Monday, December 22, 2014

Was It Worth It? A Mary Meditation (Part 2)

When she was young, after the angel had come and after she visited with her cousin Elizabeth, Mary was said to have sung her own song of praise to God:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
It is not the song of a young women, though.  Rather, it is the song of a woman who has lived long upon this earth . . . the song of a woman who knows things . . . sees things . . . remembers things. . . knows things.  It is Wisdom’s song.  Or is it?

This song of Mary is extraordinary as the song of a woman young or old, experienced and wise in the ways of the world or untried and unknowing in her vision of the future . . . for how could a young woman speak such keen prophetic words about the powerful and the lowly . . . the rich and the hungry?  And how could an old woman bereft of her child sing of her blessedness?  Proclaim through the generations to all who would ask that it was worth it?

Through the pain and the heartache . . . in anticipation of the joys and tears yet to come . . . in fulfillment of a divine invitation . . . in retrospection about how that promise played out in real time . . . and all evidence to the contrary, does Mary proclaim through the ages, Oh yes.  Yes.  It was worth it.  From the very beginning . . . from the moment Father Abraham set out on his journey along God’s path . . . to now, when my son is no more and like Rachel before me do I mourn all mother’s sons, none more than my own . . . to future generations who will see the promises play out in their own lives, their own time . . . and all evidence to the contrary, I give my own magnifying yes, my own witness . . . all evidence to the contrary, it was always worth it. . . He was always worth it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Was It Worth It? A Mary Meditation (Part 1)

A woman gives birth after hours that seem like days passing into night.  A friend who had been by her side throughout the ordeal looks upon her and asks was it worth it?  

The woman understands the question, yet is surprised by it, by her friend’s ignorance.  How can her friend not know?  How can she not see? 

Oh yes, she answers smiling through the pain.  Yes.  It was worth it.

The woman clutches the child to her just a little tighter, as if to protect him from all the doubts and fears that have led up to this single moment in their time.

The woman has no idea what will come for this little person entrusted to her.  But in that single instant when mother and child meet face to face for the first time, doubt and fear are replaced by the single polestar that will guide their lives together: love.

In the days turning to weeks and months and years to come . . . the long nights of worry and the days leaching into old age, the question will come back to her.  The facts of a lifetime will change, the texture of the real life of the child she bore will take the place of the life she imagined for him.  

Yet her answer remains always the same: Oh yes.  Yes.  It was worth it.

The friend’s question was driven not by mere curiosity.  It was driven by a genuine desire to know what she herself had not experienced: how could it be ‘worth it’ to go through what the woman had borne?  How could any woman desire this travesty to her body?  How was it possible that what looked to the friend like torture would produce what she saw on her friend’s face?  For where the friend saw only fear and heartache and pain, the woman saw . . . felt . . . embodied . . . joy, the joy born of love.

So it has been from the beginning of time, as women have given birth and bystanders have wondered that they would.

So it was for the woman.  So it was for Mary.

Imagine, then, Mary, not as the young woman to whom Gabriel appeared, but as an old woman having outlived her son who was publicly executed by the Roman Empire, pondering in her heart all that had happened before, being asked by strangers and friends alike whether it was worth it.

As recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, she would remember the words of the angel Gabriel, spoken to her when she was little more than a child herself:
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
An old woman now, she will remember her question to the angel – how would this be possible?  And in the face of the angel’s response:  For nothing will be impossible with God, she recalls her own words, her own blind, naive-sounding faith:   Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Looking at her own wrinkled hands, pondering that her son, the beloved of her heart, did not live long enough to be so marked by time, she thinks on the promise of his greatness, his ascension to David’s own throne and wonders where the never-ending kingdom went to.

She laughs at her own naivete and considers how God’s ways never look the way her people think it will.  She is gentle with her many visitors, especially with the mothers who themselves have lost sons.

She knows the cost and no words need be spoken between them as she and they simply sit together in the silence of their shared experience and sorrow.

When it is time for them, these visiting mothers of sorrow, to leave her, she takes their hands and offers her own silent blessing and comfort.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Defense of All Things Christmas Kitsch

Nativities made of fresh meat or Batman and T-Rex . . . blow-up snow globes adorning front yards . . Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer blaring from every loudspeaker . . . every Lifetime and Hallmark schmaltzy Christmas movie ever made (who knew It’s a Wonderful Life would spawn its own cottage industry?) . . . A Christmas Story being about a boy’s yearning for a BB gun rather than the birth of our Savior . . .

Yes, I confess, I love it all.

Every bit of it – all of it, the ridiculous extremity of it makes me positively giddy.  It’s like – well, it’s like the best birthday party – ever.

Of course, I’m the one who picked the picture of the Easter Bunny posing like a Playboy centerfold atop our church sign (What will you do with the risen one?) for the church’s FB banner.

My Christmas childhood memories are all good ones.  Maybe that’s part of it.  My dad, no Christian, nevertheless rejoiced in all the celebration.  We made candy together.  We strung tinsel icicles one by one (the only proper way) on the tree.  We made our way to Grandma’s house.

And there were always presents.  Mom says there weren’t many, but in my memories, presents flowed like a river towards me – maybe it’s the love I’m remembering – the best present of all.

I love that certain men and boys in my life ask for underwear for Christmas and are delighted when they get them.  I love sending and receiving cards of sentimentality in the mail.  I love all the decorations of yards and homes, even when a North American Santa is at the manger (and maybe especially then).  I love the contrast of the busy craziness with the quiet spaces of wonder.  I love the sentimentality.

When I think on my own son’s birthday, I get all teary and sentimental.  Why not when thinking on the birth of Jesus the Christ?

Most of all, I love that it is not possible for there to even be a hint of policing about this celebration – you cannot mandate joy or laughter.  They either happen or they don’t.

So to all my friends with shorts in the proverbial twist over Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, etc., etc., etc., can’t we lighten up just a little, just this once?

After all, it is a party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Day14 - When Angels Sang

We, the heavenly host, God’s own army, if you will, have been practicing for centuries, millennia even, for this moment.

We’ll have to dial it back, of course, for human ears could not withstand the sheer volume when we are in full voice.  Heaven itself shakes then.  

So do we sing (quietly, ever so quietly, leaning forward into the lullaby of sound) of The Divine’s bright glory . . . splendor . . . radiance . . . magnificence . . . 

To The One be all glory that can be sung, its sounds woven into the very fabric of creation, which itself sings out the wonder and awe that such a One should be. . .

So do our voices raise (who could help it when singing of such Truth?) . . . 

So do we sing that which cannot be named or contained . . . 

So do we return from whence we came, leaving behind only an echo of heaven’s own wonder . . . 

We turn back, all of one accord, and just before the curtain between our home and theirs again descends, we see in their night skies a Bright Light, their north star.

Who is to say that the leading star was not The Divine’s own self?

With one last pitch-perfect note of assent, the curtain falls back into place.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Day13 - Children of Wisdom

There was I from before the first day, side by side with The One.  

There was I, in the foaming chaos of things that were nothings.

There was I, the thing to be given birth to by the creating hand of The One.

There was I, in the intake of a breath upon an imagined cloud.

I am Wisdom, she you know only out of your own foolishness.

And I was there.

I am your witness.

You are my children and I am calling you home – 

back to what you were born knowing but have somehow forgotten

back to resting upon the cloud of your own createdness

back to the floating, embracing, desiring love of your mother’s womb

back, back, back, to who you were made to be.

The One is your father.  I am Wisdom and I am your mother.


For 'deeds' in the Matthew passage, read instead 'children', as some ancient manuscripts have it, and see then the link to Proverbs 8.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Day 12: The Bell Cannot Be Unrung

I didn’t know

When I gave that thing up . . . that thing – the thing that so defines who I am . . . when I gave it up to the call of the needs of another . . . I knew what I gave . . . I knew what a big deal it was . . . I knew I would be changed . . . I knew there would be loss . . . 

What I didn’t reckon on is how very permanent it would be . . . that all the absolving . . . all the praying . . . all the wrestling . . . all the all of it . . . would indelibly rewrite me.

Somehow being changed is not the same as never being the same.

And I have been and will forever be . . . not the same.

For her, that girl over there on the other side of this particular line of time, for her do I mourn.  I liked her.  She was fabulous.  And I gave her away.

It was important, or so I thought.  And I think I was right.

But oh, I do miss her.


Thinking on the cost of choosing, with humility and trepidation do I try to imagine God’s own choosing and its great cost to the very Divine.  

To choose human flesh, not as window-dressing, not as a suit of protective armor, but as a very identity . . . to choose that vulnerability . . . that limitedness . . . what must it have been like to step across that line?  

Did God hesitate?  Did God ponder the enormity of the change for God’s own self in The Divine Coming?  Did God ask God’s self what am I doing?

Did God hesitate?  

All I know is I would have.

In Defense of the CIA

To attack the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for torture as part of our nationally self-described ‘War on Terror’ is nonsensical, for one simple reason: as a nation, each and all of us joined the conspiracy of silence (tacit approval) and spoken approval.

We renamed torture ‘enhanced interrogation’, admitting to ‘enhanced interrogation’ and denying torture.  The media (yes, you too, NPR) joined in the renaming farce begun by someone in government at the time, apparently under the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes rubric that if we don’t call it torture, well, it can’t be torture, now can it?

News outlet employees performed ridiculous ‘re-enactments’ of waterboarding to make a joke of it and claim it wasn’t torture to experience forced drowning.

People on social media, ordinary citizens, spoke often and loudly in defense of torture (calling it something else, of course, and denying at the same time that ‘we’ torture); denied it was happening; claimed it was deserved.

Democrats and Republicans alike supported and enacted laws like the Patriot Act and its progeny, granting enormous and sweeping powers to the Executive Branch to wage the so-called War on Terror.

Guantanamo Bay (still housing detainees today) and other sites outside the territorial United States were opened or reopened, under the apparent theory that if you don’t do it (torture) within our national borders, somehow it isn’t torture.

My point is simple: we the people of these United States are not now allowed to have a single ounce of moral outrage for what we knew was happening at the time and did nothing to stop.  Not we the ordinary citizens.  Not we the members of Congress.  Not we the courts.  Not we the Executive Branch.

There is no cover here.  And the Senate’s high dudgeon is ridiculous.

You got exactly what you wanted.  Do not dare to now claim you didn’t know.  You knew.  Maybe not the extent of the torture.  But you knew torture was happening.  To claim you didn’t because you didn’t know every detail is tantamount to the quibbling over price joke* (well, yes, we knew they were forcing water down their throats but never imagined they’d force water up their rectums!).

You knew.  And you and we did nothing.  Nothing.

And to borrow or paraphrase from Senator John McCain, the question of whether it works or not is entirely beside the point.  The point is that it is wrong.   

And none of us need the blow-by-blow of rectal insertions to know that it’s wrong.  Or we shouldn’t.

So if there is a tone, a posture, to be taken in the now of things torture, might I suggest that the posture be confessional.  There is no one to blame but ourselves.  We did this.  We did it together.  And we did it with eyes wide open.

It is who we are.  Because we did it.  We are people who torture.

Admit it.  Claim it.  Take it on board as part of our national identity.

Or Admit it.  Confess it.  Regret it.  Repent of it.  Change it.  Don’t do it again.  Learn from it.

But do not dare act as if some rogue element in the CIA pulled one over on us.  They didn’t.  They did exactly what we wanted them to do.

That doesn’t sit well, does it?

Well, it shouldn’t.

So please, Senator Feinstein, spare me your righteous indignation.  You stand with too many others in your post facto condemnations of something you were actually in a position to stop at the time.  There should be a Hall of Fame for folks like you and Colin Powell, you chagrined people of power who did such great harm and now wish to claim the status of victim for yourself.

Well, this is one citizen who isn’t having it.  

The only problem is that I’m culpable too.  

I confess:

I confess that I did not write enough, protest enough, speak out enough.

I confess that I kept on paying my taxes to support the torture and murder of others.

I confess that I enjoyed the benefits reaped from our torture policies.

I confess that I did nothing to physically interrupt our export of torture around the world.

I confess that out of my own self-interest, I have not once attended the SOA protests.

I confess that I did not do enough.  Not nearly enough.

I confess that their blood is on my hands too.

* A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:  She: What kind of woman do you think I am?  He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.  Variously attributed to Winston Churchill (how I heard it), Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and others.  Quote Investigator

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Day 11: Only the Sick

Only we, the sick, seek out the physicians among your number.  You healthy ones avoid the healers as if curing the plague is itself a plague.  

Do they remind you, as surely as we do, of your own frailty?  Your own precarious hold on health?  Your own mortality?

Do you fear them, the healers among you, as you so obviously fear us?

You’re right, you know – we will seek after anyone for even a chance at what you take so for granted.  We will make ourselves ridiculous for just a chance at health and healing.  Our desperation makes us vulnerable.  Our need, so obvious even to ourselves, drives us to seek, to yearn for, and to gratefully accept when offered, the help we crave.

Maybe you’re right.  Maybe you don’t need him.  But we do often wonder among ourselves how it is that you cannot see your own limp.*

It is often scornfully said that the church is a crutch.  Of course it’s a crutch.  So what makes you think you don’t limp?  – William Sloane Coffin

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent Day10: The Divine Jest

Do you not know, have you not heard?  I am Emperor Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire . . . defeater of Antony and Cleopatra . . . Tribune . . . Supreme Military Commander . . . First Citizen of the State . . . architect of the Pax Romana, blood-stained though it was . . . bringer of the standing army . . . taker of land . . . killer of children . . . victorious warrior . . . Censor, in charge of supervising the morals of the State . . . keeper of the food supplies . . . bestower of gifts upon the poor . . . tax collector par excellence. . . bringer of the census . . . owner of Egypt . . . survivor of illness and shipwreck and slanders and commoner lineage and assassination attempts . . . upon my death, joiner of the company of the gods as a member of the Roman pantheon, my name is Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus – Emperor Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine, and I was the first Caesar, Kaiser, Tsar. . . and when I order something, it is done.

I am, after all, The Emperor, Son of the Divine.

And who would not call me a god when the food in their mouths drops from my hand?  Who would not worship me when the land they call home is bestowed by me?  Who would not tremble before me when the power of life and death lies in the bow of my head?

From a sincere desire to make the collection of taxes more fair and just (and not coincidentally, greater for my coffers, for the coffers of Rome are my coffers), did I institute the census, in order that taxes collected from the provinces be based on something other than the whims of the tax farmers (I spit at their memory).

And what I, what Rome, declares, is done.  

How could I have known that a census, a bureaucratic measure at most, would be the agent of the change of the world?  How could I have known that traveling to the birthplace to be registered would upset the order of things beyond all reckoning?  How could I have known my own census would reduce my place in history to footnote, while a baby not even yet born would supplant me as The Son of the Divine?

And how could I have known that there – in the weeds of the outliers – lies the irony of my demise . . . can you see it?  It is the people – people coming and going, traveling my roads and bringing with them the scourge of new ideas . . . ideas like love and mercy, joy and peace, a fellowship of equals existing in voluntary confraternity through the ages.  

The fates (dare I call them gods any longer?) are indeed cruel in their jest.

“Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Day9: The Path You Walk

I am the path you walk. . . seldom noticed, never thanked.  It is no accident when I am smooth – it takes years, centuries, millennia even, to achieve that kind of grace – the grace that would allow you to traverse your life without a stumble, the very ease of breathing in your footsteps.  

Nor is it an accident when the way is arduous – making you lean into each step with efforts unknown.  Then you notice.  Then do you curse rather than bless.  Your kind do not seem to appreciate the craft, the skill, the design, with which I was made.

You are like hunters, always with your eyes cast forward, seeking, always seeking.  I often wonder what it is you seek.  I often think what you seek is right under you, waiting to simply be noticed.

I am not your future.  I am the ever-present present, the culmination of who have come before, for you are not the first to travel in my way.  Every step taken, every hesitation, every pause, every racing stomp, is impressed upon me.  Every deer, every bear, every ant, every child, stands upon the space you occupy, even if only for an instant.

They have all changed me, as you change me now.  And I am left always to wonder whether I have changed you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Day8: Interlude

Telephone rings.

ME      Hello?
HIM      Beth?  It’s Brian.  Are you coming?
ME      Yeah.  I’m just taking the chicken out of the oven.
HIM      Great.  I’m waiting for you to do the blessing.  We’re
           ready to eat right now.
ME      I’m on my way.  Bye.

I throw on my coat, grab the chicken casserole and my umbrella, quick walk across the road to the Stonewall Ruritan Club building (the old school house), filled with folk.  Brian grabs my coat.  Belinda and Dawn tell me a couple of announcements to give before the blessing.  I rush up to the front, forget the microphone and begin to shout instructions.  The waiting folk shout back at me to grab the mic.  I do.

Announcements are given.  Blessing said.  Instructions for the food-line up given.  Check, check and check.

It’s another evening where I live, except it’s December.  So it’s even more festive than usual, the food even better than ordinary meals, more kids have come, the promise of a magic show and Santa’s arrival a big plus.

We gather.  We talk.  We laugh.  We eat.  We are entertained and feted by a grateful Volunteer Fire Department and Ruritan service club.  

Just before Santa is to make his grand entrance, Dawn draws the last of the door prize tickets.  Just before the last number, I wonder to myself whether it would be wrong to ask Jesus for my number to be drawn.  Dawn shouts out my number and I do a happy dance as I go and claim my Santa placemat prizes.

If I lived in the city, I could go to a restaurant.  And it would be lovely.  But no one would call me if I weren’t exactly on time.  No one would welcome me as a single woman to their table.  There wouldn’t be kids running in the hallway, lining up to do crafts, getting their faces painted and watching a magician do his wonders, all in one place at one time.  And for sure, no one would give me a present just for showing up.

Sometimes, living here is just about perfect.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Day7: The Keeper

Praise the Lord!  There is to be a census.  Many will come to our small town.  And that is always good news for such as me.  Business will boom.  At our local businessmen’s meeting just yesterday, down by the city gate, we laughed with glee calculating our profits, no small thing, for we are few and business is not good.

The wife and I are readying the rooms, making sure all is clean and prepared for our guests to come.  The rugs have been beaten.  Food had been laid in.  Bed ticks have been shaken.  Linens washed.  Extra blankets borrowed and put aside.  Even the stalls have been mucked and the animals given a rare cleansing.

All is sparkling and we are ready.  

Some have already begun to come, wanting to be sure to find a place to stay.  I pity the latecomers.  I’m the only game in town.  My one regret is that I don’t have more room.  These profits will carry us through the year.

The work of preparation largely done, the wife and I sit and dream about our guests.  Maybe we’ll have someone famous, a noble.  Even nobility must be counted.  Even nobility must have a place for its lofty head at night.

I wonder who will come?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Day6: Foolstide

[My Advent posts this year have taken various characters and objects from the story of the coming of The Christ as a little child and ruminated on their thoughts.  Some have found it a bit confusing.  Today, a break from that, an interlude, if you will.  Hence this offering rejoicing the silliness surrounding Christmas in our time and place.]

It is said that the Puritans labeled Christmas Foolstide.

I like that.

I know what they meant.

But I like it anyway.

Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously.

Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season.

And yes, coming to save the world is a pretty big deal.

But did you ever stop to wonder exactly what Jesus thought he was saving the world from?  Or for?

Maybe you’ve got it right and Jesus was and is saving the world from all its sin (after all, who am I to say otherwise to a couple of thousand years of tradition?).

And maybe he was and is saving the world for God.

I mean, it makes sense, right?

But what makes us think God is found more in quiet cathedrals than in styrofoam penguin santa puppets?

What makes us think that because he was murdered, it is Jesus’ greatest desire that we crawl rather than run and laugh our way to him?

After all, he spends a whole lot of time talking about the weakest, the least, the foolish, the children; yet somehow, from that, we grownups conclude that church is the place where children are shushed and laughter is out of place and heaven forbid we use penguins for our nativities.

Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season.  

But here’s the thing, my serious Christian friends: nothing and no one takes that away.  Not the crass commercialism.  Not the substitution of ‘holiday’ for ‘Christmas’.  Not whether stores are open or not.  

There is no ‘war’ on Christmas, except, perhaps, by some Christians who hold that because the date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, there should be no celebration of it.  I have no problem with these friends.  They are not wrong.  

I have enough of the heritage of the Catholic traditions in me, Protestant that I am, however, to view the taking of things secular and engrafting them into ways Christian – to show, to teach, to bemuse, to transform – as one of great potential in, of and for the Kingdom.

So yes, I, for one, rejoice in styrofoam penguin santa puppets and Batman angels and T-Rex camels and when I order a teenage mutant ninja turtle blimp today for a little friend’s birthday, I will rejoice in my Buddy Jesus Savior and call it a good day.

Happy, blessed, wondrous Foolstide to you!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent Day5: I. Am. The. King.

Man!  You!  I feel an itch!  Nay – not my back – deep inside – like something growing – something bad – for me – something that changes everything – something that changes me!  It’s growing in my bowels – I can feel it – it’s a cancer upon my land!  And.  I.  Will.  Not.  Have.  It.  
I.  Will.  Not

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

My body will not be the master of me!  It will not.

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

Bring me a doctor!  No.  Bring me a soothsayer.  No prophets – who can stomach their righteous smirks?  Make it a soothsayer.  Quick now.  There’s no time to waste.

Grab those visitors.  I don’t care what time it is!  Bring them to me now!  

I will have what they know.  They cannot deny me!

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

What’s this you say?  My itch . . . my cancer . . . my roiling bowels . . . that thing growing inside me is fear?  Get away from me!  I have no fear!  What would I fear?

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

I fear I go mad.  No one is in the room, yet I hear the laughter of children.  They are laughing at me!  They cannot!  They must not!  Who are they to laugh at me?  I will kill them all to stop their laughter.  I will not have it.  I.  Will.  Not.

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

The Visitors say there is a child and he will be king.  I have no son.  Who is this of whom they speak?  What fool would dare to put forth their own child against me?  Who is this pretender?  There can be – there is – no other king.

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

And I will kill him.  That will end this madness growing inside me.  But I do not know who he is.  What good are soothsayers if they cannot tell me who he is?!?  Where is this child?  This son of infamy?  This child who plots against me even from the womb?  Bring him to me and I will eat him for supper!  No.  I must not be seen doing this thing.  Yet how can I not be?  I must kill him.  I will say the parents plotted against me and this is their punishment.  I won’t just kill him.  I will kill them all.  It is my right.

I am the king!  I.  Am.  The.  King.

All was silence as the king’s cancer spread itself upon the land.  And the silence was rent by the keening of Rachel, her children no more.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent4: Hope for the Ravaged

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;*

Can a baby-in-waiting be anointed?  Can greatness reside in a mother’s belly?  Where do babies come from?  The imaginations of their parents?  Or, rather, the imagination of God?  

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;

When Dr. King read Isaiah, he saw hope for the oppressor as well as the oppressed.  I wonder, do I?  Do I see hope for those who seem to have it all?  For the bad actor among us, within me?  And what of the prisoners who so richly deserve their captivity?  Are they released?  Is there liberty for them?  I do so surely hope, for in their captivity is mine; in their release is my liberty.

 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

The year of the Lord’s favor . . . oh, Lord, for but a day, an hour, a moment, resting in your favor, surely a king would render up a kingdom . . . surely we would render up all else . . . surely we would . . . wouldn’t we?  And yet I am still moved to ask where joy, where hope in the day of your vengeance?  It is not a prayer I, not oppressed, not captive, can pray, for who on the receiving end of your vengeance would seek it?  Not I.  Nay – my gladness must reside in your mercy, your tender forgiving side – there does my hope reside, for I have no right to claim your vengeance, I on the side of the oppressive ones, can find no comfort there.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

Oh to be of your garden, to stand fast as a tree planted by you, to point heavenward with my arms as my call – what wondrousness is this, the privilege of proclaiming your glory with my life – would that it were so.

 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

Here, then, the promise, the crop yield, the fruit plucked . . . glorying you do the weak ones, the captive ones, the oppressed ones, come into their own, these rebuilders of cities, these redeemers of the ravaged – themselves formerly the ravaged ones . . . and ruined cities and generations worth of devastating destruction will be not erased but repaired . . . 

and Chernobyl will be repeopled . . . and Zaporozhiya will be no threat . . . and Nagasaki and Hiroshima will flourish . . . and Dresden and London, Pompeii and Antigua, Lisbon and San Francisco, Baghdad and Berlin, Ferguson and Ninevah testify to the truth of your promise and former devastations and ancient ruins will resurrect

and the challenge will be, the challenge is, that we, your people, your creation, see your power in the works of our hands as well as yours . . . that we, your people, your creation, strive towards raising up, not tearing down . . . that we, your people, your creation, dare to dream your cities in the beauty of the nights of our own destruction. . . and hope.

*Isaiah 61.1-4

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent3: A Mother’s Lament for the Children that Never Were

I am an old woman named after my mother
My old man is another child that's grown old
If dreams were lightning thunder was desire
This old house would have burnt down a long time ago*

I am an old woman . . . have been for a long time now . . . so long that if a baby came my way, I’d Sarah-laugh in God’s face.  Babies are for the young.  And I haven’t been young since, well, I can’t even remember, now, can I?

And whenever I’m tempted to forget just how old I am, I get a look at my old man . . . now there’s a face worn by time.  I do love the old coot, but where did all those wrinkles and folds and creases come from?  I wish I remembered.

We had so many dreams . . . all with child faces . . . our house would be overrun with them.  No children came, and so our dreams died.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgom'ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go*

I don’t have much left to hold on to. . . without the babies I should have had, life is just too hard.  

How is it, I sometimes wonder (although not so much anymore), that I can see their faces, know their lives, these little people of our loins who never were?  Where, oh where, are my babies?  How I wish I knew.  Did they find other homes?  Better mothers?  Oh Lord, why give me this longing to never be fulfilled?  I never thought you a cruel God . . . until now.

I am an old woman. . . have been for a long time now. . . the children of others tease me with their smiling, winning ways . . . I reach out my arms for them only to have mothers scoop them out from under me . . . and no, Lord, I would not laugh . . . I am not Sarah . . . I am Elizabeth – satisfaction of God . . . well, Lord, you may be satisfied with me, but I am far from satisfied with you . . . there – I said it . . . will you strike me?  Sometimes I wish you would . . . for this infernal, eternal – silence – mixed with my own longing, does drive me mad . . . 

And where, I would very much like to know, is my miracle?  My Hannah’s promise fulfilled?  My angel?  

It’s not that I’m not grateful, but he appeared to the Old Man?  Really?  Am I not the one to bear this son?  Where, then, Satisfying One, was my angel?  Most days, in my joy, I do forget this slight, this favoritism.  Most days.  This is not one of those days.  John is gone to the wilderness.  I don’t know that I’ll see him again.  And I do so fear what will become of him, he speaks out so.  It would have been nice on days like this to have had an angel memory to hold on to.  That’s all I’m saying – it would have been nice.

Please do not think me ungrateful.  For this gift of a son, I am grateful.  For the elimination of my shame, I am grateful.

But now I am a mother and I know what I did not know before.  Now I know that my own heart does reside outside my body.  It resides with him.  And all will not be well with him.  Will it?  

So yes, an encouraging angel memory would have been nice.

I’m going to need some bucking up in these days.

So all I’m saying is that it would have been nice.

*Lyrics from Make Me an Angel, by John Prine.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent2: In Our Forgetting Is God’s Remembering

I am Zechariah . . . named after men great and small . . . men who were wise, believing they knew all and more than all, who knew nothing . . . nothing at all . . . and I am surely one with them . . . 

Zechariah, I named you for so many who came before – priests and prophets, wise and foolish, godly all.  

Your only job was to listen . . . and believe.  It was too much, I suppose, to expect . . . that a namesake of the bringer of oracles of doom and redemption might remember the ancestral call . . . might heed an angel’s voice in the night . . . might recall the wisdom of listening . . . 

For you, Zechariah, believe you were born to argue . . . debate . . . hone the finer points.

You thought it was all about you.

Oh, son, you matter, but yours is the place of setting the stage for those who come after.  It is a fine job.  Worthy of a Zechariah.  But you would not listen, could not hear.

You have forgotten even as I have remembered.  And even your own name could not call you back.

So how about this?  How about you just be quiet.  No talking.  I, your God, am putting you in the corner for a time-out.

Feet-guiding Lord of All, in Your most tender of mercies does Your dawn break the hold of darkness upon us. . . thanks our only worthy reply . . . a son You have given me . . . thanks my only worthy reply . . . peace the destination You have shown us . . . thanks our only worthy reply.

Now, Zechariah, now thou dost see.  Now thou dost hear.  Now thou dost understand.  Now at the last dost thou stand alongside me.

Thus it has been . . . thus it shall ever be.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent1 - What Did You Expect, John?

Ah John, what did you expect?  I came into your lives to change them, yes, but it is still life that I came to . . . .

Life of the hard things . . . the scary go-bump-in-the-night things . . . the this-can’t-be-right things . . . 

I expected no less . . . you, it seems, expected so much more . . . 

Sorry to disappoint, lad, but you see
this, then, is how it had to be . . . 

Had to be . . . not in the sense of script-already-written predestining divine plotting – nay – 

had to be in the sense of how could it be otherwise . . . 
should I join you in the trenches of it all . . . 
in the love and hurt and wonder of it all . . . 
in the thus has it ever been querying questioning asking demanding of it all . . .

This, lad, is what I came for . . . 
You did not know that God is a mud-wrestler by nature?

They will sing of you, boy of mine . . . the one who stood the Jordan’s banks . . . the wilderness walker . . . the whisperer of nothing and shouter of everything . . . the impatient one . . . my beloved herald . . . go tell John, they will sing . . . and to him, the told and telling one, would I say . . . go ask Jacob – about mud and wrestling and things that go bump in the night . . . 

For then, lad, then, shall you know and understand
then shall you cease your shouting and rest into the singing of me
echoing down the halls of time itself
then shall you, dear boy, be comforted . . . 

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Reason for Thanks

It is nighttime and family has settled in.  All that can be seen of the day’s festivities are footprints in the snow – a whole gaggle of them – running parallel to the sidewalk, as I imagine a random stranger trying to cipher exactly why a whole group of people would have walked some distance in the deep snow rather than on the clear sidewalk . . . and I smile.

The snow footprints are the only evidence of a family gathered and gathering, the last official task of the day the obligatory family photo, when we all donned our winter apparel to go outside for this year’s pic so we’d get the adjacent mountain in our background.  Everyone save our grand dame, my mother, walking beside her in the snow to take our respective places for that caught-in-time moment that is the family picture, like so many we have of times and memories and people gone by.

And should our own descendants some day look upon this photo and wonder about us, they won’t know save from handed-down tradition of our repast . . . they won’t see all of us gathered round as each took a turn reading aloud from The Day the Crayons Quit , clapping at the end of each turn, claps turning to cheers as our agreed story-telling master Mary Beth lends her particular blend of interpretive humor to the mix, all of us listening intently and patiently as new reader Rowen takes his turn. . . they won’t remember all the good news shared, the quiet conversations had into the night, the wee boy ‘teaching’ an older cousin how to play his own favorite computer game.

And there, in the middle of our family picture is a small dog being held by a small boy and they’ll wonder, I suppose, about the dog – a visitor grafted into a family moment simply because she was there – and isn’t that grand?

They – those descendants I imagine into being on a cold almost-winter’s night, won’t remember . . . but we will.

And that is good and good enough and reason and reason enough for thanks.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Blessed Are the Gardeners

I am impatient by nature.  

My prayers tend to have at their heart the theme of ‘my time, God, not Yours.’ 

I am impatient.  But I once received some very wise advice from a lovely gentleman in Scotland, where I lived and worked for a year. 

Tending the church’s garden one day, Arthur stopped his work to tell me something important, something I did not fully appreciate at the time: shepherds and their dogs follow the flock rather than lead it.  The shepherd and the dog have to be in the back to watch out for strays, to help keep the flock together, Arthur pointed out.  Their pace is dictated by the slowest sheep.

I tend to want to charge ahead, only seldom checking to see if anyone is following, to hurry, to be impatient with the flock, which by its very nature, slows each other down.  

But maybe slowing each other down is part of what we do for each other rather than to each other when we come together as church.  

Jesus has sent me many gardeners with much wisdom to share.  I can’t wait to see what they have to teach me.

There’s that impatience again!

Blessed are the gardeners, for they shall know God’s time.  Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bad Sheep & Good Goats

Ask yourself in a Mother May I sort of way:

1. Have you ever given money to a homeless person?  If so, take 2 steps forward.

2. Have you ever visited someone in prison?  If so, take 3 steps forward.

3. Have you ever passed by someone begging for money without looking at them in the eye?  Take 2 steps backward.

4. Have you ever bought food for a street person?  Take 3 steps forward.

5. Have you ever thought about buying food for a street person but not done it?  Take 3 steps backward.

6. Have you ever given someone your coat?  Take 2 steps forward.

7. Have you ever thought about giving someone your coat but didn’t do it?  Take 2 steps backward.

8. If you’ve never visited someone in prison, take 3 steps backward.

9. Have you ever forgotten to visit someone in the hospital that you meant to visit?  Take 4 steps backward.

10. Have you ever visited someone in the hospital that you didn’t want to visit?  Take 4 steps forward.

11. Have you ever given something to a stranger just because they asked?  Take 5 steps forward.

12. Has a stranger asked something of you and you ignored them?  Take 5 steps backward.

Chances are you’ll end up pretty much where you started.

In a book called Good Goats, the writer tells about doing this exercise with a group of retired nuns: “One sister raised her hand and asked, ‘What about the story of the sheep and the goats? It says right there that the sheep go to heaven and the goats go to hell.’ 

The presenter responded by asking the whole group, ‘How many of you, even once in your life, have done what Jesus asks at the beginning of that passage and fed a hungry person, clothed a naked person or visited a person in prison?’ All the sisters raised their hands. He said, ‘That’s wonderful! You’re all sheep.’ 

Then he asked, ‘How many of you, even once in your life, have walked by a hungry person, failed to clothe a naked person, or not visited someone in prison?’ Slowly, all the sisters raised their hands. He said, ‘That’s too bad. You’re all goats.’ The sisters looked worried and perplexed. 

Then suddenly one very old sister’s hand shot up. She blurted out, ‘I get it! We’re all good goats!’”  

People of God, your God knows you for the sheep and goats you are . . . and yes . . . you are both . . . as am I . . .  

Listening to our scripture text today, ask yourself what difference it makes to how you hear it to know that we are all both sheep and goats. . . all at once . . . all the time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Did You Mean?

What did you mean
just then when you
eye rolled

I do not have
the road map
to your inner

and so spend
much time

just what did
you mean?

Is all the world
or just the little
piece of it
that lives inside

I’m no good
at guessing
so if you need
me to know
you have to 
tell me

and for now 
at least
if you don’t
I’ll just assume
it wasn’t about
me at all


Thursday, November 20, 2014


It’s not a popular word in its full panoply of meaning where I live.

Ones doing sacrificial things tend not to speak of them in such ways.

Others, ascribing the impetus, the motive, speak all too freely.

We are hardly edified by either approach.

Here’s the thing we perhaps miss about sacrifice.

To sacrifice, to give up something for someone else, presumably for their benefit, has a cost.  

Sacrifice is the cost.

The learning curve is just that – what is learned in the aftermath probably cannot be known in the doing.

Hence to sacrifice is an on-going thing.

At the time of the sacrificial act, one may know one is making a sacrifice.  What one cannot know is that the thing surrendered, given up, lost, is surrendered, given up, lost, forever.

It does not come back.

It does not replenish.

It does not magically reappear.

It is simply gone.

There is a humbling enormity to it.

When something is lost forever, that loss is carried – always.  

It shapes and redefines.

It changes the person.

There is a lessening.

Maybe it was worth it.

Maybe not.

But there is always a cost.

There, perhaps, should our honor guards, our parades, our memorials and speeches be gathered – there, where people in ways visible and invisible, where acts small as well as large upon the pages of history, where the ways things could have been and the way things are eternally co-exist.  

For whether the cost be counted or not, it is always lived and lived with.

There is sorrow in that.

And whether it should be honored or not, it should be noted.  And noticed. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Leaning into Advent

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
                                                –Isaiah 9.6

I’m big on gift-giving and, truth be told, gift-receiving.

Gifts are interesting things, saying much about how the giver sees the receiver.

When I think on gifts past from folks, especially my closest family, I notice patterns . . .

My son sees my serious side, giving me challenging books to read, new ideas to consider . . . oh, and every now and then, he sees my desperate need of an update.

My step-son and his wife see my cool side.

My step-daughter sees my peacenik social justice side.

And my mother sees always her child, looking out for my needs.

Which all leaves me to ponder what I see in them as I go shopping through their lists and my own ideas of who they are, what they like, what they dream – for I’ve always thought the best gift has a bit of the dream to it.

One of the best gifts ever came via e-mail today – no grand news of any impending birth . . . no extravagant prize . . . just my step-daughter’s wish list with a bunch of links, with one at the last, simply labeled, "oh, and one more. . ."

I clicked the link, which took me to a Google images page for world peace

World peace . . . my beautiful, wonderful, talented, funny, kind, passionate daughter of my heart wants, wishes, hopes, for world peace for Christmas.

I sit down to type my response to her and there’s a rustling sound of something soft falling.  I wonder what it is and go see . . . on the floor are the palm fronds from this past Palm Sunday’s service.  I hang them to dry for next year’s Ash Wednesday service and they had fallen to the floor.

And I hear the words in my memory . . . blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord . . . and I remember The One who came so inauspiciously . . . The One who received gifts from the wise . . . The One who was himself the Greatest Gift of All . . .

and I am minded of the readings through Advent . . . the harsh-sounding promises of wars and rumors of wars . . . cataclysmic shifts when moon and stars can no longer be relied upon to move in their courses . . . the coming of the Servant foretold whose suffering is larger than the world itself . . .

and for the first time, through the news and realities of . . . beheadings . . . families severed . . . promises broken . . . endless wrangling . . . tanks sent to neighboring lands . . . wars and rumors of wars the best recruitment posters as people everywhere weigh in on escalation as our only solution . . .

for the first time . . . I hear the whisper . . . the promise . . . in the most unlikely places . . . in the most unexpected ways . . . ways like the birth of a single child in a remote village in a far corner of things . . . when things are at their darkest – there does peace come . . . like Carl Sanburg’s proverbial fog . . . small and quiet, on little cat feet . . .

The hailers of the day have it right . . . there are signs . . . and they have it wrong . . . the signs are not of our doom . . . the signs are of our salvation. . . it is not destruction which has the final word but redemption.

My girl wants world peace for Christmas and I am moved to ask why not.  Why not world peace for Christmas?

For unto us a child is born . . . unto us, a Son is given . . . and his name shall be called . . . 

The Prince – of Peace

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Homeless Children: Do Something Today

On FB this morning, friend Ada posted C. S. Lewis' beautiful quote about children not being a distraction from our work, but actually being our most important work.

The very next post (who says the Holy Spirit doesn't pay attention to FB?) was a story reporting record numbers of homeless children in the United States, which suggests that we've not done a good job at recalling C. S. Lewis' advice to remember the importance of children.  Common Dreams

The inspiration of a well-timed word is valuable.
But to borrow from the acerbic biblical writer known as James, If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.  James 2.15-18 (NRSV).

It is perhaps no accident that C. S. Lewis’ inspirational quote was followed immediately with a sharp reminder that we seem to have forgotten entirely the importance of children – everybody’s children.

So as we in these United States begin to be inundated with advertisements to buy more and more and more, maybe we might share some of what we were going to spend for the holidays for our own children to help someone else’s children – not out of guilt or shame (although there is that), but out of the realization that real lives will be changed by what we do or fail to do.

And those lives matter.

They matter to God.  They matter to themselves.  They matter (or they should) to us.

Here, then is a link to Charity Navigator, listing the top charities in the United States that deal specifically with homelessness.

They’ve done the homework for you.  All you have to do is pick one and make a donation.

I’m going with Caritas in Texas, simply because it seems the most acute needs are in the south.

How about you?