Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent 20

What a delight, O Divine Mystery,
to know you (however imperfectly)
and be known by you (inescapably)!
I cannot begin to grasp you
and yet you are tangible
in the warmth of a blanket and
a glass of wine with a friend.
I wonder at your need for us, for our worship;
I, on the other hand, cannot be without you.
Stay with me always, and let me
never lack for joy in seeking you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lent 19

"By the power at work within us, God is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20)

O my God, whatever happened to the power at work within us to accomplish abundantly for all people? What power have we lost or abandoned that we have failed collectively to achieve -- or at least make a decent start at building -- a covenanted and mindful global community? What spiritual gifts have we sold out in the name of security and "this is mine, that is yours"? What imagination have we forgotten that we possess, what happened to our creativity, for turning swords into plowshares, oil wells into bread baskets, empty rhetoric into wisdom? Dear God, for the sake of your reputation as good, for the sake of your life and body on this earth, we pray for your power to work within us again!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lent 18

Rush into my day, my life
Like cool dawn air filling my lungs.
Enliven me, inspire me to praise,
Wake me from apathy today!
In the hope of resurrection, I pray.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lent 17

Ah, Holy Melody, sing me a love song in warm alto tones of compassion, a simple tune that I can learn and endlessly echo. Sing me a stirring descant of lament and let me cry (finally, really, let down and weep) over death and illness and love lost. Sing me a lullaby, a mesmerizing tenor solo to ease me into peacefulness. Sweet Holy Melody, sing me a spiritual in your best bass and rouse my heart to hold onto hope.

As soon as I wrote "sing me a love song," the beautiful Sing Me To Heaven (Daniel Gawthrop) came to mind. There are certainly echoes of that song in my prayer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent

Thou my rest by day and night
Thou my peace and Thou my fight
Thou my ground and soul's delight
Thou my heart to live aright

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lent 16 (The Woman at the Well)

See these secrets, and these pains, that I've been holding all these years, Holy Stranger; let me lay them out before you so that I don't have to carry them alone anymore. Let me lay them out before me to examine them again. And when our conversation is done, we'll toss my secrets into the well and go our separate ways, with my thanks to you for listening, for telling the truth, and for reminding me that I am so much more than my secrets. So much more than my pain and sorrow. Thank you, Holy Stranger, for the encouragement and blessing to be.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lent 15 (Isaiah 54:3)

Let the LORD be a tent in the place of devastation,
with endless canvas stretched out to create shade
and stakes firmly planted against quake and storm and flood.

Let the LORD be a shelter to the east and the west,
as far to the north and the south as there is need
so that all people can be gathered in safely.

May the LORD harvest from the bounty of earth's fields
to feed the hungry, and from the talents of helping hands
to bind up the wounded and to soothe the dying.

May the LORD step out from the tent to rage against
the wealthy and the self-sufficient who have fenced their own tents,
who turn away those in need, saying "The LORD will provide."

Let the LORD be a tent in the place of devastation
quickly assembled and always mobile
so that all who cry "Sanctuary!" may find you near.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lent 14

Feel the ache of longing
for peace of mind and
peace of world.
Find God in the keenness.

Let the unsettling be as it is:
the pain of love or the
pain of loss.
Meet God in the unresolved.

Tune in to the problematic
without quick fixes or
easy understanding.
Touch base with God in the worrisome.

Listen to the questions
seeking direction and
seeking assurance.
Rest with God in the unknown.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lent 13

Today I wonder whether you can, in fact, make it all better, God. Because if you can ... but you don't (some divine moral issue with intervention??) ... then perhaps we should really just say that you can't. Because you won't.

Or is it the "you through us" solution, which I like from a perspective of incarnational theology and human agency, but it has its limits, too, because ... well ... we don't either (make it all better, that is). Or we won't.

Perhaps "make it all better" isn't the point, which I could also believe, but it's still a stinker of an answer in response to -- you know -- world peace and such.

A little help here, God?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lent 12

O Resurrecting God: Say that the warm yellow of the daffodil bloom means that humanity has not yet destroyed the earth's fertility, that our wars have not yet killed Gaia's capacity for healing. Reassure me that the stream's still playful babble means that our obsession with bombs has not yet driven the world's mothers beyond their flood of tears to the point of dry hopelessness. Let me know in each day's sunrise that there is still a Light that we have not made in our own image, a Source of Power that we have not corrupted with lies and money. Whisper through a birth and a death, through a shared meal and a moment of laughter, that Chaos has not yet overtaken Life and that Love still has a fighting chance to impact reconciliation and daily resurrection.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lent 11

You have unsettled me
and changed my plans;
You have nudged me in a new direction,
and I'm not sure, Spirit, but I might be
angry with you about it
(or at least disgruntled).
You have stirred my life
to take a risk, and I would like
some guarantees
that this will go well.
I trust you. I mean, look at me:
I'm already changing course!
So apparently I trust you,
but it frightens me.
O dear Spirit,
sometimes it frightens me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent

Out of the depths, LORD, I call to you;
let me feel you even in this darkness.
Take away my hardship
or give me the strength to endure.
If all our mistakes were permanent,
without hope for repair,
which of us could survive?
But you have forgiven us,
even when we cannot forgive ourselves.

I listen for you;
my soul listens like a deer in the forest.
My soul waits more intently
than a soldier watching for the dawn.
Answer me; open my heart
so that I can wholly receive you.
Teach me, remind me, that you are my hope.
You are the steadfast love in my life, like no other.

Psalm 130

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lent 10

Rest now, o weary soul;
be still and remember God's blessings.

Peace now, o worried soul;
lay it down and remember God's grace.

Rest now, o weary soul;
wait, just wait, and remember God's faithfulness.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lent 9

Still speaking God, your voice is all around me like a symphony!
Today I celebrate the sounds of your voice emanating from the kitchen:
pleasantly chattering over the task of feeding family & friends;
running water and clinking dishes to clean what is needed;
matter-of-factly whishing and popping open a new garbage bag
for sorting the waste from the reusable;
creaking floorboards bending under busy footsteps --
sink to cutting board to oven, Japan to Mexico to Sudan;
schk-schk-schk-ing to cut fresh vegetables into a medley of
roots & fruits & vines & seeds in a single, plentiful salad;
squeaking with the stretching and compressing of a kitchen door spring,
bringing more people in, sending people out loved and fed,
always bringing more people in.
This is perhaps my favorite tone of voice to hear from you, O God!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lent 8

Impossible God, the cut-down stump in the yard that has been dormant for years is blooming: with a fresh coat of moss and a lively ant colony busy within its roots. I am ever amazed by the diverse manifestations of "new life." Perhaps another tree stump has cracked open for a tender green branch to sprout; but this stump has found growth in the decaying process itself. So many snapshots of resurrection, and I am challenged to be available to the impossibilities for new life that may arise this season.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lent 7

I especially love you in spring,
Beautiful Holy One,
for the ways in which you delight my senses
and reinvigorate my soul.
And I laugh as I suspect that you have set me up
to love you more deeply
with this season;
it is a lover's poem in itself:
birds singing and chatting without care,
squirrels chasing and playing and lovemaking,
bouquets of flowers newly bloomed,
the early dawn gently waking me from sleep.
Ah yes, you have set me up
like a suave lover,
and it is working!
My heart wants to race
and leap and dance and
get excited
with love for you;
my soul takes in the season
like it is a glass of champagne;
I feel vibrant with Life and flushed with Love.
Delight in drawing me out,
Sweetly Loving Spirit,
and I will add my love song to spring's passionate chorus.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lent 6

Let the frozen patterns of frost rejoice;
Let the pale warm rays of sunrise
beam with gladness;
Let the almost-buds of the sugar maple
swell in song;
Let the ivy vine stretch itself further
to show continued praise;
Let all creatures pause in this new day
to celebrate and exclaim:
"You are great this day!
So very great, and faithful!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent 5

Here, O my LORD, I see Thee face to face...

face to face with God in a coffee barista

face to face with God in newsprint images

ear to whisper with God in a secret shared, a fear named aloud

ear to conversation with God in a chatting child

hand to hand with God in a toddler, in a lover

hand to virtual hand with God in a facebook friend

soup pot to bowl with God at a church dinner

serving spoon to plastic spoon with God at a community breakfast

Here, O my LORD, I see Thee face to face!

(hymn text by Horatius Bonar, 1855)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Sunday of Lent

Hear my prayer, captured in candlelight:

for harmonies to rise up in the world
like a multilingual chorus;

for abundant wellsprings to bubble up
in dry and trampled-down places;

for comfort -- close, hand-holding comfort --
to those who are sick in hospitals and at home;

for unfailing presence and unsleeping watch
by the sides of those in mourning;

for spring once more to break through
the dull days and long nights of winter.

Hear my prayer, O Bright Evening Star;
like subtle heat rising from a candle,
draw me closer to you tonight.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lent 4

Oh! How beautiful you are today, Most Holy God, with
the blue skies draped on your shoulders as a royal robe
and the V's of migrating geese gracing your hair!
There is fresh spring mud between your toes;
my heart laughs to see the daffodils budding there.
You are talkative today, God, your sweet voice
bubbling with chirps and trills and whistles.
How beautiful you are in spring,
Creative and Living God!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent 3

The whole earth trembles; O my God,
how the whole earth trembles!
Mountains of cityscape slip into the sea
and the waters rise to consume them.
Waves of people panicked amidst waves of storm,
while Leviathan dances in the depths
with the vibrations of the tumultuous tides,
and the dragon hiding near earth's core marvels
to watch ancient cornerstones quake.
O my God, my God!
You who are Sovereign over this dusty home of ours,
help us through this time of shifts and trembling.
The erupting platonic crust is not the only earthquake
in our lives; all around us, people are fleeing before
the swell of an interconnected world in fear of
the ever-nearing proximity of the Other.
The whole earth is trembling, O my God,
with the dawning understanding that
Japan is Hawai'i and Hawai'i is Guam,
Guam is California, California is Chile, and
all of the boundaries of their nations are false.
Ah, the trembling of the rocks may be, in fact, very little
compared to the quaking of our identities and perceptions,
for this generation of leaders and populace alike
is behaving like every other generation in our forgetfulness
of interconnectedness: Haiti and Libya and Iraq and Egypt,
Wisconsin to Mexico, Ivory Coast to Washington, DC;
how a child raped in Texas has a mother weeping in Palestine,
and a lie told on Capital Hill undermines a family in Cherry Hill.
The whole earth is trembling. My God, how it is trembling!
And still we haven't learned . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent 2

on the asphalt shorelines
of a silver-black puddle
I find my prayer:
for stillness amidst the busyness,
for delight in each drop of connectedness,
for awareness of the ripples that I cause
and grace for the ones with which I collide,
for a light heart on this hide-your-head rainy day
and an open eye to see the surprising beauty
of an oil slick rainbow

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

God Breaks Up with Us on Ash Wednesday (Isaiah 58:1-12)

Ash Wednesday has a particular set of Scripture readings that vary only slightly from one year to the next. Many of those traditional Ash Wednesday readings call us to repentance and announce the beginning of a fast, a time of drawing close to God through prayer and discipline. Among this year's texts:

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. (Joel 2:12)

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. (Psalm 51:10, 12)

When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret ... and when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. (Matthew 6:6, 17)

You can hear how there is an attention to personal spirituality and individual relationship with God in these typical Ash Wednesday texts. And we're used to approaching Ash Wednesday as individuals, focused on finding that one-on-one connection to the Holy.

In surprising contrast, the reading from Isaiah 58 almost scorns the rituals of penitence and the tradition of personal spiritual navel-gazing. Whereas Ash Wednesday is usually our night for bowed heads and renewed dedication to spiritual growth and humble prayers to God, Isaiah 58 challenges our Ash Wednesday tradition and instead incites us to abandon our fasts and our prayers and to set down the ashes & the oil ... and to go out to feed the hungry, and to challenge the chains of injustice, and to provide shelter for wanderers, and to repair relationships with loved ones. Imagine, if we were to heed God's instructions here in Isaiah, what a very different Ash Wednesday tradition we would have!

But the people in Isaiah, and all of us, who are accustomed to approaching God through fasting and praying and worshiping and confessing and bowing down, struggle with this dismissal of our sacred traditions (58:3). We want to ask, "What's wrong? Why are you rejecting our rituals, God? How come our traditions aren't good enough for you? Why haven't you come close to us during our fasts and listened to our prayers and noticed how deep our faith in you is?"

And God, like a classic break-up speech, replies: "It's not you .... it's me."

There's an upset pulled on us in Isaiah 58 as God challenges our focus on rituals and prayers, and it plays out like a break-up speech. God says, "I've changed my mind about what I want and what I need in this relationship. You wooed me with your beautiful worship, and I loved how you loved me .... but then I saw that while you were loving me, you were abusing your workers and you were dismissive of your family members who came to you in need. And the more I saw this, the uglier your worship looked to me."

"I soaked it up when you sang psalms of praise, until I listened closely to the words and I realized that you were singing thanks only for the blessings in your own life. And when I heard the good and heart-felt words of your prayers, I also saw you kneeling in prayer next to someone without a coat, and as you prayed to me with your head bowed, you never even noticed your neighbor's need."

"While you were fasting through prayer, my heart was warmed to know that you were thinking about me so strongly and that you were striving to be intimate and close to me. But now I have opened my eyes to see that the food you were avoiding during your fast has gone to waste; you haven't even fed the widow or the orphan. And now I see that your desire to be intimate with me has excluded those around you, so I'm breaking up with you. I've changed what I want in this relationship."

"It's not you .... it's me. I've changed my mind. How beautifully you pray is not what makes this relationship. How well you fast, how strongly you love me is not enough. It's not about you loving me .... in fact, it's not about you at all!"

In a complete reversal of our Ash Wednesday and Lenten traditions of individual contemplation and personal penitence, God through Isaiah reminds us that even today -- this holy day of setting our spirits for Lent -- even today, it's not about us. Even on Ash Wednesday as we approach God seeking a moment of connection, our spirits are not called to faith-based self-focus, but to the humble remembrance that God isn't only in a relationship with you or with me: God has God's sights set on all people and on all of creation. God has a passionate love for justice to those who are the least of these, and an all-consuming grace for the healing of the oceans & forests and the ceasing of wars and the relief from the strains that pull us apart from one another.

Even on Ash Wednesday, it's not about you .... it's not about me .... it's not about preparing to spend the season of Lent calling out "Watch me now, God!" or "Love me best, God!" or trying to soak up all the Spirit and spirituality for ourselves. With the wisdom from Isaiah, it's about turning our ritualized navel-gazing outward to see the whole community; it's about looking up and recognizing a whole world of every living thing; it's seeing beyond ourselves and finding ourselves to be just one blade of grass in a field full of grasses -- beautifully, wonderfully made, but not alone.

I don't believe that God leaves us in this break-up like a departing lover jilting another lover. But maybe, maybe, God does step back from us (just a step!) and challenges us to seek the Holy and to seek our healing and to find our reassurance not so much in the ashes or in the palms or in the cross or in the empty tomb, but in the person next to us, and in the person in need, and in the struggles for justice, and in the dirt & ashes of life.

Which makes Ash Wednesday perhaps the hardest day of Lent, because we've come longing for connection with God .... and God points us elsewhere. Deflects our affection, even, in order to point us beyond the one-on-one spiritual relationship and beyond the rituals of church, in order to call us to draw closer to humanity. Call us to take these dusty ashes as a reminder to live gently with one another; call us to be springs of refreshment for one another; call us to light up a corner of the world as we can...

...and to do so as long as we are graced with breath and with life.

Lent 1 (Ash Wednesday)

Timeless God, You without beginning or end:
Do you know how hard it is to begin?
Especially such a beginning as Ash Wednesday,
this odd day of mortality and palm dust, this
celebration (of a sort) with pungent remnants
of the previous year's Alleluias
mixed with oil to somehow convey
"Live carefully, faithfully, before the grass withers"
...which isn't great encouragement to begin at all
(I mean, really!)
especially when a single day is a mountain in itself, and
a cause for justice against the ridiculous & powerful is a tsunami,
and how does one even begin against that
with ashes on your forehead marking you,
naming you for the fleeting moment that you are?
for the fleeting moment that I am?
. . . . .
Somehow, this Ash Wednesday,
I pray for the grace to feel empowered
rather than helpless or threatened
by these ashes, and by
this momentary life.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recognizing Sacred Space

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

John O'Donohue, in For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics (Hay House Inc. 2009).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Am Woman, Hear Me . . . . Say Really Nice Things About God and Not So Nice Things About Men

So a friend of mine, a young woman who is entering ministry, has sent me interview questions about women in church leadership -- and about my sense of myself as a church leader -- for her studies in seminary. The timing of her interview request is uncanny: I've been having many similar and related conversations in recent weeks! Consider just a few of the chats and discussions that I've had in the past five days:

-- On board a Chicago-to-Harrisburg flight, I had a conversation with an eagerly-Christian young man. He told me of his recent mission adventures to share testimony and teach Jesus songs in a so-called third world country. Then he asked what I was reading: a 1989 Semeia issue from the Society of Biblical Literature with a collection of primarily womanist essays. None of those words made sense to him (his admission, not my assumption). So to explain -- in an admittedly limited and simple way -- the book in my hand, I told him that I am a writer and a church pastor, and described my denomination by its reputation as the liberal branch within the Protestant spectrum. . . . And there ended our conversation.

-- In another random encounter of the weekend, I met a couple in the lobby of a Chicago hotel (we were all stranded by our flights for the night); the husband was traveling to promote his book on the biblical theology of women preaching, the primary audience being those in his conservative white Pentecostal tradition. I had the professional sense that I should ask more questions about his book; in practicality, I was exhausted from delays and missed flights, and I couldn't pull myself together to hear an outline of his theology that "allows" me to do what I already do. (An assessment of our conversation and an assumption of his perspective that may be unfair, I realize; I plead "too tired.")

-- There were also conversations over the weekend with my colleague, whose church I was visiting, and our comparison of notes about well-meaning congregants who like to remark about female pastors' attire, earrings, haircuts, house cleanliness (or lack thereof), etc. And while we both really do accept those comments for their good intentions, we asked each other the rhetorical question of whether our male colleagues field similar remarks. My favorite "there's-no-way-someone-would-say-this-to-a-male-preacher" comment received this month, after guest preaching and leading worship for a local congregation, came from a woman (not the older male I would stereotypically pin this comment upon) who told me sincerely, "You're adorable!" . . . Um, thank you. I attended seminary and I put my kids through late night church meetings and I write & deliver sermons to be adorable. But thank you.

Let me not only "dump" on others for their perceptions, remarks, opinions, and theologies. In truth, I have taken to saying "I am a pastor" (when asked) with a degree of caution and a tone of apology, because identifying myself as a pastor inevitably shifts the most casual conversation, and sometimes I would prefer to have a basically casual and friendly conversation! (So far those predictable "shifts" include: bringing conversation to a screeching halt; turning the conversation into a pastoral session; or -- at the very least -- causing an uncomfortable pause.) Anticipating an awkward reaction when the question "What do you do?" arises, I try to couch my ministry (and therefore my person) into a palatable & simplified package for others to receive. That's on me.

But sitting on the airplane this weekend, in conversation with a young man whose Christian tradition left no room for "social circumstance" to impact theology, or for women preachers to defy the writings of Paul, but rather stressed & spent its time on the importance of saving the eternal souls of post-genocide Rwandan orphans (among others), I had no interest in defending my call to someone who didn't believe it anyway. So I let the post-"I'm a pastor" awkwardness be his, not mine this time, and went back to my book about the multiplicity of power dynamics in historic & modern white Eurocentric patriarchal biblical interpretation. In my own way, it was akin to saying "Screw you and your Colorado Springs education." Except that I wouldn't actually say that. But I'm secretly hoping for the day when God finally puts in Her two cents and turns Colorado Springs upside down.

Which reminds me to say to the Colorado Springs myth-makers, and to my governor, and to my local and state representatives and senators: Keep your moral-sounding-but-Truth-lacking laws off of my reproductive system, and stop using your patriarchal, power-anxious, it's-what-the-people-want, pro-life lies to ignore the fact that I already have a life -- this God-given and God-called life & ministry -- but you want to prioritize the single-celled "life" of my eggs over my health, my career choices, and my access to doctors who will treat me like a person and talk to me honestly about my own uterus (seriously, that's harder to find in south-central PA than I could have guessed), not to mention you want to limit the health options of women who choose comprehensive clinics like Planned Parenthood when caring for their bodies and their reproductive choices and their families. Have the decency to forgo your bribed self-righteous ethics long enough to look at the women who already have lives, and stop obsessing over our ovaries. Really.

Or, to say it another (equally cranky) way: "Hello. I'm a pastor. I'm a woman. I like to wear rockin' heels. I can work a full day and take care of my kids even when menstruating, thank you very much. I can be trusted to make decisions about my body, my kids, and my own organs that could bear -- if I choose -- more children. Don't be shocked, but I might even consult God (not your masquerade of morality) as I make those decisions. I have no problem looking you in the eye even when you think that I can't or shouldn't or am not allowed to, and I have a strong enough sense of ministerial authority that I will look you in the eye with a little bit of God in my spine. Lay off."

Happy Women's History Month, especially to my women friends & colleagues in ministry!