4.6.2018 Chaos

“When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night.

There was evening and there was morning: the first day.”                       Genesis 1:1-5

Creation, in the cannon of the Christian church it starts everything.

God creates out of nothing–ex nihilo– matter is created, joins into formless and shapeless mass–it is chaos. The water is impossibly deep and stretches over everything, it has no edges, no limits, its boundaries have not yet been drawn. It is over this chaos that the Spirit of God opens her wings over and coos to like a hen over her nest. Into this chaos the mothering God calls forth light–a flash, a second of brilliance and stars started burning across a galaxy that was in its infancy. This first step in bring order to the created is given names. You are Day, and you are Night.

Humanity comes only after Day and Night, Moon and Sun, Land and Sea and their creatures. In this first of Genesis’ creation stories Adam is made of mud and life is breathed into this new Creature–in Adam is all human potential–all features, abilities, races, genders and gifts. Adam is clay shaped by an artisan who can see all of the possibilities before any form takes shape, and with the second creation story as commentary on this mud-divine creature, God created, birthed, shaped all humanity to come in God’s image.

Our lungs are still being filled by God’s breath and our form were seen when God picked up the first bit of dust and smiled. As God’s reflection or likeness, we are called to create to hover and console in the midst of the chaos that is still formless around us. We can call out light where illumination is scarce. We can still name and draw out the truths of creation. We can also count on the mothering God to glide over and coo–to be our nurturing guide through deep waters and the chaos.

3.31.18 lungs

I am not sure this writing ended up in the place I started it, in the dark five days ago, but I feel like it would be counter to awful first drafts not to allow it to be seen. It also doesn’t have a great ending, but maybe you all could help me?

It is 2:26 am and I am awake. My body is fighting a cold and I am frequently overcome by coughing spells, so sleep is intermittent at best. There are so many things that I simply do not think of when I am well, when everything is running as it should. I guess it’s the old sentiment that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone (or gone and got gunked up with mucus). Much like breathing, gratitude is an essential function for health, but how do we come by it if the only it seems to be to catch hold of it is in the absence of things we need and love? Perhaps the work in gratitude is just lifting our gaze? To pay attention to the ever present number of blessings that are around us? But how do you give thanks for things that are unclear until their absence? Also how do we do it with out shaming myself into feelings that I should feel? Here are my late night thoughts on gratitude and gratefulness, in no particular order.

Let your thoughts rest on the (good) small things. Meditating or internal processing  starts here for me, in the tiny permissions I give to feel what it is I am feeling and then to let that feeling run it’s course. In the practice of meditation this is acknowledged that you will have thoughts that demand your attention and just to acknowledge those thoughts and let them pass out of your awareness. When at times I have been buried under the weight of depression and anxiety, I did not have space or energy to consider any of the things and nothing seemed small. (Everything is an existential crisis when you are just trying to convince yourself that getting out of bed is worth the emotional and psychological risk.) The risk of spending time in your head is we can build false gratitude on the rocky soil of should-bes, I should be grateful-I had a good childhood, I should be grateful-I have these children/relationships/material possessions (this one is especially harsh when you are trying to convince yourself to be thankful while grieving). I have never been able to really get to gratitude through shoulding on myself. Instead when I am sad, I found I just needed to give myself permission to be sad, to grieve and to mourn.  It is important to note shame when thinking about gratitude–after all the reality of the feeling is best when a work that is not buried in our sense of obligation.

Listen to the others’ story.  Listening to others is a work in allowing the holy imprint that God has placed on all of us to reflect back to us the truest word about all humanity–that we are deeply loved, a delight to God and covered in grace. Community also is where my rough edges, bad habits and wrong beliefs can be tried and tested. When I invest in the other I find that I am given windows into my own self, my blind spots and the places I take for granted. The caution is when that the mirror that is held up, it is not used to pray the prayerthank you God that I am not [what I believe to be an undesirable person, race, social location, ability, income level]. (And before you say, “no one says that.” When was the last time that you heard someone talk about a recent time of “helping poor people” showed them just how much they have to thank God for?) I want to emphasize this exercise is not: being thankful based on the it-could-always-be-worse reasoning. Listening deeply is a practice of letting the other’s story speak for itself, not listening for validation of my own story and understandings. Gratitude should not build off what I deem undesirable in the experience of the other, but  should let the other reflect the image of God back when I have not placed my gratitude within its proper location.

Find a location for gratitude that is outside of material possessions or transient ‘good.’ I will admit to my own struggle with this: I know intellectually and theologically that God’s blessing is not equivalent to my creature comforts. When I have been particularly depressed I have wondered why God is doing this to me, but conversely I am not sure I blame God for promotions at work or unexpected gifts. If I am ill it does not mean that God has struck me down, if I am well it does not mean that God is so very pleased with me to reward me with clear lungs. But this reward/punishment understanding is centuries older than I am and is supported by fire-insurance evangelism, prosperity theology and commercialism–Jesus’ disciples even asked, “who sinned–this man or his parents?” Religion is in the business of making sense out of the world, but God’s name has been given to somethings that are no better than dumb luck, genetic predisposition and socioeconomic loci. Likewise marketing’s business is to make any of us nearly religious in our gaining of markers of material status. Everything ages and wears out–bodies start to fail and iPhones get replaced–and my gratitude cannot rest in the things or the markers of normalized human existence.

Now, just to also address a couple of semi-related things. I do confess that God is good and working for good, because of this I think prayer about health or our needs is appropriate, even biblically recommended. And I do believe that I should give thanks for the things I have–I just can’t use them as indications of God’s merit or the reason to be grateful–the location of gratitude is in the confession of God’s goodness–even when circumstances in my life change.

1st Draft 3.13.18 Grasp

Have you ever (like myself) struggled with the mechanics of prayer? How do you pray, what do you pray, do you speak out loud or listen for the still small voice of God? Should you kneel or lay prostrate or stand with holy hands lifted to the heavens?

When I am worried or anxious I often find myself feeling at a loss to be connected to God and then the mechanics of prayer become more than a practice–they are a lifeline–I am desperate for connection. At these times I have to go back to go forward. I go back to the prayers that were at first not my words but others. The earliest prayer I learned was the Lord’s Prayer and then are some point in Sunday School we were given acronyms for prayers, like A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), prayer stones, dinner prayers, and bedtime prayers.  Over my life I have accumulated books of written prayer from all sorts of traditions, and if you haven’t prayed prayers like this, I recommend it–they do become your words and the Spirit is definitely up to something when I give myself to this kind of prayer.

I often go back to scripture and pray through these ancient writers’ words or to see how they came to prayer. So here I found myself reading Ephesians; reading for likely the millionth time in my life the verses from chapter three.

“This is why I kneel before the Father. Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit.  I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love,  I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers.”

Ephesians 3:14-21 CEB

This is why I kneel… it begins not with a how to pray, but a why to pray–for others, for ourselves, for all of humanity that is covered by the name of God. The writer of Ephesians is praying that the readers are given the perception, the handle to hold onto the reality of the extravagance of God. (How awesome that God is the Love, gives the love and gives the ability to catch hold of the love!?) Prayer is not a manipulation of the Divine, it is an invitation into the flood of God’s love for all of creation–we all get to be trees planted and drawing off of that spring.

Maybe it is harder to not be praying than to pray? In seems like most things the perception of my disconnection is not God’s distance, but my own.

 

via Daily Prompt: Grasp

1st Draft 3.8.18

I have been known in my life to grab a hold of a definition that has been given to me by someone else and owning it. Told once that I looked good in hats, I took as an official edict of my attractiveness in headgear for all time. (but just to be clear, I do look amazing in hats) So, I know it is a delicate balance to wish some sort of definition on myself. But I have really want to be a mystic.

I read an article on female saints today. Uncompromising women who took oaths and saw visions. I want to be like that sometimes– to sit in contemplation of the Love of all loves, to see visions dance across my walls and to write great works for generations to unravel. Also, as far as I can tell all of them wore something on their heads. It seems like the perfect fit.

I am not a mystic saint, and certainly not one that will be canonized, or would fit any of the terms. Besides the obvious lack of Catholic devotion and still being alive and all, I have never performed a miracle and I have never been in a trance where I was wed to Christ or pierced through with arrows of holiness. Clearly, I am writing okay-works for instant consumption on the internet, so even that’s off the list. I did have a period of ecstasy with some queso and chips recently, but I digress. Mysticism has a place in nearly every world religion, it is a leading gift and yet a solitary one. It is a deep inward dive that listens for the voice of the Divine Love and through those images and experiences leads others toward Love–and who wouldn’t want that?

Mostly, I am not a mystic because, despite the fact that I am a very emotional person, my faith primarily runs through my intellect. I have studied Christian theology, I have read tomes from crusty scholars and written countless papers. (Plus this quiz online told me I am a sage, not a mystic, and clearly 15 questions can really get to the heart of my true self.) I think deeply about my faith, about how to explain to others how a multi-millennia old book has anything to say to actual millennials (and those other generations too), and to marry the deep rhythms of faith practice with work that makes faith alive.

I am exactly the woman I was created to be. I like to explore the ethics of why Jesus might have an opinion on your recycling or how your personal theology impacts the way you spend money, participate in your community, or treat your neighbor. I am not a mystic despite my best efforts to be silent and contemplative–and quite honestly when I engage in those practices I get twitchy or sleepy. Each person is called to live into the self we have been created as, and there is no shame in the kind of self we are. Not to say that sages, prophets or others should not engage in introspection and listening for the voice of God–we just don’t have to feel bad about it when we drift in thought to tacos or dancing or nod off to sleep. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, God interacts with me in a mystical way–but it is all God then and it is amazing–in those moments I am held in the hand of the Divine and clothed from head to toe in Love.

I know that there is a place in the universe for sages, plus if you do a quick perusal of google images brings up quite a few sages in hats.

via Daily Prompt: Uncompromising

Sermon 2.25.18

So, for those of you that are reading along with my drafts, this is a little different. First–I actually preached this sermon on Sunday. It is based on the lectionary for the second Sunday in Lent, and, yes, it is still rough. Good preaching and good writing go together, but sometimes what is preached is more than what is simply written on the page. (I hope!)  I tried to add a little of what I remember was on the fly additions to this manuscript, but otherwise here it is! What I really would like to know from you is, what questions did I lead to but not answer? How could I make the story more vivid? Do I use any cliches that I need to avoid?

I was recently in the company of a 4 and a 6 year old who were discussing the ages of everyone within their family. First Momma was asked about her age and she told them—38 and then the 4 year old asked “is daddy 100?” We both tried to tamp down our laughter, “no, he is 47.” We both knew that 100 is the biggest number he can think of, and to his credit anything over 10 must seem like a hundred when you are four.

Now to a really old father who was 86 when his first was born, and I imaging felt every bit of the thirteen years between to where we are in our Old Testament reading today (Genesis 17). We find that Abram, soon to be Abraham, is 99 years old and God is asking him to stand before him. God says walk righteous before me and be blameless, I will make you a father of many nations. This seems like a strange occurrence with in the Abram story as Abram was already told many chapters ago that he would be a father of many nations. He was already told that he would have a lands and a people and a family. Hagar has been given to him and has given him a son Ishmael–a son that Abram asks God to consider Ishmael within this promise, and God agrees to bless Ishmael. Its not a “but” from God, I guess most nearly it is an “also”–God makes specific that Sarai will have a child, it makes me wonder if God is saying, yes you will have nations through Ishmael, but I haven’t forgotten my promise to Sarai–and now is the time for that to come to pass and I need you (all-as in both of you) to look me in the eyes and see that I am calling you (all) righteous, I am calling you (all) fruitful, I am calling you (all) righteous. So, now Abram is 99 And God is asking for this time of standing in before God and hear again that I AM the life-bringer, the Creator and death-overcomer.

This chapter in part outlines the parameters of the covenant. All men are to be circumcised and Abraham and Sarah gets their new names. These are the terms that Abraham makes, but the apostle Paul makes this note about this agreement between God and Abraham, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” So it isn’t the act of circumcision that creates the righteousness, it is God’s grace. Laws make divisions: rule follower and rule breaker. Grace makes families. Rules change actions, grace changes hearts. Abraham is given God’s grace so he can be the father of faith, and not because of what dietary restriction they take on or modifications are made to their bodies.

Grace brings life because it is animated by the creating, breath-giving God, the God who became flesh, was Joseph and Mary’s son—a promised child who brought light and life to a world of darkness and death. I am not a parent, so I don’t know for certain, but I would think there are some times that raising children makes you feel like you are as Paul puts, “as good as dead.” But for all the late nights and worries that children have given, in them is the promise of life—children remind us that God is in the business of bringing life where there was none before. And as we go through another season of lent, let us come before God to defeats the grace that makes us righteous and brings life to the world. Amen