Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Limits of our Words

This morning began with a visit to the hospital to see the dying brother of a member of a colleagues church in Cleveland.  In other words, his minister could not come and I was the proxy.  It is not all that unusual for me to go as a stranger into someone's hospital room and I actually feel pretty comfortable doing so.  Having written that - at the same time I come in unsureness and a sense of obedience.

My role is to listen, comfort and pray and I do all of that and plan to return tomorrow.  And I leave wondering as always - was that OK?  Helpful? comforting?   Hoping that something more than my inadequate words were present.  And then I let it go.

I continue to read the book on Centering Prayer and realize that this journey into wordless prayer is a lot of "letting go."  As I sit in my prayer room I try to let go of insights, words, images, plans, ego, needs and just try to be present and empty.  Which is hard because my mind is so full.  Full really of me.

My email meditation from Richard Rohr this morning was perfect as I struggle with this.  He writes:

The Desert Fathers and Mothers gave birth to what we call the apophatic tradition, knowing by silence, symbols, and not even needing to know with words. It amounted to a deep insight into the nature of faith that was eventually called the "cloud of unknowing" or the balancing of knowing with not needing to know. Deep acceptance of ultimate mystery is ironically the best way to keep the mind and heart spaces always open and always growing.

And so what I realize is the inadequacy of any words - including these that I write right now - to describe the spiritual mystery of faith.  And so sometimes silence can be so comforting as I continue to learn how to let go and allow God to fill my soul - despite my awareness of my brokenness and the grief and the wounds of the world.

This all sounds so serious but at the same time what I know for sure is that God wants us to wake up and be alive.  Really alive to the beauty and the grace that surrounds us.  But maybe we only get there when we are able to really let go of knowing and having  all these words and just open ourselves  to the mystery of the presence of the Holy One.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

And the rest of the story

          After I wrote yesterday's post about "Answered Prayer" I almost deleted it.  Because it really is only part of the story of faith.  I do believe in a God who is responsive and that part of our journey in faith is awareness and gratitude.  There is always a mystery to the "cause and effect" or what is called "Answered Prayer."  Do my prayers help someone get a job or find healing?  I live in complete ignorance and total faith.

        My definition of faith is "a relationship with God."  When Jesus saw people he often asked: "What do you want me to do for you?"  And he not only talked about prayer but he also spent time in prayer.  And I believe that one aspect of our prayer life is answering that question and offering it up to God.  And so I pray constantly  - not only for myself but also for others I know and don't know.  Believing that in some very mysterious way it makes a difference.  That is it.

   At the same time I am continuing to work my way through the book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bougeault.  The chapter I read this morning was about the difference between cataphatic and apophatic prayer.  Cataphatic prayer makes use of our faculties and engages our reason, memory, imagination, feelings and will.  The prayers for myself and others are clearly cataphatic prayers.

   Apophatic prayers bypass our capacities for reason, imagination, visualization, emotion and memory.  Centering prayer is Apophatic as we sit in silence and in some sense yield ourselves to God. We let thoughts, reflections go and just are present with God.  The best word seemed to be surrender.  I write this and am trying it and it is easier to write about than to do.  What I know is that I want to be transformed by God and it is surely more than me telling God what I want. This form of praying not only opens me to God's healing and guiding spirit but allows me to experience ONENESS with God and all of creation.

The Psalm for today is Psalm 95 and in it the Psalm writes: "Do not harden your hearts."  What I experience in my life is how easy it is to have our hearts harden.   Right now as I write this I read that the Baltimore Orioles game is being postponed because of rioting in Baltimore.  At the same time people are trying to pick up the pieces in Nepal after a devastating earthquake.  It is so easy to focus on our own lives and not engage in prayer and work for this country and this world where so many are hurting.  Somehow I believe that faith practices - like prayer - help us to stay open and connected - not only to God - but also to each other.

The rest of the story is that while God is at work in my little life, God continues to bring peace and light and healing and strength in the most difficult situations.  And sometimes wants to use us to do that.   Here is a wonderful prayer by Walter Brueggemann

We are your people,
mostly privileged
Your people who make futures for ourselves,
seize opportunities,
get the job done
and move on.
In our self-confidence, we expect little
beyond our productivity;
we wait little for
that which lies beyond us,
and then settle with ourselves
at the center.
And you, you in the midst of our privilege,
our competence
our entitlement.
You utter large deep oaths
beyond our imagined futures.
You say – fear not, I am with you.
You say – nothing shall separate us.
You say – something of new heaven and new earth.
You say – you are mine; I have called you by name.
You say – my faithfulness will show concretely and will abide.
And we find our privilege eroded by your purpose,
our competence shaken by your future,
our entitlement unsettled by your other children.
Give us grace to hear your promises.
Give us freedom to trust your promises.
Give us patience to wait and
humility to yield our dreamed future
to your large purpose.
We pray in the name of Jesus who
is your deep yes over our lives.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Answered Prayers

Are stunning.
 At least that is how I feel.  I suppose I should be used to it, but right now I am in a place of gratitude for so many reasons and all I can say is thank you God.
Here are some of the answered prayers that I celebrate:

  • A dear friend has been aware of a job opening for over a year.  I watched his application process and have prayed that he would get the job.  He did and he will be wonderful at it!
  • Miranda has been in my prayers for over 6 months as she has struggled with some issues in her current job.  I am so happy that last week she was offered a transfer and will be moving (with Audrey) to Tucson in June.
  • Last night we got word that - without even listing their house - they have sold it and so they are truly ready to go!  
  • Brian, Chuck's son, has received some peace and physical healing recently and I celebrate that.  He is visiting us right now and fishing with his Dad and that too is a gift for us.
  • And Kacey has had struggles with her principal ever since the strike this fall and today she received news that the principal has resigned. 
I am the first one to say that 90 percent of my prayer life is not asking God for anything. Most of my time in prayer is opening myself to God in contemplation.  However, I have a "Prayer Wall" in my prayer room and throughout the day as situations I arise I pray for people and situations that come up. Not all prayers are answered the way that we want, but truly there are times like this - when I can sit back and only say thank you.

And so I do. 
God is good, all the time!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The blessing of being Ogram

This is a picture of me and my youngest granddaughter Maggie from Saturday night babysitting.  What is funny about this is that right after I took this picture, she woke up and starting wailing. But even that was okay because I got to be Ogram - her grandmother taking care of her.

This morning I went to church with Marnie and Maggie and we sat in the back row with Maggie on our laps, on the floor and altogether entertaining us throughout the service.  This is a true gift for me to attend church and get to be with my family.

I saw  Jacob and Heather Bane with their daughter Abby who is the same age and was just as cute and active as Maggie this morning.  Jacob said he wondered why they even went when they spend so much time fussing with the baby.  But from my perspective, it is priceless and I believe we are imprinting in this little soul a memory of being in worship with her Mom and Grandma (her Ogram) who love her as God does.

It is all good.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

All over the place

I am all over the place this morning and I can't concentrate.
Yesterday I did a wedding rehearsal and today is the wedding and so that is on my mind.
Thursday I had a meeting about the keynote for the Fall Retreat at camp and that is on my mind
And then there is Grandparents Camp coming in June and that is on my mind
We have Brian coming to visit Sunday and that is on my mind
And I have a race next week and I wonder  how I am going to drag my body 6 + miles around Columbus with so little "training" and that is on my mind
And there are some work issues in my daughter's lives and that is on my mind.

So....I am all over the place.

And I come to prayer and a chapter about centering prayer and it feels impossible.  I read about Thomas Keatings three levels of awareness: Ordinary, Spiritual and Divine and know that I my mind is circling around in ordinary awareness - otherwise known as "egoic thinking."  Cynthia Bourgeault writes:
"It is the normal functioning zone of the human mind.  it doesn't matter whether you're a Ph.D, a bishop, a nuclear physicist; how brilliantly intellectual or intensely devout you may be.  Without special spiritual training, your sense of the world and your sense of yourself will be formed at this level of awareness."

She writes this about spiritual awareness:
"spiritual awareness perceives through an intuitive grasp of the whole and an innate sense of belonging....since spiritual awareness is perception based on harmony, the sense of selfhood arising out of it is not plagued by that sense of isolation and anxiety that dominates life at the ordinary level of awareness."

So....I sit with my monkey mind in silence this morning.  I sit and want that harmony and inner peace and I don't know if I "get there" in any kind of satisfying way.  She later writes that

"learning to shift to seeing with your spiritual awareness is a lot like learning to see in the dark.  At first everything seems totally black.  but if you're patient and don't grab for the flashlight, little by little you begin to discover that you can pick out shadows and shapes and in some mysterious way "see."

I read again the 23rd Psalm of this week and remember that the Lord is my Shepherd and not only with and guiding me but also Matt and Joslyn on their wedding day, our team planning a retreat, Mary Jo, Marsha and I with Grandparents camp, Brian in his visit, Kim and I in our walk,  Kacey, Marnie, Audrey and everyone I love and worry about.

I sit in silence and in the midst of my resistance, distractions, anxieties and fears I trust that God is doing what God always does - loving and guiding and making everything new.  Even me.
That is my faith.
Ephesians 3: 16-19 is the promise and the charter of this spiritual life.

  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power 
through his Spirit in your inner being,  
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  
 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Inner Awakening

As I prepared for prayer with God this morning I was straightening my "prayer room" and noticed a book that I had bought recently and shelved without really reading: Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault. And I had the sense that this is my next book.

No matter how long we have been on this spiritual journey, all of us are still learning how to pray.  Here are a couple of statements that spoke to me this morning as I began reading:

"Genuine prayer is based on recognizing the Origin of all that exists, and opening ourselves to it"  Piero Ferrucci

Contemplative prayer is simply a wordless, trusting opening of self to the divine presence.

It's very, very simple.  You sit, either in a chair or on a prayer stool or mat, and allow your heart to open toward that invisivle but always present Origin of all that exists.  Whenever a thought comes into your mind, you simply let the thought go and return to that open silent attending upon the depts.

What goes on in those silent depths during the time of Centering Prayer is no one's business, not even your own; it is between your innermost being and God, that place where, as St. Augustine once said, "God is closer to your soul than you are yourself."

But in the depths of your being, in fact, plenty ha been going on, and things are quietly but firmly being rearranged.

Of course, it is not simple at all.  Because of our resistance.  Here is what I wrote after a time of silent prayer.

I am here to be with you.
This is always my mantra.
I am here.

May I be here.
As I sit in centering prayer or whatever is my version I want to be here.
And I don't and I do and I don't

My resistance can be so strong to really being here
Instead I am thinking about yesterday and planning for later today and tomorrow
But in that moment when I am HERE I experience
   a pull to go deeper
   a call to rest in spirit
   A love that is beyond words and space and time.

I am grateful that it is starting to come together - this retirement journey as a way away from church constraints to a different experience and expression with you, O Holy One.

Lord Jesus may I be Here with You.
May I be awake.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sacred Rhythms

I am back home again in Columbus after a retreat in Hocking Hills and a trip to the southwest.  Home again and it feels like starting over in some ways.

I continue to check out the daily lectionary and have finally finished reading Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our lives for Spiritual transformation by Ruth Haley Barton.   In the last chapter she writes:
"From the vantage point of being outside my normal rhythms for a time, I saw my life more clearly than I sometimes do.  I became deeply aware of the fact that I love my life when I am living it within the rhythms that God has guided me into; there is a goodness in it and manageability to it that my whole self longs for and leans into.  Yes, there is busyness and work, but there are also times of rest and delight that my soul can count on."

And so I start today with what has become the rhythm of my life in retirement: a newspaper, sudoko, CBS news for 30 minutes and then time in the prayer room.  It is in the prayer room that I am able to meditate, read, write and remember the purpose of my life: I am here to be with God, guided by God and used by God.  And from that beginning the rest of the day unfolds.

What I know is the we all have to find our own "rule of life" and rhythm of spiritual practices that will center us so that we can really live a happy and fulfilling life.  And different seasons in our lives give us different challenges and opportunities for spiritual growth.  When I was a Mom at home with three little girls, I still did writing, reading and praying - but it was around naptime often.  And the truth is that there is so much to learn about being a "child of God" when you are around children.

Now that I live with older people - especially Chuck - I learn patience, compassion and the grace of aging.  It is different and it is still good if I have eyes to see.

One of the scriptures for today is the beloved 23rd Psalm - which I have read so much and used in Pastors class and even memorized.  Every line in this Psalm is a jewel - but the one that I love the most today is the beginning - "The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want"   or "The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need."

And maybe I should remember - When the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want - meaning: when I let God BE my shepherd and follow where I am being led I will have what I need.  This journey can be scary at times, but I keep learning that following Him leads me to green pastures.

Here it is as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message

- God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.

Monday, April 20, 2015


I write this from Phoenix because our Sedona adventure is now over.
And I will continue to ponder and reflect on my time there.

First of all, it was my birthday weekend and I have to say that I really enjoyed that!  We had a terrific birthday lunch  Saturday at Hideway Restaurant which was outside and afforded a beautiful view of the red rocks and the gift of good food, wine and friends.  It was everything I could have ever wanted.

Chuck prepared a beautiful breakfast on my birthday and gave me two cards - one with $2 to buy a chocolate turtle and the other with $10 to buy two bottles of "2 buck chuck." This is a man who knows what i like.   And doesn't bother with the details of purchasing the items himself.

Saturday both Susan and I engaged in a birthday present I gave myself - a 30 minute session with Mary Morningstar, a Sedona Psychic.  We sat in on each other's and taped the sessions.  I learned, among other things, that we had been friends,  sisters and mother and daughter (she was the mother) in past lives.   I learned that I was not supposed to try to fix Chuck and that he is brilliant and once was my knight in shining armor.  And actually I learned a lot of other things which I will be pondering for some time.  Sunday morning Ken went to her as well and these visits have certainly given us lots of conversation.

This morning as we left we did stop at the Chapel and I got to spend time there in prayer and reflection.  It is breathtakingly beautiful in its setting and very holy in the place itself.  At the same time, it is a tourist stop.  I sat there long enough in the chapel that I waited out the people walking on the altar and taking pictures.  I was able to sit and truly experience God's presence.

Here is what I wrote in my journal.

Sitting in the Chapel

I am HERE to be with YOU
Seeking you in a place where others have come, do come and will come.
Touched by the setting, the architecture, the holiness, the beauty of this sacred place.

We come and walk around
   take pictures
     light candles

Here some of us know completely the longing that brings us here.
   Others are mildly interested and curious
    and some may not connect at all
         with Your Presence
                Your awesome creating and recreating spirit

But I am Here as so many before me in awe and gratitude

There are Banners that circle the sanctuary and two of them speak to me today
They are white with blue crosses in the center in the corner

One says:
I will gather you from the ends of the earth
    I will give you a new spirit

The other:
When He calls to me
When He calls I will answer

I sit Here
I am Here to be with you

And my soul is filled with your presence
your love
your call
Amen and amen

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Preparing for my next adventure

To Arizona to see friends Susan and Ken - starting at Phoenix and then to Sedona.  We will be at Sedona for my birthday.

This is a picture of the church built into the rock that is there.  I hope to go there, to walk around, maybe take a tour.  I don't know what. I am open - at least I hope I am.  As I am coming off of these last days of retreat, I already recognize how easy it is to close off to God and go back to business as usual.

This "retirement journey" has involved some traveling so far - a cruise, a trip to Cincinnati with Kacey, a book festival, a retreat and now this.  The planning of trips has seemed both intentional and haphazard - but what I continue to see is that every place has something life giving for me and it is often not what I expected.
 - on the cruise I found so much peace in the experiencing the expansiveness of sea and sky as I sat on the balcony
 - on the trip to Cincinnati, I really felt God was helping me to see how important FUN is in this life that we have been given
- At the book festival - I found myself stretching intellectually as I thought about all kinds of historical events - the women's movement in the 60's, the plantation life for slaves, the beginning of our country and the men who were the first leaders.  I remembered how much I like to LEARN.
 - This retreat has been a time of learning that now this transition into retirement is hardly the end - but me continuing on "my hero's journey" as I leave safety and go into unknown places as I "follow my bliss."
 - And now - what?  Of course, I never really know what is coming.  None of us do.  All I know is that taking a moment to reflect back it is so clear that time away often affords not only rest and novelty but new understandings and growth.

And my prayer for this day and these coming days is that I might be awake and open to receive.
Isn't that always what we need?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Home From Retreat

Sunday afternoon I drove to Hocking Hills and spent three nights and days with in the company of some of my spiritual sisters.  There were four of us who spent much time in shared silence as we opened ourselves to God in so many ways.

.  We were at Summit Haven Retreat and stayed in different cabins high in the hills.

My journal is full of notes, prayers, insights and reflections for the time that we spent.  It is early April and so the trees are still bare for the most part.  I wrote this Monday morning as I felt myself awaken to the beauty that was found here.

Awakening - From Barrenness to Beauty

I come outside to the back deck at Twin Pines
And just look
at what looks brown and bare
   brown leaves on the brown ground
   brown bare trees awaiting leaves
And the day is beginning

And I look, gaze, wait
As I slowly waken to life
A bird alights at the very top of a tree, his tail going up and down like a see saw
    and then I see another
    Brown dots on spidery branches way up high

I begin to hear sounds of the birds -calling, trilling, chirping, singing, whistling
A leaf slowly dances in the wind
The sky is gradually changing from gray to light blue with patches of white
and another bird streaks silently across the sky

More leaves are moving in rhythm to the beat of the wind,
   I look up at the tree - the large tree
    whose limbs curve gracefully to the sky
     and I see in its branches an intricate design like lace
And I am awakening
To life,
to beauty,
to you, O God.

I wish I could put into words the blessings of time like this.  What came up in me was how much God loves me - enough to give me songs to sing, and dreams to ponder and friends to companion me.
Each night I gave a different person a reiki treatment and then would walk "home" in the dark.  The first night  I sat on the porch looking up at the stars and just thinking about the mystery that is God, pondering "the way" of Jesus and wanting it all.  Wanting more.  And waiting.

This morning on my final time of walking I noticed that in three days the area was "greening" and that buds were starting to pop.  During my time in retreat I had seen glimpses of deer, butterflies and wildflowers and daffodils.  It reminded me that even for an almost 66 year old woman, there is beauty and new life and freedom as I just trust God's leading.

One of the books I was reading referred to the "with God" life that Jesus demonstrates and invites us into.  This is what I wrote and believe:

It is the "With God" like that I seek

A life that sees more
   sees the beauty and the pain
   sees all humanity in its many colors
A life that feels more - loves, pain, fear, gratitude
A life that does more
   to show and to share love
   not stopped by fear, pride, or anger
A life that is connected to and guided by God,
the source of life
the divine lover. 



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Art and Conviction!

Yesterday I attended a TEDX event at Marion Correctional Institution that was titled "Art and Conviction!"

The event included different artistic expressions by the residents of the institution.  As we arrived we had a chance to look at the art work that had been done by various men as well as have some conversations with them. The program itself consisted of various artistic forms: talks, poetry, a silent choir, a contemporary ballet, singing, a short play.

I am still processing what this time meant for me.  First of all, I continue to learn about the value and the power of artistic expression.  They began with a statement that it is through art that we can retain our sanity. And I would say that it is through art that we are able to find healing and purpose in our lives. 

The men who I spoke to and who participated were truly full of life and it was clear that this program was so important to them.  I thought that art is not only a creative endeavor for the artist, but also a shared experience for the audience.  And I felt blessed to be part of the audience.

Though it all I was aware that the life of these men in prison is truly unimaginable to me.  We had quite a process of entering and leaving the prison - all of which was a reminded of how "locked away" they are.  One of the men I spoke to shared that he had been there for 15 years.  We were in a spiritual conversation and he shared how much he has changed over those years and he credited his faith to much of that change.  We talked about how many examples there are in the Bible of disciples being locked up.  And that we believe that God is always doing something no matter what the circumstances.

Most of all, I came away understanding that  - like all of us - these men have learned that life is best lived in the present.  There comes a time to let go of the past and to trust that the future will be in God's hands.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now."

And so I was blessed to witness the artistic expressions of these men who are living a life with so much less freedom than mine.  However, their creativity and imagination allow them to find life  and companionship and purpose.

May we all do the same!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

You are the salt of the earth

I am getting ready to go to Camp Christian this morning to lead a Bible study for spring retreat for Advance Conference.  Advance is the camp for young people from 18 to 29.  I have been involved in this ministry for at least a dozen years and it is always good.

The theme for this retreat is "You are the Salt of the Earth," and so my Bible study is going to be on Jesus words to his disciples found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  I spent quite a bit of time yesterday reading about salt in the Bible and the properties of salt.  Here is part of what I am handing out today:

In the first century salt was essential to survival. It kept things from going bad. It was a preservative, it added taste, cleaned wounds and promoted healing. It was also used extensively in metallurgy, particularly in the refining of gold.
So high was its value, Roman soldiers were often paid a salarium, an allowance of salt as their wage. From the word ‘salarium’ we get the English word salary. So when Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ he was referring to something vitally important and essential for everyone.

I will also hand out 3 versions of the scripture as well as questions for reflection.  Like: what is salt?  How do you lose your "saltiness?"  what does it mean to be "salt" in your family, in the workplace, in the world? Questions like that.  I like to let them sit with the questions first - to help out those introverts who process slowly and then form groups to discuss.  And we will see how it goes.

I got a book at the library this week: 100 Wisdom Stories by Margaret Silf.  And I decided that I am going to end with one of them.
Here it is:

The Power of the Flame
Once upon a time, there was a piece of iron that was very strong.  One after another, the axe, the saw, the hammer and the flame tried to break it.
"I'll master it" said the axe.  Its blows fell heavily on the iron, but every blow made its edge more blunt, until it ceased to strike.

"Leave it to me," said the saw, and it worked backwards and forwards on the iron's surface until its jagged teeth were all worn and broken.  Then it fell asie.

"Ah" said the hammer. "I knew you wouldn't succeed.  I'll show you the way." But at the first blow, off flew its head and the iron remained as before.

"Shall I try?" asked the small, soft flame.

"Forget it," all rereplied.  "What can you do?

But the flame curled around the iron, embraced it and never left it until the iron melted under the flame's irresistible influence.

I read this and thought - Love is the flame.  The love of God, expressed in Jesus, and the followers of Jesus.  The unconditional, grace filled, humble serving love of God.
What is the salt?  The salt is love.  And over time it changes, preserves, heals and flavors.
May I be the salt of the earth today.

Friday, April 10, 2015

He reveals Deep and Hidden Things

Yesterday I had a very busy day of what I will call "productivity" and did not have the time to write in this blog.  It involved a funeral in the morning, a group in the afternoon for whom I provided devotions and a book group in the evening in which I supplied a discussion guide.  So I was busy doing what I like to do.

The readings this morning remind me of how God inspires me. The first is from the book of Daniel (Daniel 2:1-23).  In this the king had a dream and wanted the wise men to tell him - not just what the dream meant, but the dream itself.  He was going to put them to death, and Daniel intervened and asked God to reveal the dream to him.  After God did, Daniel said:

Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him. To you, O God of my ancestors, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power, and have now revealed to me what we asked of you,"

The  passage from Acts is Acts 4: 23-31 has the disciples released from Jail and marveling at the strength of God which transcended earthly powers.  It ends with these words:

31When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

What I continue to personally experience in my life is inspiration that comes to me from God.  And often I see it in a day like yesterday.  There is no question that there are times when I am putting together sermons and other writings that I feel like God gives me images and words that help in expression.  There  are true epiphanies that are just part of this journey of faith and they come as we pray, gather in community,  and engage in work that God desires for our lives.

To me the whole gospel message comes down to two basic and fundamental beliefs: we can trust God and love heals.  Trusting God means that we go forward in faith that the words come, that the way will be cleared, that we will be given what we need in order to do the work of love that God has given us.  As I write this I know it is really counter culture.  In the face of anxiety and insecurity, our tendancy is always going to be to take control ourselves in a variety of ways.  And, of course, I do.

But then there are times when I remember to wait, to listen, to trust that there will be enough time, the right people, the words and circumstances that will bring me into alignment with God's desire for life.
And in those moments God does reveal deep and hidden things and it is well with my soul.

I will end with a wonderful poem by Haviz I shared with my peer group yesterday.

Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to the world
All its
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its 
We All Remain

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I will seek him whom my soul loves

This is from the first reading of today - Song of Solomon 3: 1-8.  It is a picture of  one roaming the city streets looking for him who my soul loves.  Seeking.

I am a seeker.  And maybe everyone is.  I don't know.  I only know that I am.  Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to know about what I called the "Big L. - LIFE!" Church was always part of my life but that did not mean I found the answers there.  Often I was too intimidated to ask the questions or to know what the questions were. So reading, movies, talking, listening and trying to find the deeper meaning and purpose.  And finding some people that seemed to know more  and gravitate toward them, but the seeking continued. 

In the Christmas story, I have always been drawn to the 3 Kings (wisemen, magi) and their long journey that led them to a king in a stable.  A picture of vulnerability and a different kingdom than "the world" offers.

And in the Easter story, I identify with the women - especially Mary in the garden.  Going to the grave and seeking him - at least the body.  Give me closure, help me make sense of this.

Another scripture for today is the resurrection account in Mark that has the three women going to the tomb to take care of the unfinished business of taking care of the body.  They are worried about removing the stone which turned out to be a non issue.  Instead he is not there - no body, just an angel.  Who tells them words that confused and scared them.

"Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. 
He has been raised; he is not here.
 Look, there is the place they laid him. 
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee;
 there you will see him, just as he told you.

The account by Mark official ends like this:  So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  

And to me, this is what happens for all of us who are seekers. I believe that seekers do find.  That's Biblical " "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." And when we find and the door is opened to us - often we do not find what we expect.
For the kings - could they have imagined a baby in a stable?  Really?  For these women - the stone is gone but so is the body!  And an angel? Really?

The "answers" - just lead to more questions and more seeking.  And fear and confusion.  Much of which we keep to ourselves and try to pretend we are fine and accepting life as it is. 

Now, to get back to the text - eventually the women did share their story or we would not be able to read it.  The interesting information here is that "he is going ahead of you to Galilee."  And so the seeking of him continues - going to that place where he started and did significant ministry (and was also misunderstood.)  And so maybe we are looking at Jesus who keeps moving and wants us to do the same.  To go to those places of ministry and trust that we will see him.  Maybe that is the resurrection message for me today.

All I know is that at 65 years of age, my seeking continues.  It is different than it was at 15, and it takes me into times of silence and times of service with and for others. The good news is that  in the midst of  all of my doubt, fear, confusion and faith,  I can testify that I have  experienced  holy encounters with the one whom my soul loves and the one who loves me.

A Blessing by Maxine Shonk that says it all!

May the God of your YEARNING, the God of your longing, bless you.
May the God for whom you search always gift you in ways that bring you ever closer to recognition and union with the Source of your being.
May you trust that even as you search, the God of your longing has already found you
and guides and directs your journey.
May the God of your YEARNING bless you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Work of the Lord

In the Psalm reading for today (Psalm 118) I noticed this phrase:

The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:

We were up late last night watching the exciting final game of the NCAA finals.  I am sure there are "glad songs of victory" in the tens of Durham NC as Duke beat Wisconsin.  What a great game and victory for the team and coach.

I noticed after Easter this year there was less tension in me.  And it was not just the absence of time spent planning worship and sermons and church activities.  It also involved not "keeping track" of the number of worshippers.  Yes, we do.  On Facebook I saw a couple of references to numbers of people in attendance on that Sunday - because for a church it sort of feels like a "victory" when there is numerical growth.

All of which speaks to the tendency to want to be a winner as defined by our culture.  I doubt that the players of Wisconsin - a tremendous team - came away feeling like winners last night. And when the numbers go down or a church goes into decline, it is easy, easy, easy for the pastor (and the church) to feel like losers.

The third reading of today was a very familiar one for me - 1 Corinthians 15: 51-58.  I have read it hundreds of times at gravesides at the committal service. It is the promise of the mystery following life on earth.  Death is not the end:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

And Paul writes that because we have faith we want to spend our time on earth following the Way of Christ: 

 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable,
 always excelling in the work of the Lord,
 because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

 And as I read these familiar words again, I ruminate on the question - what is "the work of the Lord."
I have my answers on the one hand - 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I talked to a friend yesterday who works in a food pantry - that is for sure the work of the Lord and so was working in the church.  Even though sometimes I could get confused with what was really important. But now as I sit here I recognize that it is a challenge to determine what is the work of the Lord.  What I suspect is that it is often not glamourous, quantifiable and it may not look like a "victory" in the world's terms.

Instead the work of the Lord seems to have to do with having a loving, accepting, forgiving and compassionate heart.  It may mean seeing and caring for "the least of these" which may at times be my husband as well as neighbors and strangers.  And I believe that the "Work of the Lord" is creating, building, and encouraging life in all kinds of forms.

What I know now - more than ever - is that life is short.  And at some point there will be a pastor reciting the words of Paul at my graveside.  And my prayer is today I will seek and find ways in which I can engage in the "work of the Lord."

Here is a Morning Prayer by Marianne Williamson

Morning Prayer

Dear God,
I give this day to You.
May my mind stay centered on the things of spirit.
May I not be tempted to stray from love.
As I begin this day, I open to receive You.
Please enter where You already abide.
May my mind and heart be pure and true, and may I not deviate from the things of goodness.
May I see the love and innocence in all mankind, behind the masks we all wear and the illusions of this worldly plane.
I surrender to You my doings this day.
I ask only that they serve You and the healing of the world.
May I bring Your love and goodness with me, to give unto others wherever I go.
Make me the person You would have me be.
Direct my footsteps, and show me what You would have me do.
Make the world a safer, more beautiful place.
Bless all Your creatures.
Heal us all, and use me, dear Lord, that I might know the joy of being used by You.
- from Illuminata

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Easter Surprise

I have preached often of what I think is the most important word of Easter - SURPRISE!  The one that you thought was dead and gone, buried away has returned.  He is risen.  Indeed.

Yesterday there was an "evening lectionary" that was the story from Luke of the two men on the Road to Emmaus.  Their journey was away from Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Jesus.  Their hopes had been dashed and they traveled in despair.  They encountered the stranger who was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread:

. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?  

Like the women at the tomb, this was for them the big SURPRISE

And that is the good news - that we can trust God because SURPRISE God has defeated death and Christ is risen. And do I understand this?  Heck no - but I see it all around me and I am grateful.

I just got off the phone with my brother Geoff and I am always amazed when I consider the great SURPRISE of his life in finding love and companionship in his sixties.  And the same is true of my brother Wayne  The  same is true of me.  For any of us, in some way our life with our spouses is a miracle of new life after death.  And I, for one, am amazed and awed by it.

But that is just one example.  I stopped by Marnie's yesterday afternoon and saw her extended family.  "Mimi and Pappy" are Erik's parents and grandparents to Reagan, Addie and Maggie.  And SURPRISE we are truly a new family. Together.  And I, for one, am amazed and awed by it.

Saturday I went to Camp Christian where Wendy had a breakfast and an Easter egg hunt and a worship service for the  "The Delaware Project."  There were "churched " and "unchurched" people that took communion and celebrated Easter in a simple l way but SURPRISE we made connections and became the Body of Christ in that holy place.   And I have to say I felt the same way Easter Sunday morning in a Lutheran Church with my daughter Kacey.  We came to the table and we became His. Together. And I, for one, am amazed and awed by it.

Today, the day after Easter seems to me like a new beginning.  I don't know why but maybe it is because we have been through the remembrance of darkness and suffering and come to see and celebrate the risen Christ and the power of God in the world. All I know is that "Christ is Risen" is a promise for me to live my life open to the signs and the symbols of the Risen  Christ.

SURPRISE! Christ is risen.  Indeed.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday

        It is the day in between the crucifixion and what we know to be the resurrection.  It is a day in our church without a service and just waiting.

     The gospel writers describe the task of dealing with the body - taking it down from the cross, In John it is Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus together:

"so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid."

And for these people and the disciples, there was no waiting for the resurrection.  There was only darkness and hopelessness and despair.  He was gone and all that is left is a body. That was their perspective.  But in the darkness of the tomb God was doing something that we cannot understand. The empty, dark, seemingly hopeless times of waiting are not without God's presence and activity.
That is what I think about on this Holy Saturday.

I am not going to look forward to Sunday but I will be here and wonder  and wait.  I received an email this morning from Jim wishing me and my clergy friends a Happy Easter and he named our situations.  There are 5 of us who have been meeting monthly in prayer and support of each other's ministries for a couple of years now.  For Roger and Alan, this is their last Easter in their respective churches as they each go in a month or so to fulfill new calls.  For me this is my first Easter with no ministerial responsibilities.   Leaving a church is a kind of death on so many levels. It leads to a time like this -  waiting in the darkness.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes: "Whatever happened to Jesus between Saturday and Sunday, it happened in the dark, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air.  It happened where no one but him could talk about it later, and he did not talk about it ---at least not so anyone could explain it to anyone else.  
That is what Holy Saturday has taught me about being Christian.  Between the great dramas of life, there is almost always a time of empty waiting - with nothing to do and no church service to help - a time when it is necessary to come up with your own words and see how they sound with no other sounds to cover them up. "

Of course, Holy Saturday for us is so different from the way it was for the women at the tomb, Nicodemus, Joseph and the disciples.  We know the end of the story.  But that does not mean that we don't - each of us - have our own versions of Holy Saturday in our own lives.  There are - because of the constancy of change - situations that seem like deaths and it is so easy for  despair will follow. 
Today is a day to acknowledge the darkness but at the same time remember the power of God's constant love and activity in our lives and in the world.

Here is a poem for this day by Jan Richardson:

Therefore I will Hope
A Blessing for Holy Saturday

I have no cause
to linger beside
this place of death

no reason
to keep vigil
where life has left

and yet I cannot go,
cannot bring myself
to cleave myself
from here

can only pray
that this waiting
might yet be a blessing
and this grieving
and this stone
yet a blessing
and this silence
yet a blessing

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Day of Mystery

This is a very different Good Friday for me because I get to experience Good Friday.

Usually I am also working on an Easter sermon and am half here and half there.  But today, I sit with the texts and do not move ahead.  Last night I attended a Tenebrae service at a church downtown that was transcendent for me.  It was basically the scriptures read, music sung and listened to and the candles being extinguished.  At the end we sat in darkness and listened to a bell ring 39 times to represent the 39 lashes of Jesus. The last act of the service was the pastor bringing back the light and putting it on the altar and then we left in silence.

Today I have read through all the scriptures  - Isaiah 52: 13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10: 16-25, 5: 7-9; John 18: 1-19:42.

And I just sit in it all - the mystery of the cross, the mystery of evil, the mystery of suffering,  the mystery of love,  and most of all the mystery of God.

As I wrote yesterday, I am very aware of the reality of evil in our world today.  That is the reality of life in this world always - right from the beginning.  But today reminds me that the way of God is always going to be a way of life and hope.  It does not mean the end to suffering - but it does mean the end of despair.  We have a savior who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death and returned to show us the power of God.  And because of Jesus the writer of Hebrews writes:

"Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need."

I have always found the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate to be fascinating.

Jesus: My Kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."
Pilate: "So you are a king?"
Jesus: "You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."
Pilate: "What is truth?"

And so on Good Friday - what is truth?  It is a way of love.  It is a way that puts love ahead of everything else - including religious traditions. It is a love that is embodied in Jesus and is always more than we can describe with words.  

And so I hope for a day that includes a lot of  silence as I listen for his voice.

A Prayer by Maxine Shonk

May you be blessed when you are forced in the darkness of the unknown
when answers elude you 
and you are paralyzed by anticipation or fear.
At those times may you hear yourself being called into the mystery of God.
May you entrust yourself into the hands of mystery 
and know that you are not alone or unprotected 
but loved and cared for.
May the God of MYSTERY bless you.