Tuesday, April 28, 2009

...And What About the Trees?


While at the Grand Canyon last week I found myself drawn to the trees that line the rim.
These trees are growing at an altitude of 7000 feet, at the edge of a stone precipice that drops to the base, 7000 feet below, where the Colorado River flows. I wonder how it is that these trees manage to grow and live? Where do they get their nourishment? What kind of soil is tucked beneath the stone surface? Some of them, obviously do not survive...but even dead and dry they retain a profound beauty...

It appears they manage to grow in what is essentially stone and through harsh elements - wind, sun, snow, rain - with little protection, little to sustain and nourish. Not just one tree, but many trees. I wonder how long they have lived this way? Hundreds of years? Thousands? And, do new trees pop up now and then? And if so, how? How would a seed find its way into some crevice, grow roots, and send up a shoot that would become a tree? It seems incredible to me, as I walk on that stone rim.


Perhaps I am drawn to these trees because of their tenacity. Actually, I'm drawn to trees anyway, and have a small collection of photographs and paintings of trees in my home office. As a child I loved to climb trees. As a small child of 8 or 9 I used to climb the apricot tree in my backyard and read books while eating the fresh apricots. This tree was in my backyard, which was built on the side of a mountain in Salt Lake City, and from this tree perch I could watch the valley below.

A few years later my family and I had moved to Wisconsin. In our yard we had huge trees, Elm, I think. I don't know. But huge. My dad built us a tree house in one...and oh the fun I had. Again, I loved to climb up that tree and sit in the tree house and read, or dream....maybe we, my brothers and I, even spent the night out there? I'm not sure.

Many years later my husband and I, owners of our first house, parents of two small children, planted a tree in our front yard. We no longer live there, but I am sure that tree, now 16 years old, offers some wonderful shade. The next house we bought captivated us because it had an ancient, huge Elm tree in the large backyard. We only lived in that house a short while, selling it when I went off to seminary. Sadly the new owners cut the tree down, afraid that it would fall on the house. To this day that fact makes me angry.

Now, in our current home, if we decide to stay and buy this place, we will plant a few trees in the front yard. I'm thinking three Chilean Mesquite trees which form a beautiful canopy with their branches, grow quickly, and will provide shade to the front of the house, as well making our rather barren desert front yard look more inviting, cool, pretty.

I could go on about the trees in the yard of our other homes, but I think you get the idea that trees are important to me. They symbolize history, and longevity, and perhaps wisdom. Trees have great flexibility bending nearly in half in fierce winds, and yet rarely breaking in half. In the Midwest I lived through many ice storms and micro bursts that tore off branches and broke portions of trees, but usually the main trunk and branches survived. What strength and perseverance, what beauty.

But of all the trees that have captivated me, the trees on the rim of the Grand Canyon are the most provocative. How is that they manage to live? What gives them the tenacity to survive? How might their strength and beauty become a metaphor for life?

Monday, April 27, 2009

She-Verbs

Samaritan Woman John 4:7-30

She came
She drew (water)
She said
She said
She said
She answered
She said
She left
She went
She said

Elizabeth and Mary Luke 1:24-25, 28-56

She conceived
She remained
She said

She was perplexed
She pondered
She said
She said
She set out
She entered
She greeted
She was filled
She exclaimed
She said
She remained
She returned

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Author of Our Lives

A reflection on Acts 3:12-19 and Luke 24:36b-48

A little over a month ago I attended the Tucson Festival of Books. It was the first time Tucson had sponsored this event and I landed upon it while reading the local newspaper one morning over breakfast. What a great idea, I thought. And so the following weekend my husband and I wandered up to the U of A. I was most excited to attend the presentation offered by Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

I first heard the poetry of Billy Collins at CREDO, an eight day event for Episcopal priests sponsored by the Church Pension Fund , which focuses on wellness: financial wellness, spiritual wellness, physical wellness, and so on. The leader of that particular CREDO offered the group of us an opportunity to ponder our ministries through the poetry of Billy Collins.

Dan and I arrived early, in plenty of time to get a good seat in the large ballroom where Billy would speak. A long line of people formed, waiting for the door to open twenty minutes before the presentation. We got a reasonably good seat and settled in. I had no idea what to expect, I had never heard Billy Collins speak. Would he be boring, droll, or pompous? He was after all the US Poet Laureate but that didn’t mean I’d enjoy him speaking about himself and his poems.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when this short man walked up to the podium and began to amuse the crowd with his dry sense of humor. Soon we were all laughing out loud at this very funny man full of stories that enhanced his poetry.

Now I have four or five books of Billy Collins poetry. I have read them over and over, still his poetry has not leaped out at me the way that Mary Oliver’s poems do. She speaks a language I understand, of nature, and God, faith, and love. But, except for the CREDO experience, Collins’s poetry failed to speak to me in that way. That is until I heard him speak and recite his poems. Now when I read his poems I hear his cadence, his voice that contains a bemused chuckle just under the breath, as if he hardly takes himself, and his fame, seriously.

Here is a poem that conveys a bit of this, called, The Poems of Others:

Is there no end to it
The way they keep popping up in magazines
Then congregate in the drafty orphanages of a book?

You would think the elm would speak up,
But like the dawn it only inspires – then more of them
Appear.
Not even the government can put a stop to it.

Just this morning, one approached me like a possum,
Snout twitching, impossible to ignore.
Another looked out of the water at me like an otter.

How can anyone dismiss them
When they dangle from the eaves of houses
And throw themselves in our paths?

Perhaps I am being too harsh, even ridiculous.
It could have been a day at the zoo
That put me this way – all the children by the cages –

As if only my poems had the right to exist
And people would come down from the hills
In the evening to view them in rooms of white marble.

So, I will take the advice of the mentors
And put this in a drawer for a week
Maybe even a year or two and then have a calmer
Look at it –

But for now I am going to take a walk
Through this nearly silent neighborhood
That is my winter resting place, my hibernaculum,

And get my mind off the poems of others
Even as they peer down from the trees
Or bark at my passing in the guise of local dogs.

A poet. An author, who now amuses and informs me on this journey of life.

Who is the author of your life, Peter asks.
Who is the author of your life?

As much as I enjoy Billy Collins or Mary Oliver I would not define either of them as the author of my life. Rather these two help me understand the author of my life and how that author writes me into life anew each day. Poetry helps me understand the life giving creativity that comes from God and is made manifest in each of us.

There is much discussion these days about how it is that God manifests God’s self in the world. The mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is and always has been a primary focus for this kind of discussion. What is God doing? Can any of this be real? And if we think it all unreal, what then becomes of our faith? Or if we reduce Jesus to a mere human, a man, what then becomes of our salvation? We can read all kinds of authors these days and follow many trajectories of thought. But ultimately the question comes down to, who is the author of our lives?

If God is the author of our lives, then we must accept a certain amount of mystery. The story we know of God and about God as three persons in one will always be more full of mystery than finite answers. It’s supposed to be that way because we are not God, we are humans. And in our human state we are only capable of seeing dimly through a mirror.

To help us with this mystery, to help us know God more fully despite God’s mysterious state, God sent God’s beloved, the Christ, into the world. God gave us God’s love in the fullest expression of love that God could imagine. God gave us God’s love in the form of another human being. In the process of giving and receiving this love we are not, like Billy Collins who struggles to accept that other poems have the right to be created, we are not to assume that God’s love only exists as we know it. God’s love exists as we know it and also with a depth and breadth beyond anything we can imagine. Are we able to imagine the possibility of this kind of love, even as it remains a mystery? Are we able to recognize the life giving love when it comes our way? Are we able to acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have is of God and for God? Are we able to understand that the author of our life is love? Can we hear that author speak into our lives? And if so, are we also able to allow that author to speak through our lives and into the broken places of this world?

When we really allow the author of our lives, God and the mystery of love, to speak through our lives, then something transformational happens. We begin to love as God loves. We love generously. We love the mistakes as much as the successes. We love the hurt until it becomes whole again. We accept others as they are and love them graciously, accepting the very traits that set our nerves on edge. We love from the heart and the mind. We love through those times when the love of God as we know it is crucified and killed by our neighbors. And yet, like the author of lives, we love until that love, God’s love, is alive again and walks this earth in flesh and blood just like you and I.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A short poem

Not "Revelation" - 'tis that waits,
But our unfinished eyes -

Emily Dickinson in "The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Edited by Stephen Mitchell

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Week to Remember...

It is difficult to believe that it has been more than a week since Easter. The time in between has been, well, something else.

On the Monday after Easter I went shopping for supplies for a continuing ed event which would be held Thursday through Sunday. It was an odd shopping trip as I tried hard to imagine how much would be enough for the number of people coming, especially because I didn't know any of them.

Tuesday I awoke to a scratchy throat and very high winds in the area. By Wednesday the winds had not only continued ceaselessly but had increased in intensity. So did my sore throat, which I blamed on the dust and dirt and particles in the air.

Wednesday morning I also headed to the big city three hours north of where I live to begin setting up the continuing ed event. I have been one of the planners and helpers of this event since last fall, and have looked forward to it for months.

Thursday the continuing ed event began in the late afternoon. It was so wonderful to meet people I had been connecting with months and years, but now could meet them in real life. Over the next few days our facilitator, The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, would lead us in a discussion on women prophets in the Judeo-Christian context, based on her book, "Daughters of Miriam." But as we began our introductions and group work Thursday night it became apparent that I was much more ill than an allergy and dust storm induced sore throat. I didn't know it then, denial being a strong influence, but I think I had chills and maybe a fever. Friday was a little better, and Saturday, although congested, I began to feel more like myself.

It's an odd thing to try and function through an illness. The human will and desire to be present at something that I have looked forward too and been excited about for so long drove me to persevere and gave me the energy to deny just how awful I felt. I really hope I was careful enough to not share this with any of the group...

Sunday our event ended with a wonderful worship service written and lead by a number of the women present. Following the service most of us headed home, where ever that may be around the country. But few of us are headed up to the Grand Canyon. It was a quick trip, up one day and back the next.

While there we saw the sun set over the rim of the Grand Canyon, had a delightful dinner at The Arizona Room (in the Bright Angel) and went to bed early. We rose bright and early in the morning to watch the sunrise. Afterward we had breakfast and then spent an hour walking the rim before heading south.

Our trip south included a detour to Sedona, Arizona. We drove the route that took us through Oak Creek Canyon - which if you have ever taken that route, you know what I am talking about...it is an awesome drive...but harrowing! A winding narrow road down the side of a mountain where the highest posted speed limit is 15 miles per hour and the incline grade is 7%...steep! At the same time the view is awesome - deep red rock lined with deep green trees. Sedona is just amazing.

Following a quick lunch at the Cowboy Club we continued our journey south where I dropped folks off at their hotels before continuing another 2 and half hours south to my home.

What week! New friends. New experiences. And a journey to remember.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter Week

It is difficult to believe that it has been a week since Easter. During this week since Easter I headed north

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gardeners of Love

A reflection for Easter Year B

A group of scientists decided that humankind had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they chose one scientist to go and tell God that they were through with God.

The scientist said, "We've advanced to where we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so we've decided that we no longer need you."

God listened patiently, then replied: "Very well. Then let's have a human-making contest."

"Good idea," the scientist said.

"But," God said, "we'll do it just like I did back in the good old days with Adam and Eve."

"No problem," the scientist said, bending down and grabbing a handful of dirt.

"No,” God said, “First you go make your own dirt!"

-- Joyful Noiseletter, 2-2000, p. 2, "The Lord''s Laughter," George Goldtrap.

I have lived in a lot of places and in each of those places I have planted gardens or at the very least tended to flowers already planted in the garden. The one thing each of those places have had in common is poor soil. Rocky soil, clay soil, overused soil, all needing some loving care to enable that soil to support anything but weeds. We have tilled the soil, added, organic matter like compost and peat, enriched it over time with fertilizers, aerated the soil, and checked the drainage.

Here in Arizona my husband and I have a couple of dwarf fruit trees that we want to transplant from pots to the ground, so we have been reading up on how to do this. Once day recently Dan began the process of preparing to transplant these trees by digging the lines to extend the drip system over to where we want to plant the trees. He dug for two hours and barely made a dent in the area he needs to dig. His only comment, “Well, it’s probably not a good idea to try and dig a hole on the side of a mountain.” Living on a foothill of the Santa Rita’s makes the “soil” in our backyard some of the worst we’ve encountered.

Curiously enough though, this hard, sandy, awful soil, is actually just what a citrus tree needs. The guidelines I’ve read have advised us to NOT add organic matter to the soil in the hole for a fruit tree – no compost, no fresh nutritious soil, nope just plop it into a shallow hole and let the roots spread out in the hard sandy earth. So, one of these days, when we get the hole dug for the tree and the drip system lines dug we’ll plant these trees into the earth.

While my husband and I enjoy a little bit of gardening now and then I wouldn’t call us gardeners. In our Gospel reading this morning Mary encounters someone she thinks is a gardener. She has come looking for the body of Jesus and finding the tomb empty she speaks to a man standing nearby, a man who, as it turns out is not the gardener, but the Risen Christ.

Today, Easter, is a celebration of God; of the wonderful actions of God in creation: of life and new life. And we embrace this celebration with all the best we can offer, symbolized by the abundance of these glorious flowers, and the fabulous music from our choir and bell choir. Easter concludes our Lenten journey with Christ, bringing us from life to new life.

In Holy Week we are invited to suspend our awareness of how the story ends and enter the journey and walk with Christ directly into the Good News.

Walking with Christ becomes a journey for us, for we are spiritual pilgrims. For example in Celtic spirituality one can imagine this journey as a trip to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a remote tidal island off the north east coast of England. When the tide is in this island is far from land, surrounded by water and seemingly isolated. But when the tide is out one can walk a narrow path from the main land to the island over slippery rocks.

A friend of mine once took this walk. As a child she was always taught to wear shoes, never go bare foot for fear of hurting her feet. But for this journey across the rocks to Lindisfarne she took off her shoes and walked in her bare feet.

Slippery and cold.

And yet very mystical as she imagined all the feet that have traveled this same journey of faith.

Walking carefully, one foot in front of the other;
and yet with a sense of abandon –
bare feet grounded her and at the same time enabled her to be more free and open to the experience, more able to really feel.

Then she slipped and stubbed her toe.

Her first inclination was to scold herself for being foolish,
then she realized that that too is part of our faith journey,
we all stumble at times. And so she continued, barefoot….

The risen Christ may not have been the gardener that Mary thought he was when she encountered him that Easter morning. But he is the gardener of our lives. Coming to us again in the resurrection, the Risen Christ is for us the reality of all that God desires for us –When our journey with Christ through Lent and into Easter has been rocky, hard, untenable, God comes to us anew in Easter and tenderly loves us.

Whether our journey with Christ through Lent and into Easter has been dry like sand or thick like clay, God comes to us anew in Easter and loves us with open arms. When our journey with Christ through Lent and into Easter has been cold and slippery, God comes to us anew in Easter and sustains us with a love that is firm and warm. Regardless of whether our journey has been easy or whether we have stumbled and fallen, God comes to us anew on Easter and loves us whole again.

Walking with Christ into the Good News is not an intellectual exercise; it is an emotional process wherein we become the Body of Christ, because the truth is we do need God. In turn, God has chosen us, the people of creation, to become the face of Christ, the living hands and heart of God - and like gardeners of God’s creation, bearing forth God’s healing love in a broken world.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

If I Were Preaching Good Friday....

I might read this reflection from "Peter Abelard" by Helen Wadell, written in 1933:

"From somewhere near them in the woods a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the huts. 'It's a child' voice,' he said.

Thibault had gone outside. The Cry came again. 'A rabbit,' said Thibault. He listened. 'It'll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down.'

'O God,' Abelard muttered. 'Let it die quickly.'

But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. 'Watch out,' said Thibault, thrusting past him. 'The trap might take the hand off you.'

The rabbit stopped shrieking when the stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard's heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. 'Thibault,' he said, 'do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?'
Thibault nodded.
'I know,' he said, "Only, I think God is in it too.'
Abelard look sharply.
'In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?'

Thibault nodded.
'Then why doesn't he stop it?'
'I don't know,' said Thibault. 'Unless it's like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,' he stroked the limp body, 'is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.'

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. 'Thibault, do you mean Calvary?'

Thibault shook his head. 'That was only a piece of it - the piece that we say- in time. Like that.' He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. 'That dark ring there, it foes hp and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ's life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because was like that, kind and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We thing that stopped.'

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

'Then, Thibault,' he said slowly, 'you think that all of this,' he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, 'all the pain of the world, was Christ's cross?'

'God's cross,' said Thibault, 'And it goes one.'

(Found in Celebrating the Seasons: Daily Spiritual Readings compiled by Robert Atwell)

I'm not preaching tomorrow, we are doing the Good Friday liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer as part of the Triduum, and for Good Friday we offer a dramatic reflection from the Iona community with a sandal, nails, hammer, crown of thorns, and a cross.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

God's Passion: A Broken Heart, Overflowing with Love

You know how it is, you’re brushing your teeth, or looking out the window, or driving along absent mindedly, when all of a sudden you think of someone you haven’t thought of in years.

That happened to me just the other day. I thought of this man I used to know, a friend of my sister in law, named John. John was a quadriplegic, a spinal cord injury as the result of a dive into a lake, hitting rock bottom. He was married at the time of his accident and had a young son. After the accident he insisted on divorcing his wife so she could lead a life without having to take care of him. He retained joint custody of his son, who used to visit him regularly.

I met John while I was still in massage therapy school and needed to find a way to accumulate hours working with a marginalized population – people who would otherwise never receive the benefits of a therapeutic massage. I was fairly certain that the massage would be beneficial – increasing circulation to muscles that were atrophying from lack of use.

Anyway, for an entire quarter of school I went to John’s house once a week and gave him a massage. He sat in his wheelchair while I treated his head, neck, shoulders, arms, and feet –a seated treatment. I don’t remember much from those sessions. I remember his son being around, playing and asking questions. I remember a caretaker who was present, cooking, cleaning, helping. But mostly I remember John’s incredible attitude – he was always easy going, pleasant, cheerful. In spite of this incredible tragedy that had robbed him of the life he thought he was going to lead, he was loving, grateful and generous.

Our first Gospel reading this morning, the one proclaimed over the palm fronds as we prepared to bless them, ends with Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem. And in that temple he stops and looks around. I wonder what memories were suddenly coming to him in that moment? Did he remember being a little boy who stayed behind in the temple when his family left to return home? Did he recall an even earlier memory, of being a baby blessed by Simeon and Anna in the walls of this temple? Did he think about the history of that temple and the memories it held – memories of a suffering people in search of God? Did he have an inkling of the suffering he would soon face? Or would that suffering hit him like a rock out of nowhere, as suffering usually does? Jesus stands in the sacred darkness of the temple and looks at everything.

Perhaps in that darkness, the everything that Jesus sees is more than the suffering he is about to face. And more than the suffering his people have faced, and will face when this very temple is destroyed a generation later. Perhaps, what Jesus sees is everything. The suffering of all. Everything, every ounce of suffering that was, and is, and will be. And he takes it all into himself before he turns and walks out.

All of us here know something about suffering, We can’t live life without knowing suffering intimately. It comes to us unbidden, unwanted. And when it comes, that deep suffering, we too stand in the darkness. Like Jesus in the temple, the rising of memories crash in on us. What are we to do with this? The idea of being like Jesus, of being able to face into suffering , ours or others, is beyond us. But, like Jesus, we have no choice. We too have to walk right into the suffering, the pain, the brokenness. There is no other way.

Life gives us no choice when it comes to encountering suffering. And rarely do we have much choice in how we move through the suffering. All we know at the time is that we have to get up, literally, or in John’s case metaphorically, and put one foot in front of the other, and take a step. Then another.

There is an old story from the Torah: a person asks the rabbi, “Why does the Torah tell us to place these words upon our hearts? Why does it not tell us to place holy words in our hearts? The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.

Generally speaking we live with closed hearts, guarded as if the heart can be protected from suffering. But suffering bursts that illusion wide open, like a needle in a balloon or a nail in a tire.

Suffering can shatter our hearts to bits and pieces, like a glass crashing to the ground. And in this broken state some of us use our suffering to inflict suffering on others – sharp pieces here and there waiting to slice open a vein in the next person who crosses our path.

But, while we have no choice in whether we suffer or not, we do have a choice in HOW we suffer. Maybe not immediately, but at some point in time, we are able to make some choices about how our suffering affects us. That’s when suffering has the potential to break us open.

If we had read the verses that come just before the passion reading we heard this morning, we would have heard the story of the woman breaking open a jar of nard to anoint Jesus. This story appears in all four Gospels, and it’s a story about suffering with love. This kind of suffering opens us, deepens our compassion, touching our innermost being. This kind of suffering opens our hearts like a lid on a jar or a hand turning from a fist to a cup.

Today begins the holiest of weeks in the Christian year. This week we will walk with Christ. We will share a meal, and wash feet, we will face into the darkness holding vigil as we pray through the night, and we will find ourselves hanging on the cross, broken.

Perhaps, by the time a week has passed, this journey will help us see how the broken heart and the suffering and the cross, and God’s love are one and the same…
….for it is on that cross that God’s heart is not shattered, although one would expect that to be the case, but rather God’s heart is broken open for you, for me, for all of us, broken open and overflowing with love.

Playing for Hope

My family and I once lived in a community with a high percentage of immigrants from Serbia-Croatia, people who had fled the war in the earl...