Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Remembering Whose We Are

Re-member-ing what has been torn apart and then restored is our context for Psalm 147, a psalm composed after the Babylonian exile (147:2 The Holy rebuilds Jerusalem; the One gathers in the exiles of Israel).

Often enough, attending the psalms in devotionals and worship, I have found people rushing through, reading the words aloud with no meaning given to them. They are words, or a song, and holy words, so we should say them and be about them. While there are communities that endeavor to read neutrally so as to best allow what the Holy is saying come through the words, I find myself more filled with awe and gratitude and reverence when I pause and attend to the meaning as I read the psalms out loud.

Psalm 147:1 begins us with an affirmation of praise. Hallelujah! It is good to chant hymns to the Holy One; it is pleasant to sing glorious praise. Sitting in the sanctuary, meeting these words, with whatever is going on in my life, I want to meet those words with meaning. When I’m in trouble, I’m given a chance to find a Hallelujah moment, to remember I am not alone wherever I go, however I find myself. When I’m full of wonder, I have a chance to lift up my heart with thanksgiving. However I am, the affirmation of praise is an invitation to remember my whole self and be refreshed and renewed.

Many of us will meet exile and plenty of troubles in our lives, before we arrive in the hour of prayer, and after. Psalm 147 and psalms like it give us the marvelous opportunity to remember who we are and whose we are.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Wholeness in Exile

How do we pass wholeness to the next generation when we ourselves have been torn apart? How do we teach and live into the wisdom that calls us, and live into the covenant that we belong to still when we struggle to remember and disentangle our fears and learning from trauma? When our memories falter, how do we live faithfully?

The prophet Isaiah, sending a message of consolation to the people who have endured captivity for a generation, is speaking to people who struggle with feeling forgotten, abandoned, and, often, condemned. Isaiah speaks to the generation growing up in and born in captivity, the ones without the sense memories of home, that most beloved of places, where we meet the Holy in joy (Psalm 84). Isaiah speaks to the ones whose lives are formed by exile and slavery rather than the responsibilities of freedom. Tired ourselves, we can fear that the Holy is tired of us (Isaiah 40:27).

Exile and alienation remain a common experience, spiritually and psychologically, as so many of us grow up displaced, or with the place we would call home desecrated and difficult to thrive in.  How do we grow faithfully and find healing and hope? How do we meet the Beloved right where we are?

Isaiah reminds us in our separation and exile that the Holy is everywhere, bigger than our prisons and our walls, bigger than any border we might throw up and any chasm that separates us from others. Not only that, but we are cared for by the Beloved, one who cannot grow tired, one whose wisdom is bigger than our knowing, one who bears us up even in the middle of our troubles.

We are ever meeting the Beloved right where we are, whether we are at home or in exile. Part of the work of faithing is knowing who we are and whose we are, which we do singing the songs of reassurance and thanksgiving, remembering the good history and the difficult times that came before, in being wholly present with the Holy Presence.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Authority & Accountability

Just imagine it – one day you’re doing something you know how to do really well, and people are loving what you do, bunches of them hanging out to soak it up, and heading back to the rest of their lives encouraged and inspired to share their gifts for goodness. And right in the middle of that someone comes in and has a tantrum or works really hard to undermine your ability to share your gifts and seeks any way they can to ruin and distract.

That’s what happens to Jesus in this story from Mark. Jesus is teaching and a guy starts shouting and disrupting. The crowd seems silent, leaving it to see if Jesus has authority to hold this disruptive person accountable and reincorporate him into the community as a whole.

Some of us might not have to try very hard to imagine this scenario. We’ve lived it. Perhaps more than once, perhaps we even live it regularly. Perhaps we’ve been sharing our particular gifts, perhaps we’ve been the larger community grooving and then disrupted too, perhaps we’ve been the disruptor and disrespecter. There are times for disruption – Jesus does that too – but when someone’s or some community is sharing their gifts for goodness, giving thanks and worshipping, and finding their way to living faithfully is very rarely that time. We can disrupt respectfully, but that is not the scenario Mark is relating. So this week let’s stay focused on disrespectful disruption while communities are working and learning together to live more faithfully.

But Jesus doesn’t disrespect the disruptor. He does insist that the disruption cease – not without more challenges and crying and difficulty. Once we’re in the habit of being disruptive, resentful, bitter, and cynical it is really hard to stop, to learn how to be generous again, how to contribute in constructive ways, how to use and free our gifts to sustain goodness. But Jesus gives the disruptor and the community as a whole that chance to learn, by insisting that the disrespectful disruption cease, but not ejecting the person. We call that accountability, community, merciful justice, steadfast love, and forgiveness.

We live in neither our own authority nor that of Transforming Love when we are silent and refuse to hold one another in merciful justice, forgiveness, and generosity. That does not mean we endure endless disrespect: we are failing in steadfast love to not invite each other to be blessings rather than curses. And because we are not Jesus, we as a whole community – when we’re leading, when we’re following – have to do that work of loving accountability. Otherwise we’re handing the power of authoring life for good or for ill to bullies, to people possessed with their own bitter sense of power, and to our own fearfulness. Living faithfully, we are called to be part of and to be transformed in Love. That’s going to mean some difficult, messy, uncomfortable, and saddening times in relationships with our suffering world and with our suffering souls.

In the community guided by Love, none of us can be off the hook for the work of being a community and growing communities of peace and transforming love in this life.

We are given the blessing of the right to dignity, but it is up to us to call one another to live with dignity and accord that to others. We are not entitled to live lives free of challenge, difficulty, or disrespectful disruption and disappointment. Jesus didn’t live that way. Elijah didn’t live that way. Esther didn’t live that way. Hagar didn’t live that way. Why should we?  

Love transforms us when we’ve putting it into action during particularly challenging events and times. That’s very good news and cause for thanksgiving.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Compassionate Encouragement

What are the smells, tastes, events, or practices that cause you to travel down the road away from your sacred promises and your relationship with the Holy? When I’m feeling low, I easily can turn aside into a bitter and injurious competiveness that carries me away from living generously, from appreciating the people I’m with and the gifts we share. It isn’t my only sin, but it is one I visit often enough, even when I am in religious community. Trained in a culture that measures a person’s worth or a community’s ministry by the same measurements of an international corporation’s profits – return on investment in products and money – worthiness rooted in competitive scarcity. The commodification of devotional life and spiritual communities is one of the things both the prophets and the laws warn us against, but, oh is it easy to fall into.

Sin is isolating and lonely. Even when we’re in the company of others, disconnected from our awareness of the blessings of life, in the grip of want or arrogance or greed or bitterness or rage, we’re separated from our own goodness and our sense of the Holy. We can become so separated from those experiences of generous blessing, so alienated in sinfulness, that we make new justifications and idols and gods from the middle of our want or arrogance or greed or bitterness or rage.

We are not alone, and this isn’t a new problem, created by changes in the global economy or the changing climate, though both perhaps add pressures that can make it that much easier to miss the mark of goodness, to break our sacred promises, to turn and devote ourselves away from humility, steadfast love, care of the earth, devotion to the Holy, and care of the living. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians about the issue some of the community are having about eating food sacrificed in the places of public worship, the gods of the state and the marketplace (1Corinthians 8:1-13). The practice transports some of the community right back into the middle of their alienation from the Holy and sets them apart in turmoil, shame, wrestling with maintaining their sacred promises.

Paul counsels compassion and care of one another, helping each other to bear up in steadfast love. We don’t need to berate each other for the sins we struggle with, as they show up in community. When we find one another wrestling with alienation from the sacred promises we share, from the calling we’re answering, from living generously, from appreciating what is good, then we encourage those wrestlers, bring them relief, assist them in their struggle. Mercy knows we have our own struggles and sins, too, the things that we find ourselves mired in, unable to move or breathe. Faith community exists in part to help and encourage one another in compassion and care, in generosity and in steadfast love.

What are the sins you wrestle? How can your faith community help you? How can you help others wrestling different sins? We are, after all, all in this together, not to beat on or discourage one another, to encourage each other in faithfulness and answering the way of love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trust & Living Faithfully

Who do we trust to lead us spiritually? We are not the first people to face that question, nor are we likely to be the last. But many of us are living with a habit of not trusting very many people, especially those in leadership. That is true too for people who are in leadership positions, relative to other leaders, but also, often enough, to those they’re leading.  When we’re asking, “who do we trust to lead us,” so often the larger question is “who do we trust?” Today, we are very likely to come up with a thin list, if anyone, and probably not very many people we would trust in every circumstance.

When trust is thin to non-existent, it is difficult to be generous, grateful, loving, courageous, forgiving, or reverent. We’re too busy being alert and trying to protect ourselves to be open-hearted enough in every circumstance.

The people in Deuteronomy 18:15-20 are facing a similar situation. They’re going into a place that will challenge them in trying to live faithfully, in this situation the commandments that were delivered Deuteronomy 5:6-18. Those are the laws: stick to the One, not others; watch out for false images we set up to worship; don’t make false promises; keep the Sabbath; honor your parents; don’t murder; don’t cheat on your loved one; don’t steal; don’t lie; and live your own life instead of being a greedy bones wanting to live someone else’s.

Trust makes it possible to live fully into those commandments. When we don’t cultivate trust, we struggle with living faithfully. We’re tempted to look elsewhere and to set up false idols when we don’t trust the Holy. When everyone’s making outrageous promises, if we don’t make a few outrageous promises, we can find ourselves getting lost. We don’t trust those outrageous promises and we join in being untrustworthy, too. We don’t keep the Sabbath because we don’t trust rest and spending a day in reverence, and because we know we’ll fall behind. We don’t honor our parents because who can trust them? And then we’re surprised when our children feel the same way. Murder in our name becomes justified as a way to try to protect ourselves – the basis of capital punishment. Not trusting our loved one, we go seeking elsewhere what we don’t have. Since everyone’s taking, if we can take advantage of someone else, it might a bargain. And we need to spend hours and hours finding out what our wealthiest, sexiest, most important neighbors have and are doing so we can try to do likewise.

Communities and families grow strong with trust. This is a human reality that is emphasized by social media networks. Who we trust and growing trust between people, learning to share and collaborate and give generously, to appreciate and laud and hold up, to be courageous in speaking up and responsible in addressing outrageous behaviors like bullying, offering forgiveness and seeking forgiveness when we’ve messed up, and growing our sense of awe, wonder, and reverence are part of what make healthy thriving social media networks, families, and communities. Who do we trust? How shall we grow our own sense of trust today? How shall we be more trustworthy ourselves?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Wait?

Once upon a time, not so very long ago I had the habit of waiting for my life to really begin. Everything up until then was just passing the time, while I waited. I waited for someone to decide suddenly to figure out how to cure my genetic disease - a rare disease of a host of rare diseases. I understand the last big research on more than maintenance was when Gregor Mendel invented genetics. You see the silliness of sidelining myself while I was living my life waiting for someone else to remove the imperfections?

What about G-d? Didn't you turn to the Holy, some folks asked me? Well, yes, I did. I read Scriptures. I prayed a lot. I still do both of those things every day. And I found I could treat the Holy like a drive-through menu and order up what I wanted. But I wouldn't necessarily receive what I ordered.  I found I could be angry and sad and the Holy was the One who wouldn't grow weary being around angry and sad (Isaiah 40:27-28). I could celebrate the blessings I understood and experienced even in the middle of this waiting I was doing (remember: I was waiting for my life to really begin). And while I learned how to lean into the Comforter of Comforters, the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate, I also started to learn to understand and meet blessings that came through my grief, pain, and limitations, or at least traveled right alongside them.

Perhaps I would have waited longer, if I hadn't tumbled to the fact that there's no cure for what I have. I find mercy in that. I'm free to live as I am now, without waiting for something to perfect me first. The first creation story in Genesis bears the Holy's blessing, "And it was good." Creation is fundamentally good. Life is fundamentally good, even with pain, grief, sorrow, challenges, iniquity, and trouble.

Learning to do that is one of the reasons you'll hear frequently from those of us accepting our diseases and imperfections that imperfection is a blessing. We are the people we are because of these experiences and how they've changed, challenged, and tested us, including all the hoo-ha heaped upon us by social expectations of what perfect is, and the gospel of good-enough-then-you-will-get-enough.

Today, I have no yearning for my life to really begin. My life is going on, right now, right where I am, with all the imperfections and all the blessings, all the not knowing and all the wonderment.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Risking Generosity

Jesus travels into Galilee, a heavily occupied district, where the people are probably praying the psalms of deliverance regularly, for the ways the area is being stripped of its resources and its people ground down. Jesus travels into Galilee preaching John the Baptist’s message of turning and meeting the Holy’s good news. He encounters Simon and Andrew fishing, calls them, and they immediately leave their nets and follow. Jesus calls James and John fishing, and they, too immediately answer. Mark’s telling of this call story emphasizes that the brothers fishing do not go home and ponder the call, or talk it over with their families. Indeed, they take radical and shocking action: they leave their families who are probably fishing for the export quota for the Roman occupation to make that quota without them. They drop their nets, knowing well those risks and managing in a place and day without freedom, and they set off on a faithful adventure.

How ready are we to answer the call of steadfast love that will surely also be the call of trouble?

How prepared are we to go from the pressures and challenges we know – whether we think much or little of them – into a way of living that will bring rather new challenges and pressures?

As we grow spiritually, generosity takes more and more courage. We could stay with the habits we’ve developed, whether that is tithing or bringing food and warmth to the hungry and homeless or finding ways to encourage people in their gifts every day. But if we’re to grow more generous in steadfast love, we need the courage to be generous in ways that bring trouble to us, ways that are risky, ways that bless and surprise. Genuine generosity requires courage to follow steadfast love into the middle of suffering, and to care little about our suffering as we tend to the hurting world. Staying open-hearted and kind in the middle of great suffering is heavy labor. Yet that is part of the good news of the Holy, the way we’ve been called for ages and ages, to live humbly, to love the Holy, to embrace the stranger as neighbor and kin, to love our neighbors as we love those we call our own.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ever the Hour

We are ever in the hour for turning. In the middle of happiness it is difficult to think of turning anywhere, for why would happiness ever come to an end? And yet, of course, happiness does. And then we’re right back in it. Part of the struggle we have with the ideal of 100% happiness 100% of the time is that the rest of the stuff that contributes to happiness never happens. So we seek to numb ourselves, to tune to a softer place with addictive substances and practices, to turn away in denial and turn to the pursuit of ecstasy, since we’re avoiding all the stuff that contributes to genuine happiness. That stuff that contributes to genuine happiness involves some distinctly unhappy moments, some troubles, some sweat, some work, and a whole lot of generosity, love, and courage.

Jonah doesn’t want to go where he’s being sent. It is work, hard, dangerous and risky work, with no guaranteed pay off and a high likelihood of failure. The good risk manager he is, when Jonah gets the holy memo to go talk to the people everyone knows you can’t talk to, he does a cost-benefit analysis, decides there’s nothing in it for him but misery, and flees. We catch up to Jonah in this week’s lection after he’s been spit up covered in sea monster vomit, an hour from the place where the people everyone knows you can’t talk to live. The holy memo presses him: get up and go.  All through Jonah’s story, it was ever the hour for Jonah to turn, accept his responsibilities, buckle on his courageous love, and do the hard work he’d been called to do. Finally, he does it. The work, against all odds, pays off, but he’s so soured, he himself hasn’t turned yet back to the Holy with wonder and love.

Our habits are hard to change. When we have the habit of fleeing courageous generosity, it is really difficult to feel grateful and pleased even when we do tend to adding to the blessing of this world. Habituated to fleeing and to resenting what’s difficult, instead of accepting what’s necessary for adding to and growing goodness and living so generously we’re ready to be excited and delighted by the fruits of these labors, we’ll still find ourselves in the hour of turning.  Living generously changes us, giving us new habits. Loving courageously changes us, giving us new habits. And in those new habits, even alongside all kinds of trouble and difficult work, we’ll meet genuine happiness, for genuine happiness grows out of generous love.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, is convinced that one era is ending and judgment is near. Every day, as long as people are suffering and perishing in suffering, judgment is near – that is what we feel in the midst of suffering so mightily we’re dying in body and spirit.  And yet, in the middle of that, what is Paul counseling? Flee? The work of courageous love and generous compassion is too much and too hard, so turn away from it? Nope. Be present, go more fully into the work of courageous love and generous blessing. Now is the hour for turning back to how we are called.

Turning to how steadfast love calls us every day can become a habit too. Indeed, that’s a good part of spiritual practices and devotionals, tuning in to steadfast love and putting on the courageous generosity we need to be part of the great thanksgiving and add to the blessing of this world. We’ve been given great gifts, each and every one of us, gifts that we can choose to use for greater good. It is ever the hour for us and for offering those gifts. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Risking Strength to Love

Living faithfully is not an easy thing, in any age. Every era has its troubles, and its perishing times. Any of us who are so pinched and ground down that we are in danger of disappearing, the end feels very near. That is terribly difficult to understand, though, if we are among those who do not feel quite so pinched or ground down, as when we imagine we are truly put upon and put out because every minute of the day doesn’t go as we imagine it should. And yet, faithfully we belong to one another.

The trouble with mutual interdependence is that we have to find our way through the fire to reach out and reach in, in the face of tyranny and violence, in our hearts’ fear and anger and despair, to find the strength to love. To celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy – and the legacy of all those who found the strength to love and work non-violently for Civil Rights, for labor, and for peace – without recognizing the reality of how difficult it is to reach out and reach in through the fire to find the strength to love is to miss the mark of love. To split love off and refuse to recognize how bold and courageous and difficult it is to live in steadfast love is to miss out on that love. Yet we do that boxing up and away precisely because we love a little and fear a lot. We love fiercely and we fear fiercely and we want to stay safe even when there is only an illusory safety caused by putting someone else at risk.

That temptation and habit to box away the power of steadfast love into conditional, weak, and conforming love  -- and the iniquities we intentionally and unintentionally create and abet -- was what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing in his work, Strength to Love when he said:

This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed noncomformists. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a noncomforming minority…Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.  (Strength to Love, 1963, p.27-28)

Until hatred, poverty, war, violence, hunger, and inequity cease, it is ever the hour when we need the creatively maladjusted to risk faithfully in steadfast love.  Until then, we have work to do loving the Holy, living humbly in steadfast love, caring for strangers, enemies, neighbors, kin, and friends, caring for this earth, giving thanks for the blessings we enjoy and adding to the blessings of this life.

Biblical references:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Can Anything Good Come From the Sticks?

The calling story John tells us this week has Philip acting as the teacher – Eli’s role in 1 Samuel – and Nathanael as waking to his call. Nathanael is older, an adult, and something of a spiritual revolutionary, if we are to judge by the appeal Philip makes. “Come on, we’ve found the one the law and the prophets teaches us was coming!”

Nathanael’s first response is mockery and disbelief. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  We might better translate that as “Can anything good come from the Sticks?”

It is a funny moment, one that might, if we laugh long enough, unsettle us into considering just what we might have dismissed and ignored because of who said it, or where someone came from.

Nathanael’s been around the block before. He’s been disappointed. He’s wised up and taken up the easy bitterness that might harden into cynicism and rage if he keeps living there. He’ll be sharp and funny, but he’s losing his sense of reverence.

Like Nathanael, many of us do not trust easily. We’ve been so deeply disappointed we feel betrayed. We’re wary and what once was a way of reverence – of hopeful expectation, of respect, of trust and goodwill – has become a habit of bitterness, maybe even rage. Our humor shows our true feelings, our disappointment and our anger, or our generous joy and resilient hope and trust. I’ve been there. I’ve lived in embittered rage and it wore away at my spirit and everyone I met.

Jesus meets Nathanael with more generous laughter, recognizing Nathanael’s disappointment that has eaten away at his heart. He offers Nathanael wonder and joyful surprise and Nathanael’s heart dances again in the wow of that moment.

The armor of cynicism and bitterness is tremendously attractive when we’ve been hurt and disappointed and have lost our sense of hope, yet struggle on. Besides, caustic humor is all the rage this year, what all the in people are doing, right along with mocking the folks who choose wonder, joyful surprise, and reverence. “Can anything good come from the Sticks?”

Why, yes, goodness can come along, from rather surprising places and in wonderful ways. We take a big risk to choose trust, generous laughter, and hope each day. We risk our hearts, our bodies, our whole being. But we also already know the acid bath of losing hope and living in embittered rage, destroying our own hearts and threatening those we touch. Take a risk today and seek goodness and wisdom from an unexpected place. Take a risk and put down the armor of bitterness. Take a risk to answer the call of Love. There’s everything to gain.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who's Calling?

Here is Samuel, learning how to be a faithful person with his teacher Eli. They’re in separate rooms resting, when Samuel hears someone calling his name. He responds and comes running to Eli.

But Eli wasn’t calling him.

Once they’re both resting again, Samuel hears someone calling him again, and this time he runs back to Eli.

But Eli had not called him.

Once they’re both resting again, for a third time, Samuel hears someone calling him, and runs back to Eli. It’s okay to laugh. It is a really funny scene.

Eli realizes Samuel is waking to the Holy calling him. Samuel’s learned how to attend to Eli – witness his running quickly to Eli shouting “Here I am!” Having learned how to attend Eli, he can now attend the Holy, which is what Eli gives Samuel instructions to do.

We learn how to attend the Holy from someone teaching us and from our readiness and eagerness. There are practices of attention. There are ways we learn to love, to be generous, to be ready in every moment to do all we can in love’s service.

The Holy speaks to us often in the voices we trust and love. Samuel believes Eli is calling him, before Eli turns Samuel’s attention in a new direction.

Because the Holy sounds so much like those we trust and love, we can meet ourselves rushing to the wrong place, attending to the wrong things from eagerness and from love. When we meet ourselves like that, it is okay to laugh and turn our attention yet again.

We don’t have to turn rightly the first time. We have another chance. Love is like that, calling, waiting, and calling again.

How is Love calling you today?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Refreshed in Awe

Can we truly be faithful without wonder, without those moments of awe when we pause tumbling into reverence and surprise, and find ourselves dancing with amazement?

Lots of us face difficulties day after day. Life is serious business and there is so much to do. We don’t have time for dancing with wonderment. We don’t have the energy to be surprised by joy. We would happily trade amazement for rest, or a little more to eat, because we have lots of fears biting into us or because we’re too bitter and too tired to sort through that bitterness and let some of it go.

We get through each night and day, but we’re feeling hollow, heavy, torn apart, squeezed.

Yet letting go into wonderment, meeting it in surprise and turning our attention to the splendors of the Holy and the splendors of this life can restore us, renew us, and help us. Wonderment is truly a cause of thanksgiving and sustenance for living faithfully.

Take time today – a few minutes  to begin with – and consider the wonder of existence, the astonishing fact of night and day, the beautiful darkness and the beautiful light. Give thanks.

The psalmist calls us back to wonderment in Psalm 29 with a list of turning our attention in awe of the Holy. Spend time with the psalm and ask yourself about how you encounter holy splendor. You may meet that space of awe in a sunrise or sunset, in the flight of a bird, in a wonderful song, in a story that takes you to steadfast love, in a moment of kindness. You might just laugh whole-heartedly in generous holy laughter.

We are refreshed and renewed in the mercy of wonder. Awe is a source of strength for the long haul so many of us face. What a mercy and a gift! I hope you’ll take some time for wonderment today.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Wise Men Failing & Faithing

Epiphany is another work for waking up to what’s present. Matthew’s telling of the wise men seeking out the infant Jesus is one where these three people, marked as great leaders of great wisdom, fail hugely. But then, every day epiphanies are like that too, as is the season of Advent: waking to what’s present often begins out of failure.

In the case of the wise men, their failure is terrible and creates much suffering. They alert the current authorities to a challenge and set up a situation for terror. They enter a country that is occupied by colonizers, that has client rulers – people who stay in power as long as they keep enough peace to get the wanted resources out of the country and back to center of empire. Arriving and announcing they’re present to meet the next ruler, the one who will bring freedom and restore the hurting and broken land and people, is either strangely innocent or a moment of embarrassing political theatre that has huge potential to go wrong.

The way Matthew tells it, these supposedly wise men bearing gifts that are three symbols of Jesus’ life – gold for authority, frankincense for holiness, and myrrh for his sacrificial death – aren’t wise enough to waken to worldly intrigue present around them. They have to be warned in a dream to go home another way. The damage is already done.

That’s the thing about big failures. Damage is done. They very often can’t be erased or reversed. The question for all of us is whether we can attend to what’s present – to an epiphany of failure – and then find the courage and wisdom to carry on, doing what we can to learn from that failure, make amends or reweave the whole.

In societies ruled by fear, though, even little failures seem like very big ones. That’s how fear immobilizes and controls us. We stop risking even in little ways, ways that might bear kindness and we don’t have it in us to risk in bigger ways, like seeking out and welcoming strangers. Part of the role of faith communities is to help us get free of the fear that controls us, so we can live humbly with the Holy, love our neighbors as ourselves, make strangers kin, and create a merciful justice. That means we have to be places where little risks are possible, where we can attend to what’s present, in both failure and success, and where we can learn to risk big, to risk faithfully, and to attend the epiphanies that are part of failing.

The wise men did. So can we. 


Seeking a Blessing

Like the first hearers of My Messenger, the first readers of the Letter to the Hebrews, are going through a time of trouble and persecution. They’re looking for some good news to help them stay focused on the path of promise, some assurances that they are indeed on their way to the beloved place where the Holy dwells.  We do not have to be enthralled by death  - to be motivated by fear -and we do not have to be like angels, to be perfected. The mercy we have as we try to live according to My Messenger and follow the teachings of Jesus is that we can trust the Holy understands our suffering. We are not alone or forsaken, even if we are worried about where we shall lay our heads. We have not been forgotten. The beloved place lies ahead.

Some call this day Candlemas and some call it the Presentation of the Lord.  Luke 2:22-40 gives us the second name. There are, of course, all sorts of Biblical reasons to present our children to the Holy. One reason is to induct them formally into covenant with the Holy. Another is to remind ourselves of the blessing children are, blessings to tend,  blessings who will grow us and challenge us in untold ways, and blessings who have their own unique gifts to give the world.  But there is also laying down the path for this child that they may follow it all their days, turning to the most beloved place and finding joy and rest with the Holy One. When we begin important relationships, we usually begin with introductions. Taking our children to the sanctuary to dedicate them is an introduction – introducing them to how we honor and seek the Holy, introducing ourselves to the Holy again as a family, introducing ourselves to the next stage along the journey.  Following My Messenger, who points back to the ways of living in the Torah, Luke tells us Mary and Joseph take Jesus to present him to the covenant of the Holy One. 

Luke’s telling is yet another introduction to us who read and attend. Here is a child of amazing blessing. Here the family is following the ways set down in the Torah, the way pointed to by My Messenger. Here are additional introductions, to Simeon and to Anna, who otherwise show up in no other account by name. Anna is a prophet and she declares the prophecies fulfilled. Simeon announces that the prophecies are being fulfilled for everybody, no exceptions.  Simeon is, in some ways, the earliest Universalist, finding Universalism the way of the Holy One. Everyone will come to the most beloved place spoken of in Psalm 84; all belong to Perfect and Abiding Love already.

Prayer: Beloved we seek you in the morning and in the evening. Let no hour pass without us seeking you out, for wherever you are, there is the home, the most beloved place, the most blessed of moments. Guide us all our days to tend to your path, set down by the law and the prophets and taught to us by your son Jesus. Remembering that you abide with all, let us turn and call all family, neighbor, friend. On this day of dedication, let us rededicate our own hearts to you, so that our words, our thoughts, our dreams, and our deeds are ever following your way of peace and steadfast love. Amen.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rise & Shine

Isaiah 60:1-6

Songs we sing as children can shape our hearts through our lives. Somewhere along the way, I learned what some call “The Arky Arky Song”. I still wake with the chorus on my lips and in my heart (rise and shine and give God your glory, glory!)  before I tumble into Isaiah 60:1. Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Holy has risen upon you. Every morning is an epiphany, a chance to wake and lift my heart in rejoicing, to rise and shine.

This Friday, many western Christians will be celebrating Epiphany, the arrival of those wise men to meet the infant Jesus and the end of Christmas. Until then, we’re still celebrating Christmas, even as children return to school, even as we roll into this New Year and seem to leave Christmas far behind, caught up in the busyness of our days.

Waking and shining right in the middle of danger, wearying troubles, health struggles, violence, and not-enoughness – that is, waking into the lives so many of us lead every day – is living faithfully and living hopefully. Waking and shining in the middle of hurt and brokenness is an act of resistance and an act of love. There will be those who say waking and shining is foolish and unrealistic. I will tell you it has helped me make it through some very tough and painful times and helps me still.

Many days, especially when I have been living with intense pain through the night, I do not feel especially joyful about meeting the possibilities of the day, even if some of them are likely to be good. In those mornings I make an act of faith to turn and choose Isaiah’s consolation and call to a stricken and enslaved people, Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Holy has risen upon you. I choose to head into the day for the little epiphany it is, grateful and glad of heart.