Saturday, January 31, 2009

Frozen Hearts












"Nothing outside a person can make them unclean, by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that makes them unclean." Mark 7:15-17


Since the beginning of the year, every where I go I am assaulted by ads for all sorts of things that are going to make a better me. From diets ads that promise me a flat belly to products to thaw my love life. As Valentine's day approaches, the ads and advise about relationships are in overdrive. Everybody has great advise and wants to sell me something. God, on the other hand, desires that my heart is clean and warm, not for my betterment alone but for the healing of the world. So that others might know of the eternal love that breaks through all barriers. Love that moves beyond law to compassion, beyond control to transformation. So, for this Saturday, here are ten tips for a warmer, cleaner heart. The world could sure use some of God's warmth and compassion right about now.

1. Shake the hand of the next homeless person you meet on the street.
2. Smile at the person who just cut you off on the road.
3. Call the folks who wait on you, cut your hair etc., by name and ask about their family.
4. Give someone else your place in line.
5. Smile on the subway or bus (just a little, not like a crazy person, I mean!)
6. Put the money for your coffee in the next outstretched cup or hand.
7. Listen to the story of someone you don't know.
8. Return the call you have been dreading and putting off.
9. Make a cup of tea (coffee) for the person (coworker) who irritates you the most.
10. Pray for someone every time you want to (or do) swear.

And remember, God is watching not to punish us, but with the ache of a parent who wants their child to use all the gifts they were blessed with...."and the greatest of these is love."
Happy Saturday

Friday, January 30, 2009

Renewal




















"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore me to the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me." Psalm 51:10-12


Some days it seems easy to rise up with the sun and other days facing a new day can be a strain. I have been wrestling for four days with a bug, one that would not leave me for a moment without pain or queasiness. Only when I slept did I get any peace. Being away from home only heightened the illness somehow. Our bodies can be real nasty prison guards at times, binding us, confusing our minds and making us all too aware of our own weakness. I know I hate being sick because I feel so out of control. And yet, it is also times like these that I learn to pray again in a whole new way.

The ancient psalms some how roll off my lips when nothing else comes to mind. I remember once, long ago, as I was being put under for surgery, reciting the 23 psalm, without even knowing I was doing so. I was very young but had been taught many psalms. And there were David's ancient and yet familiar words. And now too, here are these words, these ache for renewal of body, mind and spirit. There is no human that has not felt cast off or isolated, broken open by illness, failure or betrayal. But in the midst of the worst disconnection and weakness, God is actively bringing renewal and restoration, even when we are to weak to see or welcome it. And we are reminded too, that we are never alone, for even in temporary isolation and pain, God is active in the midst of our inability and ache. We are also not alone across the ages, for the life of faith, demonstrated so long ago, reminds us to cry out at every moment to a listening God, who leans in to hear us before we raise our heads or our voices.

Today, I want to be grateful for God's faithfulness in the midst of my very human weakness. I want to remind myself and others that in Christ we are never alone, despite the pain and anguish, God is constantly acting for our healing and renewal. Even when we have no words, ancient words cry out on our behalf. May we all embrace the renewal that God has at hand and offer our hands and voices in service of others. God is best seen in the breaking of bread, as we reach out and offer what we have to others.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sheep without a Shepherd



















"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like a sheep without a shepherd."Mark 6:34

A Poem for Sheep without a Shepherd

The hills are dark and shadowy
I can hear my own voice bleating
and the winds howling and there is the scent
of wolves on the wind.

I didn't mean to wander so far
but was following others to sweet grass
and soft pasture, a place to eat and rest,
and now there is no rest but dark terrors of the night.

It isn't anything you said and did
to be this lost and so isolated
truly this isn't something you made
happens to every one at some time,
a flock with a wandering shepherd.

God is no wanderer, silent as the Creator may seem
you who cry in the dark, you are watched and cared for,
you will never be undone by this momentary isolation.
The Savior of the world came with compassion
looking over the lost and the helpless
sat them down and fed them abundantly
with baskets overflowing.

And so you too will be fed and find rest,
God is hovering over you now,
you are a priceless child, a needed heir
and you will be guided to sweet grass,
a soft place to lay your head
and you will be welcomed home.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Plotting

"On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb." Mark 6:29

The snow is falling in great bucket loads right now, and since it is January, that seems the normal course of things. In watching the news last night, folks across the area were talking about their local strategy to deal with the mess, how the huge piles of snow are already a problem and how this winter is really a challenge financially. No one talks of beauty or abundance, they just plan and plot night and day so that they can overcome the challenge. Why is it we as humans so quickly turn on the gifts that God has given us, weather, prophets and challenges that deepen our dependence and love?

Herodias loathed John the Baptist because he told the truth and schemed until she found a way to be done with him. Her daughter danced, enthralling guests and Herod alike who offer her up to half of his kingdom. Her mother instructed her to have John's head brought out on a platter. It wasn't enough to silence him, she had to enjoy the horror of his death. John's disciples could do nothing, but with dignity and faith collect his remains and honor him. They took their circumstances, trusting that God had a way through beyond their understanding. They didn't try to control the story or plot revenge, they remained faithful in the midst of it.

Today, despite some challenges, I want to remain faithful and trust that God will see me through. Some days, that is the finest and most faithful thing we can do. The plotting and planning can be fruitless, but the faithful heart can always find abundance. May we have the courage, when we are overwhelmed, to avoid plotting and increase our praying. For the outcome is often more and different than we can possibly imagine. And God is always more faithful than we can know in our times of distress.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nothing for Your Journey




























"Take nothing for your journey except a staff -no bread, no bag, no money in your belts." Mark 6:9

When I was a child my father used to kid about this passage, as there is one translation where the word staff is translated as walking stick. Since my mother's maiden name is Walkingstick, he would joke that he always took my mother everywhere he went - and he was just following the scripture. That sweet kidding points to a deeper truth, though. Jesus sent them with only a staff to lean on -but he sent them out two by two. They had one another, to hear the pains and joys as they walked, to be welcomed or turned away where they went. My father relied on my mother for his ministry and saw it as a joint effort. He gave us all a part, and even though there were days when we resented being constantly engaged in church work, we knew we were needed, we knew welcome and belonging, we knew we were never alone.

You and I, often try to go it alone in our lives and in ministry. The American ideal is still that of the self-reliant individual, a person who can make it on their own. Ideal aside, we are in fact, completely interdependent, we need others more than we can say. You know who your friends are as they reach out, as they seek another across distances and time for definition and companionship in their lives. There truly isn't a "my ministry" because every ministry is completely dependent on the welcome and feeding of others.

Today, I want to begin this new journey of ministry by insisting on not going it alone. Ever since I was a child I learned that when I start out on a new journey in faith, I should try to take another with me, and not focus on the material goods I might lack. It's hard because I feel I lack so much. And yet, God promises to go with me, and send friends to go the journey with me. May we all rejoice in where we are being called, no matter how new and perplexing, knowing that what we need the most is fellow travelers, fellow companions, friends to walk with us a while. God promises that we are never alone. May we rejoice in the companions we have, and invite others (who may feel very alone right now) to walk with us as we follow Christ this day.




Monday, January 26, 2009

Paul's Conversion




















"And immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored." Acts 9:18


Some people can be moved to compassion and tears quite easily. Others need huge signs in order to even begin to pay attention. This sign spans the wide expanse of the front steps of Widener library. All but the center section of steps is roped off, the rest being completely cover with snow and ice, completely treacherous to even the spry and athletic. With all the warnings, it is obvious that people have not only tried to climb the steps, but possibly also tried to sled down them. The need to be oblivious to the real world, and above the fray of average human kind seems part of the DNA of students and faculty alike here. Smart people seem all too often captivated by their own rightness. And yet they can fall down steps and miss the signs and wonders right before them. They can be, and are, as insecure and lost, broken and downhearted, isolated and ashamed as any other human being. The bravado and brilliance masks enormous need.

Saul/Paul was one of those brilliant religious wonders who knew himself to be above the fray of ordinary people. He sought out the followers of Jesus to persecute as a lion stalks the prey. He thought them weak and misguided, sentimental and dumb. He knew the right way and his understanding of the scripture and the law was flawless. And Jesus had to blind him on the road and make him completely dependent on the care and touch of others in order to bring him around. Saul/Paul had a change of heart, because of the compassion of Christ, who would not let him go despite his cruelty, vanity and obliviousness. And Christ's compassion does not end with Paul but extends to all of us, no matter how thick, troubled or misguided we might be.

Today, I want to follow Jesus as one who knows what I lack, as one who sees the signs and heeds the warnings. I want to follow him as Ananias did, who, when frighted by the hideous behavior of Paul, still reached out and touched him in Christ's love. I ask only to be a instrument of God's love breaking forth. May we all this day have the courage to be foolish and needy for the Gospel. May we have the guts to be less brilliant and more compassionate. May we invite God to use us this day for the sake of the whole world.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Leaving Nets


























"At once they left their nets and followed him." Mark 1:18

This week has been marked by transitions. The inauguration of a new president being a very public transition and my move to Cambridge being a very personal one. All times of transitions are challenging as well as exhilarating, full of promise and fringed with dread. New people and new experiences herald new possibilities and new ways to be confused. Driving and navigating become a challenge where it was once familiar and predictable. Transitions demand that we live one the edge, between one world and the other, and that we leave some things behind for a period of time. I'm not particularly good at transitions but I am comforted to know that not many people are either. Leaving familiar, even for wonderful opportunity, is still leaving and we have to re-acclamate and recalculate our daily lives. The only way to be good at transitions is to be gentle with one's self and others. New growth is always a challenge and growth spurts can hurt, so tenderness and patience are the best medicine.

Jesus starts his ministry by calling Peter and Andrew away from their lives. The Sundays of Epiphany are often times when we rehearse the call narratives, the stories of the greatest transitions in the lives of the disciples and Jesus. He steps out and they follow, and it requires leaving nets and families and the familiar for the challengingly unfamiliar. They go with Jesus with great speed and enthusiasm, but they too have to live with the in between awkwardness of a major transition. It doesn't come easy for them, even though they are the people closest to the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Today, I want to follow Jesus in a whole new way, by understanding this transition time as an invitation to tenderness and kindness. To myself and all those around me. When we change locations, even temporarily as this is, it still challenges our capacities. And these times can also grow our faith and trust in Christ. So today, I want to walk as a "child of the light, I want to follow Jesus." Just like a child, I will cling and take direction from the one who will love me through this and through time. May we all have the courage this day, with our transitions big and small, to cling to Jesus to see us through. And may we know that Christ is growing in us new capacities, new possibilities, new nets, so that we too might be fishers of people.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Demons




























"Night and day he among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones." Mark 5: 5


Last night we arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts so that I can begin a semester as the Procter Fellow at Episcopal Divinity School. I graduated from here almost twenty years ago with my MDIV and much has happened in the ensuing years. Much has changed here and much has changed in me. Comfortingly, there is much that is very familiar and I am much the same person I was twenty years ago, except I have no beautiful daughters in tow, who I miss very much. Mark and I unpacked some and then went into Harvard Square for dinner. We wandered around looking at the familiar and we finally ended up at our favorite Chinese restaurant which has stood the test of time. We had a lovely meal and then headed back to go grocery shopping and to continue the move in process. While we were walking home, a young well dressed man approached from behind, bellowing and screaming. He was tall and carrying a shoulder bag and looked for all the world to be successful and competent. He stumbled around the square bumping into signs and almost falling in the middle of the street, all the while crying out, deep painful agonizing screams. His long legs moved him quickly past us and I couldn't help but think that here was a young man with many demons -whether expressed with the help of alcohol, drugs or madness - he was greatly tormented.

Jesus encountered a man riddled with pain and torment and takes the lot of it away. The man had spent years among the tombs, the ghosts, the world of pain that haunted and tormented him. He was in such pain he tormented himself. Those who are tormented and abused often end up tormenting themselves or others just to relieve their pain. But Jesus send it all away, far from the man who knew only pain and torment. And Jesus promises to do like wise for us. This is not only a story of an extraordinary encounter, but a living understanding of the pain many people carry with them every waking moment. Demons who are legions - mistakes and abuses from our past, losses too great to overcome, broken hearts, destroyed dreams and abandonment. We too can wander among the tombs, rehashing all of the damage and mistakes of our past, wrestling with demons, visible and invisible. And Jesus understands the demons we carry and is here with us to send them away.

Today, I want to offer my life to God, letting go of the past, demons and all. I want to open my arms wide to Christ's present and future. I want to pray for those who are racked with their own demons and quilt and remind us all that it God's desire that we are free - free from all the demons, even those of our own making. And I pray that we can all be healed so that we might offer hope to those still wandering the graveyards, still wracked with hurt that they cannot release. May we all be agents of the release and freedom that only Christ can bring.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't Be Afraid, Don't Be Very Afraid



















"Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Mark 6:50

When I was in seminary, I interned in a church where I was responsible for the youth group and some other Christian Education programs. I had a group of about twenty young people and we did lots of fun things together. Every year the state fair grounds would host a haunted house sponsored by Young Life. I found it amusing that Young Life, then a fairly conservative Christian College program, could take Halloween so seriously. The Haunted House was great and very convincing. The lines were long to get in. I remember standing with my kids. The boys, who were all football players, were bragging on about how fearless they were. They told gross stories about blood and guts and broken limbs. The girls talked about turning around and leaving, about how they hated to be scared and how they had only come because they had nothing else better to do. There was a lot of baiting and teasing, all pretty good-natured fun. When we got into the old converted barn, which housed a multi-story haunted house, the screaming began. We remained together as a group, several of the girls hanging tightly to one another, or to a boy if they were lucky. And then the screaming began. It was dark, so at first I thought it was the girls only, but no, the boys were testing the capacity of their lungs too. One came running back in my direction and grabbed on to me for dear life. When he calmed down, he laughed it off, saying he came to protect me. But I wasn't screaming. We had a great supper after the event and laughed at our common humanity and how darkness and confusion can terrorize the human heart.

In our Gospel story we find Jesus walking on the water and a bunch of terrified grown men in the dark. He tells them not to be afraid as he climbs into the boat. But they have a normal reaction - it isn't every day that we see someone, an apparition walking on the water and then speaking. Being on the water in the dark is scary enough. Normal things transform in the fog and mist as the day cools. Early in their ministry, Jesus tested their limits by showing them what we would call supernatural things. Evidence of his divine capacity. And he showed them their human vulnerability. Jesus told them to take heart. He did not demean them for their humanity but rather encouraged their capacity to receive tenderness and comfort.

May this day be one where we can forgive ourselves our humanity, our vulnerability and take heart. Jesus is near, climbing into the boat, just as we are completely exhausted from hard out rowing and scary visions in the dark. Jesus climbs into our lives to provide comfort ad tenderness, compassion and reassurance. May we rejoice in our Savior who hold us tenderly and forgives our lack, our humanity. May we receive the faith we are given and rejoice that God is always more faithful and constant than we can be human and afraid.

Good Soil



















"Like seed sown on the good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop -thirty, sixty or a hundred times what was sown." Mark 4:20


The sun is not up yet here although it is nearly seven thirty. The snow is deep and persistent. There doesn't seem to be a lot of good news these days and it sure is hard t feel abundant. And it is impossible at times to know how good the soil is, there is so much run off and tainting from pollutants and exhaustion. I am here is this breathtakingly beautiful landscape, among some of the most gifted and rich people in the world. I also know that many feel barren and alone, and that it is beyond their own capacity to produce anything good, let alone in huge quantities.

Jesus' disciples were clueless when they heard this parable and when they were alone they wanted an explanation. They were afraid possibly of the judgement that was upon them. Or they were afraid that they had no idea how to produce a plenteous yield. They had to hear it a least twice that it was God, the farmer who sows the seed, and God the farmer who reaps the harvest in fertile soil, a place where the love and healing of God is nurtured, fed and buried deep so to come to full flower. All of this takes time and complete reliance on God.

Today, I want to stand in these depths of winter, tending the good soil that lies beneath the snow. I want to take the time it requires to open my heart to God so that Christ's love might flourish around me. And I want to completely rely on God today. May we all this day, have the patience and courage to make ourselves ready for the coming seasons of love's growth and transforming possibility, all the while completely dependent of the love of God who tends us like the diligent and loving farmer. Like the farmer that cares and watches when we are still a ways off and still struggling with hope. May we cast all our cares on the author of care.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A House Divided



















If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:24-25


I have been in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation for the past few days. This meeting, with many Native clergy and lay leaders from across our church, is always inspiring, encouraging and exhausting. There is much to work on together and many stories to share. There are always new people and many old friends, all engaged in Native ministries. All caring for their people and their communities. Many of us have shared experiences of communities divided and times when nothing good happened. And others groups have told of the strength to get beyond the trouble through prayer and faith, and a commitment to be in relationship with, and forgive the human failings of others. Incredibly hard work that, taking people as they are and staying in relationship when nerves are frayed and community seems on the breaking point.
In this place there has been an abundance of laughter, tears and freely offered support, encouragement and welcome. In these hard economic times, the communities that are thriving seem to be those who work together, care for each other and share a common understanding of their call and ministry. Compassion is always in their every action.

Jesus talked to his disciples and the others who followed him about the need for unity, a house united. Not a perfect single room dwelling with no complexity and no diversity but rather an expansive understanding of the necessity of every one's gifts. They had to be able to put others first, compassion and care at the center, and reach out in welcome and forgiveness at all times. His words caution us to differ within the community but to avoid destructive behavior and divisive action. He calls us to follow him by putting the needs of the whole above the needs of one.

Today, as we experience this historic inauguration, I pray that I can be a member of an undivided house and that everything I do will be for the building up of others. Welcome, compassion and service. I pray that our nation might experience together a new willingness to serve for the common good. I pray that we can lift each other up together and not make our opinions and needs take precedence over the whole community. May we follow where Christ leads us today, with open, loving hearts and arms outstretched to our entire house and our entire community across the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Feed my sheep




















He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. John 21:17


Some times we all wish we were constructed differently, with a different set of skills and experience, with a different income or capacity, or a simply a different body type. Some people wish they had a bigger family and some wish for less. Whomever we are, we have so how dreamed of being someone different, if but for a moment. But we are who we are and many people spend a life time accepting who they are. Some of us think by retraining and brute will we can change ourselves radically. But in the end, we are who we are, a gift from God, just like we are. Quirky and complicated, needy and loving, we all are both a gift from God and aching for understanding. We all need to know our place and what we are good for.

Peter and Jesus are finishing up breakfast. Peter wants a profound answer from Jesus about continuing ministry after Jesus' final departure. He want dreams and vision. What he gets is an all too simple answer. Feed my sheep. Love me, feed my sheep. Tend the ones I send you, love them like your own. Simple and yet as challenging as it is profound. God's mystery is not always revealed in complicated theological statements but in the daily task, the simple tending and feeding. The compassionate love of the tender shepherd. We are often wandering sheep, and yet God constantly calls us back and mends our wounds. We are fed over and over, watched and guided, even when we think the shepherd is out of sight. Peter wanted a lofty answer perhaps but what he got was a simple feed my sheep. We want lofty answers or different circumstances but the answer we get is right where we are. Feed my sheep, right here.

May today I have the courage to tend the sheep right here and not look for a different field or a different flock, Right here, may I feed his sheep, because I am being fed right where I am, just as I am, gifted and challenged all at once. May we all be caretakers of the flocks in front of us, even if they seem peculiar and not like the other sheep. May we live Christ's compassion in this world, tending and feeding, knowing that God will transform the hearts and minds of us all.

God Calling

"Follow me." John 1:43

I spent this morning with the people of St. Luke's in Ft. Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation. We chance to reflect on what the story about the calling of Philip and Nathanael might mean for us in these historic times. A faithful community that has over and over again faced impossible odds and still found God and grace in the midst of it. Winter is harsh here and the unemployment is near 65%. And yet they smile and pray together, holding families together and feeding their community in countless ways. In the hours before this historic inauguration, it is hard not to be excited by what is possible. We have been living with a challenging, odds against us, sense of ministry for a long time. The funds have dwindled and the number of Native clergy has been way down. But here, in this small little community, they are raising up leaders, gathering kids and teens, and finding ways to live the impossible. I am always blessed to be with these faithful people, and to be among them at worship was a real gift.

Nathanael was skeptical when Philip told him about Jesus. He didn't think anything good could come out of Nazareth. He didn't think the impossible was even plausible. He had lived enough and been burned enough, worn down, dragged out and betrayed just enough to expect little good to come out of anything. Leadership was corrupt and nothing was going to change. His resources and faith were spent. So, there comes Jesus, right while he was trying to rest, telling him he would change the world, and Nathanael would be a part of that. Extraordinary and unbelievable.
And yet, this is what happens, Nathanael and Philip follow and Jesus leads them through the impossible to God and abundance grace in the center of impossibly difficult circumstances.

I want to try today to live with a real belief that God is doing a new thing in our time . What was once impossible in our national leadership now is about to become reality. Someone who didn't fit in, will now be our leader. And I want to follow where Christ leads, despite impossible situations and all the odds against it. May we all cherish these historic times and be moved, heart and soul, to embrace the possibilities, following Christ. We have never been asked to go and blaze the trail alone, but simply to follow Christ. May we follow with a renewed sense of hope and possibility, knowing that love can break through where it doesn't belong and change hearts across the universe.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stretch out your hand


"'Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out and it was completely restored."
Mark 3:5

There was a time in a child's life when they got just big enough to ride the carousel, the big carousel with the fast horses. Some children have been fortunate enough to rise a carousel with a brass ring, which every single person wanted to reach out and grab. You got a free ride or a prize if you could capture the ring. But you had to ride an outside horse and be whipped around, and often stand up in the stirrups and lean way, way out. It was an act of faith, imagining what went by way too fast and then grasping it and remaining balanced on the following times round. It was a nearly impossible feat for most of us. And yet, the reaching out and the faith were all important, all essential to experience the ride. Most kids now have no idea about carousels and brass rings, but those of us lucky enough to have the experience remember the exquisite trying and the endless possibility.

Jesus is up against the rule makers again, who don't want him healing (or breaking any of the work restrictions) on the sabbath. They fail to look at the man in front of them. The man who, more than anything wants to have a chance to be normal, to work, to reach out, to grasp a little bit of life with his useless hand. He has no greed, just the exquisite desire to know wholeness. He just wanted a little bit of the prize, a little bit of the normal life. We so often overlook people because they don't measure up or fit the standards. We would bind them with the rules rather than give them a chance to rise. To live and grasp the fullness of life. Jesus would have all of us reach beyond our personal and societal barriers so that others might thrive. Jesus asks us to stretch a little so that others might be touched by love.

May we today, act like enthusiastic children, who imagine the impossible, leaning out and reaching all the way. May we offer the love and faith we have so that others might thrive. May difference not separate us but unite us in our caring for others. For Christ stretched out his arms for us so that we might live. May we welcome others with outstretched hands, so that Christ love might be known every day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Wineskins



"And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.If they do, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins." Mark 2:22


The coming few days will mark some great transitions in the life of our country. A president, who has served for eight years gave his farewell address last night, and a new president will be inaugurated on Tuesday. More than just a new president, but the first ever African American president, the first president of color in our nation's history. Historic times calling for new wine and new wineskins. Our family too is in transitions of sorts. Our youngest Phoebe returns to college after break and I fly out to North Dakota to attend a national native gathering which is being held for the very first time on the Standing Rock Reservation. When I return I will then begin a spring time of being Procter Fellow at my seminary allowing me to do some research and study. Not as great and monumental a transition as the coming of our 44th president, but for a family, these are important changes too, worthy of new wineskins also.

Sometimes, especially in families and church communities, we don't want to fully acknowledge the transitions individuals and communities are experiencing. Transitions are difficult for all people and we often resist change by going back to the old ways, the old habits. The Pharisees were testing Jesus and did not approve of the change he was bringing about, bringing tax collectors and others sinners into the life of faith. They didn't approve of the disciples' lack of fasting, and didn't really approve of the whole of Jesus ministry. Big change meets with big Resistance. But, without change and new wineskins, everything will be ruined. The world needed new wineskins then, as the world regularly does, and new wineskins are needed now. Some times you just can't go with the same old, same old. God calls us from time to be made new, to be reborn, to be transformed and to live into a new name and new skin. But transitions are difficult whether large or small. Making new skins is tough because it requires time and patience.

Today, I want to acknowledge that these wonderful transitions ahead also herald an awkwardness. Filling out new skin is much more difficult than remaining old wine in old skins. May I remember that God, who has been patient with me so far, will also endow me with the patience and time needed for these coming transitions. May we all rejoice in the transitions in our lives, and ask God to help us become new vessels of God's love in the coming days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Persistent Friends

















"Since they could not get him in to Jesus because of the crowd,they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on." Mark 2:4

My husband has a group of friends that, despite being scattered across the country, keep in touch by email. Most of these friends (and we call them 'the boys') went to college with at Hopkins with Mark. Some of them worked together on the college newsletter. Some of them also played softball together in mid-1980's when we lived in Baltimore. When they played softball together, they weren't the best team in their league but they had the most fun. They made room for all sorts and types and kept each other laughing throughout. My daughter Emily, who was five at the time, stood on the sidelines and shouted, "Go Daddy Go". Within a short period of time, everybody was cheering for Mark and each other with, "Go, Daddy, Go."A collection of lawyers, musicians and artists, they had sent jokes and stories to each other throughout the intervening years. When Mark was battling cancer and couldn't attend a particular gathering, they made sure to include him, even at a distance and sent him the t-shirt to prove it. This isn't a tight knit religious club or cult but a loose fraternity of persistent friends. They care for each other by lightening each others' days. They keep at it, despite the fact it would be easier to just quit touching base.

It would have been easier for the paralyzed man and his friends to turn back. The place was packed and there was no room for them. But they persisted, they were resourceful and found a way to Jesus. And Jesus recognized their persistence and love as the faith that paves the way for healing. There was nothing that Jesus could do but heal the man, because of his persistent friends. And truly, we are blessed and healed, each of us, when we have friends enough who will persist on our behalf when our strength has run out. We are close to God's heart when we feel a community surrounding us in our need. Our isolation disappears and love is ushered in with a small amount of persistence in our lives.

May we today give thanks for the friends and family we have been given. May we rejoice in those who won't give up on us, for they usher in our healing and transformation. May we celebrate those who have remained loving, despite our humanity, because in their love, we know God most fully. And may today we pray that we can be persistent for others. When despair and pain surrounds them, we can share the heart of God.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I am willing




















"I am willing...be clean!" Mark 1:41


Last February, I had the privilege of visiting with clergy and lay leaders who were serving the Native Hawaiian communities throughout the islands. I visited with a priest and her husband, Lynette and Scotty, who had been faithfully serving for years on Molokai. While Lynette was busy with some church business, Scotty took me on a tour which included visiting this state park overlook. The view is breathtaking but what we were looking at truly took my breath away. We were looking down on the leper colony and Scotty was telling me of the incredible ministry and incredible isolation that took place there. One can only stand in profound silence and gaze on the magnificent beauty and hear the tremendous pain echoing across the water. Boats with supplies went in on a very rare, tight, guarded schedule and the colony had to grow most of its food and raise its own cattle, sheep and chickens. Visits from family members never happened. Small children who contracted the illness were shipped off to die without every seeing their parents again.

The story in Mark tells us that, "filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man."(Mark 1:41a) Jesus risked everything, broke temple and sanitary rules by touching the man. He risked everything and was filled with compassion, and because of this the man was healed. Although Jesus strongly recommended that the man be silent, the healed man, whose fate had been death and isolation, couldn't help but tell the story. He couldn't control his joy. He couldn't help telling others of God's willingness to touch the infected, to break all boundaries for compassion's sake - he couldn't stop his lips from praising God.

We don't wrestle with leprosy in this day and age, but there are many other diseases and situations which cause us to wall off others, to treat them as lepers once were, to judge them as evil, because of their brokenness. I pray today that I can be a vessel of God's compassion, despite my own fears and anxiety, reaching out to those in need, whatever their circumstance. I pray that we call all answer with, "I am willing". For God, the source of all compassion is constantly willing to bring healing and restoration, and is actively seeking to love us beyond all human made boundaries. May we, like the healed man, be so filled with this good news that we can't help but spread the joy today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fishing



"Follow me and I will make you fish for people."
Mark 1:17


Since moving to northern New Jersey, my husband and I have enjoyed the fact that we can go visit our daughter Ariel in Allentown with some regularity, since she is now a little more than an hours drive away. On one early visit we made a detour to a huge camping and sporting goods mecca a little distance from Allentown. The store sits as a beacon along the highway, drawing people in at a great distance. We weren't there to purchase anything specific, but more to marvel at all of the items and equipment they sell. They have an indoor aquarium to keep young children and everyone interested and occupied. I have to admit there were many things I had never seen before. Chief among them was ice fishing equipment. My experience with fishing is almost completely salt water surf casting and an occasional trip on a head boat or, more rarely these days, a friends boat. I never knew anything about ice fishing. There were drills of all sorts with which to make holes in the ice and structures to put over the holes to keep the weather off those who are fishing. Most remarkable were the fishing poles which were tiny, a foot and a half or so. Some of the items we couldn't even figure out what one would do with them when ice fishing. Compared to the fishing I had done in my life, all of this seemed both mysterious and confusing. We had a delightful day and continued to talk about ice fishing equipment on our drive home. Neither of us, having any experience, could really make any sense out of the experience, since we had no reference points in our own lives.

Jesus starts his ministry by walking along the sea and calling guys who were fishing to be his partners in ministry. Jesus promised these rough men that they would learn to fish for people. They probably liked the connection he was making with them that day, but I am sure they had no idea what he really meant. I am convinced that they had no real reference points to what it meant to be Christ's disciples in ministry. These professional fishermen would change their profession and all of their reference points. They would learn a whole new way of being. They would not stop being who they were, but would have their former skills transformed into a radical new way of being and working. The early days together must have been mysterious and confusing for those disciples. They would spend a great deal of time away from the water, out of their familiar elements, and try their hand a drawing people into God's love. Into the near presence of a loving and incarnate Jesus, the Son of God. How awkward and remarkable those early days must have been. It is always awkward and remarkable to move through a transition, a new way of being, and into a new ministry and calling. But Jesus promised the transformation was in his hands, he was the teacher, and they would learn in his near presence. He would guide them step by step and walk each road and sail each sea with them.

Today, I pray that we can acknowledge the transitions we are moving through and trust that Christ Jesus is guiding us and walking with us step by step, sailing with us, sea by sea. We are constantly in process. We are constantly growing and changing, and God is constantly calling us beyond the comfortable, familiar places. May we all tenderly hold each other and ourselves in prayer as we trust to God's love our growth and change. Those crusty fisherman could do no more than that. God asks no more than we trust that God's love is big enough to guide us through the present and coming changes. May we who are called to follow Christ, trust that we will learn to catch others with love and draw others from the depths of despair to the brilliant light of God's transforming grace.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rekindling love













"I will send my messenger ahead if you, who will prepare your way." Mark 1:2


Yesterday began with ice and freezing rain and kept many people indoors away from church. I was supposed to go and be part of a wonderful service in a wonderful community. Every exit from our house was covered with ice, and no one was moving on the roads except for town plows, when we were supposed to be going. I stayed home, and ached all day about missing it. The sun broke through later on in the day and everything seemed bright and wonderful, although there was much treacherous going on underfoot everywhere. The paths were not clear and the way ahead covered with ice. I pondered all day long if I should have braved the ice, and wondered if I have gotten too cautious and careful in my old age. Although it was the right decision, I know that, I spent all day wondering. When I was younger, I would have run out the door, no fear of falling, strapping on a sled or skates and rejoiced in the weather. I would have ignore signs and voices calling to me to take care. Now, I am the voice of caution, preparation and care.

Today, as we look again on the scriptures concerning the baptism of Jesus, we hear that God prepared a way for the Son of man, Savior of the world. Jesus did not begin his ministry until after John had drawn people out to the desert, away from their comfort, to prepare their hearts and souls for Jesus. He heard their confessions and baptized them. His work was that of a messenger, a herald and the one who cleared the way and made the path straight. Jesus took his time to be ready, and after the baptism by John, went into the desert and was tempted by Satan for forty days. The wild animals protected him and angels attended him. We humans, especially church leaders, lay and ordained alike, can expect more of ourselves than the Son of God expected from himself. Preparation for great tasks takes a great amount of time. Serving God in this world and carrying the message of Jesus' love for all can be a great joy and a tremendous burden. We can be sorely tempted. None of us have more than a few wild animals for protection, and we are rarely visited by angels. We can be tempted to think ourselves as powerful as God, and chastise ourselves for faithlessness when we are cautious or careful with our bodies or our families. Jesus took rest and refreshment. He took the time and care, so that the Good News might be delivered.

Today, I want to be grateful for the time to take care. I want to enjoy the sunshine when it is there, and rejoice in the warmth and safety of home when it is available. I pray that we can all act as agents of God's love for one another, by tending gently to one another, preparing the way for God's love and by taking care of our bodies and souls alike. Taking rest and refreshment is necessary for the God News to go forth. May we, in this season of blinding cold and inner warmth, take time to mend and tend. May we take time to tell the stories around the fire. May we rekindle love today, so that it might flourish across our communities.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

You are my child

"You are my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased." Mark 1:11

When our eldest daughter was about 15 months old we moved from Baltimore to Denver. Mark has been asked to be part of the staff at a brand new theater. The building was not finished when we first arrived and there was dust and workers everywhere. As with any huge undertaking like this, there was much anxiety about the timely completion of the stage and lobby. But even more so was the anxiety about filling the seats. There is always the nagging question, "if we build it will they come?" I took this photo of Emily and it was used in the subscriber slide show, encouraging folks to get involved. Whether it has been in the theater or in church, we have tried to involve our children in our lives, having them participate and learn many aspects of the work we do. Some days it has been a real blessing for us all, this family togetherness, and sometimes it's a challenge, especially for our children. We probably haven't told them nearly enough how grateful we are for their love, indulgence, participation and endless support. We haven't told them nearly often enough what wonderful, remarkable and beautiful women they are. Families sometimes just assume that others understand how we feel.

Even the son of God, even Jesus, needed affirmation from his heavenly parent. Like all human beings it was important for him as well as the disciples to hear this communication from father to son, from parent to child. All of us, no matter what age, need to hear words of appreciation, we need to know we are seem and hear, we need to know our life means something. At his baptism, and at ours, God speaks out loud about the divine love and care for us. Jesus was called the son, the child and the beloved, in whom the author of the universe was well pleased. Those words are not for Jesus alone, for God, good parent to us all, articulates in every fiber of the universe, God's love that is bothy boundless and grateful for our beings. God finds pleasure and joy in our living. Incredible, really. Many people who have had less than adequate parenting might equate the parenting they received as a sign of God parenting. But God's parenting is love made visible, appreciation spoken out loud from the heavens. There was no holding back on God's joy and delight, then or now.

May this Sunday, as we celebrate the baptism of our Lord, know that we are loved and beloved of God. Wanted and needed, critical to the life of our many communities. And may we remind each other how precious a gift we are to one another. Around us are always people that need to be reminded of how beloved they are. Too often we see our shortcomings, too often we fail to tell each other of our gratefulness for love's presence in our lives. May we use our voices and our lives today to articulate the love and thanksgiving we have as children in the family of God.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Losing Nothing



"Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." John 6:12

Lot of things wash up with the tide. People's careless leftovers, the things that fall overboard and sometimes items lost by accident and weather. People love to comb the edges of the beach looking for interesting objects. Some artists collect driftwood and use them as frames or as sculpture components. Fishermen collect the scads of lost tackle and reuse the hooks are sinkers that are salvageable. Others come with metal detectors hoping to find gold, silver, and coins. All of them are looking to gather up some left behind fragment and turn it into treasure.

For years, I heard the familiar story of the feeding of the five thousand and focused on Philip and the disciples lack of faith, or the little boys willingness to share his meager meal. I often thought how if we just offer what we have to God, it will be adequate for ourselves and for the gathering crowds. But lately, I have been most thrilled by Jesus' words 'so that nothing may be lost". It is hard to imagine that small offering feeding so great a crowd - a true miracle. But even more so for me is the message, loud and clear, that God know every fragment to be salvageable, no matter how broken or battered, no matter how scattered and isolated, God is gathering up the scattered bits a rebuilding us all. Maybe it is my age, or where I have been recently, but this is really good news to me. God's action is not ended in feeding the crowd, but collecting the scattered, the neglected and the broken. Nothing, and no one is to be lost. From the heart of God come this promise that no one is insignificant, and all are desired by God. God considers us real treasure. Jesus is more than just the healer and feeder, he brings the promise of restoration and reuniting. Of love and life highly prized, renewed and restored.

Today looks bleak with snow and ice in the forecast. May we remember those who need to be reminded that God is bringing us the bread we need, and gathering up all the scattered and broken among us and restoring lives. God is treasuring our broken lives and remaking the flotsam into shining treasure. May we reach out to others today with the compassion of a Savior who not only looks to the immediate needs but the profound healing and restoration of us all.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Take up your bed and walk

" Do you want to be made well?....Stand up, take up your bed and walk." John 5:6,8

A Poem for Healing


In the still of the night I cry to you and ask you
to mend these bones, mend my heart and give me
peace in the daylight.

I want nothing more than to pick up my bed
and to walk in the light of day, with the whole world watching.

I want to break all the temple rules
and announce in public what is whispered in secret,
so transparent your love, and so obvious my healing.

I want to be free of the pain that holds me here
on these wretched sweat stained sheets,
the world passing by and me unnoticed, unwanted, and set aside.

You have been my Savior when I didn't know you,
you sought me out on the dark steps and bent low to speak,
you held my hand and spoke to me like a friend.

I wait for you, whispering my deepest need, you already know,
these same needs the world scorns and ignore their broken hearts,
but I am unafraid to ask, fearless before my own shattered being.

Today, Loving God, I give you my all, broken and yet looking up
battered and yet not alone, for you are always willing to be near.
Today, help me bear the pain of mending, love which breaks open
to make all things new.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Mother's foot steps


"Go, your child will live." John 4:50

I grew up as a PK - a preacher's kid. And as a priest and bishop, my children too, grew up as PKs. The life lived under the scrutiny of parishioners and towns people can be tough. Tough, especially when a child is in trouble or ill. It is often hard for clergy and their families to deal with trauma and vulnerability in such a public arena.

When I was 12, I was very sick, although at the time I had no idea how seriously. My parents and the school nurse had agreed to keep me in school while the diagnostic tests went on. There were many days when I would go to the nurse's office in pain and she would give me an aspirin and send me back to class. Other days she took pity on me and called my mother to pick me up. I would lie on the nurse's small cot and wait. It was then I began a habit of closing my eyes and listening for my mother's footsteps. It wasn't as hard as I thought for when I closed my eyes I could imagine her shoes and her steps around the house. My heart would lift when I heard her. Later on, when I was hospitalized for several weeks, the surgery complete and the prognosis good, I would lie in my hospital bed and listen for her steps. And they would come, clear and crisp on the linoleum, I would close my eyes and imagine her getting off the elevator, walking down the hallway and I would sit up as she came into the room. Her steps carried a healing and promise I never understood completely but knew to be true. As she was coming my rate of healing seemed to increase rapidly. With several other children at home, my mother had her hands full, but she never failed to visit me, talking softly and telling me stories to make me laugh. There is something in the constancy of love and relationship that fosters healing and renewal.

The Official who came to Jesus knew his son was about to die and begged Jesus to come to the boy. Instead, Jesus assured him that the boy would live and the man believed him. Before he had seen the healing, it was breaking forth in the love he had for his son. His constancy and faith was the vessel for his son's redemption. His fervent loved carried the healing with each of his footsteps as he traveled home. In his believing love, a father carried healing across the distance and time. For when there is love there are no boundaries or borders that can keep love out.

Today, I want to act as the promise of healing for my family and community. I want to employ my faith and constancy, trusting God to bring healing and restoration to all the people and situations that are crying out and at death's door. I want to run with love, like the official did, like my Mom, running home with ever increasing love, trusting Jesus with the healing. May we all have the courage today to Love's vessels of redemption and healing for others.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wedding at Cana

"Woman, what concern is this to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." John 2:4

Since our second oldest, Ariel, announced her engagement of Christmas day, things have been a bit topsy-turvy. Lots of excitement, conversation and back and forth about the whys, whens and hows of this good news. Last week my daughters dug out my wedding dress which my mother had made for me from unbleached muslin and antique lace handed down in our family. We laughed and carried on and my youngest, Phoebe tried it on and we took pictures. They kidded us parents again about having such a 'hippie" wedding. Later in the week we went to Allentown to help Ariel pick out a dress and entered the weird and challenging world of bridal gown sales people. It was a roller coaster of expectations and delays but we found something she liked and we could afford. Weddings have the capacity to draw families together and to tear them apart. High expectations challenge relationships in very strange ways. In the midst of the happiness, lots of other scary behavior can present itself. Most clergy and church musicians would rather do a funeral than a wedding any day. Not because they don't approve of the wedding, or because they don't love and care for the people, but because the heightened anxiety can become toxic. At funerals, people really just want to be helped through the grieving time. At weddings, everybody wants to have their ideas aired and very few listen to the bride and groom, let alone the clergy.

We find Jesus at the wedding in Cana with his mother. In this brief bit of dialog, we find a timeless interaction of mother and child, of expectations and personalities, of frustration and love. It is all mixed up in the few words that are exchanged. Jesus had chosen disciples but had not begun his ministry. Mom knows her son's potential and is impatient with his sense of timing. He's not ready and she's sure it is long past time. These few words put each and everyone of us at this scene. Between family and self, between community and ministry, we sometimes find ourselves not ready to go and others pushing. Or we see the potential and are finally impatient with an individual or community as they slowly prepare for the blossoming, long-awaited ministry, job, identity change, etc. Ready and not yet. Mary tells the servants to do what her son says and in doing so helps usher his first miracle, despite his reluctance. Among family and friends, Jesus shows his true capacity, his true identity, his true self. And Mary, his mother, helps him be more than her son.

Today, I want to celebrate all the ways I and others are in transition. These transitions point to a new blossoming of ministry, a new chapter in life and new way of being. There is lots of resistance, both internal and external. There is the sadness of chapters ending and temporary distance from one way of being to another. There is the anxiety of preparation and the making ready and not yet. The ongoing process of becoming is sometimes painful. So I want to give thanks for Mary, my mother, all mothers, parents and loving friends and family who keep pressing us, encouraging and prodding us to do our best and to step forward. Rejoice with me today in all the people that have helped you to realize God's love and call in your life and who have stood by and encouraged by saying, "do what they say." Being trusted with capacity when one feels not yet capable is a wonderful gift. May we rejoice that God has given us mentors, families and friends who help usher us into the next stage of life with love.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Epiphany


"When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy." Matthew 2:10

When I was a small child, some of my favorite cartoons on television were the Betty Boop cartoons. We didn't watch a great deal of TV in our household, but we were allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings and rainy afternoons after school. Betty Boop cartoons had an direct impact on my life. When I was a child of 4 or 5, I used to ride my mother's electrolux vacuum down the stairs. Recently, I saw the very Betty Boop cartoon episode that inspired me to do that. My mother gave me that same electrolux years later and we have often laughed about my childhood antics. Betty had an uncle who was an inventor and, through his bright ideas, Betty got herself into some crazy situations. Whenever her uncle had a bright idea a light bulb showed up above his head. When we talk of having an epiphany in our present day, we say that "a light bulb went off in my head." We don't look for stars appearing - but we still look for a light in the darkness.

In Cape May Point, where my Mom lives, there is a lighthouse that is a focal point for the surrounding area. Although folks no longer navigate and find safe harbor by the lighthouse beacon, it remains a symbol of finding one's way in the dark, the promise of rescue and safe harbor and the possibility of home. The place where the lighthouse stands may not have been home for lost and stranded sailors, but it gave a reference point and the idea and possibility of a safe return, salvation and restoration. Maybe in times past people refer to having an epiphany as seeing a lighthouse beacon. Today we celebrate three wise men from the East, who had an Epiphany, who became the Epiphany (the light going off) for the whole world. They saw a star and followed it until they found the infant Savior of the World. The light came on for them and they would not give up until their dream became a reality. And for the church, Epiphany symbolically marks the time when the message of Christ's salvation was for the entire world and not for the house of Israel alone. The light went on for the whole world. The 'people who walk in darkness have seen a great light' no longer meant a specific people, but all people, including you and me.

So what do we do with Epiphany? Many people have taken down all of their lights and greens - all the symbols of Christmas are gone. And yet today is the day on which all of the preparation for the Nativity becomes real. The Wise Men get who Jesus is, and their arrival probably shocked May and Joseph more than any other episode in their young son's life. Today, we have the opportunity to turn the light on, to fully understand that we are loved by God beyond time and space and beyond the confines of denominations and countries. God has come into the world, the light of love is present, and no one can keep us from finding our way home to that love. Today, I want to be thankful for all the signs of love in my life and for all those who act as light and insight when the days are dark. May we all rejoice for the light has come and love is in our midst to stay.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The True Vine


"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

When I was a child there was a lot of talk from my parents, my father particularly about "sticking with me." This usually meant that there was a chore, not well planned out, but that there was this time and something to be done. It often entailed more waiting around time than any child really wants to invest. We had a house, which my mother still lives in, that needed constant attention, constant maintenance, and lots of elbow grease. The old navy man in my father would regularly call out, "all hands on deck." We knew then we were doomed to another day of slave labor and another lost day of playing with our friends. We were a family closely connected, almost intertwined like vines, and there was no getting away or undone from what needed to be accomplished. Other neighbor kids had their very own chores, that when completed, they were free to go. We had to hang around, we all shared many tasks, and we never got released soon enough for our liking. We could hear laughter in the distance calling to us, we could see from our painting ladders the gangs of bike children swirling by, we could taste what we were missing and yet we were bound, collectively to see the many tasks through. And one never said to my parents we were bored - never. There was always a major project that could be found if we felt any twinges of boredom.
We were also never alone, never abandon, never left with sitters while our parents took off without us. They needed us in all their doings since the income was limited and the children plentiful. We were interconnected, interdependent, relying on each other at all times. We shared everything, whether we liked it or not.

Jesus tells his disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches, a very model of interdependence. Woven together and impossible to function without the parts together, like a symphony, a human body or an automobile, the health and good function of one depends greatly on the health and good function of the other. We as Christians these days often talk about our personal faith, and yet my experience has reinforced, over and over, that our faith is anything but personal. Faith is so dependent on the health and function of the other. When one stumbles, the whole community is challenged and off balance. There is no good fruit without interdependence, both on those nearby and those who are far away. It really changes my understanding of faith when I think how truly dependent my faith is on the faith of others. I cannot be a follower of Christ on my own. When we turn away from one, we might just be turning away from all.

Today, I want to remember how much I need Jesus along with the others in my community. I cannot pray unless many are praying, whether I can see them or not. And an other's tears are mine to shed also since all of our faith flows through the compassionate vine of Jesus. May we all this day reach out in faith to others, knowing as we are connected we can be fruitful together. Our abundance is dependent on the abundance of others. May we take seriously our need for each other today, and are extraordinary need for Jesus the vine.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

O Coastlands!



"Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow." Jeremiah 31:13



A Poem for the Second Sunday of Christmas

O Coastlands

Do you hear the white foamed water pounding
and the stars so bright they crackle and sparkle in the night?

Do you hear the ice breaking on the water
and hearts cooing as arms enfold lost children and broken dreams?

Announce to the downcast neighbors and far-off galaxies
that the old wounds will be bound up and weapons will disappear.

O coastlands, you who warm yourselves in the sunrise first
and are the last to feel the pink and orange of its setting;
do you not see the boat who brings the savior and do you
not hear her bell ringing and see her bouncing on the surf?

We have waited long and suffered much,
hope had been crushed under the weighty anxiety
dreams had been released like sad balloons and
the children have given up waiting on the porch.

O coastlands, tell us that our consolation is arriving
on a boat laden down with old men laughing like children and
wise young woman carrying the promised gifts in their strong arms.


O coastlands, we know that we have lost our horizons
but you live always on the edge of vision and reason
and know more than fleeting hope and silent wind.
You alone swell with the possible near presence
of the God who lives with and for us here and now.

Do you hear the wind picking up the signal
the constant siren of hope and possibility?

Lay down your burden and run,
stand watch on the porch
and walk the widow's walk.
In this time the husband is returning,
the children are coming home
and God is bringing fully loaded ships
to a vanquished and broken people.

O coastlands, tell us the story and ring the bells of freedom!





Saturday, January 3, 2009

Exasperating Children



"Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." Luke 2:48

Sometimes I have felt like I am the only parent who has gotten completely exasperated with my children. When they were young, no matter how gentle I was with them, how well I encouraged them to share, and how hard I tried to treat them with equality while honoring each unique being, at the end of any given day I was exasperated and full of anxiety for them and their future. They were often at each others throats, fighting sometimes for the sheer joy of it. I tried to keep them safe, warm, and healthy and they sometimes seemed hellbent on getting banged up, sick and in trouble. We have been spared a majority of the tragedies that befall parents, but the daily desire to keep them healthy and safe always seem outdone by their remarkable ability to get twisted up, lost, brokenhearted and short on time for an overdue project. All families, no matter how well put together or undone, can provide us with insight into our relationship with God. As exasperated and confused as we might become, God promises to be in relationship with us through Jesus Christ.

I gain comfort from Mary, who had at least one or two exasperating moments with the Son of God, the Savior of the World, the Incarnate Word of God. This incident at the temple, an important moment in her son's life and the life of the whole family, the moment when he becomes a man in the eyes of the synagogue, give us a glimpse into the very humanity of the Son of God. Impertinent and full of himself, Jesus responds without compassion to his frazzled parents. Anyone who has lived with a young teen can tell you that this is one of the most common responses a young teen gives to a parent - horror and astonishment at their concern and care. The mature Jesus, who looked with love on the whole world from the cross, still had to live with blemishes and attitude, hormones and repulsion of parents. He still had to do his part to make his parents weary and exasperated.

As the holidays come to a close, I encounter a lot of frazzled and exhausted people. In our honest desire to celebrate God's love in our lives, we can bring ourselves to the edge of physical, emotional and sometimes financial ruin. We go to this exasperated place out of love. The good news for all of us today, is that Jesus joins us in this place and offers us his arms of love and his look of loving compassion solidified on the cross. Love is no longer distant and hidden, but present and revealed. Our families may never live up to our expectations, whether simple or ridiculous, but God love is there in our need. Right here, right now, when we are all on the edge. May we, like Mary, treasure these exasperating moments of love and growth revealed, as sign and symbol of God's real and living presence in our lives. We may not understand today, but we can still treasure the love we have.