Signs of Spring — A Photo Essay

A winter heat wave gave way this weekend to the beginnings of a spring storm.
Somehow, this change in the sky, in the texture of the air around me,
matched a move in  my spirit.
We are midway through Lent, winding our way through the wilderness,
heading now for the Promised Land.
And the edge of it is in sight.
Can you see it, just there?
There is an undercurrent of hope amidst the sober reflectiveness of this season,
there is a sense of movement, forward movement, Spirit movement.

Ten minutes at my beachside office before church on Sunday,
about 50 deep breaths of tangy sea air.
Then onto worship, first-Sunday-of-the-month worship,
which means communion with the community.
The table was inviting, with four stations for intinction,
with its tearing of the bread, its dipping in the cup.
Myriad candles were lit, the worship team took their place,
two high school students adding keyboard and violin skills to this Sunday’s mix.
A strong, good sermon on a tough passage,
a passage that ended with the parable of the fig tree.
I like that fig tree, because I so often feel unfruitful.
I find it heartening to think that God is the gracious and patient gardener,
willing to cultivate and fertilize the reluctant tree,
hoping for fruit in the year ahead.

I wonder what that cultivation and fertilization looks like in  my life just now. . .

 Communion was  a bit chaotic, and I liked it that way.
It reminded me of meals shared in our home when our kids were growing up:
everybody wants to join in,
but no one is exactly certain where to go or what to do.
The spirit is lively, open, a little uncertain,
and that seems a good thing to me.
Eventually, a rhythm is found, everyone relaxes into this different way
of sharing the bread and cup.
Personal words are offered to those who partake,
the elements are both taken and received,
and sometimes that needs to happen –
we need to tear off a chunk AND we need to have someone else hold it for us.

 An afternoon walk around our yard served to underscore this new reality,
the truth that the season is shifting.

Later on, we enjoyed our monthly Taizé service in the early evening,
a quiet, candlelit time with lovely prayer songs, softly sung.

Somehow, these Sunday things – morning communion, afternoon walk,
evening music by candlelight —
they all felt like harbingers of hope,
reminders that fallow times yield rich harvests,
that Lent takes us to Easter Sunday.

We’re not there yet – there is walking still to do,
there is more sober reflection to come.
There is Holy Week before there is Resurrection Day.

But the blossoms are out! The light is cracking through, the colors begin to unfurl.

Summer plums, rich and dripping with deep,
dark goodness are now bright white flowers,
spreading their way along old limbs, reaching toward the sun.
The remnants of last fall’s apples make rich fertilizer for next summer’s crop.

And shrubs of unknown name, planted by a long ago landscape architect,
are flush with brilliance this year.
Deep magenta spikes, covering different areas of the yard.

The late afternoon sun catches just a glimpse of their glory, bouncing here, there, everywhere.

This has been a hard winter in some ways.
My mom’s move, illness and surgery for other close relatives,
more writing deadlines than I’m used to,
a return to work for a few months.
For all these reasons and more,
I’m glad to see signs of change,
to observe promises of the future.
In the middle of Lent, I appreciate reminders that this journey
has a magnificent end point,
and it is  coming soon!

I’ll have my monthly post at A Deeper Family this week and I’m trying to write three other deadline essays (welcomed by friends at other sites – my thanks to each and all!) in order to dig into my first sermon in over two years, to be preached on the 17th of this month. So I will not be writing much in this space for a while. I’ll put a link up on Thursday to ADF and I’ll join this one with some of my friends around the blogosphere tonight.
I am hoping that more frequent posting will come again soon!

Grace and Peace — Lenten Services

Am I ready for this?

I’ve been sitting in the back pew for over two years now, and happy to do so.
Enjoying the leadership of others, fed by the word,
encouraged by the music,
grateful for the community.

After a few months of some disorientation,
wondering a bit about how I’d discover who I am
without the hard-earned role of pastor as my identity,
it’s been a rich two years,
filled with surprises and grace upon grace.

Who knew that reading and writing and meeting people
through the miracle that is the internet
could be so rich, so challenging?
Not I, that’s for sure.
It has been wondrous serendipity for me,
week after week.
Reading good words,
thoughtfully offered;
giving and receiving encouragement,
finding a prayer community.

To tell you the truth, it’s been a lot like pastoring.

So much so, that I have not missed the work like I feared I might.
So much so, that I’ve discovered that long stretches of
unscheduled silence and solitude,
by the sea or in the quiet of my bedroom,
can be gift-beyond-measure.
So much so, that working with directees in person,
and communicating with a wide range of ‘parishioners’ via the interwaves
has filled that pastor-piece very nicely indeed.

So it was with some trepidation that I assumed ‘the mantel’ this month.
On February 1st, I began a 3-month, very part-time stretch
as. . . Associate Pastor, once again.
And to start things off, I was invited to do something I love —
planning and leading a series of six Lenten services,
in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

We began with a simple soup supper on Ash Wednesday, one week ago tonight.
We had about 25 RSVP’s,
but enough soup and bread for the nearly 70 people who showed up.

 Then another 20 people joined them in the worship center
as we began to celebrate the beginning of Lent,
sharing communion and ashes.

There is a sweet seriousness about Lent,
about worship in Lent.
There is an intentional slowing,
a purposeful remembering,
a focussed attention.

The structure is simple,
both formal and informal,
with responsively read prayers,
songs in a minor key,
times of silence and confession.
But there is also coming forward to tear the bread and dip into the cup.
There is a time for public offering of brief prayer requests,
and a shared response to each one . . .
“Hear our prayer, O Lord.”
And there is the passing of the peace.

I love the combination of words written
and words offered,
words from the tradition and
words from the heart.
I like reaching out to one another,
with a hug or a handshake,
a ‘peace of the Lord be with you.’

I’ve done the brief homily for the first two of our six,
braiding thoughts from the four scripture passages
read aloud during the liturgy.
And tonight,
with a very much smaller group,
I also offered the bread and the cup.

Doing this again makes me want to take off my shoes;
I am standing on holy ground,
offering the gifts of God to the people of God,
saying the words to each person by name:
“The bread of heaven, the cup of salvation,
for you,  . . . “
“The body of Christ, the blood of Christ,
for you,  . . .” 

This is the heart of it all, isn’t it?
For you,
for me,
for all of us together?
All of us together. 

Whether that ‘all’ is 250 or 12,
this is our collective story,
our shared remembering.

This is who we are; this is why we’re here.

I am including the homily from tonight’s service below the links to Jennifer’s place and Emily’s and Ann’s.

Lent, Week One — Brief Homily on Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans
10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

Four scripture passages, just like every week in the church year. But these four? They seem to have something important in common. And I think maybe it’s this: they all call us to remember important things.

The Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy? “Remember the story. . .” –the story of deliverance, of faithfulness. Tell it again and again and tell it with thanksgiving made visible in offerings and words and oil and song and respect.

The psalm? “Remember that refuge is found in God alone. . .” — when we name the name of Almighty God, we are secure in God’s presence, no matter what comes.

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome? “Remember that the word is near you. . .”
in your mouth and in your heart, and this living word is how we find rescue, how we are being saved, day by day.

And the gospel lesson — ah, yes, the gospel lesson. . . That one’s a little harder to pull out, but I think maybe it’s something like this: Remember to have your yeses so firmly in place that your noes will be almost automatic. . .”

And the through line all the way along, in each of the four, is this idea of ‘the word.’ The WORD — whether that word is the name of God, or faith in the resurrection, or offerings poured out in thanksgiving, or meeting up with the devil himself in the wilderness wasteland after 40 days of fasting and isolation — the Word is central.

Familiarity with The Word — learning it by heart as well as by head. Knowing the details of the story of deliverance, knowing them in our very marrow. Sitting with the story long enough to breathe it in and breathe it out. Absorbing the words as if they were living things, because that is exactly what they are, living and life-giving things.

Even when we’re at the end of our natural resources, even when we’re exhausted and hungry and thirsty, even when we’re wandering in the back of beyond, seeking the Face of God, carrying with us a blessing.

That pretty much describes where Jesus was in our gospel lesson tonight, right? From the high point of the dove descending in the River Jordan, to the immediate journey to the desert, to the 40 days of concentrated prayer and filling with the Spirit, Jesus is at his most vulnerable point when the devil shows up: weak, tired, hungry.

But ready.

Ready to meet the temptations thrust in his face, one by one, each invitation offered parried by a word from the Book.

We can only imagine what those 40 days were like for him – we are given no details other than it was a long season of fasting and solitude. What I imagine happening is something like this: gathering thoughts, solidifying goals, wrestling through the hard stuff, cementing in his mind and in his spirit who he was and why he came. Learning the YESES of kingdom work.

I think Jesus understood so clearly who he was and what he was about that saying ‘no’ was just about the most natural thing he could do when that temptor showed up. He knew the ‘yes,’ so he could offer the no. No to magic tricks. No to power plays. No to super stunts.

Yes to grace. Yes to worship of the True God. Yes to the upside down world that was his to usher in. YES to the story of God’s love for the world.

I wonder, what are the yeses in my life, in yours? Do we have them clearly in mind, part of our DNA? Yes to grace. Yes to God. Yes to the upside-down-ness of the gospel.

Because if we do, then saying no gets a whole lot simpler, doesn’t it? I’m pretty sure none of us is tempted to jump off a pinnacle in order to prove that angels will save us.

And I’m guessing that we don’t hear dark whispers, enticing us to make stones into bread.

Ah, but I too often succumb to the siren call of things that do not truly nourish me or others. All kinds of things – from food that is lousy for me to words that I read or say that do not bring life. I sometimes wrestle with the need to feel important and needed, to have others validate me and offer me ‘authority and splendor.’ How about you?

What are the words that can help us with the particular wildernesses in which we find ourselves these days? Where are they found?

Right here, around this table. That’s a good place to start. This is the primary place of remembering, for us who follow in the Jesus way, isn’t it? Remembering the story, remembering the refuge, remembering the word, remembering what we so need to say ‘yes’ to.

Remembering the gift and grace of salvation, taking in the bread and the juice, letting it flood us with light and hope, with peace and grace. Amen.



A Little More Epiphany, Please . . .

So . . .
Yesterday was Epiphany Sunday.
And on my calendar, we are now in the season of Epiphany.

Some call this Ordinary Time, this season-between-the-seasons.
Christmastide just past, Lent just ahead — yes, to call this time ordinary
seems right and good.

But I love the idea of epiphany spreading itself out into ordinary time.
Epiphany — revelation/insight/an experience of ‘sudden and striking realization.’
Yes, I could use a little of that just now.

The new year begins, and this one feels like an out-of-control freight train already.
Too many commitments made, too many unexpected developments in the midst of those commitments.
And very little time to be reflective, to be quiet, to be.

I was glad, then, to be in worship yesterday.
To be in worship twice. In the morning for communion,
in the evening for Taize.

The altar held reminders of the magi, those wise men who followed the star
like an arrow in the sky, bringing their gifts of worth and wealth and death.
They found what they were looking for,
who they were looking for,
and they were smart enough to ‘go home by another way,’
as Sweet Baby James used to sing.

Some days I feel like I need to go home by another way myself.
To change direction in the midst of too much activity, too many people,
and head for home quietly, so that neither suspicion nor attention is roused.

Morning worship was refreshing,
though I dearly missed the renewal of baptismal vows
I had hoped might become a tradition on this Sunday.

Ah, but Sunday evening was that different way home for me, thank God.
Fifty minutes of sung prayer, candlelight, the read word, and silence.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

The altarpiece from the morning remained, though shifted slightly, with candles added.

The sky was still light as we entered, but pitch black as we left,
and that, too, felt exactly right.
Sometimes it’s a good thing to go from light to dark,
to be a little unsure of your footing,
to let the darkness wrap itself around your skin like a velvet cloak.

 And sometimes it’s good to be reminded of our connections to others,
our connections to the saints who’ve gone before us,
those who have been the church in other times, other places.
The very structure of this small service reminding us of six decades of
a particular style of ecumenical worship,
originating in the Burgundian countryside of France.
And the embroidered IHS on the gold table drape, a christogram —
a monogram of sorts —
the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek,
an inscription that has been in use since the second century.

There is something about this quiet, musical worship that touches deep places in  me,
and in my husband, too.
It’s the closest I come to singing in a choir,
something I did for nearly fifty years of my life,
before I moved to Santa Barbara and joined a community without one.

And it’s also the closest I come to ‘singing in the Spirit,’
something I have so learned to love since my connection
with the Charismatic Catholics who trained me in the principles of spiritual direction
over the last few years.

 The choruses are simple, short, often in a minor key and very, very repetitive.
But this is a very different kind of repetition from the never-ending
rendition after rendition of many contemporary praise choruses.
It is soothing.
It is prayer.
That’s EXACTLY what it is — it is prayer.   

So I will put the words to the songs we sang last night here, one after another.
At your leisure, read them through.
Pause every once in a while, and read a line again.
And again.
See if maybe, just maybe, you might experience a small epiphany as you do.

Surely God is in this place, Holy ground. 

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.  

O Lord, hear my prayer.
O Lord, hear my prayer:
when I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear  my prayer.
O Lord, hear my prayer:
come and listen to me. 

Our eyes are turned to Jesus Christ, our salvation.
Our eyes are turned to Jesus Christ, Lord of all creation.* 

Lord God, heal me, heal me, O my Lord,
that I might fulfull all your plans for me. 

Call: Christ the Lord, you became poor and you offer the kingdom of heaven
to the poor of the earth; you fill us with your riches.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Call: O Lord, gentle and humble of heart, you reveal a new world
to all who abandon themselves; 
we receive of your fullness.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Call: O Lord, you fell prostrate on the ground,
and you show us a path of consolation in our distress;
you are the joy no one can take from us.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Call: O Lord, you shed your blood, and you give the cup of life
to seekers after justice; 
you quench every thirst.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Call: O Lord, you showed yourself to the disciples and you pluck from our flesh
our hearts of stone; 
we shall see you face to face.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
O Lord, you divest the powerful and cloth peacemakers in festal robes;
you transform us into your likeness.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
O Lord, first of the living, you welcome into the kingdom of heaven
all who die for you; we dwell in your love.
Refrain: Come, Lord Jesus, come. 

Darkness is never darkness in your sight.
The deepest night is clear as the daylight.*

The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.  

Let your servant now go in peace, O Lord,
now go in peace according to your word.

*These two lovely sung prayers were written for us by our
Worship Director, Robert Gross.
Accompanying him last evening were Jon Lemmond on piano
and Anne Anderson on oboe.
This service includes a triple reading of the morning sermon text for reflection,
a corporate confession of sin,
the Lord’s Prayer,
an opportunity to light a candle and set it into a dish of sand
alongside the candles of those worshipping with you,
and a concluding prayer, read in unison.

And that is all.
And it is exactly enough.

I am still learning the formatting ins and outs of WordPress, so this is a day late. But I am joining with Michelle, Ann, Jennifer and Laura for their Monday/Tuesday communities: