Risen

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For Easter Day

If you are looking

for a blessing,

do not linger

here.

 

Here

is only

emptiness,

a hollow,

a husk

where a blessing

used to be.

 

This blessing

was not content

in its confinement.

 

It could not abide

its isolation,

the unrelenting silence,

the pressing stench

of death.

 

So if it is

a blessing

you seek,

open your own

mouth.

 

Fill your lungs

with the air

this new

morning brings

 

and then

release it

with a cry.

 

Here how the blessing

breaks forth

in your own voice,

 

how your own lips

form every word

you never dreamed

to say.

 

See how the blessing

circles back again,

wanting you to

repeat it,

but louder,

 

how it draws you,

pulls you,

sends you

to proclaim

its only word.

 

Risen.

Risen.

Risen.

 

By Jan Richardson

 

 

ps….I’m incredibly in love with Jan Richardson’s book of blessings, Circle of Grace.  I want to write every one of them out for everyone to read.

 

 

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Lest we forget what God can do with mud

What can God do with brokenness, with everything we wish didn’t happen, couldn’t happen, but does and leaves a huge mess. What possibly could God do.

 

Friends of mine asked me to pray. There’s a conflict. The words they used were “there’s so much brokenness.”       There always is. We try to forget that though.  When we are on a winning streak.

I have been thinking about this poem all week – because what is dirt other than the bits of life that have broken down, packed down and wait under everything we do all day.

He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” John 9:15

Blessing of Mud

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the dirt.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the earth

Beneath our feet.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the dust,

 

Like the dust

That God scooped up at the beginning

And formed

With God’s

Two hands

And breathed into

With God’s own

Breath.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the spit.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the mud.

 

Lest we think

The blessing

Is not

In the mire,

The grime,

The muck.

 

Lest we think

God cannot reach

Deep into the things

Of earth,

Cannot bring forth

The blessing

That shimmers

Within the sludge,

Cannot anoint us

With a tender

And grimy grace.

 

Lest we think

God will not use

The ground

To give us

Life again,

To cleanse us

Of our unseeing,

To open our eyes upon

This ordinary

And stunning world.

 

–Jan Richardson

 

 

When there is brokenness, especially personal, interpersonal brokenness, our instinct is to run. Because brokenness collaterally damages everyone. Shards of ourselves hit those closest to us—when we are broken….broken open.

 

We get angry when things aren’t perfect. Because we need them to be. To accomplish all the important things we have to accomplish, we need things to flow and click and not get stuck and not freeze up and not have issues. We need our leaders to do this. We need our volunteers to do this. We need our systems to do this. We need our spouses to do this, we need our parent to do this, we need our children to do this. We need ourselves to do this.

But they don’t. We don’t. They (and we) can go on for awhile, personally and systemically, and then they (and we)  break. Break down. Break apart. Break open. That’s the nature of time and space and growth and need. That’s the nature of being a human – it stands to reason then, that anything humans create has this inherent within it. Churches, communities, city councils, constitutions, programs, governments—they break.   Breaks happen in our marriages, our friendships, our neighborliness, our parenting.   Breaks happen deep in our own selves. We don’t trust ourselves, we second guess everything. We call ourselves failures—because we break. We call others weak and get so frustrated, because they break.  We aim for doing all the right things, with all the latest ideas, with all the knowledge we have. But that’s not enough. If I do all things perfectly and in line with what I’m supposed to but have not the capacity to love through the broken……its not enough.

 

The curious thing about this faith…the most curious, upside-down thing is that God seems to know this. And  it is, in fact, the prerequisite for understanding anything that He is doing, for understanding anything in that old book.

 

Blessed are the weak, blessed are the broken, blessed are the mourning, the lost, the hungry and those whose voice is lost in the loud, loud world.  Blessed are those who try to make peace amidst all our brokenness. These are the ones who will get THIS, get this KINGDOM thing more than anyone doing all the work, all the right things will ever, ever, ever get. Because they, the broken, have no capacity to make it happen on their own merits……

 

Abraham, (old, so old), Moses (murderer, coward), Naomi (old and irrelevant), David (adulterer, murderer, show-off), Jonah (coward, angry). Peter (arrogant know-it-all with big blind spots), Paul (arrogant know-it-all with big blind spots, then sick, then in prison without any power).

Me (tired, tired, tired, lethargic, tired, in mourning all the time, lazy, angry, judgemental, sensitive, suspicious, needy, tired, tired, tired).

The kingdom of God is like the tiny seed of a weed. The Kingdom of God is like the son who takes all his money and completely blows it in the most selfish of ways. And then comes home and gets all he’s ever wanted. The Kingdom of God is like when the workers who work the most get the same pay as the workers who work the least.

The kingdom of God is when the least deserving and least likable of your community is welcomed and given all that you’ve been working for. The Kingdom of God is when the prisoner doing his deserved time for taking another’s life and voice is visited, honored, heard. The kingdom is when someone who has nothing and definitely nothing to give you in return is brought to the table and given what they need. The kingdom of God is completely not set up in the same way that we would define as the way things should work. But it is completely set up to hold our broken, broken selves.  It is completely set up to hold us in our humanity, to hold within its wholeness our whole brokenness.

 

If you would have new life, you must fall to the ground and die – like a seed, in the dark, in the dirt.

Lest we think that God is not in the mud. The mud, the dirt, the spit, the stuff you scrape off your shoe after the dogpark, that He puts on your eyes, that HE fills your vision with, that he uses to answer the deepest heartache you’ve ever had. This is the way He does it. And boy oh boy, do we, who like to see progress and all things shiny and new and perfect, hate this.

Again, that’s why the broken get it. They know the mud is the truth of the matter and the only way through to the truth of the God who grows everything from the dirt.

 

My pastor talks about God’s signature moves…..I have this sneaking suspicion that this is the signature of signature moves….

 

I’ve got to learn to stop praying for God to show me how HE sees things, to stop praying to be broken for what breaks him, to stop praying for His will to be done. Because it means that the literal shitstorm is about to fly in my face and grow something new, something I’ve always wanted, something I was created to long for, something like the Very presence of the Very God.

But holy effing flip, its messy in the meantime. And the clean up is a bitch.

 

The Active Pose of Reverence

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to be a part of an Inter-faith event at Mount Royal University. The interfaith chaplaincy office invited students of different religious faiths to speak about these faiths, how they personally came to them, how they understood them and what their faith means in their everyday lives. Sikh, Christian and Jewish students spoke to the group. Afterwards, we ate subway and talked in a big circle about any questions anyone had for anyone else.

I loved it. I love hearing people talk about what’s meaningful to them. I love how hearing about the details of what’s important to people from faiths not like mine sounds both foreign and also familiar at the same time. I love hearing about different practices that bring meaning and depth to lives, even when they aren’t completely understood yet.  I love hearing how intertwined one’s childhood, one’s parents, one’s community or lack thereof – all the parts of a life’s story– has everything to do with the shape of one’s faith.

What stood out for me, in all the discussions, was something the young Sikh student said. She stood at the front , hair wrapped in a beautiful peach turban, wearing a Kelly green sweater and talked softly, with a smile the whole time, but unwaveringly about how her faith showed her a way to observe a reverence for every human life. Even her own; even her own as a woman.

It was the word reverence that caught me. Reverence for every life. All life.

Seems like a nice idea. A nice idea we entertain…..sometimes. Until that other life starts getting in the way of our own…..

I was still mulling over reverence and what that looked like in my world when I got back in the car and started driving. The radio came on and I heard the news of Stuart McLean’s death. This made me really, really sad. More sad than I anticipated. Could be because of my own experience this past year but more, I think it had to do with what McLean offered to the world – a way of seeing its quirky truth and being kind and also really funny about it.

The interviewer had one of McLean’s long time producers on the show and asked,

“What was he like to work with?” And in her answer she said,

“What made him such a good performer and such a good storyteller wasn’t that he was naturally like that. He became that way because he was an incredibly good listener. I want to say he was a mirror, and he reflected the stories back to those who told them. But mirror’s not quite right. It’s almost like he was a conduit for other people’s stories. He listened and observed and did this incredible job of just sort of passing the stories along to others.”

I heard that and I immediately thought of the reverence that girl was speaking about again. And reverence went from being a nice idea (that I can sometimes afford others when it doesn’t cost myself too much) to being an action. I thought of reverence being an action, or even just an active posture , that has its dna,its root, its force and importance, in the practice of listening.  The active posture of reverence.

What does listening do for reverence. How would actual listening change the way in which I “revere” someone, the way in which I understand them, understand their importance.  How would the quality of listening change the way real people’s lives are given to the world.  Could this be possible?

About a week after this night, I was off trying to finish my preparations for a 3 day retreat I was leading for the women at church. The theme was “Practicing Prayer.” I was at a local coffee shop, coffee, my laptop, some books and a bottle of water in hand.     I just sat down at the window ledge, where the serious coffee shop work gets done, and before I had a chance to take of my coat, not even fully seated on the raised chair yet, a hand pushed a piece of paper into my view.   The white paper had a drawing of a pipe, with smoke rising from it and in the smoke an eagle, some feathers, a cross and a face.  The drawing was pen, with long, continuous, unhesitant lines.  It was titled “Prayer” and signed at the bottom. I looked up at the paper pusher and saw a man. I was obvious quickly that he was without a home. Ragged with no teeth. A clean sweater and a dirty-in-a-Calgary-chinook-way coat.  His shoes falling apart where the toes met the soles. He had a backpack and a mountain dew in his hands.

In that brief moment, I was annoyed and aware that everyone in the coffee shop was also aware of us. That’s the (unfortunate) nature of these things deep in the suburbs.  I had one day to finish my very-important-prayer-retreat-preparations. I was under the weather and feeling pressed. I didn’t want to be interrupted. But then I read the title of the picture again. I can’t very well ignore that can I?

I looked at the picture and said, “It’s beautiful.   What does it mean?”   He said I could have it for $10. I smiled. “I don’t have any cash on me. But I do really like it. I really like how you did the eagle-its really beautiful. What does it mean to you?”

And he told me. He outlined all the thoughts he had put on that page.  And then he talked.   And then he talked for almost 90 minutes. I didn’t say much at all. He talked. Quietly, sometimes mumbling, sometimes raising his voice. He told me story after story, one story rambling into another. He told stories in conversations–he told the stories all the way through by voicing the different actors in the different conversations that made these stories up. A story about a man trying to give him money on the street. A story about what people say about his pictures. A story about how Jesus talks to him. A story about what atheists say to him when he tells them about Jesus.   A story about when his braids got cut off when he went to jail when he was young. A story about being accosted on the c-train. A story about giving himself a tattoo with a pin. A story about the Blood reserve, where he was from. A story about the RCMP coming to his wife’s home and taking him away after a fight. A story about sleeping last night in the cemetery across the street from the coffee shop we were in. A story about his two daughters. Here he stopped.   He looked outside for a good 10 minutes. I didn’t say anything. We had been there for over an hour by this point. I didn’t have to.   One tear came down from each eye, just wetting the crease beneath his eyelid, travelling down the lines of his face, seeping into the deep lines of his cheeks.   He wiped one away. “I wish I could see them.” he said. “It’s so hard…….I’m really struggling…….it feels very dark……So dark……it’s really hard.”

He was quiet again for a few minutes. Then he started telling me about how God talks to him. How he could almost feel when God directs him. How when last night, he was going to try to break into the cars at the C-train station to see if he could get change for some food but that he felt a hand on his shoulder, almost pushing him to the side. And he turned to see who it was but there was no one there and he knew it was Jesus telling him to wait. And so he waited in the cemetery and heard voices all night – kids voices, he felt eyes looking at him over the fence and he was scared. And in the morning he started walking again and found a 5 dollar bill. And came here to get a mountain dew.   He looked at me at this point and said, “Usually nice people don’t let me talk this long. Its like you’re a priest and I’m in confession.”   I laughed.

I didn’t say much, really, at all.   I affirmed that God was with him. I said I hoped that God was with us all. And that the world did seem pretty dark sometimes. And I nodded at his question “ why do we all have to get so angry?” I didn’t know.

I bought him two sandwiches. I offered my water but he said that I needed it. He could get water. He gave me the picture for free but asked me if I could send it on to France. He heard that the French really like native art.

My friend told me that a man gave her a picture in the parking lot of another coffee shop along a different part of the C-train tracks.   Perhaps it was the same man.   I think about how he might do his days and I think about what today is like for him.   And truly I am praying that its not so dark, not so dark that he can’t see You, God. And I am aware that I have a privilege and responsibility of being able to think through, read well, and devote resources to ways that could, in real life, change the rules that actively do not help him be who He was created to be. So I am doing that too.

But in those fleeting moments when I realized that my day was going to be different than what I had thought, when I realized that I was being approached by someone who makes people, and me, sometimes really uncomfortable, I thought, “What should I do?”   When being faced with someone who doesn’t live, or doesn’t have the chance to live, by the same rules I do, I don’t always know what to do. I asked that question but then an overwhelming feeling of –“wow, that’s so not the right question” came over me. It was not “What should I do” but “How am I to be to this person?” that I needed to be asking that morning.

And the young Sikh girl in her peach turban and green sweater saying the word “reverence” came up. Stuart McLean’s listening so as to be a conduit for people’s stories, for their lives, came up. And I just decided in that moment to not shut it down, not to give him money and be on my way, but to just sit and listen. I knew we were getting stared at. I knew I wouldn’t get the work done I had thought I would do that morning. But the active pose of listening was what the Spirit-that-Draws-Everything-Back-to-Himself was apparently at work with that morning. I don’t always listen to that spirit – in fact, I don’t more often than I do.   But for whatever reason, I was ok with listening that day.  And not listening with half my brain trying to figure out what to say, what to do, what the people working at the coffee shop were thinking, but actually just entering into a real conversation with a real person.  Not listening in such a way as to add this person as a character to the action of my life but listening to hear his life because he was a real person right in front of me.  And that should be enough to make us stop in our tracks.  Reverence.  Listening.  A real life that adds real life to everything around it not because of its net worth, but because of its presence.

I’m glad he pushed that paper in front of me. I hope he wasn’t sorry either.

His name was Bernard. And his life held a lot of stories.

Tennyson and the Bells on New Year’s Day

“Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light:

The year is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,

The faithless coldness of the times;

Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,

But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

—Taken from Malcolm Guite on Tennyson.

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

christ-in-the-storm-1633

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?

christ-in-the-storm-1633

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.