Let Love Overflow — Transition Sunday 2017

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It’s been a heckuva coupla months. I promised this post almost one month ago and have just today found space to sort it out and edit it for this space. I took a month off from my commitment at SheLoves and my next post there will go live on Saturday of this week — I’ll be back here to set up a linking post later in the week.

But I wanted to get this one done first because that crazy weekend in May was a rich and important one. We said farewell to my mother on that Saturday, with a service, a reception and a dinner at our home, which I wrote about here. The next morning, I led in worship and preached for the first time in a while, although the sermon was more of a homily due to the demands of that particular Sunday in the ongoing life of our community.

We call it Promotion Sunday now — it used to be called Confirmation Sunday, but we added in recognition of all children and young adults making transitions over the summer to a new grade/stage of life. It was rich and wonderful and L O N G, so the sermon, by necessity, was short. The picture above shows off our single confirmand this year, Tyler H, 3rd from the left. And that is our Director of Student Ministries, Anna Beebe on the far left. She has been a spectacular partner to Dick and me as we stepped in to teach 9 students this year. Such a joy that has been for us in a year of change and tumult; we are humbled and grateful to have had this opportunity.

Our Rite of Confirmation includes the reading of a paper by the confirmand(s) on any of the 26 “Building Blocks” in their workbooks. These are the traditional Q & A from the Luther Catechism and Tyler chose to respond to the question: Who is God? He did a wonderful job! Then the confirmand replies to three questions about their faith, kneels to receive a blessing as his family surrounds him. He/she is given a taste of salt and a lit candle as a reminder that they are called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then a very personal prayer is prayed over them before the charge/homily is given to the entire class. It has long been one of my favorite Sundays of the church year.

There is a video for the song I mention in the opening paragraph of this homily at the bottom of this inset and the lyrics are posted above it. It’s a wonderful and unusual hymn, absolutely perfect for this Sunday or for any baptism or infant dedication service.

“I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”
— written by John Ylsvikar

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.

I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
In a blaze of light you wandered off
to find where demons dwell.

When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
to whom you now belong.

If you find someone to share your time
and you join your hearts as one,
I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk ’till rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I’ll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I’ve begun.

When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.

This video was produced by a fellow Covenant pastor and worship leader and reflects his mostly white congregation. It is beautifully done — I wish it were a bit more ethnically/racially balanced, but it is lovely, nonetheless.

Let Love Overflow
Philippians 1:1-11
A Homily for the Confirmation Class
May 20, 2017
Diana R.G. Trautwein
Montecito Covenant Church

That’s a really unusual song we’ve just sung, isn’t it? It’s one I happen to like a lot and so I requested it for this morning’s service. Why? Because this is a special day in the life of our community and somehow, the words of this song touch on some of the reasons why.

Promotion Sunday is a day when we celebrate who it is God is forming us to be — all of us, from little to young adult to mid-life to old age. We’re in this thing together and today is a day for remembering that and celebrating it! We belong to God and we belong to one another.

That’s one of the reasons we include the Rite of Confirmation in a Sunday morning service of worship rather than doing it in someone’s backyard after dinner – because it’s important for the community of faith to celebrate together. It’s a good thing for all of us to affirm the work these young people have done in beginning and in completing this two-year course, this intentional time of learning more about what we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.

Rituals, with set words and actions help us to mark out special events, to set them aside and say, “This is important and we want to remember it.” We mark lots of life’s important moments with rites and rituals, don’t we? Baptism, marriage, ordination, death.

Yesterday, we held a special service called A Witness to the Resurrection, a memorial service for a Christian who has died. This one was for my mother, who left this earth last month. These young people right here in front — there were 8 of them for most of the year — they have walked with me on this journey. They have prayed for her and for me, they have asked me how she was doing, how I am doing, they have shown me understanding and grace in so many ways. Teaching them in this class all year has turned out to be one of the greatest gifts during a difficult time in my own life and I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them.

So it is with joy and an extra measure of satisfaction that I offer a few words to them this morning. A charge, if you will, a brief homily that is directed primarily to this small band in the front of the center section. The rest of you are warmly invited to listen in, of course, but these words are for them.

Dylan read a passage for us just a few minutes ago, way back before we acknowledged the graduates and before Tyler was confirmed. It’s from a small letter in the New Testament called Philippians. Eleven verses only, but eleven verses that contain pretty much EXACTLY THE WORDS I would like to say to each of you today.

One of the loveliest things about this small letter is the overall spirit of it. Those of you who have done the New Testament year in Confirmation might remember that there are a bunch of letters in the that part of the Bible, many of them written by a man named Paul. Some of those letters sound a bit angry at times; some of them are intent on working through some of the more complicated parts of what the newly formed church was coming to understand about who Jesus really was and what he came to do on this earth.

But this letter is gentle, encouraging, marked by the deep love that Paul felt for these people who lived in a busy, very diverse city, in a place called Macedonia, which is now a part of the country of Greece in southern Europe. In this letter, Paul uses the word ‘joy’ more times than anywhere else in all his writing – 11 different times. He also uses the name of Jesus a whole lot, something you’ll hear as we walk through it. Joy and Jesus — they go together well and they’re at the heart of what Paul has to say and what I want to say, too.

We start with a word of greeting. Now letters written 2000 years ago sounded a bit more formal than the emails or texts you guys are used to these days. Listen and you’ll see what I mean:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons :

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 One sentence — a single L O N G sentence — tells us who’s writing the letter, who’s getting the letter and then offers a special word of blessing, a very specific greeting of grace and peace — and not just any grace and peace, but grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 Those of you who have been taking sermon notes here during your time as a confirmation student may remember that our former pastor — and your former teacher — Don Johnson, always began his sermons with exactly those words, didn’t he? “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s a grand greeting, don’t you think?

Then Paul goes on to tell these friends how he really feels about them!

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

 I hope you have some people in your life for whom you thank God every time you think about them! I hope there are those for whom you pray with joy. As we’ve grown together this year, you have become those people for me. I thank God for each one of you and I pray for you with joy.

Paul calls his friends ‘partners in the gospel,’ because of how well they worked together, how tightly knit they were to one another, and how they were caring for one another. This was a church that was really clicking, and learning how to be generous. We know this because they sent money to help the big church in Jerusalem and they sent help to Paul when he was in jail.

But you know the line I really love in this part of the passage is the one that talks about confidence. Did you catch that? “. . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 Now this church in Philippi wasn’t perfect — no church is! God chooses human beings to be the church, right? And we humans have this tendency to mess things up from time to time, don’t we? And these folks were no exception to that rule.

But . . . BUT . . . Paul has confidence in them. More accurately, Paul has confidence in God, who is at work within them. Even when they make mistakes, even when they trip and stumble, God is alive in them, completing the work that the Holy Spirit began at the moment they first said ‘yes’ to the gospel of Jesus.

Paul believes in them because Paul believes in the God who is in them.

In his oh-so-good paper, Tyler talked about his experience of being saved at winter camp this year — that’s when Tyler said ‘yes’ to the gospel of Jesus.

Each of you already has or will soon, I hope and pray, say that ‘yes’ yourself. And like Paul, I believe in the God who hears the ‘yes’ you offer, so I believe in you.

The work that begins in you at that moment of ‘yes’ will continue your whole life long and it will be a beautiful thing to see someday. In fact, it already is.

Yesterday, I celebrated with my family and my friends the good work that God did in my mom over her long, long life. Even in her last years, when her mind was so very damaged and her body so frail . . . even then. God was completing the work that had begun in her when she was a teenager, just like you.

God is in the business of finishing what God starts, believe me when I tell you this. And I am confident that the good work God is doing in you, my young friends . . . that work will continue your whole life long, until that day when you see Jesus face to face. Which is exactly where my mom is now. 

Finally, we come to the last few verses of this scripture passage, which get to the heart of it all, and they offer the main point of my charge to each of you today.

Listen to Paul’s words:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound — may overflow — more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

 That is all one sentences, friends and it is a jam-packed one, too.

It all begins with LOVE. The kind of love that comes only from God, the kind of love that changes hearts and minds, the kind of love that changes churches and cities, the kind of love that can change the world, if we let it loose, if we live it, if we grab hold of it and hang on for dear life.

So the most important thing I can say to you this morning, the most important thing I can ever say to you is this:

GOD LOVES YOU.

Not in spite of all the ways you mess up, not even because you need God’s forgiveness and grace. God loves you because you are YOU, a totally unique person created in God’s image, gifted with the ability to choose to follow in God’s way and the basic equipment to receive the power of the Holy Spirit right now.

Yes, you need God’s forgiveness. We all do. But even more basic than that need in you is the truth that God loves you — first, last and always.

It is that love which will make it possible for you to make good choices going forward in your life. It is that love that will gradually — sometimes gently and sometimes not so much — begin to shape you more and more into the image of Jesus himself. It is that love that will work its wondrous way in you, helping you to really learn the difference between right and wrong, good and evil.

Paul prays for his friends that Love will help them to grow in knowledge and in depth of insight. That means head knowledge and heart knowledge, because both are so important if we are to be the kind of people we were designed to be in the first place.

Living life is a process of refinement, like precious metals are refined by fire, like gorgeous gems are carved out of rocks. And when we say yes to God’s love, yes to the gospel, yes to Jesus — that process of refinement leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of other people, it helps us to make good choices, it empowers us to extend grace and peace to the people we live with, those we sit in class with, even to those we work with, when you’re old enough to have jobs.

Love and knowledge and insight go together, but that order is crucial. Start with love. Always, always start with love.

Don’t be afraid of your tenderness, don’t be embarrassed by your concern for those who are on the edges, who are being bullied, who are left out. When you feel their pain, you are letting love win. When your heart is open to God, to yourself and to others, that’s when the ‘fruit of righteousness’ Paul talks about in this sentence becomes obvious.

That big word ‘righteousness’ actually means ‘right relationship’ as much as it does ‘right behavior.’ They go together, you see? When you live in a relationship of love with the God who made you, then you’ll find it easier and easier to do what is right and good to do. You won’t do it perfectly — because, once again — ain’t none of us perfect, right?? But you will do it more and more.

My prayer for you, dear Confirmation Class of 2017, is that one day, someone will say of you what I said of my mother yesterday afternoon:

“What rises to the top is her goodness. Her generosity. Her great good humor, her searching intelligence, her love for us. Give me the choice of all the mothers in this world, I’d choose the one I had. In a heartbeat.’”

Let love abound, my friends. Let it overflow.

Let’s pray together:

Gracious and loving God,

How I thank you for the gift of this morning. For each child and young adult moving forward in life. For each Confirmation student in this year’s class, and especially today, for Tyler, whose kindness and sweet spirit have made our Tuesday afternoons such a lovely experience for all of us.

Will you help these friends — and their parents, and fellow believers around this room — to really take in the power and beauty of Paul’s words this morning?

Open our hearts to receive your love anew, remind us when we step outside of that love, and point us again in the direction of righteousness, of right relationship and right behavior.

Help us to look to Jesus, the one who calls us, who names us as his own, who goes before us and who receives us when we pass from this life to the next.

Amen.

A Letter to My Mid-Life Self – The High Calling

I am honored to be contributing to The High Calling’s special week on the decisions and transitions of mid-life. And this particular post will show up on the date that would have been my parents’ 73rd wedding anniversary. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self. Not my teen-aged self, nor my 20’s or 30’s self – but my mid-life, 50-year-old self. . .

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Dear girl,

Yes, you always will be a girl—or at least part of you will. Fifty feels decidedly ungirlish, I know, but believe me when I tell you this: fifty truly is nifty.  Such a great age! The hard work of growing up, navigating relationships, figuring out what it means to be married, to mother children, to be a daughter-who-is-also-an-adult, to manage work and home—that’s all behind you now. Yes, you’ll keep discovering new ways to do all of the above, but the steepest learning curve is behind you. Honest.

And ahead of you? Oh, my! So many rich and wonderful things, so many interesting choices, and so much to give. All those years you’ve been living? There are people who need to hear about what you’ve learned. And there are so many creative ways for you to use what you’ve learned in new ways. There’s a lot left to do—even better, there’s so much still to be.

Turning fifty formally introduces the second half of life, that rich season of growing an inner life as well as an outer one. Please don’t waste a minute of it. Keep reading about contemplative practices, carve out time for daylong retreats, continue to work with a spiritual director. All that personal work you began in your 40s will continue to be formational and powerful, especially as you step out into the next big phase of your professional life. You don’t know it yet, but in two years, you’ll make the biggest move of the last thirty, moving in every way from all that is known and familiar, geographically and personally. And you’ll do it so that you can take a new job. Yes, you.

Here’s what you’ll discover: everything you’ve done up until now—caring for small children, juggling commitments, carving out time for yourself, learning how to let your spouse and friends help you understand yourself, the growing appreciation for how God has wired you—all of that will make you the best possible employee, the best possible you for whatever comes next.

Please do come on over to one of the finest magazines on the web and let me know that you’ve been there, okay? Just click here . . .

 

Doing the Work – for SheLoves

It is always a joy to contribute a monthly essay to SheLoves magazine, one of the most welcoming places on the internet. This month, I was asked to bring something a little bit different – to write about spiritual direction as a part of a special week on mentoring ministries. Please follow me over there to read the entire piece. 

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They sit in the red leather chair. Or they’re across the country, taking to me by Skype. Either way, I sit in my small study, settle deep into my hand-made, craftsman-style armchair, a lit candle by my side, my spirit ready, waiting.

They come to be heard, to be seen in ways that are welcoming and formational. I come to learn, to listen, to pray. And what we find is a kind of newness, a refreshing reminder of God’s presence and an ever-increasing willingness to do this good work. Together.

Spiritual direction is what it’s called. Companionship-on-the-way is what it is. Long a practice of the ancient church, surfacing in the 20th century in broader and wider corners of Christendom, this partnering together is holy ground, a sacred place where one person, trained in a variety of disciplines, prayerfully listens to the life of another, asking gentle questions, pulling out threads, weaving them together into a new idea, a new question, a glimpse of what the Spirit is doing.

I am relatively new to the whole idea of direction. I first began to hear and read about it in the late 1980s. I learned that direction is not therapy, though it incorporates many ideas and even techniques from that discipline. It is also not pastoral counseling, something I did quite a lot of during the seventeen years that I was a pastor. It is its own unique animal, a thing not quite like any other, a process that is hard to describe, difficult to encapsulate.

I began direction for the first time when I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s and continued with it for three years. I took a break from that process for a while and then, about ten years ago, a new boss suggested I look into pursuing certification as a director myself, and a seed was planted, deep in my spirit.

 So come on over and join the conversation, okay? Just click on this line . . .

That Fifth Commandment — She Loves

I’ve been privileged the last few months to write a monthly essay over at SheLoves, one of my favorite spaces on the internet. This is the story for June . . .

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I helped my husband teach Sunday School a few weeks ago. He teaches the kids in grades 1-4 and his usual teammate was out of town on Mother’s Day, so he asked me to step in.

I did all I could to stifle a groan, forced a smile and said, “Well. I guess so.”

Not the most gracious response, I will admit. Since I retired from ministry a little over three years ago, I’ve sort of ‘given up’ Sunday school. I did a lot of planning, coordinating, setting up tables and chairs, and teaching during my years as an associate pastor, and, to tell you the truth, I am pretty burned out on the whole shebang.

Also? I taught adults. That’s what my call was, that’s where my gifts lie, and for a long time, I absolutely loved it.

I think it was the tables and chairs that finally got to me.

So, for most of the last three years, I have gotten up, gotten dressed and driven my husband to church, dropping him off by the children’s wing. And then, I’ve turned my car around and headed right straight down to the beach.

I park my car near the bluffs, under the lone cypress tree that marks ‘my spot,’ and I sit with my tea and my toast and I stare at the sea. Sometimes, I read scripture or a devotional guide. Sometimes I just sit. Always, I open myself to God and listen. And you want to know something? I’ve gotten so much more out of worship when I begin my Sunday this way — by myself, by the sea.

So to give that up — on Mother’s Day, no less — was tough to do.

But.

I wanted to honor my husband.

I don’t do enough of that these days. We’ve grown into a comfortable pattern of occupying this house in separate spaces most of the day. We check in with each other, we check up on each other — but part of the adjustment to our both being home together, all day, every day, has meant the creation of parallel lives, at least to some extent. So agreeing to his request that we do something together seemed timely and important.

And he really, really wanted me there.

Part of the lesson involved looking at the fifth commandment . . .

Please join me over at SheLoves today to read the rest of this story . . .

Trial by Fire – No, Really – TRIAL BY FIRE – A Deeper Church

As we’re celebrating our new look over at A Deeper Story, some of us got to double up on our story-telling. Today, I’m on the Church Channel . . .

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There were days in my pastoral life when I wanted to chuck it. Days when politics and personalities joined forces to quench the Spirit, when trivia took up more space on the calendar than truth, when frustration and fatigue invaded body and soul. No doubt about it, parishioners (and pastors) can be difficult, demanding, prickly and pervasively apathetic.

The church is not a perfect organism. How can it be? It’s made up of human beings!

But sometimes, those very same human beings can rise to the occasion. Sometimes they can look and act like exactly who they are as members of The Body of Christ. And when that happens, all you can do is take a deep breath and watch as miracles unfold.

Just over four years ago, I was privileged to watch such a miracle during a time of deep crisis in our community, a time when grace showed up, despite all kinds of reasons why it could have called in sick!

On a late November Thursday afternoon, the wind blew hot and wild. I had just said goodbye to the last of a dozen women gathered in my foothill home for a planning session. As I tucked her into her car, I looked around and said, “I hate this kind of weather! It’s too hot, the wind is too high and it feels eerie.”

Just minutes later, the phone rang: “Fire in the next canyon! Get ready to move out!” That very morning, the senior pastor had flown east to conduct a family funeral. I was now point-person for a terror-filled emergency in our community, and our own home was in the line of fire.

So was the church.

Staff who were still on campus evacuated a few things and then were sent down the hill by police and fire personnel. Members of our congregation who lived in the faculty housing for our neighbor, Westmont College, were forced to leave everything behind, fleeing for their lives to local hotels and over-crowded homes and shelters. My husband and I drove south a few miles to sleep at our son’s for the duration, and I began trying to gather church leadership for prayer and planning.

Throughout that long first night, it became clear that we had been hit hard . . .

Please follow me over to A Deeper Church to read through the rest of this story . . .

Iced Tea, Decaf, and the World Changing on Its Axis: A Deeper Story

My monthly contribution to the wonderful collection of essays at A Deeper Story is up today. Click here to continue reading:

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The California sunlight was angling in the window, scattering itself, checker-board style, across the shiny surface of our table. I could feel its warmth on that crisp fall day as she and I visited, chattering about life and family, checking in.

The woman across the table from me was twenty-plus years my senior, a spiritual mentor for most of my life. I had a glass of iced tea that day, she a cup of decaf, and we were splitting a piece of pie after enjoying some soul-warming soup.

I remember that I was animated as we talked, excited about something I was learning in school. I was midway through a 4-year seminary experience at that point in my life, tentatively exploring whether or not God might be calling me to ministry.

She was intrigued and a bit cautious, wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Mostly, though, she wanted to hear me talk. Always a learner, she couldn’t help but be excited by my enthusiasm for lectures, large books, and hard questions.

At some point in our conversation, she sat back with a big smile on her face, dropping every bit of caution from her voice. “Diana,” she said. “I am so excited for you! I’m so glad you’ve gone back to school — I remember when I did that for a year and how much fun it was to be in the classroom again.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “It ifun. It is exhilarating.”

And then I felt the sting of tears. She looked at me with concern and asked what the tears were about. And this is what I said:

“I love what I’m doing. I love it. And I believe more and more each day that this is exactly where God wants me to be. More than that, I think God may be pushing me into ordination, to a job, working as a pastor.”

“Ah,” she said. “A job. Is that what brings the tears?”

“No, not really. This is what makes me feel sad: that I would never be doing this, never, if my husband were not making enough money for me to pay the tuition costs. And to pay them easily, without any member of my family having to sacrifice one thing for me to be in school.”

And then she began to cry. She understood this kind of thinking all too well.

After all, that’s how she raised me. 

Women are the ones who sacrifice for their families. Not men. Not children. Women. In her world, God could not be calling any woman to do something that would cost her family anything. Not.Possible.

Please follow me over to A Deeper Story to continue reading about this life-changing event/realization. I’d love to interact with you in the comments over there.

Show Me the Way — Reflections on Retirement for The High Calling

I’m writing at one of my favorite places today — The High Calling, working this time with Sam Van Eman as part of a series on transitions. Join me there to read the whole essay — and engage in the conversation.

Painted in Waterlogue

For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home;’ all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.

I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.

And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.

About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.

I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?

So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself . . .

Please click here to read the rest of this post . . .

 

FOUND: a Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer — A Book Review

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Sometimes when I read a book that is new to me, and I discover that I like it, that I’m intrigued by some of the ideas presented or the way language is used, I dog-ear a page that catches my eye. If the book really speaks to my heart, you might find 20 or 30 such pages scattered throughout.

Micha Boyett’s beautiful new book — part memoir, part prayer journal, part glory — has so many down-turned pages that I can no longer close it completely. Oh my, this woman can write! And what she writes? It speaks right into my heart, with hope, honesty and beauty. 

I’ve read Micha’s blog, Mama Monk, for over three years now, made the move with her to Patheos, even guest-posted for her once. So I’ve been looking forward to seeing her heart and reading her words in a longer format for quite a while. And I am not disappointed. Micha has been on a journey, a search, for the heart of prayer, the heart of God. A pastor to students in her twenties, convinced that God had Big Plans for her life, plans that she ‘needed’ to discover and fulfill, she found herself in her early thirties as a stay-at-home mom to one, and then two beautiful boys.

What happened to those Big Plans, she wondered? Was she somehow missing the Important Work God had for her to do? Over the course of this gentle book — outlined according to the prayer schedule of St. Benedict — she learns that where she is right now is, indeed, important. That the work she does, the rhythms of child-care, housework, hospitality, marriage and writing — these are the things of life, and Spirit and love-made-real.

Reading that last paragraph might make you think that this is a book for women. Yes, it is. It is also a book for men. This is a book for anyone who earnestly desires to discover God in the midst of the movements of an ordinary day, anyone who longs to know that the work of their hands is blessed and beautiful. 

Along the way, Micha writes evocatively about taking time for silence and retreat at a couple of local monasteries, she describes what she learns in spiritual direction, she shows us how her husband helps her to see herself and her ideas about God in new and different ways, she whispers that loneliness can be an invitation to a deeper faith. And somewhere in there, she talks about . . . fly-fishing.

Just two pages, a small story — but one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long, long time. Here’s a small piece of it:

“I raise my rod and cast the line out. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I think fly-fishing is like praying the rosary; moving slow through each bead, letting the physical act move my unfocused body from distraction into awareness. It’s the repetition, the sameness of coming to God with simple words and rhythm, that opens me to recognize the God-already-here. . . Prayer is not as hard as I make it out to be. Again and again, lift and unfold. Lay that line out, let it meander a little. Do it again. I am not profound. I am not brave in spirit. My faith is threadbare and self-consumed, but I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.” – pg. 226-227

With all my heart, I recommend this book to you. It is rich, captivating, lush with beautiful language and ideas. And most of all, it is touchable. Micha is no plaster saint, she is a real, flesh-and-blood woman, wife, mother, pastor, writer, seeker. She invites you along for the journey, and friends? it is a trip so worth taking.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this lovely book. In exchange for that, I committed to write an honest review. This is it. Buy this book. Mark it up, keep it nearby, go back to it, keep a list of favorite lines. Yes. Do it.

Here are what a few others are saying about this fine book:

“I devoured this kind and generous book: Micha is singing the longings of all the tired mother
pilgrims. Every word is like motherhood: elegant, earthy, loving, and present.”
—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist

“With this beautiful book, Micha Boyett opens a door to Benedictine spirituality through 
regular, busy people can enter and taste, see, smell, hear, and feel what it means to live life as a
prayer. This debut sets Boyett apart as one of the most promising new writers of a generation.”

—Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“Reading Found is like taking a deep breath of grace. You’ll hear the echo of your own
questions and doubts in the gentle ways Micha Boyett addresses her own, and by the end,
you’ll feel the quiet goodness of enough. For anyone who’s ever gotten prayer all tangled up in
performance—this one’s for you.”
—Addie Zierman, author of When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith,
Tangled Love and Starting Over

“This book is stunning. Beautifully written, Micha Boyett’s Found is a penetrating story, rich
in humanity and faith, the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve read its last page.
Like Henri Nouwen and Madeline L’Engle, Boyett’s spiritual journey is divinely practical, a
relatable and potentially anointed narrative that renews, inspires, and reminds us that we are not
lost.”
—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Churched and Our Great Big American God

“Micha Boyett is in search for the beauty in the everyday, the prayer that hides itself in dinners
and diapers and naps. She is as skilled of a tour guide for Benedictine spirituality as she is for
her own story, and in these pages you will find that the sacred has been there all along.”
—Adam S. McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church

“In Found, Micha Boyett tells the small story of her own redemptions, inviting readers into a
life of earnest spiritual seeking. Written in reflective bursts of prose mirroring monastic hours
and the holy calendar, Boyett has created an account of spiritual resolve, believing that the
most important journeys of the heart are the modest ones.”
—Dave Harrity, director of ANTLER and author of Making Manifest: On Faith,
Creativity, and the Kingdom at Hand

Q & A: Week Seven — The Question without Answers

I’ve been praying about this week’s question for days. It sits at the center of so many struggles, for me and for people I love — indeed, for just about everyone who takes their faith seriously. My words today are not meant to be final, but simply a reflection of my own processing around this important question over many years. I look forward to reading your words, too. Wrestling with hard questions is important work, necessary work, even when the answers do not always satisfy. And this question? There are no ‘satisfying’ answers out there, I don’t think. What there is . . . is acceptance and — here’s a hard word!  — submission.

Next week’s question: What do I do with all the hard/weird stuff in the Bible?

Painted in Waterlogue

i.

I suppose you might call me blessed. I was well into my forties before I ever experienced the death of anyone close to me. I had lost three grandparents before that time, but somehow, their deaths seemed the normal progression of things, almost orderly. I was sad and I was sorry, but I was not cut to the quick. And I didn’t actually see any of them when they were near death; I didn’t watch them suffer.

Looking back now, I’d have to say that any blessing involved in that particular twist of the calendar was a mixed one. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what it was like to watch someone I love suffer. Suffer and then die. I wasn’t ready when it happened. And, as it does to every one of us, it happened. A lot.

ii

My midlife foray into seminary and then pastoral ministry exposed me to a lot of death and dying. And I was given a great gift early on. A woman I knew moderately well was close to death and I went to visit her while I was still a student. I uttered a prayer under my breath as I pushed open the door to her hospital room: I had never been close to a dying person in my life and I truly did not know what to expect.

But as I stood with her, praying and talking (which are so often the same thing, aren’t they?), it seemed as if God gave me a vision. She had little hair, she was incoherent, she wore only a hospital gown and a diaper — and it hit me: she is getting ready to be born!  And I said that to her as I stroked her forehead, “Oh, my friend! God speed you on the journey.”

Painted in Waterlogueiii

In the years since that afternoon epiphany, I’ve watched my father-in-law, my best friend, my father, my son-in-law and dozens of parishioners suffer and die. And I’ve watched their families suffer and try to live, so this question is one I’ve carried around inside me for a long, long time. However, I have changed the question considerably over these years. In fact, I would have to say that the ‘why’ part of it has pretty much disappeared from my vocabulary. 

Because there is no answer to the ‘why,’ at least not one I can live with. I choose to hang onto the biggest possible picture of God — believing that God is good and God is powerful and God is loving and God is just. And holding all those things together makes the ‘why’ question unanswerable, at least for me. A big God, and the ways of a big God, are beyond my power to comprehend. Beyond. So I am increasingly at peace with leaving that huge area over to the side and focusing instead on questions like these:

What can I do to offer comfort/support/encouragement/hope to people who are struggling?

How can I pray for myself and for others when the tough times hit?

When is the best time to talk/be silent/offer practical help/sing a lament?

Where can I find more resources for those who are suffering?

Who is here? Who needs to be here? Who needs to be re-directed? Who needs more help than I am equipped to offer?

Painted in Waterlogue

iv

Those are the questions, those are the concrete activities, those are the best-case-scenario, left-brain things that happen when I click into crisis mode, in my own life or on behalf of someone else. And they are necessary, good and helpful things to think/do/offer/plan/imagine. But there is more. There has to be more. Because sometimes the weight of it all, the fear that creeps in and around the edges of serious suffering, the uneasy, uncertain darkness of it all — well those things are not quite so amenable to left-brain thought processes. The truth of God’s goodness/power/love/justice must somehow permeate me, not just my rational, thinking self. There must be room for the mystery, and somehow that ole left-brain just isn’t big enough. 

Painted in Waterlogue

v

The journey of the last half of my life is a journey away from the left side of my brain, that default position I have explored so heartily for so many years. It is a journey toward wholeness, an acknowledgement that I don’t know — I can’t know — what everything ‘means.’

To get to the center, to make room for the mystery, I must carve out time to . . . shut down the noise. Most of that noise happens inside my head, but some of it comes from outside: other people, outside commitments, expectations, assignments, distractions. And when something difficult happens to me or to someone I love, finding that quiet place becomes much more difficult.

But that is exactly when it is most needed. And slowly, with much trial and error, I am learning to find the quiet right smack dab in the middle of the noise. Sometimes it’s three minutes of deep breathing, eyes closed. Sometimes it’s the Jesus prayer, said over and over just before I drift off to sleep. Sometimes it’s taking a familiar phrase of scripture and looking at it, without dissecting it. Sometimes it’s a quiet 30 minutes in my car, perched on the bluffs, overlooking the ocean. Sometimes, it’s a poem or a song that winds its way around my soul, reminding me of Beauty and Grace and Peace. Sometimes, it’s falling asleep in the sunshine of my backyard. 

All of that helps me to find center, to make space for the Spirit, to transfer the swirling anxieties within to the strong, double yoke of Jesus, who has so graciously offered to carry those burdens with me. All of that helps me to come to peace with the unanswered ‘whys’ of my life. 

Quiet. Stillness. Contemplation. Meditation. Wordless prayer. These are the gifts, these are the invitations.

Painted in Waterlogue

vi

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
– Henri Nouwen

vii

The only way for me to hold the tension of ‘bad things’ happening to ‘good people’ is to remember that I do not and cannot know the reasons why these hard, horrible things happen. I can, however, resolve to enter into the suffering — my own and others’ — and look for God there, because everything I read in scripture and everything I know about Jesus tell me that right there, in the middle of the mess, is where God is sure to show up. And all the topics that we’ve been exploring together in this series come together in that central truth.

We worship a God who knows what it is to suffer and who walks with us through whatever terrible things unfold in front of us. More than that, we worship a God who promises to somehow, some way, redeem that suffering in ways we cannot now imagine. 

viii

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”
           – Romans 8:15-28, The Message

 

Next week’s question (LAST week of this series for now): What do I do with all the hard/weird stuff in the Bible?


An Advent Journey, 2013: Looking for the Light – Day Nineteen

IMG_1549

Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

Galatians 3:23-29-The Message

Of the many good and great things wrought by the Incarnation, this passage in Galatians surely represents one of the most beautiful and most freeing. 

The Law is fulfilled, its purpose served. God has come among us and now, because of the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, we are — all of us — in direct relationship with God.

These three short paragraphs are astoundingly beautiful and profound, aren’t they? We are ‘at our destination,’ as Paul puts it: in Christ we are all equal, we are all family. No divisions, no higher or lower than, no hard-and-fast roles to play. We are ONE.

Is that not amazing? 

So why, I wonder, can we not live this truth and enjoy it? Why do we resort to finger-pointing, labeling, categorizing, sublimating, separating?

Maybe this is exactly why we need to celebrate Christmas every year. To remind ourselves of who we are – our own selves, and all the selves who worship around us, who write blogs out in cyberspace, who write books and pontificate and theorize and stigmatize. We are all one . . . IN CHRIST.

Hallelujah!

Mighty Savior, will you help us to celebrate who we are because of you? Please remind us of this liberating truth: we are equal in your sight. There is no racial, gender, or ethnic distinction that amounts to a hill of beans in the life of the kingdom. Not.One. Praise your name!