The Magic YES of 2016

 

 

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In the book A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, a young girl, Felicity, her mother and her sister, are moving to their mother’s Tennessee mountain hometown after a decade of travelling around, rootless. Rumor is that the town has magic, real magic. Felicity’s mom explains to her:

   “The town HAD to stay secret, you see, because the people who lived there had magic in their veins.”

   “Real magic?” I could barely even whisper the word.

Just the thoughts of real magic sent shivers from my nose to my toes. This time it was my heart that answered, a steady drumbeat yes inside my chest.

Yes

            Yes

                        Yes”

 

Throughout the book, when little Felicity hears about magic, the long painted over magic of the town and of the people of her mother, her heart beats Yes Yes YES.   When an old story is about to be told, when someone gets close to talking about someone with magic and destiny, even when its just hinted at, her heart beats :

 Yes

                    Yes

                                                Yes

 

And I get that. I get the Yes Yes Yes when I come across something that hints at the presence of magic, of enchantment. When something points to the story that I long for, have always longed for, and am always looking for. Yes Yes Yes.   There is something in each of us that responds to the magic in this world, to the beauty, to the mystery, to the abundance, to the longing, to the memory built into every cell that says: you are loved and this world is your good home and being with a bunch of other humans in the same room, in a community, is a gift.   We long for magic. We long for God. We long for each other. We long for hope.  We long for the Yes.

 

And this year, a year of sudden tragic loss, a year of dark, even this year held so many moments of

Yes

            Yes

                        Yes.

 

So many moments where my heart beat faster, and I knew to pay attention.   So to close out this last year and to head into the new one, eyes wide open and ready to fight for hope, here are some of the books that turned up on my doorstep and caused my heart to beat faster and louder. Now, they aren’t even the best written books, the most acclaimed or trendy or cool books one could read – but there was something of magic in them that my soul responded to. They were significant to me, they held the touch of God for me in my dark year. And each of them are a sign of the All That He Is, I am convinced. So here is a good news post. Because we are not alone and there is still hope and that’s good to remember.

 

Book 1

The first book I read in 2016 was Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk. It’s the story of Kinew’s father, his father’s life in residential schools, the fallout of that in the generation that followed, especially in Kinew’s life. It’s a story of the Indigenous experience in Canada, one that’s finally getting some air and light. Its devastatingly heartbreaking and you will squirm – and yet….And Yet….There is a YES YES YES inside it that I haven’t stopped thinking about.   It’s the story of a son walking towards his father’s death, chronicling both men’s active search and need for forgiveness and for reconciliation. And it was this word—Reconciliation—that kept pounding in my heart YES. Kinew wrote about the reconciliation his father had to make with his own past, and then with his own legacy, with his culture, with the country and the church that built themselves on top of him–in so many ways dependent on his de-humanization for their success. Its about the elder Kinew’s reconciliation with himself and his demons . It’s the reconciliation of an angry, broken son with an angry, broken father, the reconciliation of themselves back to their own hearts and the reconciliation of both of them with their loving Creator.

“When our hearts are broken, we ought to work hard to make them whole again.” writes Kinew and the book is a story about how that wholeness, that made-good-ness, happens within the depths and complications of community. Reconiliation happens within culture and music and dance and all that makes us unique. Its happens in the world of real relationships, of responsibility and light being brought to dark places.   It’s a story that we absolutely have to come to terms with and it carved out a deep spot to start this dark year for me.

My antennae went up with that word Reconciliation – every time we hear it – there will be something of God for us to know—its become a call to pay attention…….It caught me and shaped the rest of the year–especially when it came time to say goodbye and try to wrap my head around my mom’s beautiful life.

 

 Book 2

The second book that marked its YES on me was Emily of New Moon by our beloved L.M. Montgomery.   Believe it or not, I had never read it. Madeleine L’Engle writes about how it shaped her as a young girl, and so I decided I needed it to shape me.   And oh, I loved letting its words roll over me. Like Anne, Emily is an out of place young girl who loves the beautiful world around her and longs to know it, longs to express it, share it, be present in it. Right from the beginning, Emily talks about how she gets the flash. The flash is a constant in this story and its what caught me. The flash (always italicized!) was that moment when the veil was pulled back between the worlds, one of those thin places, where she knew there was something MORE breathing into it all.

“For one glorious, supreme moment, came the flash. Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described—not even to Father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke of it to anyone else.

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain, she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, the wind fluttered and it was if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse, and heard a note of unearthly music.

….and always when the flash came, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty….”

How Montgomery could express things that a suburban mom 100 years later also knew deeply, and needed deeply, meant more to me than I could express, I think. Her book was a flash for me. She named it perfectly too – the flash. We all have those blips of wondrous light, I think, and this book encouraged me deeply to remember that those moments are still SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. And the flash came incomprehensively and with killer clarity this year to me… and to mom and I was lucky enough to see it. In people, in books, in our jaw-dropping mountains, in the trees in my backyard, in the kids and their questions and their unique voices, it was there. In the man I married. In mom’s eyes, and the feel of her skin, there was a thin, thin place. Never in the same way twice, never of my own making, but it’s the stuff of the very grace, the very intention of the goodly created world being brought close by a holy, holy spirit of life. The Flash is grace and this story is too.

 

Book 3

In February, Pastor Heather and I sat down to talk about the women’s retreat and she asked me what I had been catching me about God lately. And what came immediately to mind was the word hospitality.  I had been completely blown off my feet by all the food brought to us after mom’s diagnosis by friends and family but also by the other mom’s at my kids’ school. That I didn’t expect. And it was hospitality when they gave me food and in so doing, created space for me, to help me walk through what I had to walk through. And so we decided to explore this at the retreat. Heather suggested I read Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl.   (and just a note–Pastor Heather knows a lot, reads a lot, knits a lot, prays ALL THE TIME and is truthy and kind and perfectly, lightly sarcastic—everyone needs a Pastor Heather).

This book set me loose in the best possible way and gave me a framework from which to understand ( or maybe better, to stand under), even more, this Jesus that keeps haunting me.  In an age where being a Christian seems to mean (if you pay attention to the interwebs) doubling down on black and white, who’s in and who’s not, this book took a previously benign concept to me (hospitality as the purview of middle aged women, committees and Tupperware) and showed the completely subversive, topsy-turvy, upending nature of WHO and mostly HOW Jesus is.  Can you IMAGINE if every one was ACTUALLY welcome in our churches, in our homes, in our hearts and not just the people who looked and thought exactly like you? (she asks herself knowing she is very far from this….)   Can you imagine what making room like that that would do within us? To the fabric of the world? Welcoming the Other, any and all “THE OTHERS,” making room for them, and needing to be welcomed ourselves, THIS is the center, center point of the gospel – good news, indeed.

And this has changed me and changed how I look at church, why we do church and what my role is in this strange, strange group of people who keep meeting together.   This book was a deep fountain of energy for me. And made me SEE those ladies who organize potlucks in a gorgeous, big way.

 

Book 4

Related to Making Room was another book on the church and what we do with it.   Eugene Peterson’s Practicing Resurrection was his lifetime of reflections on Ephesians and I looked it up to help me lead a study for our women’s group. And again, maybe there are more culturally timely, trendy books on church, but THIS one blew something apart in me.   I think because there’s something in Ephesians I can’t look away from and Peterson manages to say it in the exact right way for me to grab a hold of.

And the biggest idea that I keep coming back to from the book is this: Church isn’t something we do – its God’s work. That is, we are God’s work, because we are his body. However God wants to save this world, its going to be done within US, within its people, progressives and conservatives alike—all the community (see hospitality above….).  “I realized that this was my place and work in the church, to be a witness to the truth that dazzles gradually.”

And we can be witnesses to God’s work in the world and we can even participate in it. But we do not start it and we do not end it. We will do it, church, imperfectly. That is, we will participate and be a witness to it imperfectly and this in no way nullifies the actual action going on – which is GOD BRINGING ALL THINGS INTO UNITY (as that Ephesians likes to keep saying). All things into unity—us with our own selves, us with others, us with God.   This grounded my understanding of all we DO as Christians and then also all that we do not need to do. Because it drew me to what those NT writers started to suspect – that God bringing things into unity is his putting back together what was broken. The hospitality piece very much fits here because how else do we respond to “being brought back together” other than by being together.   This has shaped what I understand (or stand under) to be my call as a leader in the church, as a spiritual director and as a writer-y type person. And I am different now.   This book and Ephesians helped give shape to this story that I have lived out alone for so many years and made me love those weird churchy types just so much more…so much that I actually am ok with being one of them. It placed me within a big, big story that I am strangely very excited about.

 

 

Book 5

Those two big theology power books made a deep impact in my spring. And for some reason, this very deep sense of my call being sharpened was happening at the same time as my mom was rapidly dying. And then she passed away.  In the time after, I found George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1872) on my dad’s bookshelf. I remember (barely) my dad reading this book to me when I was little and I’ve remembered it in bits and pieces over the last couple years.

When I reread it in the weeks after mom’s death, one chapter stuck out for me.

The Princess’ (magic) Grandmother told her that when she was afraid, she was to reach under her pillow and what she would find there would help her. And one night the princess was afraid so she put her hand under her pillow and found a thread, a nearly invisible thread that she held onto with her thumb and forefinger. It led her out of her room, down the stairs, out of the castle and into the woods. The thread led her into a hole in the ground and then down through the rock into cavern after cavern:

 

“Every moment she kept feeling the thread backwards and forwards, and as she went farther and farther into the darkness of the great hollow mountain, she kept thinking more and more about her grandmother, and all that she had said to her, and how kind she had been and how beautiful she was, and all about her lovely room and the fire of roses, and the great lamp that sent its light through stone walls. And she became more and more sure that the thread could not have gone there of itself, and that her grandmother must have sent it. But it tried her dreadfully when the path went down very steep, and especially when she came to places where she had to go down rough stairs, and even sometimes a ladder. ..in a hundred directions she turned, obedient to the guiding thread…..

“When shall I awake?” She said to herself in agony, but the same moment knew that it was no dream. At length the thought struck her, that at least she could follow the thread backwards and thus get out of the mountain and home. But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch. Forwards, it led her hand—backwards it seemed nowhere. “

This spring for us, and all that came after, was one big walk in the dark–One that I couldn’t try to back out of. All of us could only go forwards even though it only led us to darker and harder depths. But in MacDonald’s old story, the thread led the Princess through the mountain in order to save the captured Curdie and then led them both out again. Her fear led her to trust and her trust, even in the dark, saved someone else caught in the dark and they saved each other. Seems easy, like a children’s story…. But I think about this story a lot and I deeply hope its true.

 

 

Book 6

I picked up Tara M Owens’ Embracing the Body: Finding God In Our Flesh and Bone a while back. Part of me didn’t want to read it because it seemed like everything I wanted to write a book about. I was weird and insecure about it. But in the end, it was a book that led to a lot of things falling into place for me and was a big part of the embodiment retreat I led in the fall. How we inhabit our bodies and understand God to be a part of that has become another huge life touchstone for me. And this book helped me dive into it, giving me new questions and ways to explore it. In some ways, it wasn’t a book that opened something new – it was a recapping of all the things I have been living through. It was the next step on my path of pulling the beauty of the Incarnation from up there in the sphere of idea and down into this real life.  And it gave me the courage to start telling the story of my own body as part of The Big Story. The big story of reconciliation, of bringing all things into unity, of doing that through the deep hospitality of real life, incarnational, in-the-flesh living .

These big three – Reconciliation, Hospitality and Incarnation were made very clear to me this year and have become the thread through the darkness that I seem to have to follow no matter where they lead.

“We kneel, we receive, in our bodies, with our bodies, and we open ourselves to the bodies of those around us, filled with the breath of God, formed as they were before time began by the One who chose and called them by name. We begin to make room for the things that don’t seem to fit into the world’s perfect picture (the broken world’s idea of the perfect picture—God’s perfect picture is probably just so amazingly wild)—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed (the bleeding woman, the orphan, the widow, the prisoner, the cold, the refugee just wanting a safe place for their family)—and in making room, we feel the heartbeat of God begin to thrum through us all, a pulse that invites us to create safety, dignity, trust in community. In our bodies, with our bodies, through our bodies, together we are the body of Christ.”

 

 

Book 7

In the fall I picked up Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. A friend posted a picture of it on the Facebook and since I love that friend and want to be as smart as her, I picked it up too.   I read it in three days. Mostly at night with my can’t-sleep-flashlight. I don’t know how I had gotten this far in life without reading it. This book was a balm. It was everything I needed to feel God, feel the enchantment of our good world in my exhausted fall.  It was one big YES YES YES pounding in my ribcage. It’s the writings of an old man to his young son and it’s the story of all the threads one’s life tends to snaggle up. Reconciliation, hospitality, incarnation and all the tanglyness of them were all so present in this story and it was so beautiful. The story, the narration, the images struck a deep chord in me.  It was intensely beautiful to me, the story and the writing, and its beauty was deeply healing.

“There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?”

Beauty is a sign, I think.

 

Book 8

This year was full of really hard stuff, for me, but for many other people too. It asked a lot of us; us in our groups, our churches, our communities, cities. It asked a lot of our assumptions and our values.  It asked a lot of us and I’m not all that sure we responded in a way that kept the door open to the real lives of other humans.—and when that happens the door is definitely not open to God – and that terrifies me. At least, that’s how I felt reading the headlines, the comment sections and all those lovely fb posts……   But in these last couple months of this year I read Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise……and friends, she’s amazing and this book gave me a gift that I am holding onto very tightly—hope.   Roll your eyes if you must—I probably would too—and I know it sounds so cheesy but reading her words made me feel like the grass at the bottom of a drain spout—so much water, needed water, poured out and I can’t help but grow stronger and healthier, greener and fuller.

“Mystics and monastics (and I would add artists, prophets, preachers, and school teachers) pray on embodied behalf of those who can’t. In a century of staggering open questions, hope becomes a calling for those of us who can hold it, for the sake of the world. Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably in the light of light and sometimes seems to overcome it. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is not as we wish it to be.”

She also talks about people who know the deeper ways of the world, the ways of God, not as being solutions or even as having all the answers, but how they are signs—signs of the actual truth of our world.  And this struck me as a deep desire. I generally do not trust anyone with all the solutions – but wow, could we be signs of the hope that is the actual fabric of this world? Could somehow this life lived in community, with the deep knowledge of reconciliation, of deeply subversive hospitality, and deeply rooted in God’s model of incarnated, fleshed out, lived-in truth be a sign? Could this happen?

Tippett writes, “Treat the margins as seriously as the noisy center. For change has always happened in the margins, across human history, and its happening there now. Seismic shifts in common life, as in geo-physical reality, begin in spaces and cracks.”

Tracing the thread and following the YES, through these books leads me back to my real life—the life of spaces and cracks, where HOW we choose to live this real life out is always more important than the end product, or the stand we hide behind. I feel deeply hopeful in the process of this real life with my husband and two thunder-strong kids and my dad, my brother, my friends and church and all the rest (oh and the bunny of course….) And I’m exhausted and its hard and my kids have ate more pb and j sandwiches than should be legal…and within all of this year, there have been no solutions but so many, SO MANY signs of His truth of love is love is love is love.   And it’s eternally inviting us to be a part of it.

 

And so yeah….we keep going.   And we keep reading. We keep paying attention to the

YES

            YES

                        YES.

And its a bit magic, I think.

 

 

 

 

Epiphany, 2017

 

 

Advent in the Dark (Or The First Year….)

(These are thoughts that have been rattling around my head and that we are talking about a lot in our church community–thankful for those honest pastors…) 

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Woman with Candle    Casper David Friedrich, 18th century, Germany

When I was about 7, I took swimming lessons at the wave pool. During class the waves were turned off but on the last day of class, they turned the waves on, to give the kids a chance to play in them. I remember one wave crashing over me while I stood in waist deep water, knocking me over. I tried to get up, but for some reason I kept trying to stand up just as the next swell came crashing. I couldn’t get my head above water. I remember starting to panic, completely unfamiliar with the waves, completely doing all I knew to do to try and get up – but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t get to the surface. Suddenly my instructor’s hand reached down and yanked me above water. She had noticed I was struggling. Thank God.

I don’t remember the fallout – I don’t remember what happened after that or if I told my mom or if the instructor did. I do know that I hate wave pools and don’t take my kids there. And I do remember the panic. I remember the sensation of not being able to get to the surface.   And this is the image and the sensation of this season. This is what it feels like, even with all the good and beautiful things, opportunities, people that surround me.   I get panicky after a few minutes, hours, days of disorienting swells of grief that just keep coming.

I don’t even know how to start processing this. This Christmas without a mom. Everyone said the holidays would be hard. And I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting this body snatching takeover of grief. I didn’t know to expect that everything would feel hard, sharp, dull, excruciating. The arm-numbing anxiety of last spring is back but harder and worser. I am surprised.

And I am aware, oh boy am I aware, that my grief is occurring within the grief of our world, our broken, hardened world.

And this is where Advent starts. Advent, I’ve said it before, is NOT ONLY the happy, sequined Indigo merchandise you can buy, feel happy about and think all is right with the world. Advent actually won’t let you do that – it wont let you be satisfied with that. Advent is stark. It is longing. It is waiting. It is darkness. Advent dwells in the unknowing dark but it also hears rumors and intimations and has a dim start of hope that where you are is not the end. And this tricky Advent always ends in a greater mystery, not certainty.   It ends with a baby on a dirty floor to an unwed teenager and told of only to the lowest, most overlooked workers and to strange outsiders.   SERIOUSLY, THIS is the door of Christmas we walk through and we should be absolutely gobsmacked by it. It makes no sense, not to the untransformed parts of us anyways. Not to the parts of us that need to WIN.  Not when my momma died and I haven’t talked to her in 6 months and never will again.   Not to the Aleppo’s that happen every day and the extremism of our own views and the unavoidable dehumanizing of anyone who does not prop us up. Through this is what we walk through and towards when we do Advent. And to that crazy story is where we look.

Hold that thought for a bit……

Advent is waiting AND advent is hope. It starts in silence.  Seemingly unfounded hope is the ground from which this season has to grow. Piercing hope for things so completely outrageous, so completely unrealistic.  Hope for things like joy, or peace, or even love. For life reunited and reconciled and as it was meant to be. Advent is stark, it is longing, it is waiting, it is darkness, it is unknowing AND it is also the action of lighting one tiny candle and then after awhile, lighting another one and then after awhile more, we light one more. We both sit and acknowledge the darkness AND we strike a match towards tiny, tiny flames. This is the practice of Advent.

Hope is a word that is sticking to me. “Hope for what?” my cynical mind keeps asking. Hope for a better world, hope for a world with no hurt? I remember two days after mom died, my 4 year old was upset about something, I don’t remember what. And she took it very hard, crying miserably on the floor. Her little, honest, wild heart was broken and I stood there and looked at her and thought, “What is the point?” What is the point of me comforting her, and trying to grow her into a loved, confident, compassionate human. What is the point when people die, things end with such finality, loss is seared into us and our world seems to be choosing death on all sides and nothing actually seems to change. What is the point in choosing to love,  when it doesn’t seem to make a difference to the world we have to keep living into.

And then I got down and held her and kissed her wet cheeks, and wiped her snotty hair. I lay on the floor with her, and with that question, and I know that what drew me to her was stronger than the despair. That was a grace, I know that.

 

What do we hope for when our certainty is stolen from us by tragedy or just by the erosion of years and hard choices.?

A few words from thoughtful people are standing out to me in all of this.  Theologian Cornel West (which a good pastor drew my attention to on Sunday) writes this:

“Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tends to be based on the notion that there’s enough evidence out there to believe things are gonna be better, much more rational,… whereas hope looks at the evidence and says, “It doesn’t look good at all. Doesn’t look good at all. Gonna go beyond the evidence to create new possibilities based on visions that become contagious to allow people to engage in heroic actions always against the odds, no guarantee whatsoever.” That’s hope. I’m a prisoner of hope, though. Gonna die a prisoner of hope.”

Ahhh…..Hope looks “beyond the evidence to CREATE new possibilities based on VISIONS that become CONTAGIOUS that allow people to ENGAGE.”

Those words.

Advent hope is this: the place in which we make room beyond the evidence. It is the dwelling place of the artists and the prophets (and if you’re lucky, the preachers).  In Advent, we actively hope that there is a more true and more real ground of our being where new possibilities, new imaginations, new stories, new ways of envisioning the world stir up, and engender life. Unto us. Unto me. This the methodology of our God—hope. It is for our souls and it is for our bodies. It is for our communities, ideal and actual. It is for His beloved creation, that he is always bringing back to Himself, that is, the creation He is always bringing back to love. And he starts with hope—the hope that envisions something completely crazy—a God quietly hidden and completely with us.   And that vision has caught hold, a downright contagion. It caught hold within Mary, within Elizabeth, within Anna….It called to Mary of Bethany, and took over the woman with no name who reached out beyond the wall of complete and total rejection, just to touch the hem of that dusty robe.  And that envisioning bridges us unto wholeness, unto life.

Krista Tippet, in Becoming Wise writes about hope in a chapter she entitled “Hope. Reimagined.”

“We are flesh and blood and bone. There are those for whom this reality is not a homecoming but a matter of day-to-day survival. Mystics and monastics pray on embodied behalf of those who can’t. In a century of staggering open questions, hope becomes a calling for those of us who can hold it, for the sake of the world. Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life and sometimes seems to over come it. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we with is to be.”

Not idealism, not even optimism, but hope is a choice in the actual truth of the situation, which is more often than not, a choice that has to be made in darkness.   A choice that becomes a practice – which maybe becomes a muscle memory.   Even when I read these words of Tippet’s I understood them. These words gave me hope, that one day I might have hope and even live within it. These words opened up a space to imagine what Hope I could have in this world of my inescapable loss, and the deep loss we all know within our human hearts, frayed and torn as they are when we answer calls from the hospital and open up the news apps on our phones..

And the essence of my hope…..is always this……God with us; presence. In this true and real place of earth and mud and consequences and grace.

Civil rights activist Vincent Harding told Krista Tippett that what what African- Amercian kids were telling him was that they needed “human sign posts.”  She quoted him as saying:

“I’ve always felt that one of the things we do badly in our educational process, especially working with so-called marginalized young people, is that we educate them to figure out how quickly they can get our of the darkness and get into some much more pleasant situation. When what is needed, again and again are more and more people who will stand in that darkness, who will not run away from those deeply hurt communities, and will open up possibilities that other people can’t see in any other way except through human beings who care about them.”

Hope is standing in that darkness, AND lighting that small candle. It is not fleeing, numbing, forgetting.  It is being with the real of what is happening, AND making space to imagine not being alone in it. The light will come, it always does, AND it does so in such a way that it grows within that darkness, that womb, that hidden seed. Remember I said that the mysteriousness of Advent leads to an even greater mystery (tricksy Advent). The promise we look towards this season, at Christmas, always comes rooted, not in some faraway place we have to get ourselves to, but right in the dirt where your foot is right now—in a real life, in a real community, in the slow, dirty work of human life and presence and love.   That is incarnation.  That is the hope He imagines into the darkness and it is the story He crafts which can “shift the world on its axis.”

That is why I stood with my husband in the dark of our messy house on November 27 and lit a candle.   I miss my mom and I miss what can never be now that she’s gone and the swells are so scary and so physically debilitating and nothing I write out could ever actually express what this feels like. I worry about my kids and don’t know what to do other than get down on the floor with them—it doesn’t seem like enough. And truly I do not know how human hearts ever recover from all the hurt we are capable of. But we light the candles, working on our muscle memory. We light the candles in the midst of the dark and we pray out loud,

“Come, imagine in us what could take root even here. More than I could hope or imagine, a small root that will somehow knit us back together, ALL of us here.   I won’t let you forget this promise, and don’t let me forget it either. Open this story in our hearts so that we can become as human sign posts in this darkness. And even as I am not sure I can do that this season, open this story up in me so that I don’t succumb to the darkness.”

Apparently words mean something–and these words and THIS WORD HOPE have meant something to me this season:

Psalm 130:1-2,5-6

We wait for the Lord, all of our whole being waits

And in his word we put our hope.

We wait for the Lord,

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchmen wait for the morning.

 Isaiah 62:6,7

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;

They will never be silent day or night.

You who call on the Lord

Give yourselves no rest,

And give Him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the peace of the earth.

John 1:4,5

 In him was life, and that life was the light of all of us.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Ephesians 1:18

And I pray that the eyes of your heart may be en-LIGHT-ened in order that you may KNOW THE HOPE to which he has called you.

Mary and Elizabeth

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Mary and Elizabeth by Kathe Kollwitz (early 1900’s)–

 

 

Mary stopped short of the gate. The servants’s daughter was in the yard, bending over a puddle of water. Beyond her was the goat’s pen and then, in the shade made by the rough timber beams and long grass bundled and placed atop them, the entrance to the house, she saw her cousin. Older than she, Mary noticed that her body looked bolder, bigger, thicker. Mary had known her cousin was with child. It was talked about. It was a scandal to their relatives, the ones that  they both loved and hated. Elizabeth was old, but God had seen her, so some said. And here she was, bending labourously over her basket of dung, lugging it towards the fire in the yard, talking to someone inside the house. Tears pricked Mary’s eyes. For her cousin, for herself. She felt her tears come easier these days. Everything was changed now, wasn’t it.

She felt her own baby move within her. That churning, that flipping . So close yet so foreign. So known and so strange.   Her baby did not show very much but a little. She hadn’t told her older cousin yet.   She hadn’t told very many people at all.

Mary looked back at the road and then at Elizabeth again. She was hungry.

The servant girl looked up at the woman at the gate, yelled to her mother who pushed past Elizabeth from inside the house. She came to the gate, opening it with great fuss and loud chatter. Elizabeth smiled widely and walked towards them. She swayed like a duck. Mary smiled at this fullness.

The cousins embraced and suddenly Elizabeth stared sharply, eyes narrowing. Her hand fluttered to her own enlarged abdomen. And she knew. She smiled conspiratorily but also smiled a sad smile that hung just around her eyes. She exclaimed quietly, “My son recognizes the life within you! Feel how he jumps! “ She says it happy and she is—joyful even. But there is always the unspoken knowledge of the cost of life. The cost of bringing life. The life required to be shed to bring life. The knowledge of ten thousand years passed down, always at the back of the joy. But the joy is real too. And Elizabeth looked sharply again at her young cousin. The child barely old enough to know about any of this—and yet she knows more, much more, than she lets on, thought Elizabeth.

The older woman did not ask questions. She did not pry. She placed her arm around Mary’s shoulders and shepherded her into the doorway.

“Come in. We will eat together. Our sons are hungry!” She laughed at her joke and brought her young cousin towards the seat closest to the window, closest to the dust-moted light.

Mary smiled and watched her cousin talk to her servant about the bread and she sighed.   “I’m glad you are going first, dear woman.”

Elizabeth did not turn around as she spoke, “For such times as these…..” And then, “You are blessed among woman. That child will set fire to the world.”

Mary looked outside at the little girl in the yard, now poking the brown puddle with a stick. Some water splashed onto her leg and she shook it, sending drops flying.    “My own heart burns first.” She said quietly. And louder she said, “And I am so hungry now. Hungry for everything I can get.”

She waited a beat and then laughed and her cousin laughed with her and handed her some of that morning’s bread and yesterday’s wine.

 

–This is part of a series I’ve been working on  that I’m calling Gospel Incarnated.  I love thinking through these old, truly strange stories.  The story of Mary and Elizabeth has fascinated me for a long time.   I wish I could swirl around in that place with those two women, watching it all unfold, from their view.  Can you imagine….

Speaking of Spiritual Direction

I was lucky enough to be asked to be on a panel of Spiritual directees and directors last week answering questions on what the practice of spiritual direction is all about and what it could be in people’s lives.

There were good questions and good discussions.  I wanted to post the answers to the questions I got beforehand – they made me think so I thought I’d share them!

 

 

What is it about Spiritual Direction that drew you into becoming a director?

I came to spiritual direction quite by accident. I didn’t know the woman I had contacted about meeting to talk about potential career directions for me was a director. And as we talked and she listened, she was able to show me that the longings I had in one area of my life were in fact connected to who God was in all of my life. And I remember weeping with that freedom that comes when you start to risk believing that God is in it all with you.-not in a lip-service way that I had gotten accustomed to, but in a most true way where all of my self, even the hard parts, were brought into the presence of God’s with-us-ness. And I think that it was the memory of that freedom that led me to explore being a director.  The gift that being in spiritual direction was to me, and how instrumental this relationship was for my own healing in so many ways, was what I longed to be able to give away as well.

I think too, the practices of a director–the listening, the discernment, the making space for who God is to that person through different forms of creative prayer, through the sharing of stories and the long-term nature of the direction relationship all are practices through which actual transformation can happen within. Because its safe and its based on love—the love of God for the individual and the love of director for that same individual. Having someone “For” you is a powerful, powerful place for transformation to take place.

 

How has spiritual direction been a gift to you from a director’s perspective?

One of the many gifts that direction as a director has given to me has been how I get to witness the many ways God IS in people. When you start taking seriously the gift of God within each person and what He might be doing in that individual life, you see that God and his ways are so much bigger than your own experience might have told so far.   I think of Ephesians a lot lately (I really like to talk about this) but you know in Ephesians where it talks about the manifold wisdom of God being made known through the community of believers, the church, I see this as a gift of seeing the multi-faceted ways that God reveals himself, his truth and his wisdom through each life and each story. Its so much more than I could ever come up with just through my own experience. In that way, what is an intensely personal and un-public ministry is actually a ministry that reveals in a deep way the manifold body of Christ as each one of us and our stories and our understandings of who God is is found to have a place in His Big Story.

 

What is something that is challenging or difficult for you about being a spiritual director?

In some ways, it’s the same thing as the gift. Because I will come up against ways of being or thinking that are not mine and that are maybe triggers for me. And stepping back from “what I think and what I want to say” to this person and reframing it as “what is God saying to this person in this situation” is a practice and a hard one of always looking past my own biases to what is “most true” of God and that person in that situation.

And I think it is just plain hard to remember that I, in my position as a director, do not fix anything. I am not in charge of the outcome of anyone’s life but I am called to walk with them as they listen to God and that’s a hard practice in our world and culture and Christian culture of “I’ve got the solution for you!”  That said, there is this way that God’s answer to us walking with him is always wholeness.  When a whole life is opened up before God, the good and the dark, wholeness is usually an outcome.  He really likes making that happen.

 

Who do you think can benefit from Spiritual Direction?

Everyone. I think its important for people in leadership to have a place they can be honest with their fears and doubts and biases and big and small weaknesses but also to have someone who can recall them continually and in ways that are real in their lives to remember God’s bigger truth—that He is doing the work of reconciling and redeeming and we are just lucky to get to be a part of it and be a witness to it.

And I think that spiritual direction is for misfits – which is to say, its for all of us. Because we all at times feel at odds with our stories, how they are shaping up.  We find ourselves at odds with our expectations of ourselves and others. We all at times, are on the outs of a community and don’t know where we fit. We all at times are far from a place where we can hear the true things about ourselves and about God and so we all need that place where we are lovingly reminded and our stories are retold to us in the language of our creator – which is the language of our real world, incarnated lives.

 

Women, Bodies and God

 

Some things take a long time to write.  Probably because they take a long time to live.

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Mary Madgalene Proclaims the Resurrection to the Disciples, Albani Psalter, Hildesheim, 12th century

 

 

This is a story about when my body told me it was time to start listening and when I actually listened.

 

It was dark outside. I had been under the fluorescent lights for two hours. At the gym, under the cavernous ceiling, that old sweat smell everywhere. The clanging of weights and deep whir of the treadmills almost drowning out tinny top forty music that always played.   I was moving from one weight machine to another. And then, my head, in an unaccustomed moment, started to bob. To the music—to that song Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse (It was 2001, don’t laugh).   And my knees bounced. Just a little, just a few times. I caught myself. I had just danced. Or done something almost like the beginning of a dance—almost, just a little—without meaning to. And then I started to cry.  Right there beside the leg press. Tears welled up. A lot of them.   In that split second my body did something all on its own. It did something I was not in charge of. It pressed up against the wall I had put it behind. and finally got a word in – well, a movement in. And it was a good word, that non-word.

 

And I’ve never forgotten that moment. Mostly because I cried for a long time beside that leg press and won’t forget how people walked the long way around me. But I also won’t forget that this was when my body told me it was time to start getting better. I was beside myself with surprise.  This was the time my body connected me to something larger than my ability/inability to make it what I thought it should be. It was small but in that moment, that tiny moment of movement, I knew that my body was bringing me back to myself, by doing something it was made to do, completely unbidden by me, starting right then.

And my body brought me back to God. As God was bringing me back to my body. That’s how God’s bringing always works.  We will always be given back to ourselves, the more we are brought into God’s love.  There’s a reason why we give words like reconciliation to this work of faith. That’s why we give words like reconciliation to the work of Jesus, the confessional embodiment of God.  And words like reconciliation are what this, this life, is all about.

 

Like so many women, I lived and grew in and through a space where our bodies were not accounted for. Not in a real sense. Not in the way that I longed for and we all do. Not in a way that lets us live, truly live within them, as we were made to.  Our bodies–idolized, utilized and commodified on one hand and dismissed, ignored, quieted and despised on the other.  As happens to our bodies, so happens to our personhood.  You can’t ignore someone’s body, not least your own, without negating something of their personhood, their worth as a being, present and alive.

I, and we, emerged into adulthood in a space where what our bodies want to say about us, about life, what we bring to it and about God was at odds with all the narratives we were been given to understand them, the narratives that tell us how to live within these bodies. Narratives from our culture, from our churches, in our families, from our own fears and deep hurts. I’m lucky. This body had never been traumatized even though I knew from a young age to be very afraid of violence against me.  (There’s this joke….”Sure I’d like to meet you after dark but I forgot to leave my vagina at home…”   It actually isn’t funny at all….) But I was lucky. I have also been loved pretty close to the best of my people’s ability. And that has given me a piece of ground to stand on which in turn gave me a chance to be able to see past some of the untruths. But even with that, it’s been hard enough.

 

This may surprise you, but I am a little intense (ok, that shouldn’t surprise you, I was trying to being funny).   My God-given intensity coupled with a deep grief of leaving, being left by, a community I deeply, deeply loved (another story, completely related, but for another time) triggered something in me. I was very confused about who God was, which meant I was very confused about who I was.  I didn’t have much to define me, my voice was unsure and negated, so I think on some level I turned to the one thing I thought I could and should control—this body. This body was the lower, so it was to be, could be, purified. To be like the higher parts of me, the spiritual, that I was trying so hard to find.

 

I didn’t eat for a few years. Under the guise of “health” and “godliness” but in my deepest heart knew that I was just starving myself. I melted to 97 pounds. In my last year of university I went to class, read, planned my food consumption and workouts and that was it. And then when my body tried to get my attention by overriding my self-control, it ate food out of control. Which is when I started exercising 3-4 hours EACH DAY. (If you know me now, this is so unimaginable, its almost laughable if it wasn’t so painful). For another few years. I remember talking with someone who mentioned she had been on a long walk by the river and how beautiful it was and all I could think about is how I would never have time for such a thing because all my free time was spent at the gym trying to get rid of calories.  I was at once disgusted and jealous of the luxury of spending time by the river.  And my soul kept shrinking, painfully–it hurt– behind this wall.

 

The depression was drowning. It may have been there first, tied to what was going on in the church, and the disordered eating was in response to it–our bodies tend to bear the brunt of our quieted voices. All I know is that the end result was I had shut down my body. I didn’t feel much of anything. I didn’t exist in my body even though I spent almost every second of my day thinking about it and trying to work it into submission. I hid myself. I stopped participating in everything I loved. I read and exercised and wrote, mostly at night, because I had stopped sleeping. I hid from friends. I dropped commitments without explaining. I ate in secret, in basements, in bathrooms, after my family had gone to sleep. I remember going with friends to someone’s house where they ordered pizza. And while the girls were watching a movie after dinner, I excused myself to use the bathroom and passed through the kitchen and scarfed down 4 pieces in easily 3 minutes. I hoped no one would notice. Things like this happened many times.   I kept thinking that what I needed was the strength to beat this body finally into submission. This body was to be subjected right? This body was the weak link, right? Getting this …thing….under control was the goal right? I had to figure out how to get it from God, this ability, this control. And then I would make better choices.  And then God would work in me.……Then my ache would go away. Then my longing for a place in this world would be satiated.  But it never was. Not that way.  I hid my mind and my thoughts but try as I might, I could not think my way out of this. God was gone.  I couldn’t find him.  I hid the pain of this deep, deep loneliness. I hid the shame of not being in control.  I hid the shame of not knowing how to live, of not being able to feed myself, of not having a clue what this was all for.

 

And yet……

 

Where I want to stay in this story is with this– this is the important part for us to hear– that what saved me out of that dark, dark time is that God turned up and started his good work in the very thing I had been taught to distrust. God didn’t show up by giving me the strength to finally get this body thing under control. God didn’t show up by convicting me, making me feel worse, shaming me into stopping this nasty behaviour.   He showed up by showing me that my body,  a deliberate and inextricable part of my personhood, was good – as it was.  And together we moved towards my createdness, my embodiedness. I did not need to flee from it in fear. That takes a lot of trust my friends.  That I’m still working out.

 

God showed up in the action of letting go, of which my bouncing knee was the first sign, the first fruits of the work of God–music and the instinct to move that takes over.  As I chose something other than control, the revelation gradually took me over–that it wasn’t my brain nor my will power nor my good deeds that could make me whole.  By letting go and living, in this body, because of this body, as it was, I had been given life.  It was only here that I began to get the smallest inkling of what grace actually is made of.

 

I was saved through this body. This very one you see when we go for coffee. This very one that you know when we hug. The one I still put a lot of coffee into and I’m learning to let rest.  This is what saved a whole human.  That night with the knee, I suddenly remembered-I was given to remember-my body.  That it was there and that it might want to participate, with joy, in the life it had been given.  That it might want to speak, that it might have something to say.  This woman’s body.  The tears were finally allowed to get out. And something like hope seeped in. I had almost, almost forgotten hope. I had grown so used to fighting and of hating and of being deeply, darkly alone in my own divided being. And Emmanuel, God With Us, gave me hope. In that unbidden movement of my knee.

 

 

 

God got to work, putting a whole soul-body, heart and mind-back together.  Cause he really loves to do that.  That’s his job.

 

What came after that night was a long, long, long journey back to health and back to myself, back to a wholeness. A paragraph can’t do justice to the length and breadth of this reconciliation, of this redemption.  There are so many parts, insights, conversations, good and bad choices, deep disappointments and many years of good therapy and good theology that came after that night in the gym.

Coming to know the created goodness of my own self, including my body, in all its human weakness, became the way to knowing God, who created it. The movement towards the freedom that comes from being the good creation we were intended, is the movement that the Spirit is always about—because it is a movement back to unity.  The intention of creation is also always God’s end game of salvation and the tell-tale sign of the inbreaking of His kingdom—it is life, in this body, on this earth, fully open and unafraid, in ourselves,  before each other and fully open and unafraid before God.   It is reconciliation. It is reunion. It is a re-membering of what we are and were always meant to be.  A veritable resurrection.

 

Those seem like high words. Maybe like words that sound good and poetic. I’m never sure if all the words ever do any good.  But at some level I know, and want to know, that words are powerful things. That they can beget true ways through the darkness. But only as they are given form and lived out in and amongst our actual, real-life bodies. And only as our bodies, our whole selves, are in turn shaped by this good Word.

 

In the beginning God created. Us. All of it.   And it was good. Even as we dug in the dirt, learned fire, needed each other, built towns, learned to live together, knew our brokenness, learned to forgive…slowly.

In the beginning was the Word and it was God. And it was a crying-all-night-baby kind of God.

In Him, all things are being brought into unity. Even our own hearts and our own present bodies as we welcome one another’s physical presence to eat and drink their fill at the Table.

All this is from God, that He would reconcile all things to himself through Christ. All of this, its all his, even you, every cell, every synapse, every bit, drawn into the folds of his being, the embodied and cruciform being we see hanging in all those pictures, that we see reflected even in our own selves.

 

These old, old words are pinging around my brain even as I try to tell the truth of my body. My woman’s body.

 

There is a space in the back of your mind, or in the back of your soul, or in the pit of your stomach or the space around your heart (which maybe are all the same thing) where you know your body has been quietly talking to you. Is it in the exhaustion? Is it in the literal numbness of your arms? Or face? Have you been holding your breath? Is it in the tension in your neck? Is it in your appetite, your need to fill your stomach, or your arms, or your mind with noise, noise, noise, noise? What is your body saying? Is it the anger? Is it the sadness? The sleeplessness.  Is it the fog you can’t get out of? What is trying to get your attention? What is the truth of you and God that your being, your embodied self, knows?   The truth of where you are right now. And the truth of where you deeply long to be.

 

This is work that sounds so, prosaic…the stuff of our very ordinary being… but is life-altering.   I started this blog to write about this very thing—its why I say “our flesh and blood spirituality.” But it’s taken me a long time to even start to find the right words.

 

But two words stick out the most and are my beacons—like fireworks, like a flare. These two words rise up in the confusing darkness and when I see them, hear them remember them, I am called to the right place.  Like the freaking Star of Bethlehem.

One is Incarnation. The Incarnation of the Word. Jesus. What could it mean that the God of the universe, the Creator of every impulse and chemical reaction, revealed himself in a body – a baby, a boy, a small brown human? What could it mean that the spirit that transforms us into the likeness of what we were created to be does it through the very stuff of our world—matter, bodies, each other? What does it mean that God doubled down his commitment to the good stuff of this world, and of you, with this enfleshed entanglement in our world? That he did it to the point of death. And more tellingly, to the point of resurrection.

 

The other word is Embodiment. Our embodiment. What could it mean that the God of the universe, the Creator of every impulse and chemical reaction intended that we live out our lives with Him in these bodies?  Every day, with all the ordinariness of blood and sweat and food and family.  We weren’t created bodiless souls–how did we ever think that was the goal?  What does it mean that all of our thoughts, hearts and spirits have our bodies to mitigate them to the world, to each other? What does it mean that we live out our lives in a sacramental way, that enacts the good news every time we do the very stuff that keeps us alive–when we eat together, drink together, every time we remember this body, That Body?

 

And that is what I want to talk about. All the time. I want to talk about the Incarnation and the Embodiment.   How WE are Embodied creations and HE is the Embodied Author and sustainer and finisher of all of this who just longs to walk with us, in the garden, as the sun goes down.

I want to talk about the tensions and hard places that the real world work of living in our bodies brings up. The disconnect we live in, the brokenness that can not be glibly discounted. I want to talk about what it looks like to live this being-a-human thing out.  But there is also the joy in the trusting amidst the brokenness and I want to talk about that too. And the fellowship. And the deep, deep peace. And the wholeness of His Presence even in the midst of it all. The Reconnection, the reconciliation, the reunion. I want to talk about the Reunion.*

 

whew….I’m not sure if I’ve thrown enough words at this….(that was gently sarcastic).

 

Friends, if you want to talk about these words, this Word, which is actually Good News, join me. There are so many ways in which this plays out in each of our lives– what we need to say about this will be completely unique to each of us at the same time as being familiar to us all.

And its time we start saying the words out loud.  The good Word about women, bodies and God.   Take a look at that picture at the top again.

 

I don’t know how to start the conversation other than by starting it.   I am hosting a retreat day in Calgary with my friend Dr. Angela  who happens to be a registered psychologist who knows a lot about what it means to live practically and live wholly–body, mind and spirit. It will be in Calgary at the FCJ center on November 26, 2016. The cost is $80 which includes lunch and snacks and us and handouts!!! Glorious handouts!

I love handouts.

 

If you are interested, let me know. I would really love to see you and hear you and have a chance for us to hear God together. It would be a day for discussion and teaching and concrete ways to live this out but also some space for you to be with yourself–your body, and heart and mind—and with your God.

There is so much room around this table.

 

 

“The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.”                ― Irenaeus of Lyons

 

*I recently read Love Warrier by Glennon Doyle Melton and this work Reunion struck me as the most important word in there.

 

Meditations on Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm

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Christ in the Storm, Rembrandt, 1633

 

I came across this painting in a book a little while ago and could not stop looking at it.

It was in a book called Contemplative Vision – specifically looking at paintings, visual art.  The author, Juliet Benner talks about about how “seeing” spiritual realities depends on our noticing, our seeing what is around us. Looking at visual art helps hone the ability to stop, notice and see what God is doing—it helps us to see where God is and where we are.

 

And then I read this a few days later in an article by Amanda Benckhuysen in the Calvin Theological Journal where she specifically looks at the work of Rembrandt. “Art is a way of acting with the world that engages with its materiality such that it illumines something about the world’s depth and reality…Art’s ability to open up its viewers to new ways of seeing and understanding is not only true of the world but also of the biblical text….It brings out the new and unexpected, the hidden and the silenced in the text.”

 

I was already sensing this, as I looked at that Rembrandt. There is something about this painting that captured me. Something the painter understood about what it meant to be human, what it meant to be in a storm and something he hoped for about God that made me see this story in a new light. And more than just aiding me to “see” this story, this painting opened a door for me to know this story somewhere within myself considerably more intimate than my good, moral-of-the-story analysis had ever done.

 

I brought the picture to mom’s one afternoon in the spring, just to show it to her. And she said, “Didn’t I tell you how God got me ready for all this with that story?”

Hmmmm.

I started to pay attention.

 

And I’ve been sitting with this picture all summer. I’ve had it printed in big and in little – there are multiple copies sitting on shelves around my house. I stare at it a lot.

 

The following meditation is what it brings up for me but what could it bring about for you? Take time and look at the picture. What strikes you the most about it? What is grabbing your attention? Bypassing our long ingrained habit of only looking for the behavioral takeaway, what is God speaking to your heart about him, his character, his ways, about you, about yourself, about where you are, about how you are in this world?

 

Look. See.  What can you not stop seeing the most?

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Is it the water? Is it the way the water looks alive and terrifying? How it is dark and endless. What would be lost under that water? What is already down there?

Is it how the water washes away any sense of where the boat begins and ends? It washes away their safe place, their only way of keeping their heads above the darkness. The water washes over, gets in, takes over that boat. The water looks cold and rough and like it goes down forever. There is nothing solid about that water, no footing to be had and it makes me nervous. I am a prairie girl and while I love and thrill being at the ocean, there is something about how deep the ocean is that terrifies me. What might be lurking down there? It’s a deep, evolutionary fear – of chaos, of falling, of losing any foothold. Of being consumed, of being lost, of losing breath and hope and the ability to get yourself out. The waves, roiling, make me want to look away but they also catch me up in them. I can’t stop staring at them.

 

Is it the wind Rembrandt painted? How everything in the picture is affected by the wind? How the wind bends and pushes the boat over, under its invisible power? See the wind unloosing the ties that keep the ship together, blowing strong wood to the point of break. The sails are straining, the boat shifting, unstable underfoot. Notice how the wind whips everything towards those disciples – they can’t keep their eyes open, they have to look away. They can’t see where or what or how they can possibly keep afloat. Its hard to catch their breath.

 

Or is it the light that catches you? The light and the dark that Rembrandt painted so deliberately.   Is it how the light creates such a beauty in the sky, a beauty completely apart from the trauma of the storm but also because of it. Is it that kind of beauty that invites you; the kind of beauty that gives a hint to the mystery on the other side of what you are seeing?

Look at how the light hits the front of the boat – where those disciples are working so hard. So hard. All their effort, everything they know to do is being done, in the light while at the back of the boat, the disciples in the dark are looking at Jesus.   Why is Jesus in the dark?

 

Is it the disciples themselves? Some trying everything they know, some working harder than they ever have before. Some looking beseechingly at Jesus and some looking downcast, forlorn, not knowing what to hope for. Some are gazing into the distance, maybe trying to see beyond the storm, trying to see the land. And some are searching the water, the deep dark water. How are these disciples striking you? Is it in how they reflect you? Where would you be in this boat? What would you be doing?

 

Is it the way Rembrandt painted Jesus, his face lit up in the dark aft-ship? Do you notice him looking at the faces of those around him. He sees them. He grasps, he must grasp, what is happening but there is something in his posture that does not say panic. He is almost in repose, as he would be at the dinner table. His posture says rest. For indeed that is what he is all about in this picture. Christ in the storm – resting. Sleepy Jesus. As if the storm, for him, was no different than the calm.  As if darkness and lightness were the same for Him. For He himself in no way changes, and his presence in no way changes within the two places, between the two. He is the same in that storm as he is at the Passover table. Present and there.

 

 

What does this picture hold for you?

 

For me, as I’ve sat with this picture, meditating on all it could say, and as I sat with mom with this story and this picture over these last few months, I keep staring at the disciple straining to keep ahold of the mast, trying to maintain their hope of getting to shore upright, and I keep staring the disciple staring into the water. I am both of them. Trying so hard to hold together that every muscle aches. But also consumed with what is underneath the waves, what might be right around the corner, with the darkness I can’t see a way around.

And then I can’t stop hearing sleepy Jesus’ voice:

“Why don’t you come to where I am?”

To where you are sleeping? Not doing anything? Watching your loved friends struggle?

“Yes, to where I am. I rest in this time, I do not struggle in this storm, like I do not struggle when I sit back at a table. Because this storm is no different than the calm to me. The darkness is as light to me. I do not change within them – I am here, with you, in all of it, I am. That does not change. So you come over here, and sit with me. And I will show you that I can calm a storm, This storm. The storm.  And I will also show you that I am not afraid of it. And I will show you that your fear is not the end of this story. “

 

What this picture revealed to me in a way that no “you of little faith” sermon ever could, was the invitation. The deeply personal and known kind of invitation to me to join Him where He was, at rest in his world, at rest in the storm, at rest in the dark, his still presence lit like a firefly.

 

This painting has then sent me back to the text. And as I read it yesterday I, along with the disciples, heard Jesus say, “Let’s go to the other side.”  He does that doesn’t he.  Invites us to go with him.  But this story, like my story, and like so many of our stories’, goes to a completely unexpected place.  What they thought they were embarking on with Jesus, with all the faith they had, and all the idealism and vision and hope and intention, took a turn they were not expecting.  In all of our lives this happens.  We start, we think we hear God calling us to do something, to start something, to be faithful and trustful and then all of a sudden a squall rises up from the depths and we are suddenly fighting and struggling like we’ve never done before.  We get confused–did God mean for this to happen?  Did He do this?  Did I hear wrong?  What is happening?  Our ways of making sense of this are completely stripped away.   And where is Jesus in this?  Sleeping.  Not even in a “so it seems”kind of way but actually sleeping, at rest, completely unconcerned.

And so then I ask, along with Mark, “Who is this?” Who is this, that we followed out into the middle of the lake, who is at home, at rest, in a storm such as this? What kind of messiah do we follow who is not terrified of the world and its storms. What kind of God is right at home in his creation, even lets go into sleep within it and does not, could not, change in the darkness and in the light?

 

The one that is with us, drawing our attention to where he always is, to where the light can never be taken out, even in the dark shadow of the storm. The one in whom there is no question of his ability to effect his will, good and restoring, in this world. The one who does not change, even in the awfulness of our lives, but thoroughly changes us in the process of being with us in the bottom of the boat.  The one who invites me to sit with him and watch how he does it, with all the repose of one who offers me some of his food while staring at the sunset.

 

This is he.  Thank you sleepy Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Call to Worship

Worship, in all of its states and ways, serves to open our hearts to our true home, our hearts to our true selves and will always work to infuse this world with the incredible beauty of living with God.  If our worship is a clear seeing, a window cleared of fog, just for a moment, then these are my calls to worship in this season.

Marilyn Robinson’s  novel, Gilead, has been one of the great surprises and gifts in this season.  How have I not read this before?  I am more whole for reading it.

 

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light …. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? …. Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

 

And this Decemberists song.  I can’t get it out of my head.  We sing it at church because God’s truth oozes from its words.  “If I am waiting, should I be waiting?  If I am wanting should I be wanting?  When it’s all around me.”  This song calls me to the clear seeing, the right direction of my gaze that I am longing for, waiting and wanting for.  To the truth that is already and always there.  That God may give me the courage to know.

 

A Beginning Song, The Decemberists

Let’s commence to coordinate our sights
And get them square to rights
(Get them square to rights)

Condescend to calm this riot in your mind
Find yourself in time
(Find yourself in time)

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me
(All around me)

Document the world inside this skin
The tenor of your shins
The timbre of your limbs

Now commence to kick each brick apart
To center on your heart
Starting with your heart (bright heart)

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me
(All around me)

It’s the sunlight, it’s the shadow.
It’s the quiet, it’s the word.
It’s the beating heart. It’s the ocean. It’s the boys.

It’s you, my sweet love (my sweet love)
Oh, my love (oh my love)

And the light, bright light
And the light, bright light
Bright light, bright light

It’s all around me
It’s all around me
It’s all around me

 

 

God grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, the work you are always doing–bringing this world, this creation, us, back together, back to you.  And may our participation in it, our delight in it, our pointing to it, our honouring of it be among the acts of incarnation you are eternally about, thatyou are always and forever doing.  Your work in your world, your work in ourselves.  Its all around us, breathed into, offered up.

 

 

The Breaking and Blessing

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When I saw this picture my husband took this past week in the mountains near our house, I immediately thought of this sentence:

“For there is the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the worlds end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts.”

Come on.  That’s a good sentence.

 

This sentence of C.S. Lewis’ has always stuck out for me. It’s from the memoir of his coming to faith, Surprised by Joy.  I wrote this sentence out on a blue sticky note and had it above my desk for a couple of years. Isn’t it a great sentence? Maybe its just me. I mean, its my kind of sentence – its got a lot of commas.     But it’s an opening sentence, as in, it’s a sentence that opens up…..something…. before you, a world you could inhabit, or maybe just a world that you could look around for a bit.

Lewis wrote it in reference to a view close to his home. A place, a landscape, that was important to him during an incredibly formative time. These words are about trees, and hills and skies. Physical things that hold us in this world, that are, in some way, everything to us—“the thing itself,” “the way to the world’s end,” “the land of longing,” “the breaking and blessing of hearts.”   He describes that place in his life that, if we are lucky, we all have. A place that draws us in, that brings our souls to a farther place than we could ever go ourselves. They call us, these real places. And they hold us.

 

He wrote that sentence, which is just one sentence in a three page description of the land near his home, within an even larger passage that describes his personal movement from the idealized, the romantic, the “beyond” and “higher” to the real, the earthy, to the rooted. He had made a friend, Arthur, who helped start this movement within Lewis, and had introduced him to “the best of Waverly and the Bronte’s and Jane Austen.” Lewis admits he was hesitant to read these writings – in his youth, and the haughtiness of youth’s idealism, they were too prosaic to incite real passion and growth. But his friend persisted and of this Lewis wrote,

 

“The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such books Arthur taught me to see as their charm. What I would have called “stodginess” or “ordinariness” he called “Homeliness”—a key word in his imagination. He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it. He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighbourhood. He could get endless enjoyment out of the opening sentence of Jane Eyre or that other opening sentence in one of Hans Anderson’s stories, “How it did rain, to be sure.”

 

And Lewis writes that his friend looked for this rootedness, this ordinariness, in the outside world too. While Lewis previously had responded to nature, as maybe we all do, with feelings that came from the wild, or the awe-inspiring, experience of skies and clouds and distance and mountains, of which that landscape most definitely was, his friend also taught him to see more, more of the everything that was there.

 

“But for him, I should never have known the beauty of the ordinary vegetables that we destine to the pot. “Drills,” he used to say. “Just ordinary drills of cabbages—what can be better?” And he was right. Often he recalled my eyes form the horizon just to look through a hole in a hedge, to see nothing more than a farmyard in its mid-morning solitude and perhaps a grey cat squeezing its way under a barn door.”

 

And in that movement, that is the movement of all maturity – with God, with spouses, with children, with work – the movement from idealized and distant to very close, very earthy, very ordinary, Lewis saw the beauty that is the truth of God made flesh in this world.   That is, God as the everything we long for and the everything right before our eyes.

 

Back to the sentence. The part that gets me in that sentence is the phrase, “the breaking and blessing of hearts.” And as I read Lewis here, I recognize that this breaking and this blessing is not only in the big, the distant, the wild and awesome we experience but also in the rooted and the ordinary.

 

And why its grabbing me especially at this time is how it reminds me of something Walter Brueggemann wrote in The Prophetic Imagination.   Brueggemann talks a lot about how the imagining of God’s prophets truly does bring in new ways of knowing and being – knowing God and being with God. All prophecy works to bring us back to our center—back to God and back to His way, which is the way of his creation, the way of deep knowing, which is the way of each other, each other as God’s also. Brueggemann then writes about the role of grief and amazement in this imagining, in this bringing about a new way of being. How both bring us to a place of the most true, the place where God’s dream for his intensely enduring creation is unfolding.   Brueggemann, first writing this in the 1970’s, connected the spiritual understanding of the women around him to ways of knowing grief and amazement with especial clarity. He dedicates the book to the women around him. Think about that for a minute. What is it about one’s experience, and about women’s experience, historically relegated to the house, to the ordinary, to the children, to the lower, to the hidden, to the earth, that can speak of grief and of amazement?  What is it about the ordinary life with others and life with our very real selves,  that could bring a new, or re-newed, imagining of God’s good creation? What and where, in our daily experiences, rooted experiences, of grief and of amazement, is God’s prophetic voice in our world right now?

Is there something about holding grief and amazement together with our lived-in hands that could lead to “the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the world’s end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts”?

 

 

In your rooted life of home and commutes and maybe children and maybe work and taxes and endless news cycles and awkward conversations and crises, big and small, joys, big and small, where is the grief calling you to pay attention?  And in all of that, where is amazement calling you, thrilling you, to remember the promises of woven into your heart?  How does God speak through the grief of your daily life? How does God speak through the amazement of it all?

How does God both break and bless your heart? In your real life.

 

For how you answer that, will be your blueprint for following the movement of the Spirit. How you answer that will be how you follow God, who reveals himself, blooms himself, and calls to you in the very earth of your life. Your life which is his. His good creation – growing new every season, over and over.

 

I am listening to the grief. The grief that honestly seems so bottomless right now. I have to dose it out. It just hurts a lot and words are pretty inadequate for this. And maybe one day I will be able to plumb some of what this grief is growing in the dark – for you and for me. But for now, it is enough to notice it all and to also be acutely aware that this grief is in every way tied to the amazement. That the rupture in the land and the bridge I eventually find, and have always found, across it are not experienced without the other. And God is inextricably within both.

So I am listening to the amazement too. And this amazement is exactly found within the homeliness of my life – in food, in a text, in my husbands grace to me. In my kids being their whole hearted, very loud selves. In fruit in my fridge. In a house to which I can hold the door open.

 

I am watching the landscape now as I write this–sky like prayer, mountains cut out in purples and blues against the sky, trees tireless in their reach.   I see the way to the breaking and blessing. And then I see the small flowers, growing in their fragile and subtle season, bringing joy to my dirty kids who are strung out from their life of learning to live with a very important death on top of learning to share, take turns, curb the sass and wash their hands just so much.

And I see the way to the breaking and the blessing—a world I could maybe one day inhabit or maybe I already am – if I just look around for a bit.

 

Oh Jesus, the way you come, incarnated in the stuff of our real lives—it breaks and blesses without end.

 

Prophets, its time. Its always time.

 

On spending time with Brueggemann, with Irenaeus, with Isaiah, with every honest woman I know, and my facebook newsfeeds, a month after my momma dies….

Its intense and its good. Not a time to be afraid of.  Clear eyes.  (Full hearts, Can’t Lose! …..sorry can’t help it.)

 

 

Prophets. They call us back. They, these people with words–strong words, call us back – to that great axis of existence. To the steep and Godward heights and depths and also to the broad movement, a slow line drawn across the earth (Irenaeus) They call us back from apostasy and injustice, towards reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other.  They call us back to loving God and loving our neighbor – who is our neighbor? – It is everyone who needs love– the real life tears-and-laughter, help-and-welcome, kind – not the sequined pillow kind.  In case you missed it, our neighbour is each one of us, no matter how different we are from each other.

 

We need the voices. We need our prophets and our preachers to call us to imagine that more real world. We need prophets and preachers to tap into the dream of God. We need prophets and preachers to inspire the weavers—the weavers of the fabric of God’s cloak that is This World. To call us out of the violence we accept and to call us out of the satiety and numbness we succumb to. Both, both, both negate our humanity – negate our createdness. They actively fray the heart, your heart, my heart, that God made so delicately, so intentionally. They actively dis-integrate your heart, my heart. They actively bring death to what was created alive. – Do not fray and denigrate and slowly kill your heart so lovingly made with thousands, millions, BILLIONS of years of God’s presence woven into its beautiful creation by either actively or passively negating life. Do not negate God’s incarnated presence – in yourself, in others, through violence or indifference. Both violence and numbness are determined by what we long to grasp for ourselves, they are the broken ways we try to protect our heart forgetting that there is nothing about having a heart to protect – these hearts belong to God and they belong to this world, that is to each other – There is nothing grasping in Jesus and nothing protectionist and everything that opens hands, ready to embrace, ready to hold that heart with ten thousand years of growing and beholding love within that reach.

 

Hear the voices calling you back to that axis with their grief. They are the echoes and reverberations of all the prophets calling us to see the destruction, the ripping grief that is coming and that is now here. Hear the voices calling you ahead, calling you to look up with their amazement, to see the astonishing beauty of living here now. They are echoes and reverberations of the promises that were woven into our own hearts since the dawn of time.   Listen to the grief and listen to the amazement (Bruggemann).

 

He is always on the side of his creation – all of it. In such times as these, which is all times, every time humans have existed in their brokenness and in their dear hope, these are the times we pay attention to the grief and to the amazement.   And in these times,  something like a door opens up before us to that dream, to that more real world that is actually this one,  to that weavers workshop with all the color you could imagine spreading out before you.  Open it and walk in, dear friends.  It what we were made to do.

 

 

 

A Really Good Story

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So I’ve been thinking about posting my mom’s eulogy on my blog for a couple weeks  now. I can’t believe its been three weeks already since the memorial.

Because it is a story that means everything to me I want people to read it.  And because it is a story that means everything to me I don’t want it to just hang out on the internet, just waiting and exposed, then forgotten.  So I am posting the eulogy for about a month and then I will take it down.  It is a precious and tender story that I want you to know.

I want you to read it because I want you to know my mom in the way that she knew herself.  I want you to know what made her tick.

I want you to read it because I want you to see your own story within it.

I want you to read it and I want you to know LOVE.   I want you to know that you are seen and you are not alone – whatever and wherever and whoever you find yourself to be.

I want you to read it because I want to remember my mom.  Because its so surreal that this has happened and that she is not here and that she will only be thought of from time to time by all of us going forward.  I want her life to linger in the way that good stories linger and in the way that good stories can become a voice in our heads, speaking up when they have something to say. Speaking up when we need it most. Speaking up when we are least expecting.  Speaking because she was and is a life that spoke.

Read it with a glass of wine and a prayer.  Thank you everyone near and far for all your words of love and peace to us……….Big slow sigh.

_____________________________

Wendy’s Story

So I’m here to tell you the story of Wendy, the story of your friend, your sister, your grandma, your heart and wife, our momma. We are going to tell the story of this woman who was kind to you, who made you laugh, and who probably exasperated you and who challenged you with her very clear and discerning eyes. She also probably encouraged you without condition, who, if you were honest with yourself to her, probably pointed you to Jesus in a real and life-changing way and who, if you were lucky, made you dance uncomfortably in her living room with the music turned way too loud. It would take every one of us telling the story of Wendy that we knew to each other to get the fullest picture of her. We could be here all day, it was a really good story and its Author is a really good storyteller. But we also want to have a chance to talk and laugh and remember mom together with food so Dad told me I couldn’t talk for too long.   I’ve whittled it down to 40 minutes…..

 

So the story of mom starts when she was little.

She was a curly headed girl, quiet and intense and watching in a time and place that was not always kind to her. One night, when she was very little, she dreamt about a dark black bear in her room, in the shadows at the end of her bed, trying to devour her. The next morning, she was scared and alone. She went into the fields and found a tree, a chestnut tree and she sat there. And there, There, my friends, is where He first came to her. God announced his presence to her like he does with us all, as that sense that we are not alone, that sense that we are known, in that sense where we know we are seen. She told me often of that time in the tree. Because of all that her life threw at her, all the half-truths and brokenness that she lived through, (that we all do) this moment was the moment she knew to be the ground of her life. In her little kid fear and terror, this Love made itself known to her – with no agenda other than to bring her close, to bring her to His own self, and to show her love. If there is anything you need to know about mom it is this story – everything she was and did was grounded in this experience of love, a love that came and found her in the chestnut tree.

She grew up in the Comox valley, mostly in Courtney, in a small house on the edge of town. G and E Peterson had 5 kids, P, her older sister, mom, the second girl, J and then D, her troublemaking brothers and her youngest brother B who was lost too soon. She didn’t talk a lot about her growing up years—we heard a few stories about her brothers chasing her with snakes and how she went to school with Kim Catrell and about accordion lessons, but we knew there were probably both struggles and laughter. But she loved camp and one day at camp, she found that the Jesus they were talking about WAS THE SAME love that wrapped her up in its arms that night in the tree. And she also found that she could sing.

Mom moved to Alberta when she was 19 where she found herself living with her newlywed sister, in an apartment just off Elbow Drive where at the same time, a young R found himself also living with his newlywed best buddy in that same apartment. These two kids, dad slept in the living room and mom slept on the kitchen floor…..Mom was pretty open with how much Dad annoyed her when they first met – and He just got a kick out of her and thought she was cute. And, they found themselves wanting to be with each other so much that they started dating in February 1975 and were married the following August. She loved his cool, bass playing self. She loved his quietness and strength. He loved her fire and her strength. He loved her uncontainable self.

My parents marriage would be, from both points of view, the defining relationship in both their lives. It was where everything about who God made them to be and how God brings people into unity was practiced and lived out – with very real struggle and with very real and immense grace. Anyone who spent anytime with them knew they adored each other and this came out of 40 years of choosing each other and welcoming each other. They were curious about each other and each other’s points of views and were willing to learn to be wrong sometimes. And they just got better and better together. Four weeks ago, 41 years after their first days together in that small apartment, my parents had some pictures taken and the photographer asked them about how they met. They laughed and looked at each other and mom said something about how they were an odd couple. And dad, a few beats later, with a smile on his face, said, “mismatched” while mom looked at her hands with an inscrutable smile that held a lifetime of knowing in it and held a lifetime of loving and being loved better and better within it. Their love is more than a testament to God’s grace—it is exactly an icon of who and how God is in this world. It is a picture through which we see how God works and how we are only transformed into something that looks like the love of God through the real world of real relationships. And this is the gift of Rob and Wendy and it probably deserves 10,000 words about it but it is the gift that we got to witness from the front row.

These two crazy kids had two kids of their own and settled in the up and coming new neighborhood of Midnapore, on the edge of Fish Creek. Mom loved Fish Creek and they didn’t live more than a two minute walk from it their whole married life. Mom needed to be in Fish Creek a lot – and I think it was because it was big enough to hold all of who she was.

Chris and I were loved children. Raised with humor and openness and the occasional spanking and mouth washing with soap. We were allowed to talk and explore.

Mom always said she wasn’t creative, she didn’t like to sew or do anything crafty, but she most definitely was a creative parent. Mom was a creative discipliner – once when Chris and I were fighting she decided to tie us together with socks until we learned to work it out. Once when she was tired of us leaving our stuff around after being continually told to put it away, she gathered it all up into a garbage bag and “threw it out..” (she didn’t really but hid it in the basement). I remember once she discovered that I had just swept the dirt from the kitchen under the hall rug instead of putting it in the garbage and she made up a long song, sung in her best opera-ish voice about how I should “be sure my sins would find me out.”

She was also creative in the first aid department. I remember choking on my food one day and she quickly rushed in to do her version of the Heimlich manouvre which was to grab my ankles, hold my up above her head, shaking me up and down until I threw up…. That was mom…not really known for her small or calm reactions….

She prayed for us and sat outside our schools for untold days praying for us and our friends. She dreamed about us from the time we were little up until last week, especially Chris, and she was always calling him with a dream she had about him. And I think it was her way of telling him he was seen and known by her and by God.

I know mom struggled a lot during our little years with fear and depression and loneliness. She lived what a lot of women live out in silence—the exhaustion and depression and anxiety that comes from constantly caregiving but with something gnawing in her gut for the next thing. It’s a testament to her and her praying self and that Love that would not leave her that even while going through all this, we were happy and normal and thriving kids.

When we were little my parents stumbled onto this tiny church that met in an equally tiny blue house in Bridgeland, The Garden. There they found a home where both of them would be affirmed in their gifts and where both my parents would find lifelong friends – friends that are still constantly around and haven’t let more than a few hours go by without contacting mom and dad in these last few weeks. This church affirmed my mom’s gift for leading worship. Together, my parents would lead this church from the front, and I got to see what church leadership looked like in the right and equal way of Jesus. She wasn’t just allowed to sing but was encouraged to lead and she did it so well. It was this time at The Garden, where mom led from her heart and sang about that Love that met Her with confidence that laid the foundation for my own conviction and the conviction of my daughters that Jesus has indeed created us exactly as we are to participate in Him and speak and sing of Him with all the songs we might have. The Garden was good and fruitful, in that season, for mom.

As we grew up, so mom grew too. She started going to school. She completed all ten grades of the Royal Conservatory of Speech Arts. Her voice was mesmerizing and she powerfully learned how to use it. She took so many courses – Dad jokes that she could have a master’s degree by now with all she undertook to learn – art classes, writing courses, English courses, Religious Studies courses, Conflict Resolution and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Certificates. She settled in Early Childhood Education and got her diploma at Mount Royal. She became one of the best preschool teachers around, working and teaching at Lakeside, at Bright Beginnings, At Master’s Academy, at the YMCA, at Mount Royal College and lastly at Learning Experiences. We were proud of who she was in the community. She had such a passion for teaching kids about their social selves and their emotional selves and for teaching parents what it means to shepherd them through their crucial early years. I run into people all the time who knew mom as their kids’ teacher and everyone of them is grateful to her for how she was with their little people. Even the outpouring of love from mom’s colleagues in those last couple of weeks, with food and kind words showed us the impact she had because of her gracious presence with those kids. And even I, as a mom to little people, know how extremely lucky we were to have her voice in our lives – Reading to them with her beautiful voice, loving and praying for them to know God even as they come to know themselves in this world. If there is one thing I don’t’ want, its that I don’t want to parent my girls without her. She is the person I could call and she could remind me of their goodness. She could call me back out of my own confusion and exhaustion and frustration and call me back to loving them for their own God-given beauty. And I see so much of her in them – their uncompromising devotion to a loud and passionate life.

The thing with mom is that she was deadly smart and loved to read and loved to learn. And when you start reading, you usually start growing. Without a doubt I know that God led mom and dad both to come across some books that echoed their own hard questions and helped to change their lives. And this in turn gave my brother and I the greatest gift of our adult lives – the ability to ask questions, hold tensions, live into gray areas. They asked hard questions about their faith and they held tensions of belief and doubt, the tensions of belonging to a group and also being able to challenge some of the things that did not make sense to them any longer, some of the things that didn’t make sense within that love that kept meeting her. And it was hard and a lonely time for mom. Maybe we could call it Mom’s Dark Night of the Soul, maybe we could call it God hiding her under the shadow of His wings. Maybe we could call it that mystery of transformation that happens underground, and the only recourse is to wait for God to meet us. Uncertainty, asking questions, finally acknowledging that we don’t always have the answers is a scary thing, but it is THE thing that finally enables us to let go and let something else in, someone else in to our hearts.

No matter what this time was, the result was this: That anything that did not belong to the love of God, to that love that brought her to Himself so long ago, was let go of. And then Mom, never one to let herself be tied down and defined, found that she belonged to something much more than she could ever imagine during this time and it was good and it was hard and it was grace.

In the last years, Mom did things she had always been afraid to do, especially with her very bad back that had plagued her for years. Her and dad went to Italy and she was terrified her back would act up or she would be stuck and in pain in a foreign country but it ended being a beautiful and life-giving time for both of them. Even last year, and this might sound small but it wasn’t to her, she got herself in a bathing suit, walked down a 100 foot cliff and went kayaking in the Okanagan with dad. She was so proud that she got in that little boat, that she lived instead of being afraid of getting hurt.

And then 5 years ago she finally decided to do it and called the FCJ Centre downtown and asked if they could recommend a spiritual director for her. She wanted to trust someone with herself and her not so ordinary life with God.

God brought her a soul friend, in C—— her spiritual director, and a community with the Living From the Heart course, that restored her in very real ways. We all would say this, that in the last 5 years of her life, her soul and her mind and her heart were transformed into something soft, life giving, trusting. Dad would say that she even threw less things at him when he was being stubborn….real transformation. And she would say and did say that this transformation happened because of love. She would say that finally she found that she was not defined by fear, was not changed by her own willpower, or by saying the right words over and over. She could finally articulate that she was not saved by having the right answers and forcefully standing behind them but by stopping, by letting down her defenses, and by being loved. And that was what this community showed her in very real ways, holding her words, her experiences, her heart with love.

5 years ago, mom wrote this in a journal that we found a few days ago:

“I exist to bring the beautiful, loving energy God into this world…I can’t fix myself or this broken world—yet I can say YES to God’s voice and loving energy in my life moment by moment. I am no better and no worse than anyone else. My life experiences have taught me and are still teaching me that grace and mercy are ALIVE and PRESENT in this life. That love does truly cover and redeem a multitude of sins – that all of this healing is God’s gift to us – to my world, to what He has created. I say YES to this gift and also thank you.“

And we can attest that she lived truly did live into this transformation and her spirit blossomed in beautiful ways. She smiled so easily these last few years.

In the fall of 2015, mom and dad were planning a trip to France for the spring. They were thinking about retirement. They had just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and both their 60th birthdays. Mom was struggling with her back, it was acting up on her again.

And then December came and through a series of normal tests to find out why a lingering cold would not go away, we got the news. We found out on December 13 that mom had lung cancer. That night, her friends of 35 years gathered in a house in Midnapore and prayed for them. And then on December 24, we found out that it was the worst news we could get – it was terminal, it was extensive, there was no treatment they would recommend that would have any effect.

Because we had known of the cancer and mom had to be careful not to get a cold, and because my beautiful children are walking virus factories, we weren’t going to have a Christmas celebration, at least not until we were all feeling better. But then we heard this news. We all wept and sat stunned. And then we woke up the next morning, my brother and his girlfriend came back from Edmonton and we pulled together a beautiful last minute Christmas feast of frozen soups, frozen veggies, potatoes, frozen spring rolls and phyllo pastry appetizers. We drank wine. We were together–despite the inevitable colds, despite the inevitable everything, we were together. And it was our very best Christmas, our very best celebration of that time when God came very, inconceivably near.

And mom began walking down the road towards this door and we all tried to keep pace as best we knew how. She was honest with how she felt – scared but at the same time , strangely prepared – like all the reconciliation and all the redemption of her past was coming into a fruition with this. And at every point on this road, every single point, there was no moment where she was not aware of that love, His love.

When she was in the hospital around Easter, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was drugged, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes, fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice. Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”

Before she even knew to lift her head, she was already surrounded. Before she could think to say the words, she was already held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived were heard, were covered, and were brought in close to the beating heart of that LOVE she couldn’t seem to shake.

Mom felt fear but, as she told her friend R and I one afternoon, she also knew that the fear took up room that LOVE wanted to be filling within her. And so she kept going and kept talking about God’s unimaginable love for her. And for us.

A week before mom passed away, she took a dramatic turn. We knew it was different this time. Her pain and the physiological anxiety that comes from not being able to breathe was suddenly unmanageable. The doctors prescribed heavy drugs that made her sleep a lot. But she at least could sleep without pain and without panic. They told us it was time to pack for hospice. And so we started to sit with her. For hours, Dad, my brother, me, her spiritual director, her dearest friends, the girls, would come to be with her. To hold her hand. I never ever want to forget what her soft arm felt like. On Saturday, June 18, we had been planning to have one last family dinner at mom and dad’s house, before she went to the hospice. I was out shopping for it when I got a text from dad to come right away. We went and found dad sitting with mom who had been unresponsive for a few hours. He sat there looking at her, wiping her eyes and her lips with tissue. Her breathing was intensely labored and the nurse came, did some response tests and confirmed that she had indeed slipped into a coma. We sat with her, J and my husband and the girls came and talked to her. Her spiritual director came and told her that falling into love was hard work. Her brother and his family came and kissed her. Everyone talked with her for awhile, taking turns at the head of the bed, holding her hands, feeling her skin, holding her in loving vigil.

We were all there, in the room, when at about 7 pm she sat up suddenly. Her eyes flew open and with struggling words she said she wasn’t ready to go yet. That she had stuff to say. And she said this, “You are my everything.” And “I love you guys.” And we all got to tell her we loved her, to her open eyes. And my daughters gave her pictures they drew and spread them out on her legs. Everyone got to say their words to her, got to tell her she was so beautiful, she was so loved, she did this life so good. We got to pray and have communion together. Eventually, most everybody went home and my brother and I stayed the night.

She died early the next morning, just slipped away, surrounded by her adored husband and lucky, lucky son and daughter—our family, the one thing she was ok with being beholden to. And we felt loved. By her. By each other, by God, the Author and Finisher of all of this – He was there too with his big, big invitation, for us and for her, to let go and to let love come in.

It was the hardest day but probably the most beautiful of our lives. Because it was filled to the unimaginable measure of the fullness of who God is in this world. It was a day where we saw exactly what God does in this world.

Mom’s story, Wendy Anne’s story, closed as it began, written in love, held in love, drawn out to its fullest through love, being brought back to health and unity in love. And her story holds a place within that big story of the world, that story we find in Jesus if we look with eyes changed by love.

She continued in that journal post from 5 years ago:

“ I have been seen and known in all of my brokenness with all of my “stuff” and have been loved and cherished, not abandoned or punished.

I have been accepted, nurtured and lovingly guided through the stages of my life – I would like to give this “knowing” away to someone else now.”

And this, this story, is what she has given to us and given to you. The story of her life, lived, within the call of God’s love. All the brokenness, all the hurt, all the fear, all the missing of the mark that is abundant in every one of our lives and was in hers, was brought in, gathered up before this love that sees us, calls us, always holds us close. These are not empty words, even if we don’t understand the fullness of them yet but words to be lived into , as Wendy did. She lived into what that love called her to – a life of the hard work of letting go and knowing love with the author and finisher of her faith—a life where God was as much with her in the chestnut tree as in the young church, as in the questions and heartaches and fear, as in restoration and redemption, as in the valley of the shadow of death. He always came to her and He always found her.

Mom would say now “ well enough of that….doesn’t anyone just feel like dancing?” and she would be off turning up the music and being….well, ….Wendy. And we can remember her, knowing she’s off dancing, vividly with her LOVE. And probably asking him if he could do anything about the ridiculous gender bias in scriptural interpretations….

As you, and we, continue to remember mom and remember Wendy, just know that she was seen and so are we. She was not alone and neither are we. She was loved to her fullness and so are we.