Grace Leads

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Full of Grace

I have been enamored by Grace, especially the Grace of the Holy One, ever since, by Grace, I fell into a deep understanding of what it was and what it wasn’t when I was in school. I have practiced it, named it, watched for it, featured it in the decorations on my wall. But some how it, its power and presence slips from my awareness with great frequency, and I relapse into the ways of being that are not grace-filled–anxiety, judgement and indifference.

Then, in a synergistic way I was reminded of Grace and how important it is to my faithfulness and well-being to savor it and to practice it. In a gathering of friends, I was reminded of a seminal sacred text that assured me that the Grace of the Holy One was sufficient for all the bumps, hurts and slights, even the the traumas and the anticipated anxious events coming up. Furthermore, the text reminded me that God becomes evident in the places and time where people feel inadequate, broken, even getting old.

As if to illustrate the truth of Grace, I remembered the way that Grace had threaded its way in that gathering. We have known each other for decades, and have encountered times of hilarity, times of deep learning, times of cheering each other up, times of grieving, and even times of rupture in our loving one another. Yet here we were, all these years later, basking in the aura of the Grace that had illuminated, that had healed, that had forgiven, that had empowered us to continue to be in each others’ presence with energy, imagination and love. Wonderful food and drink were shared, music played, gifts exchanged, memories replayed, and challenges offered. It was a gift of Grace!

As I wended my way home, I mused on the ways and reasons I let Grace slip from my view. It begins when I forget to breathe–deeply, intentionally and wholly. It is exacerbated when my senses get clogged with an overload of sensation, commentary and pontification from the nearby sources surrounding me in print, on-line, on the air waves, or conversation. It sidles away when I rush to evaluate, assess or judge. It evaporates when my memory fails me by popping up with all the wrongs, hurts, grievances and failures, when I forget that it is “Grace that has brought me safe this far,” and is the Truth that is leading me home. And I fail to live in Grace in an epic way when I do not extend Grace to my “neighbor,” anyone who comes into my consciousness, near or far.

Choreographer Ronald K. Brown of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York was asked,”What comes after Grace?” His answer was “Mercy.” He was referring to his dance compositions, but I am convinced that it is also true about living: when Grace is extended to me, in gratitude I am called to extend Grace in Mercy to those I encounter. That Grace may not be well received, or may be ignored, or may be too little too late, as it can be offered in weakness. Yet it is the song by which I want to live, and right now I am feeling the hum of the reminder to be more aware of Grace proliferates itself in my life. I wonder how Mary. mother of Jesus did it; I get only glimpses, but she did it!

One of my spiritual teachers, Ann Lamott, reminds me that “In the long haul, Grace will win out over everything, over the misery, the stupidity, the dishonesty” even my own. I am letting Grace keep leading me home!

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Legacy

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Pontormo, The Visitation

Prompted by books on the later stages of life, I am pondering what legacy I might leave behind me. I don’t have an “estate” of note or lots of things to be divided or distributed. However, just this week some encounters emerged that tell me what it might be, something organic and genuine, however intangible. In the matter of weeks I have been able to be present to ministries of women in the Church, profound, compelling ones; prophetic ones; and healing and wholesome ones. They would not have been possible or given space when I began my journey of ministry in the Church over 40 years ago–heads of staffs, solo pastors, bloggers. It became clear to me that even if I had not had a personal encounter with these messengers of grace, my journey toward and in ministry in the Church was to be one of the stepping stones on which these women traveled, bringing them to a broader and more visible place than I could have imagined when I started.

I remember with clarity the moments of awakening that spurred me to risk entering a process toward ordained ministry: the first woman I ever heard preach, those who unsolicited saw gifts and call in me, the ones who made sure that I had the opportunity to explore and discern what the nature of my call was, those who cleared the logistical brushwork so that I could continue. I was buoyed and carried by the women who published opening understandings of women’s responsibilities and opportunities in the Church. I read the work of Letha Scanzoni, Nancy Hardesty and Virginia Mollenkott avidly, gathered others around me to share the good news. And at the right time went to seminary, I took calls in the wider life of the church in congregations and seminary. At each new call I met someone who had never seen a woman minister before, weren’t quite sure what to call me, and sadly encountered some of the cultural resistances to women in the Church in the form of being underpaid, overlooked and sidelined.

Overall, however, I cherished each congregation I served, loved the “work” to which I was called, and was deeply grateful for the opportunities I was given to come alongside, to be present, to speak and to act on behalf of the Holy One to the lives of others. I also never lost my awareness that it was the legacy of prior witnesses and activists that made my ministry possible. Therefore, it was natural and joyful to “pay it forward” to women testing and entering and daring to enter the arena. I was happy to mentor, to recommend and to celebrate those who were my interns and students, those who just wanted to consult, and to be present for those struggling. I rarely had words of wisdom that led to resolution, but I was honored to be present to the holy struggle.

So this week when these younger women come again into my awareness, I feel I can claim this legacy, of being one of many who made the paths a little straighter for women who are the Church in many guises, forms and styles. I will leave behind the knowledge that by my being faithful to my understanding of call, I have cleared away some of the dust for those who are now doing well, faithfully and bravely, bringing Light to those who seek it. The work goes on; I go on, as long as I have breath to tell the truth, support and comfort, and speak when a Word needs saying. I don’t think I need to worry about much more in leaving a legacy!

What’s New? Eastertide!

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I had imagined that that at the beginning of Eastertide, I would be primed to write about the new things that Easter was bringing that made me rejoice. Instead the ensuing days have included a torrent of the unexpected that has required persistence, elasticity and trust in events that were frightening, disheartening and some just sad. So once again I see that Easter is not a magician’s wave of the wand of Resurrection, but a token in trust that after sadness, there is also comfort, after darkness, there is also Light, after despair, there is also Hope.

Blooming on my deck!

The Hope peeks out in the new flower on my deck that I have never had before, a rock purslane, I am told! Each morning and evening it brings joy to my eyes, reaching down to my heart. I have also encountered Hope in the story of someone who did something never before accomplished, never before achieved, and now done once. I met Hope in a conversation that I entered with fearful trepidation, only to discover that Grace had preceded me, and that the way was open for friendly sharing. I saw Hope shining in the long slow process of healing and curing in one with a tenacious malady. And I saw Hope in the developing growth of wisdom, love and beauty of each of my grandchildren. All new gifts of new life this Eastertide!

I have 3 1/2 weeks of Eastertide to go, plenty of time and opportunity to look for ways in which Hope co-exists with the hard, dark things. Today I am looking for the places where Hope is shining in a complete change of plans. I am looking for it in the anticipated end-of-school-year fray, with parties, graduations, relocation and endings. I would love to discover it, even as I grieve that loss of the familiar and the anticipation of the new, even as I mourn the passing of beloved ones to their new life. I would like to sit with Hope, even when the days are gray, the conversations are flat, and all the air has gone out of the inspirational bromides!

Once again I am invited to pay attention, to look, to listen, to wait, even in Eastertide, where the promise of all things are new has been given life. But not yet everything, Carrie Newcomer gives me words: Do you see, do you see, do you see it? Take a breath,/ Oh. the restlessness, The beautiful not yet.

So, I look–on my morning walk, in the erasures in my Dayrunner, in the new texts or e-mail. And I breathe: Breathe on me, Holy Spirit, breathe in me, Breath of God. And I open my heart to Hope wherever she is waiting to appear!

Into Holy Week: Taking Delight in Love

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Lent is coming to an end, and I turn into Holy Week, and I have just celebrated another wedding anniversary. In my practice of Taking Delight this Lent, I am aware of how many ways Love has shown up and continues to show up, around me and in the events we commemorate next week, enough to fill an alphabet:

Love is Ample. Love is Blessed. Love is Caring. Love is Delightful. Love is Elegant. Love is Forgiving. Love is Graceful. Love is Holy. Love is Imaginative. Love is Joyful. Love is Kind. Love is Lavish. Love is Mysterious. Love is Nuanced. Love is Observant. Love is Pliable. Love is Quintessential. Love is Redemptive. Love is Splendid. Love is Thoughtful. Love is Useful. Love is Volatile. Love is Wrestling. Love is eXtraordinary! Love is Yearning. Love is Zesty.

And Love is all around–in creation, in children, in old folks, in longtime enemies–now reconciled, in congregations and gatherings, in memories, in animals and birds, in friends and lovers. And in the Presence of the Holy.

During this coming week I will be seeing where Love appears still–in sacred texts, in worshiping groups, in conversations, in halls of governance and political encounter (!), and even in moments of solitude and silence. My prayer is not just that I can take delight in the Love I find, but that I will learn to practice and share Love more deeply in the Easter season to come, awash in the gifts given me through the Holy One–compassion, self-giving, and New Life! I will take Delight in the Love!


Lent 5: Taking Delight in Grace

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photo taken in Trois-Rievieres Quebec

I found myself in a very large gathering of people I had not seen for a long time. Each of them had a personal history and a history with me that was checkered and some of which included a great deal of brokenness and pain. While the main text of the gathering was going on, a deeper part of me was reliving and evaluating those narratives, listening to my own judgements and critiques of past events. Mercifully, (and I do mean that literally), as the day wore on, I began to relax into what Denise Levertov describes this way: into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,/knowing that no effort earns/that all-surrounding grace. It wasn’t necessary for me to carry the darkness of the past: in Grace I could let go, and take delight in what Grace had brought into those stories that meant healing, freedom and redemption for everyone involved.

My journey has been revolutionized by coming to recognize Grace, and to continue to learn over the course of my years, “even into old age,” the depths and heights of that Grace. I seldom have had as graphic and audible an encounter as the one I just described, but Grace abounds in daily and dramatic of my life, if I am awake and taking delight in it. I think of this week alone–an accident averted, a garden in bud and about to bloom, the poetry of Lucy Shaw, cards and notes of friendship, acts of kindness by the clerk when I was confronted with automatic checkout at the grocery store. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat in their wonderful book of reflection called Spiritual Rx call those things “gracelets” this signs of God’s presence that indeed feel like gifts.

I am half way through Lent now, remembering to take delight is becoming a little more intrinsic in my daily routine. However, training my senses to discover Grace is a little more challenging. The banner lines and news shouts emphasize “gotcha” moments, bleat out dire predictions, and revise history in a way that frightens, demoralizes and leads the ways to despair. So I need to be vigilant in seeking with grace-filled eyes where Grace is happening. As I sat down to compose this blog entry, a tiny article, clipped long ago by me, surfaced from under the stacks of paper on my desk. The author is Bryan Doyle, and it was included in The Best Spiritual Writing of 2001. Here is is:

First rule of grace: grace rules. Grace lifts, it brings to joy. And what, as we age, do we cherish and savor more than joy? Pleasure, power, fame, lust, money, they eventually lose their fastballs, or should. At our best and wisest we just want joy, and when we are filled with grace we see rich, thick joy in the simplest of things. Joy everywhere.

Notice how many saints–whom we assume were and are crammed to the eyeballs with grace–are celebrated for their childlike simplicity, their capacity to sense divine joy in everything: the daily resurrection of light, the dust of sparrows.

Grace indeed! I am delighted!

Lent 3: Taking Delight in Beauty

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Seeds of Love by Charles White

Beauty was suspect in the circles in which I grew up. The suspicion was anchored in Proverbs 31:30 which is its description of a virtuous women declares that “Beauty is vain… Somehow that became expanded to the encouragement of ignoring, even judging, human beauty when one encountered it. Mercifully I have discovered wider concentric circles of understanding, in writers like Belden Lane in his book, Ravished by Beauty, that my traditions of origin actually encouraged a love of the Beauty of God, in creation certainly, in worship always, and this Lent I am taking delight in the beauty of human beings!

Facebook has plenty of reasons to call for discernment about its use and its business dealings, but today I celebrate the beauty of the Faces that Facebook gives me. This week it has showed me the face of a saint, just gone home to glory, whom I loved for many years; there was the beauty of age, of wisdom, along with the whimsy and compassion that always lived in the lines of that familiar countenance. I delight in the face, even as I grieve.

I also was able to take great joy in the purely unformed face of a brand new baby, unfocused, vulnerable, with no thought for what is ahead, just trying to get comfortable in this brand new world. And Facebook shows me almost daily the beauty of my family–from their beginnings, through their growing into who they are becoming. My heart is full of joy and praise for the unique creature each one is–the eyes of the imp, the stature of the leader, the dance of the friend, the grace of the scholar, the look of concern of the openhearted, the laughing companionship of the friendly. Sometimes when in the presence of these beloved ones, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for who I see, that I have a part in each life, however great or small, and I take deep delight.

However, I do not need to rely on Facebook to delight in the faces of God’s creation. I sit with people each week, and I marvel at the uniqueness of each one. Recently I witnessed the animation in the face of one who was newly energized by a new word that came, and the whole face was transformed. I sat with one in deep sorrow, and through the tears and wordlessness, there was a poignant beauty that was fully human and hope-filled. Another face was a study in hope fulfilled, as when there seemed not to be a way forward, a way opened up.

The variety is infinite! I have new neighbors, from a faraway land. The beauty takes such a different shape than my round blue-eyed blonds. But what dimensions of beauty are revealed. I meet an old friend, and the beauty that is theirs has taken a new shape–less spry, more white hair (or less hair!), but wisdom is now embedded in gaze and in expression and demeanor! How lovely!

I become more and more appreciative of visual artists like Charles White, who in his artistry help me see beauty in those who suffer, in those who take risks, in those who struggle, in those who are faithful over a long road. I am invited to take delight in the creature that each one was made to be, and am challenged to let my delight morph into acting for justice for those to whom it is denied!

Taking delight in the faces of those who are made in the image of God–that is my practice this week, and that is my challenge! God, be in my eyes and in my seeing!

Lent: Taking Delight in Memories

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Outlier art–Quilt from Gee’s Bend

In this Lenten season of taking delight, I am savoring good memories with delight. Sacred texts reminds us to mark and remember the goodness of the Holy One, for God’s sake, and as a marker of the Grace that has brought us safely thus far. I notice that the concrete way I have taken delight in happy memories is through my gathering of quilts. In my living room in pride of place is my Amish quilt that I acquired when I finished my last degree program. On the back of the chair in that room is the quilt my husband has made of all of the ties he wore in his 50 years of teaching. On the bed in the guest room is a quilt made for me by friends on a big anniversary of my ordination. I have a collection of quilts on the adjacent chair, given to me by friends who knew I loved them. And in the corner where I go to pray each morning, I lean into an antique quilt, restored and given to me by my late spiritual director, Betsy, a legacy which unfolds around me each day. Each one captures memories of the good, the true and the beautiful.

If left unchecked my mind can turn to the dark side of memory with ease–the bad, the rumor and the ugly. Wasn’t that awful? weren’t they unkind? if only I had… And I know from experience, as Shakespeare has said, that way madness lies. So my Lenten practice this year is to take delight in the memories, not denying the dark and painful, but asking myself, How was God present in those events? those conversations? those outcomes? The quilts are one visual reminder of the way that God has been there through it all–those delightful things–the joy of studying despite the loads of papers and attention to detail; the call to teaching faithfully followed by my husband for all those years; the friends and family who have accompanied me in the long and winding road to and through ordination to retirement; and the strong and gentle direction I was given for so many years, taking me more deeply and truly into the Mystery we call God.

And yes, there were hurts and slights on the journey, some that still sting. However, in many of them I can remember moments of laughter, of surprise, and most, amazingly, lessons that were learned that gave me strength for the rest of the journey. I think of Joseph who became ruler in Egypt when facing his treacherous brothers, saying to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” Gen 50:20. Some sad memories can’t be understood with a meaningful gloss though, and I find that I need to let then go, again, again, again.

Meanwhile, I am taking delight in the good things that are in my narrative, and In the wider world, and the memories that can be reframed. And I love to witness the memories of others. At the art museum this spring as part of an exhibit of “outlier art” were several quilts from Gee’s Bend in Alabama, an isolated town of African-American sharecroppers, creating quilts out of what they had available to cover themselves, to keep warm, and to remember. When the quilts came to greater public awareness in the last part of the 20th Century, viewers were astonished at what they saw–unconventional, daring and beautiful! Taking delight!

I continue taking delight this Lent by remembering the places, names and times I have encountered the Holy. And I am thankful!

Take Delight–in Creation

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Lent I==All creation cries!

A group of us reflected this week on knowing God through creation and how it is leading us to a deeper and wider connection with everything that God has made. We did this in readiness for being open to what we are invited, even mandated, to do for the sake of the created world. We had planned to go on retreat to a nature preserve, but the weather (yes, even here in Southern California!) was cold, gloomy, and even though it wasn’t raining, the threats seems imminent. We huddled in my living room over hot drinks and coffeecake at first, shared times when the Holy One had seemed very present to us in nature–the sacred places, the “aha” moments, the times when out of doors, when the Spirit gobsmacked us with Mystery and Grace! Then we went into silence, with the choice to go outside, parkas, shawls and all, to encounter holiness! As we reassembled, the energy was palpable–the ornamental plum trees, the birds chirping, the bee, tracing his bee-like way through the blue flowers, and the spent camellia with a yellow leaf and abandoned twig making a collage for the focus of our contemplation and prayer–all had called us into love, wonder and praise for the Creator.

Then, as if we had not been bathed in praise already, as one of our number drove home, she was showered with a migration of a host of Painted Lady butterflies, on their way north. Another person encountered them farther on, and then another, and the next morning, as I sat in my living room, I watched them parade for over an hour on their appointed route to the north. Amazing!

Several traditions tell us that God is revealed to us both in sacred text and in nature. I felt that I had encountered the Holy in a number of ways in the created world. Certainly I observed the Beauty–of color, shape, variety, process, growth, texture. And I felt the way that Beauty–in all of it manifestations–activated and sharpened my senses, in the words of the hymn, “tuning my heart to sing God’s praise!” But, I also felt some of the teaching of God through nature in the metaphors it offered–the connected-ness of the vines, the cycle of rising and falling, blooming and dying. I found that John Calvin, Reformer and pastor had said, “As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at his infinite goodness, wisdom and power.” (cited in Easter Gospel, by Sam Hamilton-Poore).

So this week for Lent I am taking delight in God’s earth, as I walk, go places, peer out my windows, with two questions: 1) what am I seeing about the creativity of the Holy One? and 2) how am I being invited to steward this web of creation of which I am apart? Taking Delight! Indeed!

Lent: Giving Up and Letting Go

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I have really wrestled with discerning a Lenten practice this year. I had thought that I would “give up” certain things in my eating habits this Lent, although in other Lents, I more often have added things–works of charity and love, connections, extra giving. However, as today got nearer and nearer, I was increasingly uneasy about that the “giving up” choice, since what I long for in a practice is a window to connecting with the Holy One, not a obligatory box to check off to demonstrate my piety. Through night prayers and tossing and turning, I asked myself what right now seems to be blocking my spirit and freedom to receive and enfold the gifts of God. I had to own that what gets in my way many mornings and nights is my habit of hanging on to the negative, judgemental and toxic, and not allow the good, the hopeful and affirming to enrich my life. Therefore, even though it will be healthy to make dietary changes, that action does not point me to the Mystery we call God. So, back to the Lenten sketch pad!

In the wee hours of the morning these old familiar words from Psalm 37 bubbled up out of my darkness. Take delight in the Lord, and God will give you the desires of your heart.” (V. 4) The challenge to TAKE DELIGHT struck a deep chord in my heart. Instead of prying my hand open to let go of an unhealthy habit, I was being invited to turn my hand upward to receive the delights that the Holy has for me, even the love and affirmation that God has for who I am, just the way I am. I checked with my favorite paraphrase of the Psalm from Swallow’s Nest by Marchienne Vroon Rienstra, and see that she expands that thought even more generously: If you delight yourself in God/ She will give you the desires of your heart…She will make your integrity shine like the daylight/, your beauty glow like the moon and the sun.

So I begin this Lenten season. these 40 days, with a lighter and more open heart, with the question: where do I experience the delight of God–in me. in my location, even in the world? And noticing it, let my heart praise what I see, and then share that good news with those around me? In the words of Mary Oliver: Pay attention, Be astonished, Tell about it. I understand this invitation to be not one of passivity, but of an energy that takes me from sharpened awareness to deep heart praise, to active sharing of goodness with a world that is desperate for hope, healing and grace.

My heart is grateful for the Midnight Caller, the Spirit that brings illumination even in my darkness. May the Lenten journey be one of deepening, widening, opening and trusting for me and all of us!

The Light is Emerging

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from Dale Chihuly, St. Petersburg, FL

I savored the weekend two week ago when we took note of the Feast of St. Brigid and Candlemas. Neither of these is part of my primary tradition of worship, but each of them struck a chord in me, of my longing for Light when the dominating motif is earth and sky seems so dark.

Brigid, the Celtic saint, is known for her keeping the flame alive. When we visited Kildare, we marveled the big space just outside the cathedral where a huge bonfire is created on her Feast Day to celebrate the Light of Christ that she carried, and wants other to keep on carrying. On Candelmas in some traditions, people of faith bring their year’s supply of candles to be used at home or in worship into sacred space to receive a blessing on the Light that will shine from them.

I look around my house and see candles perched in so many places, so that when we settle, we can light them again. Even thought they don’t provide the primary illumination by which we do our work, they are a reminder of the Light that never is put out, the Light that gives warmth, comfort and vision to all of us. As I sit writing this morning, I have lighted a candle next to me to be that reminder. It is a candle, one of a whole train of candles, that has illuminated many sacred conversations in this room, many on my computer, in which the primary focus is looking for Light and how to keep it going when the way ahead seems dark.

Tonight we take a turn into Valentine’s Day, and I am aware once again at how Love is so often the Light that brightens the darkness. I am touched when I am reminded how Love has lightened up my life—generously, gratuitously, sometimes imperfectly, sometimes lavishly, sometimes against all odds. My story is replete with family, friends, teachers, soulmates, who have brought a candle of love to my life–fat pillar candles of grace, tall thin tapers of acceptance, tea lights of laughter and joy, all letting me know that I am loved in one way or another, and all of that Love comes from the Light that never fails.

Outside the impending rain is already glowering, the headlines have heat but no clarity, but here inside our candles are alight, and as I look at them, I am reminded that neither rain nor hysteria can keep me from the Light that lights up my life, and the Love it engenders! Sacred text tells us that that Light is for me, as it was for Brigid, a kind of armor, not so that I can be in denial about the storms–atmospheric, political and interpersonal–but can be a source of energy to light the lights of others who need it. I am grateful for Love! I am grateful for Light! Shine on!