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.

3.24.18 Lament to Levity

“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”                                    Madeleine M. Kunin

I often hear people say that they continue to live in the upper prairie states because, “I love being where there are four seasons.” The fact that this is easy to argue against–on March 24th we got like 6 inches of snow and I have spent more Easters in flannel and fleece than pastel dresses. We may have 2 seasons–a hot one and a cold one, but I don’t live here for the weather anyway. I live here because I have people here I could not really thrive without (and for some reason we haven’t just all made a pact to move to temperate places together). It was on back-to-back weekends with some of these important people that I stumbled across seeing the edges on one of my own seasons–book ends.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life–the first time I was medicated was in seventh grade–but the last half of my twenties and the first half of my thirties have been some of the darkest and deepest dives into the black pit. In the midst of the darkness faith has still been a constant. I believe that some of the perspective on the matter that I now have has been because of God’s consistent and unwavering love for me throughout depression.

So dread and sorrow and disappointment and anger and sadness have been emotions that I have gotten really used to feeling while in the pit–and these are not the emotions that “good Christian girls” feel. We are supposed to count all things as joy and rejoice–again I say rejoice! (why does that still sound like it is through gritted teeth in my head?) There is this pervasive thought that because of what Christ did, humans are supposed to be filled with gratitude and be happy (dammit!). Well if you have ever tried to will yourself any other emotion than the one you are feeling you know this goes one of two ways: instead of the emotion you are trying to tamp down–say, sadness, it pops out as anger (or eating an entire bag of mini peanut butter cups), or you get good at shutting down emotions and you are just numb.

I don’t think God wants numb over tears. I don’t think God wants happy masks over sorrow–I think God wants us to be fully alive, free from unhealthy social expectations and  fully to be a beautiful broken and mended us. Mending and healing take time, and God was kind not to demand my tears stop in one instant and here is where my first bookend of this journey began: Lament. Lament (as I know it) is the spiritual practice of telling God that the current circumstances failed to meet your expectations and that you are expecting something different. Lament as spiritual practice can feel foreign to us, as we have been told that our joy is equal to how saved we feel, but this is biblical. Below is a favorite lament of mine, Psalm 13:1-4

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Here the poem is short but direct–I feel forgotten. I feel like I am fighting within myself. I am in the dark, and no one, not even you God seems to know. Now if your internal response to my last statement is, No, you can’t say that! God is always with you and always knows! don’t stop reading–and lean into that discomfort. Laments are honest prayers written from the place of the pit–and God seems OK with the feelings as Jesus quoted another lament psalm from the cross, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1a). God showed me through lament that my darkness did not scare God, instead God could hold all of my feelings and sit with me in the darkness.

And there was plenty of darkness.

Until there was a little more light,

then a little more,

and then some more still.

Until my lament could start to turn and I could pray with full feeling the last two verses of Psalm 13:

 

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

 

When you have spent years blinking in the darkness you don’t always know what to do in the sun–you don’t always know how to be in spaces where you used to cry and mourn and slog your way through. And that is where I was two Fridays ago. Sitting in a chapel, with a small grin on my face and a question in my head, “what do I do in these spaces now that I am not feeling dread or sorrow or disappointment or anger or sadness? What do I do when lament isn’t quite fitting? And I heard in my head, “Learn Levity.” And just like that I was introduced to the closing of this season of depression–my other bookend.

Levity–lightness or humor, if you go to extremes it is irreverent and fickleness, but in that moment what I heard in it was, “I taught you lament, now I am going to teach you to be light.” God again is not scared of our feelings–either ones that are full of weight or of those that are feather light. And I imagine that it may take God another decade to love me to an understanding of how light life can be as well.

I am happy to close the bookends on this space in my life, to move on toward the “soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”

He has Risen. Let the world be filled with the Light.

Like the bookends pictured? You can get them here. I do not receive any compensation for the link and I am not trying to promote their products, I am just grateful for the use of their picture.

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

1st Draft 3.6.18: I hope to never see you

*Trigger warning, assault

I can’t remember your face and that used to really bother me. I told a therapist once that I was terrified I would run into you in public spaces and I wouldn’t know that it was you, because try as I may I can’t remember your face.

I remember your hands a bit. I remember them fumbling with my bra straps and opening the condom. I remember the weight of you. In my memories I remember you occupying space and that you spoke and that you left my room so easily, but, where as the memory of so much of you was hid from my memories, the pain you left behind was not.

I couldn’t even say the word for years. Rape. Date rape. Assault. I would call it a one night stand. I would call it a mistake I made. I held all that weight and guilt as my own, it makes sense that it would come out eventually. There I was in the arms of another lover, we were falling apart, in part because I was unraveling from the turmoil within. I started to sob, “I said no, I said no, I said no” the words tumbled out marked by tears. The lover had no capacity to hold it and soon he was gone.

But the word was out, and I could not go back. The questions changed once I gave it a name, once I called out the violation for what it was. No longer did I ask, “what sort of woman am I, that would let this happen?” Instead I was asking, “what sort of man are you, that you really thought this was the way to start a relationship?” What sort of person feels their right to be pleased trumps the right to hold onto a sacred sense of my being? What kind of person leaves scars with such ease and such precision?

For a while in my thoughts your were two dimensional. The flatness of your character made it easy to fold your faceless memory up and store you with the likes of other shallow villains. You must be bad through and through. You must have no spirit, no soul, no empathy, no goodness; because what sort of person does evil things? Evil ones, and as I am not evil that put me over here and you far over there.

But you are not a fictional character. You are real as I am real–and our realness is what put our lives in a collision course of choices, our embodiment is what made this wound on my heart possible. Our realness also makes it impossible for you to be a paper villain. While you do not have a face, you gave me enough details to know that you were part of a family. While I suppose it is possible that you were born from villains, it is more likely that you were just born as a son, trained in the family business, living in this city and  has hopes and desires and scars and triumphs.

From: Draft 2.20.18 “That is the thing about scars, about pain and about memory–in them is not always the easy labels of “right” or “wrong,” they don’t have villains with evil at the core of their being, or heroes with hearts of gold. In the vilest of my memories the one that hurt me is still nuanced, a person with soul and strengths (I assume), weakness and scars of their own, motives of love and motives of malice–what they did left marks across my heart, but who they are is more than the sum of the pain they left in their wake.”

Is this what forgiveness looks like? Is your face erased so that if I saw you, you would have a second chance to see me as the real person that you hurt? Or has my face disappeared too? Perhaps the wound on your soul and heart has been eased by the passing of years? Perhaps you have asked all the questions about “what sort of man am I?” Maybe you have repented and asked God to clear your account. Maybe.

But I still hope to never see you again.

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

First Draft 2.22.18

There is blood and my neighbor is holding a bag that contains a hat. As I come closer someone asks if I live in apartment 307, and my mind tries to rapidly piece the scene together. I glance at my balcony and wonder, did he fall or jump or was pushed? “The ambulance just left,” another neighbor says. I some how dial the numbers to my boyfriend’s phone.

“It’s my brother,” I say, “He fell down the stairs in our building, he’s been taken to the hospital.”

I can’t drive or think. He had been doing well, his job, his friends, his spirituality, he was making plans for his next adulthood step. But I could not keep him safe or sober.

I am allowed into his hospital room and sit beside him. His face is rapped loosely in gauze and occasionally a small rivulet of blood traces past the edge of the bandage. They are waiting to see.

Waiting to see his blood alcohol level go down.

Waiting to see if he passed the concussion test.

Waiting to see if he needed plastic surgery for the gash in his eyebrow.

Waiting.

So I sat there waiting too. I eventually cracked out his name and touched him. He spoke, disoriented and broken, “I was pushed from the stairs. The devil did it. Pray for me.”

I did pray. I had no reason not to believe that the devil wasn’t just tripping men with laundry baskets that evening. I also knew that he had drank more than enough to “float a battleship”

I do pray. I know what to do with my lips and my heart, I just didn’t know what to do with my hands. Because you want to pull your hands back and keep them to yourself, to disconnect and save yourself the heartache. You have moments that you know the person without their addictive behaviors–their eyes are clear–but but sometimes the shadow is just caught in lashes for a moment.

I read about an experiment with those rats addicted to cocain, and how they recovered best when surrounded by other happy rats. I don’t know if the happy rats ever were scared. Or if they felt guilty when they didn’t try harder to connect.

Years have gone by and my brother is better, Maybe the happy rats really helped. Most days I do not still hold the baseball cap with blood, mostly I think of hopeful things.