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!

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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!

Turning and Turning

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The Turning of the Year

The year has turned! All the celebrations of the festival season are past, the decorations (save for a few stragglers ) are put away, the yearly letters have dwindled to a precious few, and we have pictures left to remind us of the sweetness and light, and the other moments we just checked off. But all signs are now that we are in a new moment, a new calendar year. Somehow that event also has brought with it other changes– a retirement, an ending of treatment, a death and loss–even my tree in the front yard, always off schedule with other trees in the neighborhood, suddenly went from green to bright red and now is losing all its leaves!

And time and the world keep turning. I go to a store I have always gone to, and it has moved. I plan to order a longtime favorite dish, and its been replaced. Another rule has been established for drivers’ licenses, more complicated than the last. Turning, turning, turning! And so I struggle to ground myself in what’s real, here and now, and to be elastic and open to what might be coming.

I keep coming back to what the prophet asserts that the Holy One says: “I, God, do not change” (Mal.3:6) I believe that as I read sacred texts that I see God work in a variety of ways, so there is change is action; but the essence does not change, and the essence of God is Love. So I let my imagination go: love the turning, love the mover and shakers, love the memories of the way we were, love the hope of what we shall be, love the longtime friends and companions, love the new fold moving in next door. My equilibrium is kept be continuing to learn to love–the ones I am with, the place I find myself and the world which calls out for Love!

Last week I was given sacred conversations, family birthdays, maintenance appointments and an encounter with a groups of people new to me. This week there are more conversations, doctor appointment and celebrations. And the outside world keeps reeling from shock to shock with shrill, angry and hurtful voices. But I must stay rooted and grounded in Love, whatever the new invitation or challenge.

I pray to see the continual turning as opportunity, as I keep my heart fixed on Love, and bend and dance with that Love wherever I am!

Advent 4: Joy…Now and Then!

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Basilica of St. Anne De Beaupres. Quebec, Canada (personal photo)


I gasped in delight when I visited this sanctuary last year! I had never entered a worship space that was so explicitly intended for Joy! As I wandered among all the works of art, I sensed they were pointing toward two things: the healing of body and soul and the recognition of joy in the heart, all the time, not just in festival season, but a through note in all of a life seeking and living the sacred.

And now we are about to be stunned and amazed by the celebration of that Joy, a time we call Christmastide. I love the many ways that Joy keeps revealing itself in these last days of Advent: children dressed in red and green, singing their hearts out; cookie bakers with the objects of love in their hearts creating new and familiar recipes to console and thrill the recipients; generosity poured out, both in contributions for the broken places of the world and in random acts of kindness; homes and hearts opening wide to those who can use some solace, shelter and energizing!

Then we reflect all that Joy that comes from the Holy One in our observances.We sing loudly “Joy to the World!” We remember the sacred stories from Genesis to Revelation, reminding us that we have Joy as a constant companion–through disasters, through trauma, through tragedy, through grief. We don’t always sense it, know it, feel it, but we have been and are given it by the One who came to make our Joy complete.

I have been collecting quotations and poems and anecdotes about Joy in these past months, when there are moments when Joy seems to have vanished from the vocabulary and actions of the culture. I find Joy is the wisdom of saints from John Calvin to Maya Angelou who recognize that Joy is part of the way that we know that the Holy One is operative and lively and powerful in the world. I am choosing one that invites my attention and my action this Christmas from Henri Nouwen:

Joy does not simply happen to use…We must choose Joy and keep choosing it every day!

That’s what I am choosing this Christmastide and for the year to come!










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Advent 3: Love Evolving

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My reflection on Mary, the mother of Jesus prompts this prayer on the third Sunday of Advent. which by some calendars is about Love:

O Holy One of Love,

I long to be as loving as Mary, when she first said yes to Gabriel, to be the bearer of the Light, persistent despite her anxiety, reaching out for friendship when she felt so alone, bursting forth with praise and gladness for the Light she knows in her body and spirit.

I would want to be as flexible as she was in adapting to her circumstances–long journey in discomfort, doing what was required amid fearful politics, reflective of all that kept coming her way.

I celebrate and would learn from her caregiving to her child, no matter how old he was, and her celebration of his emerging person, meanwhile speaking her truth to him as she understood it.

I pray for the tenacity and courage to stay with each of my beloved ones, as long as I live, even if means walking with them through heavy sorrow and broken-heartedness.

I pray that I will be supportive of the vision and journey of each one, even as they go on paths that are alien to me, even unimaginable.

In this Advent season I look back and give thanks for the Love that has brought me safely thus far, however imperfect, love that was patient, faithful, elastic, welcoming and celebrating. Keep teaching me by your Spirit to keep learning to Love as many days as I have been given to Love!

In the name of the One who is Love in Person, Amen


Advent II: More Light Appearing

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Right after I posted my blog last week, I opened my Facebook to behold one vista after another of sunrises in the east–one Tiepolo sky, one giant swath of golden and peach rays as far as the eye could see, one bright ball of color arising out of a nest of dark and formidable twigs and trees. Light is coming, slowly but surely, sometimes in ways we can’t miss it, other ways in which it suddenly dawns on us. Yet the Light keeps shining, even if I can see it only a little at a time.

As I light my second Advent candle this week, I acknowledge that there is growing Light in my and the world around me. I am amazed at the way the Light kept shining through the ugly dark patches in the world headlines. For almost every reported incident of meanness or narcissism or selfishness, there was another tale of generosity or sacrifice or kindness. Between the notes of honking and shouting and grinding of gears, came the harmonies of Advent and Christmas hymns and parents adoring and protecting their little and big ones! After the blinding cold rains came the double rainbows across the sky! And in these moments of illumination comes Peace.

The One for whom we are waiting is about Peace.That truth challenges me to imagine how I am to be a Maker of Peace in this season, as I get each dollop of Peaceful Light around me. I see that I can bring a peaceful face to a a contentious criticism. I can listen to my tone of voice as I participate in conversations that are querulous or despairing. I can change my posture to one of open-heartedness, arms uncrossed, when I am in a place where aggressiveness and rigidity seems to be the chosen affect of the day. I remember that sacred text which tells me that “the peace of God which surpasses  all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” With the Light I have been given, I am to be Peace in this season, which gets so captivated by un-Peace, and in this world which is so chaotic as it flings itself around in the dark.

My prayer for myself and for others in this week of Advent is that I would allow the increasing Light to bring more Peace:

Holy One for whom we are waiting, it is hard to wait, especially with the all the hustle and bustle around us, even more so with the never-ending conflict, injustice and callousness in the world that needs our attention and work. Let me be a bearer of your Light that leads to your Peace–for my sake, for the sake of those I love and you have given to me, and for the sake of the world. Amen.

 

 

Advent 1: In the Dark

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It is dark this year! Not just at the beginning of Advent, but it has been thus all year! So I offer a prayer in the Dark:

God, the world is dark at the beginning of this year. I am often anxious in the dark–of noises that frighten, of shapes that threaten, at memories that haunt. This year so much seems so much darker–the grief of the planet, the chaos in nations, the loss of hope in the community of peoples.

The lives of people I love are dark. Illness, loneliness, catastrophic loss,deep sorrow, frustration and boredom all cut hug swaths of attention, intention and aspiration, energy. They, and I, struggle to keep finding the light and the places where it can get in.

As I age I notice more darkness in me–my response to my limitations, with less patience for the change and decay in the world, my feeling less powerful to make a difference, fewer days in which I can persist.

Yet I am sure and I trust that You are in the dark too, with me, and in the world. Along with the psalmist, I know that “my darkness is not dark to you!” When I lift up my head and look around, I see that there are glimmers of Light shining–in communities that gather to rescue, save and preserve; in churches that act on their convictions to care for the poor, widows and children; in generous souls who keep on with their acts of great love and their constant presence to those in pain, whether it is received with grace or not.

So today I light my first candle of Advent to add both my witness to the Light in which I trust, and to signal my commitment to be a bearer of that Light in to the places that I go. I light it to remember that as the gospeller John tells us, You the Light are the Light of God and the darkness cannot put it, or You, out! By Your Spirit I can fan my sparks of hope, despite the “encircling gloom,” despite the ugliness that passes for common discourse in these times, no matter the catastrophe of the hour.

As I write this, the radio begins to play, “Lux Aeterna,” by Morton Lauridsen, Eternal Light. Yes, Light of the Holy, You never are extinguished, even in times of deep darkness.This Advent, while feeling blanketed by darkness, I am joining Your Light for the world, even as we wait for your coming again in the world.

Amen

 

 

Beautiful!

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BeautifulCambriaWe heard the word Ugliness and have been seeing it demonstrated over and over in the last weeks on the national political scene. Even the most experienced and enlightened are nonplussed at best, and most are horrified at the behavior and language choices on display in what is supposed to be the center of reasonable and moral leadership in our country. It is hard to overcome Ugliness–visually and aurally and emotionally–once we have encountered it. But I believe that Beauty is one way we can resist, defy and countermand that ugliness we meet.

Older versions of Hebrew Scripture tell us that God made everything Beautiful in its own time (Eccl. 3:11). So, I am seeking ways, in this time where so much Ugliness abounds, to see Beauty, to celebrate it and to share it. In this week of Thanksgiving I am cataloging Beauty as I find it:

  • the music of Bach sung last night by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, “The Magnificat”
  • the stalks of 12 white bearded iris that greeted me when arrived home from my trip last week
  • the complete absorption in singing “Count You Blessings” by the little girl at the end of the row in the Children’s Choir
  • the elegant and startling prose of Gretel Ehrlich as she invites me into a part of our country that is unfamiliar to me
  • each step of newly minted personhood that each grandchild is taking he and she become who they are meant to be
  • the sunset on Cayucos Beach, as I am wrapped up in sweatshirt and blanket
  • the outpouring of generosity and caring and love that neighbors, friends and strangers are proffering to those devastated by fire and disaster
  • the memories of a high school friend who left us this week–her joie de vivre, her persistence, her luminous laughter
  • the faces of those with whom I sit weekly who are intently listening and looking for Spirit presence in their life
  • the dignity and grace with which some participants in political striving carry out their calling, despite so much opposition

As I write I feel that the list is endless!!! Thanks be to God!

In an unexpected synergy of friendship and celebration, I was able to see the musical “Beautiful,” telling the story of songwriter and singer Carole King through her music. The title anthem has become my marching song in this season of celebration, deep grieving, of resistance, of call to be Light in the world:

You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile in your face,

and show the world all the love in your heart.

Then people gonna treat you better; you’re gonna find (yes, you will)

that you’re beautiful as you feel.

As the Beauty of the Holy One fills me with this invitation, I can be an increasingly potent antidote to the  ugliness that seeps through the waves of of communication and discourse in our world. May I be given the Grace to be Beautiful in this season..and always!

 

 

 

 

Tonic

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JEMIslasMujeres

TONIC: a substance taken to give a feeling of vigor or well-being!

In these days in the turning of the season, when so much is raging and swirling–from the weather to the headlines to the principalities and powers, I often wonder where my energy will be replenished, refilled, kept alive. Much come comes from many of my spiritual practices, all being reformed, in my life. However, I am am increasingly aware of how much tonic –energy, renewal, healing–comes from my encounters–face to face, phone to phone, e-mail to e-mail–with people whom I have been given.

Having lived through a cascade of sorrows among my family, friends and the world in this past season, I am buoyed up by these tastes of tonic through the duration:

  • a piano concert by a friend celebrating her jubilee year
  • a recommendation of a book I haven’t read or a series on Netflix
  • a memory shared about my high school or college days
  • a phone call out of the blue
  • laughing out loud with someone whose sense of humor is as off-center as mine
  • an insight into ways to carry the Light in the midst of a darkness
  • an honest reflection about how things are from another point of view
  • an adventure trying something that seemed a little scary
  • prompts from recollections of things past that gave nourishment and hope–old hymns, former spiritual practices

These sips of tonic bring grace and beauty to the living of days that are so easily cluttered with deeds of greed, dishonesty and stories of pain. They bring hope–“Tis Grace that brought me safe this far, and Grace will lead me home.” They are concrete reminders that the Holy One that I follow and trust never slumbers and never sleeps. and that there are no final defeats.

And so I  take a turn into a new year of life for me in a week, my intention will be to seek tonic wherever it appears, and to savor it, swirl it around in my mouth before I swallow it, and continue to discover the many ways the God is good..to me, to those I love, and to the worlds God created!