Lent: Lamenting in Grace

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All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Flannery O’Connor

I have been looking for evidence of Grace this Lent, finding it tucked away in many of my quotidian tasks, but I never getting too far away from the grief and pain of the world as we are living it now. I have been deeply grateful for the Grace that keeps pouring out, even as I grieve for the places where Grace has not seemed to break through.

Here is my Lenten Lament:

  • I grieve for the many in this world, in my world, who are suffering with so many wounds, hurts and slights–for the lonely, for the unchosen, for the hungry and cold, for the disillusioned, for the betrayed…and I realize that the list of sufferings in this world are endless. I grieve that this is so!
  • I grieve for the deep rooted fear, and hate and cruelty that seem so public, so persistent, so pernicious, and I wonder how it gets so deep hardwired a person, in a culture, and pray that it be taken away.
  • I grieve for the persons so uprooted, displaced and undone by war, by lies, by collapse, by disease.
  • I grieve for the uneven allocation of resources in this world, where so few have so much, and so many have so little; I lament my participation in systems that perpetuate this inequity.
  • I grieve for the pain that persists–in body, in mind, in soul, in relationships, and lament the diminishment of spirit that accompanies that pain.
  • I lament the sins of ancestors–my own and others–who have perpetuated racism, sexism, elitism, exceptionalism, and all other forms of exclusion, dehumanization and oppression, and I pray that I will call out, repent, change my own attitude and behaviors to be more Christlike–healing, including, compassionate, and far reaching.

As I write and pray, I realize that this prayer could go on without end, and maybe it should become a constant part of my prayer practice. Walter Brueggemann calls me to what he calls ‘this prophetic task” to counter our denial and to acknowledge our real losses, both for our connection to God’s world, and to clear the way for Hope to come again. In this second half of Lent, Anne Lamott reminds me that “Grace bats last!” but it does come again. Thanks be to God!

LENT: Grace is Enough

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Grace is enough…

This Lent, on overload once again, I have chosen as my Lenten practice to notice and be grateful for the ways and times that Grace gets in and is enough for me to give thanks and bear the freight of the day. Certainly the world is giving us too much to bear it seems, when war has broken our with grim prognostications, the governmental systems are not only frayed but mired in standoffs, the environment has gone beyond groaning to wailing as it suffers, our institutions seem be coming apart at the seams, and the specter of COVID still looms over all.

So my attention has been pulled back to a favorite grounding text, in which the apostle Paul recounts his own misery, and then concludes that “God’s Grace is sufficient for me.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9).My intention this Lent is to look for, take note, savor and give thanks each day for the way the Grace has been sufficient. It has been more challenging than I imagined, not because the Grace is absent or hiding, but because my own perception, imagination and attentiveness are often underdeveloped. Nevertheless, in this first full week of Lent this is where Grace has appeared:

  • a first rose has blossomed in my garden
  • a Mother Hummingbird has reoccupied a nest tucked up under the eaves, and tends her eggs vigilantly
  • a grandchild moved into real adolescence, with a good bill of health and much joie de vivre
  • plans changed on a dime, and Spirit brought to me a peaceable flexibility and welcome
  • my prayer for deep listening and patience to understand another’s point of view were delivered when I needed them
  • a loved one came though a surgery with ease
  • a Zoom gathering brought celebration and laughter across both Pacific and Atlantic Ocean
  • my imagination was sparked as I filled bags of books for those who need them, while letting go of things which once gave me joy and I no longer need

My list could go on for ages. And I was reminded by so many Wise Ones of the ways that my faith continues to hold me in the arms of the Holy One of Grace, whose love never ceases, as I am taught how to love with Grace. Professor Kate Bowler brought me this reminder in her new book Good Enough with Jessica Richie; she quotes Thomas Merton here:

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us–and he has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes the difference.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

I am choosing to notice, to name, to savor Grace this Lent–and to be grateful!

An Epiphany Season

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“What to my wondering eyes should appear!”

I am delighted and blessed to read so widely in the faith community that Epiphany it celebrated by some as a season, not just one day! The story of the Adventuresome Wise Ones feels so apt in these days of unknowing, grayness and uncertainty.

It is such a season on unknowing, even though we had hoped for the holiday and turning the year be an actual marker of something healing, healthy and new. Instead. the Omicron phase of COVID has been invasive, disruptive and unnerving. Daily plans are upset, promises are having to be revisited, hopes deferred. And I am imagining the post-visit to the Christ child was much the same, going out without not knowing where they were going, the Wise Ones went home by a different route–did they know where they were going? what would meet them on the way? what fresh hell they would encounter? Or was it for them, as it is for us, a daily step forward, in vigilance and trust with flexibility to see how, when and if they would find their way home?

I am trying to be a Wise Wanderer this season, wondering if, at least for the duration of COVID, this is The Season–appointments written in pencil, events canceled, protocols observed, directions re-routed, expectations rearranged. As someone who likes to plan and anticipate fun and joy for the future, this is a big stretch. My grounding in sacred text is more and more deeply: THIS is the day that the Holy has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!”

So today if an appointment is late in arriving, if an invitation is turned down, if yet another appliance breakdown, or another tree in the neighborhood falls over without hurting anyone, or a long awaited connecting venue is canceled, my deep call is to once again see how the Holy One is here is the surprise, and to be one who is open to the possibility off something beautiful appearing, even as it did this last week–a friendly conversation, a bank of birds of paradise guiding my way to a medical appointment, slow, but constant healing in a loved one, celebration of a great accomplishment by a grandchild, a musical arrangement that transported me in amazing grace, a faithful blogger who “gets it,” but still carries on. God’s mercies are new every morning is this season, despite politics, despite the pandemic, despite all the gloomy doom-saying pundits!

And so I invoke and inhale the Spirit of Epiphany, looking for Light, surprised by the road on which the Star led them, and flexible, more and more so, to take another road where the Hoy One leads, the invitation opening up! I am grateful to be on the surprising road! Thanks be to God!

Advent IV: A Well-Lighted Wreath

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“Love, the Rose, is on its way..”.

All my senses are invited to join in as this part of the season crescendos…the culmination of Advent, Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day, beginning twelve days comfort and joy to savor. And for me in my rose garden, small but reminding me of the giver so long ago, a confluence of scent, color, softness, awakening to the possibiity of the Light that has come, will come and is here!

The Church calendar this final week of Advent lights the way with Love. Although the promise and vision of Light is increasing each week, I am all too aware of the opaqueness and miasma that surrounds us daily–rising COVID numbers with its Greek variants, standoffs and vitriol in the world’s capital cities, floods and tornados, with destruction and cutoffs shriek from the headlines. Yet, all though this season, and I believe, beyond, I can sense Love lighting up the world, Love wafting through the air, Love softening some of the hurts and slights, Love sweetening the bitterness. Indeed, Love wins!

On Christmas I celebrate with Christian communities the coming of Jesus, the Christ, Love in person. The Love that I have sensed throughout these days of bafflement and confusion comes from that Love. In my small world it has looked like generosity, goods, service and presence given to so many in such places of need, grand and small, in the name of that Love. It has touched folk with gentleness in response to ranting, impatience and grief. It has filled the room with the aroma of patience, deep listening, even to the oft repeated stories, more than twice-told. It has been a taste of the goodness of the Holy One, who has downloaded the Grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I am as unclear as everyone else about what a new year might bring, to me and to my beloved ones, to my community and my city, to the nation and the nations of the world. But in the lighting the Advent wreath I can see as much as I am able that Love is the only way to navigate the unknown–Love when I deliver coffee bread to the neighbor, Love when I make that phone or e-mail connection to the lonely or limited one, Love when I encounter the service people who come or to whom I go, Love to the agencies and organizations that are on the front lines of distributing resources for shelter and sustenance, Love to my dearest and nearest amid frustrations of changed plans, snafus and hoped denied. And I can reach down into that Love, because I am Beloved myself–by the Holy One in Jesus.

Heedless of the pouring rain this Christmas Eve morning, I am letting myself be filled, in my body, mind and spirit with God’s Love for the world, for me, and am trusting that in recycling that Love, I can participate in the ongoing healing of the world this season and on the days to come. Love Wins!

Advent III: What I Sense in Three-Quarter Light

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What is this lovely fragrance flowing…?

Three candles are lighted for this week of Advent. Light is increasing, but still not fully illuminating, so as hearing and touch have been increasing my awareness of Holy Presence these past two weeks, so this week the scents of the season call my attention. In our house we have the paternal legacy of Swedish glogg as it simmers, and occasionally there are the aromas of breads or rolls, even meals being roasted for guests, so long absent from our table. There is a turning, although tentative, from the long austere absence of communal sharing of coffee and goodies into small, but welcome, breaking of bread, and porring of wine together into this bleak midwinter. And what Joy that brings!

On the third week of Advent we light the Joy candles for Gaudete Sunday, a joyful pink explosion into the waiting dark, a respite from the reality of the gloom and sadness, if even for a moment. It is promissory, but welcome , as are the smells of greenery, candles, fireplaces and hot drinks on the stove, a reminder and hope of what is yet to come. Howard Thurman, pastor and prophet writes, “I will light the Candle of Joy, despite all sadness…,” and that prompts me, when I am lighting the candles around my house, and inhale breaths of vanilla, pine, winterberry and peppermint, to sense and trust that the Christ Child is indeed coming: “Live in love, as Christ loves us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering…” Eph. 5:2

The Light is increasing, and so is Hope and Peace and Joy, even though it comes in wisps of fragrance, in shimmers of softness, in snippets of song, that are fleeting and ephemeral. I wait, and am comforted by the reminders in my senses of the One who is coming and the One who has come!

Maya Angelou tells us that, “We need Joy as we need air…” May the Joy of the Lord be our strength in these Advent waiting days!

Advent 2: Attention In Half Light

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” I see people as trees walking…”

The Light is only slightly more visible, two candles lighted this week. It’s enough to increase hope, but still the future, even the present, is pretty fuzzy, unclear, reminiscent of the process that the man who was being healed by Jesus from his blindness in the the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8. So once again I am called to use my other senses. Some liturgical calendars list this week’s candle as the candle Peace, so I listen for Peace. I am still listening, grateful for the phrases that hum in my brain–“the messenger shall speak Peace,” “Peace, be still,”and “the Peace of God which passes understanding will keep your heart and mind.” And now I am trying to engage some other senses.

Some of the senses of touch in my experiences outside feel clear–the breeze on my skin, the warmth of the sun, the solidity of the trunk of tree, the wind that blows through waves, trees, fields flowers. Can I learn from my Celtic spiritual teachers that these touches on my skin, face, and body can bring peace to me from the Holy One, a reminder that Christ in in all of creation and parts the world? And inside my house, as a person who has been given so much, can I learn that the warmth of the fire, the softness of the blanket, the texture of the faithful dog all are prompts to remind me that the One who speaks Peace is bringing it now and always?

I sense and hum the anthem which sings in my heart, through the misty view in which I cannot see clearly:

Deep peace of the running wave to you,

deep peace of the flowing air to you, deep peace of the quiet earth to you, deep peace of the shining stars to you, deep peace of the gentle night you, moon and stars shine their quiet lighten you, deep peace of Christ to you.

Even though I cannot see clearly this second week Advent, I can be at peace.

Advent 1: Attention in Quarter Light

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.Only one candle to begin Advent…things are gray, misty, even opaque…yet it cheers me, one candle to set the intention to look for the places the Light gets in. However, my presbyopic eyes have trouble seeing much behind or within that tiny Light

So my attention has been directed to another sense, my hearing. In a conversation with a friend, I was asked to listen for the way the Holy One reaches out in sounds, words, music, echoes, touching me, if I am open to it through those media. Even though my spirit journey experience has been circled, enlivened, nourished and directed by those sounds for all of my life, I was startled. The liturgy Advent has rested heavily on words of darkness and Light, on looking and watching.

Yet now I am directed to Listen! Immediately I began to hear the ways that the Holy One is present in my conversations, in the Word proclaimed, in the reading fo sacred text, in the sacred music of the season, phrases of comfort and joy, speeches of challenge and daring! Following that thread, I found immediately discovered that the sounds in my life were leading me to clarity, understanding, reassurance and spiritual perspective. Even though my eyes are dim, my listening is acute, and the Spirit keeps catching my attention through whispers, through gentle voices, through clear and straightforward thinking expressed–eloquently or not. And often the Word that I hear stays with me, sinks down into my bones and marrow, into my heart and ruminations. And it brings me Hope.

The word that returned to me this week–as it has again and again over my life–is Love. Despite the messiness, despite the venality, despite the heavy, heavy grief, despite the pain and the loss, I am prodded to join with the saints and angels to hear Love as it is spoken, to speak Love as I am given space, to offer Love no matter who might want or need it. Each day of this Advent will be unique–different circumstances different demands, different opportunities, but all opportunities for me to act in Love. The “encircling gloom” is not too dark to be Love this Advent.

Ordinary Time…in Extraordinary Time

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God had made everything suitable for its time… Ecclesiastes 3: 1

So we find ourselves in that the Church season calls ordinary time. Yet we have lost our sense of what is ordinary in the sense of what is ordinary in these last 16 months.

I have tried to track an ordinary day in these last few weeks. I have found that though there is nothing extraordinary, there is nothing predictable.

  • I have an appointment and the appointment is changed
  • I have a list and the store is out of what I listed
  • I plan an on-line conversation and the Wifi, or the internet, or the power, on the block goes out
  • I am told that masks are no longer required and then they are again

So I am beginning to equate “ordinary” with “unpredictable.” Will the repairman return the phone call? will the traffic allow me to arrive on time? Everything must be written in erasable pencil.

(MUCH LATER) And now this Sunday, Ordinary Time will come to an end…and what has become clear to me? These months of this time were to be lived moment by moment, with elasticity, but also hope and trust that each moment has holiness in it if I am paying attention, not always east to do. I touch holiness easily when I am doing my sacred prayer and reading with music in the air and candle lit. It’s much more problematic when I have spilled something on the floor, or have to reschedule an appointment where the office has made a mistake, or when someone responds sarcastically to my sharing an idea or perspective. Ordinary Time has required living by a much more muscular faith that “all will be well. all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” It has asked me to pay closer attention to the places “where the Light gets in,” and to savor them, and to be deeply grateful.

Thanksgiving has been the culmination of remembering both how stressful these particular months of living with a pandemic have been, and how much Grace has been “downloaded” in the same months. I see a picture of last year’s celebration in the backyard, sitting across the yard from the family, separate tables, separate dishes, with diagnoses and media protocols hanging over our spirits. This year we were not only sharing a table, common dishes, but hugs and touches and smiles and laughter in person. It was and is all Ordinary Time, because each day is a day that the Holy One has made, and we are learning to be glad and rejoice in it, even through deep grief and loss and disillusionment and distress.

Advent begins in darkness. But wait! Haven’t we been living in the ordinary darkness of not knowing, not seeing, all these months? Yes, AND we have been living and loving in the cracks where the Light has gotten in–the episodic freedom the has come when protocols have changed, the small but mighty advances in awareness and actions for justice and mercy, the blooming of gifts in and for people we love as they respond their life circumstances with persistence and courage. And we have continued to trust in the Love that does not let us go, even, maybe especially, in the dark.

As the Church begins a new year this week I am am deeply aware of the ordinary darkness, of the lack of clarity, of the not-knowing, but I am determined to keep looking for the Light in whatever ways it breaks through, and to live with the Extraordinary Hope that comes to us even in the most ordinary of days, times, moments!

Spirit, Where She Wills

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The Spirit lands where it wills…

I have been waiting for Pentecost, the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. As many of the other liturgical landmarks in this past season, the actual time and place of celebration has felt ambiguous and amorphous. will the Church gather? where and when? Will people congregate or continue to sit with their screens and watch from afar?

With those questions in my heart, I began to pay attention to the way the Spirit has made Her presence known in my quotidian life already, since it is my conviction that the Spirit is already here, everywhere, in everyone, and Pentecost is the simply day when we celebrate it together. As I cast my eyes over my daily meanderings, I remembered the mornings when I woke with real energy to make something happen, the afternoons when I rested in peacefulness, despite the chaotic winds in the world around me, and the healing of past hurts and slights that I recognized has come to my hearts and soul over time. This is Spirit in my life! I celebrated the acts of courage and wisdom that I have witnessed in the lives of people I know and those far away, who do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with the Holy One. I reveled in the grace and beauty of those who step up to the moment to bring resolution to sticky situations. The Spirit at work! I made notes of words of wisdom, breadth of perspective, that were spot on. And I mused with joy at the Mystery of ways being made where there had seemed to be no way. Again, the Spirit on the move!

All spring our reminder of last year’s joyful hummingbird family remained on top of our wind chimes in the patio, an empty nest. And although we had been told that a hummingbird will return to her nest, ours remained vacant, even when two other nests attached themselves to our rafters around Easter time. But then! the night before the date of Pentecost, there she was! Last year’s Mother Hummingbird, feathering, then sitting on her nest., exactly where she had left it last year! I am overjoyed! She’s not a traditional dove. as picture in so much sacred art, but she represents to me the beauty and surprise of the Holy Spirit–coming when she is ready, adjusting her normal warp speed to the constancy of still presence to the eggs beneath her as they grow and become who they will be.

The pastor preached yesterday: Pentecost is an ongoing event; it is a constant filling… I know that to be true! And how grateful I am for the particular images of the Spirit’s presence–moving, sitting still, surprising, nourishing, energizing–and giving wisdom and beauty as she does so! Blessed Pentecost!

Christmas Light

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Sometime a Light surprises…

We celebrate that Light that has come and incoming, that continues to come! This year we have just endured has seemed overwhelmingly dark in hue with so many things blacked out, covered over, chaotic and unwelcome. Yet the Light keeps shining!

Several times this past week I have walked into a place in shadow or shade and a Light surprised me–a sunbeam focused on a silver cup, a refracted reflection of the dawn from outside on a bedroom wall, a sunset caught on a Christmas tree ornament, and a flash of lightning illuminating the early morning garden. The Light keeps appearing!

I also felt it, let it wash over me, as I read about former students who have persisted and prevailed in ministry in very difficult circumstances, in grandchildren who have not only survived, but thrived, in these times of on-line schooling and confinement, in persistent loving and care for those who experience homelessness and hunger by faithful people who do what Love demands.

In anticipation of turning the page on the calendar into a new year, I trust that the Light of the World keeps on being!

I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining, / believe in love, even when I do not feel it/I believe in God, even when God is silent.

Whatever cracks appear in this turning and living of the year ahead, the Light will get in…surprisingly!