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!”

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.