Lent 5: Purple

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“God of seeing and resurrection, give us the us the strength to mourn and the courage to hope.” (SALT Lenten Project)

On this penultimate week of Lent, the SALT reflection emphasizes, from Matisse, the color purple, a more familiar color that the Church has connected to Lent. In liturgical settings the color is a reminder of penitence, sorrow, loss and darkness. Surely those emotions and locations are part and parcel of our human experience, which I attend to mindfully during my Lenten journey.

I am aware of how some of my Lenten palette needs to include the sad and grieving, the losses that are never-ending, the state of the world–both relationally and systemically. I am leaving space this week to lament the painful, frail and broken pieces of the worlds in which I live.

  • I grieve for the created world–its choked oceans, its volatile air currents, its vanishing species.
  • I grieve for the peoples of this world who suffer–in war, in natural disaster, in oppression, in tyranny.
  • I grieve for my native land so torn apart by hostility, mistrust, misinformation, hatred and cruelty.
  • I grieve for the fragility of communities of faith who are in states of liminality after the advent of COVID-19, wondering how to reimagine who and how they are to be Church.
  • My heart aches for the suffering ones I know personally–the mourning ones, the hurting ones, the frustrated ones, the lonely ones, the ones who have fallen into the Slough of Despond that has crept insistently into our collective life.
  • And I mourn the ways in which I have and done that which is not loving, not helpful, not kind, not compassionate–missed opportunities, ignored signals and neglected openings.

The Light that shine in this important season of Lament is that, grieving is not the last word. Sacred text tells us that “we may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (T hess. 4:13.), The theologian Walter Brueggemann has written that the sacred practice of Lament prepares us for the Hope that is to come; for this in the Christian community, the promise of Resurrection, Life after death. It is a clearing out, a cleansing, a truth telling, that paves the way to be surprised by Joy. I am walking gently, gingerly, honestly through this darkness, trusting that there is Light to come on the other side.

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Lent 4: Yellow

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“Open our eyes to the vision of color

In this week of Lent the SALT reflection, following Matisse as a mentor, chooses yellow, a color of Light, as the color of reflection, pointing to the spaces where the Light gets in.

In my heart, that joins this past Sunday which was Rejoicing, or Laetare Sunday, and the first day of Spring, a day when despite the pouring rain in our area, we changed our seasonal plate hanging on the wall, watched our yellow fledgling hummingbirds fly from their nest at last, and in preparation, had Irish coffee to remember St. Patrick and St. Gertrude. It has prompted me to look for points of Light as a spiritual practice, even in the cracks in the dark.

Yesterday in a hiatus in the rain came a rainbow in the east, arcing across a dark neighborhood. In the early morning came two texts from two separate grandchildren sharing love and hoping I was fine. In the newspaper I was heartened to notice that in spite of the civic turmoil of a strike, someone who had the power remembered that students and families still needed to eat, and is providing breakfast and lunch for those who want them. Into my Inbox came a Word from two different preachers, women who at one time would have had no access to pulpits, each with a Word both prophetic and inspiring, bringing hope.

As the day progressed I realized that in neither of the two rooms where we have glass doors to the outside world had I opened the drapes to let the Light in. When I did, Light of various hues came pouring in, even in the varying weather. I could see more clearly, the textures, the tones, the intensity of the shades of the color wheel inside and outside–including the yellows that were illuminated: the stripes in the blankets in the den, the beeswax candles that we keep at the ready for worship and company, the yarrow keeping watch over the front yard. I want to keep looking for the Light wherever it is to be found, reminding me that Holy Light can never be extinguished.

I was given a gift of a prism, created for an infant but so apt as a reminder of this part of my Lenten journey, It is affixed to my sliding door, and when I open the drapes, the colors of the rainbow begin to dance and ricochet around my room, pointing me to the other lights, shades and tints that are present to me, even when the sky is gray. The SALT reflection states that “Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ and ‘You are the light of the world” I am pondering this week how to open the curtains of my heart to let the Light in, and then how to be the Light to those whom I given to meet and greet! I want to let the Light shine!

Lent 3: Basic Black

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“God of simplicity and grace, help us get back to basics…”

The SALT project’s Lenten reflection on Matisse this week focuses on basic black, the color that the artist uses to outline the simplest shapes, with clarity. It pairs the color with the gospel story of the Woman at the Well, providing, across many boundary lines, some basic simple needs, with clarity.

This has prompted me to reflect this Lent on what are my basic spiritual practices every day in this season, things without which my sacred journey will be impoverished:

I start my day with my intention to care for those I love, feeding my dog early in the morning when we both awaken. Neither my spirit. nor Max’s, is disembodied. My body provides the platform for the way the Spirit will meet me, and from which I can be of use. Jesus needed water, the woman needed a face to face encounter. The Spirit journey is lodged in the body.

I connect in prayer and love with my wider world through social media and checking in with hopes to affirm, comfort, celebrate and weep with those given to me to love. I practice being a member of community.

I take up various quotidian tasks in front of me in kitchen, bathroom and living area, mindful that these are offerings of caring, of grace. of love.

I read widely–both the sketches of the news of the day, but also sacred text and writers who challenge and teach me, push me more toward the Presence of the Holy One. This is a practice I share with my husband, and we marvel, roll our eyes, shake our heads and celebrate with the discoveries that we make about the people and places of the world, creation, the way that differences give us a new perspectives on a reality much wider than we have ever known for all our years of education and wisdom.

I aspire each day to stretch, either physically or socially, to make sure that I am using my being to move, touch, interact with a bigger purpose. So I have at the ready my piano, my labyrinth, my stationary bike, my phone, my computer, my checkbook, hoping to use what I have to connect what I am called to be and to do.

I keep a journal of gratefulness, reminding myself of the goodness of the Holy One and the world in which I live.

At the end of the day I make the transition to sleep with a mindfulness exercise that helps me attend to breathing and coming into the rest God has promised.

The fashion industry has long told us that we need to have basic black dress in our wardrobes, the fundamental need for every occasion. So I need the basic charcoal black practices for my life of Spirit, represented in my black dog and the simple straight forward practices of each day, the basics I need.

Lent 2: Blue and White

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Lent continues! The guide I am following from SALT which uses the art of Matisse has assigned this week to the colors Blue and White– Jesus is transforming our hearts…where do you feel the ‘blues’ of sorrow? the dazzling white of transfiguration? This underlines for me that my spiritual journey contains both joy and sorrow, peace and panic, order and chaos, and that the Holy One is present in all and through all.

A hymn I have come to know in recent years lets me know of the paradoxical nature of the Holy–“peacemaker and sword bringer,…both gift and cost…” and “You the everlasting instant; you who are our pilgrim guide.” It is easy when my mood swings or spanners appear in the works or it seems that the world as gone off its axis in yet another dimension, that the Holy disappears. After a week glorious connection and truth telling and warmth comes a week of pouring rains, even snow here in Southern California, and missed appointments, broken appliances and rugs flying out from underneath. Where is the Holy then? My Lenten practice is to ground myself in the truth that even there, then, now the Holy is present in me, to me, for me.

All of that variety, change, unpredictability is at work in my transformation–the “blues” of conflict, brokenness and grief, and the dazzle of reconciliation, healing and consolation. Therefore, I need to put myself in the places of Grace, where I know I can be met, fed, comforted and made steady, as I have so many times before. Today as I go out meet the sun, to breath freshly washed air, to stretch my halting steps, to listen to the birds and breathe in the scents of the budding spring, I will remember that in the Blue and the White, God is there, and will never let me go.

Lent 1: Green

I am following a Lenten Guide that uses the work of the artist Henri Matisse to point me in a direction of seeing and acting by assigning a color for each week! This week the color is GREEN.

The commentator writes:the green of wilderness, of growth, of new leaves, of new life. (SALT. 2023)

So the Lenten week I am trying to notice what is Green. Some it is obvious:

  • the nature preserve I visited yesterday is resplendent with every hue and shade of Green possible after rain
  • in the sanctuary of Sunday Green winked our from chancel flowers, choir stalls, and stained glasss windows
    • Refrains of songs once loved bubble up:
    • “Green, Green, it’s Green they say on the far side of the hill”
    • “Now the Green blade rises…wheat arising green”
    • and “who but my Lady Greensleeves!”
  • Hildegard of Bingen says: The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This word manifests itself in every creature.

I have begun noticing what Spirit has Greened in people I love and know:

  • the one to whom ministry was denied that now has a blossoming, full ministry in a place they never imagined
  • the grieving one who has found a new community of caring, taking her beyond what seemed to be the due of her grief
  • the one who has taken a step toward recovery where no steps seemed possible.

Lenten Green is showing itself as life out of loss, growth out of barrenness, beauty in wildness. And my response is to burst forth with praise.

I know there is a shadow to Green. Kermit of Sesame Street has reminded me over and over that “It’s not easy being Green!” In common parlance, Green is often associated with Envy. If I am honest, in this Lenten season, I admit that the presence of envy in my life needs attending, even repentance, something to notice and bring into my Lenten prayer.

As I allow the Spirit to lead, I will stay in the Green, attending to the ways the Spirit brings life–and Surprise!

Valentine’s Day: Walking In Love

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Valentines Day has always been a favorite of mine. My first date with my husnand was on Valentine’s Day. I still love the buying, making, writing and sending of cards to people who are special. I have been enriched this winter by the book All About Love by bell hooks, challenged to dig deeper, continued to expand my understanding. A journal of art and practice called Love Never Fails, by Hilda St. Clair, Paraclete Press, has pushed me to muse and sketch more widely about loving ones who for me are not natural to love. I hear with clarity the charge from the bookoof Ephesians 5:2: walk in love!

I offer here my musings for this Day of Loving and Walking:

  • I am walking in love today with memories or persons, place and thing that have brought me joy.
  • I am walking today is love with all the Big Personalities that make up my family, and the trails. the fields and sea lanes they invite me to explore.
  • I am walking in love today with new friends and neighbors who come from different places and experiences.
  • I am walking in love today with people who offer services that help me to function and to thrive–sales clerks, medical experts, especially people whose skill opens tha way to my freedom.
  • I am walking today in love with those who are are a distance, whose faces I have not seen fro a long time, but who dwell in my heart.
  • I am walking today in love with those with whom I disagree, my “enemies,” those with whom I disagree, who bring out the worst in me, those who cause me grief…Spirit. help me!
  • I am walking today in love with those whose need overwhelms me, and I don’t know how be helpful, kind, or to make a difference…Holy One, empower me!
  • I am walking in love, in gratitude, for myself, for the One who made me just the way I am.

I am grateful for Love shown, Love felt, Love offered! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Entering a New Decade

A Musing Amma           Entering a New Decade

This fall I entered a new decade of my life. Advent came beginning a new liturgical year, our calendars turned on January 1,2023, and Epiphany declared again the Light dawning for the world in a new way. Then among our Asian/American friends the Year of the Rabbit or the Year of the Cat appeared. All of these offered a chance for reframing, renewing, re-imagining who I am, what I do, and my aspirations. 

I have had some surprises. 

First, this is a decade in which my body is the leader! For the first time in my life, I have to check in with my body before I make a decision. That part of me so often determines my agenda, my plans, my aspirations. I can make a very good case for regretting that I didn’t do this much sooner, but here I am at this present age, with a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a dentist, an ophthalmologist, a physical therapist, a general practitioner, all at my beck and call, and ready to prescribe for me what I need to do. Yet what my body actually signals to me moment by moment does not always concur or cooperate with said authorities. Is this an invitation to “push through” or is it a warning to do what my body says it wants to? 

In the turning of these new years, I am also starkly aware of the principle of “mutability,” all things changing, all the time. On the most obvious level I am aware that all the local stores have changed hands, all the institutions of which I have been a part have morphed into new shapes, that people coming and  going keep aging, often disappearing beyond my ken. Familiar landmarks are disappearing or repurposed. 

That reality pushes me to beef up my elasticity, and be willing to let go—of things, relationships, even ideals and sureties. How do I discern which are the “eternal” verities and which are only seasonal, dispensable when I am in a new season, our culture, nation and world are in a new season?

These new locations for my present reality lead me to new freedoms, as scary as they may seem. I am not beholden to a boss, an institution, a system, except my inner accountability, my inner Light. I also am free to keep exploring more and more about the wide world that God loves. With my husband we are reading about pilgrimages, marine biology, Black history, Asian-American experience, memoirs of locations utterly different from our own, parts of the world we will never see. There seems to be no limit!

Under and around it all is something that does not change, an awareness and a trust in the Mystery we call God. Sacred text tells us that the Holy does not change, yet through human history the Mystery had been experienced in Presence and Image and Word of many kinds. So is my own experience of the Holy One, entering a new decade, ever changing, ever new, inexhaustible and surprising—but constant, reliable, and compassionate. That reality for me makes the entering into all the change and decay, newness and surprise possible for me to anticipate, even to look forward to. Here I go!  

Weeping With Those Who Weep

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A Time for Weeping…

I have been feeling that this is a season for to “weeping with those who weep,” an injunction from Christian scripture. There is so much grief in the world, cosmic and personal. Then, as I got ready to write, an article appeared in a periodical for Christians, from a pastor, exploring just that practice. 20 pastors gathered together to explore what it means to weep with those who weep in their pastoral role in a time so filled with weeping–global, ecclesiastical, national, personal. (Christian Century, August. 10 2022, Mountains of Grief, Plantlnga, p. 12 ). I was touched and challenged by the very courage to gather together to be honest around such a poignant practice, and was further encouraged by the humility that characterized their gathered wisdom: no bromides, no one-size-fits-all answers, no pat solutions, no spiritualized responses that had been of use in another time and place.

So it was with that affirmation that I began to explore what that charge mans to me–a retired clergy person, who is living with great care about COVID, a threat to someone my age, and someone whose family has high risk health issues, yet someone who still has connections to those from a lifetime of accompanying so many on the journey of Spirit. In addition, right now, I am not given to actual liquid tears in the way I was at younger ages–teens, early motherhood, early ministry. How do I weep for the whole suffering world that God love? for the particular ones I have been given to love in my life?

This week we suffered a loss in our extended family. As in many modern middle class families, we were not close, either geographically or emotionally. Yet, along with John Donne, we had to acknowledge that “each…death diminishes me.” And that for those who were much closer, there was weeping–for what was, for what wasn’t, for “things done and undone;” we needed to pay attention. So how am finding ways to weep, metaphorically if not physically?

I begin by acknowledging that this is indeed a time for weeping. There is loss, there is pain, there is guilt, there is grief. I see and honor that–for myself and for the one who weeps, with the knowledge that each one grieves in their own way And I pray! I pray for peace and a comfort, for a sense of Holy Presence, for resources to be available for the weeper’s needs. Then, I pray for discernment as to my next action to that one: should I call. write, send a token? should I make a gift in memory of the loss? who might need or want to hear from me? would it be welcome or intrusive? If the weeping is for a death or great loss, the words and sensibilities that I might share cannot be words of advice or bromides or explanations, maybe rather remembrances of good times, affirmations and graces. Could I listen deeply and do nothing except be there, virtually or in person?

As this era of human life rolls out in these days of unknowing, I see more and more opportunities for me to practice weeping with those who weep. And I pray that I will be one who is able to respond to that need with trust, peace and grace.

Ordinary Time: The Party’s Over

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The spring is a season of much celebration and delight in our tribe. Between the middle of March and the end of June this year, we recognized and feted 10+ major events–birthdays, a Big One; anniversaries, a Big One; two graduations, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Easter. I love to honor, remember and focus on each family member and his and her particular gifts and features. However, this year, I felt weighted with trying to be imaginative, loving and economical for each event. I am reveling in the fact that I can coast from thinking/shopping/wrapping for occasions, and just live in Ordinary Time.

To begin with, I had to calm down, let my adrenaline levels and my thinking cap adjust themselves to summer’s pace. The days are not so full, save for the regular appointments to keep body and soul moving in the right direction. People come and go out of town, appearing and disappearing, sometimes without notice, so some usual connections are postponed or added on a dime. Then I began to notice whether or not there was indeed a template, an outline by which I live out most of my days. I do have a rhythm, a kind of routine–awaking, feeding the dog, checking communications on computer, reading the Times, making myself eat breakfast (my least favorite meal!), and then staking out time and place for my quiet practices: brief journal of daily events, gratitude list, reflecting on sacred text, commenting and praying. It is here that the rest of the day takes shape. Often my question is “What do you have for me to do today, O Holy One?”

It is at this juncture that I notice the breadth and length of this sacred space. The day can be wide open–to surprise, to a U-Turn, to an unexpected voice, to a knock, to a trajectory of mind and heart that has been prompted by what has gone before. It also invites me to follow my body–what does it need to maintain wholeness at this stage of my life? And to follow my heart–who has come into my remebrance and imagination that would welcome a touch, a note, a prayer?

Most of all, this spacious time is allowing me to reflect and ponder things that have been left behind, forgotten, slipped through the cracks. I have finished reading the powerful book, Joy Unspeakable, by Barbara Holmes, a journey into contemplative practices of the Black Church. Connections were made for me, new insights challenges me, like lights going off! From many sources I am being introduced to the opportunity of gathering up the pieces of me own life, trying to make sense of them, and see what can be passed on to a next generation of loved ones. I was given a weekly subscription to Storyworth online , in which I am asked a question about my growing up sent by me daughter to be shared with the family. I also have enrolled in an online course in writing an ethical will, another chance to remember and articulate what has bee and is important in shaping the choices I made and the faithfulness of God.

More than anything else, however, I can reflect from the time I wake up and throughout the day with gratitude for this life, recognize how deeply privileged I have been and still am, grateful for the people I have been given, the work I have done, the part I have had in helping others find their calling, and learning all along what is beautiful, true and worthy of my attention and love. Savoring as I remember, letting go of awkward failures and ill-conceived moves that were mistakes, I can open up room for the next thing I am invited to do by the Holy One–“what do you have for me to do today?” I ask. And I feel invited to notice more acutely–the unflagging wall of iris in the front yard, the scampering of the squirrels around the perimeter of the yard and house, the incremental steps of growth in each grandchild, the spirit of a new team coming together at the church I attend, the real time/life suffering of those in my ken, the changes in the neighborhood–all of them places where the Holy resides, to be honored, cared and prayed for in this Ordinary Time.

The Psalmist writes: My times are in Your hands!

Eastering

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Practice resurrection.”

Wendell Berry, “Manifesto:A Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front”

I have long thought of Easter as one time annual celebration, when in fact this year I have clung to the liturgical season, Eastertide, lasting from Easter Day six weeks until the coming of Pentecost, which this year comes next Sunday. This season is also contiguous with a host of our family celebrations–some significant birthdays, an important graduation, Mothers’ Day, and the opening of parade of visitors from out of state, feeling free to move around the country again.

This year the season has also coincided with a string of tragic and poignant events in the world and out country: war in Ukraine, an early start to hurricane season, long lasting fires, the continuing trajectories, up and down, of COVID, mass shootings, and personal losses, hurts and slights. So to be “eastering,” for me has been to keep learning to look for signs of new life, to dare to risk new life in my own dailiness, to celebrate them, while at the same time grieving for the individuals and communities and states and environment of the world that God made.

My “eastering” observations became the noticing over the whole six weeks of Eastertide of the slow, sweet ways in which life, new life, was emerging in dailiness and usual experiences of those I met (primarily on-line or in written communiques). I saw the process of mourning become one of resolution and deep gratitude. I watched hope deepen, windows of the soul open, new identities claimed, in spite of the grief and horror all around. There was slow healing in body and Spirit taking place. And there was a letting go of “old stories” that no longer were useful. I was amazed to see energy given to finding community, working for justice and peace. I loved the witness of those who are persisting in hope, reaching out to and for those who are ill-treated, neglected, oppressed and excluded. And it all happened right along side the terrible things!

I will honor the celebration of the coming of the Spirit this weekend, but recognize that She has been at work all along, teaching, healing, encouraging, giving wisdom and power. For my part in this turn into this extraordinary, Ordinary Time, I am brought back to this word of wisdom from Marvin Hiles that I have carried with me for many years:

To live sweetly in the bitter day,

to shape beauty among the grotesque,

to exult in the littles and to declare in the midst of brokenness a wholeness that comes now and ultimately!

May the Spirit descend on me and all of us to empower the quiet work of “eastering!”