Scandalous, Extravagant Love — A Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent

Scandalous, Extravagant Love
a sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
Sunday, March 17, 2013
by Diana R.G. Trautwein

(If you prefer to hear rather than read a sermon, the podcast for this will be available late in the day on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at under “Resources”)

We’ve heard the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul. Now it’s time to hear it from John. Today, I invite all who are able, to stand for the reading of the gospel. And though I do encourage you to turn to chapter 12 in your pew Bibles, or in the Bibles you’ve brought with you today, I’d like to ask that you listen to it now. I’ll be reading from The New Living Translation.

Hear the good news from John 12:1-8:

                                   Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the
                                   home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was  prepared
                                   in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him.
                                   Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of
                                   nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house
                                   was filled with the fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon
                                   betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been
                                   sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor — he was
                                   a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some
                                   for himself. Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my
                                   burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.                                 

The gospel of the Lord.

You may be seated.

I don’t know whether it’s the arrival of daylight saving’s time or the early beginning date for Ash Wednesday, but somehow, Lent seems to be flying by this year. I don’t often say that, you know. Lent sometimes feels endless to me, six long weeks of plodding my way through the wilderness, of not singing, ‘hallelujahs,’ of giving something up or adding something on, of getting ready for the events of Holy Week. But here we are: one week from Palm Sunday, on our calendars — only one day away on John’s.

This little vignette happens just before the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. And Jesus is deliberately not in the city. Because at the end of the preceding chapter — the one in which Jesus commands Lazarus to, ‘come out!’ from the tomb, four days after the man died — there is a lot of buzz going on about him, and about Lazarus, too.

There were a lot of witnesses to this miraculous stripping away of the bonds of death from Jesus’ friend Lazarus. All those who came to help the sisters mourn — who were with Mary and Martha when their brother died — they saw what happened. And they were blown away by it. Many of them followed after Jesus — John tells us that they ‘put their faith in him.’ But a few, well a few of them went to the Pharisees. . .who went to the High Priests. . .who called an emergency session of the ruling council to talk about this remarkable feat.

And in the verses just before our story for today, Caiphas, the highest of the high priests, spoke these prophetic words: “It is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Apparently, this latest Jesus-deed was terrifying to them, so terrifying, that they immediately began to intently plot and plan for his death.

So Jesus removed himself from public view for a little while. In the meantime, the people who were gathering in the temple court, getting ready for the festival of Passover –they were looking for him, wondering where he was. And the high mucky-mucks? Oh yes, they were looking for him, too.

And Jesus? Well, Jesus went to a dinner party.

It’s interesting to me how often Jesus is eating dinner or somehow referencing food in the gospels. We’ve got parables about salt and yeast, and mustard seeds and banquets. Jesus miraculously feeds large crowds of people, he is criticized for eating and drinking with sinners and for not forcing his disciples to fast. He dines at Peter’s home, and more than once, at the home of the siblings we see today — Mary, Martha, Lazarus. And of course, he uses the imagery of the Passover feast to describe what his own death means. As Jon’s quote from N.T. Wright last week put it, “Jesus didn’t give his disciples a theory about the cross; he gave them a meal.”

So with all these pieces of background in mind, let’s look at this eight verse section a little bit more closely and see what we can glean from the story before us this morning.

The scene is a party, a party honoring Jesus. Maybe it’s a big thank-you feast, with Jesus as the honored guest, and Lazarus as one of his tablemates. Lazarus, the dead man brought back to life — yeah, that guy — he’s right there, eating and drinking and whoopin’ it up with the rest of the gang.

You’ll note that Martha — well, Martha is serving the dinner. That’s familiar information, if you’ve read Luke’s gospel, very familiar. You may remember that Luke talks about these sisters as two sides of one coin — one busy and distracted (that would be Martha), scrambling around to make and serve dinner; the other quiet and reflective (that would be Mary), sitting in the position of a disciple, at the feet of Jesus. And here in John, we think we’re hearing a snippet of the same kind of song — yet I see no judgment or critique of Martha’s role here.

John, you see, has already told us that dear Martha is no slouch in the theology department. She is the one, the insightful disciple, who boldly tells Jesus — even before he raises her brother from the dead — “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Not bad for a worker bee, not bad at all.

So, the three siblings: Lazarus is at table with Jesus, Martha is busy carrying hot dishes in from the kitchen, and Mary?

Where is Mary anyhow?

Ah yes — once again, Mary is at the feet of Jesus.

But oh, my goodness, this is a brazen woman! In the ancient middle east, women did not enter the public dining space of the house when men were eating, unless they were carrying food, like Martha was. Martha’s presence was legit. But Mary’s? Not at all.

In fact, just coming into the room would have been offensive and questionable in that time and that place. But what she does next? The only word for it is this one — scandalous.

She takes an extremely expensive vial of perfumed oil, she breaks the top off, and she pours it all over Jesus, most specifically all over his feet. The very place where she went to listen and to learn.

Those feet that trudged up and down the long,
dusty roads between Jerusalem and Galilee.
Those feet that went into the byways of small country villages,
into the synagogues and the temple court,
into the homes of his friends,
up into the hills
and out onto the boats,
and across the landscape of the land
carrying the body of the Lord, the Teacher,
the Healer, the Beloved of God,
carrying him into the lives of the people of Palestine.

Those feet that Mary loved.

She poured this gift liberally, spreading its beautiful fragrance all through the house, infecting everyone gathered there with that scent, that scent of love and sacrifice and extravagance.

And then, she did the unthinkable — she untied her hair, and she leaned over those feet, and she wiped the oil right into all the cracks and crevices, anointing him with this precious stuff, this imported, expensive, strong, sweet stuff. Such an intimate act, and such a shocking one.

I don’t know if it’s even possible for us to grasp just how scandalous this was. A woman in 1st century Palestine could be divorced if she was ever seen in public with her hair down. To use it to wipe the feet of an adult male? Unheard of.

Mary’s act is a scandal. And according to Judas, it was also a disgrace, an ethical failure, a misappropriation of funds. A waste.

And Jesus cuts him off, right then, right there.

“Leave her alone!”

Down from the soapbox, Judas. Stop your moralizing and take another look at what’s really happening here. Do you see this woman, this friend, this disciple of mine? She is sitting right square in the center of God’s will, in the center of my life right now. Mary has been paying attention, really listening to me. And this generous gift she’s given? It’s the most perfectly appropriate thing she could have done: she is getting me ready, she is marking me, anointing me –not in the usual way, not in celebration, not to mark a festive occasion — but to prepare me to die.

To prepare Jesus to die. This scandalous, extravagant gift had one primary purpose: to mark the physical body of Jesus with the promise of death.

Kings were anointed before their coronation. Jesus is anointed before his death, which will be, as we now know, the opening of that final door to the Kingdom of God. The cross, that place of paradoxical humiliation and glory, of strange and wonderful, upside-down power, of scandalous, extravagant love.

“The poor,” Jesus says to Judas, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary and Judas stand in such stark contrast in this small story, don’t they?

Which one are you?
Which one am I?

My guess is, we’ve got a bit of both goin’ on. My guess is, it’s that Judas bit in us that keeps us from fully embracing the Mary side that’s struggling to be free. It’s the phony moral outrage that trumps the passionate embrace. It’s the self-righteous judgmentalism that supersedes the intuitive sensibilities. It’s the sneak thief that pushes the empathic encourager into the background.

It is Mary in this story who sees and tells the truth.
It is Mary in this story who makes her love for the Lord visible and tangible.
It is Mary in this story who pays attention to what’s really going on.

And it is Mary who is strong enough on the inside to do something scandalous, and extravagant and real on the outside.

And you know what I think? Despite John’s extra details about betrayal and thievery, I have a hunch Judas wasn’t all that different from a lot of us church folk. He was part of the inner circle, after all. He was privy to the private lessons, the extended discussions, the uneasiness of the disciples about where Jesus was headed. He was on the inside.

But he wasn’t paying attention.

Maybe he was too busy with his own agenda. Maybe he completely misunderstood who Jesus was. Maybe he wanted to control outcomes, to manipulate the Lord into doing what Judas thought was best.

Whatever it was, Judas was tied to a lie, unable, maybe even unwilling, to see the truth that was right there in front of him. Judas had not built an inner life that had space for empathy or insight or loving response.

It is Mary who is the model disciple in this story, the one who both listens to and acts on the commandments of the Lord. You remember those? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus was both, wasn’t he? The Lord her God, and her neighbor.

Here’s the piece that we must not miss here, my friends. Jesus tells us that he continues to show up in our neighbors. “If you do it unto the least of these,” he says, “you do it unto me.”

Staying close to the heart of Jesus necessarily means staying close to our neighbors. Staying in tune with the God of Love means offering that love to others. Paying attention to what Jesus teaches brings insight, intuitive responsiveness, genuine empathy and acts of love.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus will always lead to pouring out the fragrant oil on those very same, very dusty, very real feet. They go together, two halves of a whole, two sides of the equation, two parallel, intertwined pathways leading to the same destination.

It is also true that sitting at the feet of Jesus may very well lead us into some scary, risky places. Learning to be in tune with Jesus could bring us to make a wild leap once in a while, to do the unexpected — maybe even the unacceptable, but oh-so-deeply loving thing. Because sitting at the feet of Jesus will always involve a shocking amount of wild and crazy love.

Because the feet that were nailed to that cross are the most perfect picture of Love this world has ever seen. And sitting by those scarred feet will lead us down, down, down into the very heart of our God, where we will know that love is, and always has been, the only answer that makes any sense of anything.

And when that happens, when that downward, deepening, true knowing about love happens — the world moves.

I tell you, the world moves.

Pray with me:

Oh, Lord — will you move the world through us?
Draw us to those feet of yours, help us to sit still long enough to listen,
to understand, and to experience your love.
Then send us out to pour scandalously expensive love on the feet of others.
And when we do, to see you there, to see your eyes shining back at us.
Help us to be you, and help us to see you.
St. Teresa used to say that you have no other hands but ours —
will you help us to give these hands, and these hearts,
and these feet to you, Lord?
To you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Maybe you’re sensing today that pull inside,
that downward pull to the heart of love, the pull that will
always bring you to the feet of Jesus.
And maybe, just to sort of cement that awakening in your spirit,
you need to take a risk.
And dear friends, in this particular community,
sometimes the riskiest thing we can do
is to step out, in front of God and everybody, and just say, ‘yes.’
So Pastor Jon and Anna will be here in the front to hear your ‘yes,’
to pray with you if you wish prayer, to encourage you to let the Mary in you
come out into the light. We’re going to sing a litte, and you can come right then,
if you’re feeling especially brave; but they’ll both be here after the benediction, too,
so you may come whenever you wish. But, I say to you,
as kindly and lovingly as I can, if the Spirit is drawing you, come. 

Joining this much-longer-than-usual-blogpost with Laura, Jen, Michelle, Jenn and who knows who else I might think of. . .



“Own Your Anointing” – Reflections On Sunday

I must admit that most days, I move through life in a very routine sort of way.
I try to keep up with my family,
to take care of my husband,
to do the errands necessary for the running of a home.

In the midst of all that ordinary,
I sometimes forget who I am.
I slide into the habits of the day like a pair of comfy sweatpants,
and I don’t think about it very much.

Yesterday morning, who I am sort of stepped up and slapped me ‘cross the face.
Kindly, of course. But ever so firmly.
“Wake up, Diana. Wake up!
Remember who you are.

This is the phrase that did that slapping for me:

Own it.
Live it.
Believe it.

Because that is the most central truth about me,
and I so often slough it off, set it on the back burner,
submerge it beneath the detritus of daily living.

I am anointed.
I am anointed for a purpose.
I am anointed to proclaim and to live the very same
Isaiah-message that Jesus himself read out in that Nazareth synagogue,
over 2000 years ago.

Do you believe this?
That YOU are anointed?
Set apart?
Marked by God?

“Hey,” you  might say to yourself. “Not me. I’m just an ordinary pew-sitter.
Sure, I go to church. I read the Bible . . . once in a while.
I even try to pray. But anointed?
Hey man, not me. I’m nothin’ special.”


Have you been baptized?
Said ‘yes’ to the call of Jesus, that call that invites you to ‘follow?’

Then you are anointed:
bought with a price,
marked by love,
commissioned to be those who
* announce good news
*proclaim release to the captive
*help blind people see
*free the oppressed.

 As part of our worship experience,
we were privileged to meet two powerful people,
I mean POWERFUL people.
People who wholeheartedly own their anointing,
people who ARE good news as well as bring good news,
people who work hard every single day to
free those captive to ignorance, confusion and fear;
people who bring light to the darkness in the fields of
education and high finance;
people who seek to set the oppressed free. . .

And they live in Uganda.

Dr. John Senyonyi is the President of Uganda Christian University,
an education and training center for over 12,000 students from nearly 20 countries.
The University is located in East Africa,
but draws students from all over the continent.
Many of those students are pastors-in-training,
who learn from skilled teachers how to ‘rightly divide the word of truth,’
before carrying it back to their home churches.

His wife, Dr. Ruth Senyonyi,
is Chief Counselor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Uganda,
with responsibility for the mental health of over 1200 employees.
Everyday, these two people step into their anointing,
living out the gospel in ways
I can barely imagine.

So what, I wonder, does ‘anointing’ look like in my life?
When I write in this space,
or when I comment on others’ writing in spaces much like this one,
I try to maintain an irenic spirit,
to offer words of encouragement and affirmation.
And I think that’s a good thing, an anointed thing, to do.
Most of the time.
But I’m becoming more convicted and convinced
that from time to time, I need to speak with a little bit more . . .
I search for the right word here.
Perhaps that word is ‘anointing?’

Because that water on my head when I was an infant,
those words seared into my brain tissue as an adolescent,
that Spirit that enlivens me,
when I make space for that enlivening —
it needs to make a difference.
A difference in me, a difference in the small spheres in which I move,
a difference in the very air molecules I inhabit.
And that difference is this:
I am one who is called to bring and to be
I am one who is called to proclaim it,
to preach it — not with words alone, but with the very air I breathe,
the steps I take, the hands I offer, the prayers I raise,
the stands I take, the friendship I extend,
the money I have,
the time I live in,
the energy I expend,
the life I live —

ALL OF IT . . .
all of it.

And that means that when I see or hear something that
‘offends one of the least of these;’
when I witness abuse in any form,
when I see others doing battle, real battle,
against ‘principalities and powers,’
then I need to be the gospel there, too.

And to tell  you the truth, that scares the crap out of me.
I want people to like me, to see me as a person of positive impact and insight.
I care what people think of me.

God help me, I do. A lot.

So, if I am to ‘own my anointing,’ I think it means I’m going to be scared
a lot more than I’m comfortable being scared.
I think it’s going to mean speaking more firmly than I am sometimes
comfortable with speaking.
I, in no way, wish to cause or give offense,
but there is a time and a place to say, ‘enough.’
I can still do my darnedest to say it graciously, kindly, humbly.
And those adverbs are going at the very top of my personal prayer list
every time I open this laptop to write a single word.

But . . .
I am anointed to bring good news,
to proclaim release to the captive,
to offer sight to the blind,
to set the oppressed free.
And people may not always ‘like’ what that looks like.

When Jesus began to speak out his anointing,
the people in Nazareth disliked it so much,
they threatened to throw Jesus right off a cliff.

I am, as always, a work in progress.
So this will take time, thought, prayer and practice.
I’m hoping you’ll help me to embrace
the full extent of my own anointing.
And I am promising to help you to do the same.
Because we need to OWN it.

Yes, we do.

Signing on with the usual Monday crowd, each of whom I love a lot. Michelle, Jen, Ann, Laura:

A Season for the King

We were late to church yesterday morning.
Lots of travel last week,
all of it good, fun, comforting, interesting.
But . . .
we were tired
and moving very s-l-o-w-l-y.
The sanctuary was full as we snuck in the back door,
so we sat in the balcony,
which provides an unusual view.
The large chandeliers that took on the look of a double crown in the photograph.

 It wasn’t until I looked at the photo 
that I saw that our view was remarkably apt
for this particular Sunday in the church calendar:
Christ the King Sunday,
the last one in the liturgical year.
Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, 
the turning of a new calendar page.

But yesterday. . .
yesterday was a celebration of the Cosmic Christ,
the One who sits at the right hand of the Father,
the One who will come again in glory,
the One who intercedes for us,
who reigns on our behalf,
and the One for whom the stars sing.
 In the northern hemisphere,
this Sunday comes in the midst of Autumn,
the time of dying,
dying in full, vibrant color.
 It feels fitting to celebrate Christ as King
in this season of the year,
perhaps because it also feels a little bit upside-down.
Wouldn’t the bright pinks and purples of spring or summer
be better suited to this kind of recognition?
 Christ is surely King in any season of our years,
but somehow the Fall feels ‘right’ to me,
a good season to make special note of this truth.
After all, Jesus did not become the kind of king 
that people were anticipating.
He shattered every preconception, every expectation,
every dream that was built on the power structures of our world.
In ways that are deep and profound,
Jesus of Nazareth did not become
Christ the King until
the cross,
the empty tomb,
the ascension into the heavenly realms.
Is there any more backwards way to become
a person of royalty than his way?
The way of death,
and resurrection,
and ascension?
 So as the days get shorter,
and the hours of darkness grow;
as the leaves turn brilliant in their farewell address,
as the flowers dry on the stem
and the shadows lengthen on the lawn,
this is the time,
the perfect time,
to remember and to honor our King.
The One who was with God and who became a human person,
taking that long and winding downward journey,
living a more fully human life than any other ever has.
He died an ignominious death,
and by that death and the resurrection
which followed it,
brought us the gift of Full Life
in fellowship with the Triune God.
Only then, did he return to his rightful place
on the throne.
So YES, this season seems about right.
The season of dying in full, vibrant color.
 On this Sunday, we celebrate that the King is for us.
We remember the greatness of our God,
we acknowledge the Glory of a Savior
who is much grander, fuller, more all-compassing
than any Being we can imagine or dream.
Lord of the Harvest?
Surely so.
 Grand Creator of the universe in all its richness and variety?
Yes and amen. 
The One who is above all, around all,
through all and in all?
Yes, yes, yes and YES.

So we sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and
“Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and
“Creation Song,” and “Revelation Song,” and
any other hymn of praise that rises to our lips
as we recognize the Bigness of our God.

Next week, we celebrate the Littleness.
Isn’t that amazing?

Joining this with Laura Boggess and Jen Ferguson and the Sisterhood, with Cheryl Hyatt Smith and Ann Voskamp this week.
Doesn’t quite fit any of their themes exactly, but. . . this is what I’ve got.


Sunday Musings

Just wondering . . .
on a summer Sunday night,
with cool night air drifting in from the door
and sweet worship music on 
the computer.
Just wondering . . .

what comes next?

We’re home this week,
when we thought we’d be gone.
Traveling to the northwest,
to see beautiful country,
and beautiful friends.
But we’re not. 

So here’s a calendar,
suddenly open.
And here’s a body,
more tired than I knew . . .

My mom-in-law
began to slip,
and down.
And her daughter had long-laid plans
to be gone.
It didn’t feel right to be gone at the same time,
so here we are.

And really, it’s fine.
We’re relieved not to be packing and unpacking.
We look at each other and wonder –
how come we’re feeling so tired?

When did we get so old?

And that has me wondering. . .
what happens in this culture
as we get old?
We see lots of pictures of
green space,
golf games,
exotic travel,
smiling, silver-haired models
seem to say,
“It’s time to relax,
to enjoy the fruit of your labors,
to remove yourself from the world of work.”

But here’s what I’m learning.

It’s truly difficult to do that.
I love to travel – I do.
But not all the time.

And I love to relax – I do.
But not all the time. 

So, we put our hands to what we find.
My husband, gifted with finance and investing,
sits on boards and committees,
and he manages the money he so carefully
invested for us,
for our moms,
for other family.

He tends this huge yard,

with good professional help. 

He invests himself completely in our grandkids
when they’re around. 

And I?
I sit in my small study which needs sorting.
And I meet with those who are seeking
more of God.

And they teach me far more than
I ever teach them.

 And I tend to family, too.

Ailing mothers, growing grandchildren.

I make spinach salad for 50 at our
first-Sunday-back-to-college student lunch
after church today.

And in, around and through all of that,
 I try to write.
But I’m late to this game,
really late.
And I am also way past the age of most
of my compatriots out here in cyberspace. 

Most of the time, I’m okay with that.
But tonight, I’m feeling out of place,
out of sync,
out of my element.

I’m sure this wondering phase will sort itself out.
And I’m talking to God about it,
in my usual, on-going conversation
with this One who seems both near and far,
surprisingly small,
yet immense.
And right this minute,
I am listening to the song I wrote about 
And the beauty of it pierces,
it pierces through all the wondering,
all the melancholy,
all the feelings of uncertainty 
and ego-centered angst.
Because THIS is the truth – 
and a woman who lived many centuries ago*
wrote these words,
in another tongue,
another place.

But her words, her insights
speak to my soul this night, in this place:

I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.
I cannot leap in gladness, unless you lift me up.
From love to love we circle, beyond all knowledge grow.
For when you lead, we follow, to new worlds you can show.

Your love the music round us, we glide as birds on air,
entwining soul and body, your wings hold us with care.
Your Spirit is the harpist and all your children sing;
her hands the currents ’round us, your love the golden strings. 

Play me a medley,
play me a song.
Lead me, I am yours.
I cannot dance alone.

O blessed Love, your circling unites us, God and soul.
From the beginning, your arms embrace and make us whole. 
Hold us in steps of mercy, from which you never part,
that we may know more fully the dances of your heart. 

I cannot dance, O Love, unless you lead me on.

*Our Director of Worship Arts, Bob Gross, wrote a lovely melody to go with these powerful words written by Mechtild of Mageburg in the 13th century. This translation was done in 1991 by Jean Wiebe Janzen, but the words in bold are Bob’s addition and serve as a beautiful refrain throughout the piece. Since I first wrote about this beautiful, haunting song, Bob has included it on #5 in a series of self-produced CDs taken from our Sunday worship services. And if you would like to listen to it, follow this link right here and scroll down to number six on the list. Hit the play button and enjoy. (If you use the contact addresses on the home page, you can order CDs for yourself. We are a congregation of about 325 people and apart from Bob, everyone you hear is a volunteer – vocalists, string players, acoustic and electric guitars and bass, piano, wind instruments, percussion – all from within our own community, many of them college students. We are so blessed. SO blessed. Please remember, these are not studio sessions, but live worship recordings.)

I’ll join this with Michelle, Jen, Duane, Ann’s Monday gratitude group – because I am grateful, even for the melancholy times – and maybe with Laura and Laura, though it’s not particularly playful nor is it about a physical place so much as an emotional one.

On In Around button

Our Bending-Low Jesus

“Our Bending-Low Jesus”
I used this phrase at a friend’s blog today
and somehow it bloomed up in my mind
and came out my mouth 
during my evening walk tonight.
I so easily forget how powerful our story is,
how remarkable.
Maybe it’s the reflection I’ve been doing 
on the Cosmic Christ
the past few months,
 courtesy of my Catholic brothers and sisters.
Maybe it’s the contrast of that image – 
the one I can hardly grasp,
the one that speaks of grandeur,
and Beyond-my-ken,
and Ground-of-Being hugeness –
the contrast of all that
with the picture we have of Jesus
in the pages of the gospel.

Jesus, who bows down in the dirt
and writes grace with his fingertips.
Jesus, who spits on that dirt
and packs it into blind eyes.
Jesus, who gets hungry,
and impatient with the ravages of sin,
and wonders if his friends will ever get it.
Who bends low for us.

My mother is with us for a few days.
And as I walk in the evenings,
I beg forgiveness for the many ways
I miss the mark when I am with her.
Impatience simmers,
sharpness surfaces,
tension rises until the air is heavy with it,
stagnant and fetid.
I am exhausted in ways I can’t even describe – 
weary with worry, I suppose. 
I give her the thrice-a-day medicines,
I make sure she eats and drinks,
I do her small amount of laundry.
Yet so often,
my spirit is twisted,
almost angry about what’s happening to her.
And I do not want to be angry.
She likes to walk out to our side yard,
to the spot where 
I watch from a polite distance,
as the grass is bumpy and she is unsteady.
She bends low, holding her knees,
speaking with words I cannot hear,
touching the metal angel I have placed there,
to mark the spot.
That simple movement is one of the
most achingly sad things I have ever watched.
Mothers should not have to bury their children.
Yet so many do.
So many do.

Mine did. 

Really, Lord?
So much loss!
Her husband, 
her grandson-in-law,
her vision,
her son,
and now . . . 
her mind, too?
How long, O Lord?
How long?
How much, O Lord?
How much? 

There are no answers to these cries,
none that suffice.

Except for this one:

Our bending-low Jesus.
And so I spread all the ugliness out there on the driveway
as I walk in circles in the deepening dusk.
I rue the words just behind my teeth,
the ones that don’t come out,
but want to.
I offer them up, 
I beg for grace and then,
I see him.
Bending down in the dirt, 
he writes my name,
with the words 
And I am bent low.
1. The Risen Christ, on the wall of the chapel 
at the Monastery of the Risen Christ,
San Luis Obispo, CA
2. The angel which marks my brother’s burial site.
3. A station of the cross in the chapel at the Mission Renewal Center,
Santa Barbara CA

Offering this at Michelle’s place, Jen’s Sisterhood and Ann’s gratitude link-up. 
I may not count like she does, but I am deeply grateful nonetheless.

A Sacramental Life

It’s a long drive from here to there, about 110 miles.
And I take a similar one every 2-3 weeks to see my mom.
But this past weekend,
I traveled those miles to make a different kind of connection,
one that spans nearly 30 years,
a lot of living, and miles of change in each of our lives.
We enjoyed the sunshine,
we sneaked in an extra chair at a very high-brow establishment 
(just because we could),
we laughed and we talked and we ate. 
Yes, we look a little bit older than the last time we did this.
And yes, there have been some stresses added to each of 
our lives in the months between our last visit and this one.
But what I carry with me into this late evening hour 
is one overarching truth, this bracing reality:
friendship across time is a holy thing,
a sacramental thing,
a gift of God to be savored, 
and relished.
I carried the sweetness of our time together all the way home,
through 45 extra minutes of snarled traffic,
fatigue and stiff knees. 
“How wonderful, how beautiful, 
when brothers and sisters get along!
   It’s like costly anointing oil
      flowing down…”
the psalmist wrote.
And the fragrance of our time was indeed,
‘wonderful and beautiful.’ 
This morning brought us back to our community,
gathering in worship to
to hear a beautiful and finely tuned exposition 
of the Word from the pulpit, 
to share in bread and cup. 
There were three relatively small things that
happened today that have stayed with me, 
late into this evening.
Three things that somehow feel woven
of the same cloth as yesterday’s gathering of friends
at a classic old hotel in South Pasadena,
three things that seem
woven of sacramental cloth. 
Today, as Pastor Jon stepped into the pulpit,
he did something we’ve never done before.
He asked us to stand, 
to reach out and hold the hand of the person
next to us, even if that person was across the aisle.
Then he said this:
“Doing this probably feels more than a little bit
awkward to you. I’m here to tell you that  
that is exactly the right posture 
for hearing the Word of God.”
And he proceeded to read the text of the 
morning, taken from the book of James. 
And we held each others’ hands 
and we listened to the Word.
We placed ourselves under that Word,
physically, literally and spiritually.
And as the words from that ancient epistle
rolled in gentle waves over our heads,
I could sense the awkwardness dissipating,
the unity and connection between us
taking shape and form and beauty in our midst.
It was a sacramental moment.
 At the conclusion of the preached word,
Jon stepped down from the pulpit to the table,
preparing to serve the people of God with
the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.
As he did so, our Pastor to Students joined him.
Jon gently unfolded his 
and placed it around his neck.
And as Lisa came forward, I could see 
that she wore the one she received
at her ordination two years ago.
Together, they prayed over and distributed the
torn bread and cups of purple juice to
an assortment of council members
who brought them to us. 
We are not a ‘formal’ church.
I have never worn my black robe there,
nor has any other member of the pastoral staff.
But somehow, just that small, simple,
act of draping the ‘yolk of Christ’
around their necks, and over their clothes,
added an extra layer of meaning and depth
to this holy moment in the life of our congregation.
It was a sacramental gesture, 
 rich with reminder
that the Table of the Lord is a holy place,
that the food we eat 
and the drink we share
are set apart, 
consecrated, for our nourishment and
encouragement on the way. 

Our children worship with us every week
for part of the service.
But on Communion Sunday,
they are in worship the entire hour.
Sometimes this makes for a noisier congregation,
and that is just fine.
In fact, it is welcome.
Today, after the benediction,
after the postlude,
after most of the congregants streamed out
the back door into the warm California sunshine,
a third small surprise brought brief tears to my eyes.
A small blond boy named Kai
came quietly into our pew as we leaned across it,
talking with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.
He picked up our used communion cups, 
nodded his head and 
went searching for a few more.
Just a few moments later,
the four of us who were chatting caught a glimpse
of something up front.
Kai and his big sister Ruby were taking a stack of
used communion cups and very carefully
setting them around the rim of
our beautiful, artist-designed glass baptismal font.
“I think,” said our friend,
“that maybe Ruby is doing something
wonderful with the sacraments this morning. 
Maybe even something we’ve not seen before.”
I looked across the sanctuary and gasped a little.
The effect was beautiful –
the glass bowl shimmered,
the empty cups shone,
the sweet girl was so intent and careful with her work.
It was a sacramental act of found art,
a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ
at its very best.
Word and water,
bread and cup,
contemplation and action –
all of it woven together into a beautiful
garment of praise. 
As followers of Jesus,
we are invited into this whole-cloth,
beautifully woven sacramental life.
We are called to live that life as if
every moment is holy,
every person is a saint,
every gesture is an offering,
every common thing is an altar.
Because this is the truth,
the deep, beautiful, holy truth.
THIS life, this one life –
with its joys and its sorrows,
its gifts and its burdens –
it is a sacrament.
Glory be.  
Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer, Ann and Duane today for their 
lovely invitations to share what we’re learning, what we’re thankful for,
what surprise us, what Sunday teaches us and how we see the promises of God at work.
Somehow, they all seem pertinent to these scattered recollections today. 
I’ll also tuck it in with Laura and her Playdates with God.


Lessons from the Vineyard

“I am the vine,” he said.
“You are the branches.”
We live in vineyard country here in Santa Barbara County.
 It has not always been so.

For hundreds of years, the rolling hills around our county
looked like this. They were covered with oak trees, 
 singly or straggling down the hillsides by the dozen, 
creating a landscape unique to this part of the world. 
Then the trees began going down by the hundreds, 
bulldozed to make room for 
vineyards that look like this.
Miles and miles of vineyards. 
Espaliered grape vines began to sprout out of the ground, neat rows replacing the random gorgeousness
of oaks and wildflowers.

For many, this felt like an assault on nature,
beauty and 
the central coast way of life.

For others, it was evidence of a dream come true.
About a dozen years ago, county supervisors decided to stop the wholesale destruction of native oak groves,
insisting that any new vineyard acreage be built around
the natural habitat instead of through it.
As the vineyards matured, those of us who live by and drive on these highways and byways began to take note of the new beauty around us, enjoying the contrast of
planned and unplanned vegetation.
Now we can follow the seasons by paying attention to what’s happening in the vineyards.
The brilliant, lush green foliage of summer,
the red-gold shimmer of fall,
as the harvest begins.
The increasingly bare branches as December approaches. 
 It is when the branches are at their barest that some of the most important work of the year happens:
That good work of shaping, sorting, sifting through the vines for the best, preserving only what will produce good fruit the following year.
Winter is the time for trimming and cutting and neatening things,
making space for the plumpest of red, purple or green grapes, grapes that will grow heavy and rich as harvest time approaches.
 It’s during the pruning season that things are made ready.
Dead wood is removed,
unproductive sucker growth is tossed into the fire.
And sure enough,
when March rolls around,
new growth starts to shoot,
reaching for the sun, growing strong and sturdy,
ready to support the heaviest of clusters,
the richest of harvests.
I wonder, what season am I in?
In terms of my lifetime, I know it is autumn.
And that means the fruit should be ready.
How has the Master of the Vineyard pruned and shaped
and trimmed and cut back the branch that is me?
Have I consented to the shears?
The ones that want to cut away the lies?
The lies I tell and the lies I believe,
the dead stuff that weighs me down
and keeps me stuck.
Have I invited the Husbandman to trim away the compulsions, the anxieties, the addictions – however they may reveal themselves in my life?
Have I said ‘yes’ to the Gardener, the one
who sees what is full of life and promise and potential,
the one who can see what will yield the sweetest of fruit?
And have I allowed my soul-tendrils to sink firmly into the Vine,
practicing those things that will help me to dwell,
to stand firm in, 
to steady myself, 
 For much of my life, I feared this word of Jesus in the gospel of John. 
Taught that bad branches would end up in the fire, I wanted to work ever-so-hard to pump out those grapes!
It is only in recent  years –
these years that I’ve been driving through vineyard country – that I’ve begun to realize that ALL the branches on the vine are pruned.
And that kind of pruning is a good thing.
Everyone of us has stuff that needs to be cut away,
thrust into the incinerator,
moved aside 
so that there is more breathing room for good things,
sweet things,
rich things,
nourishing things…
for FRUIT.
It sounds so scary, though, doesn’t it?
Painful, too.
And I suppose sometimes, it is.
It’s painful to let go of habits,
compulsive behaviors,
and all those things we fill that interior space with,
day in and day out.

But… here’s the thing:
it all needs to go.
All of it.
And for good reason, too.
It’s hard to produce
when the branch is laden down with all that other crap.
So…as my own winter draws near,
will I allow the Vineyard Owner to do what needs to be done?
I hope so. I really do.
Because a well-pruned branch,
lovingly shaped and carefully trimmed –
well that’s where the good stuff grows.
My thanks to Don Johnson for his reflection on this passage in worship this morning.
And special thanks to Bob Gross for his wonderful musical setting of an obscure old hymn, bringing words to life in new and fresh ways. 
Joining Michelle for her “Hear It on Sunday” gathering,
Jen and the Soli deo gloria sisterhood,
Laura at “Playdates with God,”
and L.L. with “On, In and Around Monday”


Quiet Time, Nourishing Time

“Look around you: 
Winter is over; 
the winter rains are over, gone! 
Spring flowers are in blossom all over. 
The whole world’s a choir—and singing! 
Spring warblers are filling the forest with sweet arpeggios. 
Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, 
and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms. 
Oh, get up, dear friend, 
my fair and beautiful lover—come to me! 
Come, my shy and modest dove— 
leave your seclusion, come out in the open. 
Let me see your face, let me hear your voice. 
For your voice is soothing and your face is ravishing.”
Song of Solomon 2:9-11, The Message

May you find blossoms 
wherever your feet may take you this weekend.
Songbirds, too.
And may you enjoy the surprising and welcome presence 
of dear friends, 
(whether or not they are also your spouse),
those who nourish you by their very presence,
whose voices soothe,
whose faces remind you of God’s amazing love for you. 
Enjoying the colors and sounds of spring on the west coast this weekend, despite frequent visits from spring (as opposed to winter!) rains. Joining with my good friends Sandy King and Deidra Riggs for their weekly invitation to change up the pace, slow things down and quietly center in God’s good gifts.

Stepping Quietly into Holy Week

“Listen, Heavens, 
I have something to tell you. 
Attention, Earth, 
I’ve got a mouth full of words. 
My teaching, let it fall like a gentle rain,
      my words arrive like morning dew,
   Like a sprinkling rain on new grass,
      like spring showers on the garden.
   For it’s God‘s Name I’m preaching—
      respond to the greatness of our God!
   The Rock: His works are perfect,
      and the way he works is fair and just;
   A God you can depend upon, no exceptions,
      a straight-arrow God.
   His messed-up, mixed-up children,
his non-children,
      throw mud at him but none of it sticks.”
Deuteronomy 32:1-5, The Message
As we step into April, as we step into Holy Week,
 may we respond to the greatness of our God 
like the earth responds to a gentle rain.
Like spring showers on the garden,
 may we receive the Word of hope and life.

Joining with dear friends, Sandy and Deidra at their kind invitation 
to center and quiet ourselves for worship and reflection each weekend.


Remembering with Gratitude: A Life Well-Lived

Abbot David Nicholas Geraets, OSB
March 4, 1935-March 2, 2012

Entered St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake Wisconsin
Made monastic profession – September 1, 1957
Ordained to the priesthood – September 29, 1962
Baptized by the Holy Spirit – November 1967 and began 
ministry to the charismatic renewal.
Elected First Abbot of Pecos Monastery – April 11, 1973
Abbatial Service – 1973-1992
Conventual Prior in San Luis Obispo 1992-2012
I’m fumbling around for the right earrings.

Packing an overnight bag for a short trip.
My fingers trip and tangle,
the jewelry falls on the counter,
and I feel the tears behind my eyes.
Looking up into the mirror,
I ask myself:
“What does one wear to a wake?
To a Resurrection Mass for a priest,
an abbot,
a mentor,
a friend?
What do I wear?”
And the answer comes,
“Wear your heart.”
And I pack it right up,
 lay it in the suitcase,
next to the small jewelry box,
the St. Benedict medal on its chain,
the clear colors he always noticed,
the small, ordinary pieces of an everyday life.
Because that’s all I’ve got, isn’t it?
This heart full of memories,
of words heard and received,
of sweet smiles and heartfelt prayers and gentle marks of the cross.
We drive north,
this drive we’ve taken together for almost two years now.
Ever since my health scare and hospitalization in May of 2010, my husband has chosen to make this trip with me each month. 
He takes long walks up and down the steep driveway of the monastery while I sit in the Holy Spirit House with the abbot.
We’ve both come to love this day-long venture together.
And I wonder as the wheels turn and the miles slide by,
will this be the last time?
 And I wonder,
is this really why we’re going today?
To say good-bye?
We choose to stay overnight at the coast, 
15 minutes from the mortuary and the church.
A good, good choice for us ocean people.
Just walking on the bluffs in the warm wind, 
it blows courage into our souls.
We get there early,
the mortuary where the vigil will be held.
Because that, I learn, is what a monastic wake is all about.
It’s a time for call and response singing and reading,
for sharing memories and stories,
for keeping vigil with one another
on the eve of the final good-bye.
A short, strong nun leads the sung part of our prayer time.
And she is gifted, so gifted.
Gracious, confident, calling us to join the song with the lifting of her arms. 
I relax into the music, letting the Spirit sink deep. 
The brothers read lines from St. Gregory about St. Benedict.
We sing the “Sucsipe” – the song sung by every Benedictine priest at the time of vows and renewal of vows:
“Receive me, O Lord, 
as you have promised
and I shall live.
Do not disappoint me in my hope.” 
Can I just tell you how deeply
and strongly
my soul and spirit resonate with this kind of worship?
Simple melodies,
heartfelt words,
the ability to be silent without tension.
Too many churches in my life do not know how to do silence. At all.
These warmhearted, generous Catholic friends?
They know how.

And the next day, it is the same.
This time a formal Resurrection Mass,
complete with the presiding Bishop of the diocese and a trailing line of priests from all kinds of places,
sitting together, joining their voices throughout the litany.
“A motley crew,” the bishop named them.
And they are that.
But I think perhaps these are a brave crew, too.
Standing and singing and praying together for a departed friend.

The same nun leads the singing, serving as cantor extraordinaire.
The scriptures are chosen from those David loved – 
the Shepherd’s psalm
(which we sing and I am undone, just undone),
Habakkuk 3 – the vision will come…wait for it
Revelation 21 – behold, I make all things new…
John 3 – unless you be born from above…

And his friend and partner in work, 
Father Ray Roh preaches a magnificent memorial sermon.
I am blessed, grateful, aware that this was not an easy task to take.
Communion is moving, as it always is.
All stand, in prayer and attention, until each person is served.
And we sing, we sing.

New to this world of Catholic gatherings, 
we assumed a 2:00 service would be followed by a reception of desserts, to which we happily contributed a big bowl of beautiful fresh berries and some cookie bars.
Oh, no.
A full lunch spread – gorgeous and yummy looking.
Except, of course, we had eaten lunch.
So we watched and listened and felt the love vibrating throughout the Parish Hall.
And then we washed out our bowl,
loaded the car
and headed home.
Encouraged, exhausted, fed.
Grateful, grieving, content in a strange and satisfying way.
 We are left marveling that we 
never knew such richness existed in this Catholic space,
that we were so narrow in our view of life, 
of worship,
of God.
And the simple, haunting melody of that psalm,
that’s what we each remembered,
that’s what we continue to draw on.
Here is a YouTube version of Marty Haugen’s beautiful liturgical rendition of Psalm 23.
The response comes first – to teach the congregation.
Then the verses, followed by the response each time. 
Watch, savor, listen, SING:
 All I can say,
all I can sing,
all I can pray is  
We’re heading out of town for a while in the morning. I hope to have a chance to link this with Michelle at “Graceful” and with Jen at “Finding Heaven.” But I’ll publish it now and link to it on Facebook in case I can’t find reliable internet service while we’re away.
Thanks to so many of you for your kind words, your support and encouragement and your prayers. Oh, most definitely, your prayers. 
I also tagged onto both Laura’s this week – Barkat at “Seedlings in Stone,” and Boggess at “The Wellspring,” and at Ann Voskamp’s Wednesday round-up. And today, I’ll tag in at Bonnie’s place as she’s taking six weeks off to finish her book! And at “Journey to Ephiphany,” who has so kindly taken on Emily Weirenga’s weekly log-in:”JourneyTowardsEpiphany”