - I will not be seeing Loretta (my spiritual director) soon - so I have to find a soul friend and then I have to confess.

Interestingly one of the questions for reflection yesterday was this: "Are there any character defects you have discovered that you enjoy and are not sure you want God to remove?"

Yeah, that is part of the problem.....

So, this morning I ruminate and wonder what God is going to reveal to me this week and who God will give me for confession. I only know that this process is one that over the years has led to changes within me - that have made be freer in many ways.

Richard Rohr writes: "Only mutual apology, healing and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity."

There is hope for all of us - as we continue on this journey to freedom.