Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

the days after Easter

the days after Easter are...
a fitful start
a mixed bag
empty in their own way
as was the tomb
which still perplexes me
the old passes away in its own time
and the new itches like crusted scabs
did you know easter is a season
that lasts as long as Lent?

I moved two years ago into this house
during Lent I finally hung most of my pictures
and got some curtains
but there are boxes of junk waiting to be sorted
piles that took up too much space
and got swept into a box
so that company might not see
quite
how it is with me
perhaps Easter will see those boxes sorted
if not my heart
if not my soul
if my feet still ache
perhaps the boxes will sort themselves

in one of the boxes I found a card from the day I was ordained
a beloved friend who still walks with me
in different ways these days
in the fitful start of Easter
I needed these words again:

     Dearest Katie,
     Congratulations! I know God is saying 'Well done, good and faithful servant, well done."

     The liturgy of worship has four primary components, as does the liturgy of seminary. You gather, proclaim, respond, and bear the Word into the world. Over the past 3 years I have heard your confession and your cries calling the church to confession. I have listened to your radically faithful proclamation. I have seen you respond in faith; living a sacramental life. What a joy and privilege to now see you bear the Word into the world as you enter a new stage in ministry. I'm proud of you!

     ...Always remember the cross as central to our faith...may the four points of the cross remind you of worship, and may you always remember life's liturgy, the church's liturgical year, and our new life in Christ all begin with birth. I can't wait to see what God is birthing in you next!

and so you see, not everything old must pass away. In the re-birth of our lives we are haunted by the love of those who came before, carried along by those who would stand as midwives, and beckoned by visions of what is hoped for.

trumpets and lilies are window dressing on the the empty tomb. The reality of the empty womb in the moments after birth are blood and tears, broken blood vessels, torn skin, exhaustion and ragged breath. The old may pass away, but it often requires cleaning up--who will wipe the tears and the blood? Who will hold the baby to your breast when you are too weak and trembling? 

well, every birth is different anyway
your mileage may vary
may you find joy


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Grits

[Kitchen utensils hanging below a spice rack
with mint, caraway, thyme, and sage jars]
I never liked grits my whole life long
even the name sounded like dirt
until one day
a friend of a friend made grits
the way they are supposed to be made
salt
butter
cream
like my mother would have made grits
if she made grits
which she didn't

I don't know if it is worse to never like grits
so that I could simply pass them by
with rude indifference
or to have tasted the grit divinity
that man created
and to long for what cannot be recreated

darn it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cristo Vive

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they had looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.
~Mark 16:1-4

Ewing Presbyterian Church graveyard



















Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, I came to the office to make coffee before the service. I saw the sunrise and ran upstairs to try to catch a better picture from the window, accidentally setting off the alarm. When I realized I did not have the alarm code, I yelled "Oh, shit!" and texted the pastor to let him know that the authorities would be visiting soon. I had a lovely chat with the police a few minutes later, but as I listened to the alarm blaring in the dark building I fumbled with my keys to get in to where the coffee maker was. My heart was racing. So much for my peaceful hour of preparation...

Here, then, is my meditation from the sunrise service, imperfect and hurried, as the morning did not go as planned for me either:

Very early, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary and Salome went to see the tomb. They brought spices to anoint his body--the body of their friend, brother, teacher, lover. We are drawn in to the Easter story--a story whose ending we think we know. But in the early light in a graveyard, how would they have know that Jesus would live again, that all was not lost? In the early light of our own graveyards, when all is lost and in ruins around us, how are we to know that Jesus--that we--might live again?

They had watched him for days, weeks, months, years. Once a confident, learned teacher, with winsome, charming ways--so much potential, even if he was a bit odd. They loved him, because how could you not? Some people in our lives are just like that. some lovers, some friends, some children, some teachers. They get under our skin and make us new people. But in those last days they had watched him on a suicide mission. One misstep after another, on crazy move followed by an even crazier one. They watched as Jesus pulled apart everything he had built--as he pulled apart their lives too.

They watched him die slowly, cruelly at the hands of others, but complicit in provoking the anger of the authorities. Oh we can blame many people for the death of Jesus, but he knew what he was doing every step of the way. When our lives fall apart like this, where else can we turn to but biblical lament? When it seems that even God has abandoned us, what is left but tears and prayer?

This has been a season of grief for me, with one loss after another piling up until I can't breathe through the thickness of my tears. Too many goodbyes. Too much solitude to think about the loss. Too many old ghosts haunting my spirit. Again and again I come back to Lamentations, this story of ruin and desolation, brought on by God, by enemies, by our own actions...

I am one who has seen affliction
under the rod of God's wrath;
he has driven me and brought me
into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has put heavy chains on me;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
he has made my paths crooked.
~Lamentations 3:1-9

[Here we invited one another to write down griefs and sorrows we wished to lay down at the tomb. We placed them in a brazier nearby and let the fire take them.]

Trusting joy is not my strong suit. Oh there is joy to be found! But it so rarely lasts. I trust, I surely do, that there will be more grief tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. I trust that the winters will go long and cold--I was sure that this winter would never end.

When my sons were born, they didn't sleep through the night for 10 months each. I was certain with both of them that I would never sleep again. I remember sitting in the dark at 3am with a wailing child, certain that I would die from sleep deprivation. 

Joy is an unreliable creature.

But I don't know where else to turn but to ancient sources--stories from people who moved on this earth 26 centuries ago. If, long before Jesus came and went, the people knew that God's mercies would return new each morning, then of course the tomb is empty. If these are the reassuring words of Mary Magdalene's people--if the words still ring true after Christ's death, then they are my words too:

my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, 'Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.'
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul,
'therefore I will hope in him.'
~Lamentations 3:17-24

When we finished, we sang a song called Cristo Vive:
Christ is living, no more weeping, 
no more time for grief and pain!
Neither death nor tomb could hold Christ, 
who is living once again.
Do not look among the dead 
for one who lives most certainly;
Christ is living! 
Hear the good news that resounds so joyfully.

This was definitely not the song we sang, but it is the song in my heart today.



Christ is risen in deed
However fleeting, may you find joy
in the smallest things
if necessary
and may you trust that joy will come again
may I trust that joy will come again.

selah

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trusting Joy

Who can command and have it done, if the Lord has not ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins?

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.

You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us filth and rubbish among the peoples.

All our enemies have opened their mouths against us; panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction. My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people.

My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the LORD from heaven looks down and sees. My eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the young women in my city.

Those who were my enemies without cause have hunted me like a bird; they flung me alive into a pit and hurled stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, "I am lost."

I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief!" You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!"

You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life.

~Lamentations 3:37-58

Candelabra at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia

























It has been a difficult season of grief this year, and the winter was long and cold. I have been struggling with events/emotions/circumstances that aren't tweetable/facebookable/bloggable--this season has largely been not for public consumption. And yet, I process best through writing, and I am most accountable to my public writing. It was a bit of a mess.

On Ash Wednesday I told the story of a woman who lost her toddler son and her public lament in a post titled Seek the Lord and Live. In the writing of that piece, I came to the decision to blog daily about grief as a Lenten practice:
I come to Lent and there are 46 days of sackcloth and ashes. 46 days to repent and reLent (as my friend Wayne puts it). 46 days to release, to make room for joy, for transformation, for resurrection.
I have mostly stuck to this discipline. Occasionally I missed a day. Occasionally I wrote twice in one day. But this is the 45th post, and tomorrow morning's Easter post will be the 46th. If you are looking for the whole collection of posts, you can find it on my Lenten Thoughts page.

A few of the posts caught more attention:
Apology Accepted, 20 Years Belated
Awkward and Clumsy and Stupid and Old
The Time I Almost Got a Sister-Wife
Probably Heresy
At Least We Wore Pants

And a were barely read at all:
I Hate Figs Anyway
Mara on the Half Shell


It seemed like about 50 of you read the posts most days, and I have been grateful for your company. A quick shoutout to whoever you are in Slovania who visited the blog once during Lent--no idea what brought you, but glad to have you along. Mostly it was USians (NJ & CA in particular). I love looking at maps of blog hits--I always feel less alone.

Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico & Rhode Island
are apparently unpopulated














And of course, that is part of it--blogging as public performance is a way of keeping company, drawing attention, filling the loneliness that hits me hardest in the night. No need to lie about the obvious--and any pastor that denies a touch of narcissism is telling a big whopper.

But I have been touched by the private messages and interactions that have come from this time. Notes from people who find themselves also buried in unspeakable grief. Notes from people asking, "Are you ok?"

And the answer to that questions is not so simple. Because no, I am not ok. I have been shaken hard this winter. I have been forced to reprioritize myself. I have been required to examine my relationships and motivations with brutal honesty.

It's been lonely as heck. I've worn out a few close friends with the repetitive nature of my lament (which hasn't stopped me from lamenting nor them from listening: such is the nature of friendship). I think I've worn out some of you with the repetition of lament for 46 days. This what grief is, though! The relentless reenactment of sorrow. It has played out in different ways through these weeks. Sometimes I was sad, sometimes angry. The blog turned playful at times because the absurdity of everything overwhelmed me and I had to laugh. I blogged old grief with specificity and recent events with vagueness as best I could. There were a lot of references to cats; sue me.

But yes, I am ok. There have been joys along the way, and in every moment I could say with certainty that this season will end, unspeakable things will get resolved, and out of the death of some things will come life for others. As I said to a friend the other day, "ah well, who knows what space this will make for me? the spring will ease my grief."

I was reminded through this Lenten discipline of how much my life shapes my writing. But also how much my writing shapes my life. Lent weighed much heavier on my shoulders this year both because I was grieving AND because I was writing about it. By the time we got to the Service of Shadows on Thursday night, I was exhausted by all of the emotions drawn from me by this season. As we told the story of Jesus' death, and the candles were extinguished one by one, I let everything come together. The last candle went out and all I could do was weep and whisper, "Too much loss. Please don't die." For Mary's son, yes. And also for my own circumstances.

The Lamentations passage above is one of my favorites. I shouldn't love Lamentations as much as I do with it's ingrained misogyny. Verse after verse speaks of Israel as a despoiled woman--damaged goods--impure--willfully lost in sexual immorality. I don't always know how to find truth in this Bible of ours. But in the midst of my grief, I have been aware that while many of my sorrows come from other people's decisions and behaviors, much of my pain comes from my own iniquities and insecurities. Lamentations presents a people fraught with sin who are then turned to rubble by the ruthless actions of others.

We might lament--and surely we do--at the impossibility of changing other people, or even ourselves! But Lamentations, for all it's wretchedness in style, content, and metaphor, repeatedly offers this hope:

I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief!" You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!"

You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life.


I think it's a fair question: what will redemption look like? But I have no doubt that this time of public grief has changed me. The Lord stretches out his hand toward me, and I still wonder if it is done in anger or love. Trusting joy has always been my greatest challenge.

The other candelabra at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia

Friday, April 18, 2014

I Locked the Door Behind Me

...in pain he continued
down searching for those
eyes which would let him,
whisper,
          "I saw a butterfly--
          there can be more
          to life."

...It got darker and darker
and he was afraid.
          He felt he had
          to let go of
                    everything...

~Trina Paulus, Hope for the Flowers

























My meditation from the Good Friday Service at The Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church. Gratitude to Pastor Nina for the invitation to share on the theme: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."


There are some things that just seem so unforgiveable, aren’t there?
I mean there’s the little things
You forgot to get the bagels at the store
For the 500th time
You’re late
Yet again
Your temper blew
And everyone around you knew it was going to
A lie
A little white lie, maybe
Or maybe a big whopper
That wasn’t really about a big fish
Cuz you weren’t actually fishing
Or anywhere near where you said you would be
Enough of the little things
And there we are with a big thing
And some things are just unforgiveable
Sometimes people do things that completely alter
The course of our life
Who we are
What is possible
Some things are unforgiveable
Because they are life and death
And we can’t find life
In the face of death

I went one night to a church sanctuary
Late, late at night
I didn’t bother with the lights
And I could hear from the silence that I was alone
I stared up at the stained glass
And saw in the window the shape of a woman
Kneeling toward a cross

I was in so much pain that night
From old old unforgiveable things
I had carried those things across two or three decades
Occasionally someone would carry that cross a while
But eventually, invariably, I had to pick it up again
And the person who gave me the cross in the first place
Had casually moved on
A professional cross maker he was
In the years since, I have seen others carrying crosses with his mark

In the shadowy silence I wept
And then I got angry
I looked at the woman in the window
And I took my cue from her
I called on God to be present
I didn’t just call, I raged, I yelled, I demanded
I held God accountable for the debt incurred
I summoned God as witness to my complaint

I summoned up that unforgiveable man
Right there in the empty sanctuary
I would not be surprised to know that his spirit left him in the night
And that he woke shaken in the morning
From a courtroom nightmare
I poured out my complaint
Until there was nothing left to be said
And then I gave that man over to God
And locked the sanctuary behind me.
What God does with his heart
Is no business of mine
Anymore.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Take Me With You

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.


~Mark 14:17-25
















Do you feel it? Do you feel the urgency, the ambivalence, the unfinished business? 
40 days of Lent
Palm Sunday
the Last Supper
the Trial
Execution
Death
Burial
Keeping vigil
Resurrection

Oh, I prefer Thomas
whose joy was tempered by
How can this be?

There is a story we read with the youth called The Ragman by Walter Wangerin. It is the story of a man who trades new clothes for old rags in the city. With the new clothes comes healing, and when the ragman puts on the old clothes he takes on the wounds of the people he trades with. At the end of the story the ragman dies, and then comes to life again--the narrator witnesses the strange sight of this man and asks for his own miracle--to be dressed by the ragman and to be healed in the act.

My colleagues weep at the end of this story when they read it, and I love them for that. But my attention is caught in the middle of the story: 
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
The narrator is drawn to follow the ragman beyond the city limits, desperate to see what happens next.
But I want time with the weeping, bleeding, drunken, sick ragman, skittering through the city on spider's legs. I want to hear the stories, I want to bring him soup, I want to see what he sees.

And I am so aware of time! It rushes by so quickly--Christ's ministry was three years only! I have been here in New Jersey now almost eight years--how is that even possible? My children are nearly grown!

So much to be done, so many loose ends, so many things left unfinished. I wake early in the morning sometimes, overpowered by the nagging sense that I have left things undone. And I am right! This is no false anxiety--there is no end to this work, to this life, to the ever-present need of the people and world around me. And if I am honest, there is no end to my need.

A therapist once told me that the only two things an adult needs are oxygen and water, and perhaps a little food. I understand his point--but he was wrong! We cannot live by bread alone, and so there we go, skittering through the city on spider's legs, seeking love and care however we might find it.

What else could have inspired the disciples to follow Christ? What else could open the purses of the women who loved and cared for Jesus and his band of stragglers? 

And now a last supper, full of tensions and unfinished business. How do we read Jesus in this last meal? Full of enough love to include Judas in the dinner, but angry enough to curse him. Intimate enough to wash their feet, distant enough to not fully explain. "I will be with you always." "I will never drink with you again in this life." Come to the garden, but you cannot come all the way. My time is ending, but please God, if it is possible, let this not be! (And was this not Peter's same plea?) The certain knowledge the disciples would betray him and his forgiveness for that, juxtaposed with his frustration that they could not stay awake in the garden to wait for his late night prayers. 

So many unanswered questions! So much love not fully expressed!  And now, in these last days, not enough time for farewells or last embraces. Was Mary not at the last supper, even? A last intimate moment with Mary Mag? 

Could any of them move about in familiar places without thinking of Jesus in the days to come? Did his presence linger in every doorway, every meal, every habit of life?

Skitter on ahead to the death and resurrection, if you must, but I want more time with his life. I am deeply drawn to Jesus' fleshly existence--I cannot sit with his death yet. I won't be ready tomorrow, either. And by Sunday, with the trumpets sounding and the sanctuaries full of lilies, I will still be stunned at the tomb. 

It is too soon. Won't you sit a while, Lord Jesus? And if you must be hurrying and skittering, take me with you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Short and Sweet

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
     be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
     Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
~Psalm 27:7-9




Though I struggle often with your words,
Holy One,
It is your silence I cannot bear.