Doubters Welcome Here

DSC01761 They call this week “Low Sunday.” It’s the Sunday after the biggest feast in the Christian year, and every associate pastor in the world knows about it. This is a Sunday when associates are often asked to take the pulpit, providing an opportunity for the lead pastor to take a breather after the heavy push of Lent and Easter. And our fine associate stepped right up today.*

On the Orthodox calendar, this Sunday — which comes 8 days after Easter — is also known as the Sunday of St. Thomas, and the usual passage in their lectionary is the very one we used today. We have devised our own lectionary for this past school year, working through the gospel of John, and we are almost to the end. Serendipitously, Pastor Jon worked through these six verses from the end of chapter 20 in this morning’s meditation.

Here are John’s words, in The Message:

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Anyone who’s ever been to church knows this passage, right? That infamous stretch of scripture which has given rise to the descriptor, ‘doubting Thomas?’  How about ‘doubting Diana?’ Or ‘doubting _______ (fill in your own name?’ Because we all struggle with doubt, don’t we?

There are days when I not only don’t know what to believe, but I don’t know IF I believe much of anything at all. And almost everyone I’ve ever walked with on this following-after-Jesus-journey will admit to similar periods of wrestling, of questioning.

Madeleine L’Engle used to call it viral atheism, like a bout of illness. 

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book, ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark,’ speaks of her wrestling and wondering, of her deep desire to re-define the whole idea of darkness. She asserts that the darkness fairly shimmers with the presence of God Almighty, reminding me that God inhabited the darkness in the opening words of Genesis 1, long before any of the glorious universe we live in was even created.

Yes, there are good things to be discovered in the dark. And maybe, just maybe, doubt is the doorway to some of those good things.

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Today, Pastor Jon also referenced Mother Theresa’s writings, writings culled from her personal journals, writings in which she, too, talked about doubt and an often overwhelming sense of God’s absence.

Interesting, isn’t it? My own devotional reading, conversations I’ve had with a wide variety of people — both IRL and online, and the sermon this morning were all connected, touching on the same basic topic, and providing a week of deep personal encouragement for me.

Why? Because I’m beginning to think that I may be in very good company indeed when I admit to doubt. And now, I find myself wondering what there is to be learned from this particular season of walking in the dark.

Thomas is a fine teacher, that’s for sure. He’s a toucher, is Thomas. A believer in the flesh, the in-your-face presence of another to confirm what his mind struggles to hang onto. He wants to put those hands on the scars of his Savior. He needs to see with his eyes, and touch with his fingers.

The hard part is that Thomas had to wait a while for his Resurrection experience, didn’t he? His friends celebrated right away — they heard and they saw and they touched. But Thomas was absent on that first remarkable day, for some reason, missing in action.

And hearsay was not going to cut it for this man. No way, no how.

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When they gathered again, on that eighth day, Thomas made sure that he was there. And when Jesus appeared — in that mysterious, other-worldly way of his — he turned those laser-like eyes directly in Thomas’s direction.

Read that paragraph in the gospel reading one more time.

Do you hear any word of critique in Jesus’s invitation to Thomas? I don’t. He looks right at him and invites him to come and touch, to come and see for himself.

Caravaggio’s depiction of this scene was on our screens this morning. Look at this painting. Do you see how dramatic this encounter must have been? Look at how the hand of Jesus grips the wrist of Thomas so firmly, directing his fingers straight into that scarred chest.

No wonder Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Here is the proof he longed for, the touch he needed.

And then Jesus says something rather amazing. Amazing because I believe that Jesus was speaking those next words directly to me. And to you. And to any disciple who did not have the gift and the privilege of touching the resurrected body of the Lord:

“Blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

I cannot touch that wound in the side of Jesus, nor the nail marks in his wrists. But there are other wounds in this body of his, aren’t there?  

So, I wonder where are the scars that need touching today? Because I believe that invitation given to Thomas is wide open for me, right here, right now. “Diana — are you wondering? Are you struggling? Then, come. Touch my side. Touch my hands.”

Here is where I am finding the wounds of the Savior these days: 

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This is the invitation for me right now. She is old. She is frail. She is blind and deaf and increasingly dumb, as words are harder and harder to find. So the touching of the wounds in this place is a primary point of ministry and of obedience these days; not one I chose, but one that is right in front of me, nonetheless. 

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She loves the ocean and she loves to take drives and she enjoys eating pizza once in a while. So today, in the middle of this current bout with doubt, with all this wondering and wrestling, I find myself  looking for the wounds and trying my best to tend them a little.

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We wrestle the walker into and out of the car and we sit across from one another at California Pizza Kitchen. And slowly, with lots of waiting in between, I hear pieces of her heart. I hear the words of old gospel songs. And I hear the phrases that she latches onto with all her might, phrases to keep her going during this terrible time of confusion and loss:

“The Lord’s been good.”

“We’ll just keep praying and believing.”

“Life is like a mountain railway . . . blessed Savior there to guide us.” 

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And so I am refreshed.

I am reminded that Jesus welcomed Thomas, doubts and all.

And Jesus welcomes me, too. 

You can read the full text of Pastor Jon Lemmond’s excellent sermon here.

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer & Laura this week:

Q & A: Week Three – Remembering What Comes First

Welcome to Q & A, a weekly series of ‘living the questions,’  questions that we often struggle with as people of faith. You are invited to read along, to comment with as many words as you like (just keep them in a conversational tone, without sharp edges, please), and/or to write a reflection of your own and link it back to this conversation. Each week the linky will be open from midnight Thursday/Friday until 4:00 p.m. on Monday (PST), allowing time for weekend wondering and writing. Then, each Tuesday, I’ll attempt a wrap-up post, with links, to help us begin to ‘live into the answers.’

This week’s question: “What’s with all this talk about ‘sin?'”

Next week, we’ll wrestle with this one: “Is there room for my tears here?”

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Interesting surfing weather this week. I took another trip out to Coal Oil Point and discovered that the entire coast — and at least 200 feet inland — were shrouded in fog. The sun shone through it, which actually made it more difficult to orient myself, as the light bounced around the thick air. As I walked that gravel path, I thought to myself that the entire experience was akin to trying to write the essay for this week. SIN is a huge topic. An important one, and for most of us, absolutely central to our understanding of who we are, who God is, why Jesus came to earth, and what the cross means. So wading out into this particular topic is a whole lot like wading out into the fog. It’s harder to see what’s coming at you, it’s tough to find your fellow travelers, and it feels decidedly more scary than the exact same water does on a sunny day.

In my introductory post for this series, I featured photos taken at the exact same spots along the path that you’ll see here. They look decidedly different today. This weather feels slightly threatening, even a bit frightening and pretty much mirrors my feelings as we delve into a discussion about sin this week.

So . . . here we go.

Remembering back to my earliest years in Sunday School, at about age 4 or 5, I can see a little booklet. It had no words, just different colored pages, and the teacher used it to tell the gospel story. I don’t remember all of the pages and their contribution to the overall narrative, but I do remember these: a deep black double page to represent the state of my small, 4-year old heart, completely darkened by something the teacher called ‘sin,’ then a bright red page which represented the spilt blood of our Savior, then a white page, to indicate my now-clean heart if I said ‘yes’ to Jesus, followed by a shiny gold spread, which assured me of my eternal destination.

Oh, I loved that book! And I loved that story. And I wanted that white heart, yes I did. And I definitely wanted that shiny gold future. This little tool was meant to be a good, simple means for helping children begin to understand some of the truths of the Christian faith. I’m not sure, however, that those truths actually sank into my little heart as intended.

And here’s why:

Children that age are just beginning to understand about good and bad behavior; they have no real concept of ‘sin.’ I think I internalized the message this way: Jesus wants me to stop doing bad things; if I don’t stop doing bad things, I am a bad person and I cannot get to heaven. So, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I worked very, very hard for a very, very long time to be a very, very good girl. 

And I began to believe that my sinful self was the most important thing about me. Otherwise, why did Jesus come? Why did Jesus die? 

Because I am a sinner. Everybody is a sinner. And that’s all that matters about us: we are sinners.

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I had a sense of diligence, of always working hard to be better, of trudging through life, walking the straight and narrow  I was a church girl — and I loved church, don’t get me wrong. I was a church girl in conservative southern California (and no, that is not an oxymoron. . . there was a lot of fundamentalism in CA in the mid 20th century). And every single invitational sermon I ever heard in the first twelve years of my life was centered around how sinful I was and how much I needed to be assured of a place in heaven someday. So by cracky, I’d better raise my hand, walk down that aisle and say ‘yes.’

I overstate. A little. But I think you catch my drift, right?

Then we moved and began attending a different church, one where I came to know Jesus in a much different way. The central truths were the same; it was the presentation that differed. More layers were added and the story of salvation took on deeper, richer hues. There began to grow in me the sense that maybe there was something more to be found in Jesus than forgiveness.

Forgiveness is powerful, wonderful stuff – and it is so very important. BUT. There is also Restoration. Empowerment. Redemption. Transformation. And I was deeply moved by the stories of Jesus I read in the gospels, the way he moved to the edges, called out the best in people — even people the rest of society had already written off, like Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman at the well, Zacchaeus.

Jesus saw something else in them that no one else seemed to see: he saw something worth his time, worth his goodness, worth his invitation. He saw them.

He also, of course, saw their sin. And he did not ignore it — he exorcised, he healed, he questioned, he called for newness. But here’s what I began to understand during my adolescent years and then reflected on more and more in my 20s and 30s:

Jesus saw beneath their behavior, beneath the swirling demons, beneath their bad reputations. He saw something else, something real and true and more important, even than their sin: he saw God’s image in them, and God’s design.  And then he reached right in and pulled that beauty out so that others could see it, too!

Take a look at these two photographs for a minute.

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When I put my camera up to take this shot, I saw only water with my naked eye. My camera, however, showed me — ever so dimly — that there were surfers out there! At least four of them! And then, I hit the ‘enhance’ button in iPhoto and voila! There they were, in sharper contrast and detail — four strong surfers, doing their thing, despite the messy day.

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God can see us, my friend. He can see us beneath all the fog of sin and brokenness.
Not only that, God LOVES what he sees, desperately, passionately, eternally. God hates sin, that is true. God hates anything that cuts us off from relationship, from ‘walking in the garden’ together. That for me is the clearest, simplest and best definition of the word — ‘sin’ is anything that separates us from God.

But God loves us. And that means that sin is NOT the most important thing about us. Our created humanity is. That’s what needs rescuing, that what’s needs saving, that’s what needs restoration, that’s what needs transformation. 

And that’s why Jesus came as one of us: to show us what it means to live a fully human life, with all of its ups/downs/struggles/joys/questions/answers. And to show us that neither sin, brokenness nor death has the last word. The cross followed by the empty tomb become the place where heaven and earth meet, where God shows us what it means to be a ‘king,’ where power and authority (and forgiveness and redemption) are redefined forever.

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I’m not sure how or why the dominant picture of the atonement — what happened in the incarnation/death/resurrection — became sin-centric in the last few hundred years. It has not always been so. Scripture teaches us that many things happened with the Great Event of Jesus.

Indeed, we do need to grapple with, understand and relinquish our inner ‘bentness,’ our direction-toward-sin, and we need to do that each and every day. Confession is good for the soul, and by that I mean it is good for the soul. It reminds us that God is God and we are not.

But. BUT. When we focus so much of our attention, our study, our prayers, our worship, our conversation on what a mess we are (even though we are, indeed, very messy people!), we take the focus off of God’s ongoing work of redemption and transformation within us. We lose sight of our utter loveliness to God, despite the messes we make, despite our proclivity for willfulness and idolatry. 

LOVE COMES FIRST. And if we can allow ourselves to be loved, without apology or hesitation — well, the earth moves,  you know? Read the story of the Forgiving Father in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. Read it through carefully and prayerfully. The father loves that boy long before he sees him coming down the road. Long before the boy repents of his sin. Long before anything.

Love comes first.

 “To God be the glory, great things God has done!” 

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I look forward to your comments and any reflections/responses you’d like to link up to this week. Even through the fog, there are great rides to be had! I am grateful for all the ways you are choosing to ‘live the questions,’ and then ‘live into the answers.’

Next week, we’ll wrestle with this question: “Is there room for my tears here?”

Delving into the Mystery — Introducing Q & A

I will admit that this new year is already kicking my butt. I know that sounds rude, and, to tell you truth, it feels rude.

I have one more year in my 60s. One.More.Year.

And I’m feeling it.

My husband has already moved through that milestone. And he’s feeling it, too.

We’re tired, cranky at times, worry too much over our old, dementing moms and our beautiful, energetic grandchildren, and our joints ache almost all the time.

Yet, here I sit, staring out at the brilliant noonday sun on a winter day, grateful right into every aching bone for the life I’ve lived, the gifts I’ve enjoyed, the things I’ve learned.

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Yes, these joints hurt. But this heart and soul are still beating, still singing. I am grateful to be here, inhabiting this space for however long the Lord grants it.

And in between the groans and sighs, I’ve been listening. Paying attention. Reading. Learning.

Case in point.

This week, I took a walk on the bluffs near the University of California, Santa Barbara. I love that walk, the glorious views in every direction, the energy of a university campus beating its way underground clear out to Coal Oil Point, where the surfers hang ten.

So I took my very fancy new point-and-shoot camera and I walked. And I watched the surfers as they inhabited that immense sea.

Who knew that surfers could be such powerful teachers?? Here’s a little of what I learned on Tuesday afternoon:

To be a surfer requires dedication. These kids ride their bikes out the long, dusty pathway, holding their boards — holding their boards — close to their bodies.

DSC00569To be a surfer requires community. You will never see a lone ranger, waiting for the next set. Always, always, they do this thing together. Yes, their rides are individual, but the waiting? The learning from the water? The ebb and flow? This, they do together.

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To be a surfer requires patience, long stretches of sitting, watching, sensing, obeying the rhythm of the water. In between the thrilling stuff is a whole lot of boring stuff, but all of it is what makes an expert out of a beginner.

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To be a surfer requires flexibility, and a willingness to go with the flow. From straddling to crouching to half-standing, to a full-out-stand-up-look-at-this, you’ve got to be willing to change your position on a dime. Take a gander at these:

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DSC00554Dedication, community, patience, flexibility — all part of the surfing life. And all part of being obedient to what the water has to teach, don’t you think?

If we want to learn —

we’ve got to get wet,
we’ve got to find a tribe,
we’ve got to be willing to wait out the lulls,
and we’ve got to move with the rhythm of the water.

I’ve been following Jesus all my life, cannot remember a moment when I didn’t know him. And still, I fall off that board, miss the cues, lose the rhythm. I’m not there yet — not exactly a beginner, but not quite an expert, either.

All along the way, I have managed to learn a few things,  Some of them are painful, painful enough to leave scars. And though I would never seek it out, I’ve lived long enough to know that pain can be a place of profound growth, even of transformation.

Every surfer worth his or her salt has endured bruising, battering, humiliation and defeat. But the ones who choose to learn from all of that are the ones who become adept, adaptable, creative and committed. In short, the ones who yield to the mystery of it all, and accept that an occasional punch to the gut is part of the process — these are the ones who catch the waves, time after time.

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This cross stands at the edge of the cliff that sits between the two primary surfing coves along the Coal Oil Point Reserve. It is glorious and sturdy, withstanding wind and weather for as long as I’ve been living. I like the juxtaposition of sturdiness and wildness that I find in this place, the unpredictable mingling of formed and unformed, hand-created and God-created.

It reminds me of life – this crazy mix of goodness and grief, beauty and horror, healing and brokenness that makes our four-score-and ten (if we’re lucky) the rich and remarkable thing that it is.

I am quickly approaching that number, on my way to three score and ten very soon now. Over the years that have been granted me, I have never been able to settle for the quick and easy. Don’t offer me truisms, cliches, pat answers or formulas, please. I’d rather hear a different way of asking the question! Because, here’s the truth of it: I am a person who loves the questions; I believe they are worth the patient work of exploration, prayer and lived experience that can sometimes lead to answers. In fact, I believe that my word for 2014, obedient, is as much about asking the right questions as it is about finding answers.

For as long as I pastored, there was a beautiful calligraphic print that hung in or near my various offices. It contains these words, written by Rainer Maria Rilke in his small book, “Letters to a Young Poet.” This is a truth I believe; this is a truth I try to live:

“You are so young, you have not even begun,
and I would like to beg you, dear one, as well as I can,
to have patience with everything that is unsolved in your heart and to try to cherish the questions themselves,
like closed rooms and like books written in a very strange tongue.

Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you because you could not live them.

It is a matter of living everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then, gradually,
without noticing it, one distant day,
live right into the answers.
 

I would like to invite you to spend some time living the questions, beginning next Friday, January 17th. I’ll start us off with some reflections on a question that I’ve lived with for a while. And we’ll do that every Friday until there are no more questions to be asked.

Although I’ve got a list of about a dozen that I’ve discerned from my own life experience and from much of what I read on the internet, I am open to suggestions. Please leave them in the comments or email me directly at dtrautwein at gmail dot com.

Also? YOU are invited to link up your own reflections — either on the question that I raise or on another one that you’ve been living for a while. PLEASE NOTE that this is not an invitation to extended theological debate. There are lots of places to go if that’s what you hunger for. What I’m looking for are stories, experiences, concerns, points of conflict — anything that sets you down the road of wondering about the life of faith.

I think we’ll come closer to living an answer if we tell our stories and if we live our questions. Next Friday’s question set?

Why is there so much talk about ‘obedience?’
Does following Jesus mean I have to give up having fun?

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Then, beginning the following Tuesday, January 21st, we’ll try our hand at discovering how we are living the answers. I will do some personal reflecting on truths I’ve been living into — perhaps connected to the question of the previous week, perhaps not. Sometimes I’ll look to scripture for help, sometimes to life, sometimes to both. And I can tell you right now, that some weeks there will be no ‘answer,’ just an encouragement to live with the un-knowing, to explore the mystery . . . to wait for the wave. 

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I have no idea if this will work or not! It is an experiment, one that I think is worth the risk. I hope you will, too.

I’m willing to get wet, are you?
I’m looking for my tribe, will you be a part?
I’m okay with the lulls, especially if I’ve got company.
And I’m willing to move with the rhythm of The Water.

So . . . let’s do a little surfing, shall we?

What I Did Yesterday: A Photo Essay

If you know me very well, you quickly become aware
that I am a mass of contradictions.
One minute, calm and self-confident,
the next minute, a mess of insecurities and fears

I’m working on it, but somehow perfection eludes me.

Case in point —
I live in fear that something I say or do
will embarrass my children.
Some days, this fear stays quiet
and seems to be fast asleep,
hiding comfortably under
a bushel basket of busyness.

Other days, however,
like these days — right now —
when I am living without a schedule,
without deadlines,
without commitments.
Well, on those days,
that fear gets loud and snarly.

We are vacationing at the same time as two of our three kids.
We’re not exactly vacationing together,
but we’re staying in close proximity and doing things
together from time to time.

Yesterday the whole kit and kaboodle of them
(one kid/wife/one of their two kids, one kid/husband/three kids,
one kid’s spouse’s parents (who NEVER embarrass their children),
one kid’s friend’s family of 5 . . .
if you’re counting, that makes a group of 15 so far)
decided to take a snorkel tour up the Napali Coast.

They invited me to go along,
and I said, YES, surprising us all.

Four hours long, beauty that stops the heart,
a chance to swim with tropical fish,
and a big old turkey sandwich and cold guava juice
to finish the day.
Oh, yes. And a one hour return ride
through the afternoon swells,
directly into the wind.

My husband gets seasick,
so he kept the 3-year-old and they had a ball.
I carefully sun-screened my entire body,
wore one of Dick’s t-shirts over my suit,
packed (as usual) more stuff than I’d need
and quietly clomped my way down the stairs
to join the crew.

So there’s this piece:
I have two bad knees
and a recently flaring achilles tendonitis.
Oh, and I’m old and a scaredy-cat.
So the opportunities for
being awkward, slow, and
so-much-less-than —
well, they abounded.
Yes, they did.
They ABOUNDED. 

But, I went anyhow.

And I am so very glad I did.

Getting there required:
driving down the hill from our condo
to the town of Hanalei,
parking behind the garbage container of a seafood restaurant;
(not the ideal aroma before a sea voyage of any kind);
waiting to sign in and get a waterproof bag for our stuff;
waiting four times for a 12-passenger van to shuttle
50 people to two 25-passenger boats;
riding said van to the river that flows into the bay;
then walking through knee-deep water
to board a six-passenger dinghy

which would take us out to the boat.

I, of course, was in the very last dinghy.

On board, I sat next to someone I did not know.
And out of all the towns, and all the rivers,
and all the boats in all the world,
I sat next to a woman who,
when I asked where she was from,

said to me: “Santa Barbara. Well, actually, Carpinteria.”
“Oh,” I said, “my kids are from there,”
pointing across the aisle,
“and my DIL practices medicine in Carp.”
“Omigosh,” she hollered.
“That’s my most excellent doctor right there.”

So SHE took that embarrassing moment I was so afraid of,
and captured it all for herself.
YIPPEE!!

The trip up the coast was magical;
there is no other word for it.

The captain set a leisurely pace,
stopping to look at caves,

waterfalls,
dolphins, hikers, kayakers
and green, green valleys.


At one time, about 3000 Hawaiians lived and fished
in these valleys, leaving only
when they needed medical attention
because of infections brought by explorers and traders.

When you look up these cliffs, you cannot imagine
how anyone ever lived here.
In the winter months,


40-foot waves hit these walls with such force,
they leave permanent scars of white calcium
and red-dirt run-off.

Parts of the Pali are open to campers,
with permits,
but the trail is rated a 9 out of 10 for difficulty,
and is often slick, muddy and very, very narrow.

If I were 40 years younger and a whole lot fitter,
kayaking to the first valley might be on my list.
(I say ‘might’.) But hiking it? Not a chance.
 
After we got to our snorkeling spot,
at the very end of the northern tip of the island,

I waited and was nearly the last person into the water.
Once all my children and their children
were safely looking down into the water through their masks,
I oh-so-gracefully,
slid myself over the side of the boat
and  plunged into the warm Pacific.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a photo from
my son-in-law’s underwater camera to
add to this story,
but for now, you’ll have to take my word for it:

God is a genius.
A GENIUS, I tell you.
Coral of all sizes, types and color,
tiny fish, mid-sized fish
and one midling sea turtle
yes, a real live sea turtle,
the sight of which made me say
through my snorkel,
“this is so cool, so cool, so cool.”
(So glad none of my kids can hear me through that snorkel.)

The trip home was. . .  how shall I say it?

Strenuous.


But  you know what?

It was tremendous fun.
We got bounced and bumped and WET.
But we also saw a pod of about 30 spinner dolphins,
three of whom jumped the wake of our boat.

Sittin’ on the bay, waitin’ for the dinghy to go home.

And that night, we all ate together, saw the best sunset yet,
and enjoyed watching some neighbors
sail paper lanterns,
lit with specially coated, biodegradable wicks,
while all the children around sang
that song from “Tangled.”

Magical.
That’s the word for the entire day.

And I didn’t embarrass my kids.

There was that one time I laughed a little too loudly, 

but they’re pretty much used to that.

And there was the fact that I cannot, in any way, shape or form,
manage to straddle a picnic table that’s low to the ground.
Other than that, I think I made it through
and lived to tell about it.
I’m glad I chose adventure
over my fears and insecurities.

And I loved every minute of it.
It was nearly completely dark, so this is very blurry, but I loved that lantern against the colors of the sunset.
It’s Monday, so I’m joining this one with Laura, Jennifer and Michelle, because even though it happened on Friday rather than Sunday, that snorkeling was the most wonderful worship experience in a long while.

 

Ups & Downs, Ins & Outs – Riding the Coaster

Remember the old movie, “Parenthood?”
A recurrent theme in that story of growing up
was the comparison of life to a roller coaster —
and our need to follow the ups and downs,
the ins and outs,
to tolerate occasional queasiness and to
look for joy and beauty along the way.

I’m feeling those dips and swoops a lot lately,
often more than a little bit queasy from it all.
And I’m trying hard to look for the joy,
the small beauties that show up, if I have the eyes to see.

On my evening walk last Friday,
I almost missed this glory.
 The fading sunlight was hitting our neighbor’s blossoming tree at
exactly the right angle to make us gasp with delight.
Such a lovely, serendipitous moment of beauty as the weekend began.

 And these three sentinels glistened against the sky as I made my rounds,

 The next morning, I drove south to meet these three sentinels —
my mom on the left (91), her ‘baby’ sister in the middle (on her 89th birthday),
their brother on the right (90).

These three have been the heart of our family for over a decade now,
the last remaining members of the older generation.
Their mother died in 1997 at age 101, her sister eight years later at 102.
I doubt very much that these three will live that long;
all are showing signs of wear and tear, the ravages of age.
I lunched with my cousins while our parents shouted at one another
in a private dining room at my uncle’s assisted living residence.
They’re wearing ‘hearing aids’ constructed out of water bottles
and offered as a fun gift by my cousin’s kids.

It is hard to watch this process — my mom is the only one with dementia,
but the other two are dealing with much more serious physical issues than Mom is,
so who knows how long they’ll be with us?

When I got back home, 4/5ths of our middle daughter’s family
was here, ready to relax and enjoy the holiday weekend.
It’s been a while since we’ve spent extended time with these dear ones,
and we were so grateful for their presence,
for their happy and sometimes boisterous reminder of youth
and life and promise
as we deal with our aging moms.

We opted to skip church on Sunday (gasp!) and went out to breakfast instead.
Then we drove to the butterfly preserve north of our home.

 It was a gorgeous day, mid 60’s and sunny.
The trail meanders through eucalyptus groves and out onto
the bluffs just north of the UCSB campus — gloriously beautiful.

 The deep hanging clusters of monarch butterflies were not to be found this day,
perhaps because of the unseasonably warm weather.

What butterflies there were flitted all through the grove,
enjoying the sunlight.
They are such stunning creatures, these monarchs.
Brilliant orange and black,
making the long migration between Mexico and Canada every single year,
stopping all along the California coast to rest and re-group.


We followed the trail all the way out to the bluffs,
stripping jackets as we walked and gawking at the endless view
of water, sand, islands.

It is a good walk, with enough ups and downs to make it interesting
and even a tiny bit challenging in the full sun.
Kind of like life, I guess.

Turning away from the water yields a mountain view,
beautiful in its own right.
This stretch of coast is one of the last and longest undeveloped
expanses in our state and we love it.

We are blessed in our children and in our grandchildren,
and they are blessed in each other.
Even though we’ve ridden some pretty steep and scary curves together,
I’d say the ride has definitely been worth it.

It’s good to be reminded of that sweet and powerful truth
when the queasiness sets in, don’t you think?

Once Lyla helps me straighten out some formatting grinches, I’ll join this with Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann:


 


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 22

Seemed like time for a survey, of sorts.
Only a very small one, of course.
And maybe not the last one in this series, either.
Today, I am traveling to northern California
for a spiritual directors’ retreat
and will not have internet access until late tomorrow.
So here is just a small sampling of 
the ways in which I am saved by Beauty
in this life of mine.
Most of these reflect the wonder of the
natural world around us.
But there may be a few surprises here and there.
A cormorant, low over the water at Summerland Beach.

 A roadside stop on the way to San Luis Obispo.

 The best ice cream in three counties.

 The view from the Monastery of the Risen Christ, San Luis Obispo.

 Island view at sunset, Highway 101 near Gaviota.

 Goats-for-hire, clearing weeds near a winery in the Five Cities area.

 A variety of shore birds at the Goleta Slough.

 Looking down the coast from the slough.

Hay bales off O’Connor Road, SLO.
Stained glass on the north side of the sanctuary, Montecito Covenant Church.

“Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead to doubt of God.”
    — Jean Anouilh

“You are as beautiful as your thoughts.”
     — Unknown

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.”
      — Helen Keller 

“Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
      — Psalm 23:5-6

Joining with a few friends as the week begins: 
On In Around button
    



31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 20 AND 5 Minute Friday – LOOK!

Every Friday, she pulls one out of the hat.
A word or a short phrase.
And we’re supposed to set the timer
and free-write in response to that prompt.
Lisa-Jo Baker is dang good at this prompting business
and a couple of hundred people join in the party
each and every week.
I’m late this week . . . but I’m here, for the first time in several.
Hop on over to her website and check out a few:
Five Minute Friday
Today’s prompt?
Look . . .

GO:

Idou –
a tiny Greek part of speech
that imitates an earlier Hebraic one.
A small word that modern translations
don’t even bother with, 
but oh! SUCH a good word.
It means . . . LOOK AT THIS!
And it’s usually translated, “Behold!”
Think about all the places in scripture
where you’ve seen that word!
“the handmaiden of the Lord,”
and “I tell you a mystery”
are the first two that spring to my mind
in these five minutes.
The Incarnation
and the Resurrection,
bookends, in a way,
of our faith,
of our story.
And what a beautiful,
mysterious,
glorious story it is.
And you know what?

I think there are evidences of these ‘beholds’ 

all around us, every dang day.

We are invited to be the incarnate Word
in the lives of our families,
in the neighborhoods in which we live.
We are encouraged to be Easter People,
shining forth hope
of better things ahead.
And if we stop,
if we slow,
if we open our eyes,
and loose our ears,
and tune our minds —
we can not only look,
but SEE.
The Glory of the Lord
is present in our world,
and in every one of us.
Imagine!
Look!
Behold!
Idou!

STOP

 Yes, I thought about this for more than 5 minutes. But I did not write for more than that.
And here, in these pictures, most of them taken with my not-so-smart phone
are some real-life examples of the glory of God made real in this world of ours.
LOOK. SEE. BEHOLD.

A lone young woman, journal in hand, sitting on the wide sand, looking. Looking.
Off in the distance, a cruise ship – 
. . . a reminder that sometimes we might feel invaded
by uninvited tourists making demands
upon our time, energy and resources.
But.
Every person on a cruise ship is also made in the image of God, whether they know and acknowledge that or not.
So maybe I need — in general — to be more welcoming,
and gracious to those who feel to me like. . . interlopers?
And sometimes those might even be members of 
my own family?
A wide stretch of sand
on a beautiful sunny day. 
Behold! The goodness of God.
Friends, neighbors and strangers —
out for a walk, just like I am.
Can I be a grace-filled, smiling co-conspirator
in the joys of life?
And that water, lapping on the sand?
Pure refreshment,
reminder of all things good and lovely.
So, hop on board,
set your sail into the wind,
and see where Ruach* takes you next
But never forget that sometimes
the very best adventures of all
happen under a striped umbrella,
alone on a wide beach,
reveling in the beauty around you.
LOOK!

*Ruach is a biblical word for ‘wind’ or ‘spirit.’ 
I use it here for Spirit, Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 18

Depending upon the time of day,
walking at Butterfly Beach
can be a very different experience.
And this is what it looked like just three days ago.
The beach was wide,
with lots of sand for walking,
or digging,
or lazing around.
And some rocky shoals, which are hardly ever visible,
were eagerly explored by young beach-goers.
There is something soul-expanding about seeing
that much level beach —
an invitation to come on down,
breathe deeply,
get your toes wet.

Today looked decidedly different.
There was no beach,
not an inch of sand that could be walked upon with confidence.
No space for sitting,
relaxing,
toe-tipping.

Instead,
the water pounded right up to the wall,
stunning in its proximity and power.

The weather was similar —
warm, sunny, clear. 

The long-range view was basically
the same — islands in the distance,
oil derricks a little further in,
the curving peninsula of the mainland
visible toward the southeast.

But it felt profoundly different. 

A shift in time,
a moody pull of the moon,
a portent of stormy weather ahead?
I do not know how the tides shift.
I just know that they do.

And that makes all the difference.
High and low each have beauties of their own —
an invitation and a warning,
a welcome and a reminder. 

Life is a little like that, I think.
Some days, all looks level.
Others, there is no sure footing to be found. 
Nothing else has shifted,
the ingredients are the same basic mix —
but some days feel like invitation,
and others feel like warning.

I love them both.
The allure of a wide beach is 
wonderful and warm;
the power of a surging surf is
heart-stopping and thrilling.

I think you have to experience
both to fully appreciate each
Because we need both kinds of tides.
And we need both kinds of days,
both kinds of living:
resting on the sand and 
enjoying the view for a while
and standing with arms wide
and hearts open to
receive the beautiful,
sometimes terrifying power 
of life itself. 






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