The Holy Week Journey

March 27, 2015

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner

When I think about the Triduum, I am reminded of Buechner’s quote above.  One cannot walk through Holy Week without getting a little grace on your feet and seeing a bit of the mystery revealed.  And one can’t escape the Triduum without touching and tasting your way to the holy.  The liturgy invites one in to truly experience a holy and spiritual journey that leaves one breathless and joy filled and buzzing with renewed hope.

You might be asking, “What is the Triduum you are talking about?”

3 worship services held consecutively on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday or Sunday of Holy Week.

footwashing

MaundyThursday:

The journey through the Triduum begins on Maundy Thursday.  We enter into the upper room with Jesus and his disciples and we eat a meal together.  We hear and see the example that Jesus has given us to follow in regards to serving others.  Jesus asks the question, “Do you know what I have done to you?”  Yes, Lord.  We know- but sometimes our followthrough is less than adequate but you continue to meet us where we are with a bowl, towel and warm water to teach us again- to show us again and encourage us again to try.

After we are fed and our feet our clean, a transition takes place and our hearts are reminded that this is the night that Jesus was arrested and tomorrow he will be tried and crucified.  The worship space is transformed from the upper room to a tomb being prepared- right before our very eyes.  It is moving.  It is powerful.  And we depart in silence.  The journey continues.

Good Friday

Good_Friday_Cross

We enter in silence and we pray.

We hear the story  of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ again, and we pray.

There are moments of silence, pauses in prayer, but- at least in my heart, there is very little quiet.  It is not uncommon for me to be moved to tears.

And then this happens: If desired, a wooden cross may now be brought into the church and
placed in the sight of the people.

There is nowhere else to look except at the cross.  Our minds and hearts and souls and eyes are drawn to the cross.  Some view it from their seats, others get up and move closer, even kissing the cross.

We move to our confession, a prayer that for some are written on our hearts and have been said over and over and over yet on this day, the words taste different.  The words feel different on our tongue, in our hearts.  Today, for some, the words stream down our cheeks and land on our hands.

Hung on a cross and placed in our hands, a physical reminder of our connection to Christ, being fed by the Spirit, nourished to pray, our prayer continues and we depart in silence.

The Great Easter Vigil

Easter-Vigil-620x225

We begin after Sunset on Holy Saturday.

We begin in darkness but only for a moment.

A new fire is kindled and we each share in that new fire.  We hear these words:

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our
Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites
her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in
vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which,
by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share
in his victory over death.

And victory it is.  The promise has been fulfilled.  But we can’t stop with this opening line.  We must hear the story again, write it on our hearts, live it in our lives.

We hear about God at work in creation, in the flood, in Abraham’s sacrifice, Israel being delivered through the Red Sea, God’s presence being renewed in Israel, and the gift of Salvation offered freely to all.  We receive a new heart and a new spirit within.  We hear about new life given to a valley of dry bones and we are gathered altogether again with God. We hear again and again through the scriptures that the God who loves us, who created us will love us until the very end and keeps the promises God has made to us.

We, in turn, renew our baptismal vows.  We state again what it is that we believe and we agree to live a life that loves God and loves our neighbors all the while reminding ourselves and each other that we can and will, with God’s help.

We pray.  Oh Lord do we pray and remember.  We enter with the light of Christ that overcame death, that overcomes the darkness and we are reminded of our promises to God and gift that God has given each of us in and through Jesus Christ.

And we celebrate.  After 40 days of wilderness, of fasting and praying, we celebrate with light, with wine and bread, with incense, with bells, with shouts of joy, anthems and hymns,  and for me, I feel liberated and humbled all at the same time.

I don’t know about you but this kind of physical journey that requires time, focus and attention- not to mention my heart, mind, body and soul- feeds me for months and even years afterwards. To walk through this journey with a community is such a blessing because their presence allows us to remember together.  We lived through that experience together and we have been changed and transformed through the journey.

Oh my friends.  I implore you to experience this Holy Week in some way that goes beyond Sunday worship.  I commend to you this chance to have your heart humbled, broken, broken open and restored.

In case you are looking for a place to worship here in Wilmington, here is the schedule of services for Trinity Episcopal Parish:

7:00pm on Maundy Thursday (April 2) at Old Swedes  (606 North Church Street, Wilmington DE 19801)

12:00pm on Good Friday (April 3) at Trinity Episcopal Parish  1108 North Adams Street, Wilmington DE 19801

8:00pm Easter Vigil (April 4) at Trinity Episcopal Parish

You will not regret the time and energy you give to this journey.

40 Days of Writing, Day 3

February 20, 2015

Sabbath:

1 : the 7th day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians

2 : the day of the week (as among Christians) set aside in a religion for rest and worship

I once heard and I can’t remember where or who said it that this is the commandment that we celebrate breaking.  Seriously.  We are busy, busy people and some of us get off on just how busy we are.  Like life would stop or end as we know it if we celebrated a discipline of Sabbath.

I have never worshipped another God, but I have worshipped the calendar, the dollar, the Facebook, the bar scene, the jam packed schedule, the need to be wanted, the want to be needed but never another God.  So I feel like living into the commandment is a work in progress but not fully broken.

I have a tattoo that is an image of a creature that lives in the waters below- but I have never worshipped it as an idol so I’m just going to say I am doing okay on this commandment.

I have totally taken the Lord’s name in vain, often and with great creativity and celebration.  Moving on.

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy- what does this even mean?  Hold on, we’ll come back to this one…

Honor your mother and father- Okay, so when I was a teenager, this was a bit of a rough one but that is what we call maturing, rebelling and trying to figure out our own identity apart from the ones that rear us.

Thou shall not commit murder.  Yes!  Finally one I can say I haven’t actively participated in.  Whooooo hoooooo!

Actually, after reading through the rest of the list of commandments- I am batting a pretty crappy average.  But here is where my attention is drawn, out of all the commandments, the Sabbath, the time we are to set aside for prayer, for rest, and to hold it so sacred that you don’t let anyone in your family work either- breaking this commandment is often seen as a badge of honor, a jewel in a person’s crown.  Taking one day and setting it aside is what we are told to do but the rest of the world says- No way.  In fact, we have created technology that makes the practice of sabbath that much harder to do.  Connectivity right at your fingertips.  I don’t even know why we call them smartphones- we rarely use them to make phone calls on anymore.  But checking our emails, texts, tweets, blogs, instagram, tumblr, lectionarypage, social media and Lord knows what else- that’s what we do.  But what and how do we keep the Sabbath?  What does that mean?

Well, it means to take a period of time, set it aside, and spend that time in prayer and in rest.  I’m not suppose to work on a sermon, or just drop by the office to make sure whatever loose ends are dangling from my desk aren’t on fire.  This, however, is not part of our current culture.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  And I bought into that juicy bit of socialization hook, line and sinker.  And people who work in the church don’t always do a good job of keeping this commandment.  Nope.   Seminary doesn’t teach us how to do this.  In fact, we never really talked about it- not in class, not in small group, not in church, not in field ed (although my mentor and supervisor and I do talk about it frequently now), not in Clinical Pastoral Education, not in study groups, not in our one on ones- nope.  None of that.  And I came from a hospitality background that was open 7 days a week, 365 days a year so we didn’t learn about sabbath rest there either.

There is no real way of learning about sabbath and implementing it except by claiming that time, holding yourself accountable to that sacred space, place and time and being okay knowing that by taking time for myself might be letting others down or disappointing people.  Sabbath is a work in progress.  At my age, there is a great deal of unlearning I have to do but I want to do it so that I can make a full faith effort in taking intentional time and giving that time to God.  It will be clumsy, it will be haphazard, it will be bit by bit but it won’t happen at all if I don’t try.

So, for the first time in my life, I did not check my work email today.  It might not seem like a big deal to you but to me, it is huge.  I also didn’t just drop by the office today either. I didn’t revisit my sermon and I didn’t look at the calendar and I didn’t make any pastoral calls or visits.  Instead, I slept in, prayed, worked out, prayed, hung out with my family, prayed, enjoyed a meal with my family and before I go to sleep tonight, I will pray again.

Do you struggle with taking Sabbath too?  How do you keep the Sabbath?

O Lord, hear my prayer (and forgive my offenses).

Oh Death.  You are a jerk.  Really.  You never seem to be late.  You always seem to come too soon- at least too soon for those who are left behind.  I hate you.  I hate the waiting and then the event and then the picking up the pieces.  I am not even close by or even really that close to either of them but she was a classmate of mine.  And the one that left us last week was a coworker of mine in the past.  These are people I know, that I love, that I have shared meals and prayers with and you are just so damn rude to come in and bust up our little party.  So I will remember them both this evening, I already have.  And I will lament the words I should have said, the notes I should have sent and I will bow to the mystery that is you and give thanks that I believe in a savior that conquered death- although that is not something I should be thinking about right now in the season of Lent.  But it is what I hold on to.  It is where I find some kind of comfort.  It is in the telling of their stories that they will continue to live on in our words, our thoughts, our remembrances and in the ways they have touched our lives that will be revealed in the years to come.

OH God!  Be gentle with those of us who mourn.  Comfort those who are shaking their heads, who are weeping, who are shaking their hands at you this evening.  Be gentle with this heart who is mourning 2 beautiful women, 2 very loving and faithful women.  Be gentle with me even though my language with you is not so gentle.  I know that with time I will come to know that for both of them the passing from this life to the next was a blessed relief of the bodies that held them prisoner.  But I’m not there- not quite yet.

May the souls of Charlotte Ann Harrill, The Rev. Jennifer Ronan Durant and all the departed rest in peace and rise in glory.  And may Death take a holiday tomorrow.

Oh Lord, hear my prayer.

It took only 2 hours before I broke my first Lent fast this year.  2 hours.  We finished our first Ash Wednesday service, I walked down town to offer ashes to the people I encountered along the way, came back just in time for a 9am meeting and afterwards went to my office to finish my sermon for Sunday.  From time to time, I will take a mental break, read the local newspaper online, or some other news site.  I found an article that grabbed my attention, read it all the way and then clicked on the “comments” button.  My Lenten fast is to not read comments on any… ANY articles.  It is a bad habit, a time suck and I never feel enlightened by the words written there.  Quickly people are divided by other commenters into camps of either full of shit, bat shit crazy or racist.  Really.  What part of this feeds a person’s heart or soul to leave these kinds of thoughts on a total stranger’s article- or even in reply to another total stranger’s comment?

There is so much garbage that I consume on a daily basis.  I am embarrassed to even try and total up the time spent reading and then reacting, rarely ever responding but either way, it is always in disbelief at how we are, how I am easily put into a box, labeled and discarded with a second thought.  Why do we do that to each other?  I am guilty of doing it too.  I am guilty of unceremoniously lopping off segments of my neighborhood- my neighbors near and far, based on one disagreement.  I find myself thinking, “Yep.  They are full of shit.” or “They must be bat shit crazy.” or  “They are definitely racists.” based on one 3 sentence comment.

I don’t want to be that kind of person. I don’t even know how these kinds of comments became socially acceptable, but they are.  We have stopped engaging in discussion and have jumped real quickly to dissension, divide and displace.

I was a member, for a brief moment, of a group on Facebook specific to the Episcopal Church and the vitriol that took place in that group just pushed me right over the edge and caused me to leave a group- a group I would have loved to call community, but could not handle the lack of Christian love.

I would rather spend the time I previously used in reading comments some other way.  I don’t know exactly how I can use that time but I hope to figure that out soon.  Today, when I caught myself breaking my fast, I stopped, asked for forgiveness and prayed.  And then finished my sermon.

Life is too short for this- remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return…comments and all.

Oh Lord, hear my prayer.

story

A long, long time ago (10 years) in a galaxy far, far away (Asheville, NC), I sat at my desk in my office trying desperately to figure out a way to make a living that would allow me to be more creative, more entrepreneurial and more adventurous. You know that feeling, right? The feeling when you reach that point in your career and you realize, “This is as good as it is going to get.” I was just 31, almost 32 years old when this feeling crawled across my computer screen, my diploma from graduate school, my desk littered with scratched notes and numbers, dates and appointments- crawled across like the 4pm thunderstorm that came everyday like clockwork in the late spring and summer months, dark, stirring, churning. There is only so much wallowing in the aftermath of a storm a person can take before they realize that things aren’t going to change unless I change. Unless I embrace the challenge presented I am just going to keep on wringing out my soul letting the storm water collect at my shoes, leaving my feet wet and in puddles.

I did some research on company time, trying to figure out where to put this energy, this desire, this hunger for something different and I landed on a website for Mountain Micro Enterprises- a place to help innovators and small business dreamers with articulating their vision into a business plan. Well alright. Now, what kind of business do I want to start?

The list was both extensive and funny; filled with ideas that would seem to make my job fun, creative and maybe even leave the community a better place. I landed on an idea of making and selling flavored peanut butter and maybe even opening up a storefront café. Yes, I know, there are other companies out there that do this, where do you think I got the inspiration? But nothing like this was happening in my little world called Asheville so dream on, dream on, dream on I did.

I registered for the Bizworks class through Mountain Micro Enterprises and gave away 3 hours of my Monday evening for 10 weeks. It was thrilling to be in a room with dreamers who were alive with hope and determination and vision. When someone speaks with enthusiasm and joy; their whole face changes; their whole body language changes and their whole voice changes. Ideas ranging from massage therapy, specialized dog food makers, consignment shops, utilizing a parcel of family land to become a retreat center and my little idea, “PBnJOY!”

Our first homework assignment was to tell the story of our business. That was it. Tell the story. Get people’s attention by opening up the story, engage the story and find a way to plug themselves into the story. It wasn’t so much about getting a person to buy my peanut butter, it was about creating a moment where they could connect a part of their own story to the story of PBnJOY. I wasn’t looking to sell to customers; I was looking for fellow storytellers to buy into my story and tell others about it as well.

The craft of telling stories is a big part of being a songwriter. A really good song grabs you using a hook, a melody, a neat chord progression. A really really good song hangs around in your head and you find yourself singing the parts you can remember while driving, mowing the lawn, waiting on the elevator, shaving your legs. A really, really, really good song tells a story you connect with because it resonates with your own story. These are the songs we never forget. These are the stories we never let go of either.

Telling stories is as ancient as the first conversation shared between two people. If something funny happened on the way down to the stream to collect water, that something funny was probably shared upon returning to the community. If something horrible happened while out hunting for food, that something horrible was probably shared once that individual returned to the community. I experienced something and I want to share that something with you and I want you to share with me if something happens to you. Stories. Telling stories.

I absolutely love asking people questions because bit by bit they reveal part of their story within their responses. Bit by bit, I can see where we connect and where we connect is the source of the part of my own story I share. Telling, sharing, questioning, growing- where your story and my story connect- relationships develop.

But we have grown accustomed to our ear buds, our tiny screens, the various bings, bongs, rings, clangs, beeps and buzzes that happen in our pockets when a text, email, message, tweet takes place in the universe. We still tell stories, but are we sharing stories?

Before written language was discovered, we were taught with stories being told to us. Stories helped pass down the history of a family, a community, a culture from one generation to the next. They were repeated in various places and at various times until the stories became a part of one’s blood, bones, sinew, heart beat.

In many houses of worship we are treated to bits and pieces of an amazing story- a story that includes life, love, joy, sin, forgiveness, angels, demons, creation, floods, fire, heroes and villains. This story also holds for some people the hope and promise of Christ- eternal life offered through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, knowing and understanding the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross. We are offered a chance to reconcile our experiences of day to day life with the knowledge that light overcomes darkness, death does not win, that the God that created us, loves us and longs to be in relationship with us- even our broken bits, our stubborn bits, our self righteous bits, our mournful bits- none of those can stop our God from loving us. This is an amazing story filled with hope and light that is ours to share to whomever, why ever, when ever- but it might be too much to share all at once in the same way that a steak might be too much for a shrimp fork- is it possible, yes but is there a better way? Yes.

These stories that we are treated to on Sundays or any time we open the Bible have the capacity to stretch our minds and hearts, to show us the world through a different lens and that lens can often reveal to us that the God of glory isn’t just in the stories that we read, but in the stories of our very lives. When we make that connection, our story changes and it will continue to change over and over throughout our whole life. When we see ourselves not just hearers of the story but tellers of the story and use the scripture and our experiences with the presence of God in our lives as a way to communicate that God is always ready to receive us, just as we are, and love us, just as we are, we become active participants in sharing the Gospel.

Telling our story is important. Telling our story of faith and spirituality and journey and doubt is important.   One person’s story might be the only story of faith another person encounters- or it might be the story of faith that opens up their heart like a book and allows them to start reading their own story of faith and see that God has been there all along.

This isn’t the evangelism of the tv pastor or of the corner preacher. This is the evangelism of hearing where your life and my life connect and finding God at work, already, in those places. This is the evangelism of sharing the word, as we have experienced it and finding a common language knitted together from the source, the Word made flesh and through that, working together to tell and listen and share that Word with others.

So. What’s your story?

I want.

September 30, 2013

i-want-md

I want.  I’m human and some days I want.  Most days I can look at my pile of wants and shake my head while laughing and saying, “Oh ye of little suffering.”  I live a pretty charmed life- and I don’t take that for granted but there are moments, fleeting as they are, that I. Just. Want.  This is one of those moments.

I want.  Is it wrong to want?  Is it wrong to just look up every once and a while from the work at hand to glance at the pile of wants and let one’s thoughts linger?  Is it wrong to crave even just a little taste of satisfaction of sinking one’s teeth into the very center of a want?  Is it wrong to give up precious time and energy to the daydream of wants?

I want.  It has been a long time since I have had the luxury to want.  It feels foreign and familiar all at the same time.  I want for big stuff, for worldwide stuff, for small stuff, for impractical stuff, for stuff that isn’t even real yet and for stuff that I can never have- no matter how much money or prayer or longing I try to offer- some wants will never be facts.

I want.

I want to take a ride on the Skyline Drive, through the mountains, breathe in that sweet familiar scent of autumn away from the smell of the city and the sound of I-95 that is ever present in my awake hours, behind me, lending its rhythm to the sermons I write, the plans I make, the risks I take.  On the parkway, on the skyline drive, there is no hurry, only meandering north or south, having one’s breath taken away by the view, the beauty, the reminder of how big this world is, continues to be.

I want.

I want to share in the bliss of a good night’s sleep.  To drift lazily into a dream state, closing the book, turning out the light, giving my sweet Ella dog a pat goodnight and drift, drift, drift.  And to fall asleep without medication.  Without worry.  Without being awaken from or stalled by pain.  Oh to know real sleep again- if only for one night.

I want.

I want the violence in this city to end.  I want to stop reading about loved ones being shot by other people’s loved ones for no rhyme or reason- at least none that make sense.  I want to throw my arms around this city and hold it close to my heart and rock, rock, rock until the pain goes away and love is restored.

I want.

I want to see my family.  I see them in pictures and they are growing up so fast.  I see them in pictures and I can recall the laughter and the joy in celebrations of birthdays, holidays, and simple Saturday afternoon college football get togethers.  Where two or three are gathered there is always food- not just the kind you eat but the kind that you soak up and carry in your bones and in your blood- the kind of food that is present when you are with your family.  I knew moving here would put even more distance between me and my family- some days that is painfully clear and I want.

I want.

I want to stop feeling like I have to apologize for being a Christian- for having faith, for believing in God and working to reveal the Kingdom of God here on Earth.  In order to stop feeling like it is something to apologize for I need others to stop screwing up what it means to be a Christian.  Maybe that is what I really want- I want people to stop hating other people in the name of God.  I want people to love each other, even if they can’t like each other, to still look at the other and see the face of a brother or a sister in Christ.  If we loved as much as we hated this world would be very different.  Yeah.  I want that.

I want.

I want breakfast in bed complete with a mimosa.  I want the energy, time and ability to spend the night dancing, dancing and laughing.  I want the scars on my heart to mean something, to be the lessons learned, gratitude shown for the journey and the appreciation that forgiveness comes in many, many ways.  I want to live in this day and not spend too much time worrying, planning or living in tomorrow.  I want my dog to learn how to fold laundry and put it away.  I want.

I want.

I want for so many things and most of them come from a place of privilege.  I know this.  I want to never forget that it took years, generations and generations of people, of women, of believers, of holy men and holy women, of risk takers, of fighters, of dreamers for me to arrive at this day, with my somewhat petty list of wants, to give that list of wants a little air time, and to then return to the work that I have been called to- as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a partner, a priest, a child of God.

That did not just happen!

September 12, 2013

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So.  I have kept myself busy for the past 7.5 hours so I wouldn’t find myself sitting here writing this little rant.  Well, maybe it isn’t a rant but still, I feel compelled to write.  For my own sanity, I have to write this.

It has been a long time since I have been called an abomination.  A long, long time.  I mean, skipping the whole Westboro Baptist Church dance we had back on July 1st whose visit was to protest marriage equality taking affect in Delaware.  They say things, sing things, write things for the shear joy of pissing people off and driving people to their website and hoping that someone would take a swing at ’em in order to pad their lawsuit bankrolled church.

I took some time this afternoon to try and remember the last time I was called an abomination and the conclusion I came to was during a very dark and stormy first semester at college.  But that my friends, is a whole other blog entry that I might write some day.

But today- in a direct or indirect or both way, I was called an abomination… those people are an abomination to God.  You know who “those people are”?  Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual, Gender Queer, Transexuals and all the other beautiful colors of the human sexuality rainbow.  Yep.  Those people.

And here’s the deal.  The diatribe went on for about 10 minutes- or at least it felt that long.  During that time, I looked at the person speaking thinking to myself, “Really?  Really?  You’re going to take this time in this meeting and go off on this tangent which has absolutely nothing to do with the work we are trying to do here in this city?  Awesome.”  And then my thoughts moved to, “Screw this.  I don’t have to take this.  I can politely excuse myself and find some other way of spending this 1.5 hours each month.”  And then I started thinking of all the things I should say once he wraps up this long spew of…of… Oh. Yeah.  This is part of his belief.  This is how he reads his scriptures.  This is how he interprets God and the Word spoken by God.  There is nothing I can say, in this meeting, at this time that is going to change his life long journey towards this understanding.  So I sat there all the while praying to God to gift me with clarity, patience and love.  I have some work to do.  I am called to love him- where he is, how he thinks, what he believes; I am called to love him.  BUT there is a big difference between loving someone and agreeing with them.  As part of that love, I will remain at the table with him.  I will remain faithful in the work we are called to do as this group and I will continue to ask God to use me- in whatever way that is, to be the hands and feet of Jesus here in this city and in this world.

I must admit that for the first four minutes of this part of our meeting my fight or flight kicked in pretty hard.  I wanted to bang my fists on the table and ask him what in the hell was he saying.  And then I wanted to start picking out Bible verses to throw at him in counter argument, and then I wanted to speak to all the hate in this world that already exists and that part of our mission here is to help undo some of that hate and create a world that is more responsible for our brothers and sisters and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  But try as I might, I could not will my body to leave.

If I ran from this kind of thinking every time it has come up in my life, then I really have no idea where I would be right now but I can tell you that I wouldn’t be in Wilmington, working as a priest, trying with all I have to offer to make a difference in this world. And if that were to have happen, then they would have won.  They would have won and I would just be angry.  Make no bones about it- I am angry, shocked and kind of at a loss as to how to work with this man in our future endeavors- but I am still committed to the greater call which is using all of who God created me to be – the gay parts, the nerdy parts, the cynical parts, the broken parts, the badass parts and all the other parts that make up who I am- to be a witness to the grace, mercy and love of our God in this very sick and broken world.  Leaving the table robs me of that part of my journey.  Lord knows I love journeys.

On an up note, after this gentleman ended his sermon, two others around the table pushed back on what he said specifically about “those people.”  He’s not swayed- probably will never be while here in this life.  But I know I have at least 2 traveling companions around this particular table for the journey ahead.  For that I am very very thankful.

Home.

August 12, 2013

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I fell in love with sea turtles on a summer night 26 years ago.  I was on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia and during a late evening beach ride we came across a large female sea turtle laying eggs.  For an hour we stayed with her, cheered her on, marveled at the phosphorus on her shell that glowed long after we stroked her and offered encouraging words.  All the while she continued to lay eggs.  Unassuming, gentle in her presence and open to sharing the experience with a whole group of strange biped creatures, we cheered and she gave, and gave and gave until the last egg landed in the pit she had dug out.  That night, the heat of the evening, the glimmer of stars and phosphorus, the sound of the low tide, the smell of the ocean has stayed with me and is a memory I hold dear.

A few years later while working at a summer camp on a beach in South Carolina, I had the great fortune of helping clear the way for some turtle hatchlings who were breaking through the sand and sea oats striving to make it to the ocean.  The statistics for survival are dismal once a sea turtle makes it to the ocean but even getting there takes great effort and is not without its own obstacles and dangers.  We lined the path, cleared the runway and watched as hatchling after hatchling inched out of the nest and down the sandy path towards the ocean.  Precious, dedicated, determined, flippers longing to touch the water- inching their way towards the sea- not worried about what will happen next, that was not a worry they could afford to ponder.

Do you know that sea turtle hatchings will maneuver their body so their head faces the ocean no matter what direction they are moving?  Before we knew it was a bad idea- transferring scent onto an animal, I picked up a baby turtle, turned to face the cabins and the turtle turned its body so that its movement was towards the sea.  I turned to face down the beach, and yet this tiny little creature moved within my hand so that every flip of its flipper was a move towards its next destination.  I can still feel the rough and simple flippers in my hand.  Tiny, little, brownish green, with a single purpose- to get home.

I think about that as a 40 year old priest who has struggled and wrestled and longed for and experienced various and different definitions of home over the course of my years. And hindsight is a blessed and wonderful gift to have when sitting comfortably on my couch with a nice glass of red wine after an engaging Bible study.  My time as both priest and prodigal child has been filled with my own heart turning and turning and turning again towards the sea- towards home.  Home, although the address of my physical home has changed several times, the feeling of home has remained the same.  Home is a place, a feeling, an experience that asks me to be real, authentic, genuine and without the desire or need to be anymore than that.

Now, I didn’t know that definition of home growing up.  In fact, I didn’t know that until a few years ago and only after I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s being anything other than that.  There were traces of my authenticity in every relationship- working, personal or otherwise but the real essence of who I am was missing because I really didn’t know how to answer the question- who are you?  I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an employee, a girlfriend- but that never really covered the deeper need of understanding who I am.  Who I am becoming.  Who God created me to be.  I didn’t know where my sea was.  I didn’t know how to move my heart in the direction of home because for lack of a better example, I was homeless.  I wasn’t even at home in my own skin because I had spent so many years running away from home- running away from who God created me to be.  I was spinning my wheels, trying to make a life out of a lifeless situation and I was still looking for the silver lining in an awfully dark sky.

My experience is mine and not a cookie cutter experience to try and throw on top of your own life, the one you are living right now- I wouldn’t be that bold or that rude.

That being said, I will venture writing the rest of this post.

I get it.  I really do.  I get all the reasons why you might feel going to church is lame or not something you can subscribe to.  Maybe you want proof that God exists- and that is the case, more power to you.  Maybe you want answers that are clear and concise- and if that is the case- fantastic.  If you happen to find them, will you please share your sources?  Maybe you don’t want to make that kind of commitment- totally there with you on that one.  It does take effort to go to church.  But if your reason to not go to church or temple or the Mosque or any other place of worship is based on an experience you had 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 or more years ago- I will ask you to reconsider.  Seriously.

Try again.  Because going to church or worshipping is about more than just going to services, it is about joining in a community, a community that will challenge you, celebrate you, help you discover gifts within you that are given by God and offer you ways to give those gifts back to the community and world around you.  But it takes showing up first.  It takes understanding that the world has changed, you have changed and somewhere in that beautiful artful dance of change, perhaps you may discover that faith practices have also changed allowing room for growth, discernment, discovery, relationships that are meaningful both between the hearts sitting in the pews and between your heart and God’s heart.  It is possible.  It has happened.  I can only speak from my own perspective and journey- but if running from God could count as training for a marathon, I would be a world champion ultra marathoner.  But my heart yearned for the sea; for home.  And I discovered home through returning to the church.  I discovered home in the familiar words of the prayers, knowing that the prayers hadn’t changed, but I had; the church had and that made coming home that much more important to me. In looking back over the years I spent trying to fill that void of home with so many other things that seemed so important at the time, I can see that my head and flippers and heart were always turning back towards home- I just kept on running though.  Running until my heart outlasted my legs, my willfulness exhausted I surrendered the race and I pointed my head towards home knowing that walking through those doors on Sunday morning was going to be the hardest obstacle I have ever taken on in my life.

A wave of release washed over me however, in that surrendering.  A wave that was as warm as a sun kissed day on the beach- a wave that disarmed all of the voices in my head and gave way to the voice that had known my name before I was even born- The loving voice of our creator calling me home, welcoming me home, clearing the way for me to turn my heart towards home.

I am not big on cliches- I find them trite and somewhat lazy.  What I really want you to know- if you are still reading then high five- you have a great deal of endurance- I want you to know that no matter if you worship or not, believe or not, pray or not, are confused or have all the answers- that you are a beloved child of God and that same God is ready when you are.  Ready to be the ocean your heart is longing to find.

Proper 22B

October 7, 2012

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

Proper 22b

10-07-2012

 

If Job had a street address, it probably would have been Job and Family, 145 Easy Street.  Land of Uz 12832.  Or at least that is how some people may interpret the life of Job prior to suffering he is about to encounter in his life.  I mean- the opening lines of the Old testament reading today give us an account of how fortunate, how blessed Job is.  He has 10 kids, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen ( I am under the impression that these are some pretty impressive numbers). Not to mention servants- he has many servants.  In looking at all the he has, his neighbors and friends considered him to be the greatest of the East. 

Job’s family was close.  They enjoyed each other’s company.  They held parties at each other’s houses and they ate well.  Life was good.  No reason to complain.  No reason to be upset.  And through it all- Job was faithful.  He didn’t take for granted the goodness of his life.  He was prayerful, he was mindful- he sanctified his family and he offered burnt offerings- just in case.  Like all parents do- they do the extra stuff just to hedge their bets on the safety and well being of their children. 

 

In my mind I am conjuring up images of soft natural light, Thanksgiving Holiday, warm fire in the fireplace, smells of fresh baked bread and cookies- a hallmark moment, a Norman Rockwell painting.  This is Job’s life.  Where everything is clean and tidy, all unpleasantness is removed leaving Job free to move about knowing that he is the greatest of the East.

 

Cut to a scene in which the heavenly beings present themselves to the Lord and Satan drops by to pay the Lord a visit.  The Lord inquires as to where Satan has been and Satan says, “Oh you know.  I’ve been walking around on Earth.  To and Fro, here and there just checking things out.”

 

And the Lord says, “While you have been traveling have you had a chance to check out Job?  There is no one like him on the whole Earth.  He is blameless and upright- he tends to his relationship with me and he turns away from evil.”  The Lord truly knows this man Job- his ins and outs, his resting and his rising- The Lord knows this man.  Enough to the point to almost brag to Satan about how good of a man Job is. 

 

Satan’s response is one that exemplifies some of the conversations we might have had in regards to jealousy, coveting, wishing…

“Well of course Job is faithful.  Why wouldn’t he be?  He has never been tested.  Have you seen his mailing address- he lives on Easy Street- for crying out loud.” 

The man has never been tested. 

Now, just between you and me, I imagine that taking care of 10 kids came with some testing and frustrations- not to mention taking care of 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and all the other animals they had- I am kind of glad Job didn’t come to yesterday’s pet blessing, we would have been there for a looonnnggg time.  In Satan’s eyes, Job was a fair weather faithful person.  The moment life started going less than stellar, less than easy, Job would jump ship and would be less blameless, less upright.  Or at least that is what Satan thinks and expresses to the Lord in this conversation. 

 

Okay- Satan has a fair point- to some degree. Follow me for just a moment.  When I was a kid or even a teenager, I used to sit in my desk at school, right before an exam and literally pray, “Okay God.  If I just pass this test- If I just get a C, I promise I will go to Church every Sunday.”  This prayer became more heartfelt the less I studied.  And sure enough- if I got a C on my test then I would make good on my promise- at least for a while.. at least until… something else more important than church would pop up like sleeping in, or hanging with some friends or whatever else would be considered more important to a 16 year old.

 

Even in my 20s- I had similar moments of Prayer.  Okay God- please don’t let those blue lights in my rearview mirror be coming after me.  I know I was speeding but if the cops just pass me by, I swear, God, I won’t speed more than 5 miles over the speed limit again.”  Not even 5 minutes, not even 5 minutes- my speedometer- would be creeping up and up and up passing the boundary of promise and continuing to rise. 

 

And I might be stepping on toes but I speak from my own personal experience- if I am in a sticky situation because of decisions and consequences I have made and currently facing- I have been known to say or pray, “Hey God.  If you get me out of this, I promise- I swear- I vow… to go to church every Sunday, to be a better person, to pledge 10%, to read the Bible more, to be a faithful follower of you- completely.”  Oh yes.  I have said all that and so much more because I am human.  I am sinful.  I am broken.  AND because I am a child of God.  Far from perfect.  Far from righteous.  Far from unblemished but not far from God.  Sometimes my relationship with God is a little wonky as these examples can testify to.  The moment life gets a little hairy or hard, Satan believes that Job is going to stop being faithful and start using God as a safety net, as an entity one calls out to for quick fixes instead of being in relationship with the Holy, with our Creator, with God.  In fact, Satan goes as far as to think that Job will get angry with God, curse God and fall away from God.

 

This week’s passage in Job doesn’t reveal the story of what happens next.  We get just the set up- Job is faithful, so faithful that the Lord is quite taken with Job.  Satan says, “Yeah right.  Let’s see what happens if I test him.” The Lord agrees but says do what you want but spare his life.  Spare Job’s life.”  This means pretty much everything but the death of Job is on the table. I took a peek at next week’s readings and even though we are still in Job- we miss a bunch of the story. The book is worth a read if you haven’t read that book in the Bible before or if it has been a long time. 

 

Satan cover’s Job’s body with sores.  Weeping, oozing, painful, gnarly sores. The only source of relief Job could get involved taking a shard of pottery to scrape and itch himself.  His wife, in a helpful way- I am sure- says to Job, “Just curse God already and be done with this life.”  Thinking that death would bring relief for her husband, she encourages him to go against the way of his own faith.  However, Job’s truth is this- Death would not be his relief, relief comes from being in relationship with God.  Maintaining faith in God is Job’s relief.  No matter what happens, I still have my relationship with God. 

 

Lets revisit for a moment those kinds of “prayers” some of us pray in times of great need- like a need to pass an exam, not be pulled over, getting out of a sticky situation.  We reach out to God.  We go to God first.  We go to God knowing that how we are in the present moment can and does need improvement- we have not loved you with our whole hearts.  The way we have treated others probably could use some work as well because most of the time it is in our treatment of our neighbors, friends and family that we see just how much we can disappoint others.  We have not loved our neighbors as our selves.

 

God- I know I have screwed up.  I have screwed up big time.  I didn’t study, I was speeding, I was sinful. 

 

In our darkest moments, those who believe in God, those who have a relationship with God- we reach out to God, to center ourselves, to ground ourselves, to find our true north, to find some peace in the middle of the storm that rages around us.  We might be mad as all get out at God- but we still acknowledge who God is and God’s place in our lives. 

 

Satan was wrong.  Even in our deepest hurts, in our greatest sorrows, in our most confusing and perplexing experiences, we still reach out to God, long to be near to God- to be drawn nearer still to God for guidance, protection, for just a little bit of comfort- Job teaches us this idea again and again as his story is told.  Even in our own lives if we were to take a few moments to consider and ponder some of our more troubling times- our hearts long for the Holy, to be connected to our creator.  One way to establish and maintain that connection is to continue to be in relationship with those who are sitting to the left and right of you, behind you and in front of you- the very bodies and hearts surrounding you are the hands and feet and eyes of God.  It is in loving God and loving our neighbor that we are guided through this life, that we navigate our downfalls and shortcomings and it is in this same relationship with God and with one another that we hold each other accountable to living into the promises that we make- not the ones of “if I pass this test or if I don’t get pulled over.”  No.  I am talking about the promises that we made in our Baptism- To continue to seek and serve God.  To continue in the fellowship of the breaking of the bread.  To continue seeking ways to be connected to God- regardless of how life may test us, no matter which way the road bends- keep our minds and our hearts in the love of God- that is how we too can be in harmony with the world around us, that is how we are in relationship with God. Amen.

 

John 6: 1-21

We like explanations.  We like to make sense out of life’s curious happenings.  We like to pinpoint the exact place where sense and understanding broke in and stole the limelight from the miracle.  At least that is my impression after reading several commentaries on today’s gospel.  There are two noted miracles in today’s gospel.  The first being that Jesus, using just 5 loaves and 2 fish (which happened to belong to a little boy) was able to feed over 5000 people.  5000 people.  The other miracle being that Jesus walked on water.  There is so much discussion about both of these miracles- did they happen, did they not happen, symantics in word use… I would like to just focus on the miracle of the feeding the 5000.

Can you imagine throwing a dinner party for 500 let alone 5000 people?  The cost of that meal would be tremendous.  The time spent preparing the meal, shopping for the ingredients for that meal.  I mean, even if we clipped coupons, enlisted an army of volunteers- had access to the biggest kitchens in Wilmington, cooking enough fish to feed 5000, enough bread to feed 5000 would be a huge undertaking. 

Accomplishing that is an actual miracle.

At least in my book. 

I am used to cooking a meal for one, maybe two, sometimes even 4 people.  It is a miracle if I don’t burn something, scorch something, cut my finger or over-season the vegetables, to be honest. 

But our need to make sense out of these miracles has led some to write and share that the feeding of the 5000 happened not because Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, people were not fed through any magical miracle happening but because one little boy offered up his meager lunch to Jesus to be used as Jesus saw fit.  When the people around Jesus saw this others began to also open up their brown bags and water skins and shared with their neighbors.  Voila!  An instant feast catered by 5000 of your closest friends and neighbors. It was the mother of all potlucks.  No one left hungry.  In fact, there were twelve baskets of food left over. 

So, we feel comfortable with this understanding, this explanation.  Jesus didn’t do a magic trick.  He didn’t pull a baker’s rack of bread out from his sleeve.  He gave thanks for the food that was provided, he thought in terms of abundance and in that mind frame, more and more and more began to share because they weren’t protective of what they brought.  They weren’t consumed by the need to meet their own need of a meal, their own need of satiating their hunger.  They began to see, visibly see, that there was more than enough and in that security, they contributed their own food to party.

When I was 16 years old, I was sitting on the porch with my father and my younger brother.  It was late September and we were sitting there trying to be strong and brave.  We were participating in one of the greatest rites of passage for anyone growing up in the low country.  We were having a hurricane party.  Now, I’m not talking a party where you invite the neighbors over.  I’m talking a party where you go buy snacks, food you only eat every once and a while- chips and dip, candy, honey buns- and of course, bottled water, canned goods with a pop top- what good is a can opener if you have to plug it in and the power is out?  As a junk food junkie, this was almost better than Christmas.

We sat there on the porch waiting.  We waited and waited and finally the very outskirts of the storm began to knock on our front door, on our tall pine trees, on our small island of security.  In a matter of hours, my understanding of security was going to be washed out from beneath my feet.  In the mean time, I ate chex mix, drank fruit juice from a square box with a small flexi straw and watched jeopardy.

Oh how I can recall that night.  I close my eyes and I can hear the rattling of the 100 plus year old windows in their 100 plus year old frames.  I can hear the wind and see the flashes of green, yes, green lightening.  And I can recall the rapid heartbeat in my chest and the tension running through my whole body.  White knuckled.  Fear. 

My family was gathered in the family room on the 1st floor and right before the eye passed over us, we took a hit to our roof.  A pine tree top was resting in our 2nd floor attic.  It could have been worse.  We walked outside in this brief moment of calm in the middle of this calamity and the overwhelming stench of pine was enough to make you think you were walking in a Christmas tree farm.  It was dark, the power was out everywhere and while being surrounded by all these giant pine trees, my world felt at once extremely large and extremely small. 

These are trees I have gazed upon for years swaying gently in the breeze, standing very still and tall on fall afternoons, places that held generations of birds and their young- now they were in my yard. They were lying down like sleeping giants.  Mind blowing.

In the days that followed, life was anything but normal.  This event, this hurricane hugo continues to be a source of profound impact in my spiritual journey.  But what is resonating in me when I read today’s gospel is the 3rd miracle that no one ever really sees as a miracle.  The 5000 people came together and sat down together and ate a meal together.  That is a miracle too- or at least it would be by today’s standards.

Neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family- all sitting down in small groups on the ground breaking open their knapsacks and tearing hunks of bread, cheese, fruit into parts to share.  I’ll trade you half of my tuna fish sandwich for half of your apple.  I’ll give you some of my carrots for some of your figs.  And they talked, I imagine, about Jesus, about Jesus’ teachings, about the healings they have witnessed or maybe even experienced.  They unplugged from their work, their to do lists, their obligations, their errand running and they sat down in that large field and they broke bread together.  No one mentioned political parties.  No one was clamoring to sound intelligent or bright, no one was trying to out boast the other.  No one was arguing.   They were just eating, just sharing, just being a community together- brought together through Jesus Christ, by the love, teaching and healing of Jesus Christ.  That, my friends, is a real miracle.

Two days after Hurricane Hugo finished giving us one heck of a thrashing, it was clear that the power was going to be out for a while.  The ice was melting and finding enough ice to keep our frozen things frozen was becoming a bit of challenge- not just for my family but for many families.  We either had to eat it or lose it.  A call went out through my street to come over to the Salvo’s and bring items to grill or fry, bring items that could be cooked without electricity.  Bring it all.  And we did.  So did everyone else.

12 families gathered and we feasted.  We sat down together and we ate like kings and queens.  As I reflect on this evening, I try to remember the last time I had seen some of my neighbors, let alone all of us gathered together.  I believe that this was the only time we all gathered together in one yard, the only time we all broke bread together, the only time we left our sports games, our hobbies, our work, our obligations, our errands behind and came together to eat and be a community.  There were tiny miracles among us.  No one was hurt by the hurricane.  No one lost anything that couldn’t be replaced.  No one was without their basic needs being met.  Those are tiny miracles but the bigger miracle is that we reached out to one another, shared what we had, stood there holding one another when the pain and loss and devastation was too much for one set of eyes and one heart to take in.  We wept together and we grew stronger together.  Fed by spiritual food of community, we indeed became community.

Through the healing and teaching and love of Jesus, we are each drawn to this table, to this holy and sacred meal.  We are drawn together as a community where we don’t have to bring anything to the feast because the spiritual food is in abundance, there is plenty for everyone. We move, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, family to family up to the table for a taste of the greatest miracle of all- light overcoming darkness, life over coming death.  We are fed and filled by that miracle every time and we allow our souls, bodies, minds and hearts to be transformed, to be prepared and continue to be Jesus’ love, teaching and healing in the world today.  We gather and as we gather, so do many many others today.  We are gathering with our family, friends and neighbors throughout Wilmington, throughout Delaware, throughout North America, throughout the globe to participate in this most holy supper, this miracle feast.  For this one moment, when the body of Jesus is placed in our hands, we are also placing our hearts in Christ’s hands and no one argues, no one fights, no one tries to one up the other.  We are quiet, prayerful, fed, filled and satisfied.  That is the true miracle.  Amen.