Tuesday, September 30, 2008
During summers when my children were small, they would often go to play in the Circle, a town park near my parents house. Today it is landscaped and beautified but then it was a simple scruffy open area covered with sand and random tufts of grass.The grass and other plant life was in short supply then but the cactus flourished. Although my girls went barefoot we would remind them to put shoes on if going to the circle. No one had patience for the adults when their friends called. We spent a good deal of time picking cactus out of small dirty feet. One particular evening, I remember Ariel, our second oldest, being carried home by her big sister, covered in cactus needles and crying. Once we got her calmed down, we laid her on the kitchen table, and one parent fed her popcorn while the other took tweezers to her feet. Some operations in life demand both great compassion and gentle conniving. And in life, there is always unavoidable cactus. We can only pray we are surrounded by folks who will use their cunning and heart to see us through.
"Some people came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they did not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up to the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus." Luke 5:19
May this be the day when we are like the people who found ways around the crowds, around the confusion, around the clear barriers so that others might be right in front of Jesus. God does not create the barriers, but we sure let them partition off our lives and our love. May God grant me the wisdom and insight to imagine beyond all human barriers. May we all be for one another, the people who don't give up when we have been shuttled aside, thrown to the back of the crowd, or lost in the depths of pain and confusion. And may we, when surrounded by impossible hurdles, remember that God is always sending us companions who will do anything to see us through - including dropping us through the roof to Jesus' feet.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Late Saturday evening I heard that a new bishop had been elected for Southern Virginia. I have kept my distance, as is professionally right, but my heart has ached and my prayers have been unceasing for a positive resolution for a people I so dearly love. I was thrilled to be elected their Suffragan in 2001 and rejoiced at serving in their midst. The crisis and the distance have not dampened my care for them. So, with great joy and hope I read that Holly Hollerith was elected Bishop to the serve the people of the land which first welcomed our Church to these shores. New light on waters that have been troubled and stormy, and yet God's love and light have prevailed to usher in a new day.
Sometimes situations can seem hopeless, particularly after all the professional and personal solutions tried have brought no healing and no change. Experience has shown that the more we try to make something better, the worse it can seem to get. And yet, nothing is impossible with prayer. For years, while I was serving in Southern Virginia, I prayed for the people, for all of us, for healing and resolution. Since I moved to New Jersey I have continued in those prayers. Sometimes I felt sad that I could not have done more. All's I knew to do was to pray. And God, in God's time, helped faithful people, step by step, to see new light and new possibilities. To see themselves as loved and precious to God. And my heart is glad to overflowing.
May I have the strength today to commit the impossible and hopeless to prayer. May I have the faith to give up trying with all my professional methods and rely on Jesus. "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." (Matthew 8:17) May I see the impossible as an invitation to a deeper relationship with the Divine. May the admission of my complete dependence on God usher in a new depth of faith and trust. May the loving Creator give us glimpses of new light on ancient stormy waters. And may the people of Southern Virginia and their new bishop be blessed and joyous in their life together.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Some days there is nothing to do but accept that God will have to do the work in me because I've come to the end of what I know to do. Since a car accident in July, I have had some pain, which over time has increased and become more persistent and unyielding. I tried all the things I know to do, stretching, exercise, swimming, relaxation but to no avail. It's gotten worse. And each day I have chided myself for things I could have done differently, even though there was no way to control the deer or the darkness of the night. It happened and now, I finally have to accept the consequences. And I had to ask for help from folks who know more than me. How hard that is, asking for help, admitting to pain, admitting to the need for others and seeking out their skills and authority. And yet, how much release and peace I found from telling the truth and asking for help.
We live in a country where bravado and individual strength is prized. And asking for helped is shamed. And yet we are formed and fashioned by a loving God who wants more than anything to be at the core of our beings, bringing healing and peace. "It is God at work in you," Paul says (Philippians 2)and he ought to know. He was one of the most intelligent, outspoken, self-reliant, theologically versed church (actually temple) insiders that there were. He was an orthodox believer, did everything right and yet found himself in darkness. He found God in his need, and in his blindness he had to ask for help from strangers and accept it. And God reformed him, rebuilt him through Paul's reliance on others, his relationships with individuals and communities of faith. I know the letters of Paul seem to be written for the good of the communities to which he writes. I have come to realize that those letters, the New Testament letters, were as much Paul working out his faith, reminding himself of God's love and activity in his life, his need and complete reliance on others, as they were for those who received them. God's activity is in relationship and the Creator's touch never reaches one person alone.
May we take consolation from the love we have from others. God's love is embedded and demonstrated most clearly in the relationships around us. Christ calls us to seek him in the face, hands and hearts of those we encounter on our daily walks. We have to seek others out, humble ourselves, ask for help, and know that God is in the midst of the work transforming our hard hearts, broken spirits and our sore backs. May we embrace our need of one another, knowing that God will be revealed in one another.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I have been in the process of saving some old family photos by scanning prints and negatives into the computer. I am able to touch up and restore some things that might otherwise have been lost. I have been able to clear some images that were hazy and torn by time and other damage. I used loved the process of working in a darkroom. It was very holy and revealing, both personally and with the images. I was worried that when I switched over to a digital format that it wouldn't have the same power in my life. But it does. Finding lost and peculiar images and restoring them, collecting memories and reigniting old ideas - well it is all there. And the process can be a bit scary too. The picture I found yesterday and scanned is of a field trip of some sort. At first, I assumed it was a church outing. But then I took a closer look and realized it was the start of the fateful 5th grade field trip extravaganza that would include my famous and now infamous tumble down all the steps of the New York City Public library. There I was all happy and dressed up, chubby cheeks scrubbed and smiling for the camera. My mother chaperoned that trip so probably my Dad took the photo before we left.
The dazzling thing about this photo is that when I look at it, I can't really tell you the names of many of the folks with me. The faces are familiar,and Miss McCarty, my teacher is highly visible to me now, just as she was then. But that moment in time, marked by my plunged down the steps, (with a badly bruised ego) doesn't record that I must have shut everybody else out in my embarrassment. How easy it is to shut others off, turn away and get lost in the passing of time. When we are hurt or embarrassed, isolating ourselves is a normal human reaction.
Today I want God to help me rebuild community and to keep me from turning away from others. All too often, we hide because we are embarrassed or hurt, when we really need other people. We chose our own familiar torture to learning something new or witnessing a miraculous welcome. May we all look back and remember that there is no fall, no misstep, no blemish, that God cannot transform, and indeed, is in every moment working to bring life, life and love to all our dark places.
Friday, September 26, 2008
This summer, while looking for something else for my Mom, I came across a treasure trove of old church fans. The little chapel that she cares for has long since had air conditioning installed, but someone saved dozens of these old fans in a paper bag. They are heavy cardboard, with three panels (the two sides pull out to reveal the whole scene) and depict bible scenes mostly with Jesus in the center panel. The reverse side is off white and covered in advertising from a local insurance agency. The phone number consists of only five digits ( and obviously, no area code) and the ad on the back says to "protect what you have". When I spread them out before me, the musty smell and the familiar artwork brought back a flood of memories. There were several fans with childish drawings on the back. I don't know if the drawings were something I did, or whether some other kid did them, who was as bored as I was and had a pencil handy. They're not unusual, just some scribbles and an attempt to draw birds and clouds, I think. I am captivated by the immediate sense of time gone passed and universal experience. Who is the kid who scribbled on the back of the church fans? Could be any one of us, or someone who has passed on and among the choir universal.
We are all knocking on heaven's door. We are all caught and functioning somewhere between the immediate, fleeting moments and the sense of belonging to God and the larger universe. "Protect what you have",the slogan says on the back. And yet, none of us can protect ourselves from the advance of time, the end of our lives, or the accidents and traumas that happen along the way. The only thing we can do, everyday, is answer the door, open it to God's knocking and do our best to "love one another." At the end of his days, knocking on heaven's door, Jesus gave a commandment to his disciples. He didn't do too much commanding or rewriting. He acted in loved. And so he told them to love one another. Simple and profound, radical and challenging, while we scurry around trying to protect what we have, we are encouraged to give it up for love. Let love be the measure of everything we do. Let love for others be our portion and cup.
So today, I want to remember that whatever challenges I face today, from boredom to loneliness, to lack of talent or lack of community, in all these things temporal, God is working for love's permanence. That I was bored when I was little and drew on things nearby. But God's love saw me through. I was in isolation in a hospital for a month and God's love and the support of my family got me through. These trials are fleeting and love is continuing. May we rejoice today, knowing that God is active in the immediate and temporal as well as the infinite and universal. May we say, "thank God, it's Friday and I've gotten this far by grace." God's grace and love is enough for what we each face today.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
"No prophet is accepted in their home town." Luke 4:22
It's hard to be accepted as prophetic in the community from which you came. People remember the silly things you did as a small child, those cute and goofy things, and cannot imagine how that little awkward toddler gained insight. Others remember the dangerous and testy things you did as a teenager, and would rather not know the insight you have gained. When we are known well, we are more easily dismissed than we are welcomed. People tend to like prophets who will make profits for them, and they like creams and potions that will make them look younger, thinner, more beautiful - you name it. Anything but who they truly are. To be known, to be local- that means all your bits, the good ones and the broken ones - are known. We have gotten in a financial crisis because we wanted the outside shaman to come in and we didn't want to see the cracks and broken structures we looked at daily. The charming ones, the outsiders,held up gorgeous mirrors that showed us all as beautiful and rich. We are in a spiritual crisis because we have tossed aside the ones who truly love us and know us as we are. We have followed the ones who told us that their strength and leadership are God's gift to them and we should see the world as they do. They held up a mirror of "all is well", and we looked away from our broken relationships and blindly followed.
Jesus understood the rejection. He was local and neither he nor they could get away with pretense. It is time to do away with pretense and act like a local. We are all in this together, we are all related, we are all part of the problem and we will all have to fix it together. Hoarding and denial will have to be set aside -they haven't worked anyway. Humility and a measure of contrite hearts will have to move in.
Today, I want to start that movement to be a local. No shame in who I am, just honest about all the cracks and fissures, offering what I have that God might use it. Let us all understand the rejection. Everyone initially wants the false ones, the glamor and the lights, but we all truly need the local from one another. We need our neighbors, with all their faults and judgments. With all their mistakes and their full awareness of ours. We need desperately to be prophets in our own country. We need to offer our broken known selves, and people just might listen. They might turn their broken expectations, their broken hearts and their failed lives to God. And God who is the Lover and Creator of all these broken, human locals will put all of the pieces together in a splendid tapestry of hope for all. A colorful blanket of renewed warmth and hope that will cover us in these desperate times. Today may we have the courage to be broken and local so that God might bring love back into the midst of the communities we love.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Bread is considered one of the staples of life and yet it is also the downfall of many. In recent years there have been several doctors and other pundits who have made a great deal of money and fame by all but banishing bread from our daily regimens. Many have followed them, lost weight and become happy. Others have followed them in droves but have given up after a time, frustrated with the lack of options and the challenges of daily living. Somehow, carbs in all their forms, are linked with temptation as well as the sustenance of life. Jesus rebuked the devil when he is starving and tempted by saying, "man does not live by bread alone!" directly to the devil, who flees for a moment, only to come back with something stronger. I think there is a reason this is the first temptation and not the last.
We can get caught up in right consuming and eating or the lack thereof. And I have seen many a faithful person abused by others for their faithlessness and lack of discipline because of their size and shape. Obviously, it seems to all the world, they gave into temptation. But the other two temptations - ultimate power and complete control - well these are the temptations we often secretly wish for, and often exercise in our lives on a regular basis. The bread will pass away, and the calories, empty or otherwise will be absorbed, but the damage we do to others by exercising power badly over others, and taking control of our lives away from God, well, these are the temptations that have continuing and spiraling damage that we don't want to talk about. Jesus refused to be a politician and the ultimate manager. He gives the course of his life back to God with each temptation.
I will pray today, for the strength to give the course of my life to God, whenever I am tempted to believe I can win by coercion, brains, might or the like. Whenever I am tempted to think I can take complete control of the circumstances, I want to give those moments to God. We are all overwhelmed sometimes with our own failure and sense of being trapped. We are all tempted to use the power with have over others, to change the course of things to our favor. It is always short lived and fleeting but broken trust last forever. May we today offer our temptations before God. This loving Creator God has more creative solutions to our dilemmas them we can imagine or dream up. When we are tempted to act God like, may we have the courage to act child like - like a child of God, asking for what we need and trusting in a lovingly tender Creator who provides our needs before we ask and fills us to overflowing, even when we aren't noticing.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
" You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased." Luke 3:22
It would be easier for some of us to know we are truly loved and valued if a dove would descend, God's perfect voice would boom from heaven, and we would hear these words, " You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased." Some say these are words reserved for the Messiah, the only perfect man born of perfect God and a young faithful woman. And yet the Savior of the world was also fully human, fully a child with parents who loved him and confused him from time to time. Aware that we are loved and knowing it in the depths of our soul are two different things. The world and many of our relationships would be much better if there weren't so many people striving for acknowledgment and love from a parent incapable of giving that unequivocal affirmation. We all need to know we are loved and that our lives and actions are pleasing, to a parent and to God. The anger, fear and acting out that occur every day because folks lack that affirmation is astounding. I have a magnet on my refrigerator which reads, "I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you!" How much of the world is broken up and crushed by misplaced blame from children who have gone without the affirmation and love they need?
Today, let's start with ourselves. Are there places in our lives where we have acted out because we are needing affirmation? Have we swallowed our need for affection by trying to accomplish perfection ore control? We all have at some time. There is good news. We can take these situations to God. God spoke to Jesus in front of a crowd, and as the family of God, the children of God, embedded in a living Savior, those words are for us as well as for Jesus. I want to start today by acting and believing those words are true, that I am beloved of God and am well pleasing to the Creator of all. And I want to remember that my children, my family and my communities all need to be reminded regularly that they are beloved of God. How often are we too quick to criticism and too slow to praise? I want to spent today, affirming that God loves all the people around me,and that they are beloved and well-pleasing to God. Maybe we can start a revolution of affirmation. So many battles have been fought, in fields and over kitchen tables, over who is loved the most and the least. God, like a good parent, doesn't have levels of love. Love is total and complete for every child, from the Savior of the world to us imperfect, striving people. May we receive the news that we are beloved of God and take it into our hearts. And may we go out and share the news with all the aching children of every age that we encounter today.
Monday, September 22, 2008
It's official. The autumnal equinox has arrived. The point when there is no turning back to summer, no frolic time, but real fall, can't deny it. We have had warm weather most of September in this part of the world. We have sweated and broiled and convinced ourselves that summer is still with us. But that thinking is over. We now know that fall is upon us and winter is not far away. There is a bite in the air and a catch in the back of our throats. We balk and revel at the change simultaneously, knowing full well winter awaits and there is nothing we can do about. Hoping it will go away will not change the forward movement of the tides and seasons. They are not in our control.
I knew a sweet man who loved the onset of autumn and felt sorrow when spring came. I would ask him why and he would say that when fall came he knew what to do, but spring reminded him of how fleeting youth is and how fragile life truly is. My father in law died in early 1985, but whenever autumn arrives, I think of him and his feelings for the seasons. He was clearly able to express his melancholy and confusion and, among so many other things that made him very dear,I loved him especially for that. He admitted to his need for control and his anxiety when there was none to have.
So, welcome to fall. Time to move inside, to watch the flowers fade, to ponder the challenges of winter and to prepare for the weather and holidays to come. May this be a season of honesty for us all. A time when we have the strength to admit our losses, our isolation, and our sense of the frailty of our human existence. And may we find comfort in the loving arms of a vastly loving Creator, who in the diversity and complexity of seasons, gives us an understanding of our complete dependence on God and our complete interdependence with one another and all creation.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Today people will hear the story of the landowner who paid the same wages to the workers who came at the last hour as at the first (Matthew 20:1-16). And they will hear the story of Jonah, how when the people of Nineveh repented "God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them: and he did not do it." (Jonah 3:10 -4:11)
In both stories, we hear about the hard workers getting angry with God, angry because those who were sinful and those who barely worked at all, got treated well. We hear their ire towards God, who showered justice and mercy on them in abundance before the Creator was generous with the latecomers. How human it is to want justice and mercy for oneself and God's full judgment on others. How human it is to labor hard, and watch others reap the benefits of our labor. How human it is to be jealous when cruel and unkind people seem to be rewarded.
Today, I want to pray for the brokenhearted laborers among us. We all have been hurt by the injustice we have received while arrogant and unkind folks get applause and favor. Like siblings around a table, we are jealous about others' treatment. We think we know the whole story. But the Creator is the one who is the whole story. Unbridled love and unflinching redemption is the commerce of God. Gods love is inexhaustible, unquenchable, always going full throttle. We tire, get cranky and lose heart. But even as we sit under our shriveled bush, melting in the sun, complaining bitterly about how unfair life is, our God is acting in love for us and for the whole world. We cannot contain God's love, we cannot keep it for ourselves alone. We cannot damn up the flowing stream of God's abundance and blessing, we cannot restrain generosity and healing. We can only know it fully as we offer what we have, as we labor in the fields and share the Creator's love with all whom we encounter.
On this day of rest, may we give thanks for God's undying love. May we rest in the big strong arms of our loving Parent, who holds us and adore us even when we complain about food, the arrangements and the pay. You and I have no way to repay God for the love that we are embedded within, the strength that surrounds us daily, the peace that flows through us even in our storms of jealousy. May we revel today on God's love, take comfort in the Creator's goodness, swallow deep the living waters that Christ brought for the whole world, and know that our humanity and labor is loved and needed in this world.
Friday, September 19, 2008
These past two days I have the privilege of spending time with a large group of Native American Women. We have listened as people have shared their stories. We have laughed and cried and sang together. We have used our hands to make mosaics, pins, boxes, quilts and crafts that express our spirituality and our connection with the Creator and with one another. We have used our voices to encourage others to never give up, and we have raised our voices in prayer for the healing and restoration of dear loved ones. There was never a place that I have felt so welcomed in so long. Not because I am a bishop, but because I am welcomed by them. We native women are a curious bunch, and our nature and traditions have made us welcome strangers and feed those passing our way. In the sharing of our lives, meals, prayer and laughter, I have felt the strong presence of our Creator God right here in our midst, encircling up with strong and tender arms. I hate to have this time end.
A curious thing has happened to me in the process. People I came to minister to are ministering to me. By their presence and loving welcome, my heart and soul are being transformed. For what and into what, I do not yet know. I just know that God is on the move in my life and I need to pay attention. The other curious thing that has happened is an aching desperate need for my daughters. I'm not homesick, I am used to traveling. But I so want to share with them, want to introduce them to women of all ages who are willing to love and grow despite the challenges and rejections they have faced. I want to share with them, my sweet girls, the love and nurture I have received from other Indian women. I want to share this kind of deep, wonderful, tender faithful encouragement with them. Not because they need it, but because we all need it and I am so proud of each of them and want my Indian sisters to be a support system for them also.
So today, I want to thank God, for these Native sisters. We are so different and so alike. God is moving in the midst of this gathering and I want to rejoice that I got the opportunity to be encouraged in their midst. And I want to remember all of those people who have encouraged me when the road got tough. I hope you will join me in gratitude for those people - family, friends, mentors and strangers - who have acted as a firm, gentle net of support and faith when we have gotten weary and worn down. I pray that we can remember that all of us are related through Christ in God. We are all sisters and brothers in this family, and that there is always someone who needs to be carried every day. Someone needs to be lifted up and reassured every moment. May we have the courage to seek out our family where ever we are.
I am in Albuquerque New Mexico with a large group of Native Women. And we are talking about our faith, our ministries, and how we can encourage one another in dark times and in our own personal struggles. I got the news, of the decision of the House of Bishops to depose Bishop Duncan and of the departure of the Episcopal Staff Officer for Native Ministries, Janine Tinsley-Rowe on the same day. I did not attend the House of Bishops meeting since I cannot vote and did not attend Lambeth. Both decisions are signs to me of turbulence and darkness - and all these come on the heels of a scary, scary week on Wall Street. It feels as if we are all tottering on the brink, not even knowing why things are so insecure. I just know that my heart is aching. And I know that many people are rattled and confused.
So for today, I want us all to hear these words. "Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." Those comfortable, comforting words. God knows our every weakness and understands our burdens and failures. God know the insecurity in the world, in the church and in our hearts. The only thing I know to do is to go to the source of love and life. When troubled times engulf us, when the darkness will not clear, when flood waters will not recede, and when there is no money left to pay the rent, we can still lay our burdens on the Lord. We are not alone today or ever. We are intimately related to God in Christ and to one another. Our burden and our loss is carried by others. May today be a day when we can go to Creator in prayer and ask God to carry us through these uncertain times. And may we have courage to rush to the aide of those who are breaking under their burden. In our action for others is the Creator's love made real. In dangerous times, we need Jesus. In all times, we need Jesus. May we share one anothers' burdens in times such as these.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I know a man who goes out every morning in his beat up white van, drives to the beach and cast his fishing lines in the water, expecting to catch fish. No matter the weather or the season he is there. He is persistent, constant in his watchfulness, even though many days he comes home empty handed. He knows there are fish in the ocean, and some days he will catch them, and some days he won't. But he knows, more than anything else, showing up is most important. He knows that he will never catch fish if he doesn't try and he believes in a God who is bountiful and abundant.
Many of us, when facing hard times, think that God is not abundant, or that we have done something wrong and are being punished. Good people blames themselves for the troubles they are mired in, even when they know they didn't cause them. And yet, we are often reluctant to go to the source, to lay it all out before God, with the delectation of an answer. We pray with no hope for bounty. And yet, God asks us to come forward, to be persistent, to lay our need before the Creator with the full expectation of justice. God wants to fulfill our needs, and right the wrongs in our lives.
The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
Tony expects fish on the line and is persistent in the pursuit. Today, I want to learn the strength and persistence of the widow, and of Tony, who both believe and act on their belief. They know what they need, and they offer it up to God, fully expecting that justice will be done. May we all have the courage today to pray, being persistent and constant, understanding that God is leaning in and listening, more ready to answer than we are to ask. God is more ready to respond than we are to seek. May we all take the example of these two and pray from the rising to the setting of the sun, and through the night, that peace and justice might pour down in our lives and on this earth.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
In the last few days, several large financial institutions have imploded and the whole country has held its breath as the stock market tumbled. By this morning, there seem to be some temporary fixes for these large monster corporations who make their gain with other people's money, and they have again been brought back from the financial brink. Last year, the CEO's of these companies not only drew huge salaries, but they took bonuses in the millions that would have provided food and housing for many, many poor and struggling families. Who brings those little ones back from the brink? Who rescues the innocents and the abused while the few collect houses they can't find?
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and the evil one brings evil things out of the evil stored up in the heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." Luke 6:43-45
Today, I am reminded of how easy it is for us to one minute skirt disaster and survive, but immediately fail to reach out to those who have not been as fortunate. No one asked the heads of these big corporations to do community service, or offer their extra, unoccupied homes up for the care of others. We might breath a sigh of relief, but for so many, there is no relief in sight. Today, I want God's goodness in my heart so that I might be able to bear good fruit. I can't do that alone, but I want to be strong and fruitful so that others might survive and thrive. And I want to change the course of selfishness and greed in my corner of the world. I want to help offer others hope and abundance with God's help. And I want to learn the lessons of these times, and take care of how I use other people's trust, love and gifts. I ask God to make me a tree bearing God's love and abundance in a time of scarcity and panic. God help us all to rescue those today who really need our help.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him." John 12:19
The other day, on a cool and beautiful September afternoon, I was watching swans as they slowly swam in circles, two or three together, sometimes drifting apart. They seemed aimless and without focus, lolling on the water, paddling back and forth. Slowly, very slowly, I realized that they were searching for food below the surface, and every so often their heads would submerge and the tail feathers alone would be seen. I found out that what looked like goofing off, was really intense life-saving labor. It was done with all the grace that swans possess and in the beat and rhythm that the Creator installed in their model.
I am aware how so many ducks and others wish to be swans. And sometimes swans look like they have it easy. Jealousy can arise in the most ardent and faithful in our communities. The Pharisees are a good example. If they were alive today as a group, we would call them good churchmen. They were learned and kept the laws. They knew how to raise the children and they produced scholarly works. They served the poor in the community when necessary. And yet, they seemed to be jealous scoundrels, following Jesus around, trying to trip him up and angry when people loved him. The same politics exist in the Church today. Sad to think that we have never learned how to rejoice for those who are outfitted with many gifts and celebrate that people gravitate toward them. Instead, we get angry and plot to take them down.
Today is the day to look inside and see where jealousy is controlling and shutting out the work of God's love in our lives. Today, I want to pray that God's love will wipe our my jealousies and fears. I want to move to that place where I can celebrate and encourage the gifts and skills of another, knowing God is encouraging and using my unique gifts. I want to, like the duck that I am, swim and move as the Creator has designed me. I want to serve without jealousy and anger standing in the way of love.
I offer this prayer for all those who would like to get beyond the petty and be empowered for service, right where we are.
Dear loving Creator,
you fashioned me in the perfection of your understanding and yet, over and over, I have desired to be something or someone else. I have worn my jealousy as righteousness. I have judged others unworthy when you have not done so. My heart is aching to be free of being a Pharisee, missing the joy and splendor of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I don't know how many blessings I have missed because of my hurt and anger. I ask you to give me new eyes, and a new heart. Give me eyes to see your hand at work in others. Give my heart joy where there was only anger. Give my being a new understanding of each one of us as your unique creations. Help me to drop the load of comparison and pick up the instruments of celebration. For you have made us all, perfect and beloved in your eyes and infinitely close to your heart. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
Monday, September 15, 2008
"Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you....Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you might become children of the light." John 12:35-36
As the season turns to autumn and the earth rolls on her axis away from the sun, I am more captivated by light, what it can do, what its reflection can do, and what happens when life is filled with only shadows and darkness. When I was with my Mom last week, we went out and purchased her solar powered lights for her walkways and other places - to light her way and keep her safe from falling. We can't prevent everything, but we can try to provide light in the dark so her steps can be sure. Most of us don't think about it until we are older, but we really need the light to walk - and if we can't see, we use our hands and other people as our eyes. Stumbling around in sudden darkness is scary and frustrating. Familiar object increase and decrease in size randomly, and common becomes increasingly bizarre in our grasping for direction. Stumbling around in deep darkness also reminds me of how much I need the light, natural and constant and the light of God's love, constant and eternal. Without these, I am groping, stumbling and heading for a fall.
God's light is that which is not determined by time of day or by season. The loving Creator has provided us with heavenly light, sun, moon and stars to guide our way. Being the source of all creativity, God has gone on to give us light in the darkness, steps to walk and dance in the most dangerous and shadowed times of our lives. Like the beacon that stands high up on the shore line guiding ships to safety and home port, this light searches the darkness for the lost, sending out her signal far and wide to those who might be in danger. God's love light radiates in a full circle, over and over again, seeking out those who are in peril, tossed in the night.
We have all been tossed around in the dark and stumbled, reaching out for any handholds to guide us.
May we today, have courage to walk in the light, to trust the light and to live in the abundance of God's light. First, we have to admit that we are lost. Then, in the moment of our admission, somehow we are able to see the search light looking for us. God surrounds us with beacons of light to show us the way, in people, in community, in all living creatures and in the very earth on which we walk. There are so many who are lost, and feeling lost today. There are many without a home and without direction. There are so many lost because of hurricanes and accidents. May we remember all of those who are lost, ourselves included, and ask God to use us to be part of the light for others. God's light is radiant, constant and constantly renewing. May we walk today trusting God, carrying that light to all we meet.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Rabbi, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, not seven times but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21-22
Maybe we wouldn't be who we are today if people hadn't done all the horrible things to us that make us lash out, weary, testy and at the end of our ropes. Maybe if the speakers of all the harsh words we have endured could be punished, maybe then we could be able to live our lives fully. As it is, we brood and worry, we dream of revenge and payback, and we live lives of unfulfilled dreams. Peter, the one who is honest about his humanity, asks Jesus for a limit. He's had it with his brother. He's forgiven him over and over, and is brother is still trying to ruin his life. So, he wants Jesus to make some clear boundaries around the situation and let Peter off the hook for being angry and punitive. Jesus tells him a huge number, 77, and in some Gospel versions it says seventy times seven. No way we have to forgive our brothers and sisters that much - it's impossible to keep track of that many offenses, and not to get lost in the counting alone. Funny how we act like small children when we are really hurt. We really want the permission to hit or bite someone else, just to release the stress of receiving hurt. None of us, if we were honest, really likes this passage, and Jesus' words. None of us jumps up and says, "yeah, I get to forgive others forever!"
Jesus speaks to each of us in this way about forgiveness, in that, we can't right the wrongs or damage that others have done to us. The only thing we can do is to forgive them and forgive ourselves too. The repeated motion of forgiveness, the necessity and regularity of the activity means that it is a liturgical, basic, core reality of our living faith. It is the work of the people. It is what releases in us the capacity to see the face of God in others. It releases the capacity for us to see ourselves and others, for a brief moment, as the loving Creator does, with eyes of compassion and understanding. Like all other exercise that is essential, we fight it and sometimes want to be let off the hook. In reality, it is our forgiving, our letting others off our hook, as it were, that releases in us the compassion and love of God. It releases transformation in our beings, and in our communities. As long as we hold on to the controls, as long as we hook and hang up the perps, the longer we are unable to be transformed - be made new. When we forgive, we release them to God. When we release them, we relinquish control of our lives to God. And when we do, our hearts and lives break open and are remade a bit more in God's image.
May we today have the courage to stop counting the infractions against us and welcome the opportunities to forgive. It is our calling, it is our work, our liturgy as the followers of Christ. It is an open invitation to live beyond our means in the resplendent love of God, the loving one who created us following the pattern of the Creator, and who wants us to know and be known intimately. The exercise of forgiveness seems a small task then, in light of the invitation to know and be known, to be bathed in love, surrounded by hope, and reconditioned and renew for deeper love and fuller service.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
In April, I was in Alaska at the Interior Deanery Meeting when the governor had her baby. We rejoiced and prayed for her and her family as we gathered that weekend. I could not have imagined that she would, just several months later, become the vice presidential running mate of John McCain. I have been thinking a great deal lately about Moms who run for office and some of the challenges that effect all parents when they put their lives and their children in the spotlight and dive into the political cauldron. When my youngest child was born, 5 months later I found myself taking GOEs, (required qualifying exams for ordination in the Episcopal Church) and that seemed like an impossible task. I spent a long time in preparation, shed lots of tears, and only got through with the love ans support of my husband and many friends. There was not a spotlight on me then, but it still put my children at risk, and put pressure on innocents. When I was elected Suffragan Bishop in Southern Virginia, I constantly worried about the risky place I had invited my husband and daughters into by my own personal response to God's call. There were many rough times there, when people said and did hurtful things to my family. My husband battled cancer during that time and with much prayer I finally decided to step away from that situation so that he and my daughters could thrive. Ever since I was newly ordained I have shared with my parishes and communities that I consider my family to be my first ministry. I have always treated those people in my charge as family, but when my husband and children are at risk, I have always been clear that they came first. Some folks have criticized me for that. But it is who I am, and how I have to be faithful in the face of God's love and direction in my life.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Mark 10:13
Erma Bombeck said once that "you know you are a successful parent when your children can pay for their own therapy." I have always been conscious that my actions and decisions have consequences, and my kids will have to live with those consequences. Our daughters have put up with a great deal and been my best supporters, and the best theologians, bar none. They have carried God's love to me when everyone else had run away. My beautiful young women are kind, faithful and loving despite the cruel and unjust face that the church has often revealed to them. So today, I want to pray for and remember all the children who have been put in harm's way by well meaning parents who are trying to follow God and their convictions. May they be protected from the criticism of those who are trying to hurt their parents. And, may we have the courage to put down our aspirations and ambitions for the sake of the little ones. May we all be agents of hospitality and invitation for the reign of God.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I have spent the past few days with my mother, helping her with a few small repairs and things. We’ve laughed a great deal and she has told me stories I have heard over and over, and a few stories I’ve never heard before, or maybe, I’ve just never listened. As we spend time together, I often wonder how much I missed, how much I dismissed and how little care I took with her story. Today, I would like to offer a poem as my reflection on the unique and challenging relationship of parent to child.
She told me that she had warned her
Mother not to take her father back
But her mother wouldn’t listen as no mother listens
To her daughters as no daughter takes advice
From her mother’s lips.
We are designed within one another pouring
Out of each other like water from headwaters to
Streams and rivers and flow we do
But tributaries ignore the source and believe
In our own truth, our own design.
Her story is red clay and oil derricks, Cherokee aunties
Church and refereed football games, watching
Parents divide and reunite, breaking up
To come back together, in harm’s way.
My story is solid building bricks of
Love and laughter and large connected family
Of faith and constancy and opening up home
To strangers and family and danger through
right actions that ushered in terror.
We are our parent fulfilled and broken
Dreams of restoration and completion
No blueprints but prayers and wishes floated
Like paper boats, on teeming rivers.
We are rolling over each other
Our stories, our hopes our dreams,
Our children, and the seventh generation yet unborn.
We are all we have to know so listen
I will listen to you if you hear
Me for the first time, for the last time
Time is getting away, so listen.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
It is at once hard to believe that seven years have gone by since that horrible attack on innocent people trying to go about their lives, and still hard to imagine how folks got through such trauma and grief. My first response when hearing the news was to check on my family, first my immediate family and then all my relatives and friends living and working in New York and DC. Then, living in Delaware, serving as a parish priest and it was very personal. My cousin, who was on his was to work in the financial district, ran from the imploding buildings and all the way home across the Brooklyn Bridge. My sister and brother in law, both had New York meetings but stayed home because of a sick child. And an old friend, lived because although she should have been in one of the towers, was working the primary and was not at her office. Now, living in North Jersey, it has become even more personal. I have met folks all over my community who lost daughters and sons, parents, and relatives in that attack. That brief but completely cruel moment changed history, but it also changed us all personally. It broke our hearts and there was an outpouring of love. Then, we got angry and went to war – with terror, in Iraq and Afghanistan and finally with each other. The trauma still has a potent effect and we are suspect and challenging when we were once intrigued and curious. It is at once personal and universal for Americans, this anger bubbling up from grief, this destroyed trust of outsiders and one another. Individuals and communities can only take so many traumas before lashing out at others.
Today, I want to pray for all of those who were directly affected by 9/11, for their healing of body mind and spirit. I want to pray for all of us, still wracked with grief’s anger, that we might find new ways to be instruments of peace. In the past seven years we have consumed energy at an alarming rate, ignored the needs of children and the elderly so we might go to war, and had significant losses in freedom and trust. Our anxiety level has risen sharply and our trust level has plummeted. I pray that our anger and trauma can be transformed by God into compassion and empathy. I ask God to help me not run from my grief and anger, but cling to that real hurting place until it is transformed by God. May God transform us all into instruments of peace, healing and hope that we might reach out to the rejected, suspected, detained, refused and neglected in our communities and share the home we have been given by a loving Creator.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
My children liked to receive care packages when they were young and away at camp. That didn't change when they got to college and beyond. My youngest is asking me to send her stuff at college and telling me about the care packages her friend has received. She is using her persuasive powers of guilt. Her friend has nice parents who understand fully what the offspring need. I have always been a more random parent, sending something when the idea struck me or when one called to say they needed something yesterday. Bad Mommy. Truth be told, we all need care packages from time to time. Reminders that others are thinking about us and reaching out to us in some small way when we are far off, can be very life giving. Just when we have given up hope, or just when things seems too enormous to tackle, a little care package, a phone call, a gesture of some sort, gives us the encouragement to go on. A small token can often act as a blanket of calm on rough seas in our lives. A sign of response and activity is often all it takes to ignite the waning courage and hope."He got up, rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided and all was calm."(Luke 8:24)
Today, maybe we can each take time to send someone a care package, or simply pick up the phone. I suspect there are many people out there who need a spark of encouragement today and they are as likely as not to be our neighbors, family members and friends. AS we approach the seventh anniversary of 9/11, we are all weary from the harsh changes we have seen in our world and the distance that has come between people. Today, I want to be an instrument of God's presence in life of someone else.A sign of love's activity, reaching out across time and space. Nothing fancy, just love made visible for another.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
There is something about the casseroles and church or family suppers of our youth. There are just some foods that always provide a sense of warmth and home, no matter where we are. We tend to crave these foods when life get bleak, or we get isolated, or our families are at a distance because of miles or misunderstandings. The list of comfort foods is as unique as the individuals who crave them. To some, it's a grilled cheese sandwich, others it's meatloaf or maybe moose stew and to some it's white gravy and biscuits. The comfort foods most commonly named often include a hefty dose of calories and carbohydrates. Comfort varies because of culture and circumstances, income and rearing. Maybe it's the change of seasons, or recent upheaval in life, but the need for comfort comes to all of us. And whatever the food, and for whatever the reason, we all know when we crave comfort and what we want when the crave comes.
Jesus says, "I am the bread of life" to a world craving comfort and seeking to be filled. We are often tempted to fill our bellies with comfort food when what we seek is the secure comfort of God. Our bodies ache, and we crave healing, but often we miss the comfort and healing offered. We are still hungry and aching.
Today, I remember all of those who are hungry and aching to be filled. So many people wander the streets with the crave for comfort and seek it in things that are temporary and fluffy. That's all they know and all they can find. May we all have the courage to offer love and care to those who crave comfort and community. May we open our arms to those whose comfort and belonging have been taken away by distance and disagreement. There is no limit to God's love and there should be no limit to our offering it. Our Comforter draws near as we draw others in and feed them. The body craves what the soul needs.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I had the opportunity yesterday to walk the streets of New York. A bright day after a cleansing storm. The colors and people were animated with survival and hope. Artists offered their work and conversation and people on every corner were signaling to others, making connections, sliding into warm familiarity over coffee and conversation. Watching strangers, who were not strangers to one another, made me think about the importance of relationships, circles, people we can count on in a storm, or for a friendly meal and conversation. How God abides in relationships and is revealed as we reach out to one another.
"No one can snatch them out of my hand...no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:28-30
Even Jesus is not without the need and impact of relationship. His trust and sense of belonging comes from the intimacy he has with the Father, and with those he knows to be in his care. There is no distant from God to his circle of care, and in that lack of distance and intimacy of relationship, we all are safe and entrusted to God.
So today, I want to do the work of creating and renewing circles of trust. It is easy, because of busy-ness and distance to lose touch. Reaching out makes tangible for me the intimate connections we have with one another and with God. It is easy to lose sight of connections. After our storms we need to be reminded of the deep embedded nature of God, the deep connectivity that is the reality of the heart of God and which is displayed most graphically between people. May we all make an effort to renew our circles, to breath new life, so that we might all know God's care and affection in new ways.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
After a storm, whether small like Hanna, or huge, like the looming Ike, the people that really count for something are those who can clean up. Not those who can call people, but people who know how to shoulder the weight, get down on their hands and knees, if necessary, and give effort to the restoration of life.
When my mother fell in her bedroom last month there was a huge aftermath to clean up. She's doing great now and she really handled the fall well, calling 911 and worrying about how she looked - she kept her composure throughout. But there was still a mess to clean up after they had taken her to the hospital. Head wounds bleed a lot and she was no exception. I dreaded going home, after a very long day in the emergency room and then her hospital room, to face the mess. The aftermath and the clean up she had described was looming large in my imagination as I drove down the highway home. By the time I got there, I was imagining a slasher movie or the nightmare on Elm Street version of things. I thought maybe I should call some to clean up for me. When I did assess the damage, it was messy but not unbearable and I had an overwhelming sense of this is the least I could do for her. How much of her life had she spent cleaning up after me? How much did she ache for exhaustion and still get down on her hands and knees for me. A little blood, a little clean up is nothing when love is invloved. And it made me realize that the kindest thing we can do for anyone when they have been through a storm is to help them with the aftermath and clean up. Now I am not talking about those who create storms and do damage to others intentionally, but sometimes accidents and illness, storms and hurricanes take up by surprise. We are alone with our aftermath.
May we have the courage today to seek out those who are helpless in the aftermath of life's storms. May we reach out in love, since God is constantly reaching out for us. May we have the courage to do a little heavy lifting, a little bending an stooping, for in our work, in our small offering is love made visible. Love is made real as we take on other people's burdens.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I have spent a good deal of my life close to water. As tropical storm Hanna approaches our area, I am reminded of storms past when life changed for many people. In the little town where my mother still lives, I remember watching with my father and uncles the wind across the dunes. It was several days after the worst of the storm and the gusts were still blowing us over. There were part of people's homes, toilets and dressers in the streams running down our streets. The landscape had changed permanently and I watched as my known world was different forever. That little town has never again since 1962 suffered the same level of severe storm. And yet the memory looms, with both fear and thrill,. the fear of uncontrollable destruction and the thrill of watching the miracle of powerful wind and wave. And surviving itself humbling thrill.
Most people who live by the water have an enormous respect for what the weather can do. They realize from experience and story that life is very fragile and a healthy caution is always the best plan. And yet they are drawn to that which can destroy them. We like to feel the wind on our faces, hear the gales as they rattle the panes and watch as the rigid becomes airborne. It is tough choice for some when evacuation comes to stay or to go. They understand the risk but are also intrigued by the spectacle.
So, here's to a day where we can chose the safe pasture over the thrill of the spectacle. Even with so many who love and care for us, it is easy to get thinking we will make it through this one. It is easy to continue risky behavior when we think we have something to prove. We might seek the risk, but the power of wind and water can overwhelm all too easily.
May we trust God to help us whether the storms that life dishes out. May we evacuate and board up when advised, not out of simple caution but out of love and respect for others. I have watched too many face the jaws of death, only to be swallowed up. God asks us to be brave in love for others, not in false heroic pride. May we take of the banner of love, which calls for us all to keep the most vulnerable safe, us included.
Friday, September 5, 2008
I have spent very little of my life in a home of my own. Growing up, we lived in the Manse (or Rectory) of the Presbyterian Church where my Dad was the pastor for 28 years. During that time they had a house in Cape May Point, purchased during the war, that we went to summer, when it wasn't rented out to others. My parents retired there and my Mom still lives there. Being a priest and bishop, my family and I have mostly lived in Rectories, with a rare occasion when we have owned our own home. We presently live in the Rectory of St. Thomas' in Lyndhurst. They have a Rector who has her own housing elsewhere. I was feeling somewhat glum the other day about not having my very own garden to tend, in my very own yard. I love caring for plants and growing things, although I am not fussy and my garden care is sporadic and exotic.And then it struck me - no matter where I am, and whose garden I tend, I am always tending someone else's garden. These gardens, whether on property with my name or not, are gardens that begin and end in God. The earth, where I walk, will last long after I am gone. It is God's garden from beginning to end, no matter where I plant, no matter where I water. My dangerous thinking is that if I had my own garden, I could do it right, and wouldn't have to deal with what other people have left behind. But, I know what has been left behind, can be the source of great flowering and great blessing. And this work is not mine alone, but it is God's from beginning to end.
So, for today, I want to pray Psalm 104 which always gives me perspective on my life. My job is clear. "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;I will praise my God while I have my being." God asks me to do what I can do with the gifts I have been given. I can sing and I can give thanks, even when there seems to be nothing of mine, and nothing that is in my control. I can still use my voice and my heart for tending the garden.
May you who read this blog try praying this ancient Psalm today. We are all people looking for our place, all looking to serve God and be called by name. God is in the midst of us, loving us beyond our capacity to receive that love or understand it. May we pray today, that we might be given the strength, voice and heart to tend the gardens where we are planted.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.
You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers and flames of fire your servants.
You have set the earth upon its foundations,so that it never shall move at any time.
You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; the waters stood higher than the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled; at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath,to the places you had appointed for them.
You set the limits that they should not pass;they shall not again cover the earth. You send the springs into the valleys; they flow between the mountains.
All the beasts of the field drink their fill from them,and the wild asses quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the air make their nests and sing among the branches.
You water the mountains from your dwelling on high;the earth is fully satisfied by the fruit of your works.
You make grass grow for flocks and herds and plants to serve mankind;
That they may bring forth food from the earth,and wine to gladden our hearts,
Oil to make a cheerful countenance,and bread to strengthen the heart.
The trees of the Lord are full of sap,the cedars of Lebanon which he planted,
In which the birds build their nests,and in whose tops the stork makes his dwelling.
The high hills are a refuge for the mountain goats, and the stony cliffs for the rock badgers.
You appointed the moon to mark the seasons,and the sun knows the time of its setting.
You make darkness that it may be night, in which all the beasts of the forest prowl. The lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they slip away and lay themselves down in their dens.
Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the great and wide sea with its living things too many to number,
creatures both small and great.
There move the ships,and there is that Leviathan,which you have made for the sport of it.
All of them look to you to give them their food in due season.
You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
You hide your face, and they are terrified; you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.
You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;and so you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure for ever; may the Lord rejoice in all his works.
He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;I will praise my God while I have my being.
May these words of mine please him; I will rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed out of the earth,and the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah!
Thursday, September 4, 2008
I know that there are seasons for everything. Daily life turns and changes by the seasons, and we human, change and alter as our bodies age and change. Some people, like clockwork move through their professional days, the season of child rearing and into retirement without a hitch. And others bloom late, grow surprising abilities late in life, and find new expressive ways to live youthfully in their later years. The timing of our lives is as unique as the diverse beings God has created us to be, and I want to celebrate the beauty and complexity of all of our seasons, as the summer ends and fall begins.
"As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me." (John 9:4)Jesus has met a man born blind. Every one want to blame the man or his family for his blindness. But Jesus claims the blindness as the opportunity for God to work - for God's love to be made real in his life. In this healing come the acknowledgment of the challenges of life, and how none of our challenges are far from God. In fact, the opposite seems to be true, our unique challenges, our broken places, our hurdles and losses are for God, an opportunity to love us more. An opportunity to help us bloom where we thought we were dead, when we believed our season was over and the end was at hand.
Today, despite the discouragements of our own limitations, may we all have the courage to trust God with the seasons of our lives. May we offer the vines and flowers we have, not seeing their inadequacy but celebrating their possibilities in God's love. God wants the opportunity to show love for us. God wants to help us grow and develop beyond our stuck places. May we remember to ask God into our wilting gardens, our dying places, our final seasons, knowing that we just might be surprised by what is growing within us.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I vividly remember the first day of junior high school. We all went to school k through 6 in one building and then moved across the street to the jr/sr high school for the next and final six years. So, starting junior high meant really being with the big kids, and all the hormones and attitudes that go with it. I knew it meant being in the same school as my older brother (which hadn't happened in three years), so it meant dealing with his friends too. Not just my classmates but a whole swirling writhing pool of possible friends, cruel bullies and everything in between. I wanted more than anything to be accepted. Not adored, just not destroyed on my first day. I wanted them to take me for who I was, and not ridicule me or compare me to my brother or give me a hard time since my dad was clergy in this small town.
I had a new outfit and a new haircut. But like almost every other first day of school, it was one of the warmest days of summer. The school wasn't air conditioned and I was damp, over dressed and petrified the whole day. Nothing tragic happened. There were so many more kids, and so many ways to get lost and distracted, that I didn't even know that my new skirt had torn a little. No one pointed it out to me, since they were probably too captivated by their own anxiety. No one teased me about it either, and I rushed home, put on shorts and stood under the hose. I think I wore summer clothes the rest of the next several weeks until it cooled down.
We all want to belong and be part of a crowd, community and group of colleagues. Many do that easily, others do not. And some are pointed out, fingered, rejected and teased for their difference. Some differences are awkwardness that we grow out of, others are bedrock, genetic and part of the reality of who we are. The first day of school always challenges us to accept ourselves and others. But some of us feel that stoning is right around the corner.
So today, I want to reach out to all those who feel like they have been put on the pyre, ready to be done in because their difference scares others. Their uniqueness is troubling to those who are in control. They need our prayers and our support more than ever this time of year. We are reigned in and in doing so, we can set on others because of their difference. May we be the kids today who see the beauty in the individual, the touch of God's creativity in their being. May we give thanks for them, hold them and nurture them, so that all of us might find safe rest. None of us is far from the pyre. Rejection comes swiftly and inclusion comes painfully slowly. May we remember all of those today who are just praying to survive the day without being scarred anymore. And may we be instruments of God's love for them and for all who just want to have a safe place to belong.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
The summer has officially come to an end. Yesterday was Labor Day and today or tomorrow, most children in the area will start back to school. Some will go with great enthusiasm, some with mixed emotions and others, like me, with a little kicking and screaming, and a few tears. Don't get me wrong, I loved school as a child, and as an adult, I haven't been able to get enough. With an earned doctorate, I still revel in learning and teaching and the capacities and relationships that are built in the process of schooling. But there is still the transition, the letting go of summer's soft warm edges and schedules, the outdoor green bounty, the recklessness that summer invites. The transition from a relative boundary-less existence to a hide bound scheduled world is startling and terrifying. One cannot fail at lazing around and enjoying freedom. It is much easier to anticipate failure within structures and classrooms. The transition into fall demands a report card and so many of us feel,particularly at this time of year, as if we have accomplished little, whether in the summer or in our lives.
"Those who sowed with tears, will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again in joy shouldering their sheaves." Psalm 126: 6-7
I have always thought of Psalm 126 as the psalm of the terrified. When coming to the stark change of seasons, I am terrified. I haven't measured up, done enough, and have been overwhelmed by accidents and enemies. The end of summer knocks the breath out of us and we are all terrified and overwhelmed - if we are honest with ourselves. And yet, we can hear today, that God is actively restoring the possibilities for us, actively working on our behalf to provide bounty and redemption where there was none. While we are terrified, crestfallen and afraid of more failure, God's love for us is beyond measure, beyond our understanding. When we tremble as we move through doorways and seasons, fearing failure and humiliation, God is in the midst of our transitions, acting for the fulfillment and healing of the nations. Restoring the broken and defiled, healing the flood devastated and the evacuated, God is in the midst of the worst tragedies, and in the midst of our personal, painful transitions.
May we look around today and see the one perfect flower in the waning green garden, the one brilliant promise, the single shining hope that radiates in the midst of our otherwise anxious field. May we see God's abundance in the midst of our lack. May we catch a glimpse today of joy and laughter. And may we share the glimpse of God's abundance with others. We may sow today with tears, but God has promised to shower us with beauty, abundance,light and life. Our season of anxiety and want is short. May we have courage as we face the transitions of season and life. God goes with us through each.