Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stories of Faith

A reflection on the readings for Proper 26C: Luke 19:1-10; St. John's, Chicago, IL.

It was a cold morning, a Saturday. I think it was 1995. A small group of us gathered here, in this space, for a Quiet Day, led by Bishop Wiedrich, then Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Chicago. Victor Von Schlagel was our priest. Bishop Wiedrich, known for his gift of story telling, opened up two stories from scripture, as I recall, taking a skeleton of a character in the life of Jesus and adding muscle and flesh, enabling the character to come to life. One character was Zacchaeus, from our Gospel reading this morning, and the other was Simon of Cyrene.

I no longer remember all the details of the stories Bp Wiedrich told, the specifics of what he said. But what I do remember is the gift of learning power of scripture to inform and form our faith stories, how they mirror our lives and offer us opportunities to understand how we, as individuals and communities, gain muscle and flesh and walk with Jesus through life’s deepest challenges, through pain and suffering and struggle, into hope, joy, and new life.

In 1989, six years before that Quiet Day with the Bishop, on a Saturday in October, I made a phone call to the office of this church. My husband D and I had decided to return to church. Our daughter was 15 months old at the time. Except for the day we were married, I hadn’t gone to church in 16 years. D had grown up in the Roman Catholic Church. The minister who married us four years earlier suggested that we consider the Episcopal Church, even though she, at the time, was a UCC pastor. So, finally ready to give church a try, I called the office to let the priest know that we were coming. I left a voicemail for the priest, B, who called me back a little later and assured me he’d look for us. Sure enough that Sunday morning we were welcomed by B and Masey and Elaine, Jaunita and Angela, and Julie and Scott who were married at the time, the Bolton’s, Mark and Lourdes, Cheryl, Mary, and KJ, Hugh –and others who soon became our church family. From that day on we came most every Sunday for ten years, and if we missed a Sunday or two Masey would call us, just to make sure we were ok.

D and I came back to church looking for community. We came looking for a place where we could grow in our faith as a family, and have people to grow with. We came looking for a place that would help us flesh out what it means to be Christians in the world today.

Our first annual meeting was an eye-opening experience. We worshipped and then had breakfast downstairs. KJ was the senior warden and she led the meeting – which as I recall was filled with quite a bit of anger and tears – people who felt neglected, who were not being tended too in pastoral concerns. Dan and I were a bit stunned. But as I’ve learned over time faith communities often have strong feelings and while it was my first, it is by no means, my only experience with conflict and strong feelings being expressed in the church. It didn’t scare us away, but taught us about the underbelly of love in a parish family.

In those early days of our time here, as we learned about the Episcopal Church through the Inquirer’s class, were confirmed and received in the fall of 1990 by Bp Griswald, I had no idea just how formational this congregation and this church would be for me and my family. I didn’t know then that I’d have great friendships with Angie and Nancy, and that our kids would spend so much time together. I didn’t know we’d have fall picnics with a jumping room and fire trucks, haunted houses and Halloween parties, Christmas pageants and pizza parties. I didn’t know that I would be formed by rummage sales and doing the dishes with other folks after an Ash Wednesday Fish Fry or the Thanksgiving dinner, or learning how to set the altar under the gentle training of Angela. And I had no idea that through this sharing of lives that my faith story would include discerning a call to the priesthood. A call which led to my ordaination on these steps on Dec. 28, 1999. But all of the things we did and the relationships we had with one another shaped and formed into the priest I am. I carry these stories with me and share them as examples of the power of faith communities.

In the years since my family and I have been gone, you have continued to grow in faith. From time to time I’d hear pieces of your story. Of how you have journeyed from that sad annual meeting, through the days of Bill, Victor, Tom, from a parish that had a tough time considering calling a woman as rector to a church that has subsequently sponsored three women in to the priesthood, me, Mary, and KJ, and now is finding new life and energy with Kara. I love to tell the story of your growth from a parish that wondered if it could ever grow again to one that is thriving and bursting with creative energy.

The story of St. John’s is a story of Zacchaeus, of responding with joy to the radical grace of God. It’s a story about the transformation that comes when people embrace the grace of God in their lives, and their faith community, in such a way that it to transforms lives – mine, yours, and enables us to walk with Christ into new life. I'm grateful for this church and for all of you, grateful to call this my home church. I suspect you all are too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

RevGals Friday Five Meme: Comfort edition

kathrynjz over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

Today's Friday Five is an opportunity for you to list five of your favorite 'go-to' movies/tv shows/books. You can use images, links, explanations or netflix.

I rarely read books a second time. I guess I figure if I've read it once, that is enough? But I listen to music over and over and watch certain movies again and again. So maybe I need to rethink the one-time book read approach....(duh)....

Anyway, here is my list of five favorite movies/music (I don't know what I'm going to write as I start this so it will be a stream of consciousness)

1. Sound of Music is one of my favorite. I first saw it when I was a little girl, probably in first grade. My parents took me to see it because I earned good grades in school (or at least that was the incentive I recall). It was cold and wintery. We saw it a theater - now one of those classic old ones, in downtown Salt Lake City. The streets were still adorned with Christmas decorations on the light poles, I remember waiting to go inside, wearing my nice winter coat, MaryJane shoes, and a hand-muff to keep my hands warm. I remember nothing of actually watching the movie that time. But since then I have watched it many times, countless.

2. any CD by Yo Yo Ma - I love listening to the cello and I love how Yo Yo Ma interprets music and how his passion resonates through the cello. I was blessed to see him perform live last December.

3. In particular I love Mozart sonata's. Or Beethoven sonatas.

4. I also like to watch Family Man - with Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage, where Cage's character learns how his life could be if had made a choice for love not greed. Or almost any movie with Sandra Bullock - While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal, Two and half weeks. Or for that matter movies with Hugh Grant - I wonder what it's like to become famous playing characters is sappy romantic comedies? But I for one like to watch them, in part I think because I like a happy ending.

5. Poetry - now I can read and reread poetry books endlessly - Mary Oliver: Red Bird, Thirst, Dream Works, and collections of poems over the years. I can also read Billy Collins and Dorothy Parker and Denise Levertov...I tend to be drawn to contemporary poets more than the classics.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dawn


Earth our mother, breathe forth life
all night sleeping
now awaking
in the east
now see the dawn

Earth our mother, breathe and waken
leaves are stirring
all things moving
new day coming
life renewing

Eagle soaring, see the morning
see the new mysterious morning
something marvelous and sacred
though it happens every day
Dawn the child of God and Darkness

(Pawnee prayer)


Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Musings

I'm laying low today, tending to a cold. It all began with a sore throat last week and now has moved to other areas of my respiratory system. I'm consuming lots of herbal tea and water and keeping the hand sanitizer and Lysol disinfecting wipes near by....

I want to get well because in a few days I head north for a conference called Not In Our Pews. This conference is designed to help congregations understand domestic violence, support victims, and work toward ending it.

I'm going to write a report on the conference for the Episcopal Women's Caucus newsletter. I've also written four prayers for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. I don't know how or if my prayers will be used, but I wrote them.

And I'm preparing to head off to Seattle in December to lead another workshop on "Words Matter." I've been working on this language project, with the National Council of Churches for ten months and we are about to launch the trial version of the module for both the NCC and a version for The Episcopal Church. It's very exciting.

Then, I will end the week by preaching at my "home" parish, the church that sponsored me in the ordination process. I have not been back there for ten years, so it's very exciting!

Anyway, my week - some necessary self-care and some good work in the world, with a dose of homecoming....what about you? What does your week look like?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grace Connected

A reflection on Luke 18:9-14 for Proper 15C, St. Mary's Crystal Lake, IL

A couple of years ago, while living in Arizona, the bishop organized our annual clergy conference to take place in a small town on the US/Mexico border. For the next 36 hours we immersed ourselves in learning about immigration and came away with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation. Recently the House of Bishops had this experience; Bishop Lee has posted a video of that experience on the Diocesan website.
As Christians we can’t, in good faith, dismiss this as a simple legal issue, one in which we have no accountability except to arrest those crossing over without documentation. At the very least we are involved because of the interwoven global economy not to mention the coffee industry. And who knows how the drug industry and slave trade actually impact our lives without our knowing, but I suspect they do. We have a responsibility to become informed.

Our time across the border was profound and left me with much to ponder. We spent the day visiting a shelter that housed those who had recently been deported back into Mexico and learned of the blistered feet and starving bodies, of robbery, rape, and abandonment. We toured a coffee co-op where families in Mexico had joined together to change their lives by growing, roasting, and shipping fair trade coffee with the support of a Presbyterian church in Mexico and an Episcopal church across the border in Douglas. And we toured a drug and alcohol rehab center of the outskirts of Agua Prieta. It was here that I learned something about life changing compassion in the midst of extreme poverty.

The rehab center had a habit of taking in anyone who showed up at the gate. They had a housing center for women and their children, another for men and even a place for the mentally ill. These were just buildings with concrete or dirt floors, and lots of bunk beds. They had a community hall for AA meetings, a shower room, and a kitchen for co-op cooking. People could come and stay as long as they needed. Everyone participated in cleaning and cooking and running the place. It was important to the director that people leave only when they had a job and could prove that they could keep that job, and when they had found a place to live outside the facility. They offered job training and job placement, often in the local hospital, where decent jobs could be found. The director shared his own story of recovery and how he had found that place years before, had gotten sober, and stayed on working until he became the director. But the most profound story he told was about a man he found wandering in the desert.

It was the custom of this director to pick up homeless psychotic people and bring them to the center where they were housed in a special locked area. Although locked, the area for the mentally ill was in the center of facility, and everyone could engage with the mentally ill. When I was there I saw a man who walked in circles, around and around. The director told us that one time he got a call about a man wandering in the desert. The director went out and picked him up. The man could not speak, he had no sense of who he was or where he was from. He was brought to the center and treated with medication, with love, shelter, food, and clothing. Every day for four years the man was cared for.

And then one day he woke up from his stupor and remembered who he was. He gave the director his name, where he was from in California, and the phone number of his parents. The director called his parents who were astonished that their son was found, and safe. They had lost contact with him years before and had no way of locating him, not knowing where he was at all. A few days later the family came and picked up their son. It was a joyful reunion. To this day that man is well, and the family continues to send gifts of gratitude to support the cause of rehabilitation at this center.

The border experience, and especially this humble rehab center, built on dirt and concrete floors, in the desert of Mexico, is an example of the grace we hear in our Gospel reading this morning. It has helped me see the ways in which we too are both the Pharisee and the tax collector, the ways we are whole and well, and good and faithful, and the ways we can become arrogant and presume that we are better than these broken, poor addicts, in a disgustingly filthy rehab center in Mexico. That is until we learn of the profound compassion that lives in that place, and then we realize just what it means to truly be faithful to the Gospel. What it means to love others, those known and unknown, with the compelling and comprehensive compassion of Christ.

Because the good news that we learn as a people of faith is that we are not completely separate independent people – we are instead interdependent with God and one another. Our lives are interwoven with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with you, with me, with our neighbor and the stranger. We live in a web of connectedness.

When I work to enable my life to become better, and do so in a faithful manner, I am also impacting the lives of others, enabling their lives to become better. This is especially true when we are intentional in thinking about others, even as we think about ourselves. That intentionality can be as simple as the coffee we drink or the chocolate we eat. Drinking fair trade coffee supports farmers in Mexico and reduces their reliance on income from illegal drugs or illegal immigration. Eating fair trade chocolate reduces the opportunity for companies to exploit children, children who are often forced into slave labor for the production of our candy bars. There are simple ways we can become aware of the world around us. We are called to understand how we contribute, in ways we least expect to the problems.

We are good people, gathered here today, of that I have no doubt. But let us not get too full of our own goodness. Let us instead remember, that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. For it is only by the grace of God that our lives are blessed and it is for the grace of God that we strive to judge not, but rather, be a blessing to others.

Friday, October 22, 2010

RevGals Friday Five

Songbird, over at RevGals is thinking about friendships today and offers this Friday Five:

For today's Friday Five, some questions about friendship.


1) Who is the first friend you remember from childhood? I lived in a small town in Wisconsin when I was in 5-8 grades and had a good friend whose father owned the local newspaper. They were an interesting family, engaged in a lot of interesting discussions. I had friends when I was younger but had moved so often that they never formed deeply. Sadly I moved again and then again, finally landing in Illinois when I was a sophomore in high school where I formed other longer lasting friendships.

2) Have you ever received an unexpected gift from a friend? Yes. A few years ago when I was struggling I received an unexpected phone call and then a box with a beautiful painted flower pot and a box of calming tea from a friend I met through this blogging community. I was so touched, and appreciated her thoughtfulness. We've never met, but we always say we're coming right over, whenever one or the other is struggling! Neighbors in cyberspace.

3) Is there an old friend you wish you could find again? Or have you found one via social media or the Internet? I have found a number of old friends via Facebook.

4) Do you like to get your good friends together in a group, or do you prefer your friends one on one? Either way!

5) Does the idea of Jesus as a friend resonate with you?I'm more inclined to experience Jesus as companion or guide, as one who walks with me through the ups and downs in life. Not exactly a friend, because I don't think of myself on equal footing with Jesus - friendships carry a greater degree of mutuality than I think of my relationship with Jesus, which is a little bit more one sided - I share Jesus guides - but Jesus doesn't really seek my counsel or support in the same way. Still, as a companion there is a comfortable friendliness between us.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pray All the Time, Use Words When Necessary

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24C:Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8; St. James, West Dundee, IL

Occasionally I have a craving for LIFE cereal. The other day I opened a fresh box of Life cereal and poured it in a bowl for breakfast. But the cereal, instead of being those little squares in a basket weave, were crushed and came out shredded. The box was perfectly unmarked, no indication that the cereal inside was crushed. I wonder what happened? Did I just get the last dregs from the factory that day, all tumbled into one box? Who knows?

Likewise, we don’t know the exact circumstances that led the widow to the judge in our reading from Luke this morning. What we know of ancient societal customs tells us that widows were often social outcasts, poor, desperate, and struggling. We have no idea who her opponent is. But none of that is point of the story, the point is, like the judge, God hears our desperate pleas for justice, and grants them. God brings justice to the world. Of course, like all of Jesus’ parables, that’s the basic point, deeper meanings are uncovered as we delve into the story.

For example, I often wonder, especially in this day and age, what does God’s justice look like? How do we know it? These days an awful lot of people seem to have opinions on who God is and what God does. Opinions are flung around like the sand that blew thickly through my backyard when I lived in southern Arizona. Sand that would land in my pool leaving a thick residue of mud. That’s the image I have of the energy in our world today, whether we’re talking religion or politics...a lot of mud everywhere. I think this hostility and anger is a reflection of how broken and helpless we all feel.

Our readings have one thing in common – they speak of God’s call to us and our response. And that means they are speaking to us about prayer. Prayer is how we talk to God or rail at God or plead with God. And prayer is how God speaks to us. In the silent moments of prayer God speaks. I know, that sounds odd. How do we know God is speaking if God is silent?

Our reading from Jeremiah has something to say about that. This prophet Jeremiah is speaking about pain and suffering. He’s addressing the injustices of the world he lives in. There is a disproportionate amount of wealth held by leaders while the ordinary people go hungry and struggle. Jeremiah proclaims that God is with the people, God does not abandon the people, and will work to ease their life suffering. God promises that a new generations will be born in hope, with God implanted in their very beings: We hear God saying, “I took them by the hand, I married them” (Wil Gafney, Workingpreacher)

Essentially, Gos is promising that God's love will be internalized within all people. The love of God is internalized in us, it is part of who we are. God’s love is not dependent upon giving and receiving, it’s organic and innate to who we are. The words of Jeremiah feed our starving sprits. God has put God’s spirit, God’s love in us, where it lives and moves. How do we know this, you might wonder?

For me, I know God is at work in and within me when I feel a sense of peace regardless of the circumstances I’m facing. And it’s not just me who feels this peace. The mystics speak of it. The desert mothers and fathers speak of it. It’s a reality. Life can be rough. Life can throw us harsh curve balls. And yet, an inner sense of peace is possible. This I think God’s justice, is God’s love living within us and it manifests as a deep internalized sense of peace.

It reminds me of a poem by Wendall Berry:

When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.

When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.

The ability to rise joyful and fall without regret, to live gently in this way, is perhaps a sign of God’s peace residing within.

But, how do we tap into God’s peace and enable it to resonate within us? For surely we can all say that there are times when feeling peaceful is impossible. And that’s true. There are times when being peaceful is impossible. There are times in life when it’s impossible to even imagine a sense of inner peace. We feel fraught and fractured and rail at God. We are, in essence the widow with her relentless petitions.

This parable tells us that the judge, who cared for no one, not God nor others nor this widow, is made weary of the barrage of petitions from the widow, relents and gives her justice. But God, unlike this judge does care – God cares for me, for you, for the widow, for the judge, for everyone. And because God cares God’s justice is deep, pervasive, and expansive.

But how is it that we open ourselves up to the potential of God’s justice, the possibility of God’s peace to reside in and through us? Elsewhere in scripture Jesus assures us that one way God’s justice manifests is through prayer. Think of the Lord’s Prayer, and of all the references to Jesus going off to pray. The last thing Jesus does on the cross is pray. Prayer is how we connect to God and how God’s justice is served in us and through us. Prayer is God’s love enlivened, and God's love enlivened is God's justice.

Now, if you are like me, you may think, but I’m no good at praying. I don’t know what words to use....and, again, I think of a poem. This one by Mary Oliver:

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak. (Mary Oliver)

Prayer can be as simple as sitting in silence – or as theologically complicated as the Eucharistic prayer we will pray in a few minutes. But either way we are making room for God to speak in and through our lives. God invites us into a relationship and when we take time to nurture that relationship and develop it God’s love grows within us and God's justice reigns.

One way we participate in nurturing our relationship with God is through prayer. Max Lucado, in his book, When God Whispers Your Name says this: “Pray all the time, use words when necessary.”

Prayer opens us up to God, prayer sustains our faith, and enables God’s peace to resonate inside of us. Living with an inner sense of peace puts a new perspective on our problems and the problems of the world around us. It’s like realizing that even if the cereal is crushed it still tastes the same, it’s still nutritious and good for me.

This new perspective
formed in prayer,
centered in peace
and expressed as love,
is God’s justice
made manifest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Waiting....

Sometimes,
walking for hours through the woods,
I don't know what I'm looking for,
maybe for something
shy and beautiful to come
frisking out of the undergrowth.

Once a fawn did just that.
My dog didn't know
what dogs usually do.
And the fawn didn't know.

As for the doe...
dreaming that everything was fine...

The way I'd like to go on living in this world
wouldn't hurt anything, I'd just go on
walking uphill and downhill, looking around,
and so what if half the time I don't know
what for-

so what if it doesn't' come
to a hill of beans...

In the films of Dachau and Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen
the dead rise from the earth...
while the rest of the world
did nothing...

My dog and the fawn
did a little dance...

Oh, you never saw such a garden...
A many sits there...
He is finishing lunch...
A bottle of wine...
He fills a glass...
He lifts it to his mouth and drinks peacefully.

It is the face of Mengele.

Late the doe came wandering back into he twilight.
She stepped through the leaves. She hesitated,
sniffing the air.
Then she knew everything.
The forest grew dark.

She nuzzled her child wildly.


Mary Oliver...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mockingbirds

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this
seriously.

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story--
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive--
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them--
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down--
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning--
whatever it was I said

I would be doing--
I was standing
at the edge of the field--
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors--
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

Mary Oliver: The Atlantic Monthly Company. The Atlantic Monthly; February 1994; Mockingbirds; Volume 273, No. 2; page 80

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Morning Musings

Monday again. Monday used to be my day off, ergo why I started posting Monday Morning Musings, thinking about what I was going to do on my day off (or not) and what the week ahead held for me. Now that I'm not really working one could say that every day is a day off.

Well, except for Sunday's. I continue to get, thankfully, calls to do supply work. I entered Oct. with nothing on my calendar, and now it's full. I have a supply gig every Sunday. I'm grateful for that. Oct. 31 will be fun and interesting as I will preach at the parish that sponsored me in the ordination process. I haven't been back there in about 10 years. But still many of the people who were my friends when my husband and I attended that church are still there. It will be fun.

I have plans to go to the gym today and take a yoga class. I have a phone call scheduled with someone in NYC to talk about the Words Matter module that we are creating. I've written the draft, now we are editing and revising it. I'll use it at a workshop at the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in Nov. And I'm working on a powerpoint presentation for another workshop I'll offer at that convention on "Green Worship".

That's my day. What about yours?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

What Feeds Your Soul?

A reflection on the readings for Proper 23C: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Luke 17:11-19, St. Giles, Northbrook, IL

A few years ago, in Christian Century magazine, I read an article about a group of women who had started a blog ring. Each of the women, some ordained and some not, belong to different Christian denominations. Each had a personal blog as well as participating in the ecumenical blog ring. The article inspired me to start my own blog. That blog ring led me to meet a woman in California who was discerning a call to ordination. One day on her blog she posted a reflection she called “This I Believe.” A woman’s group in her church was doing an exercise to get to know one another and build trust. They decided one way to do this would be to participate in this exercise about belief. The facilitator of the group based the exercise on the essay writing series from National Public Radio’s “This I Believe.”

This I Believe is a national media project that invites Americans from all walks of life to share brief essays describing the core values that guide their lives. The project is based on a popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The goal of This I Believe is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs; the goal is to encourage Americans to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for and reaching a deeper understanding of beliefs different from their own.

Now, since that day I have heard a few of those essays. Sometimes they focus on a core value that has to do with why they love baseball and sometimes they focus on something more profound, like a moment that transformed their life.

Our readings today from 2 Kings and Luke offer us stories about faith which transforms the main character giving them a new awareness of God, self, and others. These stories reflect some core values that are expanded by the main characters’ newly transformed awareness. The stories we hear today move us through what it means to believe, to see, and then to do.

In 2 Kings Naaman is a powerful soldier who has become ill. His servants come to Naaman with a way to be healed and convince him to go to Elisha. Although Naaman goes to see Elisha he is a bit put off by what Elisha suggests. It’s not grand, it’s incredibly simple, the process that will heal him. So simple he can’t do it. Because he thinks it’s supposed to be some kind of powerful cure – for this powerful warrior.

In 2 Kings we hear: “if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'?"

Well, it is a grand cure; it’s just a simple process that leads to it. God works in simple ways. Sometimes so simple we miss it if we aren’t looking.

Which leads us to seeing.

My husband and I have two dogs, one is twelve years old and the other is 8. For most of their lives they have had excellent hearing and eyesight. But as they age those traits are diminishing. Having active dogs, most days our primary goal is to exercise them enough to wear them out. Often we take them to a dog park where they can run off-lead. We make several rounds of walking the trails at the park. Then, before we leave, he and I separate as far apart as we can while still within eyesight of each other. My husband calls the dogs to come, and they run to him. Then I call the dogs to come and they run to me. Recently though, one of our dogs had a difficult time seeing us as we played this game. She would hear us call her and would take off in the general direction of our call but even though we were in plain sight, she couldn’t see us. Part of the problem is that there were a lot of other people between us and she couldn’t distinguish us from all the others.

Likewise sometimes our vision is over-stimulated and we are unable to see God active in our lives and the world. Or like Naaman our vision is masked by our expectations of how God ought to act.

In a moment of despair I can rarely say, “Oh, here is God active in my life and the world.” But in hindsight I can often say, “There is how and where God was acting.”

Likewise, once healed Naaman can see the action of God and returns to Elisha and says, "Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant."

Healed of his illness, Naaman sees the power of God in the world around him and it inspires him to do something. Likewise the healed leper in our Gospel reading is also inspired to do something. These lepers had a belief in the power of God which led them to come to Jesus asking to be healed. Seeing Jesus they cry out saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

In ancient Israel a person who was ill had to live on the fringes of the community in order to not infect everyone. A person who was cured of their illness had to be declared healed by the temple priests in order to be allowed back into the everyday life of the community. This is why Jesus sends them to the priest. The healing occurs on their way to the see the priests, from their belief in God and from the power of God active in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The readings today offer us examples of people who faced profound obstacles in life. From these obstacles they encountered choices. In a similar way each of us have faced difficulties and suffered in life. No one escapes this; it’s a part of life. Like Naaman and the leper, when faced with hardship and suffering we too have choices with how we respond. While we cannot often change the circumstances we can choose how we respond to what happens. In the face of challenges and adversity do we see danger or opportunity? Do we live with anger or do we find compassion? Do we become bitter or do we become better? What do we believe? What do we see? And what do we do?

It reminds me of an old story:
A Kid asks his Grandfather

Why do some people hurt others and are mean and why are some people kind and help others?

The Grandfather says, “Because each of us have two wolves inside us. One wolf is angry, mean, bitter, and filled with fear. And, one wolf is kind, compassionate, and filled with love.”

The kid asks, “How do you know which wolf is angry and mean and which one is kind and compassionate?”

The Grandfather says “It depends on which wolf you feed!”

What are the core values of your life? What do you believe in and how do you act on your values and your belief? We all have options, what choices are you making? When faced with challenges and adversity what feeds your soul?

Friday, October 08, 2010

RevGals Friday Five: Fall Word Association

SingingOwl over at RevGals offers this Friday Five Meme: Give us the the first word that comes to mind (you know how that works, right?) and then add a little something about why, or how or what.

1. Pumpkins Halloween, carved with candles inside and roasted pumpkin seeds. Later pie!


2. Campfire Marshmallows. Warmth, good conversation. Or RevGals, if it this bonfire from BE 2.0:


3. Apples Picking. Bags full on a crisp fall day, several varieties. Lots of family fun, and later pie!

4. Color Trees. The trees around here are glorious this year - vibrant yellow and red.

5. Halloween Candy. and costumes - but I haven't celebrated Halloween in years, I've always had other commitments. And with three dogs it's a little crazy to have trick or treaters come to the door...but I love the kids and their costumes.

And since it is REV Gals and their Pals, here is the bonus question, sort of a serious one:

What does the following passage from Daniel 2 make you think about?

"Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
Wisdom and power are his...
He changes times and seasons."
Me, being me, I pause a bit over the male pronouns for God. (sigh, it's so tiresome). But God as creator of life, absolutely. God as one who set the seasons in a cycle of birth, life, death, new birth - awesome. God, as changing times? If that means that God is treating all of creation as if God were some grand puppeteer and creation is God's puppet(s) and God manipulates what happens? Not so much. Free will is at play. God gave us that. And sometimes free will wrecks havoc, and then there is a mess to clean up. God participate in the restoration of order and new life that comes up, again and again, from the free-will chaos. Well, anyway, that's what I think of off the top of my head.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Days

Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

(Billy Collins "Sailing Alone Around the Room" - Random House, 2001)

I've been thinking about Billy Collins lately, ever since Diane mentioned seeing him at a conference. I heard him read his poetry in Tucson in 2009 and reflected a bit on that reading in a sermon a month later or so. Billy Collins is delightful in person. He signed my copy of his poetry book and entertained us with his reading of his poems.

I offer this that you may have a delightful day.

Monday Musings

It's no longer morning, but I'm still taking some time today to ponder a few things.:


  • I am actively working on a draft of the module for the "Words Matter" conversation. This will be a working module that any small group can use to have a conversation about the language (words, images, and symbols) we use to talk about ourselves, others, and God. It's about increasing our sensitivity to language we may take for granted but others may be offended by, it's meant to heighten our sensitivity of ourselves and others, particularly when it comes to how we talk about God.
  • We are recreating the prayer blog for the RevGals here.. Stop by and take a look. We hope to have a prayer or poem or some reflection offered every day. Prayer requests can be left, but keep in mind that it's a public  blog.
  • I checked a book out the library titled something like 100 Great Poems of the 20th Century. I was in a hurry when I did this. If I had  taken the time to notice that the book does not include a single poem by Mary Olive, Billy Collins, or Dorothy Day then I would realized that I might not like the choices made by the editor as to his idea of "great" poems. Sigh.....oh well. I also got a book of Emily Dickinson poems and letters and a Billy Collins, and biography of Dorothy Day, which I may have read a long time ago.
  • I also checked out 4 books of fiction, so I am set for some good reading.
  • Ok, so I'm not pondering anything heavy or profound.
  • It's Monday.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Faith of Grandmothers

A reflection on the readings for Proper 22C: Lamentations 1:1-6, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, and Luke 17:5-10

It’s early in the month of May, in the year 1848. A young woman boards a ship with two small children in tow, a four year old boy and a two year old girl. The woman is three months pregnant and with her two other children is about to embark on a five month journey from Manchester, England to NYC and then across the United States to Utah. She leaves behind her husband, who will continue to work, earning money to support his family as they make the long journey. The father will follow in a year or so.

The woman and her children cross the Atlantic Ocean; it takes more than six weeks on the ship. A tragic outbreak of small pox claims the life of her two year old daughter. Landing in New York the mother and son take a boat and train from the coast, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, across Illinois to St. Louis. There they meet up with other members who are gathering for the wagon train journey. Soon they will travel northwest through Missouri into Iowa, across Nebraska and Wyoming, arriving some 13 weeks later in Utah. The wagons carry their possessions, the people walk. The woman, now five months pregnant walks too, and by the time she arrives at her new home she is 8 months pregnant. A month after her arrival at her new home she gives birth to a healthy baby.

This woman, my great grandmother, five generations back, made this journey for her faith. For me she stands as a powerful witness of faith in the face of adversity, suffering, and struggles.

For several weeks now the lectionary has offered us readings from Jeremiah. But, today’s reading takes us away from the prophet Jeremiah and offers us instead a reading from Lamentations. Although the author is unknown Lamentations is often considered to have been written by Jeremiah. It’s a collection of laments, in poetic form that echo poems that were common in ancient Mesopotamian cities. In this reading the narrator is actually a city, crying out from deep suffering, blaming God for the pain of the residents of that city. God, the narrator believes, has punished the people for failing to remain faithful to God, and now this voice cries out in sorrow and shame. Losing faith, losing sight of God comes with heavy consequences, or so this passage seems to tell us.

The Letter to Timothy suggests something else. Perhaps suffering is less the act of a punishing God, and more the reality of what people feel when, for some reason, they become disconnected from God. Suffering is not so much the consequence of punishment inflicted by an angry God but more the consequence of our actions and what it feels like when we are separated from the God who loves us. More than that, I surmise that suffering is an aspect of life, it just is. No matter what, the one thing we humans all have in common is suffering. We all experience times in life when we struggle and suffer, sometimes as a result of our own actions or the actions of others, sometimes the cause of our suffering is random, a storm or an illness. Regardless these times of suffering challenge our faith. We cry out to God, feeling abandoned in the desert, suddenly residing in the deep night of the soul.

John Newton, known to us as the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace," also authored a profound book on the spiritual life and the struggles of faith. He was a ship owner and slave trader before becoming a priest in the Church of England. He went through a mighty conversion and from this change of heart worked to end the slave trade and wrote Amazing Grace. He spent his last years as a parish priest in London. In the Works of John Newton from the section titled "Grace in the Ear" Newton lays out a cyclical three step process of the faith journey.

The first step is "Desire." A person has a sudden experience of God and a desire to grow in faith. The person has a profound sense of awe, and a new found awareness of God's grace and love. This first phase is like the Hebrews freed from Egypt, it brings with it a sense of elation. Eventually this “awe-filled” sense of God’s love and grace shifts and the second phase begins.

The second phase is "Conflict." This is the "deep night of the soul" phase where one wrestles with God, with faith, and often faces challenges that were not experienced in the first phase of Desire. If Desire is marked by elation like that of the Hebrews freed from slavery, this phase is marked by a sense of being lost; it’s the Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years. Ultimately this is a time of growing more dependent on God and deepening our trust in God as we travel through one challenge or another. This second phase is the longest phase in the spiritual journey.

The third phase, which Newton calls contemplation, is marked by an internal shift, a sense of peace prevails despite the obstacles.Filled with a sense of peace, one becomes less emotionally engaged in the challenges and more able to view them with some distance, having finally learned to put one's trust in God. Newton is careful to spell out that one is not necessarily a better believer or person in one phase or the other, rather one's sense of dependence on God increases through each phase.
This reminds me of a Mary Oliver poem:

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

(Mary Oliver)

Paul reminds Timothy that he inherited from his mother and grandmother gifts of faith which will sustain him through the trials and tribulations of his life, even those that threaten his faith. Paul says: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you....

In the midst of deep suffering it can be difficult to imagine rekindling the gift of God that is within us. The odd thing is, we don’t actually rekindle it. God does. Somehow in the midst of despair, if we remain diligent in our prayer and practice of faith, even through those times when it feels futile, there rises within us a new sensibility, of hope, of peace, that can only be of God. I don’t know how this works. I only know that it is true. God has hold on me, on you. Somehow, being held in God’s embrace, infuses this peace, this hope, into our beings.

I wish I could say that once in Utah, and especially when her husband joined her a year later, that life was good and all was well for this ancestral grandmother. I wish I could say that she lived a life content in her faith and grateful she had made this journey. But I’m not sure that’s the case. Historical records indicate that this great great great great grandfather followed the tradition of that church at that time, the 1800’s and took additional wives. He even spent time in jail for polygamy. Some in that church consider him a saint. My great great great great grandmother, however felt otherwise, and divorced him. She spent the last of her days dependent on her children, poor and struggling. Somehow though she retained her faith, despite the heartbreaks she suffered.

Likewise, a life of faith does not mean that our lives will be like a Cinderella story, and all will work out in the end. But then again, in a way it does .Life has a way of throwing us curve balls and challenges. We sometimes think that a life of faith means our problems ought to disappear or we will never have problems in the first place. But as we all know the circumstances of our lives will bring challenges; just because that’s life. However a life of faith will remind us, over and over again, that we are held in the hand of God. Our faith, though it be small like a mustard seed, is enough. Timothy reminds us that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power. Moving through the challenges of life we find a profound sense of peace arises in us. God’s grace is powerful. God’s grip on us is powerful and God isn’t letting go.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Day

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me - a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day's blow
rang out, metallic - or was it I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can

(Denise Levertov)


And, hat tip to Crimson Rambler from a comment on the Dorothy Parker poems below:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937), "Comment"
US author, humorist, poet, & wit (1893 - 1967)

Resting on the Spiritual Porch

I have a good friend who is always late for everything. Whenever my friend and I schedule a date to get together I plan to arrive 15 minute...