The Truest Advent

img_1381

I sit and watch the light play across the beautiful angles of her face. Even at 95, those cheekbones are breathtaking. She is tired today, battling a mild infection, with little to no appetite and even less energy. The sharp angle of the winter sun is unexpectedly flattering as it gently flickers through the window, and I draw a sharp breath as those too-familiar tears begin to form behind my eyelids. 

“Oh, Mama! I love you so. Please, Lord, let her go to sleep and wake up in the New Creation. Enough, okay? Enough.”

But who really knows how much is enough? I don’t have any special insights, only my own bedraggled emotions and growing fatigue. To me, it feels like it is time. Time to be released from this ‘body of dust,’ time to rest from the struggle, time to breathe in and never breathe out again.

We did not go out to lunch today; we barely made it from the dining room to her own sweet space, with its lounge chair in the corner, by the window. “My arms!” she cried softly as we walked. “They ache.”

Truth be told, everything aches. Every cell in her body.

As she slept in that chair, I moved my hand slightly, the one that she was clasping with both of hers. She roused a bit, turning to look in my direction.

“Oh, Mama! Thank you for being such a good, good mother,” I cried.

She didn’t understand me, so I said it again, more slowly, more loudly. She smiled slightly and said a simple, “Thank you.” Somehow her half-sleepy state made the usual questioning unnecessary. There were no confused looks, no puzzled frowns. None of this response: “I’m your mother?? Really??” 

None today. None at all.

One week ago, that’s all I heard. I came home shaking my head at my husband. “I don’t know how much more of this repetition I can navigate! We spent our entire 90 minutes together today asking and attempting to answer the same 5-6 questions — over and over and over again. Oh, Lord, give me patience!”

He and I were getting ready to leave town the next morning, our annual anniversary getaway to parts north. We both needed it — time and space to savor an ocean view, good food prepared by someone else, and quiet time together — no expectations, no obligations, no schedule. And it was good. Very, very good.

They called me from the dementia unit as we were driving home yesterday. “She has a UTI and a low-grade fever. Is it all right with you if we put her on antibiotics?” 

Yes, it was all right with me. UTIs make dementia much worse and increase confusion and disorientation. She doesn’t need any escalation of those symptoms and neither do I. But this time around, the infection plus the added medication led to extreme exhaustion — one more sign of decline, diminishment. 

And yet, as painful as it is to watch that happen, this time I will admit that my primary response is relief and gratitude. She is heading in one direction only; and today’s exhaustion underlined that truth for me. My mother is very old. She is very frail. She is extraordinarily confused.

She is also beautiful, grateful, loves people (even when she hasn’t a clue who they are), sings the old songs and hymns with a higher degree of accuracy than her illness might lead you to expect, and generally enjoys her life. It is not up to me when that life will end on this side of the mysterious veil that separates us from the eternal.

There are, however, some decisions that are up to me. When and how to treat illness, for one. I think I know what I will and will not allow — mom and I discussed it all, long before dementia took over — but until illness or accident happens, I suppose it’s all pretty hypothetical.

So, in addition to those prayers for patience, I also pray for wisdom, grace, kindness and insight as my mother moves ever closer to the end of her long and remarkable life. I will miss her presence in my life more than I can adequately put into words, more than language will allow.

 

Then again, I have been missing her for a very long time.

“Oh for grace to trust him more!”

31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Nine

img_0742

Do you see that lovely arch out there? It is the source of the name of the state park in which it is located – Natural Bridges. We drove out there from our retreat center fairly early in the morning of our first full day. Discovering that it would cost us ten bucks to drive onto the campground, we opted to go in the opposite direction, toward the parking lot right at the edge of the cliff that overlooks this rock. From that viewpoint, this is what we saw:

img_0735

Do you see any sign of that lovely arch from this angle?

Nada. Zilch. Nope. 

Your point of view, your perspective, your position makes a huge difference in what you can actually see. I’ve had days, I’ve had seasons, I’ve had YEARS when parts of my life looked like a solid, dark wall. And then, a simple shift in my viewpoint, a slight difference in my perspective, a new angle of vision made all the difference in the world. 

At no point in time can we see every possibility that exists in a given situation. WE don’t have the power, the ability, the intelligence, the vantage point to make such a thing possible. But . . . there is Someone who does. There is Someone who can. Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to wait. To trust that with the passage of time and the accumulation of more experience, the gathering of more facts, the readiness to engage in more of those ongoing conversations in life, we will begin to see an old, impossibly bleak problem with freshness and new insight. Maybe that blank wall has a lovely big hole in it! Maybe we can sail our small craft of a life right on through it and come out the other side with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of a brand new view.

paying-attention-300

The Seven Sorrows

img_0623

I snuck in through the back gate, carefully closing it so that the family of deer grazing nearby could not enter the enclosed garden. Miraculous rain had fallen during the night and the air was crisp and cool, with a slight breeze from the west. The small labyrinth on the grounds of Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center was my first target that morning — I love to walk and pray, and if there is a dedicated pathway for such walking and praying, I head straight toward it. These deer were just to the east as I slowly wound my way to the center of that stone-marked pathway and back out again. They were lovely – young, strong, alert.

img_0616

The garden site took me to an entirely different place, one of tears and remembering, of death and dying, though there was beauty to be seen on all sides. The wisteria arbor pictured above was the first thing I saw as I clanged the gate behind me. Stretching out on both sides to form a circle, the entire 15-feet wide pathway fully enclosed a special, set-aside space: The Garden of the Seven Sorrows. This is a space marked for contemplation on the sorrows that Mary carried throughout her life as a mother, an idea new to me, and a surprisingly welcome one.

We Protestants don’t often think about Mary, do we? We tend to forget the depth of her spiritual maturity, her shocking availability to God. Would you be so open? Would I?

There are six niches around the circle, each with an exquisite and colorful mosaic depicting the sorrows that are mentioned in the gospel narrative. There are benches, a variety of both green and blooming plants, a fountain in the center, and a striking bronze statue duet, life-sized and haunting in its detailed depiction of mother and son locking eyes as Jesus drops the cross on his way to Calvary. That statue represents the seventh sorrow, and I saw it first from the back.

dsc07797

I walked around, under the arbor, to begin my pilgrimage at the beginning, stepping into each niche in turn and then returning to the center magnificence to further contemplate that bronze tableau, this time from the front and from the side. I invite you to come along with me as I walk, enjoying a more distant view and then a closeup of each sorrow in turn. Take a moment to savor the detail, to reflect on the moment captured by the artwork. See what rises in you.

img_0624

It began in the earliest days of her motherhood experience, didn’t it? Taking her new little boy to the temple for blessing and dedication, Simeon had a hard word for her
“. . . and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

img_0626

img_0627

Joseph holds the infant Jesus and the heart of Mary beats almost out of her chest at Simeon’s heavy words. Eight days old and her heart is filled with foreboding.

The Second Sorrow focuses on the flight into Egypt. With a toddler in tow, Mary and her husband were forced to flee their homeland, not knowing exactly when they might return. This is, to me, a poignant picture of the plight of so many refugees in our world today — forced out, running away to a foreign place, uncertain about the future, wanting protection and safety for their family.

img_0629

img_0630

Sorrow Three comes twelve years later, when Jesus remains in the temple, worrying his parents by his absence, and then by his response: “Didn’t you know, Mother? Didn’t you know where I would be?” 

Do we know where our children are? Can we?

img_0632

img_0634The artist has managed to capture Mary’s pain and confusion, using just small pieces of colored ceramic. Jesus is rapt, his hand raised and open. Always, his hands were open.

img_0635

And this is Sorrow Four — the only one not specifically recorded in scripture, but one that surely could have happened — Mary meeting her son on the road. I do not know who the artists were, for either the mosaics or the sculpture, but I am grateful for them and to them. This is one of the most moving sights I’ve ever experienced. Contemplate the detail on their faces with me, won’t you?

img_0636

Deep grief marks a person in every way — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Her tears elicit my own.

img_0637

And Jesus turns to look at his mother, his mama. How difficult this entire event must have been for both of them. The gospel writers give us tiny glimpses; artists take those glimpses and give us wider, deeper vistas.

img_0638

I think he must have been a strong man — I like the musculature outlined here. But he was also a very weary man at this point in the journey, a heartbroken man. And all of that shows in that face. All of it.

img_0639

Though I do not subscribe to the Catholic doctrines about Mary, I completely understand how they developed. The mother-son bond is a strange and wondrous one, and like it or not, we moms are of primary importance to and a strong influence on our children, daughters and sons alike. While I believe the Catholic church has overplayed the importance of that bond, I fear we Protestants have seriously underplayed it. 

img_0640

And here is the one we are probably most familiar with — Sorrow Five — Mary watching her beloved son die on that tree. The apostle John appears to the right, turned away from the sight; Mary looks, but weeps. What must that have been like?

img_0642The Sixth Sorrow is the one made famous by Pietas across the ages — Mary holding her son as he is taken down from the cross. “Has there been any sorrow like unto my sorrow?”

img_0643

img_0645

The final sorrow comes at the gravesite. The women are all there and it is hard to know which one is Mary. Who do you think it is?

img_0647

img_0648

The rose bush effectively hid all of their faces, but I snuck my camera around the blooms and thorns and got each of them:

img_0649

img_0650

img_0651

As I walked this beautiful, yet somewhat strange new circle, I found myself saying, ‘thank you,’ over and over again. Thank you to the Son, yes, of course. Of course. But also — thank you to the mother, the dear mother, the one who said ‘yes’ to the mystery, who opened herself to unspeakable pain, who loved her child with her whole heart. She was not perfect, but she was deeply good and I am grateful.

As I turned to leave this glorious space, I noticed a flash of color just off to my right. Two colors, to be exact — two colors of the church year, in point of fact: red (this one was pinkish) and purple — red for sorrow and purple for royalty. Seemed fitting, somehow. Perfectly fitting.

img_0652

img_0653

img_0654

We will return to this same retreat center in 18 months. You can be sure that the Garden of the Seven Sorrows will be a part of my own meditative experience in 2018. It will be springtime then. How lovely!

Touching the Holy

Every once in a while, life grants me a transcendent moment. Often, this happens when I am out of doors, gaping at the sea, the mountains, a redwood forest; snorkeling above coral reefs, standing in the wind on the deck of a ship, or staring down at the world from 35,000 feet. These moments are gifts, glimpses of the Mystery, those thin places between earth and heaven, a place/person/? which I choose to believe is much nearer to us than we can imagine, close enough to touch.

And once in a while, we do.

Music is often an entryway to heaven for me. Especially choral music. I’ve written before about my lifelong love for choral singing — listening to it, but mostly, singing it. Standing with a larger group of singers, making Beauty together is a privilege and a joy; I do not take it for granted.

Here is an example of a small piece of music that was instrumental in my own deeper awakening to the Spirit about twenty years ago. It is an audio recording of a piece that hit me right between the eyes when first I heard it up in the tower office that was mine when I worked on staff in our home church. I have listened to it hundreds of times and always, always  it moves me to tears and wonder. I had the privilege of singing it (though we did not sing it very well, I fear) in the choir I joined last year. This is one piece of nine that are part of a spectacular requiem mass written by Maurice Durufle, a French composer from the early-to-mid 20th century. There are frequently changing time signatures and many different keys throughout the entire mass, but this piece is one of the simpler ones, as written. But it is the most difficult to sing exactly right. Robert Shaw and his famous Chorale got it exactly right. Close your eyes and let this music wash over you.

“Sanctus” – by Maurice Durufle, using the text of the requiem Mass:

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,
pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis! Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis!

Holy, Lord God of hosts.
The heavens and the earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He Who cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Do you see what I mean? Or perhaps this particular piece doesn’t lead you across the threshold in the same way it did me. I’m willing to bet however, that somewhere in your life there is one piece — or perhaps several — that help you to do just that.

Last week, our choir met again to prepare for our spring concert. We are doing a variety of anthems and folk songs, about five of which we’ve looked at so far. Of those five, two of them, TWO OF THEM, opened that door to the Holy in me as we sight-read them. The act of sight-reading is exhilarating, all by itself. It is one of my favorite things to do in the world: to take a stack of unseen music and work through it for the first time. So fun.

But these two? Oh, glory! The words simply stopped me. STOPPED me. And the close harmonies and moving choral parts? Well  . . . that was three days ago and I am still awash with gratitude and glory.  This first one pretty well sums up what I believe and have experienced with music . . . sing me to heaven, indeed.

“Sing Me to Heaven,” words by Jane Griner, music by Daniel E. Gawthrop

In my heart’s sequestered chambers lie truths stripped of poets’ gloss
Words alone are vain and vacant, and my heart is mute
In response to aching silence, memory summons half-heard voices
And my soul finds primal eloquence, and wraps me in song
If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem, sing me to Heaven
Touch in me all love and passion, pain and pleasure
Touch in me grief and comfort, love and passion, pain and pleasure
Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God
Sing me a love song, sing me to Heaven

And number two? Yes, yes. This is the cry of my heart for me and for all those I know and love who are struggling to see God in the midst of their pain, to believe in the midst of crushing doubt, to take a step into the unknown when it feels dark and murky and above all, lonely. 

I invite you to take steps into the holy, my friends. To look for thresholds in your day-to-day living, to ask for eyes to see and ears to hear. May you find small moments when loneliness recedes and hope rises, rises, rises.

“Even When He Is Silent” – music by Kim Andre Arnesen
          The text for the piece was found in a concentration camp after World War 2:
          The key signature encourages director and singer to set the metronome for 54 per quarter note and adds these remarkable words, ‘with hope.’ Indeed, indeed.
I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.

Out of the Ether — OneWord 2016

On January 1st, I sent out my first Tiny Letter of this new year. This is a project I have come to love and I am grateful for the friends who have subscribed to these missives, most particularly for the much smaller number who take the time to send me a response of some kind. Thank you!!

In that letter, I said that I was still waiting for my ‘word’ for this year to reveal itself to me. I was even so bold as to say I hoped it would be an easier word than the last few have been. My word for 2015 was ‘STRETCH,’ for 2014 it was ‘OBEDIENT,’ and for 2012, it was ‘WAITING.’ (Not sure what happened to 2013, but apparently, a word never materialized for that 12-month stretch!) Not one of those was easy, in any sense of that word.

After writing that letter, as I readied myself for sleep and turned out the light, I asked again for a word to appear. And lo, out of the ether of near-sleep, a word appeared. I thought I heard it as . . . slow.

Well, yes, that surely fits. 2015 was the year of Falling Down a Lot and every time I hit the ground, I thought to myself, “Woman, you have GOT to slow down!” So slow seemed right somehow.

But that sense of rightness lasted all of 30 seconds. Because coming immediately on the heels of that word was this one: ‘STEADY.

Ah, yes. I’ll take it! I said into that ether. I.will.take.it.

I’ve been chewing on that set of seven letters ever since, trying to conjure up images/ideas/connections as I reflect on the year just past and lean into the one so recently begun. Here are some of my initial thoughts and a few recent photographs to illustrate them.

 

IMG_6548

After the turbulence of 2015, the entire concept of steadiness comes as a welcome gift, one that I am still unpacking, one that I am confident will be multi-layered and complex. For example, have you ever watched sea stars? They are among God’s steadiest creatures, I do believe. They only move when hungry or in danger and they cling to rocks, coral, wharf poles — anything sturdy and stationary. On top of that, they’re gorgeous — brightly colored, a pleasing shape and they have this incredible ability to regrow injured limbs. Hoping to make this a year of Not Falling At All, I want to learn from these guys and cling to the sturdy stuff. And, of course, it never hurts to look as good as possible whilst clinging, right?

DSC05622

Living in a beachside community provides easy access to one of the grandest of reminders that steadiness is a virtue and gift. The waves keep on comin,’ you know? Sometimes they’re slow and piddly; sometimes they’re muscular and wild. But no matter the weather, the time of day or night, the condition of the beach (or the presence of frail human bodies!), those waves are steady. They roll on, without end or interruption. I’m hoping for NO interruptions this year, at least none of the unwelcome and/or difficult kind . . . like emergency room visits or moving all my earthly belongings across town.

IMG_6799

Now I will admit that some human bodies are less frail than others when it comes to those waves. We spent a fair amount of time watching surfers while we were away celebrating our anniversary last month. This particular guy was not young. No, indeed, not young at all. And he managed to catch a ride with some frequency. It’s true that a surfer’s steadiness is a temporary and usually short-lived thing. But while it lasts? Oh, GLORY. Even just a few moments of glorious steadiness would be welcome, welcome.

DSC05742

Now this old codger knew how to be steady! He clambered up on the edge of the Pismo Beach pier, folded his large webbed feet underneath his feathers, sat down firmly and drew his great neck and beak into the warmth and softness of his feathers. He remained watchful and alert, but he sat there, perched on a narrow plank for a good long time. When a nearby fisherman caught a small fish, he was instantly across that pier, waiting for a taste — he got one, too. Being steady does not mean being unwilling to move. Rather, I think it implies an alert readiness to change course, as needed. That’s the kind of steady I need.

IMG_6845

And then, of course, in any central coast California beach town, there are the bluffs, those large, yellow-to-peachy-pink rock formations that rim almost every sandy cove between Ventura and Pismo Beach. I love them — they’re craggy, uneven, vulnerable to erosion, yet somehow one of the steadiest things in our landscape. They are ever-present, providing grand vistas of the broad Pacific, reminding us that we are truly tiny creatures with short life spans. They are a regular reminder of beauty and strength, two of the many facets of ‘steady.’

DSC05910

The oak trees that are ubiquitous in this part of the world remind me of the value of hanging in, hanging on, standing strong, offering shade, and withstanding both wind and drought. They are, in many ways, the epitome of steadiness to me. We don’t have oak trees in our current neighborhood, at least not very many of them. We were surrounded by them in our former home and their presence is one of the few things I miss since our move. I’m glad they’re EVERYWHERE in our town, because I enjoy being around them. I’d love for 2016 to be a year of hanging in/hanging on/standing strong, etc. Praying in that direction these days, that is for sure.

DSC05922I did a quick biblical search for the word, ‘steady,’ and got back a grand total of four. I may reference one or two of them in the year ahead, but this one, from the beautiful book of Isaiah, seemed wildly appropriate for me at this point in my life:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Isaiah 35:3-5

Yes, Lord. I am relying on you to provide both strength and steadiness as needed in the year that is unfolding before me. And I relish this picture of an inordinately long-lived rainbow as a reminder of the way in which you, O God, keep your promises to humankind. As always, 2016 will be a year in which you are the steadiness I seek, the steadiness I need.

Do you have a word for 2016? Share it in the comments — I love reading what others are living with/wrestling with/hoping for!

Sing It Out!! — for SheLoves in December

We were asked to write a shorter-than-usual reflection piece for SheLoves this month, reflection on a character in the Christmas narrative. My choice was a bit of a ‘cheat,’ because I picked two of my very favorites. See if maybe you see the same things I do in this lovely piece of our story. You can start here and then finish it over at SheLoves:

IMG_6598

There are two of them in the story, two of them in the same boat.

And such a strange and wonderful boat it was.

One young, very young. The other, older, maybe ten or even twenty years older. Cousins the story tells us, they were distant cousins.

Both of them pregnant — unexpectedly, miraculously, stunningly pregnant.

And they came together at a crucial moment, offering each other gifts, gifts that took the shape of words, words that sing out with hope and promise, with surprise and jump-for-joy abandon.

That younger one was full to the brim with Spirit-joy and more than a little bit of wonder, and I’m guessing, more than a few questions. When she knew she was with child, she went running, right on up the dusty road, up to the hills, looking for that familiar face, that familiar cousin-voice, so hungry for a companion on the way.

And the older one? Well, she was smack dab in the middle of her own wonderment. For years she cried out to God, begging for a baby, a baby who never materialized, leaving her aching and isolated. When she was beyond hope, God answered! Now there was a wild-souled boy-child growing inside her.

Their meeting is a picture of the life-giving power that is possible when women who share affection and esteem support one another. Mary, overwhelmed by that heavenly visitation and its remarkable aftermath, headed straight into the arms of someone who knew her well, someone who knew God well, someone who could help her make some sense of all the craziness. She headed for Elizabeth.

Hop on over to SheLoves to see what happens next!

Tapestry — SheLoves

The themes over at SheLoves this year have been rich and provocative. This month: fabric. You can begin this meandering piece here and then follow the link over to one of my favorite magazines in order to read the rest:
IMG_5028

This life we live is a woven thing.

Textures, colors, strengths, weaknesses, flaws, beauty, warmth, breathability — a wondrous, complex, sturdy fabric of relationships, experiences, emotions, encounters, learning and un-learning.

Weaving in and out of each of our stories are some glorious threads that glisten and shine; and then there are those others, the darker ones that cannot reflect light at all. Sometimes, the tension between the two can feel chaotic, without design or beauty. We can feel buried under the weight of it all as the loom of life pulls and pushes us in ways we might not choose to go.

When those days come, I try to remind myself that the fabric that is me is only one small piece of the much larger work God is creating across time and all around this universe. And that larger piece is a design of such magnificence that not one of us can even imagine its depth and beauty. Those ‘thin places’ we talked about last month sometimes give us a peek, a hint, of what God is up to in the ongoing creation of life. And that old cliché — the one about seeing only the backside of the tapestry God is weaving? Yup, I think it’s true.

There are those days when we catch a glimpse of the front, though. Moments when the glory-light shines in and our lungs feel like they’re breathing heavenly air. In the fabric of my own life, there have consistently been some glittering threads, ones that make me gasp with gratitude and sigh with recognition and relief.

Please come over and join the conversation at SheLoves! Just click on this line.

After the Tears


DSC04058

We are moving to the midpoint of Holy Week and I am feeling the loneliness of this season. The empty tomb awaits us, the glorious garden story, the triumph of Love over death.

But right now?

It’s dark in this heart of mine. Not without hope, no, never that. But dark, nonetheless. As I do every evening, I spoke with my aging mother on the phone tonight. Very briefly, as she cannot tolerate more than about 2-3 minutes without being overcome by confusion. As I said good night to her, the tears pricked.

Those tears.

I find them behind my eyes a lot these days. Watching a valiant, loved mother lose herself, piece by piece, is a painful and difficult process. There are days when it feels never-ending, when there is yet another jagged piece of reality thrust in both our faces.

I listened to an interview on the PBS Newshour tonight, a conversation with an author who tweeted his way through his mother’s death a year ago. He has now written a book about that journey and it sounds intriguing.

But as he talked, I realized that his journey was very different from the one I take with my mother. He lost his mother over a few days in the ICU, with her fully awake and cognizant until the very end. I have been losing mine for the last six years, watching her slowly unravel and as she herself put it last week, ‘losing pieces of myself’ from minute to minute.

Yes, the tears are ever-present in our journey. I find myself saying, “I am so sorry, Mom,” repeatedly. And there is a lot of repeating going on in our conversations now. In our regular 90-minute lunch together, I will tell her at least ten times that I am her daughter and she is my mother. Each time, she is delighted to say, “I never knew that.” I also recount each of the places she has lived in her long life, tell her that she was married for 63 years. “I was? I was married? Is he alive?” “No, Mom, he died ten years ago.” “Oh, no! Did I take good care of him?” “Oh, yes, Mom, you took such good care of him.” “Well, at least I did that right.”

Oh, sweet Mama — you did so many things right! So many.There is so little left, your story has become so very small.

Some days I wonder if there is any evidence of Easter in this sad story we tell together. Is there hope? Is there resurrection? 

The answer is ‘yes’ — and I find Resurrection Hope by looking in two directions: directly out at who she is right now, and forward, to what she will be once the dying has stopped.

Right now, my mother is beautiful. She smiles at everyone, she says ‘thank you,’ over and over again. She tells me I am a wonderful person and that she is so glad to be with me. She cheerily greets all who pass us on our slow progression from car to restaurant, from hallway to recliner chair. She finds delight in the beauty she can see — the sunlight on her back, the distant view of the ocean, any small child she sees on our weekly outing. These things are lovely to watch.

The pieces of my mother that remain fairly shimmer with kindness, joy, hope, light. All of her life, Mom earnestly sought the face of God. And now that Face shines out of her eyes, sparkles in her smile, and echoes in her diminishing vocabulary. These lovely things are the seeds of resurrection. Such beautiful seeds — these are what I see when I look at the now.

And when I look ahead? What I see there is restoration, relief, refreshment, reunion. She talks about it from time to time, always with wonder in her voice, and I find myself occasionally praying for her release, hoping that she will fall asleep in her cozy bed, pictures of her family lining the walls, and wake up walking the streets of heaven, hand-in-hand with my dad.

I used to feel vaguely guilty about such prayers but I no longer do. I offer them with deep thanksgiving for who she was, and yes, for who she is. Even in this terrible time of losing and failing, my mother fairly radiates Easter Hope. 

So, I’ll take her a lily on Sunday. I’ll kiss her on the cheek, give her a big bear hug and I’ll wish her a Happy Easter. And then, I’ll drive south with my husband, south to younger family, vibrant family, family she made possible, family she loved and who love her still. 

And I will carry in my body and in my spirit the seeds of resurrection that my mother has planted deep in me, seeds of promise, of beauty, of hope.

Happy Easter, Mom. I love you.

IMG_4996

A Prayer for the Second Sunday in Advent

I wrote this prayer for community worship in 2009. And then I folded it into a small, home-copied book of community prayers that I gave as gifts to the members of our congregation when I retired at the end of 2010. Periodically, I am going to publish those prayers in this space. If anyone wishes to use any of them in worship, just let me know. Please do not print and distribute without written permission from me. Thank you.

DSC03573 Advent 2014

We had just listened to the beautiful song about Joseph, “A Strange Way to Save the World,” written by Mark Harris.

 

“A strange way to save the world,” indeed.
If we’re really honest with you and with ourselves, Lord God, we don’t completely ‘get’ what you’ve done for us in the coming of Jesus.

We get pieces of the puzzle, and we celebrate joyously what our limited imaginations can grasp.

But we, too, can easily join the chorus of,

            “Why him?”  “Why here?”  “Why her?”

And I, for one! (and probably many others in this room might join me in this) I am very often one to second-guess what angels have to say!

I try, and fail, to wrap my mind around

            the mystery of the incarnation,

            the mystery of salvation,

            the mystery of faith itself,

and I second-guess everything … a lot!

It sometimes seems like a highly visible, high and mighty, fully-grown military leader extraordinaire might fill the bill as savior a whole lot better than a red-faced, squirming, squalling very needy, tiny baby,
who makes his grand entrance on the scene
     with no one but animals and shepherds 
     and dirt-poor parents for company.

And when my second-guessing takes me down that particular road, it’s time for me…
     to stop, to slow down, to step back,
     to breathe in and breathe out, and be still.

Still enough to hear your voice of love through all the garbage in my head.

Still enough to allow your Holy Spirit to re-capture my imagination.

Still enough to remember that You are God and I am not.

To remember :

            that you always do things in unexpected ways,
            that you continually confound those who are wise in                           their own eyes,
            that you choose to make yourself visible in
                                             the weak, the lost, the little, the least;
                       that you are not in the business of taking over the world by force;

            you are in the business
                  of wooing your human creatures
                  in ways that are subtle and strange, surprising and mysterious.

And for that, we most humbly say, “Thank you.”
And for that, we most humbly ask, “Woo us, O Lord.”

For we’re here in this place today, God, to say that
            we need a Savior, we need a healer,
            we need a companion on the way.

Many of us are dreading these days ahead –
            we’re missing people from our family circle, through illness or death or divorce;
            we’re struggling with illness and pain ourselves;
            we’re tired of the overhype and the overkill;
            we’re broke and we’re frightened about the future;
            we’re struggling to find our place in the world and we don’t quite know where to put our feet next;
            we’re facing into exams and papers due and not enough time or energy to do any of it;
            we’re facing the harsh reality of aging, failing bodies and we yearn for heaven.

We’re a mixed up, crazy bunch here, Lord.
And we truly don’t ‘get it’ a lot of the time.
BUT – we deeply desire to get YOU.

Through all the questions and all the wrestling, and all the sighing and all the wondering – we want you.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who surprises people with grace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who welcomes the stranger with words of hope and peace.

We want you to be – in us and through us – the God who comes to us as one of us, tiny and squalling, poor and needy.

The one who cries tears of compassion over our lost-ness.

The one who heals our diseases and feeds our souls.

The one who lives a fully human life,

            and dies a fully human death,

            and who is resurrected by the power of Divine Spirit,

and who will come again to bring justice and mercy where justice and mercy are due.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

An Advent Journey: When God Became Small — Day Two

DSC02899

1 Thessalonians 4:1-18, The Message

One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.

Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.

Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.

Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them. We’ve warned you about this before. God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful—as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.

And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.

 

It’s just a small phrase, a few words carefully chosen by Eugene Peterson when he was doing his wonderful paraphrase (based on real knowledge of the languages) – a living spirited dance.

And what is he talking about with that fine phrase? Working together with God to bring God (and ourselves) pleasure — true pleasure. He’s talking about the life of faith. 

As a dance. 

My fundamentalist grandmother would roll over in her grave!

I, however, think it’s an absolutely perfect description of what God invites us to do when we turn our faces in God’s direction: to partner with God in this dance of life, to dance the kingdom in!

One of the most graceful kinds of dancing I know is the hula. About three years ago, I had the privilege of watching a lovely Benedictine nun do a hula of her own creation, set to a song of praise to God; I wept at the beauty of it.

It was the perfect picture of what this life of ours can look like — worship and work, faithfulness and beauty, offered in a spirited dance to the God who made us. 

Oh, Lord, help me to dance with you, to follow your lead and to enjoy the process. As I wait in this season of Advent, looking forward to celebrating that wee baby, give my feet extra measures of grace and freedom. Give my heart a new sense of commitment. Forgive me when I make our life together into a ‘dogged religious plod,’ trapped by expectations and guilt. Help me to inhabit your presence with joy and thanksgiving. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Get a personal letter from Diana direct to your inbox once each month

Sign up now for 'More Wondering' and as thanks, receive Living the Questions, Diana's 8-chapter ebook wrestling with some of the hard questions of life and faith.

powered by TinyLetter