"What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!" Mark 13:37
I have missed several days writing here because I was surrounded by family and wanted most of all to be with them. Yesterday, when I woke up I had a terrible headache and my stomach was volatile. I tried to get up and be with the gang but for all my effort, it was nearly impossible to lift my head or move without pain. The last thing I wanted to be was sick while my daughters were home and we were able to be together as a family. No one had to go to work or be occupied elsewhere. And yet, there I was felled by a stomach bug, stuck in the house, feeling frustrated and guilty when I wasn't sleeping. Today, feeling much better, I still feel the loss of a day that I cannot get back. Wishing and hoping won't make it come back. So, I only hope I can find another day, another way for all of us to be together, enjoying each other, since being with them is of singular importance in my life. I don't want to wait for another time for us to be together, but I will cherish and make the most of today.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season where we watch and wait and prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem and in a new way in our lives. This is a season where things we don't expect change our lives completely. This is the season where the earth shifts, where the cold bears down, when the sun struggles to rise and we wait with expectation for a new beginning. I hate to be told to wait. I don't like being told to be patient and I personally would rather know what is coming than be surprised.
In this season, we are challenged to wait as God works to bring new life and promise into our world. We are asked to be patient when we are so used to having information in an instant. And yet, there is also something incredibly holy about the process of waiting. When I was carrying each of our three daughters, I remember being so impatient at first, and then enjoying each day as I woke to find new growth, new movement, new signs of life. They were worth every minute of the waiting, whether I liked the waiting or not. And that gave it a holy sense, this waiting which was beyond my control and my limitations. What God created was nothing short of a miracle in each one, and nothing I could have made with my own hands and my own impatient self.
Today, I want to begin this season of Advent by offering my impatience and this season to God. I want to watch and wait, to watch out for signs of new life and declare them when I see them. I want to open my heart as I wait, I want to break loose of control and open to God's spirit. It is hard and scary for me to wait, but everything in my life that is holy and miraculous came in its own time, in God's time and completely more wonderful than I could have imagined. May we all live courageously open to God in this season. May we wait for love to knock us over, fill us to the brim and make holy and new that which has laid broken and shattered. May this Advent begin with us offering the days to God, letting go of control, and waiting for love to break through all the dark places.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
A Prayer For Thanksgiving
When I wake let me be thankful for my bed
and when I step sleepy into the shower
let me be grateful for the warm water too.
When the noise of the gathered clan presses in
let me be thankful that I am in the midst of a loving family
and if today, I have to eat alone, let me rejoice
for the quiet and the chance to reflect.
When the burdens get too big for me to bear
let me give thanks for the strength I do have
for the resources I do have and for your constant
and overwhelming generosity.
When I have enough let me give thanks
by sharing a part of the blessing.
When I am without let me give thanks for those
who welcome me in their midst and break bread
sharing warmth and their place with me.
When night falls let me wonder at the stars
and know that your love for me is greater
and in that, and all these blessings,
may I be thankful, now and always.
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save what is lost." Luke 19:10
When I was in seminary, I got a gift from my Dad. It was very sweet and thoughtful of him. I had been talking with him earlier in the year about how busy things were for us and how something small could derail a whole day. I seemed to be losing my keys quite often and then would get very anxious as we scrambled to get out the door in the morning. He found a key chain that responded to my whistle - he was very proud of himself for helping to solve a problem and I was grateful. It was a good strong alarm sound and it was very sensitive even at long distances. It worked very, very well and for quite a while things were going smoothly. Then one day, as I was sitting in class, listening to my professor and the discussion around me, the alarm went off. I picked up my keys, hit the off button and put the keys away. I apologized to everyone and class continued. Not three minutes went by and it happened again. After four more rounds of this, I stripped my key chain of its batteries so we could finish class. I was so embarrassed as it dawned on me that it was being triggered by a single pitch in my professor's voice. Sometime not too long after that I lost that key chain - it had been rendered inoperable anyway since I had this man for several classes and he was my adviser. My home life was as chaotic as ever, and seeking the lost keys was to be my spiritual challenge the rest of my seminary career.
Zacchaeus couldn't see Jesus but that didn't stop him. He climbed a tree and Jesus came home with him. He could have stayed lost in the comfort his wealth and his position but instead, he climbed a tree and called out to the Son of God. He could have let his size be his excuse for not seeking God's healing in his life. A grown man climbs a tree in order to see and know the touch of the Savior? Zacchaeus, in his joy promises half of his wealth for the care of the poor and overwhelming restitution for those he has cheated. His heart was finally home and at peace in the presence of Jesus. Jesus had come for him, for people just like him. Jesus was seeking him out and all those who, despite all their work and wealth and power, have lost their way and want more than anything to be home. Home with God. Jesus still seeks the lost and saves them, bringing them home.
On this eve of Thanksgiving, I want to remember all the ways and times that God has sought me out and saved me. May I live today as Zacchaeus, willing to climb a tree and cry out, gladly welcoming again my Savior. And may I, like Zacchaeus, be grateful at being sought and being found. May we all rejoice this day in the God of love who desires all to be gathered in, all to be at home, all to be made whole.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." Luke 18:38
Many years ago when I was struggling with my faith and looking for a spiritual home, I was part of a Lenten study group in a Roman Catholic Church in Northeast Baltimore because some friends had recommended it. We had attended a couple's retreat with some friends and that encounter grew into a small weekly bible study group. One couple, who had children in their teens, hosted us and we became quite close as we met weekly. They were a great support to us when we were new parents. The Lenten study group was working on prayer and one of the books we read was a small story about the Jesus prayer and the monk who set out on a prayer journey. The Jesus prayer is simple -"Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". As I recall,this monk wore out his tongue until finally he was able to pray the prayer constantly. I wanted to be able to pray constantly and thought that by taking up this practice, I could have real peace from God. I was a young mother, and I needed more peace than I had. I felt so ill equipped to be so responsible for another human being. I prayed the prayer many times during the day, failed miserably on a regular basis, and finally gave up,angry with myself, seemingly unable to have any real spiritual discipline. Surprisingly, months later after giving up and accepting my total failure, I found myself saying the prayer automatically. When some crisis came, I found my lips forming the Jesus prayer, silently, without a thought or preparation. An aching heart somehow knows its need for God. There is no perfect right prayer, or a perfect prayer discipline, there is only an honest and open heart, willing to admit to complete neediness.
"Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", were the words of a blind man asking for his sight. The pilgrims and disciples that led the way for Jesus tried to get this blind beggar out of Jesus' way. It always surprises me, how quickly our religious fervor can turn into judgment and exclusion of others, especially when folks are in the presence of Christ. This judgment and exclusion did not deter him.
And Jesus stopped, asked the blind beggar what he wanted, and healed him right there on the spot. The blind beggar's heart was honest and open about his need. His need became his joy and he followed Jesus. His simple prayer became the road to his salvation. His witness, his story became a point of transformation for many.
Today, I want to remember that God asks for my heart to be open in every moment, even when I want to run away and hide my scars and my need. No prayer is too simple for God, no hurt to foolish for God to repair, and no broken place too ugly for God's healing. Today, I want to live without the shame and embarrassment of being human and instead live honestly and prayerfully before God. I want to live today remembering that God is not far off but right here in our midst. May we all rejoice with the blind beggar, that Jesus is willing to stop by us, lean in and ask us what we need. Jesus is wiling and ready to heal us, and is not kept back by any crowd, management team or religious leadership. May we all have the courage today not to hide our failure and shattered dreams but to offer them up to God.
Monday, November 24, 2008
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Luke 18:16
I was very young when I first started teaching Sunday School, probably around age twelve. I love teaching and working with kids and youth. I also love being a mom, and since I was twenty two when our eldest, Emily, was born, I have spent a majority of my adult life raising and caring for children. Our three daughters, Emily, Ariel and Phoebe have taught me more about the love of God than any seminary professor I have had. Their laughter and honesty, their challenge and forgiveness have been one of the greatest witnesses to God's call in my life. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. They have not had it easy, being PK's - priests kids - and it has been even harder on them when I became a bishop. Despite the loss of privacy and quick external judgment, they have always encouraged me in my ministry. They have seem some dark sides of the ordained life, and yet they have loved me beyond the roughest patches.
I sometimes envy the Moms in my neighborhood who are standing on the street waiting for their children at the end of the school day. I watch as their little ones come running out of school, into their arms, holding up great masterpieces, glad to be heading home at the end of the day. The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. The moments of grace and joy that pass between a small child and a parent are the nearest thing to heaven I know. My children are too grown to be swept up and held aloft, too independent to live full time at home,and too well accomplished to need my constant cheering. I miss the easy answers, the band aids and the boo-boo kisses - the simple things I could do for them that worked like magic. And yet, their childhood caring has blossomed into a caring for the world. Each one has found a way to care for others, acting out the radical welcome of God, the God whose arms are thrown wide to embrace each one of us. No matter how broken an adult, Jesus sees the honest child, running to him for blessing. My daughters, each in their own unique way, act that out for others.
I want to live today in the childlike state. Not childish and selfish, but honest and open about my need. Ready to celebrate the small wonders of creations and thrilled to see the face of a loving family member. I want to have no shame for my own need of God and my family, rather, I want to leap with joy at the incredible welcome of God. May we all rejoice today, as God has invited us to come like small children. God has invited us to let ourselves be held,be blessed, be sung to, read to, band-aided, tears wiped - God has said come to me as children and understand heaven. And may we be grateful today for all the children who have taught us the simple and expansive love of God.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat." Matthew 25:35
Very few people can stand to hear other people whine, and many think it is a sign of weakness when others ask for help and are dependent upon one another. Some one remarked to me recently that, "in this Church no one likes crying babies." They went on to tell me the Church really doesn't know what to do with real human need. And that frightened me. The keys to the gates of heaven are in simple acts of kindness and compassion for others. If the Church cannot open with compassion, how are we to survive the coming days, let alone eternity? Every human being is only inches away from being completely dependent upon another, and we are at all times, completely dependent on God for everything.
May this sabbath day be a day of open eyes, open hearts and open hands. May we not shut our ears to the crying babies, no matter what their age. May we see a brother, a sister, a parent, a child, in the face of those who raise their voice in need. And may we too, hear the silent cries of those who are too worn out and too ashamed to ask for help. May we, in the abundance of God's love, be generous beyond our means, knowing that the source of all is God. God has enough space around the table for everyone - even the hungry prisoners, the naked strangers, and those of us who have been bent over from worry and a broken heart. This day, may we flock to Christ's table knowing there is room enough for all.
"For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:14
I have been thinking about cars a good deal lately while mine sits in the body shop being repaired. The car that I have now, I bought from my brother-in-law, and although it is in great condition, with low mileage, it has had a few reminders of its age. After seven years, the lighter doesn't work, so I can't plug in my phone charger, and the front cup holder is busted. There are other small things that are challenging. There are a few street parking dings about which we have decorated with green magnetic fish from the store where my daughter works. It is not a status symbol by any means. Americans tend to read who people are by their cars, and tend to buy for looks and status, if they have any choice. Cars are extensions of ourselves and we want to get noticed and exalted in others eyes.
My hope for today is simply that I will walk humbly through the day. Not persuaded by looks or status, but by what's in the heart. I won't have my car back yet, but I can be grateful for all the signs of age and mileage that my car and my life have. They are all signs of the many happy hours I have spent with my family, the thousands of times, God has brought me through, seen me beyond the rough patches. All the frustrating and humbling mistakes of the past, are only an opportunity to see God's abundance in the midst of my lack, and God's tender care when the road was very bumpy. May we all have humility in the face of the overwhelming and compassionate love of God, who covers up and protects us along life's road.
Friday, November 21, 2008
"And will not bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will God keep putting them off? I tell you, God will see that they get justive, and quickly." Luke 18:7-8
A Poem - Crying for Justice
She was dressed simply,a woman of the town
old, haggard, broken, unattractive crying
coming every day, asking
over and over for justice.
Her head held high as people laughing
teasing her folly, her crying
The judge doesn't listen
you have no value, no voice, no right
to seek the justice you deserve.
She comes again, and again and again
she believes in justice where none
has been seen in generations not
for women like her who don't know justice
is a game and a bribe and
only for the ones in power.
The judge won't listen to one
who has no value, no voice, no right
to seek the justice you deserve.
She returns bent on justice, the seasons turn
the shadows lengthen, the crowds find other
victims of their ridicule, she has become
a part of the daily life, she has become
a voice for justice.
The judge who won't listen to one
who has no value, no voice, no right
to seek the justice is weary, broken
by her presence, her persistence, her ancient face
breaks through to the rusted corrupted heart
and he sends her home justified.
She saw in his face the exhaustion the broken
pieces of a life gone wrong, and authority
bought and sold, a judgment bent
by tide and times.
She imagined the young man, the one who ran
to the aid of children and widows, who
wanted to stop the abuse, the corruption
he finally become.
She knew in her heart that God was bigger
than the broken judge or the broken world
or the passing of day into night and back again.
She knew that hidden in her dark world was light
enough for everyone, enough to warm and grow,
enough justice to right the wrongs, justice
flowing down like water over falls,
splashing everywhere, surrounding everyone washing
away all the broken hearts and watering again
the fields of hope.
She knew God and we know God in her story,
God who is quick to justice, running like a young man
to the aid of widows and children
the vulnerable and the broken
the loud, persistent and the silent.
Justice comes again and again, God's open hands reaching
for the ones on the edge, you stuck in the middle,
you who have given up, you who has lost their way, you
who can't take any more, you
God's ears have heard your cry, your night tears
your loud and frightened hoping, your heart poured out
God i s here.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
" The kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, 'Here it is' or There it is', because the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20-21
One day early last spring I was visiting with my mother and took a long walk on the beach with my camera in hand. My mother and I had finished breakfast, and the day was warming up, so I set out alone. Before I left the house, my Mom and I had been talking about waiting on God's direction, and how difficult it was to be patient. She is a great prayer warrior and a lot more patient than I am. She seems un-flustered by things that easily fluster me. It was a brilliant day, light sparking off the ocean and I walked the familiar beach, my head full of memories building for a life time. Family, friends and life's conundrums washed through my mind unimpeded. I was relaxed and reflective, soaking in the sun. I took a few pictures of the sand and the surf. After a few snaps, I began to realize that in every frame, I was capturing an image of a cross. I saw a cross in the flotsam at the high tide line, the patterns in the dune grass, in the hurricanes fences and just about everywhere else. I didn't rearrange things, didn't touch anything before I took any picture, it just happened. And then it struck me, the direction I had been so desperately looking for was there. In the cross. My directions were simply to follow Jesus, follow the cross and see where it leads.
"The kingdom of God does not come visibly....the kingdom of God is within you." I saw the cross, but that seeing alone isn't the full measure of the reign of God. The reign of God was within me, the opening of my heart to God and God's direction. My willingness to hear and see the call to follow. Like many folks, I desperately want to know what's ahead at the end of the road. I want answers and clear structure for my future. The kingdom of God, I find, is most apparent when I let go to God, take up my cross and follow. The kingdom and presence of God are most real when I release my desires to the wind and offer my life at the foot of the cross - to Jesus. It is revealed most when I just let God be God and me be me. For me at least, letting go is easier said than done.
So for today, I want to let God be God, and me be me, and pray for the revelation of God's kingdom within me and among us in the world. How extraordinary - that God should promise to be in our midst, within us, around us and waist deep in the mess of our world. I want to live today with eyes that see, hands that feel and a heart that knows the presence of God. I want to let go to control. Just for today, let me follow. May we all have the measure of courage and patience it takes to let God take control and the strength to follow where God leads.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet, and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16
A long time ago, I had surgery on my back, just after we had moved to Denver Colorado. We arrived in late August and my surgery was in late October. I was hospitalized for a month due to the development of a staph infection in the wound. I was very frustrated, a young mother, and I spent a great deal of my time bargaining and wrestling, in my own unique way, with God. I wanted out so bad, and begged night and day to be healed and sent home. Every night I would go to sleep desperately wanting to be completely healed. I wanted to wake up to a miracle. I got to go home the day before Thanksgiving, long ahead of schedule. A different kind of miracle occurred. My husband learned to clean the wound, which was a pretty gruesome mess, and promised that he would change the dressing and clean the wound twice a day. And he was faithful, going beyond brave to help me get home. And I did get better, and was healed. And the part I probably forgot was the thank you. Oh, maybe I said thank you from time to time, but I was so caught up in getting better that I probably wasn't grateful - to Mark, to my Mother who faithfully took care of Emily throughout, or especially to God. God listened to my complaint, stopped on the road and brought me healing. And I was too busy to be grateful.
Today, I want to remember in prayer, and be grateful for all of the people in my life who have been God's hands in my life. By their skill and love they have presented miracles. And I want to be grateful to God who answered my cries and heard me calling in the night. I want to spend my day thankful. I pray that we can all spend our day thankful. For we are surrounded by abundance and healing. May we see the face of Jesus in the midst of all the good in our lives, and remember to be thankful.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
"If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you." Luke 16:6
This morning, while walking to my car (which is parked on the street around the corner), in order to drive my husband to the train station, I was touched on the cheek by a single random snowflake. There were a few flurries in the skies as I came out my door, but so insignificant, I barely noticed. When the one touched me on my cheek, the minuscule touch of cold made me look up. And looking up I saw the sun rising over Manhattan from the top of the ridge where we live. I guess I was looking down and hunched over, so focused on the daily routine of life, I almost missed it. Deep crimson, golden sparks and orange glistening in the cold November air. The horizon was exploding with light and color. Everything was still for a brief moment, no cars, no street noise, no one to block my view, and I stood and took in the beauty, awed, down to the tips of my toes. This is a normal, small part of everyone's day, and I could have missed it wrapped up in my thoughts and anxieties. I could have lost the wonder and delight that was that brilliant fleeting moment. But one little snow flake touched my cheek and I looked up and caught a glimpse of the wonder of God.
Jesus responds to his friends and challengers concerns about the times to come. They are concerned, full of worry for themselves and their families. They have bills to pay and people to care for, and they wonder whether God will test them beyond their means. And Jesus tells them to have faith - they only need enough faith, faith the size of a mustard seed and they will be fine and strong. They only need faith as small as a snowflake, and they can look up and see a bit of the wonder of God. I ask God today to give me that small measure of faith so that I can see the possibilities and wonders around me, rather than be bent over from the challenges and burdens of life. I only ask God, for today, to give me a mustard seed of faith. I don't think I will order any mulberry trees around, but maybe, just maybe, I will live with my head lifted up and my eyes on the horizon. May we all live today with our eyes on God's promise, God's horizon, and have faith to see the beauty in the world around us.
Monday, November 17, 2008
"Remember that in your lifetime you received good things while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted and you are in agony." Luke 16:25
After a fender bender this past weekend, I had to take my car to the repair shop early this morning. While filling out paperwork and talking to the man who was helping me, I noticed an ad on his desk from a charity that was raffling off a car. Not just any car, but the classic car I have always dreamed of owning. The individual tickets were pretty steep, but I had a momentary lapse and wondered if I shouldn't take a chance. I saw myself, driving down a sunlight fall road, turning jealous heads where ever I went. I could hear the oohs and aahs. And then I thought of all the good the money could do elsewhere in these times. But I was sorely tempted, imagining myself tooling around in my dream car. Parading luxury and elegance in front of everyone. We all have moments when we wish we could be 'dressed in purple and live in luxury everyday'. And yet, there is also an awareness in us that our comfort might come at the cost of stepping over and ignoring another. And that, for me, is too big a price to pay.
Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man. One has a name and one a station. Funny, that in his telling of the story, we know the name of the hungry, crippled, sore covered beggar, but we do not know the rich man's name. The rich man selfishness is the bigger character in the story. I am always struck by the idea that Jesus knows the name of every wounded character, every beggar, every ne'er do well, but has no name for the wealthy ones. The wealthy one has no need of a savior, no need of a relationship with God, no need for a relationship with anyone. Wealth provides self-sufficiency and isolation.
Today, I want to live unashamed of my neediness. I want to revel in my dependency and interdependency with others and with Christ Jesus. We are known by name in our neediness and honesty, as we can be lost in our self-sufficiency. Today, I want to simply to be grateful for what I have - relationships, love and a community of faith.
May we all take courage from Lazarus, who is named and loved by Jesus. We aren't failures if we don't have the outward signs of success. We are asked only to love as we have been loved -completely and fully.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
"Well done you good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness." Matthew 25:23
When I was a young mother living in Baltimore, I sang with the Baltimore Symphony Chorus. We were a volunteer group, a cross-section of men and women from all parts of Baltimore and surrounding counties. It was one of the most diverse groups of people I had the pleasure to work with, and we worked hard, practicing and rehearsing for dozens of concerts a year. When we performed the men wore tuxes and the women wore white blouses and long black skirts. I truly enjoyed this experience. After several years, the leadership decided that we would all have to re-audition every season. We all had to parade before the maestro and sing from a score and sight read. A pretty typical audition but I was terrified. I almost didn't go. When my turn came I was such a wreck that I really struggled and didn't do well at all. They auditioning group shook their heads, and then our conductor told me to go sit and sing in my section and they would talk to me later. I knew I was doomed. I sat with my companions and as we started to rehearse, I lost myself in the joy of singing with friends. An hour passed and we had rehearsed several upcoming performance numbers. As we started the final piece, and I was singing my head off, I felt a soft blow to the back of my head. There was the maestro, who had just whacked me. "You know your music. You can sing. Why do you hide it so?" Then he smiled at me and said "you have passed your audition." Tears welled up in my eyes, from relief and from the shock to my system. I could only squeak out a small "thank you" and collapse into my seat.
We live in a time when many have so much, but are afraid to use what we have. Some of us are just cautious, and others are truly afraid. Some don't believe they have any talent. Some are terrified of failure and many have been ridiculed in the past. Society revels in the public failure of talented people. And yet God asks us today to use what we have. A talent in Jesus' time was worth more than a thousand dollars. A goodly sum. To some it was enough to keep going and to others, it was not enough to risk. In these unstable times, God is calling us to risk what we have. Risk our talent for the sake of others, for the cause of bringing Christ's love and healing to our broken world. God has given us great gifts and we are required, in turn, to use what we have for the love of others. May we have the courage today, to use the little that we have for the increase of the world. May we pour ourselves out for others knowing God will resupply and renew us completely.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
"You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of people, but God knows your hearts." Luke 16:15
In these difficult financial times, everyone is talking about money and their anxiety about the future. Everybody seems to be able to strike up conversations with strangers, in doctors offices and in line at the post office, about money. Every news broadcast I have watched in the past few weeks has talked about the failing economy and the loss of jobs. It is everywhere, and everybody seems to have an opinion on who to blame. I know that long before we admitted to the crisis, it was there. Long before the failure of investment firms and banks, it was there. We have been flying high as a country on the backs of the poor and day laborers, and only now are we noticing the crisis. But greed and selfishness came on the scene much earlier, and we acknowledged them as good qualities. Anything and everything to get ahead financially. And now we deal with the consequences, but God knew what was in our hearts all along. We had set aside compassion, so that we might be safe. We set aside generosity so that we could indulge. We set aside tender living for glamor. And still God knows our hearts.
There have been times in my life when we have been very challenged financially. And I know the only way that we have recovered was through the grace of God. We have struggled, and in the struggling learned what is most precious - relationships - with God and with our loved ones. The priceless gifts from God are never monetary, but are flesh, blood and spirit. God graced us with unmatchable gifts in our lovely daughters, our lively friends,and our tender companions on the way. Without them, life would be empty, no matter how financially stable we might be. Recovery and the road ahead are all in God's hands.
Today, I simply want to be grateful for the amazing riches in my life. For a dear loving husband, who is also my best friend, for incredible daughters who give their lives for the transformation of others, for a loving and quirky family, full of forgiveness and surprises, and all the faithful pilgrims I have met on the road. I know that these times and all times are in God's hand. I pray today for the eyes to see the enormous and abundant wealth that surrounds me, and the heart to be grateful in the wonder of it all.
Friday, November 14, 2008
"Don't be deceived, my dear friends, every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:16-17
Some days, when the world is bleak like today, and the fog settles in thick, it is easy to miss the beauty around us. It is more likely that we will slip around on the wet leaves, struggle, tiptoeing through cold puddles, hunching huddled under an inadequate umbrella, cursing the day and the weather. On days like today, it is especially hard for us to see the perfect and the beautiful and even harder to receive them as gifts. And yet, each falling leaf has an exquisite beauty, tendrils and colors making an elaborate, lively tapestry under our feet. We walk on carpets of heavenly artwork and wish for an easier commute and a less complicated and challenging day.
Today, I want to try to celebrate the beauty in the everyday around me. The water and the fog, the faces that grimace as they struggle to the bus and yet who dream of their children and happy times holding loved ones close. I want to see through the temporary challenges and see the permanent beauty that God has draped around us and embedded with in us. I want to see the gift in the Creator's eyes, reflected like the smile of a loving parent in their new born child. I want to be remade so that I can see beauty where now I only see challenge. May God give us an extra measure of tender sight today, so that we might all glimpse the permanent, everlasting heavenly lights, that shine through, even in the darkest hours.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." Luke 15:20
A prayer for prodigals and parents
Dear Loving Creator,
you lovingly fashioned the world,
giving us family and harvest, and we want to run away.
You hold out your arms for us and often times we scatter
believing we know better and can prove it, and we run
towards darkness and isolation,
and you run to us when you hear us cry.
You offer us life and safe pasture and we dislike the taste,
we think there is sweeter water and warmer love,
in other places.
And when our hearts are on the ground
you find all of our broken pieces
and in the dark of the night reassemble us.
We cannot make up for your constancy and love.
We cannot atone fully for our foolishness.
But You are the author of love
and You love us completely.
You look for us when we wander until we are found.
You hold us until all the tears are gone.
You set a groaning table to rejoice in our homecomings.
You wait on our anger and delight in our laughter.
May we have the courage to come home to you today.
May we turn in our pride, knowing you will turn pride into caring,
selfishness into generosity, and arrogance into service.
May we turn back and see You, loving parent of all,
running to us, with tears of joy.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until it is found?" Luke 15:3
The first time I ever traveled to Ireland, I was fascinated by the sheep herds. It seemed that they were not penned in any where, and scads of them roamed across hillsides and up craggy outcroppings, seemingly unwatched and untended. They were everywhere on the west coast of Ireland, and they seemed to have the run of the joint. I also noticed that many of them had a blotch of color on their dirty white coats. There were a variety of different colored blotches among any one gathering of sheep. It seemed like a very random situation. My foreign eyes thought nothing was under control. Mark and I were traveling about, staying in bed and breakfasts up and down the misty, cold, west coast country. We asked one hostess about the sheep and their blotches. I came to learn it was a very complicated, controlled system. Each color signified a particular sheep owner in a particular area. They herds did run together but the shepherds had devised a system whereby they knew how many sheep each owner had, they rotated the watching of he flocks and they counted on a daily basis. They would leave the comfort of warm fires, gathering the border collies to round up all the sheep if there was any alarm over sheep who were either missing or unaccounted for. They talked several times daily, keeping each other up on the weather and other threats to their livestock. It was a level of intimacy and care I would have never guessed as an outside observer.
Jesus says that God functions as a careful, tender shepherd. One that is constantly watching over the sheep. Now, sheep aren't the brightest animals and they get caught in the thickets and get lost regularly. But God is intimately active with the least of us, they ones who stray and wander, the ones who can't seem to stay with the herd, the ones who never get the lesson, even when it is taught over and over. And still God and heaven rejoices when one wanderer is retrieved. Today, I want to remember that insiders understanding of God. In this seemingly random and out of control world, I need to remember how carefully and completely we are cared for - for the least to the greatest. I pray that I can accept that kind of intimacy and care in my life, and share that care and kindness with others. And I pray that we can all, know we are cared for tenderly and completely. That we might have a sense of being known and loved intimately, by a shepherd who would leave the comfort of a warm fire, dry and come find us when we are lost.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
"Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27
We were relatively young, 22 and 26, when we had our first child, Emily. Most of our friends were unmarried and were not planning to have families until they were comfortable financially and ready to settle down. As a young mother, I was confronted by many professional women who felt staying home and raising a child was a contradiction to being an educated, modern, liberated woman. There were times in my life when I ached to be professionally secure and confident like them, but mostly I was happy to revel in the incredible gift, the wonderful life of our daughter. She was full of life and challenging, and I knew I was doing what was right for all three of us. We grew up together and in time, welcomed two more sisters, Ariel and Phoebe. It wasn't easy. And society and the times were going a very different way than we were. The cost was great to step out of the norm.
By being a wife and mother first, professional second, I chose to step out of the parade. We have lived our lives prayerfully, following God's call in our lives, which at times has meant that we had to left practical reason and cultural norms aside and followed where God was leading. Our income has been small for the most part, and we have lived with great insecurity, but the love and resources we have been given are great. Although there have been tremendous challenges, there has never been a time when God has not supplied our needs. Jesus makes it clear that the cost of following him is a life of tremendous challenge, not an easy road. But it has been, for me, abundantly full of love. A path overflowing with beauty and love. Relying on God, we have been blessed to walk, day by day, with enough to make it until tomorrow.
In these times when the road has become rocky for many, may we know Christ on the road with us. In these times, as the cold bears down, may we follow Christ, opening our hearts to our fellow travelers. May we seek not comfort but abundant love. May the true cost of following Christ be a heart broken open with compassion for others. May we hold each other in prayer knowing that following means we don't see the road but the image of Christ ahead.
Monday, November 10, 2008
"But when you give a banquet,invite the poor,the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed." Luke 14:13
In the past few days we have been wrangling over what to do for Thanksgiving. It seems like an annual exercise and something that is never solved well. The Gospel reading from Luke reminded me of how we often try to prove something or win approval in our feasts. Instead, if love is the goal of all we do than we should be inviting our true family, the ones who truly need to be fed. In light of this Gospel, I want to share a story of one Thanksgiving that gave my family a whole new perspective on things.
Several years ago, about this time of year, we began making plans for our family Thanksgiving celebration. At the time our oldest daughter was in college and our other daughters were living at home. Both grandmothers lived some distance away as did our siblings. We tried to consider everyone’s feelings and needs – as parents and are wont to do – but we also wanted to maximize our time all together with our children. We tried several scenarios and were not making much progress. As we continued to get more frustrated with the difficulty of making plans, I exhaustedly asked, “What is most important about Thanksgiving?” I fully expected for somebody to make a sweet and appropriate answer about the blessings of family or our good health. I hoped they might say something about food and the joy of being at home with people you love, the gathering of generations and the funny stories that get told. Instead, all of our daughters yelled out together, “pie!” Pie was what they needed to make Thanksgiving. They went on to tell me that we could make Thanksgiving happen anywhere as long as there was pie.
We finally agreed that, for a change, we would go collect Emily in Boston and then spend the Thanksgiving weekend in Plymouth and Cape Cod. We purchased several pies (no one could agree on just one flavor) and spend our time together discovering the gifts of the north Atlantic in the winter. We were far from our home and far from our traditional family gathering. Nothing was familiar. Love and home found us right where we were and we were thankful.
I learned a lot from my daughters that year. The lesson they taught me continues to teach me about the true meaning of Thanksgiving, home, and family. I learned, in a very real and visceral way, that home and family are not bound by place or tradition. Love and home are not bound by geography and not tied to only one jurisdiction. Thanksgiving can happen right where we are, even if we are far from our relatives or our homes. God will bless us right where we are and just as we are. In Jesus Christ, we have a home where ever we are found – and we have family in abundance. We have in baptismal bonding to God in Christ, a diverse, creative and unlimited understanding of relations. We are home, loved, and welcomed where ever we are because of Christ. As long as there is something sweet for us to share together, then love can take root and we are truly thankful.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
"Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." Matthew 25:13
When I was in seminary, I spent a summer working in the cardiac care wing of University Hospital in Boston. It was a requirement that we do an intensive, three-month course in Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE. There was a group of about a dozen students. We had two faculty members who trained us and supervised us once we were on the wards. In this group there were only two of us who were parents, both of us were mothers with young children. Others had partners or spouses, but we were singled out as being different than the rest. I used to get teased at lunch time about my habit of taking extra napkins. I would explain that I was a mother with small children and I was always anticipating a huge mess - out of habit. I carried a back pack rather than a dainty purse, and it usually had some band aids, Tylenol, wet wipes, tissues, a package of crackers or some sort of snack, along with the books that I carried for my studies. They all thought I was funny and pretty hopeless. I laughed along with them and kept my backpack close. Over the course of the summer, I was daily approached by one of my fellow students. They were in need of something that I was carrying with me. They could make fun all they wanted because I knew how needy we all were. I knew that the remedies they looked for from me, were not always the things I had in my backpack. It was hard for all of us to care for the sick and the dying, and I often lingered with them after I had distributed the supplies. Often times, what we all needed, no one had in their back pack. We needed one another to get through, and even more we needed God to hold us as we sat with patients and their families. Our hearts were being torn apart and remade, remade with a deeper love and compassion, remade with a deeper faith that comes from relying on God completely.
Jesus always tells a story when folks want him to talk theology. He draws a picture with words about what the reign of God is all about. He tells the story of the wise and foolish virgins who were awaiting the bridegroom. They were told to be ready, but some of them got caught up in their daily routine and rested instead of waiting. They weren't prepared. Waiting on God requires all of us to be prepared, and at the same time, it calls us to realize how needy we all are. We can pack our back packs full of first aid items, we can stock our shelves with canned goods - we can do everything to be prepared - and still miss the reign of God. The reign of God is welcomed with a loving heart. A heart that is broken open for love, a heart that is seeking God's love at all times, and aching for healing of the world.
Today, I want to be prepared for the coming of the reign of God in my life, in a new and abundant way. Worry and anxiety come easy in these turbulent days. Trust, humility, and openness as I wait on God is much harder. And I know that it is easy some days to protect my heart when it has been broken. And in the midst of what I know, Christ comes in to my broken places and promises healing and transformation. Love overflowing, constantly rebuilding, renewing and restoring. Today, I pray that I can wait with joy, knowing that, as prepared as I might be, I must be prepared and ready to lean on God completely and in every circumstance. May we all have the strength to stock our heart's shelves with love and hope, knowing that God reign is coming in a new way in our lives. God's kingdom is coming to us, to restore and rebuild us so that we may love and bring God's love to a desperate world.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
"Take the lowest place so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up in the presence of all your fellow guests." Luke 14:10
Gracious and loving Creator,
the sky is full of your tears,
your wonderful life giving water,
your gifts of life and abundance for all.
We are tossing in a time of what is past,
and what we will become, and we are anxious as a people.
The light has diminished
the air has cooled, and we call to you for help.
You are present in all the turbulence,
You promise to heal us, transform us and make us new.
Help us to wait on Your touch,
Your breath in our bodies, your smile on our souls.
Give is the courage to be humble,
help us to revel in the lowest place
the waiting rooms and the station platforms,
as we wait for your direction your call.
Loving Savior, you have called us friends,
help us this day to embrace our neighbors
and our enemies, knowing that you welcome us as family
and invite us to serve in your name.
We ask this in the name of Christ Jesus,
who took the lowest place that we might all have life. Amen.
Friday, November 7, 2008
" O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who would kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings....." Luke 13:34
Over the last few days I have been working on a project for my aunt and family. My aunt has a collection of old family pictures, and I am scanning them into my computer and trying my best to restore the images so they can be viewed by the present and future family members. Some of these photos have been locked away for years. Some of these photos have been taped to an album, ripped, torn or folded over the years. Some have clear notations on the back, some have none, and occasionally some ancestor or other will have written a sweet note on the back of them. The faces are young and old, stern and laughing, joyous and pained. The landscapes are lush and barren, recording old homes and strange continents. I am captured by the reality of these individuals and try to imagine their lives with all the joys and sorrows. Of course, I know some of these people and know some of the good things they have done, along with some of the horrible things that constitute their lives. Looking at them, many staring at me from long dead places, I see the little tiny children I never knew. I am looking at them as I couldn't imagine them -small, weak, vulnerable, precious and beautiful.
There is brokenness and harm, along side beauty and generosity in every generation. Jesus sees Jerusalem, past and present, with the eyes of a loving parent who wishes to gather up offspring and protect them. The desire to shield them from the harshness of life and what they might do to themselves, is an aching desire of all parents. Jesus looks on them and aches to hold them. I look on my ancestors and ache likewise, seeing many for the first time as the vulnerable, challenged children that they truly were.
Today, I pray for that compassion. For the eyesight that comes from the heart. For an ability to understand what is behind the false front. And the wisdom to not hide behind my false front, but instead, to welcome the prophets and strangers God sends my way. I pray that we might all look on our neighbors and community as Christ looked on Jerusalem. With the aching heart of a loving parent, may we go forth into the world today, knowing that we go with God.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
"What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in a garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches....It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until it was leavened." Luke 13:18-21
In the past few days, I have been considering what is possible in my life. There have been some tough challenges recently; personal, physical, and familial that have made me want to withdraw my hopes and aspirations in exchange for some safe alternatives. I have always been fairly practical, and have always wanted to do the best for my family and have them thrive. After the election, and after an interesting conversation with my eldest daughter, I am aware of how easy it is for us humans to let the small setbacks shape our future. I recognize how easy it is to exchange faith for security. As the financial security of our nation has crumbled, many have given up ideals and faith for safety. It's a normal human reaction. I reminded my daughter that she can change the world and she reminded me that I had taught her how. During these difficult times it is hard to remember the gifts and possibilities that God has blessed us with. It is hard for all of us, in challenged times, to keep walking by faith.
Jesus speaks to this as he tells two stories about the reign of God. The mustard seed is the tiniest of tiny seeds, and yet it blossoms into a colossal tree. And the yeast, well, a little amount goes a long way and makes many large loaves of bread. Some of us have overlooked or ignored the small seed of faith that is germinating within us. The time hasn't been right, we say. The reign of God, can be buried, hidden away, tucked out of sight when we are anxious and feeling unstable. In fact, these are just the times when the world needs people to plant seed and sprinkle the yeast. We have been given a small measure, each of us, by the grace of God. God promises to increase our offering by a thousand fold or more. That is the reign of God on earth. Abundance growing out of the small, anxious steps of faith, love exploding across a neighborhood from one small gesture.
I know now it is time to step out in faith. It is a scary step, but it is a step none of us take alone. The God who gave us our portion and potential, promises to go with us and bless what we offer. I pray that today I have the courage to offer what God has given me. And I pray that God gives us all the strength to step out in faith, offering our little, and knowing God will bring the plenty. God is ready to pour an inexhaustible stream of love and life down upon us all. May we have the courage to take one step so that God can, through our little bit, change the world.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
"Woman, you are set free from your ailment!" Luke 13:12
It was a remarkable day. Before I went to vote, I sat next to a woman in a doctor's office who had been suffering with pain a long time. But the smile across her face was broad and constant as she spoke of voting for the first time. She is now a citizen of the United States after coming here 15 years ago from Guatemala. She beamed with pride in her right to vote, and her enthusiasm for this historic day that she was participating in. When I went to the our polling place, there were two young women there, near tears with excitement, voting for the first time. Their Dad stood by beaming with pride as he watched his daughters follow him into the voting booth. And then, last night, when, just after eleven, they announced the news that Senator Obama was elected our next president, well, the lid came off. Crying and cheering and singing from many quarters. I had the same feeling I had when we elected Katharine to be our Presiding Bishop. The impossible was possible. The chains were broken. We were set free from impossible to the world of possibility.
I recalled Barbara Harris' consecration, which I attended as a seminarian. I heard the stories from elderly women who had been waiting to have a woman as bishop. And I remember the sparkling old woman who had driven through the night to be there. She was the daughter of a slave, and she said to me, "In Barbara, we all have a bishop -she is my bishop and anything is possible." I also remembered that since the first wave of settlers came to this country, Indigenous people have been praying, watching and waiting in the shadows. We have seen our land seized and destroyed and authority oppress many people. And last night, we were set free from the binding shadows, and were open to what might be possible.
Jesus encounters a woman who had been bent over and twisted from pain for eighteen years. She had been waiting in the shadows in one of the synagogues, watching and waiting and hoping for healing. Jesus set her free. The impossible was now possible, she could walk upright without pain. In doing so, he brought upon himself the wrath of authority who thought it improper to do any work on the sabbath. Her willingness to stay and pray brought joy to everyone. Last night, the joy was tangible and real for a whole nation. No matter how people voted, it was obvious that folks were moved by the promise of a new future.
Today, I want to rejoice for this new sense of freedom. And I want to take seriously the need for sacrifice. Freedom asks each of us to let go of our tired ideals, our selfish wants, our petty squabbles. Freedom calls us to roll up our sleeves for one another. Freedom recognizes that one cannot truly be free until everyone is free. God's freedom is a call to service. I pray today that we can offer all of our gifts, all that we have, so our communities and our nation may thrive. But even more so, I pray that we can humble ourselves so that our world might prosper and be healed. There is no conflict too big for God. May we rely completely on our incredible Creator as we lay down our arms and get to work so that all may know the healing touch of Christ's freedom.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
"Sir, let it alone for one more year,until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not you can cut it down." Luke 13:8-9
Today is election day across our nation. The new reporters are predicting record turn outs everywhere and many young people are going to vote for the first time. People are energetic and excited for the first time in a long time. Several years ago, and for a great while, there was a good deal of apathy everywhere and it was hard to get people out to vote. But folks are excited and want to have a voice in our future. They want to be part of a nation that bears fruit, that makes a difference, and a nation which cares for its people. There is lots of talk about a positive, compassionate future, but only participation and care will make those things happen.
Jesus is challenged to condemn the actions of some people, to chose who is the worst or best, to vote for the best martyrs and sinners. But when confronted to judge others, he offers the story of the fig tree. The fig tree has been producing nothing, offering no fruit, and providing little shade for years. The owner of the land thinks it a waste of earth and sky. But the gardener offers to care tenderly for the tree, feeding it, pruning it, giving it light and water so it can thrive. He offers compassionate care when judgment is desired. He is asked for quick decisions when faithfully listening, nurturing and relationship are the order of the day.
We have been suffering through tough economic times. We have been at war, and we have been torn apart in the church. Some people think that today's decision will fix all of the problems we have faced - as long as their candidate wins. In the story of the fig tree and the gardener, the only way we will thrive - in the church and in this land - is if we are willing to love compassionately, have direct involvement with the withered places and dig our hands into the manure. We will have to take the time to nurture and renew the broken places and broken relationships. No one candidate can fix the mess we have made.
So on this election, I want to be about connecting and committing to the work it takes for the church, the country and individuals to thrive. Whatever is decided today, there will be much work to do. It is tempting to withdraw after such a long campaign, so easy to condemn or let others do the work, but I want to get in and do what it takes. The gardener took on his worst failure. He took it on with love and compassion and hard work. I pray that we can take on our communities and our world with the same compassion. A compassion that sees the possibilities and beauty in every living being.
Monday, November 3, 2008
"You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" Luke 12:56
Yesterday, the dark came early. Daylight savings time ended early Sunday morning, many of us had an extra hour of sleep, and the morning was bright. But dark came early, radically shifting our perception of the day. It is now a winter's sky we see, it is now a winter's sunrise. We have shifted our understanding of how the world works in one day. And yet it always takes me longer than a single day to adjust to the change in light and shadows, to autumnal skies and the promise of winter around the corner. My body fights to hang on to the light and recoils from the idea of winter. I love the winter, really, it's just the adjustment, the transition that is hard.We as a nation are in a season of major adjustments - financial crisis and political uncertainty surround us. Tomorrow we will vote and have new leadership. Whatever happens, whomever is elected, we will still have to deal with massive transitions. None of us are great at adjustments and transitions, even when our leader has been victorious. Change is something we ache for and when it comes, something we fight against.
Today, I want to be attempt to be more patient with my own adjustment periods as well as the world around me. I have been flustered trying to keep up with the price of gas - first it skyrocketed and now it is diving down. Elections will bring a new set of adjustments for me. But the real adjustments, the spiritual changes, the movement towards contemplation and meditation, the desire for insight and peace - well, these take a great deal of pateince on my part. I pray that we will all be moved to compassion for ourselves and one another as we move through these changing times. Whether it is a change of routine, a change of diet, a change of schedule, or a radical change in life style and income- all of these things need pateince and compassion. Our minds might embrace them but our hearts and bodies resist. It is just such times as these when we are invited to use all the patience, peace, love and compassion we have within us, for ourselves and one another. May God grant us the patience to see us through these changing times.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Dear Lord of All Creation,
Heaven and earth adore you, and all the saints
and angels gather round on this holy day.
Once they were a child like us, cradled and rocked,
and they were a young bright eyed child;
Then a young adult seeking a mate, then a father,
mother, friend, parent, Aunt,
Uncle, or were living unconnected and all alone.
And in dying they left behind a legacy of love revealed.
Each of them has transformed my life,
whether I held them close or they were unknown in my time.
Your saints surround us with the mystery of love that is
transforming, healing, forgiving and eternal.
They may not walk the earth now, but the love
they hold for the world is constantly poured out and ongoing.
Lord, in Jesus Christ, who you made in your image
and like us also, we find a friend, a Savior and love unending.
Give us today the strength to be carriers of Christ’s love.
May we give our all every day as the saints
who came before us gave their all.
May we fully love, tenderly caring
for the people and the whole world.
May we number our days and measure our steps
as followers of Christ, who gave his all
that we might live now and eternally with all the saints.
We ask this all in the name of Christ,
who goes before us and will receive us at days’ end, Amen.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
"Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven..." Matthew 5:12
On the day of All Saints', November 1st, we remember all those who have departed this life. Those who have been models for us on how to live, and those who have challenged our faith in their living. Some have done us great good and some have done harm in their lives. All are now at rest, in a world spoken about but never understood completely by the living. Whatever you make of All Saints' Day, I can't help but thinking of all the wonderful people who have, by their living, empowered me to live for Christ. My Dad was always ready to laugh and sing, and was serious about his faith. A good scholar but a better friend. My sister older Pegi, who was a great teacher and an even better sister. She loved playing games and music and never missed an opportunity to celebrate. My friends, Pua and Charlie who made everyone welcome and fought tirelessly for the rights of Native Hawaiians. My friend Janie, who first gave me a job and then gave me a real understanding of what it meant to be a hero. As I think about them, many, many others come to mind - so great a cloud of witnesses -that I can't begin to name them all without going on forever.
Whatever I do today, I want to give thanks for the extraordinary gifts I have been given by these people who loved so well. None were perfect but all lived life fully and gave those around them their all. They told stories, painted pictures, preached, laughed, cried, and wrapped their arms around many suffering folks. Whatever I do today, I want to live by their example -love lived out in the every day. I pray that we might all have the courage to live love fully and offer ourselves to those around us, today and everyday, in thanksgiving for the incredible witnesses that have gone before.