Midweek Service: What Are You Afraid Of?

Continuing a summer series of sermons, posting them on Wednesdays to honor
a tradition of midweek services, long since gone.

This one was preached in the summertime about six years ago
and it is one of my favorites. Every sermon I’ve ever preached
has been preached to me first — and this one hit me where I live.
I am so grateful for a strong, healthy, loving Savior,
who is bigger than my fears and refuses to be categorized as ‘nice.’

What Are You Afraid Of?
Luke 8:26-39
by Diana R.G. Trautwein
A sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
June 24, 2007

Things that go bump in the night.  Scary stories or movies.  Invaders who do harm to hearth and home.  Kidnappers, car-jackers, rapists or mercenaries.  Cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis.  The list of things that frighten us sometimes seems endless, don’t you think?  There is something to be frightened about on the news or in the papers every single minute of every single day; there are hard and horrible things happening in our neighborhoods, around the corner, across the street.  Scary stuff happens to our friends, our families, even to us.

Honestly, it is a wonder that we ever leave our homes at all – except for all the scary things in that place!  Spiders in the corner, bathtubs to drown in, showers to slip in, steps to fall down, windows to be broken into, doors to be jimmied….there are days when it feels like they’re (whoever ‘they’ may be) out to get us!  Days when the onslaught of dangerous forces from without makes us want to curl into a fetal position and stay under the blankets all day long.

You think I’m exaggerating – and perhaps I am.  But here’s something I know to be true and not an exaggeration at all.  If you think the stuff that’s outside of us is really, truly scary: just wait ‘til you take a good, long look at the stuff that’s inside of us – that stuff can shiver your timbers, and send you scuttling back to bed for good.

That is, if we’re brave enough to take more than a peek at what’s in there.  Most of the time, it’s easier, and much, much safer, to look to the outside of us . . . and then get to work and build up those walls of resistance, dream up those plans for escape, invest in those security systems, add that extra alarm to our car, buy more insurance for our possessions. The inside of us is much harder to manage, much more difficult to protect, much more terrifying to examine.

There is a series of stories that have come down to us from the 13th century about a fabled wise fool named Nasrudin.  One of my favorites is this one, and I found it in this great little book titled, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, written by Dr. David Benner :

 “Nasrudin – the protagonist of many Middle Eastern, Greek and Russian folktales – was approaching the door of his house one night when he suddenly realized he had lost his key.  He tried to look around for it, but the night was so dark he could hardly see the ground.  So he got down on his hands and knees and examined the ground where he was standing.  But it was still too dark to see anything. Moving back toward a street-lamp, he again got down and began a meticulous examination of the area.

        “A friend came by and, noticing him, asked what he was doing.  Nasrudin replied, “I       lost my key and am looking for it.”  So the friend too got down on his hands and knees and began to search.

       “’After a while, the friend asked,  ‘Do you remember where you might have lost the key?’   “’Certainly,” answered Nasrudin.  ‘I lost it in my house.’   ‘’They why are you looking for it out here?’ Because,” answered Nasrudin, “the light is so much better here.””

It’s so much easier to look outside for things, and then try to arm ourselves against all the scary, hard stuff in life that comes at us from ‘out there,’ than it is to look inside, to examine the tough, scary truth about ourselves, as we really are, and by God’s grace and through his powerful word of authority, become who we can be.  It’s that internal look, that interior examination, that wrestling with the demons within that can make the difference between a life that’s lived in fear and denial and a life that’s lived in power and hope.

Our gospel story for today outlines this powerful truth in some interesting and thought-provoking ways.  Will you hear the word of the Lord as it is recorded for us in the gospel of Luke, chapter 8, verses 26-39:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

       Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

    “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

    A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

    When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

    The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Oh my, what a story.  It comes second in a series of four stories in Luke’s gospel, four stories which tell us about the authority and power which Jesus had in several different realms of human existence.  It directlyfollowsthe story of Jesus calming the stormy sea, simply by the power of his word.  It comes justbeforetwo interwoven miracle stories – one illustrating Jesus’ power to heal chronic illness and one illustrating Jesus’ power over death itself.

In this story, Jesus has just calmed the chaos of the storm, thereby taming the beasts in the natural, created world, and now he proceeds to calm the chaos in this strange, wild, frightening beast of a man who wanders the tombs.

The presence of the swine in this story tells us that Jesus and his band of followers have entered Gentile territory; they’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee and entered a new and different place, only to be immediately accosted by a man described as demon-possessed.

We can’t even begin to understand all the layers of meaning implicit in the use of the word ‘demons’ in this story about Jesus and his word of authority.  21st century westerners are uncomfortable with the idea of evil forces inhabiting human persons.  Many, if not most, people walking the streets of Santa Barbara this morning would deny their existence outright.  Yet missionaries who carry the gospel to less sophisticated cultures than our own, tell stories that sound a whole lot like this one.  Perhaps what one commentator said is true, “Satan has less need to manifest himself openly in a culture that denies his existence.”

Yet despite our own culture’s struggle with the idea of Satan or the devil or his demons, no one living in the here and now can deny the existence of evil in our world and in ourselves.  A great old southern preacher named Fred Craddock says, “All names of the enemies have been changed but the battle still rages.” And while we may not know too much about the kind of demon possession that is pictured here, we certainly know about our own personal demons.  Those things that cripple us and trip us up, big-time.  Those addictions and behaviors and thought processes and reactions that hold us captive, that keep us wandering in the tombs, lonely and frightened and disconnected from our best selves, disconnected from God.

A look at just a few recent news headlines reminds us of this truth:

Last week, police around the world arrested hundreds of people involved in the internet trafficking of child pornography.  31 children – so far – have been released from captivity, some of them involved in horrific, sexual abuse, shown world wide through live video streaming.

Over 6 million Americans aged 12 and over have used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.

5 percent of high school students have used crystal meth.

A US Dept of Health and Human Services bulletin from January of last year, showed that 11% of 8th graders, 22% of 10th graders and 29% of high school seniors had done intense, heavy, binge drinking within the two weeks prior to the survey being taken.  Now, consuming large amounts of alcohol at any age is dangerous, but it is especially calamitous for adolescent brains, causing permanent damage and leading to a lifetime of risky, dangerous behavior patterns.

Every one of these terrifying statistics has at its base the reality of demons within. Because we live in the computer age, we can cover up the mess in there a tad better than the Gerasene man was able to do.  The pedophilia ring that was broken up last week named it’s website “Kids: the Light of Our Lives,” for heaven’s sake.

No, most of our ‘demons’ don’t cause us to wander the cemeteries without our clothes on, yelling at the top of our lungs.

Yet the truth is that every one of us in this room deals with now, or has dealt with at some point in the past, our own particular and unique set of demons.  We each have our shadow side, those areas of pain and difficulty that need to be named and then opened to the healing power of Jesus so that we, too, might become those who are, ‘clothed and in our right minds, sitting at the feet of the Lord.’

Please hear this wonderful truth, however: whatever it is that you’re dealing with inside, it is not outside the reach of Jesus’ authority to resolve.

Look at what happens in our story.  Jesus sails into foreign territory, and makes it his own.  He remains completely calm and unflappable throughout his confrontation with the demon-possessed man, never raising his voice, never saying or doing violence of any kind.  He immediately takes charge of this chaotic and chronic situation, commanding the evil forces to leave the man alone.  Those forces recognize the authority of Jesus, calling him “Son of the Most High God,” and begging for mercy. Jesus calls the demon by name and exercises complete authority over it.  In an almost humorous turn of events, Jesus agrees with the demons to send them into the nearby herd of pigs (one unclean thing into another, I guess!), clearly not allowing them to dictate their ultimate destination.  They end up in the abyss, despite their pleas to the contrary.

Jesus is in charge, from beginning to end, and his authority over the evil that dwells inside of us human creatures is complete and sure.

The man himself is able to witness the resolution of his long-term suffering and imprisonment – he can see those pigs running right off the cliff into the water, and he knows that his healing from the inside out has been accomplished.  He literally becomes a new man.  Discovered by the frightened townspeople to be – not a raving madman, haunting the lonely, desolate places outside of town – but a disciple – (the language of ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet’ is a dead giveaway to his new status) – now they find a learner, a quiet, calm, clear-headed, fully clothed, fully released, God-possessed human being.

Wow!  Time to bring out the fatted calf, right?  The people in the town must have wanted to have a big, old party, don’t you think?

Well . . . not exactly.

Apparently, the evil they knew was far less frightening to them than the power they didn’t know.  So their primary response to this strange Jewish man from the other side of the lake is one of fear, perhaps, even of terror.  Because the authority of Jesus is a very scary thing.  When Jesus comes on the scene, he shakes things up.  He rattles the cage, he upsets the status quo, he does startling things, he can’t be tamed, or put in a box, or sent to the tombs to wander around alone.

Too much modern Christianity forgets this truth.  We’ve tried pretty hard to make Jesus a really nice guy, with a nice smile and great hair. He loves little kids (and indeed, he does), he hunts for little lost lambs (and indeed, he does), he tells quaint stories, he helps people out a lot, he’s just a really great guy, you know?

Look again.  This is one gutsy guy, not intimidated by the crazy man wandering around naked in the graveyard.  This is a guy who talks right back to the demons, who clearly is in charge here, who is willing to do a daring and economically threatening thing like destroy an entire herd of pigs to salvage one human life.  This is a demanding guy, who tells the newly re-born Gerasene that, no, he cannot leave his home and follow him.  Rather, this new disciple must stay put and be a witness in his own hometown. He must tell the story of what God has done for him – he must go back to the town from which he had been ejected and isolated, back to the people who were even more frightened by the dramatic change in his demeanor and behavior than they were by his previous lunacy, back to the very ones who wanted him kept at a safe distance, outside the city gates.  And he must tell them of freedom and of healing and of God’s power.

These are not the responses, these are not the actions, these are not the words of a “really nice guy,” a really “great guy.”  Maybe this air-brushing we do so easily and so frequently is one of the ways in which we, too, ask Jesus to leave, to get away from us, because we cannot understand his power, we cannot accept his authority.  We domesticate him right out of the picture.  Dorothy Sayers, British writer and theologian from the early 20th century, put it this way:

“The people who hanged Christ…never accused him of being a bore. On the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up the shadowing personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the lion of Judea, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

May God forgive us for trying to smooth off the brave, outrageous edges of our magnificent Savior!

If we are to face our own demons, we need Someone who is strong and unflappable, One who is centered and authoritative, a Friend to stand with us, to go before us, to show us the truth about ourselves, to name that demon within and to tell it, in no uncertain terms, exactly where it can go!

Jesus is that Friend.  Thanks be to God.

 

Let us pray:

Holy God, Brave Savior, Powerful Holy Spirit,

Oh, how we thank you for this story.  For the clear evidence of your deep desire for our wholeness, for the word of authority that only you can speak to the demons within.  They have lots of names, Lord, and sometimes we’re too frightened or too proud to acknowledge their presence.  Deep and dark sexual fantasies, addictions to alcohol, or pornography, or drugs, or food, or shopping, or gambling.  An untamed tongue that too often flares in anger, or cuts in criticism, a spirit of despair that feels increasingly familiar and comfortable, an unwillingness to extend ourselves in your name to people we find scary or odd, a spirit of lethargy or apathy that keeps us at a distance from people or projects that would bring us good and build your kingdom, a debilitating shyness that inhibits our ability to offer that cup of cold water, a refusal to think of those from other cultures or other races as creatures also made in your image.

You know us better than we know ourselves, Lord.  Show us what we need to name.  By your grace, enable us to release authority over our demons to you, embolden us to ask for help, if we need it – medical or psychological or recovery help – all of them instruments of your healing power – then continue to heal us from the lingering aftereffects not only of our own demons, but also of the denial, of the wrong behavior, of the wrong choices that such demons produce in us. Then we will gladly bear witness to all that you have done for us, O Lord, because of Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.

 

 

The One Thing That Silences Heaven

I’ve read the book several times.
I’ve even taken an entire seminary class on it.
That helped, actually.
That helped me to see the book as a whole,
instead of a bunch of crazy-making pieces;
as a dramatic re-telling of God’s story,
of incarnation, salvation, faithfulness in the journey,
hope for the future.

Still.

It’s a tough nut to crack,
filled as it is with highly visual language,
pictures of strange creatures, horrendous battles,
frightening predictions.

So when it showed up in the lectionary for this Eastertide season,
and when Pastor Jon chose to use those texts
for the preaching series,
I will admit to a few moments of freak-out.
“Oh, no!” I thought. “Not THAT.”

I’m talking about the book of REVELATION,
that frequently misinterpreted, over-analyzed, deeply profound
collection of visions from John, the teacher, as his life neared its end.
To tell you the truth, I was dreading it a little.

Little did I know.

This has been a dynamite series, rich with meaning and encouragement.
Our Director of Worship Arts took up Jon’s challenge to write a song
for each week in the series;
our chancel artists have outdone themselves with altar pieces,
and Jon (and Anna, our intern this year)
have preached the word with power.

From Revelation.

Each week’s text has been centered around a worship scene in heaven,
worship — the true theme of this book.
The magnificent songs that fill these passages are
ones that have been written and re-written over the centuries,
enriching worship services from Orthodox to Pentecostal,
and most certainly enlivening our worship, week by week this Eastertide.

This week’s text was particularly powerful — please read it below the picture.

 “When he opened the seventh seal,
there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God,
and seven trumpets were given to them.
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.
He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people,
on the golden altar before the throne.
The smoke of the incense,
together with the prayers of God’s people, 
went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Then the angel took the censer,
filled it with fire from the altar,
and hurled it on the earth;
and there came peals of thunder, rumblings,
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” — Revelation 8:1-5

Did you catch that?
“There was silence in heaven. . .
for about half an hour.”

Silence. In heaven.

And what is that makes all the noise in heaven come to a halt?

The prayers of God’s people are being offered on the altar.
The prayers of God’s people.

Rising like incense, heaven is silenced as the people of God
offer their prayers, their words of thanks and praise,
their, ‘Help, ‘Thanks’, ‘Wow,’ as Anne Lamott has put it recently.

EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE IN HEAVEN IS QUIET WHEN WE PRAY.

 This is a picture I want to keep in my mind’s eye, day in and day out.
This is a vision that is important for us to grab,
to savor,
to hang onto
when it feels like all the silence
is on THIS end of the prayer equation.

The big take-away from this picture is this:

NEVER DOUBT FOR A MOMENT THAT YOUR GROANS AND SIGHS
ARE HEARD IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. 

NEVER.

All of heaven quiets for our cries.

And then, after the hearing:

those words, those sighs, those groans,
THOSE PRAYERS. . .
are thrown right back down onto the earth.
Do you see what happens?

“. . . and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, 
flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

As John enters into this vision, he actually sees our prayers —
ascending like incense, and then descending with power.

There are dangerous things going on when we pray, my friends.
Dangerous, wondrous, life-changing things.
The ways of the world are upset, the dynamic,
ever-fluid partnership that God Almighty has established with
the people of God is alive and well and making a difference.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE. 

So why, then, do we spend so little time in prayer?
Why do we more often choose to spin our wheels,
to worry,
to busy ourselves
with whatever we think it
is God ‘needs’ us to do
in order to change this world of ours?

Why is prayer so often a last-order resort
rather than our first thought?
Do we feel like we’re taking an illegal escape route of some sort?
Do we think there’s something magical about it all?
Are we afraid to take the risk of believing
that the God of the Universe
invites us into the work of creation,
the plan of salvation,
the transformational work of redemption?

Or maybe we worry too much about being ‘nice,’ and polite,
politically correct and proper when we pray.
Maybe we need to remember the psalms of lament,
the cries of dereliction,
the heartfelt pleas of those who suffer
that are woven throughout scripture.
Maybe we need to shout down heaven’s doors when despair hits us hard.
Maybe we need to keep on pounding and pounding on the gate,
like the widow who refuses to stop pleading her case.

Maybe we don’t believe that prayer makes any difference at all.

Ah. But it does. It does.

Not always the difference we hope for,
maybe not even very often the difference we hope for.
But maybe, just maybe,
that’s not the point.

Maybe the point is that prayer is the greatest school of all,
prayer is how we learn and grow and understand.
Prayer is the cauldron in which the work of the Spirit gets done in us,
and then through us, in the worlds we inhabit, day after day after day.
Maybe the prayers that we offer to God are then flung back into our very souls
as fire and lightning and earthquake . . .
changing us from the inside out.

Maybe prayer is where the truest transformation takes place.

And maybe, just maybe,
the deepest experience of prayer begins to happen,
when we, too, learn to be silent.
To stop.
To pay attention.
To offer just one word, or two,
to sit in the presence of God,
in the anteroom of heaven itself,
and become prayer.

Our very selves, offered on the altar, and then flung back to earth,
slivers of shimmering reflected glory,
living out that deepest, wildest, most profound prayer of them all:

THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.

AMEN.

Joining with Jennifer and Emily and Ann tonight.


 

Let the Alleluias Begin! A Photo Essay

It rained on Easter Sunday, gentle but insistent,
washing the air, watering the earth,
catching our attention.

The sun did not break through until late in the afternoon,
and somehow, it felt absolutely right for this particular Easter celebration day.

I have stepped back into leadership during this Lenten season,
enjoying the familiar rhythms of leading weekly communion services.
Services that are liturgical, yet at the same time, informal and friendly.

 Our congregation enjoys the aesthetic contributions of a small group
of thoughtful, talented women
who work with the preaching pastors to provide
a worship environment that encourages us to better
focus on the Word offered on a particular Sunday,
or throughout a season.
All during Lent this year,
we were reminded of the journey
by a simple purple drape on the cross
and a large urn,
filled with bare branches.

On Palm Sunday, those branches were visible above the array of color
provided by palm fronds and fabric.

On Maundy Thursday, they were visible on the back altar table,
behind the richly purple setting on the front table.

 On Good Friday, they disappeared,
along with every other usual object in the chancel —
the baptismal font and table removed,
the pulpit shrouded.
And on the side shelves, where greenery usually flourishes,
only these upended wooden boxes, draped
in dark fabric like the cross.

And then came Easter!

Those bare branches?
Now richly flowering.
The purple drape on the cross?
Replaced with shining white.
Those stark wooden boxes?
Filled to overflowing with
lilies, waving their brilliant faces across the front of the sanctuary.

 

 A glorious feast of white and gold,
the Christ candle tall and stately in the center of it all.

 Shaking rainwater off of coats and jackets, worshipers filled the sanctuary
earlier than usual.
Almost on cue, they began to settle into their seats,
quiet their conversations and ready themselves to worship.
We began where we left on Friday.
That night the plaintive sounds of  “Were You There?”
filled a dark room, and everyone left in silence.

On Sunday morning, the lights dimmed,
as the room filled once again with the sounds of that old song,
this time in the lilting soprano of a high school senior.

 As she sang, our pastor came slowly down the center aisle,
lit candle in hand,
arriving at the Christ candle as the song came to its end.

And as the Light is lit,
the alleluias begin — full lights,
drums, trumpets, oboe, voices and glorious, glorious music.
“Christ is Risen!”
“He is risen, indeed!”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been more grateful to say those words
than I was this year.
One of our founding members, now in her 90’s,
declared this the finest Easter celebration she has ever experienced.
And I’d have to agree with her.

One of the lovely events that added layers of meaning to the day
was the baptism of the infant daughter
of our former Director of Children’s Ministries.
Following the tradition of the early church
(and the contemporary Catholic church, as well),
we folded small Anastasia (whose name means ‘to live again’)
into the family of God on Easter Sunday, trusting that the work of the Holy Spirit
will be real in her life as she grows to claim
the name of Jesus for herself.

Jon and I read the words together,
asking the age-old questions of parents and people,

dripping the water on her small head,

offering words of blessing to this babe and her family.

And then,  Jon carried the church’s newest member
up and down the aisles, introducing her to her new family,
while we all sang, “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

Jon’s sermon was strong and true,
spoken from the heart with illustrations my visiting
grandsons could enjoy.

It was a magnificent way to begin the Easter Feast.

 And then our smaller-than-usual family group continued the feasting
gathered around our table, as the rain fell gently outside.

Our oldest daughter, her husband and three fine sons
joined my husband, my mother and me to break the fast of Lent
and celebrate the Risen Lord.

The salad course was first,
followed by barbecued salmon,
cheesy potatoes,
a divine quinoa side dish that Lisa has added to our repertoire,
and baked asparagus with a balsamic glaze.

Even our resident vegan ate enough to require a little resting between courses!

These three young men have had a more difficult life than most their age.
They lost their dad after a long, lingering and difficult illness.
It is good to see them happy as a family,
with Karl and Lisa giving good direction and
providing a living model of redemption in that home.
There can be resurrection in this life of ours —
we remember this truth every time we are with them.

 Fourteen-year-old Joel is our resident baker/chef and he created this
stunning coconut cake to cap off the day.
It tasted even better than it looks,
and it looks divine!

Poppy got a candle in his piece,
because he celebrated a birthday that was
pretty much lost in the shuffle of Holy Week activities.

The candle that was lit at the beginning of our worship,
was also lit in the center of our dining room table.
And as the afternoon clouds moved slowly away,
the blueness of sunshine-after-rain
seemed a fitting and celebratory way
to finish off the feast.

Christ is risen!
He is risen, indeed! 

Joining this longer than usual picture-essay with Michelle, Jen, Laura and Jennifer

 


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!

Timing Is Everything — Just Write

 

That’s what they say, right? “Timing is everything.”

Well, if that’s true, I’m feeling about everything’d out just now.

For two years, I’ve been working on this writing thing, posting several times a week, writing comments all over the place, finding a lovely community of friends and comrades on the way. I often wondered why. And then, I remembered . . . God asked me to do it.

Sounds weird, right? Well, it is a little. He asked this about seven years ago. And it took me five to believe it — and then, of course, retirement happened, which actually opened up exactly the kind of time and interior space that I needed to do the work.

So, I’ve been writing. And reading lots and lots of other people’s writing, too. Spending inordinate amounts of time doing all of that, actually, but learning a whole heckuva lot in the process. Like so many out here in cyberland, I struggled with the reality that not many people would ever read what I write, with the increasing pressure from all sides to be about things like ‘platform,’ and ‘SEO,’ and tweeting and creating an author page at Facebook. I worked through those peripheral issues (and for me, they are truly peripheral at this point) and gradually came to peace with writing when I could, saying what seemed good to say, and being grateful for whomever would care to stop by and leave a kind word or ask a question.

Then I got invited to write at another online spot — a magazine I loved. Wow! Cool! And then, I was asked to write for another one that I loved. Amazing! What a surprise! And then there was the Bible study series at another site and then a call for an essay at the place I long dreamed of writing. What? How did this happen? I have no clue.

And during all of this writing time, there has been our poignant and painful journey with my mom, the loss of cognition, the increasing confusion, the slow fading. Then it seemed right to us all that she should move closer to family. So we packed her up, we gathered the family love-team, and we moved her nearby. A lovely gift and a difficult reality, all at the same time.

Spiritual direction fits into this line-up, too. I stepped into training as my pastoral role was winding down, wondering if anyone would ever want to come and sit with a 68-year-old novice at this ministry. And just today, I added number seven to the list. Seven souls to meet with once a month, to listen to their lives, to listen to the Holy Spirit together, to discern where God is moving and prodding and transforming.

And then, of course, there was the completely surprising invitation to step back into work-mode again, doing worship-planning and leading, being an up-front presence for three months, after 2 years away. Also a gift. Also a puzzle to me.

Because ALL OF IT is happening Right.This.Minute.

Excuse me, Lord? Really??

Somehow, I think God is smiling smugly right about now. (Can God be smug?) “See, woman! This is what I made you to do — all of this. And if you open yourself to my grace and power in a new way, you might be surprised at how it all stitches itself together in lovely ways.”

So, I’m prayerfully (and tiredly) looking for the embroidery God is doing in the midst of what sometimes feels like the ragged hem of a garment I cannot quite see, trying to trust that the work being done in me and through me will come together. I’m looking for the silvery sheen of that thread from moment to moment some days, trusting that maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch a glimpse of what the Stitcher is up to.

Quietly joining this with Heather, Laura and Jennifer tonight. . .

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.

 

 

Bare: A 5 Minute Friday, Embellished + A Photo Essay

I have a love-hate relationship with the wind.
It’s a California weather feature that no one talks about very much.
You hear about the sunshine. Or the smog. Or the fog.
But the wind?
Not so much.

But it’s here and it’s sometimes huge.
When it comes in the dark of night, howling through the canyons,
I detest it.
Sleep becomes impossible, yard furniture tumbles across the lawn,
tree branches click against the windows, power flickers,
often going out for hours.
Demons can loom large in such weather.

When it comes in the light of day,
and the day is hot and the season is dry,
I fear it.
Wildfires are endemic to this climate and they are terrifying.
Massive damage in moments,
families displaced, memories lost, even lives,
if it’s bad enough and fast enough.


But when it comes in the middle of winter,
as storms are brewing and blooming,
the wind is an entirely different thing.
It’s a friend, a welcome, bracing blast of cold, clear air.

And I remember what it felt like when I was an early adolescent,
old enough to be taller than almost everyone I knew,
but young enough to allow a rich imaginative life.

We had a back porch that was nothing more than a steep staircase with a landing.
We had milk delivered to that porch, twice a week,
and I often put the empties out in the case
to be picked up in the morning.

When the wind blew in the wintertime,
I would go out to check on the bottles,
imagining that they might be lonely or frightened,
and I would tell them that everything would be all right.
And I would stand up tall, spread my arms,
lean my head back and close my eyes,
and present myself to the force of that wind,
standing bare before it, willing it to blow me over.

And it never did.

Instead, it reminded me that there was much in this life
that is so much bigger than I am,
and beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.

I was reminded of that feeling yesterday,
and it was wondrous.

I took a walk on the bluffs, following the paths to Coal Oil Point Reserve.
And the wind was blowing mightily.
My jacket zipped to my chin, a brimmed hat holding wispy hair
firmly in place, I walked in wonder,
dressed from head to toe,
yet bare before the beauty.
Bare.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my life of late,
trying hard to control all the pieces that are coming together
in this month of February.


I am back at work for three months,
something I never planned, nor even thought about,
to tell you the truth —
yet here it is.


My mother will move to my community next weekend,
and various family members will help me make that happen.
That’s not something I planned, either,
even though I have done all the legwork,
checked out the options,
taken my mother to see them all.


Still, I didn’t plan to have to care for her in these late years of her life.
I didn’t plan for her to have dementia.
I didn’t plan for her to lose her eyesight,
her son, her self.

But here we are.

Why, I wondered, did I say ‘yes’ to this job right now?
Am I crazy?
(Don’t answer that.)


I’ve been laying out Lenten services for the last couple of weeks,
enjoying the feel of it, not sure about the weekly commitment
of leading them all, but pondering, with what I hope is an open spirit.
Yet I haven’t felt any strong confirmation that
this decision was one I should have made,
thinking only it is one I have made.

Yesterday’s walk opened something in me.
I guess that’s what being bare can do, isn’t it?
Standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind blowing wildly all around you,
staring off into the wonder and beauty and complete untame-ability
of this world — well, that can strip away a lot of things.

So, as I got in my car to drive home,
after taking these pictures, and saying, “Thank you! THANK YOU!!”
with my arms outspread, my head bent back, my eyes closed —
after that. . .
I drove down the ramp to the 101 Freeway,
I thought about the intense privilege it is to be
asked to pastor anyone, anytime, anyplace,
and tears of gratitude spilled.

I GET to do this.
I am invited to do this.
I am welcomed to do this.
I do not, in any way, have to do this.

I cannot put into words what a gift that experience was to my roiling
spirits and troubled heart.
What’s happening in my life right now
IS beyond my control. It just is.
But it is not beyond God,
it is not beyond hope,
it is not beyond wonder,
it is not beyond joy.

It is gift.
ALL of it.

Thank You. 

Joining late with Lisa-Jo’s community over at the 5-Minute Friday link-up. Five minutes took me to “beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.” Another ten minutes took me to the end of the words. The pictures and the techno stuff with formatting?
Well that took another 45 or so. 

I just read this through, after plowing through HTML to figure out why the font keeps shrinking every time I insert a picture. Finally, the preview matched the draft. And as I read, I wept again — grateful for the windy day, even more grateful for the ways in which God chooses to reveal love and grace to me, despite my anxious heart and control-freak nature!!

Five Minute Friday

adding this tonight to the Monday crowd – Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann – with thanks for the invitation to think about how God is working in us, how we’re learning through play, and how gratitude changes everything.

Come to the Water. . .

It was a thirsty kind of day.
After three weeks of deadlines and commitments,
the last one was in sight as I backed my car out of our driveway.
I was tired yesterday morning, and nervous.
A speaking/teaching engagement loomed after worship,
at another church in town,
one whose pulse I do not know.
And I am decidedly rusty — no public speaking in over two years now.

I was due to bring cookies for the Coffee Hour today,
and those had been baked and frozen earlier in the week.

Adult Sunday School was starting up again,
and my husband surprised me by wanting to go —
a class with a literary emphasis,
looking at poetry and prose from classic and contemporary writers,
pondering together how their words might be helpful to a life of faith.

So I schlepped my usual too-much-stuff, ready for each separate event of the day:
the cookies, a bag with printed handouts and
suggested books on the topic I’d been invited to teach about,
a cup of hot tea to sip in the Sunday school class,
a tired body and a very thirsty spirit.

The class was rich and good, the teaching excellent,
the conversation lively.
And then I walked into the worship center and I knew:

All that was thirsty in me would be satisfied, satiated, slaked.

The font was front and center, down from its usual place
at the top of the chancel steps,
and the water it contained danced in the sunlight.
A glance at the bulletin showed the baptism of Jesus in Luke’s gospel
as the sermon text for the morning,
and the music . . .
Oh.My. . . the music.

Two of my favorites as we began, setting the tone for the entire
morning of worship.

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us. (Alleluia) Have mercy on us. (Alleluia). Have mercy on us.

Glory be to the Father. Amen.
Glory be to the Son. Amen.
Glory be to the Spirit. Amen.”

“All who are thirsty, all who are weak, come to the fountain.
Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow be wash’d away
in the waves of his mercy as deep cries out to deep.
(And we sing) Come, Lord Jesus, come.” 

Listening again to that wonderful text,
those powerful words of affirmation and commission,
given from Father to Son on the banks of the Jordan River
so many centuries ago, it felt as though they were
bouncing around our sun-strewn sanctuary,
newly offered to each one of us.
“You are mine.
You are loved.
You are pleasing to me.” 

And then the invitation —

“COME TO THE WATER — it is here for you.”

And we came.
By the dozens, we came streaming down the aisles,
as the music swirled around us, singing of amazing grace and glorious freedom.

On this second Sunday of the new year, we were given the rich gift
of renewing our baptismal vows,
together,
in worship.
Our pastors read them for us,
we responded firmly with, “We do!”
And then we walked to the front,
to the font,
and we got wet.

Swishing our hands through the cool, clear water,
a finger or a fist,
making the sign of the cross or not,
touching the hand of another coming into the water
from a different direction,
we did this together.
We remembered who we are,
We remembered where we belong,
And we marked ourselves once again with the Water of Life.

Which was exactly what this weary woman needed today.

The speaking/teaching thing went . . . well, it went.
And it was all right. It wasn’t perfect, but it was all right.
And then on my way back home,
I stopped for just a few minutes,
and I came to the water one more time
before heading up the hill.
I came to the primordial waters this time,
the ones that call my name and speak to me of the
immensity of our God.
I sat and stared,
I said, “Thank you!”
I shut my eyes and breathed deeply.

And I went home feeling loved and no longer thirsty.

I have not yet figured out how to embed videos into WordPress. But I have managed to get a link or two here! If you click on this link, you will hear our opening song, as sung by the worship team at Westmont College, which is just up the street from our church. I think our worship director helped arrange the strings that are added to this beautiful rendition. Click on over and then, leave the music playing as you browse the internet. It’s a lovely piece, taken directly from the liturgy of the Catholic mass.
And this is a short, a cappella version of the second song of the morning.

“All Who Are Thirsty”

 

Joining this tonight with Michelle, Jen, Ann and Laura.


 

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 11

This is the main drag of our town,
State Street.
In this picture,
we are very near the northern end of downtown,
before the road takes a hard left,
and becomes something else entirely.
But here,
right here,
on the corner of Micheltorena,
you can find this beauty:
A beautiful, Gothic
brownstone church.
Trinity Episcopal Church,
to be exact.
It comes complete 
with bell tower and carillon,
which plays hymns at noon. 
And its large, red door
is open – all.day.long.
Like any brownstone church should,
it has it’s interesting details,
including side doors,
hidden from the front.
But this particular church has something truly
special and unique.
It has a prayer labyrinth,
after the design of the one at Chartres,
in France.
It is beautiful,
and it is completely visible to
all north and south bound traffic
on State Street,
which as I mentioned,
is the main drag in our town.
I love that.

Every year, the students at
the School for Spiritual Direction
trek down from the Mission Renewal Center
to spend some time
walking
and praying
the labyrinth.

The beige color is the pathway in (on the left)
and the pathway out (on the right).
The charcoal areas are for stepping out if someone
is walking in the opposite direction
and your paths cross.

I’ve already written in this series about
how walking has enriched my prayer life,
here, here, and here.

The labyrinth is yet another way in which
movement can be combined with 
prayer, meditation and silence
to enlarge, refresh and enliven
personal prayer.

You enter the labyrinth in a spirit of quiet,
seeking to listen,
to receive,
to understand,
to discern.
Walking into the labyrinth,
you are invited to
let go
of the concerns and
worries of the day,
and all those things
which sometimes
distract from a
deepening interior journey.
When you arrive at the center flower,
you are encouraged,
in fact, invited,
to spend
time in reflection,
prayer,
thanksgiving –
taking as long as you
need, as long as you like.
As you begin the walk out,
take heart from
the time spent quietly at
the center, and prepare
to re-enter the world
of everyday responsibilities
and commitments,
refreshed and strengthened
for the journey.

The interesting part of this experience for me
is the rhythm of the walking.
Parts of the labyrinth are long
and graceful, allowing me
to move easily,
even quickly, if I wish.
But many parts are tight,
with twisting turns,
requiring concentration
and attention to navigate.
The path doubles back,
seems to repeat itself.
A lot like life.
But, in a labyrinth,
you are never lost,
no matter how convoluted
the pathway may feel
at any given moment.
There is one way in,
and one way out,
and when you leave,
you will want to come again.

This labyrinth is just across the street
from my dentist’s office.
Occasionally, when it’s time 
to get my teeth cleaned,
I come early
and walk the labyrinth for twenty
minutes or so.
It’s a space of quiet beauty
and refreshment,
and I am grateful for it.
I particularly like that it
is situated on the main street of our town.
Because that’s where prayer 
is so often lacking,
and where it is often most needed. 


31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 7

Have you ever been hungry for something
and didn’t know it
until you ate,
and found relief? 

Tonight, we held our first Taize worship service,
and I was filled with the sweet and savory
presence of the Lord. 

If you are unfamiliar with Taize, I write out for you here the descriptive paragraph found at the top of tonight’s worship folder:

A Taize service is a worship service of sung prayer and contemplation. The distinguishing marks include repetition and silence. Taize style prayer is repetitive with simple musical lines and core biblical texts that can be sung by a whole assembly. The assembly is to immerse itself in the simple but profound harmonies and let itself be carried by this sung prayer. Silence is perhaps the second most important aspect of this particular prayer practice. It is simply holding oneself in the presence of God and letting Christ, through the Holy Spirit, pray in us. The simple, repetitive prayers and an ample silence are means for the gathered assembly to “hear the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” (Luke 8:15)  

Candles, candles everywhere,

soft light spreading,
flicking
into dark corners,
lighting our way into the room. 

Thirty-five people, 
sitting spread out in the space,
two-thirds of them
under the age of 25.

Gentle singing, sweet harmonies, simple words . . .

“Come and fill our hearts with your peace,
you alone, O Lord, are holy…” 

“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, 
in the Lord I will rejoice!” 

“Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. 
Those who seek God never go wanting. 
God alone fills us.” 

A three-fold reading of Mark 10:13-16,
a lectio passage that spoke 
to the deepest places in my heart tonight.
“…that he might touch [the children]…
and he took them up in his arms, 
laid his hands on them, 
and blessed them.” 

“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.” 

A penitential psalm . . .

“O Lord, hear my prayer. O Lord, hear my prayer:
when I call, answer me…” 

Space to make silent intercession for others. 


And then . . .

. . . this . . . 


Our worship leader led us in the refrain, 
“Adoremus Te Domine,”  
and then he chanted
very simply, 
these lines,
in between each simple singing of that phrase:

“Christ the Lord, you became poor and you offer the kingdom of heaven to the poor of the earth.”

“O Lord, gentle and humble of heart, you reveal a new world to all who abandon themselves; we receive of your fullness.” 

“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.” 

“O Lord, you shed your blood, and you give the cup of life to seekers after justice; you quench every thirst.” 

“O risen Lord, you showed yourself to the disciples and you pluck from our flesh our hearts of stone; we shall see you face to face.” 

“O Lord, you divest the powerful and clothe peacemakers in festal robes; you transform us into your likeness.” 

“O Lord, first of the living, you welcome into the kingdom all who die for you; we dwell in your love.” 

Sung liturgy. 

That’s what I was hungry for, 
starving for, 
in fact. 
And I didn’t even know it . . .
until I heard it. 
Until I took it in. 
listening,
eyes closed,
singing the refrain,
holding my just-lit Christ candle. 

Saved by beauty, indeed . . . indeed. 

As the service ended,
we each took our candles,
placing them in the white sand 
surrounding the 
One light that lit us all, 
a circle of flickering flame. 

And the melting candle wax
dripped onto my finger,
stinging, 
biting,
as I moved my one, 
lone light
to join the circle.

Because sometimes
to step into
the circle of light,
we have to burn a little.
Sometimes
we have to let ourselves
drop out of our
carefully shaped 
plastic holders 
right into the dust of the earth.

Oh, that the Flame would shine,
brilliant and true,
through the gathered Body –
in this place,
for this time.

Joining tonight with Michelle, Jen, Ann, Jenn – and with Laura and Laura this week, too:

 

 
MercyMondays150


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