I surrender. A Holy Week reflection

I am afflicted with a chronic condition. My condition is living with real and seemingly endless worry about some aspects of my own life and worries about the suffering and sorrows of other people that I know and love. The chronic nature of this condition is a blessing because that means that I am alive and aware of the world inside and all around me. It is also a hard reality, what in my religious tradition we call, a cross to bear. We bear the cross of love and concern, compassion and a great desire to make things better. We also bear the cross of some fleeting awareness that we are not in control of almost anything. We strive for health and wholeness, peace and serenity, and for the courage to keep going forward in hopes of a new day. And we so often fall down with the weight of it all and with own inability to bear up alone.

On good days I surrender. I accept my discomfort with the truth of life. On really good days I reach out and take the hand of the One and the ones who are with me and who share this condition. On super good days I even laugh about this sweet human tendency to love and to run like heck from pain.

Today was one of those good days. I began the day remembering to do my yoga practice. How is it that on so many days I forget or think that I can just skip it? I felt the night time stiffness in my joints and I started to pray, Christian yoga style. “In love, humility and devotion, I submit to thee and thee alone. And thou will raise me up spiritually.” Stretch, breathe, pray, stretch, breathe, pray. Thou will raise me up spiritually.

I left the mat and went to the chair with coffee and daily devotional readings. In the sitting and sipping I read a message from someone who also suffers with a chronic condition and who had stopped berating herself for “how long O God how long” her suffering was continuing and how impatient she was for a quick fix. She wrote about the grace that comes with giving up and giving over.

On a good day we surrender trying to make something happen. We accept the discomfort (which of course is a mild word for what is sometimes anguish) of not being able to move a situation. We pray for guidance.

Praying for guidance means trusting that someone is there with guidance to give. Someone who cares about us and is close enough to us to know our desperation. Someone who does not have to be called in from afar. Someone here.

Today I prayed for guidance and this is what I received. Take the hand. Surrender your attempts to go it alone. Accept your discomfort. Trust that change is already happening because change is life’s given name.

My yoga teacher talked once about how we might practice letting go, even for a moment or two, of “joyless striving.” She was talking about the joyless, wound up, forced striving to get better, be better, do more, do less, to get somewhere else and get there now.

I was taken with the word “joyless.” It reminded me that we all strive to make changes in ourselves, in the world, and in our very core, and that striving is active participation in life. Watch a baby strive and struggle to learn to roll over or crawl forward, to reach for something enticing or to babble her way to communication. Without striving we would collapse into despair or hopelessness. Sentient beings strive. But where is the joy and the thrill in being alive when we spend our days in anxiety and needless worry about what is not ours to be or do?

Our condition, my condition, is not terminal, even if it is chronic. Even though we seem to be wired to anxious joyless striving we do not have to stay in a perennial fight. We can surrender and accept our “discomforts” and accept the hand which I believe is the hand of God which looks a lot like what your hand in mine looks like. We do not have to carry our cross alone. In fact I don’t think that is possible or desirable. When we share our lives the weight is halved. And while I am not the One who left the cross behind I look to that One for a new day.

Thank you friends and family for being there and for reminding me that surrender can be a really good thing. I can accept my full life. When I pray for guidance about the way forward I do so, today at least, trusting that someone is listening and that I too can be joyfully alive and active in the world.

This entry was posted on April 12, 2017. 2 Comments

Who is this?

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Well, we are not exactly the whole city. We are not even technically a crowd. Most of the faith communities that I know look more like “where two or three who gather in his name.” Still, whether we are a city, a crowd, or 2 or 3 sitting in a circle, Palm Sunday is one of those days that Christians get directly asked the question “Who is this to us?”

This is a real question. The fact that we, whether a small group or large crowd, gather for worship on Sundays when we could be sleeping in, does not mean that we all have the same answer to the question “Who is this?” In fact it is pretty likely that if we had a good long time to sit and ponder and the bravery to speak, we would hear lots of different answers. I am sure that we would have different experiences to share. And experiences and understandings sometimes lead to testimony. Or silence.

This Lent in my church we have been hearing in the texts how some people who met Jesus testified about their experiences. Sometimes Jesus said “don’t tell anyone.” And other times he sent them back to where they came from to tell the tale. We heard from the Samaritan woman at the well, scooping up water for a thirsty man. We heard from a man blind from birth given sight by someone he could not see. We heard from a Pharisee who came in the dark of night because he wanted to understand about this born again thing. We heard from the tempter in the desert who was trying to get Jesus to demonstrate his Godly power. Each of these people had their chance to answer the question “Who is this?”

Palm Sunday we will be asked. “Who is this?” Or, as Jesus once asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?”

I will be asking my church folks to pray about this question during the week and to answer only to God. If they choose to share their answers with the rest of us we will be honored to hear. If you want to join us on-line feel free.  You can even post a comment or two or keep it private. Don’t get too anxious about it. Have fun with it. Find a comfortable place to sit, or use your walking the dog time, or your falling asleep or first thing when you wake up time and ask yourself  “Who is this?” Write it down and let it be for the day. Go light and fast with it. At the end of the week, on Holy Saturday, the day that we imagine Jesus locked up in the tomb, or rising back up from his visit to hell…look at your list and see who you say this is.

And then, come Resurrection Day, let the list fly away in the wind and come to Jesus as he comes to you. A new question might arise. Maybe “Who am I who greets the Lord?”

Gleaning the impulses to care

This Lent my congregation is reading and praying on a collection of meditations called “With faith the size of a mustard seed.” We got the collection from a place in Virginia, the Society of St. Andrew, which is an ecumenical nonprofit charitable organization that gleans America’s fields in order to feed people in need. “People from all denominations and organizations participate actively in our ministry by making financial contributions, by gleaning with us, and through their prayers. Persons of many faiths and perspectives partner with us in the desire to give of themselves to feed the hungry.”

When I heard about the Society of St. Andrew and read a bit of this Lenten devotional it seemed to me that this reading would be a good all-church focus for our village congregation. Our weekly community meal and our community clothes closet (gleaning used clothes!) are two places that Trinity Church lives into God’s calling on us to share our abundance. What better spiritual reading could there be as we consider what we have been given, sometimes as small as a mustard seed, and how do we nurture those seeds in our community?

So it was with delight that with this little devotional running about in my head I attended this past Friday West County Community meal at the church. The meal was full to overflowing because the menu was an annual favorite of many – corned beef and cabbage, made from scratch by one of the Community Meal partners. Raised in an Irish family myself I had way too much corned beef and cabbage and to this day pass up on that food offering. But I wanted to attend the meal to greet the guests and offer thanksgiving. Talk about “the mustard seeds!” We are a community that loves to feed each other.

Someone from our church called me over for a chat. She told me that someone else had told her that they had received an unexpected gift of a little bounty of cash. The beneficiary of this gift had prayed about what to use the money for.  She frequently participates in the Community Meal preparation and she noticed that our table clothes, so lovingly made years ago by volunteers, were showing signs of wear and tear. If she used the gift money to buy material would anyone be able to sew the new cloth into tablecloths? We thought about people we know who sew and decided rather than call in some local seamstresses, how about asking the diners? Maybe one or two or three would step forward.

We gave thanks for the meal and all our blessings and I announced that the Community Meal had received a gift of cloth to make new table coverings. Would anyone like to join in on the giving and volunteer to sew them up? In less than a minute a hand raised and we got a volunteer. A few days later I heard of another friend in the community who had come forth to join in the sewing. Should we call it the sowing?

It is a small thing. A little bit of money. A little bit of cloth. A couple of people needed to put cloth to sewing machine. The well-worn and well-loved table clothes put to rest and new ones soon to grace the tables. A good word like this one. “Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4: 9-10) A seamstress and a seed is sometimes all that is needed to turn a corned beef and cabbage dinner into an even greater celebration.

What are we gleaning in our communities if not the small impulses to care?

Jesus, the people, the cathedral and me

(reflections on John 4:5-42)

Sometimes when I think about Jesus he seems so far away – someone in a distant time and place – more spiritual than physical – more transcendent than incarnate. I get tired and I wonder if Jesus is really calling me or if I am just hearing my own desire echoing back across the hills. And then, three Sundays into the Lenten journey, he shows up “at about noon” in the Gospel and I am right there with him, thirsty and needing a drink of water to refresh my spirit.

This past Sunday I went again to the Cathedral in the Light, the outdoor worship service in Greenfield. I went because our church had accepted a request to help with making the meal for the worshipers. So right after our 10am worship a group of us gathered around the table downstairs and we made sandwiches to go. Ham and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. It was fun slapping those sandwiches together. We laughed and we said a prayer that everyone would be blessed by this activity. I said that I would bring the food to the Cathedral. I wanted to be there and I also wanted to be home. It was a long day.

I got to the common with my box of sandwiches. It was about 2pm. Cold and windy. There was a storm on the horizon but it held off.  People volunteered to take different parts in the worship service. The musician played “Sanctuary” on his guitar and we got ready to be a living sanctuary. We sang and prayed. There was a very drunk person reaching out to everyone he saw and asking “Is this church?” Yes, this is church.

Then Jesus showed up – tired, thirsty, and hungry – in us, around us, between us, among us. Knowing us and connecting us; showing us what we needed to see about ourselves and God and what it means to be a sanctuary where everyone is invited not in spite of who we are but because of who we are. Like Jesus and the woman found their place at the well in today’s Gospel story, we found our place on the common.

After communion I helped serve food. One man asked repeatedly for the potato chips bag. Not for the chips, although they would be fine too, but for the bag. Twice he asked me before another man had to tell me “The potato chip bag is sturdy and will keep food fresher in all kinds of weather. Give the man what he needs. Not what you think he needs.”

Jesus and the woman at the well were called to give each other what was needed – respect, water, words of encouragement, testimony to the power of being seen and loved and saved from the seemingly endless loop of discouragement and invisibility. Sanctuary.

Jesus says “the hour is coming and is now.” Now, with all of us giving and receiving what we need and being known for everything that we have done and not done. Yes we are thirsty and hungry. That is how we know we are alive. Like Jesus and the woman at the well and every other searching person, our food is to do the will of the one who sent us. No more, no less. That is plenty for today.

Trans- figuration

(A version of this blog post was printed in the Shelburne Falls West County Independent newspaper.)

By the time that you read this blog, the moment will be over, but the effect will be ongoing; the moment in my church and in many Christian churches when we are dropped into a world like and unlike ours, a place where worldly events blind us with light and with suffering. I am talking about the Transfiguration of Jesus and the transformation of his followers, including me.

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the church season of Lent (which, by the way, comes from the word for “lengthening,” as in the lengthening of daylight in spring.) On this Sunday we heared a story of Jesus and his disciples climbing a high mountain. When I hear this story told in my hill town I think of them climbing the steep hill to the fire tower. Maybe because when I climb this hill I always mutter, “This is no fun. Why did I decide to do this?” That is, until I get to the top.

Which is exactly what happened to the disciples. Jesus had been teaching them for days that following him would be hard. “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for my sake will find it.” Up they climbed, huffing and puffing and maybe muttering under their breath, “Really, Jesus?”

They reached the top and, in a split second, Jesus was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white, and suddenly Moses and Elijah, teachers long since dead, where standing there, chatting it up with Jesus. Boom! Climbing, sweating, muttering, complaining, worrying, and suddenly everything changed.

What I am thinking about is how shocking it is when a dear friend changes and, for a long while, we do not recognize them in their new form. We might even resist their “new  you” because it does not fit our experience of them. Think about what happens when an individual transitions from one gender to another. What do we see? What do we call them? Who are we if they seem to be someone else?

Or what about when an alcoholic turns a corner in recovery. Do we trust in that person, that recovery, or do we keep looking over their shoulder?  Or how about when you think that someone is nothing at all like you and after a deep conversation you find out that you are more like each other than you could have dreamed. How shocking and how, well, trans-formative.

Then comes the long walk down the hill and into your life. Same suffering and same complaining. Same struggling to follow your teacher. Same human foibles and same hopes pulling you back and forward. And yet. Having experienced that people can change and our perceptions can change so drastically, we have an opening to a new way of living. A way that says, “Don’t be so certain. Don’t be so sure. Don’t be so quick to assume. Don’t be so comfortable with how life is at this moment.”

I love the way this out-of-this-world story is so much an in-this-world way of living. It tells me that following my teacher is a powerful mix of sorrow and joy and surprise. As I struggle to get up and get going every day in the political and cultural climate that I am living in, this story increases my faith that trans-figuration of individuals and groups, and me, too, is not only possible but is happening. Hard going. Surprising. Strengthening. Shockingly beautiful, and nothing that we could have expected. Could it be that in the middle of all this suffering, we are being transfigured? Look around. Who do you see?

Blessed Be

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:1-8)

Here is something that you need to know about me. I am not hard wired to do justice. Humility is not my second nature. I struggle to love kindness. Somehow I think that might be true for you too. So, how can we live into right relations with God and our neighbor? Where do we go from here when here is an often unkind and unjust world? Not sure if this is a good description of “here?” Read the press. Listen to the news. Consider the evidence.

Then listen to the Gospel of Mathew, or any Gospel for that matter, and trust that the disciples were a lot like us. Jesus called them one by one. He took them around; teaching, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing people of sickness. Huge crowds followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Then something surprising happened. When Jesus saw the crowds following him he took an abrupt turn away. He went to the mountain and he sat down.

This phrase, “he sat down” reminded me of something that was told to a young pastor by the name of Howard Thurman. Howard’s mentor met with him after Howard’s first sermon and said “Howard, I am going to tell you something that was told to me after my first sermon. When you are done preaching – sit down!”

The Sermon on the Mount starts with eight statements, each one beginning with the word blessed. The Greek word for blessed is makarios. Makarios does not pray for a blessing, it affirms a pre-existing condition of being seen and blessed. Jesus faces his disciples. He says “Listen up! I am taking about you!” You are poor in spirit and full of need. You can’t do for yourselves. You are grieving. In your meekness you can use your limited power to serve God and the world. You are hungry to be in right relationship with God and your neighbors. You are filled with mercy. Your heart is open. You are peacemakers in a war weary world. Because of what you stand for some people won’t associate with you. Accept that. Trust that God is with you as God was with the prophet Micah and every other person who sat still and listened and was not afraid to speak and act for justice and mercy. And do this in the company of others. Blessed be the people – all the people.

I was sitting with someone visiting our church last week. We talked about why we come together in faith communities. Why disciples invited their brothers and sisters to follow Jesus on what Kayla McClurg calls “the blessing path.” It is because on our own we cannot do what God requires. It is way too hard. We wander way too much. But with each other we can practice what we preach and step by step we can bless as we are already blessed. Of course it is not easy. Of course we do it wrong much of the time. What matters is that this is the path that Jesus walked. And that is all that we need to know for now. Here is the broken world. Here we are. Step on the path.

Living in Place

Over the past few months in my new position as minister of Trinity Church I have been privileged to meet with a variety of people who are struggling in one way or another with issues of  security and specifically secure housing.  I have understood these concerns to be both spiritual and practical (as if those two are separate?) and have grown in my own ministry by grappling with all the facets of these questions. I have heard of the term “food insecure” in relationship to people who do not have enough food to feed themselves and their family. Now I am learning about “shelter insecure.” Here is an article that I wrote for our local newspaper about this real and increasingly common insecurity and how new ways of “home making” are emerging through this struggle. It was titled Living In Place.

Dorrie and I came to Shelburne Falls in November, just as people were starting to huddle in their homes to keep out of the cold weather. Now that spring has sprung and folks are out on their stoops and walking in town or out in the beautiful recreational areas, I am getting to know who is who and what is what. I am learning whose sister is married to whom, whose son works where, who used to live in this house or that, what life used to be like and what people fear and hope about the future. I am also seeing what it is that brings people to this area and how many people leave and then come back home to settle again. All this is helping me get to know West County not just as “any place” but as your and my place.

Maybe it is my age or maybe it is my new location and position, but not too long ago I was talking with people about caring for young children and about work stresses and strains in single and two parent families. Now conversation more often turns to questions of health and well being and security and insecurity. These questions are both social and spiritual because at the root of our being is a need to know that we are held and protected at home in the world. Often those questions lead to concerns about housing. More people, and not just elders, want to “live in place.”  Elders want support in safely staying in their homes for as long as possible and younger folks who are still working want to live in this place that they have come to call home. This is not so easy when affordable housing is hard to find and when their income may have dropped due to being less than gainfully employed. 

As I get out more to meet people I have been in awe about how different age groups are coming together around the need for home making. More families are “bunking up” together with apartments or extra rooms being added on for the eldest. Sometimes younger people are not able to go out on their own or are now returning home with kids in tow. Nieces are making spaces for Aunties and vice versa. Some elders are looking for community style living rather than holding on to their homes. And then there are the folks who are single by choice or by circumstance that are now choosing to share home spaces with others in similar situations.

I know that for many people this is not ideal and is not their first chose for living in place.  And yet, maybe this kind of creative adaption is a blessing in disguise. Maybe, just maybe, the breaking down of our ability to independently care for ourselves is opening us, person by person, family by family, to a new way of being at home.

As a pastor I think about how it is that people strive to connect with each other and with that which is ultimate in our lives. I wonder if we were really intended to live our lives so much on our own or if human beings are supposed to live more inter-dependently? God, which is the Great Reality that underpins everything, is a total experience of interdependence. And the word “religion,” stems from the word “re-ligare,” which is translated as “re-connect.” So from where I sit, the trend toward positive connections, including co-habitation, may be a good thing.

Local communities like Shelburne Falls and the surrounding towns, and the communities we form within them, are complicated systems that change with the changing times.  Living in place may look different from how we thought it would look, but different can be a good thing. I am no expert on housing, but I do know that for many people being alone is not the best option and being at home is what we want.  And if we can find new creative ways to share home, what could be better?

This entry was posted on May 21, 2013. 2 Comments